The Rev. Zadock Baker Thaxton was a native of North Carolina; of his parentage, I know nothing. He had been a well-raised and pretty well educated man; and emigrated to Middle Tennessee about the year 1791, or 1792. He was a single man, agreeable, sociable, and gentlemanly. In 1793, when that excellent man of God, Henry Burchet, preached for us, Brother Thaxton was awakened to a sense of his lost and undone situation by nature. He truly might have been called a mourner in Zion. I was an eye-witness to his distresses, and heard his strong cries and prayers offered up to God for mercy, until at length, at a prayer-meeting in Cage's Bend, at old Brother Dillard's, the Lord most powerfully converted his soul. I was standing by, looking on at him when he professed religion. His expression and conversation were heavenly. He directly took up the cross and prayed with us in our prayer meetings, and attached himself to the Methodist Church. I think that it was the next year, 1794, that he returned to North Carolina, where he had been raised; and about 1800 he returned to Tennessee again; and while he was gone he had married, and he brought his companion with him. When he returned he told me that he must preach the gospel. I think he commenced speaking in public before he came back; but at what time he was licensed to preach I am not certain; but I think that it was about 1800. He went forth as a flaming herald, proclaiming life and salvation to a dying and guilty world. He brought a young negro man with him when he returned from North Carolina; he told me that he intended to emancipate him, which he did, from a conscientious principle, which caused him a great deal of trouble afterwards. The boy turned out extremely bad, which caused Brother Thaxton a great deal of trouble and expense, and he greatly regretted that he had ever set him free. I am not certain at what time he joined the Conference. He was a useful, persevering preacher; formed Roaring River Circuit, was instrumental in getting up a glorious revival, and forming many societies on that circuit. He also formed Duck River Circuit, and traveled there with great success. He rode the various circuits in Middle Tennessee and the southern part of Kentucky for a great many years, and was considered one of the best theologians that belonged to the Conference. His preaching was a stream of divinity. He traveled as long as he was able, and afterwards became supernumerary, and finally superannuated. He had settled in Allen County, near Scottsville, Kentucky; became so palsied that he could not walk; was a poor man, and had raised a small family. I think that it was about 1850, or 1851, the good Lord removed the old soldier from time to eternity. I am told that he died in the triumphs of a living faith. Thus passed away one amongst the most holy and devoted men I ever knew.
The subject of this sketch, Learner Blackman, was born in the, State of New Jersey: the exact date I do not know. He was descended from pious parents; commenced his itinerant labors about the year 1800; was sent to the Kent Circuit; and after this, he traveled in regular succession, Dover, Russell, New River, and Lexington Circuits. In these respective fields, he labored with great success; and in 1805, he was sent a missionary to Natchez, which was then the farthest field of labor in the West. To reach his appointment, he had to pass through the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations of Indians, a distance of five hundred miles, where there was no white inhabitants. No hardship could daunt his youthful ardor, though he frequently had to lie out, with his saddle for his pillow. When he reached the point of destination, the country of Natchez, he commenced cultivating the gospel seed, which had been sown there by that eminent man of God, Tobias Gibson.
He found the whole membership in that country to be something under two hundred. The personal appearance of Blackman was pre- possessing, and impressed one, on looking on his tall, slender form, and dark, flashing eye, that he had genius and eloquence. In conversation, the brilliancy of his manner would demonstrate that fact in a remarkable degree. But to judge of his eloquence, however, he must be heard; and none who were permitted to listen to his silvery voice, when engaged in description or impassioned strains, would go away without being impressed with his power over the heart. He traveled that country and preached one year, with great success, and added many to the Church. He served there as presiding elder in 1806-7, and extended the work westward, in Louisiana; and at the winding up of his three years' labor in that region, he had the pleasure of seeing a great many new circuits formed, and the membership greatly increased; and in 1808-9, he was sent to the Holston district, in East Tennessee, as presiding elder, and was well received by the people. There I first formed an acquaintance with that excellent man of God. I am not capable of describing his eloquence and usefulness. I have attended camp meetings with him, which were very common in those days-I am sorry to say such is not the case in these latter days. I have known Brother Blackman to get up on the last day of the camp meeting, call the assembly together, and tell them that he would gather up the fragments that nothing might be lost, and take every text that had been preached from during the whole camp- meeting, make a short comment on every text, and wind it up in a most beautiful manner. The like I have never seen done by any other presiding elder. This was his usual practice at every camp meeting that I ever attended with him. In 1812-13, he was appointed presiding elder to the Nashville district; and in 1812, war was declared by the United States against Great Britain, and General Jackson proposed to the War Department to raise three thousand volunteers; the proposition was accepted, and that number immediately raised; and on the 22d of November, we were mustered into service at Nashville. We were ordered to New Orleans, and were encamped a month in the vicinity of Nashville before we could procure boats to go down the river. Considerable anxiety prevailed in the camps respecting a selection of a chaplain to the army. Some preferred the Rev. Gideon Blackburn, a very talented Presbyterian preacher. Mr. Blackburn came and preached to the army while we were encamped there. Some preferred Joseph Dorris, a talented Baptist preacher. General Jackson, though then a wicked man, had been raised by pious Presbyterian parents. Laying every prejudice aside, he made choice of Learner Blackman. Here I became more intimately acquainted with the excellent man of God and his great worth. We were forty days on board of our boats before we reached Natchez, being detained by the running of the ice in the Ohio and Mississippi. I was an eyewitness to Brother Blackman's faithfulness and diligence to the army. He attended to the sick, and preached in the different boats. He would come and request me to go with him on Sabbath he frequently preached twice on that day. I have taken a canoe and carried him to a boat-each boat carried a captain's company. On arriving at the boat, he would tell the captain he had come to preach to him and his men. The way the thing was managed was this: The steersman was appointed to his place at the steering-oar to keep the boat in order, and the speaker stood in the center of the boat, and the soldiers on each side-eighty or one hundred men composed a very good congregation. Thus have I heard this faithful man of God declare life and salvation while floating down the father of waters. Very frequently he would preach to a captain and his company of a night. He boarded with General Jackson, where he kept up constant family prayer. The General and his staff-officers paid great respect to him. On arriving at Natchez, the General received news from the War Department to stop the army. There we marched out from our boats, six miles, to Washington, and formed an encampment, which was called Camp Jackson. Brother Blackman had the pleasure of visiting his former field of labor, and of seeing a great increase in the Church in the five years that he had been absent. He was most cordially received by his brethren in that vicinity. In the spring of the year we returned back to Tennessee by land, marching through the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, on to Columbia, in Tennessee, where we were dismissed. Brother Blackman resumed his labors as presiding elder; and, in 1814-15, he was reappointed by the Conference to the Cumberland district; and about that time he married the widow Elliot, of Sumner county, an excellent pious lady; and in 1815, he so arranged the business of his district as to visit the State of Ohio, where he had some relations and a great many acquaintances. The Rev. John Collins, a very noted and excellent preacher, of that State, was married to a sister of his. He and his wife passed on through the neighborhood where I lived, on Goose Creek, buoyant in spirit; went on and paid a short visit, and started back home, to meet his appointments as presiding elder; came on to Cincinnati, and got on board of the ferry-boat. The ferryman pushed off the boat, and, after he had gotten a short distance from the shore, hoisted his sail; the horses became frightened at the sail; Brother Blackman held on to them, and before relief could come to him, they had jumped overboard and knocked him out of the boat; and he sunk to rise no more. He was said to be an excellent swimmer, but it was supposed that he had got crippled by being knocked out of the boat. After great exertion, his body was found, and his remains, I suppose, are lying in Cincinnati. Thus ended the life of one among the most useful itinerant preachers that ever belonged to the Methodist connection. A short time afterwards his wife returned, dejected and heart-broken at the loss of her excellent husband. I knew Learner Blackman; I knew him well; and I have no hesitancy in saying that he was one of the first order of men I ever knew.
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