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Dr. James Turner Barclay, Minister and Missionary

Dr. James Turner Barclay, ca. 1857

Name:  Dr. James Turner Barclay

Date:  ca. 1857

Image Number:  JB01cdJB01

Scottsville Museum, formerly Disciples of Christ Church Comments:  Dr. James Turner Barclay was a trained pharmacist, medical doctor, and the first minister of the Scottsville Disciples of Christ church in 1846 (now the home of Scottsville Museum at right).  Dr. Barclay continued his ministry and lived next door in the Barclay House until 1851 when he went to Jerusalem as his Church's first missionary.  For the full feature article about Dr. Barclay by Evelyn Edson, visit James Turner Barclay.

Another interesting look into Dr. Barclay's life was compiled by R. L. Coleman in his memorial address on the occasion of Barclay's death in 1875.  This memorial was printed in The Christian Standard in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday, March 20, 1875; Mr. Coleman was a member of the Disciples of Christ Church in Albemarle County at the time:

IN MEMORIAM

By R. L. Coleman

Dr. James T. Barclay was born in King William Co., Va., on the 22nd of May 1807.  His father died while he was quite young.  His mother removed to Albemarle Co., after the death of her husband, and lived on a farm on the road from Scottsville to Staunton, between North Garden and Batesville.  Soon after she was married to Captain John Harris, perhaps the wealthiest man in the county.

Mrs. Barclay, at the time of her marriage, had four children--two sons and two daughters.  Her sons were living in Staunton with their uncle, Judge Coalter.  Captain Harris soon took them home, and, sparing neither pains nor expense on their education, was amply rewarded by their progress.  James returned from Philadelphia before his majority, one of the honored graduates of the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania.  Soon after he married Miss Julia A. Sowers of Staunton.  Her father, who was wealthy, and delighted in the happiness and welfare of his children, liberally distributing his possessions among them, purchased for Dr. Barclay the handsome residence and grounds of Rev. Mr. Hatch, in Charlottesville.  Here the Doctor established himself and his beautiful bride early in 1831; and here, just commencing to preach in Charlottesville, I frequently enjoyed the generous and elegant hospitality of this young and happy couple.  Dr. Barclay entered the drug business in Charlottesville; preferring to compound medicines rather than to administer them, as offering a better opportunity of prose-citing scientific researches, and of leading a more retired and domestic life.  But so great was his love of study and retirement, that the duties of an apothecary made too great demands upon his time, and interfered too much with his loved pursuits; therefore, though the field for successful operations in his line was full of promise, he relinquished his business, and exchanged his town residence for Monticello, the elegant home of the statesman, philosopher, and sage, Thomas Jefferson.

Dr. Barclay was by nature a man of honor and amiability; but, owing to the fact that his religious education was neglected in the different schools which he attended, he felt no personal interest in the subject of Christianity, until after his return from Philadelphia.  His mother was a Baptist, and at this time attended worship at Ballinger's Creek and Pine Grove churches.  I had just commenced speaking in public, and made my second and third efforts at those churches.  Young, strong and of buoyant spirits, with a bright prospect before him, Dr. Barclay felt indifferent to that theme which absorbed the mind and thrilled the soul of him who had seen his own danger, and who had fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before him.  Though the son was too affectionate and respectful not to feel bound to occupy a seat in the humble edifice in which his mother worshiped, he sat as one who felt that he was out of the religious circle, and could see no necessity of giving much attention to the great subject under discussion.  He then regarded me, as he wrote me many years afterward, as altogether ultra and unreasonable, even speaking of my exhortations as extravagant and enthusiastic; but said he, "there was a good impression made which was never erased."

While living in Charlottesville, he united with the Presbyterian Church, and contributed much to its support.  Mrs. Barclay's family belonged to that denomination, and being thus brought into social intercourse with its ministers, all of whom were men of culture; and being persuaded that the Presbyterians brought up their children with more religious care than the Baptists; also regarding the subject of baptism of minor importance, not justifying the Baptists in refusing to commune with other denominations, he chose the church of his father-in-law in preference to that of his mother.

If Dr. Barclay had been content to be an active and liberal member of the Presbyterian Church, he might have continued to reside at Monticello surrounded by every comfort, feasting on the beauties and glories of creation spread before him from that lofty eminence, and at the same time have amassed a fortune; for there his active mind found great pleasure in studying the works of God, by investigating the laws of nature, and developing the secrets of science; and he made discoveries that I hope will yet be appreciated and rewarded by Congress.  From my intimate acquaintance with him and my knowledge of the course he had marked out for himself, I am convinced that honor and wealth lay before him.

But he was an earnest and ardent believer in Christianity; and, therefore, while there was enough in the study of material objects to gratify his intellect, he saw in Christianity that which enlisted his feelings and captivated his heart.  Determining, therefore, to devote himself to the work of foreign missions, he sold his valuable property for a very small sum, and made preparations to proceed to China, as a missionary of the Presbyterian Church.  He repaired to his mother's country home, where he could find retirement, and thus have a good opportunity for study: but there his wishes met with a great obstacle.

His brother Thomas, a very talented young man, soon after leaving the University of Virginia, went to reside in Scottsville, for the purpose of practicing law.  There he suddenly met a sad and mysterious fate.  Early one morning his clothes were found on the banks of the James River, and some days after his body was taken from its watery grave.  The heart of the bereaved mother, still bleeding from so severe a wound, could not consent for her darling and now only son to leave her for so distant a portion of the earth; and she finally succeeded in inducing him to relinquish his missionary project.  He then established a drugstore in Scottsville, and also engaged in the practice of medicine.  Here he became an elder in his church, and zealously maintained its interests.  His stepfather, Captain Harris, was my great-uncle, and the relations existing between the Doctor and myself had long been friendly and intimate; indeed, while he regarded me as an orthodox Baptist, I think he loved me as well as he loved any of the Presbyterian ministers.

Soon after I commenced preaching in Charlottesville, we found it necessary to build a church edifice, and the Doctor subscribed liberally to its erection.  But when, in 1835, it became evident that I was no longer an orthodox Baptist, but was denounced as a "Campbellite" -- which meant in Albemarle a religious monster--my good friend, the bland, the courteous, and benevolent Dr. Barclay, felt impelled by his conscientious convictions to lift his voice against me, and to warn the people that a most dangerous heresy was advocated among them.  At one time he had prepared himself to make a public attack upon me; but his Presbyterian friends dissuaded him."

His two sisters were members of the Baptist Church.  One of them belonged to the congregation which, when a Baptist, I had established in the suburbs of Scottsville.  She was inclined to remain with the church which, with some exceptions, received the teachings of the Disciples; but she could not resist the opposition of her friends.  The Doctor was unwilling that his mother and sisters should hear me promulge my views, but thought he could safely venture to hear them.

In the spring of 1840, Dr. Chester Bullard, of Pulaski Co., Va., attended a convention of Disciples in Charlottesville.  He, unaided, had accomplished a great work in his section, and was anxious for the people there to see and know that others held the views advocated by him.  So he made an agreement with Bro. Goss and myself that we should visit Pulaski, and hold meetings for him in the following summer, and that he would reciprocate in the fall.  This arrangement was carried out; and Bro. Bullard, after preaching a few times in Charlottesville, opened a meeting with me in Scottsville.

A glorious meeting!  Delightful memories of prayers, praises, and social communings throng upon me as I write.  I have attended many Christian reunions during the fifty years of my spiritual life, but none more delightful in its progress, or more cheering in its results, than that meeting in Scottsville.  Truly such a festival of Christian love and harmony "the world knows not of."

Bro. Bullard was in the prime of his life.  His whole soul was enlisted in the good cause.  He was very eloquent, and under the influence of heaven-born truth, he enlightened the mind and melted the heart.  Dr. Barclay and his wife were regular attendants.  Bro. Bullard delivered a discourse on the union of the people of God, and showed that the divine platform was long enough, and broad enough, and strong enough to bear all the true sons and daughters of God; and that they might still have room to enjoy freedom of opinion, if they would only be content with one Lord, the one faith, and the one baptism.  This sermon made a deep impression upon Dr. Barclay; but it was truly difficult to tear himself from his beloved Presbyterian brethren -- truly humiliating to admit that to be truth, and important truth, which he had so greatly opposed and so strongly denounced.

After Bro. Bullard had concluded one of his grand sermons, I arose, convinced that we had gone far enough in stating, elaborating, and proving our positions, and in exhorting persons to accept the gospel; and fearing that further pleadings would compromise the dignity of Christianity, made some remarks, designing to show that we were pleading with them for their own good and not for ours, and that if they would not accept the message we brought, they would injure themselves and not us -- also intimating that we were inclined to leave them, with the responsibility resting upon them.  That was a solemn moment.  A crisis had arrived, and for a short time silence reigned.  Then Sister Barclay arose and came forward.  Others followed; but Dr. Barclay desired an interview with us at his house.  There, after concluding morning services, a conversation was held which satisfied the Doctor; and the believers were immediately baptized in the beautiful James River.  As Dr. Barclay came out of the water, he said: "Now I can go on my way rejoicing, without one clog upon my conscience."  Other valuable accessions were made at that meeting; and could it have been continued, the prospect was good for many more; but having imperative appointments elsewhere, we were most reluctantly compelled to close the meeting.  Bro. Bullard afterwards traveled and preached with me for some years.  Bright on memory's page are the seasons in which we labored together!  Surely both of us rejoice that we were instrumental in bringing into the church, among other good people, Brother and Sister Barclay; and, if we reach that blessed immortality to which we aspire, we shall certainly recognize our beloved brother, and, finding pleasure in recalling the scenes and incidents of our earthly work, will all unite in adoring him who redeemed us by his blood, and gave us the inestimable privilege and honor of laboring in his kingdom here below!

Dr. Barclay and wife were soon brought to realize that when they were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by the authority of him who was crucified for them, and who prefaced his commission to the apostles by the sublime declaration, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given unto me" -- I repeat, they were soon brought to realize that they had indeed taken the cross; but trusting in him, and rejoicing in his salvation, they were enabled to bear it up, and to cling to it always.

The Presbyterian minister, vexed and mortified at losing members of his church so highly esteemed, instead of approaching them in the spirit of gentleness and kindness, scolded and denounced them as if they had no right to change their ecclesiastical relations.  But that which severely tried them was the extreme grief and indignation of his mother.  Though a Baptist, she was greatly mortified by the immersion of her Presbyterian son.  Infant sprinkling, though considered by Baptists a human invention and therefore destitute of all authority, she greatly preferred to immersion by a "Campbellite," though acting in harmony with the teachings of the Apostle Peter, who, speaking as the Holy Spirit gave him utterance, commanded his Pentecostian hearers to "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins."

False and damaging reports having reached the Piedmont district concerning the views advocated in the lower counties of our venerable brethern, Henley and Ainslie, Brother Duval and others; a few years before, Bro. Goss and myself had much prejudice to encounter on beginning our efforts for the Reformation.  The venerable and godly Semple, of King and Queen County, had, of all men, the greatest influence with Aunt Harris, having once been her pastor; and when he afterward visited her at her home in Albemarle, he probably spoke strongly against the "so-called Reformation," to which he had opposed all the weight of his great and good name.  She could not consent to tolerate the pernicious heresy, and the Doctor had the opportunity of showing that he loved Christ more than his mother, by cleaving to him and suffering estrangement from her.  He was successful when he labored to keep his mother and sisters from listening to the plea for reformation.  He never succeeded in persuading them to reconsider the matter, as he had done.

Well was it for the cause that some of its early friends loved truth more than they loved wealth or honor, the praise of men, or even the love of parents.  We are thankful that some of us have lived long enough to mark a great change in the bearing of our opponents.  One who, in his own house, denounced us in such terms as to elicit from me the remark, "I am glad there is no law for shooting the Campbellites," afterwards became so friendly as to offer his large parlor for Bro. Campbell to preach in, we having then no house of worship in Scottsville.  Sister Barclay's parents though strict Presbyterians, and greatly regretting the change and sacrifice made by their daughter and son-in-law, yet treated them with kindness and consideration.

None, without making the experiment, will ever know what one loses and suffers by turning from a large and influential denomination to a few humble people, struggling against the prejudices and passions of quadrangular orthodoxy, to establish truths which antagonize popular tenets and practices; yet none but those who make such sacrifices of feeling, secular interests and reputation will ever know the spiritual enjoyments vouch-safed by Christ to such as seek the truth and find it and sell it not.  Like the apostles, they rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer for his sake.  What shall they have who forsake all for Christ?  A hundredfold more in this world to come, life everlasting (Matt. xix, 29).

At this time and for many years the church at Scottsville was very prosperous, embracing many of the most intelligent and respectable inhabitants of the then flourishing town, including the large and interesting family of Bro. Thomas Staples and the amiable family of Bro. John Tyler (afterwards of Richmond), all lifelong and valued friends of Dr. and Mrs. Barclay.

Our brother, soon became an elder, and frequently engaged in preaching and teaching both in Scottsville, and in the surrounding country, without any pecuniary compensation.  At the same time he taught his three children, never sending them to school; and he had the satisfaction of knowing that they were better educated than most who attend colleges.  He also found time to study his Bible, which he did with more interest and satisfaction since uniting with a people who believed that the Word of God, without the Westminister Confession of Faith or any human creed, is able to make one wise unto salvation, and that, being inspired by God, it is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

Considerations of health and secular interests induced him to leave Scottsville for a year or so, residing in Staunton and Washington City, in which places he successfully plead the cause of Christ.  From Washington he returned to Scottsville, and remained there until his departure on a Christian mission to Jerusalem.

During all these years I was much with him, aiding his efforts to promote the cause, and lingering long in his pleasant home, from which it was difficult to tear myself--more a home than a single man often finds -- and after my marriage we were neighbors and often together.  Greatly did we enjoy the society of our dear friend and brother Barclay, and of his lovely and devoted wife, and of their bright and happy children, who were all at an early age brought into the church.

He was social and genial, greatly given to hospitality, but too seldom affording his friends an opportunity of reciprocating his kindness; for he was so wedded to domestic life, so occupied and happy with his family, that he could but seldom be prevailed upon to visit his dearest friends and nearest relatives.  And again, if there would be any leisure, there were his laboratory, mechanical tools and chemical apparatus inviting him to seclusion, investigation and experiment.  Possessed of a strong and vigorous constitution, buoyant spirits and a great command of language, he was willing to communicate of his rich store of knowledge, when not suspicious that much was expected, and would, in private conversation, interest and delight those who would appreciate him.  But he was exceedingly modest and unassuming, slow to speak and swift to listen, keen to perceive the merits of others and prone to depreciate his own.  Indeed his shrinking sensitiveness was a defect in his organization; it prevented his acting the part he was capable of sustaining.  He loved to preach, but could seldom be persuaded to do so if there was any other speaker present.  This was greatly to be regretted; and to me it was a source of grief and vexation, for I earnestly desired him to cooperate with me in evangelical labors.  But when we think how many there are who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, how many who enjoy public speaking because it affords them an opportunity for display, let us not condemn this learned and eloquent man whose peculiar temperament led him to carry to even too great an extent the injunction of the apostle, "in honor preferring one another" -- "in lowliness of mind, each esteeming others better than himself."  He was surely one of the most amiable and thoroughly polite Christian men that I ever knew.  During a friendship of nearly fifty years, I can not recall a word nor an action that could offend the most sensitive.  Yet he was not deficient in courage or mental independence, nor unwilling to discuss anything advocated in opposition to his convictions; but his manner was so respectful and kind, his sincerity and candor so apparent, that, though he might differ with you, it was pleasant to hear his arguments.  While he was independent and bold in his investigations and views of truth, calling no man master, he accorded to all the right claimed for himself; and while he might think his opponents in great and dangerous error, he had charitable feelings toward them personally, and most unwilling to impugn their motives.

Though, with his learning and talents, he might have accomplished greater good, perhaps, had he preached in our great cities, let no one imagine that his was not a useful life.  Quietly and unobtrusively he did a great work.  In his family, see its results in the training and education of his children.  Consider the influence of his intercourse with large numbers of people, his extensive correspondence, his contributions to periodicals, and his book, "The City of the Great King," pronounced by the celebrated Isaac Taylor, of England, to be the highest authority on the subjects of which it treats.  Moreover, though he did not make many converts in Jerusalem, who can estimate the good he accomplished in preparing the way for others, and in mingling with the many learned men visiting that ancient city from different portions of the earth?  Surely Dr. Barclay's was a laborious, self-sacrificing life; and his memory and example will continue to send forth a pure and refreshing fragrance when the names of noisy and aspiring preachers are forgotten.

"The fond remembrance of the just
Smells sweet and blossoms from the dust."

It was a season of lamentation among the Disciples of Scottsville when this charming family left for Jerusalem.  The church had met and prayed to God for blessings to rest upon him and his.  Hands were laid upon him; and thus, without ostentation, he was "separated for the work" of a missionary to Jerusalem--the point from which the gospel he received first shone forth.  The history of this mission is well known to the public.  It was brought to a close by the disastrous war which made it impossible for the Southern States to maintain it.  He returned to his native land after exhausting all the means in his possession, and then learned that the property left by his father-in-law had been lost by the agent's unfortunate investment of it in Confederate bonds.

Could he have properly attended to certain claims before Congress, and been justly treated, I am persuaded that he would have obtained many thousands of dollars, and been thus enabled to return to Jerusalem and re-establish the mission on which his heart was set.  Failing in this, he accepted the Chair of Natural Philosophy and Chemistry at Bethany College.  After filling it several sessions, he resigned that position, and finally went to Alabama, and spent his last days at the residence of his elder son, Dr. Robert Barclay.

When I visited him in the spring of 1872, he was teaching his grandchildren, and preaching at several places.  It seemed probable that he would survive me, I had furnished him with some material for writing my biography.  Little did I think he would so soon be called away, and that I should record his death.

Surely do we sympathize with his bereaved family; truly feel for that dear and only daughter, who will not be comforted that she could not visit her father in his last illness.

Farewell, my loving and beloved brother.  May I meet thee in a purer, better world!  I am sure that thou knewest well that I loved thee; but oh! it seems to me, if thou wert here now, I would love thee more than I did, and that I would try to make myself more worthy of the love which thy great heart bore for me.

The article above is from The Christian Standard, Devoted to the Restoration of Primitive Christianity:  Its Doctrine, Its Ordinances and Its Fruits.  Cincinnati, Ohio, Saturday, March 20, 1875. (Vol. X - No. 12).

Copyright © 2001 by Scottsville Museum

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© 2001 by Scottsville Museum