I was born in Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland, on Friday, April 7, 1843. I remember my native village and many of its places of special interest to a boy —the school, the churches, the "Old Barr" which was used for a prison, and on one side had a place to play ball against the wall, the mill and the sawmill, the "Burn Ann" and the "Irvine River" where we used to "guddle" and bathe, and many other places, and last, the "Kirkyard," where my mother was laid. All these and other places were revived in my memory when I visited there in 1897.
I remember my mother quite well. She was one of the many victims of Asiatic Cholera. She died on January 21, 1849, when I was nearly six years of age. The first distinct memory I have of mother is in connection with an incident in June 1848. There was a flood of water, caused by a "water-spout," or "cloud-burst," in the moors. It came down the stream, called "Burn Ann," near our home. We lived in one end of the house, and father had a "Flesh Shop" at the other end, with a narrow passage between them. Attracted by the flood, she had left me asleep on a bed in the living room. Waking up, and seeing that I was alone in the room, I cried. Mother heard me and came running in, picked me up, and ran with me in her arms through the narrow passage to the back window of the meat market, where were father and two or three others; and looking out of the window, I saw the raging waters sweep the ledges of the stone bridge, and fill the house on the other side of the stream with water. It seems as clear in my mind as if it had happened a short time ago.
In connection with the flood, I remember an old woman ("Granny Lethum,"), who lived in the garrett of a low house the window of which was about on a level with father's shop window. There was fear that the old house might be carried away by the waters, and someone brought a ladder, and on it she crept over from her window to ours. Before this I was afraid of this old woman, having heard someone speak of her as a witch; but from that time my fear was gone. I remember thinking she was just like other people, only she was old, and wore a white cap, or "mutch".
I remember the last "dress" my mother had made for me. It was a tartan, with large checks, black and red. The first time I wore it, my mother took me with her on a visit, I think to the home of her sister, Mrs. Annie Caldwell. My dress was quite attractive, and I was proud of it.
I loved my mother, but have always had one unpleasant memory of her. One day I came home from school for my dinner. Mother was very busy, and she gave me money to go to Logan's bakery and get a "scone" for lunch. I got it, and being hungry, I quickly ate it. On my way home, a grocer's boy (Alex Roxborough) gave me two apples., and I hastened home to share with my mother. She asked me how I got the apples, and I told her the truth; but she did not believe me, thinking I had bought them; and she whipped me for disobedience and lying. I do not remember what became of the apples; but I do remember thinking that another time I would eat the apples, and not tell her anything about it. I have thought since, that likely "Mother was too tired."
I remember going with my mother and others to "Saurdyke," the farm of my father's Uncle, Robert Allen, to visit; and we were treated to "Strawberries and Cream." Of course, I enjoyed that.
I began going to school in February when I was almost four years of age. Mr. Kilgour, the teacher, had asked mother to send me; but I fought hard against going the first day. My brother David literally forced me there; but after that I was more than willing to go. I like my first teacher, and a Mr. Taylor, who followed him. My last teacher was Mr. Robert McDonald. I did not like him so well; he whipped me freely. When I saw him still teaching there, forty-five years later (in 1897), he said they had "learned a better way." With a few short breaks, because of children's diseases, I went five years to school in Scotland.
My father and mother belonged to a Church called "New Testament Disciples," and they went to Newmilns, two miles away to their meetings. I enjoyed these Sunday walks with the family. I did not then know why they were isolated; but that was the result of a course of Bible study, which no doubt affected the later life of their children.
I remember seeing mother put in her coffin, and carried away with but little ceremony to the churchyard which was just across the street. I saw that the older ones were very sad and I was sad too; but I did not then realize what it all meant. My father took the terrible disease but he refused to take the doctor's remedy taking cathartic instead —and recovered; and he afterward told us that we had a narrow escape from going to the poorhouse.
Soon after my mother's death, my father married her sister. We had been in the habit of calling her "Lizzie." They tried to have me call her "Mother," but I said: "She is not my mother;" and I never called her mother till I came home on furlough in 1865. I think she appreciated the change. I think she was a good mother to us all, and learned to love her.
My father had for many years been anxious to emigrate to the United States. He brought his family to Michigan 1852. I was sorry to leave some of my playmates; but I did not realize how far we were going. We left Galston on Saturday, the eighth of May, staid over Sunday at Uncle Alexander's in Glascow, on Monday took a steamer down the River Clyde and sailed from Greencock in the sailing ship "Conway," that evening, and landed in New York seven weeks from that day. It was a rather tedious voyage, but in some ways I enjoyed it. I was seasick only the first morning, as we were starting out in something of a storm. I think father was the only one of us who was not seasick. He had his hands full looking after the family, and doing what he could to keep us boys from climbing the ropes and swinging out over the ocean when the ship rocked. The vessel lay almost still for many days.
When we were near Newfoundland, we saw two icebergs a large one and a small one. The passengers had a scare a little later. There was a great crash, and many thought one of the icebergs had struck the ship. For a little while there were some wailing and praying. But it was soon learned that a heavy boom had fallen from the sailors' hands when they were aloft. The end of it went through the thick deck. In falling, it glanced upon a woman's head and she had a narrow escape from death.
I was interested in seeing at least one large whale, shoals of porpoises and many gulls. We were all glad to see the land when we came near to New York. The scene was grand. Grandfather Paton, who came with us, said: "It's worth while comin' a' the w'y to see't."
We came to Albany and Buffalo by rail, and from there to Detroit by steamer -the Atlantic- Friday evening. (That vessel was wrecked on her next trip from Buffalo.) Friday night we came to Amherstburg by a small river vessel. We arrived about midnight, and put up at a hotel. But Uncle John Hamilton, who was with us, could not wait and making inquiry about the way, walked out two miles to "Onslow Farm," where Uncle John Paton lived. He came for us with his team early in the morning. At six'oclock he was at the foot of the stairs where we were sleeping, calling out: "Sleepers, are you going to sleep all day?"
We were soon all up, and loaded up for the road, and were soon at the farm. That was a happy meeting, especially for the older ones who had not seen each other since Uncle John's folks left Scotland about nine years before. I remember getting into a cherry tree before reaching the house. Some of us were "awful hungry" for fresh fruit, and did not think much about etiquette.
That was Saturday, July 3. Next day I was pleased to see the great display of American flags on the river, as many were celebrating the Fourth of July.
The "Rosebank" house, near Onslow, being vacant, we made our home there six or seven weeks, and father and David worked for Uncle John in haying and harvest. I remember that none of us enjoyed our first dish of cornmeal, as it was cooked and served before it was known by our folks that it needed to be sifted. Mr. Wingfield, an old man of leisure, fished in the Detroit River near by, and kept the family quite well supplied with fish.
During the weeks of our stay in Canada, father and Uncle John made a trip to the Scotch Settlement, southeast of Almont, and father bought 200 acres of land, what was known as the "Salsbury farm," two miles east of Almont Uncle John Hamilton took twenty acres of it, and it was understood that Uncle John Paton would take ninety acres; but for what was considered a good reason, he backed out, and father kept it all for a time.
On moving to Michigan, we lived about three months in a loghouse belonging to Mr. Gideon Draper, a little over six miles southeast of Almont. We then moved late in the year into a log house on old Mr. John Millikin's farm, across the road from where Brother James lives. There we lived, after a very crowded manner, until April 1, 1853, when we moved across the road to father's farm.
From the time I was ten years of age until I was seventeen, I worked on the home farm in the summers, and went to school in the winters. We all learned something of what "hard times" means. My sister Christina used to knit the socks for the family. But she was married to Mr. William Millikin in August 1853. After that she taught me how to knit; and for several years I knitted all the socks I wore, and some others. I remember going to church one day in Almont with very cheap clothing, and without shoes. I got into somebody's pew, but was put out of it, though there was plenty of room. I had to learn some lessons.
In the winter of 1860/61, I taught school in the Retherford district, just north of home, and boarded round. Next summer I worked on the home farm, and in the autumn I spent three months with Uncle John Paton on the "Rosebank" farm, near Amherstburg, Canada. That was the first year of the Civil War.
Early in 1858, I had become specially interested in Christ and salvation, during a series of meetings held in the "McGeorge School House," about two and a half miles east of home. The meetings were conducted by Eld. Sullivan Clark, a Methodist Protestant Minister. But I found peace in believing in Jesus as my personal Saviour while listening to a sermon delivered in the "Country Line School house," by Mr. William McKay, one of our neighhours, who had accepted the teaching of Mr James Morrison in Scotland. On March 7, 1858, I was baptized by Eld. William Potter, of Hadley, Mich., and united with the Almont Baptist Church. No one of our family, so far as I know, believed in a limited atonement and close communion, as was quite common among the Baptists. On August 17, 1861, I left that church because of their rejection of Eld. Wisner, their pastor who preached anti-Calvinistic doctrine. Several of us thought of the casting out of that minister as virtually casting us out, who believed the same way.
Late in 1861, I came from Uncle John's in Canada, and spent the winter drawing wood to Almont, and grain to the lumberwoods, with father's team —"Dick" and "Bill". In the Spring of 1862, I engaged to work for Stephen Warner, on the Demberger farm, six miles west of Romeo, while my brother David was working for Mr. Hugh Gray, on his farm at Clifton Mill. At this point my brother's history and my own became closely linked. We did not escape the excitement caused by the Civil War —both being interested in the preservation of the Union, and (I may say) especially in the destruction of African Slavery, which we believed to be the chief cause of the war. We enlisted together at Romeo, Mich., on August 9, 1862, (according to the war record, though it was really two days later), and became members of Company B, 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry. When I went to the army, I bade my people goodbye, never expecting to see them again in this life; but hope developed as time went on.
Our Captain, being democratic in principle, allowed the company to elect their own non-commissioned officers. By this plan I was made a Corporal early in 1863, while we were at Nashville, Tenn. We continued in the regiment until October 22, 1863, a month after the Battle of Chicamauga, when we were transferred into the United States Signal Corps, a position for which we had previously applied, and passed examination, and there served until after the close of the War.
We were still in the regiment at the time of the Battle of Chicamauga. Our company was detailed for guards at the Head Quarters of both Gen. Thomas and General Granger, after we started for the field of battle, Sept. 19, 1863; so that we did not go into the battle. Before we left the camp near Rossville, Ga. we heard the booming of artillery, and the rattle of musketry like hailstones on the roof. My brother had a boil on his foot, and could not walk, and so was left in camp. I was glad he could not go. I had a sad feeling as I left him that morning, thinking that I was going into the battle, and that I might see him no more. But I hoped at least one of us might be spared. We saw many of our comrades for the last time that morning.
In the Signal Corps, we were at the Head Quarters of the 14th Army Corps, (in the Army of the Cumberland), for a time, until after the taking of Atlanta. Then we were with Gen. Slocum, commanding the Left Wing of the Army of Georgia, in Sherman's march to the Sea, and from Savannah, Ga. to Washington, D.C. being there in time to see the Grand Review in May. We enjoyed the Signal Corps work better than the work in the regiment. We had a better chance to take care of ourselves, and we knew more of what was being done.
On December 13, 1864, when we were before Savannah, I was announced as an "Acting Sergeant," and was made Sergeant on March 1, 1865. In order to get the needed work done, I seldom, if ever, had to use authority with either my comrades or the colored servants. I habitually asked them to do what was needed, and was successful.
At Washington, May 15, my officer, Capt. H. W. Howgate, offered to get me a furlough for thirty days, which I accepted, and spent most all the month of June at home. During that month Gen. Sherman's Headquarters were moved to St. Louis, Mo. and our party of the Signal Corps went with him; so when my furlough expired, I went to St. Louis, and we were there discharged on July 10th and came home by the way of Chicago. David and I enlisted together, served together, helped each other, slept together nearly all the time, and were discharged together.
I am glad to say that, though often exposed to danger from flying bullets and bursting shells, I was never wounded, and never fired a gun at any human being never being placed where I was expected to do so. I have always been glad that the purpose for which I enlisted was carried out.
My greatest danger seemed to be from occasional hard marching, exposure to bad weather, and scarcity of food. My greatest trouble was dysentery, on account of which I spent about two weeks in the "Field Hospital," near Chattanooga, just after the Battle of Chicamauga. Then, though not yet able for duty, our Doctor (McConnell) gave me permission to return to my brother in the camp, with an "Excuse from duty" good until I chose to report.
For about two weeks we almost starved, until the day of our transfer to the Signal Corps —October 22. Our trouble then was that the Confederates held control of both the river and the railroad, so that the supplies for the army had to he brought from Bridgeport, Ala., sixty miles away, over muddy and mountainous roads. A change soon came, because of the enemy being dislodged by the Battle of Lookout Mountain -part of which was fought above the clouds of which we were witnesses by telescope from Cameron's Hill, in Chattanooga, Tenn., where we had a Signal Station.
The years in the Army made a change in my previous plans about getting a more liberal education. I was not home very long when a friendship of several years was emphasized, and I was engaged to be married, and I planned to be a farmer. In the Autumn of 1865, I bought forty acres of land in the township of Armada, two and a half miles northeast of the village, near Uncle John Paton's farm. The following winter I taught school in the home district, three miles east of Almont. On January 13, 1566, I was married to Miss Sarah Elizabeth Wilson, who was born (of English parents), in the township of Berlin, St. Clair Co., Mich., on January 21, 1844. This was the climax of an acquaintance which began when we were children together at school.
We have had and still have six children: Henry Wilson (born Nov. 1, 1866), George Wilber, (born Oct. 11, 1868), Nora Edith, (Mrs. S. 0. Robinson), (born July 5, 1870), David William, (born July 28, 1874), and Annie Ethel, (Mrs. O.E. Swain) (born May 12, 1883). We have had no death in our family. Our six are all married, and I married them all, and we have sixteen grandchildren. All our children were welcome.
My wife always says: "My first husband was a farmer," and I have never been sorry that I had some experience on the farm. It gave me sympathy with those who do hard labor. We moved to our farm in the township of Armada on March 26, 1866.
By avoiding all expensive habits in the army, (except that I wrote many letters, having had at one time twenty correspondents), I saved a large part of my wages, which helped us to start; but I felt the need of more money, and taught school in our district the following winter, and in other places later.
I long had a great desire to preach the gospel; but I felt that lack of a better education was in my way. But I early formed the habit of taking part in social Christian services as I had opportunity. I preached my first sermon in the summer of 1867. It was in the Stoddard School House several miles north, where I went on horseback to fill the regular appointment of Eld. Angell, a Methodist Protestant minister, who was called away to attend a funeral service. The schoolhouse was well filled. I felt rather timid, and yet was not afraid. I had something to say to the people, and I said it, using a simple and familiar text: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, etc." Rom. 1:16. I was somewhat slow of speech, and in private conversation a little inclined to stammer. This had been urged by a brother against my trying to preach, but I learned by experience that I could speak easier in public than in private. Eld. Angell urged me to go to Conference, and take the work of a minister among them, but this I could not conscientiously do. I did, however, accept what they called "An Exhorter's Licence," and from that time preached in several places, and enjoyed the work.
In the autumn of 1867, I bought forty acres of land four miles northeast of the village of Almont, and we moved there in November. While there we lived in an old log house. It was not luxurious, but we were quite comfortable. (Next summer we sold our land in Armada to Cousin Henry P. Leighton.)
For two winters I taught in our home district. A great sorrow came to us when, in October 1868, our sister Christina (Mrs. William Millikin) died. Out of a combination of sympathy and ignorance, we moved into the home from which she was taken and tried to care for the family.
We had not been there very long when my wife had an attack of inflammatory rheumatism, and we were soon convinced that we had made a mistake in taking the care and responsibility of that time. We moved back to our log house in March 1869, and felt very much at home. Soon after, I rented a part of the farm of John McKail, Jr., and sometime that year we moved into his house. The next winter I spent considerable time drawing farm produce to the lumberwoods, and worked the farm during the summer of 1870, leaving there for Almont in November.
For nearly two years after coming into the Retherford district I preached in the school house each alternate Sunday, and the neighbours had a Union Sunday School every Sunday. These meetings and the Sunday School were well attended. I was not then a member of any denomination.
On February 5, 1870, I came back to the Almont Baptist Church, and within a few months began to preach for them to fill a vacancy. On October 1, of that year, I was appointed to write the history of the Almont Baptist Church, and it was read before them and accepted on July 1, 1871.
On October 19, 1870, I was ordained to the gospel ministry by a Council of Baptist ministers, and was formally made pastor of the church. (That was the day the Cambria was wrecked, and Uncle Robert Paton, returning to Scotland from his visit to America, was drowned.)
A few weeks before the ordination, I was sent by the church to Alpena as a delegate to the annual meeting of the Flint River Association of Baptist churches. I went by rail to Port Huron, and from there to East Tawas and Alpena by steamer. On the return trip I came to Bay City by steamer, and to Flint by rail. I rode with the Lapeer Baptist minister in his buggy from Flint to Lapeer, and then walked home about 25 miles in the afternoon of the same day. I do not know why I did not take the train to Imlay City, unless it was because money was scarce.
Soon after the ordination (in November), we had a sale on the McKail farm, and moved to the village of Almont, where our home has been ever since. We lived not far from four years in the Baptist parsonage, about a year in the "Weir House," and in the autumn of 1875 moved into the house that is still our home. During the first winter of my pastorate, we had a series of union meetings with the Congregational Church, of which Rev. H. R. Williams was pastor. As a result of this effort, each church received nine new members; six by first profession and baptism and three by letter. The work was very harmonious and satisfactory. I never conducted a service on the "Close Communion" plan. At the Lord's table, I never put up nor took down any bars. Whoever wishes to remember Christ has a right to do so.
During my Army life I did not lose my interest in Christ. I read the New Testament through six times, and was led to do a good deal of thinking; and I learned to doubt the truth of the common church doctrine of human destiny. I wrote to my father about it, and told him that I was convinced that all would finally be saved, and that thus God would be all in all, and have a clean universe, unmarred by sin and suffering. We had considerable discussion on the subject, and I was not settled about it. Later, after coming home, I learned to think that the clean universe might be secured, and sin and pain be done away by the destruction of all the incorrigible. And at the time my ordination I told the Council that I was inclined the doctrine of "conditional immortality." Still they ordained me, thinking that I would outgrow the idea. But it grew on me, and I preached it, thinking that many would be glad to accept that solution of the question. But it resulted in bitter opposition on the part of some of the members of the church, and there was some talk of a trial for heresy.
Anticipating this, I resigned my pastorate on December 24, 1871, and soon after applied for membership in the Advent Christian Conference, of Michigan, and accepted, though I was still a member of the Baptist church. But after that a Council was called, which met in the Baptist church on February 28, 1872, and I was formally charged with heresy.
There were three charges:
(1) that I denied the doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul of man;
(2) that I believed in the sleep of the dead; and
(3) that I believed in the final destruction of the wicked.
In hope of having reasonable opportunity to defend my views, I appeared before the Council for trial; but when the chairman announced that I would not be allowed any defense, but that I must answer all their questions only by Yes or No, I refused to answer, and denied their right to put me thus on trial. I expected, I was then formally disfellowshipped by the Baptist ministry and church. Soon afterward, I organized a "Church of Christ," in Almont, which united with the Michigan Advent Christian Conference.
A historian can neither make nor unmake facts, whether they are good or bad, wise or foolish, pleasant or unpleasant. His part is to tell things as they are, if they are told at all. No doubt both the Baptists and I did what we thought was best.
The young church and I remained in the Conference only about two years. By farther study of the Scriptures my views were modified and enlarged; and many of the members of the churches where I preached grew with me. But while I did not make my opinions a test of fellowship, I did not find the leaders in the Conference as willing to tolerate the differences; and I withdrew.
Since then I have been master of several independent churches, whose principle was to receive as members all who accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour, on the ground that all who have the Spirit of Christ are members of one true Church.
I cannot say that these churches have been a success as organizations. I have not been successful either as an evangelist or as an organizer. My work has been mainly that of a teacher, and have made very little effort to add names to church lists. Yet through the years I have baptized a goodly number of converts, and several have confessed that my teaching of the word had saved them from infidelity.
I soon grew to believe in a larger gospel, and that all will finally be reconciled to God, as I first thought when I studied the Scriptures in the Army.
The Adventist plan was sufficient to get rid of sin and pain by killing the sinners; but it required the perpetuation of the death state, which was a result of sin. But I saw that the Bible plan required the destruction of sin and pain and death by saving the sinners. Christ came into the world to save the lost, and I believe that he will not fail in even a single instance. I have learned to believe in Christ as the First and the Last, the All-inclusive Creation of the Father, the Unit of the whole race; and that He is therefore the Life, the Light, the Judge and the Savior of all. And for more than thirty years, since getting this worldwide view, I have done what I could with both voice and pen to proclaim this full gospel of Christ, and I am assured that my labor has not been in vain. The larger gospel truth is spreading, and many sad hearts have been comforted.
It was a sad thing for me when my father died, on March 7, 1878. (I am writing this on the anniversary – March 7, 1915.) I missed him long. I thought of him as an ideal man in many respects. I had great respect for his opinions and principles. We often talked on the subject that was nearest my heart - the gospel of Christ. The last time we talked about it, (even before I was committed to the largest view) he said to me he would not be surprised if "in the ages to come" all would be gathered in. This has been a pleasant memory to me.
Beginning in 1873, for many years I preached and gave Bible lectures in many places in Michigan and several other states. Since 1879 I have written and published three books: "Day Dawn" -10,000 copies; "Moses and Christ" -3,000 Copies; and "The Perfect Day" -3,000 copies. Beginning in 1882, I have published "The World's Hope" -for three years a monthly, and since then a semi-monthly magazine. Its mission has been to proclaim the fullness of the gospel, and also as far as possible to show what is revealed in the Bible about the Church, the nation of Israel, and the world of mankind.
In the year 1903 we organized "The Larger Hope Association." Of this I am President.
The truth concerning the victory of Christ and the race is spreading. As some say: "It is in the air." Some believe and teach it who do not see that it is clearly taught in the Bible; but my object is to hold forth what I believe the Lord has revealed in his word. And I rejoice that I have been able to do even a little in this great work.
In 1897 my daughter Nora and I visited Scotland and England. We greatly enjoyed the visit among our relatives on both sides of the family. And I enjoyed the opportunity of preaching in Galston, Paisley Kirkcaldy, Nottingham and Liverpool, besides three times in crossing the ocean.
I have visited several expositions. My brother Alexander went with me to the "Centennial" at Philadelphia. My son Henry went with me to the "Cotton Exposition" at New Orleans. My son David went with me to the exposition at Atlanta, Ga., taking in the Dedication of the National Park at Chattanooga, Tenn., on the way. My whole family attended the "World's Fair" at Chicago. And my son-in-law, S.O Robinson, went with me to the "Pan American," at Buffalo N.Y. It has been interesting to note the progress along the various lines in these years, especially in the uses of electricity. I do not expect to go to San Francisco this year.
I went with my daughter Nora to New York, when she was a delegate to the International Convention of the Young Peoples' Christian Endeavor Society. We also visited Ocean Grove and Pittsburgh after the Convention was over. That was in the year 1892.
In the year 1908, I spent most of the month of March in Los Angeles, Cal., preaching and visiting. In the autumn of the same year, I visited Eld. George W. Wright at Rockford, Minn., and then went on to Carrington, N.D., to visit my brother Robert.
These were enjoyable things; and the blessings have been many all along the way having had very little sickness and no deaths in my family. But on August 9, 1912, my wife (always a willing and faithful helper in my work) was stricken with apoplexy; and it seemed for weeks that we must part. The physicians gave us no hope of her recovery. But we did what we could in the use of remedies and treatment, and with the Lord's blessing she wonderfully recovered, having been quite well and comfortable for many months. From September 1912, we made our home for eleven months with our daughter Christine in Detroit. After that we returned to our home in Almont, where Nora and her children had been living while we were away; and they remained with us till June 1914. I would say here that all our children and their families have been very kind to us during the time of our trouble. And I am conscious that we have had the kind sympathy and earnest prayers of many friends.
I have not done so much traveling and preaching since my wife was taken sick; but I have preached a few times each month. "The World's Hope" is still published, and I still love to tell the story of God's plan of salvation, through Christ as I have opportunity. I am still waiting and watching to see how the Lord will fulfill his word about the Church, Israel, and the angry nations. The war cloud in Europe looks dark, and it is very extensive in its influence, but as the All-wise Father is at the helm we believe he will make man's wrath to praise him, and bring in the time when peace and righteousness will triumph under the reign of Christ –"the King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
Finished March 9, 1915