S.S. Ralston’s library was
donated to Bryson College, Fayetteville, Tennessee by his son-in-law, John G.
McCain of Idaville, Tipton County, Tennessee.
Bryson closed and the books were sent to Grahive College, Due West South
Carolina and later to Erskine College, Due West, South Carolina where they
remained in 1979.
BY S.S. RALSTON
Williamson Co. TN
Submitted by Kenneth Ralston
The history of ancestors,
however humble, is generally interesting to their posterity.
This consideration will perhaps excuse me in recording some particulars
of my past life. And the narrative
must be given from memory, since I never kept a diary.
My grandfather, David
Ralston, was a native of Ireland,
immigrated to America before the Revolutionary War, and married Mary Reid from
Scotland. They reared seven sons
and one daughter, of whom my father, James Ralston, was the second.
The old gentleman survived his wife some twenty years or more, and died
at the ripe old age of about one hundred years.
My maternal grandfather was Samuel Shannon, from whom I inherited the
appellation S.S. He was a
Pennsylvanian, passed over into Virginia, married Jane Reid, and they reared
seven sons and four daughters. My
maternal uncles were large athletic men. The
older ones took part in the revolutionary struggle and also most of them endured
the hardships incident to the settlement of the family in Tennessee.
The conflict with the Indian tribes was both sanguinary and of long
uncles and two of my maternal aunts reared large families, who have
scattered far beyond my knowledge.
father was born in Pennsylvania in 1781, and whilst a schoolboy the family
removed to the vicinity of Nashville, Tenn.
He was a large portly man, of grave aspect but very genial temperament.
Being an old Seceder, he and others by application obtained from Scotland
Rev. Wm. Hume as pastor. He had the
reputation of being a very pious good man.
I was born the 11th
day of May, 1809, in the vicinity
of Nashville, and now, Dec. 25, 1866, I am in my 58th year.
So fleet is time! Baptized by father Hume, I was taken by my parents at two
years of age to Lincoln County, Tenn., then a wilderness. When settlers came in we were surrounded by a kind hearted
neighborly people; but chiefly an irreligious class of little culture.
I was the eldest of six children, three sons and three daughters.
My brothers David and John,
and sister Mary, all have become heads of families, and still remain in
Tennessee. But my two sisters, Jane
and Katherine Ann, both died single.
earliest recollections were waked up by the earthquakes of 1811-12.
It may seem incredible that I should remember events that occurred before
I was quite three years old. But
those frequent and long continued shocks of mother earth that threatened to
overturn our houses, made a deep impression upon every mind; and I am fully
persuaded that I still recollect those scenes of horror.
new country was quite hilly and rocky, was heavily timbered and was covered with
tall cane. It abounded in springs
and caverns---a romantic region well calculated to awaken the feelings of my
brothers and myself. The hills we climbed, the rocks we rolled down precipices,
and the chestnuts we gathered, seem as things of yesterday.
I can not imagine what I should do with boyhood in the smooth monotonous
prairies of Iowa; though these luxuriant prairies are very pleasing now.
The primitive school houses
of Tennessee were very poor structures: and the schools corresponded to the
character of the buildings. Nothing
was taught beyond the primary rudiments, and these but imperfectly.
Our time was divided between labor, study and play.
The facilities for study were very limited, and “labor saving
machines” in the modern sense, had not been thought of.
As for play, the genuine article needs no ficticious helps, such as
gymnastics now propose. Play is by
far the sweetest, when boys spring forth into the forest without the trappings
of art. Hence, in view of the
impediments to labor and study, and the native access to play, it is not strange
that we were most fond of the latter. When
I think of the hills, rocks, roots and stumps, amongst which I wrought, I
sometimes wonder that I did not contract an utter aversion to manual labor with
the poor implements we used. No
doubt such would have been the result had not custom interspersed liberal
seasons of play for relaxation.
Surrounded by an irreligious
community, church going was not to be enjoyed except when we went into other
neighborhoods several miles distant; even then not much to edification, except
occasionally. Our Sabbaths were
generally spent at home; and reading was the common exercise.
The Westminster Catechism was taught, the Bible studied, and books, such
as Harvey’s, Boston’s, Bunyan’s, etc, were read.
Of religious newspapers we had none.
My neighboring schoolmates were accustomed to spend the Sabbath in
running over the neighborhood at all manner of sports; and they often tried to
allure my brothers and myself to like indulgence---persuasion and scorn were
alternately brought to bear upon us, but thanks to a guardian Providence our
parents were firm in opposing our participation in such indulgences.
In fact, I was never greatly moved at the ridicule of those wicked boys.
This was greatly owing to the influence exercised by my father.
His education was but limited, but he read much and had a good
understanding. His neighbors
regarded him with deference. He was
their counselor, wrote their documents, presided in their litigations, bled
their sick, and married their sons and daughters.
Seeing the deference shown him in other respects I never doubted his
superiority in religious matters also. Happily
I was decidedly impressed with the correctness of his religious views and
practice long before I had any adequate understanding of their meaning.
I could therefore afford to despise the sneers of boys that had been
brought up like the wild ass colt.
mother, whose name was Esther, was a woman of very meek, tender, and amiable
disposition. Her tears had a most
subduing influence over me. Tears!
Yes, my folly often brought tears from her eyes profusely.
And thus by the divine blessing on paternal firmness and maternal
tenderness, my early life was moulded amid surroundings the most forbidding.
In my earliest reading of
the Bible I relished most its stirring narratives, and sublime imagery.
Bunyan’s “Pilgrim Progress” and his “Holy War” were also great
favorites long before the spirituality of their meaning was understood.
Away with the idea that children should not read anything not understood. Those inimitable allegories were indelibly fixed on my
memory, as they never could have been at a later period; and they were found
eminently useful as the understanding became more mature. Subsequently, I became much interested in the Doctrines of
Grace, as taught in the Bible and explained in the writings of old divines.
Harvey’s Theron and Aspasio was then highly relished for the spirit of
its discussions and the aptitude of its illustrations.
professing people, with whom I then came in contact, were generally of the
Arminian creed. And the custom of
those days encouraged religious disputations.
Such disputes were often long and loud, and very well calculated to stir
up warmth of feeling. Young as I was I often entered the list in favor of
Calvinism. Though I subsequently
became disgusted with the heat and bitterness often stirred up by those
religious contentions, and became quite averse to such displays.
In fact I am conscious of having lapsed into the very opposite extreme,
and have too often refrained when I should have contended for truth.
an early period of life I often experienced very lively emotions, which led me
to meditation and prayer. In the
privacy of such exercises deep solicitude, hope, peace and joy were often
experienced. But I never could
revert to any definite period when these exercises had their beginning. There was indeed one day of my youthful history, that calls
for special acknowledgments of gratitude. In
a grove of dense foliage I was one of a large audience that listened to an able
minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
He was solemn, and in my apprehension, very eloquent.
His lecture was founded on Isa. 63:1-5.
The subject itself is truly sublime; and the speaker seemed to rise
grandly beyond the things of earth; as he set forth the sovereignty, the
majesty, passion, and victorious conquest of the Redeemer.
I seemed to behold the Lamb of God.
I had never seen Him before, and the impressions were no less abiding
than deep. I was then about sixteen
or seventeen years of age; and though the language was not retained the
impressions are still vivid, far more so than anything ever heard before or
since, even the latest. Was that the day of my regeneration? I am not prepared to decide.
I had often previously experienced very lively emotions.
But to me this was the great day of the feast.
I seemed to realize manifestations more elevating and abiding than ever
In my eighteenth year I
became impressed with an inclination to the ministerial office and a strong
conviction of duty in that direction. This impression was not a mere sudden and
ephemeral impulse, but a deep and abiding conviction. My situation was such as almost to preclude a reasonable hop
of success, nevertheless, I never tried to cast off the sense of duty.
Yet circumstances were such as to bar the way to an immediate
consecration to the requisite preparation.
My father had but a short time previous moved to the vicinity of Memphis,
Tenn.; had bought land partly on credit, and then for the first time in life
began to have many sore visitations in the way of malignant fevers.
I was his principal dependence for paying his indebtedness. To have left the family then seemed likely to involve them in
ruin. To have communicated my
dilemma to my parents would have given them much trouble at the thought of my
detention. Hence my convictions
were pent up in my own bosom for about three years before I communicated to any
person. My father’s indebtedness
having been paid, the family returned to middle Tennessee where they had always
enjoyed good health. This done I
informed my parents of my convictions of duty and purpose to comply.
As I had anticipated, they were both surprised and deeply affected on
hearing my story. They expressed their sore regrets that so much time had been
lost, and that even then they were not in situation to render me pecuniary
assistance. But with feeling
natural to parents, they bade me God speed, hoping that Providence would open up
some practicable way to success.
When I was about eighteen
years of age my father gave me a very promising colt of fine blood.
This being all the property I owned it was cared for very closely, in the
fond hope that with the price of a fine horse I might be able to make a small
start toward an education. But it
was the mysterious will of God to cut off that sole visible dependence.
At about two years old the colt died, a very heavy loss to a boy, who had
nothing more to lose. The colt
having been purposely consecrated to the prosecution of the anticipated
education, this providential dispensation seemed inscrutable.
that inland region far from market, money had always been comparatively scarce
during my early life. Prior to maturity I never possessed more that ten dollars all
told. And, when leaving my
father’s house to seek an education, I had barely fifty cents! The first
effort was to get employment in a common school.
But so stringent were the times, and so indifferent were the parents that this effort failed.
As an alternative I engaged to serve a farmer for one month, and I did
him a faithful month’s work for $9. At
the expiration of the month I went to my uncle, Wm. Ralston, and
studied with him for a few months, when Rev. Henry Bryson of Lincoln
County sent me a very liberal proposition to give me both tuition and
boarding gratuitously. This seemed to me a very providential opening toward the
attainment of my fond purpose, and the proposition was thankfully accepted.
Mr. Bryson was a pious and
very zealous minister of the Associate Reformed Church.
My arrival at his house marked a new era in the history of my existence.
Up to that time I had no favorable opportunity of uniting with the
church, not having access to any of the Psalm singing denominations. But then I was admitted to the fellowship of Doctor
then commenced to study Latin, and after considerable progress had been made I
commenced Greek and some of the sciences in connection.
In the prosecution of ministerial and pastoral duties my benefactor was
often so much engaged as to preclude my recitations, which operated unfavorably. Moreover, it was very unfavorable to have no fellow student
for conference and fraternal criticism. I
had no promptings to emulation, and no favorable opportunity to cultivate the
art of public speaking. These
hinderences were sorely felt. My
progress seemed slow, and I had an uneasy apprehension that my attainments were
not very thorough. But these
disadvantages were to a great extent compensated by the social privileges
enjoyed with my preceptor and his admirable lady. No portion of my life was ever spent more pleasantly or
profitably to myself. Thought often
reverts to the time of that sojourn with grateful feelings.
remedy some of the evils connected with the privacy of my studies, I spent
nearly two sessions at Jackson College; the expenses of which were paid by my
father. Next I taught a common
school for a few months, and then spent a year with Rev. Robert Galloway, during
part of which time I assisted him in teaching, but studied most of the time.
had read about the usual amount of Latin and Greek, but had attained
comparatively little proficience in Mathematics, when through the
representations of Dr. Bryson I was taken und the care of Presbytery, in so far
as to have a text assigned to me on which to deliver a discourse at the next
annual meeting. This was unexpected
to me, and I greatly feared that I was being put forward beyond the measure of
my attainments. Whilst still
prosecuting my literary course, I prepared the prescribed sermon on the most
difficult subject, Moral Inability. At
the proper time I appeared before Presbytery, and delivered my discourse as best
I could; and so much to the satisfaction of the Presbytery, that I was directed
to commence the study of Theology forthwith under the tuition of my benefactor,
Dr. Bryson. Once more I became an inmate of his hospitable house, had the use
of his books, and received his instructions.
The year was spent very laboriously in reading Ridgeley’s Body of
Divinity, Dwight’s study of the Scriptures; and in church History, Milner’s
History, Prideaux’s Connections, Shuckford, etc. I also wrote a sermon or a lecture on the several leading
subjects of Theology, in order as they are set forth in our Confession of Faith.
This made the fourth year that I spent with Dr. Bryson gratuitously.
He was indeed a benefactor, a revered father.
the next fall meeting of Synod the Theological Seminary at Due West Corner,
South Carolina, was started into existence, and I was the first theological
student to arrive at the appointed place. Laughland
McDonald arrived soon after; and rooming together we shared the instructions of
Rev. E.E.Pressly. McDonald was a
very companionable young man, full of vivacity and peasantry.
And Dr. Pressly did everything in his power to render us comfortable and
it was that I commenced the study of Hebrew in addition to the prosecution of
studies already mentioned. Feeling
that much was still to be accomplished, I
overtaxed myself both by day and night. Dr.
Pressly gave me repeated warnings to danger to my health but I did not profit by
his well timed admonitions. I had
been a close laborious student for years without apparent injury. My constitution seemed better than ordinary, and I thought
there could be no danger in the few remaining months. The consequence was that in February dyspepsia gripped me
like a giant, and I was compelled to relinquish my studies. Most of all did I regret to give up Hebrew, which was not
matured, so as to enable me to retain it until health was restored.
Pressly had a great fondness for figurative passages of Scripture, and was very
ready in discovering the apparent subjects of allusion.
He exercised us freely in this department of sacred literature.
It was his custom every week to point our some highly figurative passage
for our examination, on which we were required to extemporize alternately in a
colloquial recitation. We consulted
commentaries and other available helps, and were seldom able to advance anything
beyond what was borrowed from those authors. After our little shock had been exhausted, then came the
Doctor’s turn; and we were often surprised at his stores of originality, which
seemed very simple and natural. The
presumption is that he generally selected figures in relation to which he had
arrived at some original thoughts. To
my mind these lessons opened up a new field of study. It became evident that in very many instances expositors had
failed to present the most satisfactory interpretations of prophetic symbols.
And it was found that patient and laborious thought was necessary to the
acquisition of satisfactory views on such passages.
But when anything new was arrived at, it brought with it a thrill of
gratification. I became very fond
of these exercises; but did not then dream that I was laying the foundation for
the study of prophecy, which abounds in figures.
The example of Dr. Pressly did much to emancipate my mind from a servile
dependence on expositors, however valuable they are as helps. In the figurative portions of Scripture are to be found many
rich veins of sacred lore that have never been properly developed.
an invalid far from home, with little apparent prospect of recovery, I resolved
on returning to my father’s house, that I might die there, but I started in
company with several ministers, who were on their way to a meeting of Presbytery
in Newton County, Ga. After several
days of travel on horseback with cheerful companions, my deep gloom had
partially worn off, and the Presbytery proposed to give me license to preach,
and to send me on a mission amongst the vacant congregations, in the fond hope
that such exercise might improve my health.
Accordingly I was licensed to preach the everlasting gospel on the 6th
of May, 1837, five days before I completed my 28th year. This done, I received a series of presbyterial appointments
extending over several months, which required me to return to South and North
Carolinas. Though feeble I
continued to preach every Sabbath, until toward the last of August, when my
health had become so poor that I was advised to desist.
And then, weak as I was, I resolved to return home that I might die
there. The kind people for whom I
had been laboring, regarded this resolve as little better than suicide,
supposing that I would die by the way. To perform a journey of nearly 400 miles
on horseback, and alone, was indeed a great undertaking. But I committed my case to the Lord, with far more than
ordinary earnestness, and I was undoubtedly heard in the time of need.
God perfected strength in my weakness.
Throughout the journey I seemed to realize the interpositions of a
merciful Providence every day, and in due time I was in the midst of
sympathizing friends at home.
reaching home I learned that my dear mother had died but a few days before.
This was a sore disappointment to me.
In my feeble state nothing could have been more gratifying than to have
met my kind hearted mother. During
the seven years spent in study my mother and sisters had made nearly all the
clothing I had worn. I went to
Jackson College in a beautiful suit of mixed jeans of domestic manufacture.
And I confess to a feeling of no little pride, when in reply to inquires
as to where I had obtained it, I responded that my mother and sisters made it at
home. My trial discourses were delivered in clothing of their handiwork, and
finally I was licensed to preach in similar attire. As that venerable mother spend hour after hour in drawing out
the threads, she thought much of my distant prospects; and she had a great
anxiety to hear my pulpit performance. Yet
in the mysterious allotments of Providence she was not spared to hear the son
she had reared.
the commencement of the ensuing winter my health had very much improved, and I
started on a missionary tour of six months through the new settlements of
Alabama, Mississippi, “West Tennessee” and Kentucky.
I found myself amongst strangers throughout this excursion, but was
everywhere received with demonstrations of kind regard.
The people seemed gospel hungry, and I felt it a privilege to preach,
though it was generally done in their dwellings, sometimes in school houses or
court houses, but only once in a church during the half year.
The country being new, the roads were very little improved, the streams
were often high and the muddy swamps very deep. Hence my journeys on horseback were very laborious, and often
dangerous, but in the good providence of God I was preserved and prospered.
Settlement and Marriage
A small congregation, Head
spring, had been organized within a few miles of my youthful home, and for
several years had been under the pastoral care of my preceptor, Dr. Bryson; and
Zion was a very small society that had been organized as an off-shoot of Bethel
congregation. These people gave me a call to become their pastor, and I accepted
chiefly because the call was subscribe by a number of my old neighbors and
school mates, as adherents though not members.
the same time, June 6, 1838, I was married to Mary Ann Hill.
She proved to be an industrious, economical and agreeable companion. She soon enlisted the affections of the people, and was
highly esteemed for her amiable qualities. In that place three children were
given us, Mary Jane, Martha, and Robert Shannon.
that people I encountered many difficulties, and had also many encouragements.
The people, even the elders, had been poorly trained in early life, and
amongst them there were none of extensive influence.
This was found to be a great defect, for which there was nothing to
compensate. Worse still, there were
not a few whose influence proved positively injurious to the cause.
Ardent spirits had not been banished from the church, and I had some
trouble on that score. But of all the evils there encountered, the tongue proved
to be the worst. Backbiting and
strife prevailed to the distraction of the little society.
But for the untoward
Influence of this despicable
vice there were many encouragements to hope for success.
Large audiences attended my ministrations.
There was a large attendance from non-professional families, many of whom
I had known from my youth. Not a
few of these evinced a lively interest. In
those days my feelings were easily moved, far more emotional than of late years;
and I was often moved by seeing some of my auditors
in tears. Some few of my old
nonprofessing friends were enlisted and made a pubic profession, and others
would in all probability have done so but for the forbidding influence of
talkers. At length I became so
discouraged at the prevalence of scandal as to resolve on seeking a new field of
labor, and after some hesitation I accepted a call to serve the congregation of
Mt. Zion in Lincoln County, Mo., in the autumn of 1843.
That was a time of great pecuniary depression. It was almost impracticable to sell anything for money, and
in making removal we made an almost complete sacrifice of the household
furniture we had been able to gather.
In addition to Mt. Zion,
already named, a little society at Buffalo in Pike County, obtained one-fourth
of my time for a few years. Mt.
Zion having engaged but one-half of my time, one-fourth was left vacant, and was
chiefly spent in missionating over Calaway, Audrian, and Monroe Counties.
a few years the little society at Buffalo became distracted, and in a great
measure disorganized by the strife of two prominent members.
Being brothers-in-law, their contentions were like the bars of a castle.
I tried for a year to effect the restoration of order and quiet to the
distracted society, but all in vain, I was compelled to give them up.
Mt. Zion I had a small congregation (34 members at first) of very interesting
people. In point of intelligence
and salutary influence they constituted the best neighborhood in the county.
This afforded a very delightful contrast to the society I had left.
My opportunities were, however, very much circumscribed.
Other denominations divided the population all around me, and my
audiences were by no means so large as in Tennessee.
The increase was chiefly from the youth of our own families; yet the
youth of those days were so well disposed that in the course of a few years our
number had doubled
the spring of 1845 my wife’s health began
to decline under consumption. On the first day of July she gave birth to our
youngest son James. The child was
also taken sick when but a few days old, and was reduced to so low a state that
death seemed inevitable. Both
visitors and physicians were much astonished at his recovery, his reviving
seemed to indicate the visit of an angel. Yet
he was very feeble for a long time after. His
mother grew worse from the time of his birth, and continued to sink under a
severe cough until her death on the 28th of August.
She was demented for some time before her departure, in consequence of
which I could have very little satisfaction in conversing with her in the near
prospect of death.
situation was then a pitiable one. Yet
Providence did provide for our necessities.
Mr. Jas. Alexander had married Miss Agnes Shannon, a distant relative of
my own, and their own house not being built, I prevailed on them to move into my
house and take charge of my children. Mrs. Alexander was one of the kindest of
women, and she was indefatigable in her attentions, but her health was feeble,
and the care and solicitude was too great for her strength.
I did what I could to lighten the burden, but still her health seemed
likely to fail. Such were the
circumstances which induced me to seek relief by another change of relation
before the year of bereavement had quite expired. On the 6th of June, 1846, I married Miss Sarah
Yeagle. She was a pious and good
woman, a faithful wife and a godmother to my children. Her education was limited, but she was a woman of far more
than ordinary judgment. I was
largely indebted to her for the measure of success in life that Providence
willed me. For seventeen years I
continued to serve the good people of Mt. Zion.
These years were thickly set with diversified trials.
Connected as I was with the Kentucky Presbytery, from three to four
hundred miles from my Presbyterian brethren, I felt lonely and much in need of
fraternal sympathy and counsel. The
congregation being small and solitary, my little influence was circumscribed to
narrow bounds. My pecuniary support
was entirely inadequate, and I was compelled to supply the deficiency as best I
could. Yet I did not feel at
liberty to leave so long as there were evidences of usefulness in store for a
future day. Trying as were those
years, they were comparatively happy. The
people were generally harmonious among themselves, and they seemed to appreciate
my services. Hence I held on
despite my difficulties. The
“border troubles” in Kansas dissatisfied me very much.
I felt inclined to leave, but could not readily decide what was duty in
the case. Eventually I was so
unhappy as to offend a prominent member of the congregation. I humbled myself
before him more than once, but the wound could not be permanently healed. The
time to leave seemed to have come and I did so with reluctance for I felt
strongly attached to the people.
Pastorate in Iowa
On removing to Iowa I passed
from the Associate Reformed to the United Presbyterian Church and took charge of
the congregation of LeClaire Praire in Scott County Iowa, and of the Pleasant
Unity congregation in Rock Island County, Ill., giving two-thirds of my time to
the former and one-third to the latter place.
This arrangement required the crossing of the river to and fro at regular
periods, and frequently with considerable risk, when the ice was weak.
At Pleasant Unity my services seemed barren of results, and I was
convinced that my services might be more profitable if spent at the one place.
With the acquiescence of the Pleasant Unity congregation I was released,
and afterward devoted my time entirely to the one congregation.
my new position success seemed to crown my efforts.
The congregation grew steadily, and my audiences were swelled by
outsiders. The youth were generally well disposed, and made professions
in early life. There were
exceptions to this general fact, to my sorrow there were some who stood aloof
from the church. Moreover we had
frequently to suffer loss by removals, families going west in search of cheap
lands. Nevertheless, we had a
steady support from yearly accessions.
most of these years my support from the congregation was insufficient.
In my former charge the support was altogether inadequate and I was
compelled to supplement my little salary by teaching, and partly by manual
labor, not by tent-making but in employment more laborious.
At the death of my father, and again at the death of a sister I fell heir
to a few hundred dollars. By such
means and by strict economy we managed to live and to gain a little almost
imperceptibly. Shortly after my
first marriage I bought a little home entirely on credit, having the privilege
of paying at indefinite periods, at any and all times when a few dollars could
be spared it was paid over and my note accredited. The transaction looks pitiful enough, but it was the only
plan for me to obtain a home as I was situated.
Had I deferred the purchase until I might lay by money with which to
purchase, I must have remained homeless. My
little family could all the time have used every dollar of my income without any
infringement on the laws of economy.
Iowa a home was obtained and a little surplus left, which after a few years
enabled me to purchase a lot and house in davenport, the rent of which after
expenses has afforded some help. But
the farm was sadly out of repair, requiring a considerable outlay every year to
repair and keep it up. After
defraying expenses and paying taxes the amount left is rather scant for a
living. But the God of Jacob has
provided for me and mine hitherto, and I can cheerfully trust his Providence for
the time to come.
In early life, being always
straightened for means it was felt that I never had much to spare, and the
obligation to pay the “tithe” of my scant income was not taken seriously to
heart. I plodded on carelessly as
others did in neglect of the demand so plainly made in the Scriptures.
But in 1870 I commenced and have continued to pay annually the tithe on
my little income, keeping a memorandum of what is paid in each month in a book
kept for that purpose. My experience has been highly satisfactory, and it is a
matter of regret that I did not commence thus to obey the divine requirement in
My wife Sarah, who had been
affectionate and faithful during our pilgrimage together, was taken from me in
April of 1873. She had been an
invalid for more than a year but passed away calmly and full of hope.
Then followed a painful sense of loneliness though my faithful daughter
Martha, now Mrs. McCain, was then with me.
This my second widowerhood continued until the 30th day of
December, 1875, when I was married again to Mrs. Rebecca McGarvey.
This relation has been blessed as is believed to our mutual comfort and
coming to Iowa I was so far remote from my brethren in the ministry that I could
attend but seldom at Presbyterial and Synodical meetings.
This was felt to be a great privation and had the appearance of
unfaithfulness, though my finances would not justify the travel.
But in Iowa the situation has been far more favorable, and I am happy to
say that promptitude has since marked my course. Very rarely have I been absent
from Presbytery and but once from Synod during my pastorate, and it was my
privilege to be a delegate to the General Assembly four times. My intercourse with the brethren has been of the most cordial
and fraternal character. Many have
been the tokens of regard received at their hands, and in an instance they
carried their fancy rather far. News
came from the board of Monmouth College that they had honored me with the title
of doctor of Divinity. This news
startled me, being entirely unexpected. I could not imagine why such honor had
been lavished on one of such meager claims.
The matter was still enveloped in mystery until I was told that the
action was taken in answer to a petition signed by every member of the
a pastorate of 21 years at LeClaire Praire my ministerial labors were brought to
an abrupt end by a stroke of paralysis, in the left side, which occurred in
December of 1881, in the 45th year of my ministry.
On the day previous to this attack I had preached on Job 38:17, first
clause, “Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?”
Thoughts were thus directed to come of the things we do not know
concerning death. My feelings were
deeply enlisted and I spoke with unusual care and earnestness, though not
realizing that it was to be my last. So
soon as I could realize the nature of the disease I accepted the visitation as a
sovereign expression of the Divine will. My
demit of the charge to the Presbytery was made by asking the brethren to
acquiesce in the decision of the Higher Court.
To this the congregation assented and the relation was dissolved.
stated in a previous chapter I contracted a great fondness for the figurative
language of the Scripture when a student of Theology. Hence I took great
pleasure in reading the prophets, though without any systematic method.
But in the winter of 1842-3 my attention was forcibly enthusiastic
speculations of Miller, who then figured as a Millenarian. The country was
flooded with the writings of that sincere but deluded man. His theories
generally I never comprehended, but in one particular I was forcibly
impressed,that there was a radical error in the chronological arrangement of the
Apocalyptic figures, and that Miller had been led astray by accepting this
arrangement as correct. The chronological arrangement radically wrong, the
leading symbols were licated at improper times,and made to
foreshadow events to which they had no illusion.
It was like the
experiment of locating the map of one State on the territory of another. There
might be some fancied resemblancies, but in fact irreconcilable discrepancies.
In reading our orthodox expositors I found in many instances great ingenuity in
giving a fanciful interpretation to predictions, which plainly declared
something else. This was true of all the leading symbols, but especially so
of the trumpets. Yet it was very difficult to be relieved from the misleading
glasses of the fathers, so plausible were their fanciful constructions. But so
soon as I began to study the Apocalypse simply in the light of history,
satisfaction began to be found. I was soon convinced that the fathers had been
far too hasty in applying the seals, trumpet and vials to early events. Fixing
those figures by such arbitrary arrangement was like an attempt to locate the
map of our whole country on the Atlantic States. (The illustration is not too strong.) Such were the
convictions which induced me to seek a new chronological arrangement of the
Apocalyptic figures throughout. The undertaking was indeed onerous, far more so
than might appear to a superficial observer.
It involved the finding of new periods and new allusions for almost
everything. The process was a tentative one. Untenable positions were abandoned
in quick succession. The chronological chart that accompanied my published
theory was projected and reprojected perhaps twenty times in the persistent
effort to arrive at a true synopsis of the theory. My fixed purpose was to
retain no position that seemed to require a forced construction, or a fanciful
gloss superimposed on the text. Hence self correction over and over again, and
reams of paper were written and burned.
charge of a congregation, and having a family to support on a salary entirely
insufficient, it devolved on me to supplement the deficiency by labors outside
the duties of my profession. Hence a large amount of this investigation was done
at night whilst other men slept. The wonder is that my health did not break
down. Yet I was so completely wedded to the theme, that it could not be
abandoned. Nevertheless the labor was not without its compensations. Frequent
discoveries of new allusions gave emotions of exultation. Very often did
thoughts occur unexpectedly, as suggestions from an invisible source, for which
lively emotions of gratitude were due.
were times of special effort, when my mind became so completely occupied with
some mysterious question that the subject could not be discussed until it had
been satisfactorily investigated. At such times I could have no sleep; and
sometimes this chase after mysterious allusions would rob me of a second
night’s sleep. Those mystic figures, the “four living creatures”—their
relation to the throne and to the vial angels, were specially exhausting.
Incredible as the assertion may seem the involuntary strain had no abatement for
six days and nights in succession, during which time I did not sleep one moment.
At the close of the ordeal I was completely exhausted. Appetite had failed, and
my voice was almost gone. In fact it was feared that I might never sleep again.
But the end of the chase had come. The idea was seemingly grasped and committed
to paper, and then I fell languidly to my couch and God gave me sleep.
idea of drifting away from the fathers was at first an occasion of much anxiety.
In that crude state of progress where old theories were dissolving and the new
not sufficiently methodized to afford entire confidence, I seemed to see but
imperfectly, saw men as trees walking. The situation was indeed a trying one.
Indecision was very painful. I prayed frequently for light and for direction as
to whether I should commit myself to the new course of interpretation, but no
decision came. Eventually when about to engage in family worship, I stated my
case to my wife and requested that she would unite with me in an earnest request
that God would give me a decision as to what course I should pursue. To this she
readily assented and the result was satisfactory beyond expectation. When on my
knees, and just as I had begun to plead for relief there occurred quite a
sensible earthquake. I felt myself swayed on my knees, and had an instantanious
presentment of what it was. More than this I had a simultaneous presentment of
mind that was thrilling in its character. It seemed to be a complete response to
my prayer. My feelings were captivated and elevated beyond anything ever before
experienced. The visitation was
manifest to my own mind, and accepted as sufficient; but it was to me
personally, and not to others. Hence it was treasured in my own mind as private
property, rarely have I ever named it even privately to personal friends. But to
me individually the influence has been of great moment. I arose from my knees,
tranquil and confiding. Thence forth I was fully decided to pursue the
investigation in reliance on divine direction. At that time comparatively little
progress had been made. My thoughts were crude and some of them wild and
untenable, had to be abandoned, as many subsequent thoughts were abandoned in
the process of methodizing.
influence of that night’s experience was permanent. It sustained me in the
most laborious periods of the search after truth, in the darkest hours of
perplexity. Especially was such support important to me in view of the neglect,
if not contempt, of my contemporaries. It is now over forty years since that
memorable evening, but my recollections are still vivid.
A.D. 1858 my Theory of the Apocalypse was published in condensed form, and I
could heartily wish it had been still abbreviated, by omitting to guess the
parts to be acted in the near future by existing nationalities. Of the things to
be looked for I am still expectant; but of matters in detail I can not speak
confidently. The great object was to arrive at a correct arrangement of the
symbols, and to ascertain their meaning without determining who are to be the
specific actors. And manifestly this correct arrangement is dependent on the
true chronology of the several parts. If located at their proper periods of
time, the leading figures will speak for themselves. To arrive at the true
arrangement of the parts chronologically was my great aim, and I am still quite
satisfied with the positions assigned to the seals, vials, witnesses and
trumpets. In fact since the time of publication, I have found some strong
additional evidences of the general correctness of the theory chronologically.
my contemporaries I expect no recognition. In less than a century from this
time, events may begin to test the truth of the theory. My appeal is to the
verdict of the twenty-first century.
the 74th year of my age, and 45th of my ministry, though disabled by paralysis,
I am now waiting for my great change. May God grant me an abundant entrance into
His kingdom, through faith in His Son.
Obituary of Samuel Shannon Ralston, D.D.
NAME: Ralston, A.
NAME: Ralston, James
County by Virginia McDaniel Bowman:
Pg. 13 “ In 1810,
Alexander Ralston bought seventy-five acres from Wilson Davis on Nelson’s
Creek, and in 1816, he bought 488 acres from William Wilson near the same
location. Here Ralston remained
until 1832 when he sold out to Philip R. Haley.
Pg. 54 “...Ashley Bascom
Rozell.........served as a circuit rider in Middle Tennessee.........In 1828, he
married Margaret Ralston, the daughter of Major Alexander Ralston.
She died within two years.......