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Diana, Goddess of the Hunt for Ancestors!
 
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Pioneer Preachers of California
Thomas Thompson and  J.P. McCorkle
Excerpt from the History of the Disciples of Christ in California by E.B. Ware (1916, Healdsburg, CA).

Be forewarned that E.B. Ware makes mistakes.  For example...

Gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, Coloma, California, not in December of 1847 as Ware states below, but in January of 1848 (according to an article written by Gen. John A. Sutter, himself, in Hutchings California Magazine in 1857).  A trivial mistake to be sure, but most Californians have the year gold was discovered burned into their brains as school children, so it's a surprise when a Californian gets it wrong.

Of more significance to our concerns, Ware states (below) that when Thomas was "at an early age" and before Missouri statehood, his parents settled in the Platt Purchase of Missouri.  It is possible that Thomas was, indeed, in Missouri before it achieved statehood in 1821, but the Platt Purchase (of the NW corner of Missouri) did not take place until 1837.   Prior to 1837, Europeans were not allowed to settle in the region it was Indian Territory by treaty, and the treaty was enforced by U.S. troops, until political pressure for settlement resulted in its "purchase."   Nor is there any evidence that Thomas ever lived in the region of the Platt Purchase (i.e., in Atchison, Nodaway, Holt, Andrew, Buchanan, or Platte Cos.).  We do known that Thomas married in Kentucky in 1815 and that he settled in Boone Co. positively no later than 1824.  One can quibble about what is meant by "an early age," but there is no disputing that neither Thomas nor his parents could possibly have settled in the Platt Purchase before 1837, much less before statehood.  Ware's statement is not only inconsistent with Thomas Thompson's life, it is inconsistent with Missouri history.

[Update: tax rolls of Todd Co., KY, show that Thomas's father, Peter, left KY with his daughter, Rachel, and her husband, William T. Wyatt, in 1826/7.  Thomas must have left earlier, possibly immediately after his marriage in 1815, because at no time does he appear on the tax rolls of Christian or Todd Co., KY.]

What the above mistakes indicate is that E.B. Ware was not a meticulous scholar, so with regard to any assertion of fact in his book: 

Confirm it before you accept it!

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CHAPTER II

PIONEER PREACHERS

Up to the time of the discover of gold, in December 1847, from the view-point of religion, the State was solidly Catholic.  If there were a Protestant church or mission in California before that time, the history of the State does not mention it.

It was the acquisition of California by the United States that opened the gateway of truth to the Protestant world; the discovery of gold precipitated the entrance.  All of the evangelical denominations entered the California field before, or as soon as the Disciples, but they were quite differently situated.  They were nearly all backed up by some form of missionary organization.  The men who began our work had nothing to lean upon but God and His promise, "I will never leave you and never forsake you," and nothing before them, but the hope of a better and a future life.  Our people in those days were a feeble folk, from the standpoint of organization and co-operative work.  We had no missionary organizations.  The American Missionary Society, our first National organization, was not yet born.  It came into being 

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a month after Thompson arrived in California.  The men who opened our work in California had to rely on their own resources for a support, while they preached the Gospel to others; but they were filled with the Spirit, and that self-sacrifice which characterized the life of the Apostle to the Gentiles when he said, "Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel."

While it is true that people came from all over the world to mine for gold in California, it is also true that from 1849 to 1854, the great body of immigrants came from the South and West, what we now call the "middle West" -- Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri.  In all of these States the Disciples had gained a strong footing.  Among the early pioneers were quite a few members of the "Christian Church."  Most of those who came from the West were frontiersmen by birth and education.  They were not cut out for miners and didn't take to it; they were agriculturists and soon took to the rich valleys, which were yet unexplored and largely unoccupied.  Groups of Disciples soon accumulated in different sections of Northern California -- in the San Joaquin Valley, around Stockton and Visalia; in the Sacramento Valley, around Cacheville, (Woodland), Vacaville and Colusa.  In Santa Clara Valley, at Santa Clara, San Jose and Gilroy; in the Sonoma region, Franklin, (Santa

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Rosa), Sebastopol, (Yountville), and "Big Plains," near Healdsburg.  What these people needed most was not a Moses to lead them through the wilderness, nor a Joshua to divide up the land, but a John the Baptist to call the people to repentance and a better life, and an organizer to "set in order the things that were wanting," two qualifications seldom found in the same man.  God in his overruling providence, sent the men to California at the right time -- Thomas Thompson and John Provines McCorkle, fitted to the "work whereunto He had called them."  As Moses E. Lard once said, in the story of his early life and his "first meeting," "Brethren, you may think that all of these things just happened so, but pardon me if I think otherwise."

THOMAS THOMPSON

Thomas Thompson was an organizer -- he could "set in order the things that were wanting," but he was no evangelist.  He was a born missionary and had a "thirst for souls" that was unquenchable.  What was needed in the early fifties was an organizer, a man who could gather the little groups of Disciples together, organize them and inspire them with co-operative zeal in the Lord's work. Thomas Thompson was the man that God called and fitted for that very kind of work.

Thomas Thompson was born in the State of

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Kentucky, July 7th, 1797.  At an early age, before Missouri became a State, his parents came to that section and settled in what was known as the "Platt Purchase."  His parents were not members of any church, but like Cornelius of old, they were devout and "prayed to God always."  They were brought up in the old Calvinistic faith and anxiously waited for the "divine call," which in their case never came in the way in which they were looking for it.  They were inclined to the Baptist faith and the boy, Thomas, soon became a member of the Baptist Church.  Before he was out of his teens, however, he became acquainted with the movement of the Campbells and the Stones, through Thomas W. McBride, the pioneer preacher, in "Our Movement" in Missouri. McBride soon relieved Thompson of his Calvinistic inclinations, and he readily accepted the principles of the "Reformation," and taught them for some time before he was turned out of the Baptist Church.  As early as 1825 we find him in warm sympathy with the Campbells touching the "plea of the Disciples" for the restoration of the "ancient order of things."

In the State of Missouri, the Barton W. Stone wing of the "reformers" was the first to occupy the territory. Joel Hayden was a "new light," and preached for many years along the lines of a return to the New Testament church before he

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found out that he had not been baptized after the New Testament order.

In 1825 Thompson addressed a note to Alexander Campbell calling attention to the reports that were being circulated against Campbell, charging that he was a "Socinnian," that he denied the divinity of Christ, and was guilty of many other heretical views.  The note was published in the Christian Baptist, the first periodical issued by Alexander Campbell.  It called out that splendid reply from the pen of Mr. Campbell, of which he was so thoroughly capable when aroused.  He dealt more vigorously and explicitly with his views on many vital points in his theology than he had previously done.  In that reply Mr. Campbell states that he was then a member of the Mahoning Baptist Association, and had no intention of leaving it as long as they allowed him to express freely and unreservedly his views of the Kingdom of Heaven and the name of Jesus Christ -- that he had no desire or purpose to form "another party or sect."

In 1849, in the early spring, Father Thompson left Paris, Missouri, for California.  He tells in a sketch of his own life, published in the Bible Expositor, that he preached on the plains as "opportunity afforded."  More than once, he says, he helped to "break down the sagebrush for an opening for their wagons."  On one occasion a herd

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of buffalo stampeded their train.  One infuriated buffalo bull attacked Father Thompson's team, and the oxen whirled and broke the tongue out of the wagon.  The buffalo then attacked the wagon, ramming his head through the end gate where Sister Thompson and the children were hid away in fear.  At this stage of the proceedings, "Father Thompson" lowered his trusty rifle and fired the fatal shot that brought the angry bison low to earth.

In September, 1849, he landed in California, and struck his camp at Gold Run, Placer County.  They were all tired and weary; the country was full of miners hunting for gold, but in a few days we see a lot of those who were seeking the gold that perishes gathered in front of the old man's tent.  They are not laughing and joking as usual, but seem intently concerned.  Presently the old man kneels in prayer; deathly silence passes over the audience; he arises, opens his worn and rusty looking Bible and begins to read.  The lips of strong and resolute men begin to quiver; eyes that had not shed a tear since they said good bye to mother, to wife and loved ones "back in the States," begin to grow moist.  The old man begins a song, and his devoted wife sitting in the door of the tent, joins him in the singing:

"Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
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While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide;
O, receive my soul at last."

The old man began to preach, while his hearers stood silently with hats off and heads bowed.  This was Father Thompson's first sermon in California.

In 1850 Thompson moved to Coloma, on the South Fork of the American River, the place where gold was first discovered by John W. Marshall in December, 1847.  He took charge there of the "Miners' Home," a tavern for boarding and lodging of miners.  In this place he frequently preached, and in other places among the mining camps, which were then scattered along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as far north as Oroville, Butte County.  In the spring of 1850 he baptized his first convert, Marcus Wills, and a week later he baptized his nephew, J.N.B. Wyatt.  The two were immersed in a "miners' pit," near Father Thompson's tavern.  So far as known these were the first Christian immersions in the State of California.

Thompson's intense desire for the salvation of men and his burning thirst to preach the glorious Gospel of the Son of God overshadowed every-

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thing else.  He labored in the mines some with his own hands, but he preached to those rough miners as opportunity afforded.  I say rough, but it must be remembered that thousands of those miners had come out from cultured homes; they knew something of a better civilization, hence they looked almost with reverence upon things that reminded them of home and loved ones behind.  The pioneer preacher of the mines, in the "days of forty-nine," was more respected by the pioneers than the average preacher is respected by the masses of the people today.

When "Bill" Fugitt brought his wife to "Mud Springs," the spring of 1850, the first white woman that had appeared in the mines in that region, hundreds of miners would gather round Fugitt's cabin evenings to see the face of a white woman and hear her voice.  On some occasions when she would sing some of the old home songs, many of those miners would break down and weep like children.

It was in this kind of soil that Father Thompson began to sow the "seed of the kingdom" in California.  Much has been said about his "preaching in saloons" in those early days.  The fact is there were fewer saloons devoted exclusively to the sale of liquor in the mining camps than there are today.  All taverns where miners were kept had bars, and it was in these taverns that he preached, 

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or out of doors.  At these meetings the saloon man was as welcome as any one else.

In the spring of 1851 Father Thompson left the mines and moved his family to the Santa Clara Valley, settling on a little ranch now in the outskirts of Santa Clara, where he continuously resided until God called him home, April 14, 1872.

J.P. McCORKLE

Father Thompson tells us in one of his published letters that he "preached two years in the State alone, during which time he organized several churches."  In 1851 Brother J.P. McCorkle came and located in Napa County.  He was a young man, full of fire and zeal, but he tells us he felt like a "stranger in a strange land."  He preached his first sermon standing under the shade of an oak tree, one of immense size.  We have rested under its shade many times since those early days.  "Bro. Mac," as he was commonly called in after years, at that time was tall and spare.  He had almost a red head, and a florid complexion.  He was dressed for the occasion of his first sermon in California in home-spun, convention, "Kentucky blue jean" trousers, a "hickory shirt," and yarn knit "galluses" and no coat.  He audience was made up of people of every walk in life, mostly men, the rancher, the vaquero (cow-herder), the gamblers and horse-

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racers, besides a few professional people, a great crowd there gathered to hear the "Campbellite preacher" from Missouri.  The young and embarrassed preacher, at that time, had no vision of the "Conquering hero" that he was to become in the history of the Disciples of California.  At one time he was the most widely known, the most idolized, and easily the most popular preacher in California of any denomination.  That first sermon was listened to with intense interest.  The people lost sight of the garb of the speaker and were carried away with his message.  "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes, to Jew first, also to the Greek."--Rom. 1:16.

In that audience that day was a tall, black-eyed, curly-headed, dark-skinned man.  He was a lover of the horse-race, a frequenter of the poker game, but he had been raised in a Christian home.  Back in Missouri an old mother had prayed for him aud (sic) taught him better things.  After the sermon he arose and stood silently a moment to gather himself together.  Then he said, "Boys, you know that we have all been taught right, if we don't do right.  Now the preacher has evidently got 'under some of our belts.' We have all been taught to help the preacher out as well as other folks.  He has just come across the plains and he looks pretty seedy.  I propose that we all chip in

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and make up a little purse for the preacher."

He picked up his hat and started through the audience, saying as he went, "Come now, pony up here."  When the collection was finished and the money counted, it was found that nothing less than a $2.50 gold piece was in the hat, and the entire amount was $175.  That man was G.W. Ware, a "forty-niner."  My father was his brother.  "Mac" used to say that he never saw that much gold in one pile, before he came to California.

McCORKLE AND THOMPSON MEET

Young McCorkle felt lonesome.  He longed to look upon the face of a brother preacher.  He inquired of strangers if they knew of a Christian preacher.  At last he heard of Father Thompson.  In describing this meeting he says, "I wrote to him.  A reply soon came, informing me that he would come and see me.  I cannot tell you much good that letter did me.  An appointment was made for him, he came.  Long, long will I remember that meeting.  I can see hem today, in my mind, as I saw him then as he came walking up to my humble home.  We were glad to see each other, you may be sure.  We talked, sand and prayed together.  I heard him preach I thought the best sermon I ever heard.  It did me good.  I gave me strength.  I felt like I could lean upon

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him, I walked by his side; he felt like a father to me in this strange land.  We felt that we were not alone.  We talked together about the great work that was to be done in California."

From that day on for twenty years, those two men were heart companions, in service, in self-sacrifice, in tribulation and in joyful fellowship in the progress of the cause they loved.

REFLECTIONS

Thomas Thompson and J.P. McCorkle were a complement of each other.  The work for which each was specially fitted was necessary to success in California. Thompson was an organizer.  He could plan and "set in order the things that were wanting."  He was a financier.  If he had been trained for it, he would have made a good bank president, or railroad director. Thompson tells that "in all of my preaching experience I never asked for a public offering for myself and never privately solicited money for my own use and benefit."  Yet he was not poor, by any means.  He knew how to make money, and people loved to give him money because of the good they knew he was doing.

He was called on one occasion to go out about five miles from Santa Clara and perform a wedding ceremony.  When about to leave, the groom gave him a "fifty-dollar slug" and afterward presented him with a gold-headed cane [See Footnote.]

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McCorkle was the reverse, in a large measure, of the foregoing.  He had no organizing ability.  He was a John the Baptist in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord.  He could rally men; he could wield the sword of the Spirit with great power.  Thousands rallied to the Standard of the Cross under his eloquent appeals, but he needed a Thompson to follow up with discipline and organization.  From '52 to '55, these two warriors touched elbows on more than one battlefield, preaching and organizing churches.

These men of God were deficient in one thing:  they never had the opportunity of a common-school education.  They were hewn out of the rough.  We are not saying they would have been better fitted for the work whereunto they were called, if this defect had been supplied; a finished education might have spoiled them for that work; but there was a work needed that they were not fitted for, a work that required a preparation and fitness that only a knowledge of letters can give.  A man of a scholastic turn of mind could never become a John the Baptist, a McCorkle, or a Thompson.  Jesus recognized this fact when he chose illiterate men as his apostles, still He recognized that there was a work to be done that they could not do, a defect that even inspiration could not supply the lack of literary training.  Hence, He met their deficiency by choosing another Apos-

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tle, one who possessed the necessary educational qualifications to do the work that must be done; that man was Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Father Thompson said of himself that he "never parsed a sentence."  McCorkle knew nothing of laws of language, but God endowed him with the natural gift of oratory.  They both knew the "old Book," and could tell the story in a way that won men, not only of the common walks of life, but from among professional and business men who had better educational advantages than they had.  It would be a mistake to say that such men are uneducated.  They had applied their hearts unto wisdom and had dug it out of the three greatest books in the world, the Bible, the Book of Nature and the Book of Human Experience.

J.P. McCorkle was a marvel in pulpit power.  For years he stood at the head of the evangelistic forces of the State.  He, no doubt, baptized more people than any  other man in the State, before or since.  We once heard a man who stood high in the educational work of the State, say:  "He is the most wonderful man of his kind I ever heard.  He seldom uses the wrong word, or makes a slip in his grammar, and he has the eloquence of a Daniel Webster."  His sermons were lacking in logical arrangement, but were overpowering in heart eloquence and personal appeal.

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In later years when "Mac" took the Stockton church, and Peter Wilkes had come to the State, and was practicing law in the "Slough City," being a warm personal friend and admirer of McCorkle, he suggested to him one day that he (Wilkes) would assist him in arranging his sermons in a more logical order.  Bro. "Mac" readily assented.  A little book was secured and twenty or thirty of "Mac's" best sermons were rearranged according to the rules of logic.  Bro. "Mac" went out over the state next year preaching these logically- arranged sermons.  But some way they didn't have the snap and the fire of former days.  Brother "Mac" came up to the State Meeting that fall and when called on to preach, he got off one of those Wilkes-arranged sermons.  After the services, when we were all around the camp fire, passing our jokes, "Uncle Pende" [J.N. Pendegast] said in his dry, humorous way, "I wish Brother "Mac" would throw away that little book he got over at Stockton and give us some of his old-time sermons."  "Mac" cast the little book out.  In his mouth it was sweet as honey, but it made his brethren bitter.

McCorkle's power over an audience, in his early days, was wonderful.  He could sway the multitude as few men can do.  His method was to put up a strong, convincing argument, interspersed with passionate appeal.  He would then close with

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a powerful exhortation, and with deep emotion would exhort people to flee from the wrath to come, to lay hold upon the promises of God, "while the flag of mercy waves."

Our preachers are losing very much of the exhortative power that they once possessed.  I doubt very much if this is a good omen.  It is one thing to convince the mind, quite another to move the heart to action.

I dropped into the Southern Pacific offices once to see their land agent, W.H. Mills, about getting some lots donated for a church in Pacific Grove. Mills, who was a rationalist, loved to relate some of his experiences with preachers and churches.  He said he was down in Texas on one occasion, looking after some land matters, and had to stay over night in a little country town, where a revival was going on at the Christian Church.  His secretary and stenographer, whom he had with him, suggested that they go to church; they went.  "The front part of the sermon," said Mr. Mills, "was the poorest thing imaginable.  We thought once we would go out, but waited.  When he finished what he called his argument, he turned loose on an exhortation.  He just lifted that crowd out of its boots.  More than a dozen went forward and professed a desire to lead a better life.  When he pronounced the benediction I said to my friend, 'Let's go forward and give him a dollar apiece

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and tell him it is for the exhortation, not for the sermon,' and we did."

Paul said, "Knowing the terrors of the Lord I exhort men."  The exhortative power of the pulpit whould be encouraged.

Bro. "Mac," like many preachers of his day was at times quite severe on the sin of denominationalism.  Those early preachers were not content with preaching truth affirmatively, but contrasted truth with error.  The religious world, in fact, society in general, was surfeited with the denominational view of Christianity.  People saw the church, as an institution in the world, only through the different denominational glasses.  The pioneers reasoned, and rightly, too, that these false glasses must be removed before the people could behold the "naked truth."

When we stand off today and criticize the "Fathers" for their methods, we are only advertising our own ignorance.  They suited the message to the age in which they lived.  The difficulty is that some of us have failed to progress with the age, we are still fighting as "one who beateth the air."  While the denominational world was fighting us, the world justified us in defending ourselves, but when the "called off the dogs of war" many of our denominational wind-splitters were out of a job.

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To illustrate how Brother "Mac" could carry people off their feet by the power of speech, he was preaching on one occasion on "Christian Union."  He pointed out the peculiarity of each of the evangelical denominations and then proceeded to show that it would be impossible to unite the world on any one of these denominational platforms.  He then, with one sweet of his hand and with that mighty voice which he possessed, swept all the human creeds of Christendom out of existence and brought forward his proposition of "Union upon the Bible and the Bible alone, as the only rule of faith and practice."  The effect was electrifying; the brethren wept for joy; some good Methodists in the audience shouted "Amen, amen."  There was a young brother in the audience, his name was Berry.  "Mac" had baptized him only a few days before.  He had followed the preacher intently, never taking his eyes off of him.  Just as "Mac" reached his climax, Berry jumped up and in his broken English said, "Dat's it, broder Mac, give 'em t'under, give 'em t'under."

There was an old South Methodist preacher in those early days by the name of Ben Johnson.  I have heard him often when I was a boy.  He was known all up through the North Bay Counties as the "Campbellite Killer."  He and Brother Mac often locked horns.  Johnson in the late fifties

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was preaching on one occasion in a grove near Healdsburg. Mac was there, also Uncle Pende.  They had agreed with Johnson that they would divide the time and all preach to the same audience.  There were not less than 1500 people present.  Johnson spoke first.  He had the floor and he held it from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  He compared the "Campbellites" to the farmer's pig, which each morning he would find in his "springhouse," where he kept his milk and butter.  How the pig got in there, he was a long time finding out, but finally he discovered that the pig would go to the branch that ran through the springhouse, and he would dive down on the outside and come up on the inside.  The illustration, though vulgar, was not without some force, because of the way that some of our brethren then talked and still talk about baptism being the "consummating act" that brings us into Christ.  Brother "Mac" had reached the limit of his endurance.  He leaped upon a chair and roared out in censorious tones, "All you people who want to the the Gospel preached, follow me."  He picked up his chair and marched to another grove about 200 yards away.  The crowds started to follow, and continued til only about fifty were left, while Johnson was still speaking.  Uncle Pende spoke about thirty minutes, told the people to get their lunches, which they had brought with them,
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and then they would preach the balance of the afternoon.

Twenty years or more after this, the writer was pastor in Napa. "Old Ben" Johnson was superannuated and residing there.   He occasionally would drop in to hear me preach.  One day I asked him if he would fill my pulpit.  I had to go to the city to help Brother McCullough get out the first issue of the Christian Church News.  Johnson said he would, and seemed pleased over the invitation.  He preached and the brethren enjoyed the services, though some of them still remembered the long ago.  When I came home I met Brother Johnson and asked him how he enjoyed the service.  He said, "Fine, it was a most precious service.  I officiated at the Lord's table it was the first time I ever communed with you people."  Then he added, after reflection, "Brother, you people have changed a great deal in the last twenty-five years."  We answered, "Yes, brother, Johnson, that is true, but did you ever think that Brother Johnson has changed some, too?"  He answered, "Well, I guess I have, we have all changed."

After 35 years of faithful service, John P. McCorkle, faithful pioneer and servant of the Lord in California, was gathered to his fathers, at Santa Maria, December 14, 1887.

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A year later we were in Santa Maria as State Evangelist, holding a meeting.  With the aged widow we drove out to the grave of the old soldier and knelt there and asked God to comfort and sustain the faithful companion of his life, and keep all those whom he had been instrumental in bringing into the fold of the Good Shepherd faithful to the end.
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CHAPTER III

PIONEER PREACHERS (CONTINUED)

It is a common saying that "great generals are never born or made until there is an occasion for one."  It took the war of the rebellion to produce a Grant and a Lee.  So God never raised up a prophet till there was a necessity for one.  Elijah and John the Baptist appeared upon the scene of the world's history when the times demanded them and not before.  The religious world was ready and needed a Martin Luther, a John Wesley and an Alexander Campbell, at the time these men appeared.  There was a work in California that Thompson and McCorkle could not do so effectively as could another type of man.  The Disciples needed a man of vision, a prophet who could grapple with some of the bigger problems that were coming to the front, a man who by the pen, which is "mightier than the sword," could contend earnestly for the faith and set out in a definite and succinct way, a constructive "plan of salvation."  California needed a man of scholastic training, who could not only cope with Protestant effrontery and Catholic bigotry, but a man

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who by education and training could solve some of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, and train little organized groups of Disciples, not only how to "get into Christ," but how to "grow up into Him in all things, speaking the truth in love."

STEVENSON AND THE WESTERN
EVANGELIST

God gave that man to the Disciples of California in the person of Dr. W.W. Stevenson.  He first located at Stockton, which at that time was one of the chief supply towns for the mining camps of Mariposa, Hornitos, Indian Gulch and Mokelumne Hill.  The church at Stockton had been organized by Father Thompson as early as 1851, possibly earlier.  Stephenson(sic) at once took his natural position as counselor and co-operator with Thompson and McCorkle and there existed for years between the three the closest friendship.

In the early history of the Disciples' movement Stevenson had come to us from the Presbyterians, in the State of Arkansas.  He was a classical scholar, had a splendid library, was a deep thinker, a ready writer and a good speaker.  He understood our position and was deeply in love with it.  He was regarded as our "big gun" and at the State Meeting and other big occasions he was put up at 11 o'clock on Sunday.  At a big campmeeting in the grove near Healdsburg in

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1859, we heard him on Sunday at 11 A.M., before an audience estimated at 1500.  His topic was, "The Plea of the Disciples for Christian Union."  It was a masterly effort.

In 1858, at the State Meeting at Sebastopol, (Yountville), where it was decided to start our first State paper, Dr. Stevenson was unanimously selected to edit it.  In fact, he was the only man among the California Disciples at that time, save J.N. Pendegast, especially suited to that kind of work.  The Western Evangelist was launched with W.W. Stevenson editor and J.N. Pendegast associate editor.

Stevenson entered at once upon the constructive work of our movement in the State.  He brought to the front the thought that our plea was a plea for union, not strife and division.  He pointed out the real source of all division among Christians, a failure to recognize the absolute authority of Jesus Christ.  We give here extracts from his introductory to Volume No. 3: 

[omitted]

 

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Stevenson not only set the standard in this state of our plea before the people, but he foresaw the danger of our drifting into a cold, lifeless, literalistic interpretation of it -- the danger of attaching too much importance to the mere forms and ordinances of religion and losing sight of it s vital force and spiritual power, hence he continues: 

[omitted]

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He took up the question of order and organization in our churches.  He pointed out that there were "Three primary issues in the state that needed immediate attention, better organization and discipline in the churches, the education of young men for the ministry and an organized system of evangelizing the State."

Along these lines he continued for four years as editor of our first State paper.  He was one of the ablest writers of his time.  A number of his articles were copied into the Millennial Harbinger and the A.C. ReviewW.K. Pendleton reviewed his article on the "Eldership" and highly commended it. John W. McGarvey commended his position that it was not "the ordinance or act of baptism that is for the remission of sin," but the "obedience of faith" rendered in submitting to the act.

SAD REFLECTIONS

At this point the curtain drops on the life and brilliant career of this great and, I believe, good man.  The star in the firmament of his brilliant and useful life went out.  We would willingly close the book of his eventful life here were it not that there are some questions involved that are of living value, besides there is a duty I feel that I owe to a friend, a man who did more to shape my life aright in the ministry than any other one man.  I sat at his feet for two years, in his "own

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hired house," preparatory to entering the ministry.  I would not be true to God and true to him, nor true to my sense of justice, if I did not here affirm my faith in the purity, the integrity and the faithfulness of the Christian life and character of Dr. W.W. Stevenson.  When he first came to the State in 1853, he left behind him, in Little Rock, Arkansas, a wife to whom he never returned.  She was a very estimable Christian woman.  Stevenson said he often insisted on her coming to him, but she declined.  He was in poor health when he came to the State and felt he could not live back there.  For ten years he devoted his life energies to the cause of Christ without a word of criticism of any kind.  He was called to take the work in San Francisco, where he preached for the church and edited the Western EvangelistCharles Vincent, a German by birth, a wealthy man, but an earnest disciple of the anti-missionary, anti-organ, and A.C. Review type, was elder in the San Francisco church.  Vincent had an adopted daughter, a niece.  She was well educated, beautiful and smart.  She had been in my mother's home and I knew her well. Stevenson and this girl got married.  It was the mistake of his life, but that there was anything criminal or immoral about it as charged, was a gross misrepresentation of the facts, openly and positively asserted to my by them, and others in my presence. Vincent was incensed.
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The San Francisco church at that time was dominated by him. Stevenson and his young wife were summarily expelled from the church, their future usefulness blasted; expelled without notice and without a hearing.  It was one of the most flagrant violations of all scripture teaching and precedent imaginable.  Stevenson petitioned in vain for a hearing, but Vincent as the "teaching elder" threw it out of court.  Stevenson in his sorrow appealed to Father Thompson, the man of God that believed in a "square deal" for every man.  At the next State Meeting, Father Thompson called the matter up and moved that a committee be appointed to confer with the elders of the San Francisco church, and ask a rehearing of the case. Thompson contended for this on the ground that a preacher of the gospel has a different relation to the church than that of a member of a local congregation; that the action of a single church condemning or vindicating a preacher is not final; that the preacher, in a sense, belonged to all the churches, at any rate sister churches should be called in council; that no man should be expelled without a hearing in his own defense; then in an outburst of indignation at the treatment Dr. Stevenson had received at the hands of a prejudiced eldership, he said:  "If Dr. Stevenson were guilty of all that the action of this little handful of brethren in San Francisco implies,
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he would not be any worse than David, who the Lord said was a man after his own heart."  But it was no use; the cry of "church autonomy" prevailed.  Instead of refusing to consider the matter they passed a resolution "endorsing the action of the San Francisco church."

Stevenson and his wife afterwards went to Santa Clara, where he came forward and made a statement to the church in which he said:  "I am asking no privileges, seeking no places or positions, I only want to show to the world and to my brethren that I am a Christian and can live a Christian life."  They were unanimously received into the fellowship of the church in which they lived and died.  I lived in that church with them for years.  I have seen the man who stood at one time at the head of the work of the State, acting as janitor, sweeping the floors and dusting the windows, but he was not sour.  HIs library was his companion, to which I had free access.  His little wife having loved him, she loved him to the end.  She gave up home and comfort and the prospect of a fortune for the Doctor, and she never regretted it.

The old Doctor was present when I was ordained to the ministry.  Father ThompsonJames Anderson and the Hon. T.H. Laine participated in the ordination ceremonies.  Dr. Stevenson made the ordination prayer, which I will never 

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forget.  He heard my trial sermon.  His criticism still lingers with me.  I had begun by saying "I am not a preacher," and two or three times through the sermon I would interject that statement, "but I am not a preacher."  After the benediction, the old Doctor took me by the hand and said, "Only one criticism: don't tell the people you are 'no preacher,' let them find that out themselves.  Self-confidence is half the battle."  The advice was and is as true as preaching.

Stevenson is gone; his wife is gone; their three children are scattered to the four winds, but their memory is still green in the hearts of those who knew only to love and admire them.  Their first child was a boy, Oscar; the next were two girls, twins.  The old Doctor was sitting in the room when the nurse brought in one of the little girl babies, all dressed, and laid it on his lap.  After a little while she brought in another and passed it over to the Doctor.  He looked up at her in an anxious mood and dryly said:  "Did any get away."

[end of chapter]

Footnote the gold-headed cane: 

When Thomas Thompson died in 1872, possession of his gold-headed cane passed to his son, George Washington Thompson, who used it until his death in 1927.  At the time of his death, George and his second wife, Margaret (Gibson) Rose Thompson with whom he had no children were living with Margaret's daughter (by her first husband),  Emma (Rose) Rady, so with Margaret's death in 1931, possession of the cane passed to Emma. 

Some years later, Aunt Emma made it clear she intended to pass the cane down to her son.  This news did not sit well with Thomas's descendants because Emma and her children were not blood-kin to Thomas Thompson.  A contest of wills developed between Emma on the one side and Maude (Thompson) Rose who was both stepsister and sister-in-law to Emma and Maude's daughter, Ann (Rose) Matthiesen on the other side.  Ultimately, Maude and Ann prevailed, and the cane passed to Ann's only son:  A. Robert Matthiesen of Saratoga, California great-great-grandson of Thomas Thompson (and my father).  With the death of my father in 2006, the cane passed to his nephew, Steven James Cogliati, 3rd great-grandson of Thomas. 

The cane itself is quite handsome.  The shaft is smooth black wood, and the upper, curved part of the handle is sheathed in gold, which is engraved with ornamentation, worn smooth on its upper surface by years of wear.  I'm told the handle of the cane once held a large gold nugget at the very end, but Aunt Emma said the nugget was stolen by a visitor to her home during the Depression, so it was missing when she turned the cane over to my grandmother.  There is an irregular cavity at the end of the handle that obviously once contained something.

[Events as told to me on 23 Feb 2001 by my aunt, Betty Ann (Matthiesen) Cogliati, sister of A. Robert Matthiesen and second great-granddaughter of Thomas Thompson.]

Family Group Sheet of Thomas THOMPSON
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