Chaplain James Boardman Hawthorne
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
A silver tongued Baptist preacher and Confederate Chaplain died today in Richmond, Virginia. Today is the twenty-fourth of February in the year of our Lord 1910. Rev. Dr. J. B. Hawthorne was one of the greatest of Alabama’s native sons. Some of his prominent pastorates were in Mobile, Baltimore, Albany, Louisville Montgomery and Richmond. His last pastorate was the Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.
Pastor Hawthorne was described as tall, dignified and of commanding presence. A constant in descriptions of him was his great power as a speaker. “His thoughts are fresh and stimulating, his language graceful, his utterance deliberate.” An excellent composite of this great man was given by Rev. Edgar E. Folk the editor of the Baptist and Reflector of Nashville, TN,
Dr. J. B. Hawthorne stands easily as the prince of Southern Baptist preachers…. Dr. Hawthorne is a natural orator. In person he is six feet four inches in height, with a massive frame, which gives him a commanding presence and secures attention before he utters a word. He is a very Apollo in appearance as well as an Apollo in eloquence. His mental characteristics correspond with his physical. He is a strong, clear thinker. He is more the rhetorician than the logician, more the poet than the historian, more the orator than the debater. But he is by no means lacking in the qualities of the logician, the historian, and the debater. His style is smooth, elevated, dignified, never low or vulgar. But while nature has done much for Dr. Hawthorne, grace has done more. His sermons are not simply cold, beautiful, intellectual compositions. They come from his heart as well as from his head. A large part of Dr. Hawthorne’s power consists in his intense earnestness. He evidently feels every word he says, and he wants you to feel its importance also. He does not speak simply to please, but to move, to help. His private character is of the purest and loftiest type. He loves virtue, loathes vice; admires honesty and despises meanness or trickery. In short, Dr. Hawthorne may be called the Chrysostom of the South—earnest, eloquent, golden-mouthed.
From Whence Cometh This Man
A descendent of the Puritans in New England some say. The judge and prosecuting attorney at the Salem witch trials were said to be of the same family. Perhaps his family came from New England stock. There were Hawthornes that moved from Lunenburg County, Virginia to North Carolina. And one Hawthorne family emigrated to Alabama from North Carolina. There was great danger in such a trek in those days traveling through hostile territory, through virgin forests, across swollen rivers and over unbroken ground. Such was pioneer life.
From Whom Was He Begotten
Kedar Hawthorne (1797-1877) was just a youth when he made this journey to Alabama in 1817. He was born in Robinson County, North Carolina in January of 1797. Six months after his arrival he enlisted under General Andrew Jackson in the U.S. Army to fight in the Seminole War that was being fought in Florida. Kedar distinguished himself in the war and remained to war’s end. He settled in Conecuh County near Belleville.
Kedar Hawthorne was married in 1825 to Martha Baggett (1799-1872). The couple came to Christ as Lord and Saviour under the ministry of the pioneer Baptist Elder Alexander Travis (1790-1852). They were baptized by Travis and Kedar began to preach two or three years later. He had been licensed to preach and a short time later was ordained by Elder Travis and Elder Ellis. His ministry had begun and shortly he moved to Mt. Moriah in Wilcox County where he founded the Fellowship Baptist Church.
Their first child was named for their pastor. Alexander Travis Hawthorne was born in Conecuh County and became a Baptist minister and Confederate soldier. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Army of the Trans-Mississippi under General Sterling Price. After the war he lived in Texas and became a Baptist preacher.
James Boardman Hawthorne was born on his father’s farm in Wilcox County May 16th, 1837. James was named for George Boardman the missionary to the Karens whose biography Kedar Hawthorne had just finished reading with great relish.
The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Knowledge
Kedar and Martha Hawthorne were godly parents who sought to rear their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Their home was the first source of instruction for James. His first teacher outside of the home was only remembered by the last name Love. James enjoyed the day long singing classes that were so common in that era. They sang from the Carmina Sacra.
When James was twelve he was sent to Oak Hill Academy in Wilcox County. Samuel Jones was his teacher. This young student, as a timid boy, was forced into an oratorical contest which he won. The prize was a copy of Poems by William Cowper. Books were scarce and a treasure to him. He set immediately to memorizing some six pages of small print of The Diverting History of John Gilpin which he found quite charming.
The next year he attended Camden Military Institute where Lucius Brutus Johnson was principal. Here was another milestone in his public speaking achievements for he won the gold medal. James decided to make the law his profession. Then Hawthorne entered Howard College (now Samford University) when it was in Marion. Hawthorne was overwhelmed with the school’s library for he was a lover of books and here was a treasury of them. Noah K. Davis was over the English Department while James was at Howard the first time, and it was said he set an extremely high standard. Afterward J. B. Hawthorne spent three years in the study and practice of law in Mobile.
If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and it is, then J. B. Hawthorne entered a new arena of learning in 1851 when he heard Elder C. F. Sturgis preach at his father’s church, and he was converted by divine grace under his preaching. He joined the church upon profession of his faith in Christ and repentance of his sin.
Next J. B. Hawthorne left his law practice to answer the Lord’s call to the ministry. Near the same time of his call to the ministry was his marriage. Having met and fallen for Miss Emma Hutchinson, they joined in a covenant of marriage on August 27th, 1857. She was sixteen. In September James began his preparations for the ministry.
He returned to Howard College to take the theological course in preparation for the ministry. Under the influence of President Henry Talbird he was taught systematic theology. In his later years he declared that his theology professor was especially competent to teach the subject. James Hawthorne flourished under men like Talbird.
During this course at Howard the President, Dr. Henry Talbird, often took young Hawthorne out into the country and put him up to preach, believing that the only way to learn how to preach is to preach. While at Howard the young couple had their first great sorrow in the death of their firstborn, Yancey Boardman. During his first vacation, being in Mobile, Mr. Hawthorne was called on to preach. His text was: “Prisoners of hope.” It is known that two persons were converted under this sermon. One was Mrs. Hawthorne. Some months afterwards a sea captain, who was baptized by Rev. Dr. Powhatan E. Collins, one of the Mobile pastors, testified that seemingly by accident he had heard the sermon about the “prisoners of hope” and had been converted.
The conversion of his wife was a glorious beginning for his preaching ministry. Having spent three years at Howard College he decided to not attend the final year, but instead to begin his preaching.
During his last session at Howard he and his fellow-student, J. Alexander Chambliss, planned a preaching tour through southern Alabama. Between them they had fifteen sermons, Hawthorne eight and Chambliss seven. When these fifteen sermons had been preached at one point the young preachers moved on to the next place. No amount of persuasion, no high degree of interest could induce the young theologians to continue their meeting when once the fifteen sermons had been preached. Doubtless the people at each place wondered and never knew why the services could not possibly be continued.
Not long after this, in a meeting, Mr. Hawthorne was forced to go on beyond the eight sermons by reason of the sudden illness of the pastor he was helping, and the impossibility of getting any other preacher. Against his serious protest the meeting was thrust upon him. He threw himself on God, the meeting went on, and before its close some eighty persons had made profession of their faith in Christ.
Hawthorne’s ordination took place at his home church where his father pastored. Friendship Baptist Church in Wilcox County was the place of his ordination on September 22nd, 1859. Not long after his ordination he became the pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Mobile.
Serving God During the War
The young pastor had been busy feeding the flock of God under his care when the great storm of war broke on the South. Hawthorne sought to be a pastor who honored the Word of God and cared for the sheep during a time of great conflict. In 1863 he entered the Confederate Army as captain of the 24th Alabama Infantry Regiment, but resigned to become chaplain. In seeking to do his utmost to help his fellow Southerners and thinking of the men from his congregation Hawthorne became a missionary for the Baptist cause and a chaplain in the Confederate Army. He desired to carry the saving gospel of the Lord Christ to those not ready to live or die and solace to those who knew the Lord and Saviour.
Rev. J. B. Hawthorne became a chaplain of the 21st Alabama Volunteer Regiment. He was also an agent for the Domestic Mission Board. During this time the church he pastored continued to pay his salary. Early in the war there was a book that Hawthorne read titled Armageddon. The young minister took a special liking to the book which declared the world’s destruction around 1863. Hawthorne preached more than one sermon in different locations declaring that the end was in view and his presentation was done in a very startling fashion. A humorous event occurred as a result.
An old carpenter by the name of Hutto, hearing that the sermon was to be preached at Rock West, got on his horse and rode twenty-five miles across the country to that point. Upon his arrival he announced that he wanted to see Board Hawthorne. He was informed that the preacher had already gone into the pulpit, and that he could see him after the service. That would not do. He must see him at once. But why such urgency? He wanted to get the preacher to put off the end of the world for a while until the South could whip the terrible Yankees.
Hawthorne was busy in the work of the chaplaincy. He was helpful to other chaplains and was observant of them. His fellow Alabamian, Chaplain Tichenor, who was in his element as a combat chaplain, was frequently assisted by Chaplain Hawthorne. On numerous occasions Chaplain Hawthorne heard Tichenor preach and described his preaching as “Like the blast of a brazen trumpet.” Such an observation is something coming from one who was known as a formidable orator himself.
After the War Came Deconstruction
After the devastation of war it was as though the Yankees’ said “You haven’t seen anything yet.” For pure animosity and hatred reigned in seeking to destroy what was left in Dixie through deconstruction (falsely called Reconstruction).
Hawthorne’s first pastorate following his chaplaincy in the Confederate States Army was for a year in Greenville, Alabama. One of the best pastorates in Alabama at the time was in Selma and he was extended a call to that congregation. This pastorate lasted from 1866 to 1868. There was a problem Pastor Hawthorne encountered there, which was caused by unscrupulous white leaders of the negroes. The pastor’s reaction to and handling of the problem led to a city wide revival.
One day Mr. Hawthorne heard that a certain Dr. Henry, a “scalawag,” was leading a throng of negroes, proposing to occupy and use the First Baptist Church. Mr. Hawthorne informed them that they could not carry out their plan. The town was threatened with a mob. Inflammatory speeches were made. Various citizens spoke, but Mr. Hawthorne’s words did more than all else to save the day. The troubled state of affairs led Mr. Hawthorne, Rev. W. Joseph Lowry, the Presbyterian pastor, and Rev. C. N. Campbell, the Methodist pastor, to begin a series of union services.
A daily prayer-meeting was held at eleven o’clock in the Methodist Church, its location being the most central. The meeting grew so in power that instead of one service each day three were held, at the hours of nine, eleven, and five. Throngs attended. For five weeks the special services continued. So far as the Baptist Church was concerned, the revival spirit prevailed for two years. Quietly, in “an atmosphere vibrant with prayer and praise,” the good work went on, each Sunday witnessing an ingathering of souls.
Pastor Hawthorne was a man who stood for the Lord and right with the result that God blessed his efforts.
When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Baltimore in 1867 it was James B. Hawthorne’s first appearance before that body. He was to speak on Sunday afternoon to a mass-meeting on Domestic Missions. To the refined gathering his dress appeared to be that of a hayseed. However, his appeal was a masterful effort that moved the hearers and he became recognized at once as one of the greatest speakers among the Baptists. As a result the following fall he was called to the Franklin Square Baptist Church of Baltimore. The Lord blessed the ministry which began with a six week series of sunrise prayer meetings and nightly services; Pastor Hawthorne did the preaching. It was said that the church “was refreshed and its membership greatly increased” as a result. From Baltimore Rev. Hawthorne went to Albany, NY to pastor but was there less than a year because of his developing a throat problem and because of the severe weather.
J. B. Hawthorne moved South to Louisville, KY where he was called to lead a group of ninety-six members out of the Walnut Street Baptist Church, the mother church, in order to organize Broadway Baptist Church. Again his ministry was very fruitful and the congregation grew and a beautiful meeting place was constructed. Then he was called to New York City to the Tabernacle Baptist Church where his ministry was very fruitful. However, his incessant labors brought on a serious illness and for six month he was consider critical and at times death seemed imminent. A brother pastor, Dr. R. S. MacArthur after a visit one day gave him an earthly farewell. The night that he reached the crisis of his illness five hundred people were praying for his recovery and the Lord spared His servant for the future.
At this juncture the congregation gave him a six month sabbatical and put $1400 dollars in his hand to enjoy a time of recovery. He came to Afton, Virginia on the eastern slope of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking Nelson County. This turned out to be a place to which he returned time and again for seasons of respite. He enjoyed hunting deer in Virginia. Hunting had been one of his favorite sports in his youth. Also his son Rev. Hartwell K. Hawthorne pastored two Baptist churches near Afton.
Pastor Hawthorne came to realize that the Northern climate did not suit and he determined that another ministry there would not be helpful to his wellbeing. Suddenly he received calls from the Second Baptist Church of Richmond and the First Baptist Church of Montgomery (1875-1879). The latter he accepted and began to preach to crowded assemblies. There was a great meeting held there which resulted in two hundred fifty people being added to the fellowship of believers. His ministry was said to have reached its zenith with people traveling from distant parts of the state of Alabama to hear him. Because of his battle against sin he came under attack, but that did not diminish his preaching or opposition. It was said that he was “the first citizen of the State.”
In the fall of 1879 Pastor Hawthorne was called to serve the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia. The sanctuary was very large but very soon after his arrival chairs had to be put out to help accommodate the congregations that assembled for worship. Young men who seemed to be promising for the ministry began to accumulate around Pastor Hawthorne as the ministry of the Word began to impact their lives. There was a controversial move made by the pastor, from the viewpoint of some of the leaders of the congregation, when he invited a virtually unknown young North Carolina preacher by the name of Rev. A. C. Dixon to come and help him in special services. This work according to those disagreeing was just too important for such an unknown preacher. The pastor stuck to convictions and was proved correct as the Lord sent forth His blessings on the effort. Rev. Amzi Clarence Dixon would eventually pastor Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London. Hawthorne was greatly used of the Lord in Richmond as elsewhere in his ministry.
In 1884 Pastor Hawthorne received a call to the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia (1884-1896). As in many of his pastorates in large metropolitan areas he entered into a war on whisky and this was especially true in Atlanta. The ministry of Hawthorne was greatly used of the Lord in Atlanta as well as in his other places of service. Next a call came from the First Baptist Church in Nashville (1896-1899). His friends thronged the station as he departed Atlanta for Nashville. As always his pulpit was his place where the gospel of grace sounded forth and sin was denounced in all of its ugliness against God. Here in Nashville he became a great sufferer from sciatica which afflicted him mercilessly, but it seemed to temper his preaching with a greater tenderness.
In order to lighten his pastoral load Pastor Hawthorne resigned his pulpit in order to accept what appeared to be a less strenuous pastorate at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond. This would be his last pastorate. Here he celebrated his seventieth birthday and almost fifty years in the ministry in 1907. The meeting place at Grove Avenue caught fire and was burned to the ground during his ministry. Pastor Hawthorne led the congregation in the construction of a new and more beautiful place to worship the Lord. Persistent ill health led to his offering his resignation.
Dr. George W. Truett made a motion to the SBC meeting in Chattanooga that Dr. Hawthorne deliver the next year’s address to the convention which would be meeting in Richmond around the time of Rev. Hawthorne’s seventh birthday. He delivered the address on “Some things on which it behooves Baptists of this generation to put supreme emphasis.” The Convention ordered the address published in tract form. Some friends presented him with a gold-headed cane inscribed to him.
Once his pastoral ministry was finished Rev. Dr. James Boardman Hawthorne made several lecture tours through his beloved South where he was received with great joy. On October 17th, 1909 after preaching in Charlotte, North Carolina his strength failed and his appointments out of necessity were cancelled and he returned home. The winter of 1909-1910 was exceptionally severe confining the sufferer to his home. With the coming of milder weather he was out walking but on February 14th he had a slight stroke and on the 24th the Baptist Demosthenes or the Chrysostom of the South had entered the portals of the Celestial City. His earthly remains were interred in the sacred precincts of Hollywood Cemetery near the graves of friends who had been in Confederate service and those to whom he had ministered during his years in Richmond.