Thomas Campbell (1763 – 1854)

by David R. Kenney

(originally presented at Ohio Valley Lectures, 2008)


Writings on Thomas and Alexander Campbell often end up focusing more on Alexander with Thomas being in the background. This paper’s focus is an attempt to examine more closely the life of Thomas Campbell and his contributions to the Restoration Movement. Thomas Campbell is a “bridge” figure from the Old World’s religion to the New World’s religion. One writer accurately portrays Thomas Campbell’s time in perspective: "Historians, when they have mentioned him at all, have spoken of him along with Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott as one of the founders of the movement known today as “Disciples of Christ,” and as the father of Alexander Campbell. But Thomas Campbell was more than that. He was a transitional figure, forming a link between the religious traditionalism of the Old World and the spirit and zeal of the New—a man who, like so many in America,--at that time, lived the first half of his life in Ireland and the last half on the American frontier."(1)  Thomas Campbell was an exemplary educator for the time and was able to use this gift to complement the efforts he made to the restoring of New Testament Christianity in America.


thomas campbell


Events Before Coming to America (1763-1806)


Thomas Campbell was born on February 1, 1763 in County Down, Ireland to Archibald Campbell and Alice McNally. From what is known, it appears Thomas was named after his grandfather. The ancestry of Thomas prior to Archibald conflicts with various accounts. Dates among various sources also conflict.(2)  Archibald was a Roman Catholic but changed to the Church of England. Thomas’ father appeared to like to state in jest that he “worshipped God by the Act of Parliament.” Archibald and Alice had four sons: Thomas, James, Archibald and Enos. They also had four daughters who were all named Mary but died in infancy. Thomas was sent to military regimental school near Newry in Northern Ireland. Upon graduation, Thomas began teaching in the country near the village of Sheepbridge and Newry. While working near Sheepbridge, Thomas Campbell’s ability came to the attention of a Seceder named John Kinley who offered to finance advance education for Thomas Campbell. Part of the condition of the support was to include additional ministerial training. While Thomas’ father was not favorable to the exposure to the Presbyterian Church, he reluctantly agreed since he did not have the financial means to provide these opportunities. It is believed that Thomas Campbell entered the prestigious University of Glasgow in Scotland in 1783 and completed his study within three years. The University of Glasgow was one of the more famous institutions of learning of the day and was also at this time the center of 18th century Scottish thought. Thomas then went on to study at the Whitburn Seceder Seminary which was the AntiBurgher branch of the Secession Presbyterian Church where he studied for five additional years until 1791.


While attending the Whitburn Seminary, Thomas Campbell would alternate between school in Scotland and teaching in Northern Ireland. It is theorized that at one of his teaching assignments near the village of Ballymena, he would meet Jane Corneigle who lived in Lough Neagh near Shane’s Castle and was of the French Huguenots.(3) They would marry in June 1787 and have ten children, three of which died in infancy or at birth. On September 12, 1788 their first child, Alexander, was born.


When Thomas completed his seminary training in 1791, he was examined by the Associate Presbytery of Ireland and graduated to the status of probationary preacher. He moved his family to Ballymena, near Sheepbridge, where he resumed teaching and began preaching for Seceder churches in the area. He then moved his family to Markethill in County Armagh where he preached and privately tutored. Alexander would attend elementary school in Markethill.


In 1798, Thomas Campbell accepted a full pastorate position in Ahorey, moving his family to the village of Hamilton’s Bawn which was just three miles away from the building. Alexander would board with a merchant named Mr. Gillis and continue his schooling in Markethill. Alexander would also attend an academy in Newry under the teaching of his uncles Archibald and Enos. When Alexander finished at the academy, Thomas was prepared to teach him directly; however, Alexander was not interested in studies but physical exercises. So, Thomas sent him out to the fields to help Alexander devote time to this interest until his mind would turn again to his studies.


In 1804 Thomas decided to move from Hamilton’s Bawn to Richhill (or Richardson’s Hill) and open an academy in their twostory whitewashed house. Alexander would be Thomas’ assistant in the academy as well. Alexander was offered a permanent private tutoring position for the children of William Richardson of Richhill Manor, but he declined the opportunity. It is important to note that at this time the Last Will & Testament of Springfield Presbytery is signed by Barton W. Stone (and others) in Kentucky. Thomas Campbell would not be sailing to America until nearly three years later and Alexander almost five years later.


In October 1804 Thomas and other ministers met as the “Committee on Consultation” to discuss the reunification of the Burgher and Anti-Burger groups in Ireland since there was no reason for separation by this time. The proposal, drafted by Thomas Campbell, was already viewed unfavorably by the synod in Scotland before the application could even be submitted.


In 1805, the group formed the Synod of Ulster in Ireland and submitted their application with Thomas going to Scotland to plead their case. Reports were that Thomas’ arguments were superior, but the leaders in the General Synod outvoted supporters of the reunification proposal (The two groups would eventually reunite in 1820). The experience would also have a profound impact on Thomas in the events to come. It is important to realize just how divided Protestant Denominations had become by this time, and Thomas Campbell’s involvement with the Presbyterian Church is a classic example. Thomas Campbell was an Old-Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterian. To understand exactly what that means, one must understand the divisions of the Presbyterian Church of Thomas’ day. In 1740 Moderates & Evangelicals divided over who had the authority to appoint preachers. Seceders (Evangelicals) believed that individual churches had this authority, not the Union Parliament. They formed the Associate Presbytery. Then in 1747 Burgher & Anti-Burghers divided over whether the burgesses of towns were to take an oath to protect religion of the state. The Anti-Burghers opposed the requirement of an oath. Another source of division arose in 1795 when the New Lights & Old Lights divided over the power of civil magistrates in religion as in the Westminster Confession.


By 1806 Thomas Campbell was basically exhausted and his health had become precarious. The doctor advised Thomas he should set aside the burdens in Ireland and go to America. Taking the doctor’s advice, Thomas Campbell left Richhill Academy and family in the hands of the sixteen-year old Alexander and sailed for America from Londonderry, Ireland on the ship Brutus on April 1, 1807. Thomas left the following words to Alexander before his departure on what was sometimes a perilous journey: "Live to God; be devoted to him in heart, and in all your undertakings. Be a sincere Christian— i.e., imbibe the doctrines, obey the precepts, copy the example, and believe the promise of the gospel. And that you do so, read it, study it, pray over it, embrace it as your heritage, your portion… Live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, both “for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” Above all things, attend to this, for without him you can do nothing, either to the glory of God or your own good." (4)


From Arrival in America to The Declaration & Address (1807 – 1809)


Thomas Campbell’s mind upon leaving the Old World included thoughts of a fresh start. A New World implied things of the Old World should be challenged and either be adopted, modified, or left behind. Perhaps he thought “Why would that not include religious sects?” When he arrived at America he found that the state of religion was at its lowest point since the Revolutionary War, but he was determined to do his part to rally people to New Testament Christianity as he stated:" Is it not then your incumbent duty to endeavor, by all scriptural means, to have those evils remedied? Who will say, that it is not?…The favorable opportunity which Divine Providence has put into your hands, in this happy country, for the accomplishment of so great a good, is in itself, a consideration of no small encouragement. A country happily exempted from the baneful influence of a civil establishment of any peculiar form of christianity—from under the direct influence of the anti-christian hierarchy—and, at the same time, from any formal connexion with the devoted nations,…Can the Lord expect, or require, any thing less, from a people so liberally furnished with all the means and mercies, than a thorough reformation, in all things civil and religious, according to his word?"(5).


On May 28, 1807 Thomas Campbell arrives in Philadelphia, PA. He is assigned Chartiers Presbytery in Washington County, PA by the North America Synod of the Seceder Presbyterian Church. On October 27, 1807 he is called before the Synod on charges of teaching against human creeds and confessions of faith in New Hope. On February 12, 1808 the Chartiers Presbytery decided to rebuke, censure, admonish and suspend Campbell after an inquest for a week into Campbell’s teachings. Thomas withdrew from the Anti-Burger Seceder Presbyterian Church on September 13, but he continued to preach among the associates with whom he had been laboring.


On January 1, 1808, Thomas wrote to his family, encouraging them to make immediate preparations to join him in the New World. The Campbell family departed on October 1 on the ship Hibernia but was shipwrecked in Scotland. Rather than sailing out immediately, they decide to take the opportunity for Alexander to attend the University of Glasgow where he would come under influence of Greville Ewing. The experience Alexander had during this time led him also to withdraw from the Seceder Church on his own without discussing it with his father. Ironically, both men had come to the same course of action independently. Imagine a son telling his father that he had quit the Presbyterian Church only to find out that his father had actually done the same thing! What a conversation that must have been! On August 3, 1809 the Campbell family sailed from Scotland on the ship Latona to America where they would arrive in New York on September 29, 1809.


While Thomas’ family was attempting to join him in the New World, he met with followers of like mind at the house of Abraham Alters. From these meetings of likeminded men came the expression “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” They formed the Christian Association of Washington on August 17, 1809. They erected a building on a farm owned by Sinclair three miles from Mt. Pleasant at the crossroads of the road leading to Washington, PA and Canonsburg. Thomas Campbell would reside in the upper level of the home of Mr. Welch to draft the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington. The declaration would be reviewed and approved for printing by the association on September 7, 1809.


On September 29, 1809 Thomas’ family arrived safely in New York and reached Philadelphia on October 7. Thomas left to go meet them and came across them eleven days from their departure from Philadelphia. They traveled together back to Washington, PA and arrived on October 28 to the new house owned by the Achesons. Alexander had arrived in time for Thomas to share and review with him the proof sheets of the declaration. The declaration was printed by Brown and Sample at the Office of the Reporter in Washington, PA. On November 2, 1809 the Christian Association of Washington, at its semi-annual meeting, decided to send a copy of the Declaration and Address to every sect in Washington County.


From Washington, Pennsylvania to Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania (1810 – 1812)


On September 16, 1810 Alexander Campbell preached his first sermon for the Brush Run congregation. The Christian Association applied for membership with the Pittsburgh Synod of Mother Church of Scotland but was rejected.


On March 12, 1811 Alexander married Margaret Brown in the family parlor in Bethany. Thomas and Jane Campbell hosted a reception in their honor at their home in Washington, PA.


Shortly thereafter, Thomas moved to Mt. Pleasant, PA. On May 4, 1811 Christian Association of Washington organized into the Brush Run Church with Thomas Campbell as an elder and Alexander Campbell as the preacher. The first communion service at Brush Run was on May 5, 1811. The building was erected in June of 1811. By June 16, 1811 Brush Run instituted weekly communion. The Brush Run building, 18 x 36 feet in size, was completed and would be used until 1828. In 1842, the building was purchased by George McFadden and moved to West Middletown and used as a blacksmith shop. In 1869 McFadden was appointed Postmaster and used the building as a post office. In 1913 funds were donated by Frank Main to have it purchased and moved next to Campbell Mansion. Eventually it would be demolished due to the decay of the structure.


On July 4, 1811 Thomas Campbell immersed three members in Buffalo Creek which led to immersions and weekly communion being conducted on a regular basis for some time. On January 1, 1812 Thomas Campbell, as senior minister of the First Church of the Christian Association of Washington, signed Alexander Campbell’s certificate of ordination. On March 12, 1812 Alexander & Margaret’s first child, Jane Caroline, is born. This prompted a deep study of baptism by Alexander Campbell. He concluded the Scriptures are silent about infant baptism so did not sprinkle Caroline. Silence is restrictive, not permissive, as some would try to persuade us today. Finally, on June 12, 1812 Thomas, Jane, Alexander, and Margaret were immersed for the remission of sins in Buffalo Creek, Washington County, PA by Matthias Luse, a Baptist Preacher. The service that day was seven hours. The next day thirteen other members of Brush Run were baptized by Thomas Campbell.


From Cambridge, Ohio to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1813 – 1815)


Around October 1813, Thomas and Jane Campbell moved to Cambridge, OH where they would operate a farm and seminary. He would live here for two years on Woolworth Corner in the Dixon House, a two-story log cabin structure. Here he would establish the first reputable school in Cambridge. In 1823 the house was sold to Jacob Shaffner who either destroyed it or renovated to a new building which he used for a store. The site would go through various hands, purposes and business until the land would be used to construct a three-story yellow brick building around 1894, now known as the Colley Building.(6).


While Thomas was away, Brush Run considered relocating to Zanesville, OH. Alexander was given the land in Bethany by Margaret’s father so the move never occurred.


While in Cambridge he received a letter from Thomas Acheson advising him that David Acheson was seriously ill. Thomas went to stay with the Achesons for several weeks in Washington and had an opportunity to establish a school and congregation in Pittsburgh, PA.


From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Newport, Kentucky (1815 – 1817)


In October 1815 Thomas Campbell relocated to Pittsburgh, PA and established the Mercantile Academy or English Classical School. His son-in-law (Joseph Bryant) and daughter Dorothea both assisted with the school. Nathanael Richardson also assisted with the school and decided to enroll his son, Robert.


Thomas was able to gather enough Christians together to establish a small congregation in Pittsburgh. On August 31, 1816, the congregation applied for membership to the Redstone Baptist Association. Their application was rejected because the Association required the congregation to accept the Philadelphia Confession or equivalent creed which they were not about to agree to. On September 1, 1816 Alexander delivered his highly regarded “Sermon on the Law” to some twenty-two preachers and over 1,000 in attendance at the Redstone Baptist Association. The sermon was extremely hostile to Baptist doctrine and was viewed as a rebuke to the association’s rejection of the congregation’s membership.


By the spring of 1817, Dorothea’s health was failing and other family members returned to Washington, PA. Thomas was left with a burden of running an academy largely on his own. The burden was too much for a man of his age and condition, so he decided to leave Pittsburgh for a more suitable field.


From Newport, Kentucky to West Middleton, Pennsylvania (1817 – 1819)


In the fall of 1817 Thomas moved the family to Newport, KY. During this period Thomas traveled and visited numerous Baptist churches in the area. He discovered the construction of a new academy in Burlington, Boone County, KY. He was offered the position of headmaster, and his eighteen-year old daughter, Jane, agreed to assist him. In March 1818, Alexander had opened Buffalo Seminary near Brush Run. A couple of months later, Alexander laid the foundation for an addition to Campbell Mansion to eventually house Buffalo Seminary. In July 1 the cornerstone was laid for an even greater space for the seminary in Bethany.


Thomas completed several trips to Indiana during the next couple of years while his family settled in at Burlington. All was well until a Sunday in the summer of 1819 when Thomas invited some blacks into the academy to teach them how to read the Bible and some hymns. He was notified that it was against state law to teach blacks unless one or two witnesses were in attendance. Repulsed by this encroachment, Thomas decided to leave immediately and made arrangements to move closer to Alexander Campbell to assist with Buffalo Seminary. To the dismay of the family, who didn’t want to move again, they moved to West Middleton where Thomas assisted with Buffalo Seminary some seven miles away from Bethany.


From West Middleton, Pennsylvania to Bethany, Virginia (1819 – 1843)


Thomas and his daughter Jane, spend much time working in the seminary while Alexander was preparing for his first debate with John Walker, Seceder Presbyterian, that would begin in June 1820. During this period it is estimated there were six churches and 200 members worshipping as an effort of the Campbells’ work. Also, Alexander went to Pittsburgh where he would meet Walter Scott for the first time.


The debate with Walker was printed and was read widely. Alexander then realized the value of debates and the press so he decided to close Buffalo Seminary at the end of 1822 and made plans to begin publishing the Christian Baptist. The first issue was printed on August 3, 1823. The impact on the Baptists was substantial, and the Baptist Church was furious about the publication. In fact, the Redstone Baptist Association planned to expel Alexander Campbell, but someone alerted Thomas and Alexander to the plan. To counter the move, Alexander transferred his membership from Brush Run to Wellsburg where several from the Brush Run had also moved their membership. Alexander then joined the Mahoning Association and Thomas drafted a letter from Brush Run dated August 31, 1823 stating Alexander, in good standing, had moved his membership to Wellsburg. Alexander and Thomas attended the Redstone meeting, and when they inquired why Alexander was not on the roll they were irritated when they learned he was no longer under their jurisdiction thus exempted from their intended punishment.


Thomas would spend time traveling, preaching, and writing his view of baptism that would appear in the second issue of the Christian Baptist. He would serve as secretary to Alexander in his contest with a pedobaptist Presbyterian named McCalla from Augusta, KY in October 1823.


Thomas assisted in writing and printing of the Christian Baptist which would allow Alexander to travel to various meetings over the next couple of years. Alexander would write “Experimental Religion” which was highly offensive to the Baptists. Thomas, who thought the article was too caustic, wrote a rebuke in the paper to Alexander which was signed “T. W.”


In September 1827 an association was formed that ignored the Philadelphia Confession. Tragically the following month, Alexander’s wife Margaret died of tuberculosis at the age of 37. Also during this period, the Brush Run congregation had diminished to the point that they merged with the congregation in Bethany. During the fall, Thomas took his son, Archibald, on a tour of the Western Reserve of Ohio. In the spring of 1828 Thomas went back out to the Western Reserve to check on the growing progress of Walter Scott. He found that Walter Scott was sound, effective, and was very successful in evangelizing using his five-finger method. Thomas traveled with a preacher of the Universalists named Aylett Raines. He also began traveling with Walter Scott until he finally returned in the summer of 1828. That fall, he and Archibald traveled to Somerset, PA to preach in various churches in the surrounding counties. He returned in the winter of 1828 to preach at Bethany and West Middleton.


In the spring of 1829 Thomas witnessed the debate between his son and the infidel Robert Owen in Cincinnati, OH. After the debate, Alexander decided to cease the Christian Baptist and begin the Millennial Harbinger. However, Alexander was elected as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention on September 22, 1829. Therefore, Thomas contributed writing and editing the next five issues of the Christian Baptist while Alexander was away. For much of 1829 and 1830 the movement to remove the reformers from the Baptists reached its climax. On January 4, 1830 the Millennial Harbinger made its debut.


During the spring and summer of 1830 Thomas visited Kentucky and southern Ohio. There was also a confrontation with the Beaver Baptist Association which had leveled attacks against the Campbells and the Mahoning Association in what was called the “Beaver Anathema”. There were several charges leveled against the reformers which are interesting to note:

1. That there is no promise of salvation without baptism.  

2. That baptism should be administered on the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, without examination on any other point.

3. That there is no direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind before baptism.

4. That baptism procures the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

5. That the Scriptures are the only evidence of interest in Christ.

6. That man’s obedience places it in God’s power to elect to salvation.

7. That no creed is necessary for the church but the Scriptures.

8. That all baptized persons have a right to administer the ordinance of baptism.

In June 1830 the Tate’s Creek Association in Kentucky adopted the “Beaver Anathema” and added four additional charges:

9. That there is no special call to the ministry.

10. That the law given by Moses is abolished.

11. That experimental religion is enthusiasm.

12. That there is no mystery in the Scriptures.(7).


The controversy raged on between the Baptist and the reformers. Thomas Campbell attended meetings of the North District Association in Spencer Creek, KY and the Elkhorn Association, Bourbon County, KY. These meetings led to a separation of the Baptist and the reformers that reached its peak during the summer of 1830. While this was a discouragement, the spirit of freedom in the new country gave the reformers reason to be optimistic and push on rather than downtrodden by the hierarchies of the Old World.


In the winter of 1830, Thomas traveled to Mentor, OH to visit his younger daughter, Alicia, and her new husband, Matthew Clapp. He also confronted Sidney Rigdon and the Mormon movement that was troubling the area. Rigdon was a very unstable individual who actually attended one of Alexander’s debates and traveled with the disciples before joining in with Joseph Smith and the Mormons. When Joseph Smith was murdered, Rigdon lost the leadership of the Mormons to Brigham Young and left to join the Shakers. Thomas Campbell wrote a public letter in February 1831 and challenged Sidney Rigdon to debate Mormonism. Rigdon immediately burned the letter and ignored the challenge.8 Thomas returned to West Middleton, PA in the spring of 1831. Also during this period, the church in Bethany erected a stone building for worship. The building was eventually torn down 20 years later and the stones were used in the foundation of the brick structure that stands there today.


During the summer of 1831 Thomas attended the annual meeting of the Ohio Disciples in New Lisbon with Alexander. In November 1831 Thomas traveled to eastern Virginia to assist the Disciples in the separation from the Baptists. Thomas also spent a considerable amount of time working with Alexander Campbell on the new translation of the New Testament that was to be printed. Thomas was extremely concerned about the translation projected. He even left early to consult with Alexander about points relating to the translation directly as he wrote to Alexander on December 24, 1831:" I am happy to learn that you are proceeding in the arduous and all-important undertaking of a new and improved exhibition of the sacred text. I feel infinitely more concerned for your intended publication of the New Testament than for anything you have ever attempted to publish. I beg and beseech you to look to the Lord continually for the guidance and superintending aid of his Holy Spirit; also to guard most rigidly against all philosophical, theoretical, and theological leanings. Let the translation be purely classical upon the established principles of philological, idiomatical, and grammatic criticism. Further, that you will not only duly attend to the corrections that I have already put into your hand in the small manuscript that I left with you, as well as what yet remains to be presented as soon as I have finished my review of your late edition, but also that you will grant me the indulgence of revising with you all the improvements you may have made out and corrected, before you put them down in the improved and corrected copy to be stereotyped, before it be delivered for that purpose to the engraver.(9)


Thomas remained on the road due to a serious illness and fall from a horse until he was finally able to return home in September 1832. He was immediately asked to help the brethren at Wellsburg. During this period, on January 2, 1832, the unification of the Disciples and Christians occurred in Lexington, KY.


During the winter of 1832, Thomas made several contributions to the Millennial Harbinger. In October 1833 he left again with Alexander, B. H. Hall, and two granddaughters, Maria Louis and Eliza, to travel to Richmond, VA. He also spent six months in North Carolina. Thomas Campbell conducted a written discussion with Barton Stone in the Millennial Harbinger and The Christian Messenger on the subject of atonement.


By 1835 Thomas was back again running the Millennial Harbinger as Alexander was making an extended trip. Thomas and Jane had moved in with their third daughter, Jane McKeever and her husband. On April 28, 1835 the wife of Thomas Campbell, Jane Campbell, died. Thomas continued to work on the Millennial Harbinger until Robertson Richardson was added as coeditor which freed Thomas of this work.


In the summer of 1836 Thomas once again visited Mentor, OH and surrounding areas. During the fall of 1838 he returned to assist with the Millennial Harbinger to fill in due to the absences of both Alexander Campbell and Robertson Richardson. He continued this work until Alexander returned in April 1839. That September, Thomas went on another preaching tour in Pennsylvania. By the end of 1839 and the beginning of 1840 Thomas was involved in the controversy over the name of “Disciple” or “Christian”. Thomas, as did Walter Scott, sided more with Barton W. Stone on the preference for the name “Christian” over Alexander’s preference for the term “Disciple”. He made several contributions to the Millennial Harbinger during this period and was once again called on to take over editorial duties.


On March 2, 1840 Bethany College was incorporated. Thomas served as an incorporator and also served on its Board of Trustees. The first meeting, at which Thomas was the chairman, was on May 11. On September 18 the Board of Trustees had its second meeting. Thomas was once again the chairman and Alexander was elected President of Bethany College. Thomas also made contributions to the Millennial Harbinger during this period as well. Bethany College opened for business on October 21, 1840.


From Bethany, Virginia To Eternity (1843 – 1854)


In 1843, Thomas Campbell was an eighty year old widower. Thomas moved into the home of Alexander and Selina Campbell. He spent much time in study across the street from the Bethany Mansion in the study vacated by Alexander upon the completion of his octagonal study he referred to as “Light from Above”. Thomas also returned to Cambridge, OH for a visit of the area where he had labored nearly 30 years ago and had a pleasant visit with J. R. Frame, the evangelist at the time. He preached for various denominations such as the Baptists and Cumberland Presbyterians. As 1843 drew to a close, Thomas traveled with Alexander to witness his debate with N. L. Rice, a Presbyterian. He also continued to write articles for the Millennial Harbinger.


In January 1845 Thomas published his official view on slavery in the Millennial Harbinger stating: "Upon the whole, with respect to American slavery, wherever distinguished by any inhuman and antichristian adjuncts, by any unnatural, immoral, and irreligious usages, we may justly and reasonably conclude that as Christianity and truly moralized humanity prevail, it must and will go down; and that, in these respects, no Christian can either approve or practise it. It may also provoke God to destroy it more speedily by terrible judgments, as in the case of Egypt, Babylon, Nineveh, and Jerusalem, wholly destroyed on account of their cruelty and oppression."(10).


During the summer of 1847 Thomas Campbell began losing his eyesight and hearing which limited his mobility. By 1848 his eyesight failed, but he was still seen to be quoting Scriptures and hymns which revealed his disposition during this trial. On June 1, 1851 at the age of 88 years old, Thomas Campbell delivered his farewell address to the Bethany Church of Christ. His chosen topic was “The Two Greatest Commandments.” The following year the building was torn down and replaced with the now Bethany Memorial Church of Christ brick structure.


During 1853, Thomas was visited and interviewed by an admirer, James Challen, who published the following in the Ladies Christian Annual:" …In the absence of his son Alexander, he daily leads family worship. His memory is, of course, very defective. He sits in his comfortable armchair before the fire throughout the day, occasionally rising to change his position or for exercise. He still shaves himself, and attends to his toilet with scrupulous exactness. He retires to his chamber alone, in accordance with his own wishes, and rises without any aid from the family, as he is extremely reluctant to give the least possible trouble to any about him. His wants are all fully anticipated, and every possible attention paid him by every member of the family, not only from a sense of duty, but from pure affection. Indeed, no one can be near him without loving him. He is so kind and gentle, so courteous and bland, and so grateful even for the smallest favors. He still carries about him his old watch, and daily has it set to correspond with the family timepiece. Time with him was always a sacred thing; he knew its value, and still prizes it."(11).


In December 1853, Thomas told Alexander “I am going home and will pass over Jordan.” On January 4, 1854 Thomas Campbell died at Bethany one month prior to his 91st birthday. He was buried in the family cemetery, God’s Acre, in Bethany, VA (now West Virginia).


In 1861, Alexander Campbell published his biography of his father entitled Life of Elder Thomas Campbell.


Contributions of Thomas Campbell to the Restoration of NT Christianity


While it is not possible to delineate all that Thomas Campbell contributed to the cause of Christ and the restoration of the primitive gospel, the following should be included with any such list created:


The writing of the Declaration & Address. This document, along with The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery by Barton W. Stone and the brethren at Cane Ridge serves as a bridge from the divided world of denominationalism to the church of the New Testament. While these documents are not creeds, they should be viewed as structures to be admired and studied from the banks of New Testament shoreline. An excerpt from proposition 5 of the document Alexander Campbell pledged his life to promote included words that leave no doubt that the Campbells viewed the silence of the Scriptures as restrictive rather than permissive: "That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be, no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency by making laws for the Church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament."


Training & Counseling of Alexander Campbell. While all among churches of Christ, including Alexander Campbell himself, find reference to Christians as “Campbellites” as abhorrent and evil, none should doubt the contributions that Alexander Campbell made to restore New Testament Christianity. Alexander Campbell’s effectiveness is revealed in the slur of “Campbellite” being used in the first place for those unbiased enough to examine the Scriptures themselves. Thomas Campbell trained, counseled, and at times even restrained Alexander during much of his career. A more effective father & son combination would be difficult to find.


Training of Robert Richardson. If Thomas Campbell had not moved to Pittsburgh in 1815 to open the Mercantile Academy, then he might not have had an influence on Robert Richardson. Richardson went on to become editor of the Millennial Harbinger and write a monumental biography on the life of Alexander Campbell. Regardless of the controversy Richardson stirred, writing the biography alone makes Thomas Campbell’s work that led to Robert Richardson becoming a Christian worthy of note.


Encouragement to Walter Scott. Perhaps Thomas Campbell’s work in Pittsburgh may have set in motion a chain of events that led to Walter Scott being added to the church. Whether or not that is so, the trip that Thomas made to investigate Walter Scott’s effectiveness led to an increased effort to proclaim the Gospel on the Western Reserve.


Evangelizing on Western Reserve and Beyond. There are gaps in the series of events in Thomas’ life as are clearly shown in this manuscript. Thomas Campbell was often traveling across states preaching for whatever audience would have him preach. He built up churches and their evangelists. He was often away from his wife and children for months at a time.


Bethany College. Thomas Campbell was first and foremost an evangelist, but he was also an educator. He served as Chairman of the Board for the founding of Bethany. His leadership undoubtedly led to the rise of both instructors (Robert Milligan, Robert Richardson, Hall Calhoun, W. K. Pendelton) and students (J. W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, James Harding) who would go on to degrees of prominence in the Restoration Movement. To this date Bethany College is still the oldest degree granting institution in West Virginia although it is governed by the Disciples of Christ and has departed greatly from the principles of its founders. It has been reported that Bethany College had the same degree awarding authorization as the University of Virginia and still is governed by the Virginia charter today.


Editor & Publisher. While many often associate the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger with Alexander Campbell, it is important not to forget that Thomas filled in for Alexander on several occasions as editor and contributed research and articles to the papers as well.(12)


Kenney, David, R., "Great Preachers of the Past - Thomas Campbell (1763 - 1854)," Kenney, Warren, F., Editor, Ninth Annual West Virginia Christian Lectureship, Martinsburg, WV:  Central Church of Christ, October 5-9, 2008, pp. 58-77.




1 Lester G. McAllister, Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1954, p. 12.


2 When one starts researching various historical figures, including Thomas Campbell, it is surprising the disagreement in dates and details of key events. In an effort to provide the most accurate dates known, this writer is relying on the research of Rosemary Jeanne Cobb, “Following the Footsteps of Thomas Campbell,” Bethany, WV: Bethany College, September 6, 1996. Ms. Cobb is the archivist of the Campbell records at Bethany College and has far better access to primary source documents than many do. I am appreciative of her willingness to share this material.


3 French Huguenots were strict Calvinistic Presbyterians and followers of John Calvin. In 1512 over thirty thousand Protestants were slain in one day. A general edict which encouraged the extermination of the Huguenots was issued on January 29th, 1536 in France. On March 1, 1562 some 1200 Huguenots were slain at Vassy, France. Any person or group who dissented against Roman Catholicism was deemed a “heretic” and subject to persecution including torture and execution. Many fled to Ireland, Switzerland, England, Germany, and Holland. The Corneigle family fled from France in 1681.


4 As quoted by Lester G. McAllister, Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1954, p. 58.


5 Ibid, p.112.


6 Appreciation is extended to brother Bruce Daugherty for providing a copy of William G. Wolfe’s “Sideline Stories of Guernsey County, Ohio” Cambridge, OH: Guernsey County Ohio Genealogical Society, 1990, p. 61.


7 As quoted by Lester G. McAllister, Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1954, pp. 209-211.


8 To see transcription of letter, see


9 As quoted in Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell,



11 As quoted by Lester McCallister, Thomas Campbell: Man of the Book, St. Louis, MO: The Bethany Press, 1954, pp. 260-261.


12 For a list of Thomas Cambpell’s contributions to the Christian Baptist, Millennial Harbinger, and other publications see