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Thomas Witherspoon - 1

Thomas Witherspoon - 1
Item# thomas-witherspoon-1
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Thomas Dwight Witherspoon was born in Greensboro Alabama on 17 January 1836 to parents Franklin and Agnes Fulton Witherspoon. His higher education began at the University of Mississippi where he gained the Bachelor's degree in 1856 and the Master's degree in 1858. From 1856-1859 he prepared for the ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary Columbia SC graduating there in 1859.

Witherspoon was licensed to preach by Chickasaw Presbytery on 6 June 1859 and ordained by the same Presbytery on 23 May 1860 approximately one year before the north/south split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Rev. Witherspoon officially began his first pastorate at the Presbyterian church in Oxford Mississippi and he served there until the start of the Civil War. Following a sermon before the Oxford congregation on 30 April 1861 preaching on Psalm 20:7 Rev. Witherspoon immediately entered the conflict enlisting as a private with the Mississippi Infantry which was assembling near Lynchburg Virginia. The course of his military career can be summarized with a quick move to the chaplaincy and transfer from 2d Mississippi Regiment to the 42nd Mississippi Infantry. Though the date of his separation from the Confederate Army is uncertain he was in service for the duration of the war and was present for the great battle at Gettysburg. In a particularly touching scene he accompanied the body of a fallen commander Col. Hugh R. Miller to his burial and was subsequently imprisoned for a time at Fort McHenry.

Witherspoon's second pastorate with the Second Presbyterian church of Memphis Tennessee began on 3 September 1865 and he continued there until failing health prompted his retiring from that pulpit on 9 October 1870. From here he was installed as the pastor of the Christiansburg Virginia church on 23 October 1870 though he remained in this post for only one year taking on subsequent duties as chaplain at the University of Virginia from 1871-1873.

From 1873 until 1882 Rev. Witherspoon was the pastor of the historic Tabb Street Presbyterian Church of Petersburg Virginia. His next pastorate was with the First Presbyterian church of Louisville Kentucky laboring there from 1882 until 1891. Leaving Louisville and moving about 100 miles to the southeast he relocated in 1891 to take a post as the Professor of Professor of Bible and Christian Evidence leading a new program at the Central University of Richmond Kentucky. Though only there for one year he left a significant impression upon his students. The Rev. James H. Taylor later recounted: “Dr. T. Dwight Witherspoon was our teacher of Homiletics. Here was a very kind and considerate teacher. There was something strangely spiritual about him that made us show him reverential respect. He had an uncanny way of analyzing our written sermons. On one occasion he marked my sermon with the words “You will find this sermon hard to preach” indicating the place. I thought that I would try it. When Henry Sweets asked me to preach at his mission I accepted and started on the sermon. All went fairly well for a short while and then I stalled. The best thing to do was to stop; so I stopped. Later I went to Dr. Witherspoon with the copy of the sermon and told him I had tried to preach it. With that gentle smile he said “And how did you come out?” I said “I didn’t come out.” Then he explained it to me. Ever after I had the most exalted opinion of his judgment. He was also a splendid teacher.”

Initially concurrent with his post as professor Dr. Witherspoon also served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Richmond Kentucky. It may well have been the pressing claims of pastoral ministry that caused him to demit the professorship in 1892 while he continued as pastor of the church until 1894. Witherspoon's final service was as Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary 1894-1898. He was in fact one of the six original professors when the Seminary opened and was present on 2 October 1893 to greet students arriving to begin their studies. Dr. Witherspoon served at the Seminary until his death on 3 November 1898. He is presumably buried in Louisville though we have not yet located his gravesite.

Honors included the Doctor of Divinity degree (1867) and the Doctor of Laws degree (1885) both awarded by his alma mater the University of Mississippi. In 1884 he served as Moderator of General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church U.S. when that Assembly met in Vicksburg Mississippi. Notable publications included Children of the Covenant (1873) and Romanism (1881). A full list of his publications is posted in an attached Bibliography.

Rev. James H. Taylor D.D. in History of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Louisville KY: Published by The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary 1953; printed by The Franklin Printing Company)p. 39]


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