October 20: William Henry Foote [1794-1869]

Laboring with Great Earnestness and Success
by Rev David T Myers

Our focus today is on an early Presbyterian minister who was busy in the proclamation of the Gospel, laboring, as our title puts it, “with great earnestness and success.”

William Henry Foote was born at Colchester, Connecticut on December 20, 1794. He was part of the seventh generation of Foote’s, with his ancestors having come to Connecticut from England in 1633. He received his A.B. from Yale in 1816 and immediately began to teach in Virginia for two years. This field occupied his life even as he progressed into the full time pastoral ministry. His theological training was earned at Princeton Theological Seminary for one year in 1818 but didn’t extend beyond that due to health problems. Despite that little theological training, he was able to pass a sufficient examination for licensure on this day of October 20, 1819. Two months later, he was ordained by the Westminster Presbytery in Virginia. He began his pastoral ministry, accompanied by his new wife Eliza Glass, herself a daughter of the Presbyterian manse, in Woodstock and Strasburg, Virginia until 1824. He then went to what is now West Virginia, pasturing the Mt Bethel Church, eventually biblically splitting the church into five separate congregations. (What a example for mega-churches today!) One of the five congregations was Romney, (West) Virginia, which was his pulpit and pastorate until 1838.

For the next seven years, he served as the regional representative for the cause of foreign missions of the Old School Presbyterian church, visiting countless fields in North Carolina and Virginia. Little did this faithful pastor know that beyond the challenge for the support of foreign missions, he was also learning about the historical basis of Presbyterianism in those two states, which would translate into two books which would make their mark in American Presbyterianism. But all that would come after another fifteen years in various Presbyterian pulpits.

It was during this time that he penned, first in 1846, then in 1850 and 1855, the Sketches of North Carolina, and Sketches of Virginia. These church histories of the beginnings of Presbyterianism in North Carolina and Virginia of both men and movements which resulted in Presbyterian congregations are still valuable today. For example, he included the diary of Hugh McAden’s missionary tour through North Carolina during 1755 – 56, which diary was originally lost by the passage of time. Both church histories are on line today, here . . .

This Connecticut born Christian and pastor was on the Confederate side of the nation when it divided in 1860. In fact, he was called “a refugee” by various accounts during those four years. Yes, he continued to proclaim the gospel. Yes, he in essence became a Confederate chaplain in hospitals where countless wounded soldiers were found. This author is sure that despite the national calamities, the gospel did not change from his lips as he ministered during the four years of the War Between the States.

Rev. Foote continued his ministry for the gospel in what is now West Virginia, dying there at Romney on November 22, 1869. He is buried at the Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, West Virginia.

Words to Live By:
William Foote was said to abound in gospel labors, never being disbarred by difficulties or danger in the discharge of his spiritual duties. What a great characteristic for all of us, as we move in our discharge of our Christian witness in a world of increasing opposition to the gospel.


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