Quite a Remarkable Man, Spent for the Gospel.
Drawing again from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia (p. 75), we read of the Rev. Gideon Blackburn:
Gideon Blackburn was born in Augusta county, Virginia on August 27th, 1772. In his boyhood his parents removed to Tennessee. He pursued his literary course of studies under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Doak [1749-1830] and his theological studies under the instruction of Dr. Robert Henderson [1764-1834]. Blackburn was then licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Abingdon, in 1792.
Mr. Blackburn was the organizing pastor of the New Providence Church in Maryville, Virginia, and also took charge of another church called Eusebia, which lay about ten miles distant. Besides his stated labors on behalf of these two congregations, Blackburn frequently preached throughout the surrounding region, and was instrumental in organizing several other churches.
During the early part of his ministry here, his life was frequently in danger, given the possibility of attacks by Indians. In 1803, he began a mission to the Cherokees, and his sacrificial efforts on their behalf produced remarkable results. In 1811 he removed again to West Tennessee, settling at Franklin, where he took charge of Harpeth Academy, while also preaching on a rotating schedule at five different outposts that fell within a fifty mile wide circuit. Within just a few months of this work, he was blessed of God to organize churches in each of those locations.
On November 12, 1823, Dr. Blackburn was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky, and here again, his labors were greatly blessed. He was later made President of Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, and served there from 1827 to 1830. He then removed to Versailles, KY, where he spent part of his time as pastor of the Presbyterian church there, and the rest of his time as an agent of the Kentucky State Temperance Society.
In 1833, Blackburn moved on to Illinois, serving in 1835 as an agent raising funds for Illinois College. It was while traveling in the eastern states engaged in this work, that he conceived the idea of a theological seminary in Illinois. Eventually that school was established in Carlinsville, Illinois, though Blackburn died, on August 23, 1838, before seeing the culmination of his plan.
Dr. Blackburn was much above the ordinary stature, being about six feet one or two inches high. In his manner he was easy, gentle, mild, courteous, affable, but always dignified. “He was,” said one who knew him well, “not only an eloquent, but laborious and successful preacher. Like Whitefield, he loved ‘to range,’ and besides many extensive tours of preaching through various portions of the United States, his vacations in the academy and college were uniformly spent in traveling from place to place, often preaching night and day, and uniformly followed by weeping, wondering, admiring, audiences wherever he went; and even during the sessions of the academy and college, often have I known him, mounted on horseback on Friday afternoon, to dash off ten, twenty and even thirty miles, preach four or five times, administer the communion on Sabbath, and return on Monday morning in time to be in his chair in the lecture-room at nine o’clock. Very many were converted under his ministry, and many churches planted and watered by his indefatigable labors.”