by Michael D. “Mike” Greene
The re-united Campbell family settled into the routine of life typical of many others living on the frontier of a growing nation in 1809. The nation had officially expanded beyond the Mississippi River with the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 and the roughest aspects of the frontier had passed by the environs of the little town of Washington, Pennsylvania.
Signs of refinement of culture were appearing. John Brown, a well-to-do merchant, had moved into the area and built what was called a mansion. Not because of its size, but because it was the only house for miles around that had glass windows. This house plays a major role in why Alexander Campbell never wore that ragged coat his father had predicted while he fulfilled his determination to proclaim the principles contained in the Declaration and Address and the Bible.
John Brown had a daughter named Margaret. John and Thomas Campbell had become friends, since their education and social status brought them together. Thomas had borrowed some books from the merchant and sent Alexander to return them. On that particular trip, Margaret caught the eye of the young Alexander.
One might wonder if Alexander and Margaret had been the object of some plotting by Thomas Campbell and John Brown. Whatever the case may have been, a courtship ensued, much to the delight of both sets of parents, and Margaret Brown became Mrs. Alexander Campbell on March 12, 1811.
In 1813, several factors, including the “prevailing spirit of migration,” led Alexander and other members of the Brush Run church to propose a mass migration of the Brush Run church and family members to what was perceived a more suitable location, further west, but not so far west as to “get too near the Indian border.” The town of Zanesville, Ohio, some 110 or so miles west, was determined to possess the desired advantages, and so plans began to be made for the move to take place as soon as possible.
However, John Brown was not in favor of the move which would take his beloved Margaret, Alexander and their two young daughters so far away. He determined to make a gift of his150 acre farm, on which Alexander had already been laboring, and house to Alexander and Margaret.
“This generous conduct on the part of Mr. Brown, and respect for his wishes, occasioned, as a matter of course, an entire change in the proposed arrangements so far as respected Mr. Campbell, who was now compelled to remain where he was.”/1
This largess provided Campbell with the means to avoid that ragged coat. But more than that, due to Campbell’s innate intelligence and the industry typical of so many immigrants of the era, he soon became the owner of a well stocked, very profitable farm.
This gave Campbell the means to influence hundreds in the field of agriculture as well as becoming an influential preacher who, unlike others of his generation, had little concern for the material welfare of his family while attending to matters of the Kingdom. As his earthly wealth increased, Campbell was free over the ensuing years to entertain literally hundreds of visitors to his home, make lengthy preaching tours, open two schools, and print and distribute two different influential periodicals.
Alexander’s determination to devote his life to the propagation of the principles contained in his father’s Declaration and Address led him into a long search for truth. While the Declaration and Address was birthed in the crucible of Thomas Campbells’ conflicts with the Presbyterians and their presbyteries, synods, and creeds, it has as a significant underlying goal the unification of believers.
But how can such unity be found? The key, at least for the Campbells, was found in what divided them. It became clear that it was the creeds and the power they gave to the clergy that was the source of religious division. It was the creeds that defined and codified their religious differences that divided them. Experience had taught there was no one creed on which all could agree or unite.
From careful reading of the scriptures, it was also seen that the early church was united. There were no denominational creeds or divisions in the New Testament. It was reasoned that if one could go back to the Bible and just be what they were in New Testament days, unity would of necessity follow. It was further reasoned, all would surely agree to unite on the Bible. The key to the whole matter was to be found in the “ancient order of things.”
The resulting search for the “ancient order of things” became the focus of the remainder of Campbell’s long life. Freed from the burden of providing for his family by his father-in-law’s generous gift, he was able to devote much of his energies in his remaining days to that quest.
As with many others who joined him in this early quest, he had no idea where this quest would take him. And take him it did, to a multitude of places near and far, into the presence of the influential and powerful as well as the poor, and to the pinnacle of influence in a religious effort to restore New Testament Christianity; an effort that would affect thousands in his own day and millions more in ensuing generations.
1/Richardson, Robert, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. I, 1897, Reprinted by Religious Book Service, Indianapolis, IN., 460-61.