Clergymen and Lay Preachers
From the earliest days some clergy were attracted to the Watch Tower message. As we observed in volume one, abandoning previous affiliation was difficult because it meant giving up regular income. So we meet two classes of clergy: Those who suffered the consequences of their faith, and those who flirted with the message, believing all or part of it, but who did not become adherents. We should profile some of these.
Many of the clergy who accepted the Watch Tower message are unnamed in the magazine and, despite our best efforts, remain anonymous. Two of the earliest clerical converts were a Methodist Episcopal and a Lutheran clergyman. The Methodist may have been Samuel T. Tackabury, but that is uncertain. Russell wrote about them in the July 1882, Watch Tower: “During June two ministers came to see the force of the truth so clearly as to ask for a supply of ‘Food’ for their congregations, and one reports that he never saw people so hungry. He expects to withdraw from the M.[thodist] P.[rotestant] Church, and thinks that a number of his congregation will follow. The other minister is a Lutheran.”
A Methodist minister’s wife wrote expressing her interest in Food for Thinking Christians. Her letter was printed in January-February 1882, reveals discontent with her church:
Sent you a card which you will receive before you see this. Wished to asked several questions. [sic] I am interested in your paper, am a thinking Christian, but not settled in my views, seeking more light. Are we to expect revivals and the conversion of sinners now? Are we to labor for this result? Is the church coming up higher? Are we to come out of the church, take our name off the church books, or remain in the church and labor to bring the rest upon the higher plain; or is each individual to be fully persuaded in his own mind and act according to his conscience? Shall I tell my sisters of like faith, better come out from among them nominally? In spirit, I am far from the majority – this I have called “coming out from among them.” I want to be right. Will you take the trouble to answer “the thinking Christian’s” questions? Please be plain. Many are inquiring. What shall I tell them? I may read your letter (should you write one) to others.
Many of her questions derive from Methodist perfectionist and holiness beliefs. The reference to Higher Life comes from the title of William Edwin Boardman’s book, The Higher Christian Life. Holiness and perfectionist doctrine was especially influential among Methodists because it was similar to Wesleyan teaching. This clergyman’s wife discussed these issues with other women, fellow congregants. While she was in the minority, there were others who were interested.
Russell turned the letter over to his wife who answered it. [continue]
Early in April 1882, a “colored” Congregational clergyman wrote to Russell, expressing his interest. A small group developed in Caledonia, Mississippi, based on sharing Watch Tower publications with others:
I am anxious to know the truth of God’s word, but I am too poor to purchase Bible helps I need. I have learned more from “Food” and “Tabernacle” in two or three weeks than from anything else in ten years. I am grateful to you for them, and for the paper also. I and all that have seen and can understand them are much interested.
Another clergyman who expressed interest wrote from Gold Hill, North Carolina, after receiving one of the sample Watch Tower issues. His letter appeared in the March 1883, Watch Tower. A Methodist Episcopal minister, he questioned creeds:
I am thankful for sample copy of Z. W. T., which I received a few days ago. I am a minister of the M. E. Church. For years I have believed denominationalism was a positive disadvantage to the work of Christ in our own midst, much more so in heathen lands. In fact, I cannot see how they succeed among them at all so many advocates of such a diversity of creeds. Surely there is a more excellent way. The positions you take are certainly tenable; the elucidations of Scripture are clear and forcible. I think you have struck the key-note, and all the truly pious will hear. Those who like their creeds better than they do their Lord, will surely feel and lament.
The Gold Hill clergyman does not reappear, but we think his interest was transitory. So, too, we think was that of a missionary to the Jews who wrote from Baltimore, Maryland. He was attracted to Watch Tower theology by its insistence on the restoration and blessing of the Jews. He offered to circulate tracts. In the March 1883, Watch Tower we find a brief letter from a seminary student located in New York City. It is brief, and we cannot add significant detail to its contents:
I have once before – last year – received a number of “the Watch Tower,” and a tract, “Food for Thinking Christians;” but at that time I could not appreciate the truth and cast them away; now I love it, as far as I can see it and know it.
I had entered the Theological Seminary in this city to prepare myself for the ministry; but to-day I make up my mind to leave it: I feel constrained now as beforeto dromp Theology and turn to the Word of God alone. I will rather be a simple servant of God than a minister, though that has been my ambition since youth.
The only observations we can make are that he was most likely an Episcopalian attending The General Theological Seminary in New York City. It alone would have been understood from his letter. A third letter from a clergyman appears in the same March 1883, issue. From an elderly minister with more than thirty years in the work, he explained that he circulated Watch Tower material, mentioning the October 1882, missionary issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. He became interested in Last Times themes by hearing William Miller lecture. We do not know how deeply he was involved in the Millerite movement, or if he participated in it at all.
In 1883, a Baptist minister from Fayetteville, North Carolina wrote to Russell explaining his situation: “I have been a searcher after truth from youth up. Joined the Baptist Church at the age of 22 years, am now 49. I have been preaching over 20 years, but everything seems new to me since I have read your books.” The books he would have read were Food for Thinking Christians and Tabernacle Teachings. He accepted the ‘due time’ doctrine as the reason why the ‘truths’ he now believed were previously hidden: “Why is it that such light has not been revealed by some of the so-called wise and great before this? I suppose the time for it had not come. I have not language sufficient to express my gratitude. May the Lord increase you in strength physically and mentally to go on in this great work until thousands like myself shall be able to see the light and beauty of the Bible.” This was, of course, a false conclusion. Nothing in Watch Tower theology was original, though the combination of teachings was unique.
The Fayetteville clergyman didn’t want to be part of Babylon and left his church:
I am determined to heed the words of Paul not to confer with flesh and blood, but to go out of Babylon lest I be partaker of her sins. Last Sabbath I preached from John 6:68, “Lord to whom shall we go?” I expect to preach my last sermon for them as their elder, from Numbers 22:18, as my course is beginning to be talked of among my friends. I don’t know what they will say more, but they will not say worse of me than they did of our Savior. They said He had a devil. I rejoice that I am accounted worthy to be reproached, and to bear stripes for his (Jesus’) sake.
A lay-preacher from Macon Depot, North Carolina, accepted the Watch Tower message sometime in early to mid-1883. Writing to Russell in July that year he explained that he had taken the offer for three free issues of Zion’s Watch Tower and carefully studied them and Food for Thinking Christians. He fully endorsed the teachings found in them, writing that he hoped, “God willing, to commence soon to preach the doctrine and views taught in the Scriptures as shown in the ‘Tower’ and ‘Food.’” A one-time Methodist clergyman wrote to Russell expressing his prior discontent with their creed: “The study of the Scriptures led me farther from their creed. I finally withdrew, and for the last eighteen years I have stood outside the nominal Churches. They have desired me to unite again, but I could not join with any sectarian organization. I felt and still feel called upon to come out from among them and be separate.” He wrote that there were “a number … waking up to the truth” and asked for material to circulate. No location is attached to his letter. 
For an evangelist from Maine the attraction was the Watch Tower’s call for a clean, consecrated church. A brief letter has him preaching his newly found understanding:
I have long believed in a pure consecrated and holy ministry and church. But never have I so fully enjoyed my privilege as for the past few weeks and especially since Aug. 30, 1883. I spent forty years, five months and ten days in the wilderness; but glory be to God I then entered Canaan. I am an evangelist and have been preaching the truth as I understood it for many years. I intend to keep doing so. God has been wonderfully opening to me the Scriptures of late. I find a few hungry ones everywhere I go.
The reference to Canaan is an allusion to ‘the promised land.’ He believed himself in a spiritual paradise. A Baptist clergyman from Mt. Lookout, West Virginia, read Food for Thinking Christians sometime late in 1882 or early in 1883 and subscribed to The Watch Tower. Without defining them, he said that he, “I believed some of its doctrines before I read, and I have adopted some since; but it advocates some that I am not fully prepared to accept.” Rejection of sectarian doctrine seems to be a common theme among interested clergy. He approached others, discussing Watch Tower teachings with them. Two other Baptist clergy were interested. The Baptist community was divided, and controversy raged:
I have been circulating specimen copies of the tower and "Food" among thinking Christians, with a request to take the Bible for the standard of truth. Many have done so--two are Baptist preachers-- and they are all astonished at the new revelations of the Bible. With this class I have no trouble; they are sincere Bible students. But there is another class among us who are so certain that they are right, and that these teachings are wrong, that they will not examine the Bible. This class is in the majority here, and is troublesome. I am alone, or have been almost alone, for one or two years past, but the Lord has helped me very recently by opening the understanding of a few of my brethren. I was once blinded with denominational prejudices, but I think I am clear of that now. I am determined to seek for the truth, and follow it whithersoever it leads me.
Additional detail is found in Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, the official Watchtower Society history, and in the Watchtower publication God’s Kingdom Rules. The former says:
In the late 1880’s, many members of a Baptist congregation in the area of Mount Lookout, West Virginia, became Bible Students. For a while they continued to share the Baptist church with the Baptists. Apparently, whichever group got to the building first used it. By 1890, however, our brothers had stopped meeting in the Baptist church and had constructed their own hall. This hall appears to be one of the first places of worship built by Jehovah’s modern-day people. It became known as the New Light church because the truths that the Bible Students taught were viewed as new light on the Scriptures.
In mid-1884 someone who preached at least part-time wrote saying that he had introduced Watch Tower teachings to his Bible Class. He was a serious Bible student, he said. But as with Daniel the prophet, the book was largely sealed to him. He believed Watch Tower publications had given him new insight and resolved perplexing questions. As with many who wrote to Russell, he was less than specific, but explained that he had faulty ideas: “I once preached what I supposed to be the Word of God, but I find that I did not understand the book then. I had not a proper idea of the plan of salvation. But thanks be to God, I begin to see its beauty and harmony.” The introduction of Watch Tower theology produced some interest and some opposition: “Since I have read Z.W.T. works, I have introduced some of the ideas gained therefrom into our Bible class, and it has produced a startling effect, and it has caused many to search the word of God. The doctrine is new, yet many are very much interested; but some few think it is heresy.”
[Swiss theology student letter here.]
In late December 1885, a Methodist clergyman wrote from California explaining that he was acting as pastor for a Congregational church. He had an older issue of Zion’s Watch Tower and a copy of Food for Thinking Christians. They changed his theology:
I desire to become more familiar with the truth as expounded by you in your publications. Some time ago I received a WATCH TOWER and your Food for Thinking Christians, and I confess it has disturbed my old beliefs wonderfully. As a Methodist preacher for sixteen years, now acting pastor of a little Congregational church here, I have of course imbibed and upheld what is called orthodoxy. But I am disgusted with sectarianism; with its narrowness and domineering, titled ministry, who lord it over God’s heritage, and I am now drinking at the fountain of all truth, and henceforth am a New Testament theologian independent of philosophy and church creeds and antiquated scholasticism. The doctrine of the “restitution” is very attractive to me and explains away many difficulties that have burdened my mind. But I desire more light. I am in a little child attitude, teachable and hungry for the truth.
A Protestant Episcopal clergyman from Kirkwood, Mississippi, wrote to Russell in mid-July 1882. He was brought up as a Congregationalist but believed that the Episcopal church was “the most liberal and scriptural of all the Protestant organizations.” The Watch Tower and Watch Tower tracts satisfied him because they addressed areas where he differed with his church and most of Protestantism:
There have been some points, held in common by all, of which I have had my doubts and misgivings, such as the Day of Judgment and the eternal punishment of a large portion of the human race who had no opportunity of being benefited by the Gospel. The reading of your publications has dispelled my doubts on these points. I have been deeply interested in the discussion of these points and of many others also, particularly the restitution. I have been struck with the aptness and cogency of the interpretation which extends throughout the publications. There are some points upon which I am not yet altogether satisfied, but presume that further investigation may clear my vision. I am now reading the Prophecies and Revelation with more interest than ever before. I am watching with intense anxiety the present movements of the Jews and the ominous condition of Europe. Most of my reading for the last few months has been your publications, and I may say, with a most absorbing interest.
There seems to be little doubt that this letter was written by Willard Presbury, a long-term Protestant Episcopal clergyman. Before his tenure in Kirkwood, he served as rector in Early Grove, Mississippi and for a rural Marshall County church. Before the Civil War he served black and white congregations, sometimes preaching to “colored” members in a wooden chapel erected by a plantation owner. In 1841 he served with the Diocese of Ohio. In 1840 he was church missionary in Indiana. Earlier still he was a deacon and missionary under the auspices of The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. One source summarizes his ministry thus:
Willard Presbury, A. M., Episcopalian, son of Nathaniel and Martha Presbury, was born Sept. 22, 1807 Graduated at Dartmouth College, 1838. Teacher, Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1833-5. Stiidied for the ministry at Lexington, Ky., 1835-7. Ordained deacon by Bishop Benjamin Bosworth Smith at Frankfort, Ky., 1837, and priest, at Madison, Ind., 1839. Rector, Christ Church, Madison, Ind., 1839-40 ; Springfield, O., 1840-3. Teacher and preacher, Elizabethtown, Ky., 1843-4. Preacher to a plantation of slaves. Sunflower River, Miss., 1844-5. Rector, Epiphany Church, Clairborne County, Miss., 1845-55; Grace Church, Paducah, Ky., and St. John's Church, Early Grove, near Yazoo City, Miss.; Kirkwood, Miss., 1873-91. Died there, Feb. 28, 1891. 
Clearly, despite early interest, Presbury retained his status as Episcopal clergy. We do not know why.
G. A. Rose
A letter from a Baptist clergyman appeared in the March 1883, Watch Tower. It is datelined from Goshen, New York, but he seems to have preached in a wider area. He explained that he was “still on the list” of Baptist ministers, but he had abandoned that faith for a more Scriptural message. “I have set my face like flint to the world,” he wrote, “and shall keep on until I reach the prize (immortality).” Food for Thinking Christians persuaded him to abandon the Baptist belief system:
When I got the “Food,” I began to read it, and it was food; and so I kept on eating, and am never done. My name will undoubtedly soon be erased from the Association. My brethren begin to lament my fall; but, glory to God, I rejoice in my rise. Yes, I am much higher than I ever was. I see God's love, and not hatred. … Pray that God will open the way that I can scatter the truth more abundantly.
He had been in the field for some time. We see that from his letter’s initial words: “I now send you another week's work-lists for the tower. The interest of the people here at the reading of z.w.t. is great.” He believed that he might obtain one hundred names for the Watch Tower subscription list “soon.” He lamented the lack of a horse. He was afoot with a wide territory. “As I can’t afford to buy a horse, which I much need. … But I am no better to go thus than the Lord was.”
He met interest and opposition, enough opposition that he expected adverse newspaper comment: “I expect every issue of our county paper to have some express themselves against the watch tower; but I have looked in vain so far.” Despite persistent opposition, he said, “more speak well of it than I expected would.” Curiosity led some to write to him, inviting him to visit their homes and explain the message:
Last night two families met, where they sent for me, and when I opened my mouth the Lord filled it with the restitution of all things. Night before last I was at Bro. ______'s for the first time. He said he was so glad that God's plan was now so plain; that he wished to make my acquaintance, and hear from human lips the blessed truths; and when the time came to part, he said, O, glory to God, we could talk about this until morning and would not get weary. It is good news! To-morrow I have three calls to make upon anxious inquirers for the truth. So, you see, I work both day and night.
The one additional salient point is that Rose wanted to expand his ministry, traveling from county to county to spread the message. His second letter came from New Hampton, New York. While Rose’s first letter was published anonymously, he is identified in two follow-up letters, once by name and once by circumstances. The signed letter appeared in the July 1883, Watch Tower. That it is signed in an era when Russell seldom printed correspondent’s names is significant. By attaching a name or initials to articles and letters, Russell demonstrated his approval. He noted the individual as someone he viewed as a fellow in the work. He did this for Thakabury, Adamson, Smith and others who came to prominence in the work. He saw Rose as a significant and faithful worker.
His letter adds detail. It shows him to be a persistent and articulate worker. He was persuasive:
I send you another list of names for the TOWER. In my work last week I was called upon to explain the teachings of Z.W.T. publicly. After doing so, a lady remarked that the plan was so very plain that she feared to accept it, thinking that Gods plan must be more obscure than the “Chart of the Ages” in “Food” teaches.
I explained to them, that there are two reasons why many of Gods children are not able to accept the truth. First, early training; and second, denominational pride and fear. Had their parents been Roman Catholics, and taught them in that faith, in nine cases out of ten they would have been Roman Catholics. For the same reason, many cling to the Baptist and Methodist sects and the thousand isms of to-day. When we come to any of these sects and present a truth from God, the first thing they do is to inquire if it is the teaching of their church.
When they are satisfied that it is not, as a general thing they at once stop their ears and determine not to heed it. In a meeting, just a short time ago, after I was through preaching, one of the leaders of the people exclaimed, “Id rather go to hell than not be a Methodist.”
Surely he was very zealous – For the Bible, or the truth of its teachings? No; he was zealous for Methodism. See what denominational pride and fear is driving people to do in these days. They only know each other by their colors, not by the spirit of the Master displayed in each other. Jesus Christ only established one Church – one body. The Church of 1800 years ago was not known as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Our Lord gave us our creed and discipline – the Bible – which is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for reproof, etc. But it is in these closing days of the Gospel Age, as it was in the last days of the Jewish Age, the mass of the nominal Church reject the commandments of God that they may keep their own traditions. Now, when we read from the Bible that the worlds resurrection will take place when our Lord Jesus comes, as foretold by all the holy prophets, and, by turning to the prophet Ezekiel, we read that he will bring Sodom and her daughters to their former estate, whom God took away as he saw good; if, in view of these plain statements, we stop our ears to the fact, we are not worthy of so great salvation.
Thank God some were convinced and persuaded to walk in the Lord’s footsteps and not with a worldly church. O Bro. Russell, if the dear Lord has only used your pen to bring me into light, it is worth ten thousand worlds to me. You are dear to me. I am running for the prize. It is hard work for me. Pray for me that I might crucify myself and keep humble.
Rose brought at least one resident of New Hampton to belief. A letter from the new-believer is found in the August 1883, Watch Tower. He attributed his new belief to Rose:
I have read the “Food” in connection with the “Tower” and, owing to the clearer light obtained, find much pleasure therein. Thanks to Bro. G. A. Rose, who introduced them in this section. In response to the statement, that you have other reading matter for earnest inquirers, I write in the hope of obtaining.
It seems as if the dense night that has enshrouded us is at last dissolving, and the glorious light of the Word is slowly but surely breaking upon our benighted minds. We open our eyes in a convulsion of fear, just as the horrid nightmare is about to crush us with eternal torment, and lo, we are surrounded with the full radiance of day! A sweet sense of relief fills us with unutterable joy. But millions more are still blindly agonizing with their dreams, fearing to open their eyes lest they should find the awful vision real. This view is sad enough, but the break of day is near.
Surely God will prosper your undertaking. Continue your work; rouse the erring ones to their duty; bring them back to the fold.
The last we hear of Rose is a letter found in the February 1884, Watch Tower. As with his first letter, it was published without name. He was impressed, he said, with Tabernacle Teachings. He is still active in the work:
In spite of the opposition I have encountered, I am happy to state that my labors have not been in vain. Occasionally I have been encouraged by meeting a hungry soul, one willing and even anxious to partake of the bread of life. ….
Truly it is an important time. The wonders of God's word are being revealed. The prophecies that have held the world in awe for centuries, are at last being fulfilled; but, alas! How few realize that it is the “fullness of time.”
We cannot add biographical details. There are many G. Roses in the records. We suspect that he was born in the 1820s and died shortly after his last letter. But supposition is not proof, and we do not know.
J. W. Ferrell
Sometime near July 1883, a Baptist minister from Pittsburg, Texas was “excluded” from the church for teaching Watch Tower doctrines. Embroiled in a test of influence and wills, Baptists in Texas were fractious. The General Association meeting in Pittsburg in 1879 issued a glum report:
The reports … showed a very discouraging condition …. Nothing had been prosperous. … There was great want of harmony and co-operation. Great complaints had been raised against the methods of the General Association as being partisan, and too much dominated by Waco University and the paper now called the Texas Baptist. A meeting had been held at Plano on July 3. and resolutions voicing these complaints and this dissatisfaction had been adopted.
A report made to the 1883 General Association conference suggested that Baptist churches were deeply troubled, “that associations have been divided in counsel, some rent asunder; churches have been torn by factions, and brethren alienated, and strife engendered.”  While the expulsion of this minister must be understood within the context of Baptist pugnaciousness, there were sufficient doctrinal differences between Baptists and Zion’s Watch Tower adherents to overheat any Baptist. The minister’s identity is uncertain. He is not named in The Watch Tower. There are some clues, however. The American Baptist Year-Book for 1870 names a J. W. Ferrell as pastor in Pittsburg.
Powell Samuel Westcott
In 1885, Powell Samuel Westcott, a Baptist deacon prominent in the Potsdam, New York, area, was also expelled for embracing Restitution doctrine “as taught by Brother C. T. Russell.” We know more about Westcott then we know of the Baptist preacher at Pittsburg, Texas. Wescott was born in Charlotte, Vermont, April 29, 1821. He served in the 244th New York Regiment as a non-commissioned officer from which he was honorably discharged on August 21, 1846. He was for a period a cheese, lard, and butter merchant in Boston. In the 1859 he moved to Potsdam, establishing a music business and teach vocal music at the Potsdam Normal School, now the State University of New York at Potsdam. He was for a few years superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School in Potsdam. His obituary said he was “for many years an active member of the Baptist church.” It does not mention his association with Zion’s Watch Tower, but describes him as “a man of strong religious convictions and … and earnest and intelligent student of the Bible … a man of integrity, faithful in business and an upright citizen.” Westcott died January 3, 1893, and C. E. Bacom, a Baptist clergyman officiated.
We do not know where or how he encountered Zion’s Watch Tower. His story is not told in the Watch Tower, but in a letter from J. W. Brite to J. H. Paton. Brite says that he “was expelled from his denomination for heresy.” Though Brite was introduced to Paton’s writing through him, Westcott did not advocate Universalism. We don’t know how enduring his association with Watch Tower belief was, but he was willing for his conviction to be expelled from the Baptist fellowship. We suspect that the Baptist funeral was held at the request of his wife Phebe Ann who seems to have not shared his beliefs.
As we noted, sympathetic clergy were faced with hard choices, and not all took a firm stand or openly expressed their beliefs. A Mrs. H. F. Duke of New York City wrote to Russell in September 1901 expressing her concern for “the spiritual welfare of Bro. Joseph Dunn.” She described him as “the one whom the Lord used as a helping hand to lead [her] into the light.” Russell returned her letter, saying he was “glad” that she was “solicitous for his welfare, and seeking to counsel with hand encourage him to the taking of right steps to place himself fully on the Lord’s side in every sense of the word.” He expressed some sympathy for Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists because they were “more independent” than most. But he warned Mrs. Duke (in a subsequent letter he addresses her as “Sister Duke.”) that Dunn faced difficult decisions:
I think Bro. Dunn, or any of us, would be justified in viewing such a congregation from the standpoint of its own claims, so that if its confession of faith were satisfactory to us, and if it agreed to give us full liberty of expression, we might consider it as one of the true congregations of the Lord. However, it would be most remarkable, under present conditions, if such a congregation should take such a stand and should maintain it for any length of time. Here will come the real test upon Bro. Dunn – whether or not he will preach the Gospel at any cost. If he does I am almost sure as that he lives that it will ere long mean a rupture between himself and the congregation and a sundering of their relationship as pastor and hearers. Indeed, I cannot see how any but spiritually minded people can accept the Gospel in the light of present truth as it is now shining. … I advice that you counsel him in every way to faithfulness, for certainly the Lord’s tests upon his minister are more crucial than upon the general average believer, and we all agree that it ought to be, for they have much advantage every way over the so-styled laity.
Joseph Dunn was a Baptist clergyman active in Hague and in Glens Falls, New York. He was a popular preacher whose sermons were well attended, one report saying that his meetings were “very interesting” and the congregation large with nearly every seat occupied. Whatever interest in Watch Tower doctrine he had, he did not change his public doctrine. In April 1903 he was by unanimous vote of the congregation reappointed pastor of the Baptist Church at Hague.
Others found themselves in Dunn’s predicament. Russell sent sample copies of Zion’s Watch Tower to clergy in Allegheny City and Pittsburgh. Maria Russell reported that one of them believed but could not make the transition to advocacy:
A minister in our city said: Bro. R., I believe these things are true, but it would not be prudent to preach them. Husband replied, I would fear to be too prudent in this matter since the Lord “hides things from the wise and prudent.” That minister had a large family well supported by a fashionable, worldly congregation who did not want to be disturbed in their sleep. He ventured to preach a little of what he believed and they told him it would not do; and to-day he is hiding his light under a bushel, or rather it has gone out and he is walking on, hand in hand with the world.
William Davis Williams
In the mid-1880s William Davis Williams (c. 1849 – 1918) was a “backwoods country” Baptist clergyman, school teacher and farmer. He described himself as “full of zeal and earnestness” traveling the back country on foot for he was “a poor country school teacher and owned no horse.” He felt responsible for others’ salvation and preached a fiery message: “I was a strong believer in the eternal torment doctrine, and the thought of sinners dying in their sins and plunged into an everlasting hell of torment, cause me to suffer with awful fear, and dread that through my neglect or carelessness some would die in their sins though lack of hearing the Word.”
Some of his views conflicted with more conservative elements among the Baptist fellowship. He preached against sectarianism and maintained pleasant fellowship with people from other denominations: “I loved a good Methodist, Episcopalian or Presbyterian … and sometimes I boldly denounce those divisions as not in harmony with … Scripture. Some of our rigid brethren wanted to have me disciplined and brought to order for preaching ‘unsound doctrine,’ but the majority stood by me.”
Someone gave him a sample copy of Zion’s Watch Tower, and he wrote to Russell expressing his interest. Though unsigned in the Watch Tower¸ a letter from Sterling, Florida, appearing in the July 1883, issue connects to Williams through its detail. He expressed his pleasure with Russell’s paper and requested a copy of Food for Thinking Christians:
I am a Baptist minister, young, comparatively, “in the cause;” have been preaching about three years. Yesterday, at meeting, a friend handed me a couple of copies of “Zion’s Watch Tower.” I brought them home and have been reading them. I am amazed! I am delighted! Can such indeed be true? Yet you have Scripture to sustain you.
Please send me right away “Food For Thinking Christians,” and any other reading matter. I want to investigate. I am not satisfied with so-called orthodoxy. I pray constantly for light, and it seems to me my prayer is about to be answered. I am astonished to find some things in your paper which I have been preaching, it seemed to me along by myself, with none to sustain me but God’s Word. I am poor, very poor, but I must have your valuable paper. If you can, you can sent it now,and in a short time I’ll send you the money. Surely, surely, you must be right.
Williams read Food for Thinking Christians, finding its theology agreeable until he realized its editor rejected Hell-Fire doctrine. He was shocked:
I was delighted to find the Scriptures so beautifully opened up, giving me clearer light than any religious literature I had ever read before. But hold! What is this the editor is teaching? No hell of torment – why, Christ Himself taught that the rich man died and went to hell, and while in torment, he besought Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his fingers in water to cool his fiery sufferings! How can Bro. Russell thus condemn the very language of Jesus? I immediately sat down and wrote Pastor Russell a good lengthy letter, giving an account of myself and the pleasure and help I obtained from his teachings; in conclusion I denounced his error in teaching that there is no hell of torment. “By whose or what authority do you dare to make yourself wiser than Christ himself?” I demanded to know.
Russell wrote back, praising his zeal and commending his “close Scripture studies.” “Go on, Bro. Williams,” Russell wrote, “continue to feed on the pure Word, prayerfully and earnestly, and you will come to a knowledge of the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus, and not the traditions of men.” Russell ignored Williams’ demand and “never mentioned hell.” Williams’ was disappointed, concluding that, “He (Russell) can’t answer my question, therefore he ignores it.” But Williams and Russell maintained contact, and, we think, a letter from him appeared in the November 1884, Watch Tower. As were most letters printed by Russell, it is without signature, but the contents point to Williams:
I wish I could only tell you all I feel, but I cannot. The teaching of the TOWER seems to me to be the truth, and yet, so different from what I have been taught. I read, and am amazed and delighted, and frequently I am led to exclaim, Surely, surely, this must be the truth! My Father in heaven knows how I long to know the truth – I have prayed to be kept from error.
For some time I have not been satisfied with so-called orthodox teaching. It didn't seem to me to harmonize with God's Word, and although for a time I tried to keep “in the lines,” I finally broke through and preached what I believed to be the truth. I have in consequence been persecuted and denounced as unsound in the faith. I became so disheartened that I meditated leaving the Baptist church. But where to go I knew not. When I came to examine, they all seemed to be afflicted with the same disease, and some worse off than my own denomination. Just then (it seemed an accident), a friend handed me, at meeting one day, a couple of Z.W.T., with the remark that as I was unsound, they would not hurt me to read them.
Oh! How they stirred my very soul! I am studying hard; if I become perfectly satisfied, I am done with sects and creeds. I have been lending the papers and circulating them about. Some of the strict ones are watching me. A storm is brewing for me, and I am all alone; but blessed thought, God will help.
Russell continued to send Zion’s Watch Tower and “many tracts on various subjects.” When The Plan of the Ages was published, he sent that too. Russell’s patience and message slowly altered his views:
I continued in the Baptist ministry, preaching the truth, as I saw it then, with the exception of the subject of future punishment, and I began to have my doubts on that subject; but having been reared from infancy in that horrible doctrine, it required time and strong convictions of the truth to overcome it.
Thanks to God, I was not left to grope in the darkness of Popish errors, but eventually the teaching of dear Bro. Russell convinced me beyond the least flickering doubt, and I could have shouted for joy. Oh, what a terrible burden was lifted from mind and heart! I thought that from then on I could preach the true gospel with such convincing power, until all men would receive it gladly and rejoice with me in the glad tidings of salvation which is to all people.
He “began to realize that the dividing time had come.” Williams tendered his resignation to the church at Sandy Creek, Florida. They were reluctant to accept it. The asked him to stay. He recalled it this way:
“Why should you leave us?” they asked. “Is that treating us just and right? Can’t you go on and preach the Bible as you have light, without introducing subjects of doubtful decision, that only create confusion and distress?” And I would hold on awhile longer, praying all the time for light – more light.
Not everyone in Sandy Creek Church was happy with the compromise. “Persecution arose in the church,” he wrote. Whoever was unhappy took the matter to the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, the governing agency for Baptists in Holmes County, Florida, and Geneva County, Alabama. Two issues worked against him: What he believed though did not teach in the church and jealousy over his reputation and status within the Sandy Creek Association. A. J. Huggins, pastor of the Cerro Gordo, Florida, church led the assault. The Sandy Creek Association’s Minute Book contains the only record outside of William’s own memoir:
Whereas, It having reached the care of this Association that Sandy Creek church did in the year 1881, call a presbytery and ordain W. D. Williams, and give him full liberty to preach the Gospel and administer all the church ordinances, said church knowing said Williams to be unsound in the Baptist faith all of which we deem to be unscriptural and disorderly. Resolved there for that she stand thus charged, November 4th, 1882.
A committee of nine, Association clergy and prominent adherents, were chosen to examine the charge. A meeting was scheduled for Sandy Creek Church for “Saturday before the third Sunday in July 1883.” Williams parted from the Baptist Association, and one of the churches he shepherded followed him out. He continued to regularly preach his newly found faith for three years, but taught school to support his “houseful of children.” As his family grew he took on a small farm to supplement family income. He was elected a county commissioner, and the press of work diminished time spent preaching. Political turmoil led him to become a newspaper editor and publisher. He founded the Holmes County Advertiser in 1892, “in the interests of Democracy, and thus stem the tide of Populism.” Williams printed his religious views in the paper, but it was his opposition to radical socialists that caused him trouble. They burned his paper to the ground twice. Williams died September 25, 1918, still reading The Watch Tower.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, page 1.
 Her letter and Maria Russell’s reply are found in the January-February issue, pages 5-6.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, May 1882, pages 1-2.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ June 1883, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ July 1883, page 1.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, January 1884, page 1.
 God’s Kingdom Rules, Watchtower, Brooklyn, 2014, page 203. We aren’t able to independently verify this. The name New Light Church was used by other groups.
 Interesting Letters: Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1884, page 2.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ January 1886, pages 1-2.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1882, page 1.
 Journal of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, 1861, page 4. Twenty-First Convention proceedings, page 39. General Convention proceedings, 1838, pages 191, 272.
 N. F. Carter: The Native Ministry of New Hampshire, page 70.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, March 1883, page 2. [Not in reprints.]
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower¸ July 1883, page 1. [Not in reprints.]
 Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, August 1883, page 3. [Not in reprints.]
 Extracts of Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1884, pages 1-2. [Not in reprints.]
 Benjamin F. Fuller: History of Texas Baptists, Baptist Book Concern, Louisville, Tennessee, 1900, Pages 224-227.
 Page 108.
 Family history notes hosted on Rootsweb.
 J. W. Brite: In Memoriam, The World’s Hope, February 15, 1892, page 61.
 Westcott Obituary, The Potsdam, New York, Courier-Freeman, January 20, 1892.
 Letter from C. T. Russell to Mrs. H. F. Duke dated October 3, 1901. Later letter mentioned above is dated November 2, 1901.
 County and Vicinity New, The Glens Falls, New York Morning Star, September 26, 1903; Hague, Morning Star, April 3, 1903 and May 9, 1903; Untitled article in The Warrensburgh, New York, News, May 9, 1907.
 M. F. Russell: Inquiries Answered, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1882, page 6.
 W. D. Williams to Editor Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Family Puzzlers, a genealogy paper, suggests (Nos. 585-636) that Williams was born William R. Davis, Jr. It is claimed that he was a lawyer in South Carolina sometime between 1870 and 1880, and that he killed a man. He subsequently moved to Florida changing his name to William Davis Williams. We cannot verify any of that.
 W. D. Williams to Editor, Saint Paul Enterprise found in the July 4, 1916, issue. Unless otherwise noted, this material all comes from his letter.
 C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1883, page 1.
 Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1884, page 2. [Not in reprints.]
 Sandy Creek Baptist Association Minute Book as found in the Florida Baptist Historical Society Archives, Graceville, Florida.
 Williams was founder and editor of The Holmes County, Florida, Advertiser.