From "Our Bishops: A sketch of the origin and growth of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ"
Jonathan Weaver, D.D.
Nineteenth Bishop of the United Brethren in Christ
Jonathan Weaver, D.D., the nineteenth bishop, served the Church of his choice for a period of thirty-six years, giving faithful, efficient service.
His grandfather on his father's side came from Germany about the year 1750, and for a time lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. About 1752 he moved to western Pennsylvania and resided in Washington County. His grandfather on his mother's side was born in this country, but the place cannot now be ascertained. He also settled in Washington County, Pa., in an early day. He was of German origin.
The father and mother were both born in Washington, Pa., in the same year., and probably about 1775. No record was kept of these events, but the dates, while not absolutely certain, are presumably correct. The father and mother of our subject were married in Washington County, Pa., about 1798. They emigrated to Ohio about the year 1810. These parents, like almost all their neighbors, were uneducated. They could read and write in the German, and learned to read and write in the English after they were married. The father died when he was about sixty-three years of age, and became a Christian when about sixty. Before this time he had lived a moral, upright life. The mother was also converted when about sixty years of age, but was inclined to religious things, and was always a faithful, persistent Bible reader. This afterward proved of great help in strengthening the faith of her son. From the time of her conversion she was a very devoted, earnest Christian, and during the later years of her life most of her time was given to reading and prayer. She was ready in the Scriptures, and well informed as to the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel. She died in the eighty-seventh year of her age, in full hope of a blessed immortality. The son has much of the temperament of the mother, and in many respects inherits her nature.
J. Weaver was born in Carroll County, Ohio, February 23, 1824. There were six boys and six girls in the family, and he was the youngest of the twelve children. All of them lived to a good old age, and some of them quite well up in years. Weaver himself was about seventy-seven years years of age when he died. Of this large family one one member is left, a sister, and she is rapidly nearing the gates of the eternal city.
Our subject was born and raised on a farm, and in that day it meant very much hard work and many disadvantages. He could do all manner of farm work, and did now know much else. The country was new, the people were all about on the same plane, an all laboring to clear off farms. His early associates, as a natural consequence, were farmers' boys and girls, not vicious, but uncultured, unambitious, and persons who knew but little of the world, besides the little incidents which now and then came up in the usual rounds of farm life. Although, as said before, these parents were not Christians, they were very careful to see that their boy did not go into bad company. He saw but little of the busy, active world around him; in fact, did not know that there was any. Now and then he saw a newspaper, but had no access to books suitable to boys. The great library of children's literature which greets us to-day had not then been written. The schools of that time were very poor, and even these could only be enjoyed for three months in the year. In writing of this early school days at one time, he says:
"In those days schoolhouses were built of round logs with a huge fireplace in one end, around which might have been seen from twenty to forty red 'womises,' each boy holding in his hand a copy of the United States spelling book, or else had had his A, B, C's pasted on a paddle, and what added to the interest of this scene was the cracking of the whip over their backs, causing them to make some tremendous jumps (I speak from experience). The teachers in those days, or at least the majority of them, had never been through what was then the standing arithmetic, the Western Calculator. Indeed, it was not necessary they should, for when a young man had ciphered to the 'single rule of three,' he was considered a kind of graduate. These days, however, have passed away; new and splendid schoolhouses have been built; well qualified teachers are now necessary. All things considered, we are now far in advance of what we were in the days of yore. Spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic were all the teachers pretended to teach. The reading books were the spelling book and the New Testament. The benches on which they sat were made of small trees split through the center, and sticks put in them for legs." In a school of this kind he learned to read, write and cipher.
There were no churches within reach of him. He never attended church on Sunday until he was fourteen years of age; occasionally he would hear preaching on a week-day evening, and this often at his father's house. This was not at all a regular thing, but happened when a Methodist or United Brethren preacher would pass that way. Both his intellectual and spiritual culture were badly neglected. When he did listen to preaching it moved him, but he did not know what to do. There was but one Christian in the neighborhood, and he was not blamed for practicing it very much. How meager the advantages, and how great the disadvantages that seemed to surround his pathway! His associates and companions were no better off than he was, so there was not much help from them. With this little light and this great darkness, there was never a time when he did not have a kind of conviction that he ought to be a Christian, but what to do and how to do he did now know, and there was no one to lead him. Is it at all strange that under such circumstances one should make blunders?
When about fifteen years of age, his father having given security on some notes was compelled to pay them, and so lost his little property. He sold his farm and bought a small, poor farm in another community. It seemed a very great calamity, and from the human standpoint was a calamity, but the son afterward looked upon it as one of the disguised blessings which sometimes come to us. God's messengers do not always come to us with pleasant faces.
"All God's angels come to us disguised,
Sorrow and sickness, poverty and death,
One after other lift their frowning masks,
And we behold the seraph's face beneath,
All radiant with the glory and the calm
Of having looked upon the face of God."
By this change the family found its way into a new community, and wee surrounded with new environments. The opportunities for education were not much improved, but the character of the schools was some better, and the teachers much better. Still the family was poor. Misfortune had crossed their ptah, the labor o the boy was needed on the farm, and he could not get more than three months of schooling during the year. His desire for more knowledge began to grow stronger, but the advanced schools were very few, and his means were limited. He busied himself in reading what books he could find, and picking up such knowledge as came in his way. When he was about twenty-one years of age, by a hard struggle and by the little help which his mother could give him (his father now being dead), he was enabled to attend a five months' term at a Presbyterian academy, located at Hagerstown, Ohio. This was the sum total of his education, so far as the schools were concerned. Had he been properly urged and encouraged, he might have done much better, but nearly all of the ministers of that day with whom he came in contact were opposed to anything like a collegiate education, so there was no one to help him in his struggle toward a higher culture of his powers. What he has gathered since that time has been by dint of much reading and constant, persistent personal effort. He has made good use of the spare moments which he could take from the duties of a busy, poorly-paid ministry, and is, to-day, a man of extensive reading and of general information.
He was married to Miss Keziah L. Robb, of Mahoning county, Ohio on the 24th of February, 1847. They lived pleasantly and hopefully together until she was removed by death about four years after. She was an earnest, active Christian woman, and died in great peace. Two daughters were born to them, both now living and both married. In 1854 he was again married to Miss Mary E. Forsyth, of Canton, Stark county, Ohio. To them have been born nine children, five sons and four daughters; one son and one daughter are dead.
In early life he felt the need of salvation, but having no one to teach him the way, and no special encouragements about him to enter on such a life, he made no direct effort to do better. When about seventeen years of age he was permitted to attend a camp meeting. He had no special aim in going save to see what was done at such p laces. He had never in all his life seen what was then called a "mourner's bench," but had heard of it from others and knew what it meant. So far as he understood the matter, he had no doubt as to the truth of revealed religion, but he had no clearly defined idea of what was meant by a life of devotion to God, and how that life could be entered upon. His mother's devoted reading of the Bible and her conversation with him concerning it had given him a great reverence for the Scriptures. This likely saved him from many doubts which otherwise he might have had. The camp meeting was well attended, and was conducted as in those days, by singing, praying, preaching, exhorting and shouting. The first time the mourner's bench was offered he accepted the invitation and went forward. No one asked him to go, and he could hardly at the time tell why he went. He had all along felt that he should do something, but what that something was he did now know. This was the first opportunity he had ever had, and he improved it. During the progress of the meeting he united with the United Brethren Church, but he did not experience a change of heart until 1841. He was fearful when he returned from the camp meeting that his father would be displeased with his course, as his father was not at this time a Christian. The boy determined that if possible he would work harder and be more diligent than ever before, so he would have no justifiable reason to find fault with him because of the step he had taken. Some three of four months after this the father and son were at work in the barn. The boy did now know that the father had heard of the step he had taken, for he had said nothing to him about it. While at work the father addressed the boy, saying he had understood he had made a start in religion. The boy was alarmed, for he did now know what was coming next. To his surprise the father said to him, that as he had made a start in religion he did not want him to do as so many others had done, pursue the matter for a time and then give it up, but he wanted him to stick to it. This gave the boy much encouragement. He needed some help, for he had not yet entered into the light. He had continued seeking for some six months from the time he united with the church before he had the courage to confess that he was saved. This long struggle grew out of the fact that he knew so little about the first principles of religion, and had no one to give him the proper instruction. At this time there was not a Christian in the family. Some of his brothers and sisters were seeking Christ, but they were in no condition to help him. Within a year from the time he started, his parents, two of his brothers and four of his sisters were members of the church. This made a wonderful change in affairs at home.
When about nineteen years of age, he was elected class leader, and served for the space of two years. From the time of his conversion he felt impressed that he ought to enter the ministry, but he had no special qualification for the work. He read what he could, and studied more or less when about his work. When twenty years of age, he received license to exhort, and in six months after was licensed to preach. During this time he had access to some books. The youngest sister was married to a young minister, and by his help he obtained some light on the doctrines of the Gospel. Hist first exhortations and first sermons, if sermons they could be called, were studied for the most part while following the plow. The conviction grew upon him that he must give his life to the ministry, but how to creditably fill such a place he could not see. He was poor and uneducated. He did not seem to have much but good health, a strong voice and a good supply of zeal--all desirable qualifications in a preacher. As already mentioned, he spent five months at a Presbyterian academy, which gave him a little start and helped him to form some better habits of study. In 1845 he was placed on a circuit by the presiding elder, to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of a minister who was in bad health. During the year 1846, he taught school a few months, and labored on a farm the balance of the year. In February, 1847, he united with the Muskingum Conference at the session held at Union Chapel, Stark county, Ohio. Bishop Russel presided. At this conference he received his first regular appointment. The name of the charge was Lake Erie mission.
In a sketch of this period given in the Telescope of 1860, page 195, he says, "The mission was 200 miles around, had seventeen appointments, and there were twenty-three members. I was young and full of hope. My advantages had been very poor for I was raised under the old constitution, when men almost universally opposed an educated ministry. I had to make the best possible out of my ignorance. When the time came to start for the mission, which was distant over 100 miles, I felt some misgivings, but would not suffer even my mother to know that my mind was in the least cloudy. I packed up my effects in an old-fashioned pair of saddle bags, and took hasty leave of home and friends, and set my face toward the north. The roads were exceedingly muddy, as it was in the spring of the year, but after a few day's hard riding I reached the first appointment, and stopped with John Goodin, now in Iowa, who lived on the mission and had traveled it the preceding year. With this good brother I remained for a day or two, and then set out in search of the few scattered sheep, which were spread over six or seven counties; but thanks to my good luck, I found every one of them in the course of a month. Being now fairly addressed to my work I laid in with all my might, and soon had the number of appointments increased to twenty-three, which I filled regularly every three weeks." He received eighty members into the church during the year and $80 of salary for his services.
His mother died May 9, 1867, at the advanced age of eighty-seven years. In a note in the Telescope concerning her death, he says: "Twenty years ago I took leave of my mother and her home to enter my first field of labor. Young and inexperienced, I scarcely knew what to do. What my feelings were as mile after mile was left between myself and home, I need not attempt to describe. One thing, however, gave me consolation, and has given me comfort many a time. I knew that one who lived near to God was praying for me. Some one might say this was but a trifle, but to me it was a blessed consolation. During these twenty years that I have spent in the ministry, I have always held sacred in my memory this thought, Mother prays for me. You may call me weak, but I presume to go to my grave with the fond and closely cherished recollections of a kind, Christian mother. * * * I do not claim that mother was perfect, but this I will say, that for twenty years I have not seen nor heard of a fault. She was acquainted with the Holy Scriptures as but few are. I do not remember ever asking for a passage of the Scriptures, but what she could turn to it at once."
The Universalists troubled him some, especially when they found that he did now know much about their views. The result was that he was compelled to inform himself concerning their peculiarities, and when this was done they became a little more shy of him. He suffered considerably during the winter from exposure, as he was not accustomed to lake winds, and at each round he had to travel about forty miles along the lake shore. At times, when he awakened in the morning, he would find half an inch of snow or more on his bed. It was a year of trail and struggle, yet of great profit. He learned more of human nature, both in himself and others, than he had ever known before.
An annoying circumstance occurred during the year. He was invited to preach at a place about seven miles south of Cleveland. There had never been but one sermon preached there, and but one man who made any profession of religion. About 100 persons came to hear him. The congregation desired to have him return, and he announced a meeting in three weeks. At this juncture a large man, who proved to be a justice of the peace and an infidel, arose and said there should be no more preaching. At the appointed time Weaver returned to fill the appointment, and the house was full. As the preacher was about to begin "the 'square entered and gave a harangue. He excited a little Irishman by some of his remarks, and he retaliated. They bandied words for a time, when the 'squire commanded him to sit down or he would make him smart for what he had said. At this rather serious time the Irishman's wife, who had been a quiet spectator, jumped to her feet and said, 'Faith, Davy, you may as well die for an ould shape as a lamb! just give him a little.' 'Faith, and I will,' says Davy, whereupon he felled the infidel to the floor, then took him by the feet, dragged him out of the house and administered to him such treatment as he judged he deserved. All this time the preacher stood in his place, hymn book in hand, secretly wishing he was somewhere else at that moment. After the fighting was over he went out of the house, and the first person he met was the Irishman's wife, who had stood hard by Davy all through the fight. Said she: 'Mr. Preacher, and wasn't that good for him?' The preacher thought it was. He was not in good health, and would have gone home, but the people insisted, and some said he must preach. He returned and preached several times after that, but the 'squire did not molest them any more, while Davy and his wife were always on hand, and paid their share of the expenses."
The next year, which was only a part of a year, he traveled Mt. Vernon mission, in northeast Ohio. He had but moderate success this year, as the next session of the conference came in about seven months. He received for his work $60. At the close of this year, November 4, 1847, he was ordered by Bishop Glossbrenner to Warner's Chapel, Stark county, Ohio. In those years ministers were not required to pass through a regular course of reading, nor wee they to remain three years on probation, as now, before they could be ordained. All things were common then, very common. At this conference he was assigned to Fowler circuit, eastern Ohio. He had good success and received for his work $175. At this time he was a married man. November, 1849, the annual conference was held in Berlin, Mahoning county, Ohio, and he was assigned to New Rumley station, Harrison county, Ohio. Here he remained two years, and had fair success. His salary each year was about $260.