Levi Allen Durham
Levi Allen Durham was born February 27, 1792 in Montgomery County, North Carolina, to Thomas Durham and Rebecca Allen. His father Thomas was pastor at Jersey Settlement, Rowan, North Carolina in 1803, but was pastoring in Tennessee by 1808.[i] Levi married Elizabeth Harwick (or Hardwick) circa 1820, and they had at least nine children.[ii] He was ordained by the Brush Creek Church, Smith County, Tennessee, in 1827, moved to Mississippi in 1835, and arrived in Texas by around 1838. Levi A. Durham died in Texas (probably Jasper County) on October 7, 1846. As Grime wrote in 1902, “where his dust sleeps, we do not know.” Sometime after his death, Elizabeth married widower Hilliard Durdin. She is buried at the Tidwell Cemetery near Thornton in Limestone County, Texas.
The subject of this sketch was the son of the lamented Elder Thomas Durham.
As to the date of his birth and early life, we have no means of knowing, further than that he was brought up on a farm situated at the southern limits of the present town of Hickman [Hickman Co., Tennessee, rlv], the home of his father during his stay in Tennessee. After entering into life for himself he became a member of Brush Creek Church, and it was under her watch-care that he began the ministry. He was ordained to the ministry by this church in June 1827, by the following Presbytery, viz.: Elders John Jones, Cantrel Bethel, Presley Lester, H. W. Pickett, Miles West and Thomas Hooker. Though young in years, he was soon reckoned among the leading ministers of his time and section. Such was his fame that people would come for a score of miles to wait on his ministry. Soon after his ordination he was called to the care of Round Lick and Hickman’s Creek Churches, and probably others. In doctrine he was a strong Calvinist, emphasizing the doctrine of God’s sovereign electing grace. He was an important factor in the work of the Association as long as he remained in the State, once preaching the introductory sermon and once acting as moderator.
In the spring of 1835 he resigned his charges and moved to the State of Mississippi, where the curtain falls, and his name is lost. Where he fell and where his dust sleeps, we do not know. But in the morning of the resurrection, when God shall gather his elect from the four winds, we shall see this noble saint of the Lord and hear him tell with a new tongue the victories of the cross.
In 1844, a convention was called by the regular Predestinarian Baptists of the East, which met with the Antioch church, in Jasper County, on the eighth day of November. Five churches were represented in this convention, viz.: — Antioch, Louisiana; and Salem, Antioch, Harmony and Mount Olive, Texas. This convention appointed, the same day, a committee to report articles of faith and a constitution, which report was read and adopted on the morning of the ninth. The caption of the report read as follows: — “The Articles of Faith of the Louisiana and Texas Regular Predestinarian Baptist Association.”
Elder Levi A. Durham was their first moderator. He was a man of great originality; thought strictly for himself on all questions of theology, and boldly preached what he believed. I have met but few men in life so well versed in the Scriptures. He was a man full of zeal in advocating his views, and during my intercourse with him, I was favorably impressed with his personal piety. In 1845, about a year after the organization just alluded to, I met him at Owensville, in Robinson County, during the session of the court, brother R.E.B. Baylor presiding as judge. We preached alternately for several nights, and in these sermons discussed fully those points of doctrine relative to which we differed. The judge and the bar manifested much interest in this discussion, giving us their regular and earnest attention. Elder Durham opposed, with all his might, all secret organizations, benevolent societies, and missionary boards, giving his special attention to Baptist organizations that granted membership upon a moneyed basis. While he thus opposed the plans upon which we proposed to send missionaries into destitute fields, in the very midst of his opposition he would occasionally manifest as earnest a missionary spirit as those who clamored loudly for boards and money. He was not opposed to spreading the gospel, but the plan upon which we proposed to do it. That the association over which he presided should oppose missionary organizations, we would naturally expect. The eleventh article of its constitution reads as follows: — “Having for years past viewed the distress that the following institutions or societies have brought upon the churches, that is to say, Missionary Effort Societies, Bible, Baptist State Conventions, Temperance, Sunday-school Unions, Tract, Ministerial, Education Societies, and, in a word, all the human combinations and societies of the day, set up in order to advance the Redeemer’s kingdom, as inimical to the peace of Zion, and calculated in their nature to cause schism; we therefore declare non-fellowship with all such.”
The sixth annual meeting of this body makes a showing upon its minutes of only six churches, with a total membership of seventy-three; Elder B. Garlington, moderator. The minutes of its tenth session, held with Salem church, Tyler County, show the same number of churches, and a smaller membership; Elder R. F. Gibson, moderator. It is painful thus to witness the decline of churches, over which good and true men have the oversight. But as Christ when on earth was led by a mission spirit, and infused the same into his early followers, we should ever be impressed with the great truth that the Christian spirit is aggressive and consequently missionary.
After his ordination in 1827,[iii] Levi A. Durham pastored Round Lick Church near Watertown, twelve miles east of Lebanon, Wilson County, Tennessee, 1827-1835.[iv] He pastored Hickman’s Creek at Hickman, Smith County, Tennessee, during this period, but the exact dates are unknown.[v] He probably pastored other churches. He preached at and served as moderator of the Salem Association. In 1835, he moved to Mississippi.[vi] Currently we have no record of his service there, and his stay there must have been brief. If the accuracy of the 1850 Jasper County, Texas census can be trusted, his daughter Joicy was born Texas about 1838 – indicating the Durham family had arrived in Texas by that time.
Laboring in Texas, Levi A. Durham sided with the so-called “anti-missions” movement. In his record, Morrell admits that Durham “was not opposed to spreading the gospel, but the plan upon which we proposed to do it.” He led in and was the first moderator of the Louisiana and Texas Regular Predestinarian Baptist Association. On March 11, 1846, Elder Durham penned an intriguing letter to the editors of The Primitive Baptist. In it he says there “are two little Associations of the Regular Predestinarian Primitive Baptists, in this country” (Union, the other) and that there “are but two preachers of that faith and order” in the bounds of the Louisiana and Texas Association (Durham and R. T. Gibson) “and they live a hundred miles apart.”[vii] At the time of his death, Levi A. Durham pastored both Antioch churches in this association – one in Louisiana and one in Texas.[viii]
His labours ended his trials past; he has reached his home at last.
[ii] Levi was appointed postmaster of New Durham, Smith, Tennessee, January 10, 1834.
[vi] The 1850 census gives the birth of daughter America as Tennessee about 1836. However, the 1860 census says she was born in Mississippi, which corresponds with Grime’s account.
[vii] The Primitive Baptist, Volume 11, No. 6, Saturday, June 6, 1846, pp. 83-86.