Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rice Haggard's Influential Pamphlet

This is the last post I'll do about Rice Haggard, for now anyway. I hope that this series helps to show that his role in early American Restorationism is probably more significant than our surveys usually suggest. For one thing, although younger than and not as prominent as James O'Kelly, Haggard was significant in the break with Francis Asbury and the Methodists. Later, he provided leadership among the Republican Methodists who became the Christian Church. Too, though he has not been remembered as a leader among the Kentucky Christians of the Stone movement, the facts speak otherwise. In addition, as this post helps to show, Haggard provided some help to the New England movement, associated with Elias Smith and Abner Jones, which came to be known as the Christian Connexion.

A short, far-from-complete list of resources for further study (with links) can be found at the end of this post. I'd be glad to hear your reactions to any of this.

The call for a return to the Bible and undenominational Christianity spread during the early years of the newly-formed United States. An early-American "restoration plea" was heard not only in places like Virginia and Kentucky, but also in the New England states.

One prominent reformer in the Northeast was Connecticut-born Elias Smith. A preacher and publisher, Smith drank deeply of primitive restorationism. In 1803--when Alexander Campbell was about 14 years old and still in Ireland-- Smith was excommunicated by the Baptist Church of Woburn, Massachusetts. On that occasion he said:

If you wish to know what denomination I belong to, I tell you, . . . I am a Christian; as a preacher, [I am] a minister of Christ; calling no man father or master.

In 1816, he wrote:

The Holy Scriptures are the only sure authentic and infallible rule of faith and practice; the name Christian is the only proper one of the believer; in all essentials the scriptures are plain to be understood.

Smith has been remembered for his founding of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, often touted as the world's first religious newspaper. When Smith started the newspaper in 1808, his list of subscribers numbered only 274. But within just a few years that number had grown to 1,500. In the issue for Friday, August 18, 1809, Smith wrote:

We have received a small, but valuable work, from one of our Brethren in Virginia . . . which we think will be read with pleasure by many.

The article that followed was not complete. It was merely the first installment of a series. More sections appeared in the months that followed until the anonymous work was concluded in the issue dated February 2, 1810.

It wasn't until a century and a half rolled by that someone finally realized what Smith had published in the pages of the Herald. John W. Neth, Jr., then a budding church historian, identified who had written the series of articles. Years before, Neth had taken a church history class in which the professor noted that Rice Haggard's pamphlet on the sacred origin of the name Christian was no longer available. Neth turned to a classmate and bragged that he would someday discover the lost pamphlet. It turned out to be a prophecy.

Years later, as he worked his way through old issues of the Herald, Neth suddenly suspected that the series of articles was a reprint of the long-lost Rice Haggard pamphlet. Careful research in the early 1950s confirmed the identity of the articles, and Haggard's pamphlet was republished in 1954--along with an interesting preface--by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville.

Haggard titled his work, An Address to the Different Religious Societies, on the Sacred Import of the Christian Name. Throughout, Haggard focused on the blight of religious division and importance of Christian unity. As he saw it, nothing was more harmful to the cause of Christ than the disunity of His followers:

To me it appears, that if the wisdom and subtlety of all the devils in hell had been engaged in ceaseless counsels from eternity, they could not have devised a more complete plan to advance their kingdom than to divide the members of Christ's body.

Haggard also believed that a vital step in restoring Christian unity was for all to wear the name Christian. But this was not merely a practical thing. It was primarily a matter of ascribing to our Lord the honor that only He deserves:

If our religion be the religion of Jesus Christ, both justice and propriety demand, that it should be called by his name. Otherwise, he will be the author of a good, and other will have the honor of it.

In another passage, Haggard spoke against the practice of wearing a man's name simply because one embraces what that man taught:

I believe some things which great and good men have believed and taught; but I believe them not on their authority, but solely on the authority of Jesus Christ. It would therefore be iniquity in me to rob him, in order to compliment them.

The tested reformer fully realized that Christian unity would never come merely as the result of all believers adopting the Christian name. Unity would come as the result of everyone standing together in truth:

Would to God, that those distinctions, which have so long abounded and troubled [the church], were vanished away, never to return! and that union, the church communion, were every where established upon the original simple principles of the gospel!

Confident that Christian unity would take hold and ultimately prevail, Haggard concluded on a note of hope: 

Brethren, we are expecting happier times than the church has ever yet seen; when she shall "look forth" as the morning, fair as the moon, "clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."

Haggard's pamphlet was first published in 1804 by Joseph Charless of Lexington, Kentucky. After it appeared in serial form in the Herald of Gospel Liberty, it was reprinted in pamphlet form in 1815 at Dayton, Ohio. It was, thus, one of the most widely-circulated religious tracts of the early 1800s, and no doubt made an impact for the cause of uniting believers under the name Christian.

One of the more remarkable things about the pamphlet is that it was lost for so very long. At the very beginning, Haggard reveals only this about himself:

Some may, perhaps, be anxious to know who the author of the following pages is, his name, and to what denomination he belongs. Let it suffice to say, that he considers himself connected with no party, nor wishes to be known by the name of any -- he feels himself united to that one body of which Christ is the head, and all his people fellow members.

I used to believe that those words were motivated by pure modesty on the part of Haggard. Since then, however, I have learned that his tract has at least two antecedents:

1. A booklet by Benjamin Grosvenor (1676-1758), An Essay on the Christian Name: It's Origin, Import, Obligation, and Preference to all Party-Denominations. London: John Clark and Richard Hett, 1728.

2. A sermon by Samuel Davies (1724-1761), later president of Princeton University, titled "The Sacred Import of the Christian Name."

It's clear that Haggard's ideas, and even their specific wording, were not his own. Any credit, I believe, belongs to Grosvenor. Upon reading Haggard's work, one realizes that he knew how to document his ideas. He even does it a few times. But for him to truly document his reliance on Grosvenor and/or Davies, he should have placed a footnote and Ibid. after many of his sentences.
Of course, that would have been quite a distraction in a pamphlet that Haggard believed was vital. If he was going to do so much copying, he'd have to do it anonymously. That's my theory for now, anyway.

Rice Haggard died in 1819 somewhere around Xenia, Ohio, and was buried in an unmarked grave. He was only 50 years old. Appropriately enough, at the time of his death he was doing what he believed was most important, taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of what was then the western frontier of the United States.

For Further Study: In addition to the Haggard pamphlet, I have quoted from various parts of The Centennial of Religious Journalism, edited by J. Pressley Barrett, Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing Association, 1908. This is a fascinating source for people who enjoy reading about Restoration History. It includes, for example, a short biography of Elias Smith, from which I've quoted here, on pp. 314-16. Remembrances of Haggard, stemming from various sources, can be found on pp. 15-21 and 269-83.

Also, P. J. Kernodle's book Lives of Christian Ministers (1909) contains a short biography of Rice Haggard.

The obituary notice for Nancy Haggard, the widow of Rice, was submitted by Isaac T. Reneau and can be found in the Millennial Harbinger, vol. 6, no. 2 (February 1863), pp. 94-95.

The only book-length treatment is Rice Haggard: The American Frontier Evangelist Who Revived the Name Christian, by historian extraordinaire, the late Colby D. Hall.

I've mentioned already the article by R. L. Roberts, "Rice Haggard (1769-1819) 'A Name Rever'd'," in Discipliana 54 (Fall 1994), pp. 67-81. Because Roberts used the oldest and best authorities available, his article is by far the best secondary source.


Steve Duer said...


I follow your blog through Google Reader and don't always stop by to comment. Thanks for the good info on Rice Haggard. Very informative.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Steve. It's always good to hear from you.

Mac Ice said...


Let me chime in with my thanks for these posts. I filed them away for future reference.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Mac, you're welcome. Your interest in this material encourages me.

Anonymous said...

Frank, thanks for your work on Rice Haggard.

Samuel Davies was one of the later "Great Awakening" Presbyterians in the mid-18th century. He is an interesting fellow, and a "New Side" (or New Light) type. He anticipates Stone and Haggard in many ways.

Anonymous said...

Frank, thanks for your work on Haggard and providing a thorough review for us. It was quite interesting.

Samuel Davies, one of the later "New Side" Presbyterian Great Awakening leaders (particularly in the South), was indeed a precursor of Haggard and Stone in many ways. He deserves more investigation though he is well known in Presbyterian circles.

Gary C. Hampton said...

This was very informative. Thank you for all the work that you put into it.
Gary C. Hampton

Frank Bellizzi said...

I'm glad this series was helpful. Many thanks for your encouragement.