Historian's Report to Maury Baptist Association - October, 1999
Throughout history, the Christian church has seen God-called men who, in their generations, gave of themselves unreservedly in their efforts to win lost people to the Lord and to mold them into doctrinally sound, cooperative, and mission minded churches. Some have been flaming evangelists who dedicated themselves to planting the seed of the Gospel; some have been energetic planters of churches in fertile or hostile soil; and others have been cultivators who sought to teach, to disciple an to inspire people to grow in the grace and admonition of the Lord. Rev. William Ussery seems to have been one of the latter.
Mr. Ussery was born in Giles County on the farm of his parents, Daniel and Mary Doggett Ussery. His parents and grandparents had migrated from North Carolina very early in the settlement of Middle TN. They entered the area along Robertson Creek just a few miles east of present-day Lynnville. The Usserys were founding members of Robertson Fork Baptist Church, which, like practically all of the Baptist churches in Middle TN at the time was of the "Old School" or "Primitive" Baptist persuasion. The minutes of that church reveal that in 1824 Peter Ussery gave an acre of land to the church on which to build a meeting house and cemetery. He, and others of his family, are buried on this plot of ground, the only present day reminder of this former church's existence.
In 1830, the Robertson Fork Church was rent into two factions when a majority of the members chose to follow the doctrines of Alexander Campbell. The minority remained with the old building but did not persist for very long and the building was later used by a group of black Baptists for some years.
Little has been learned of the early years of W.T. Ussery. We know that his father, Daniel Ussery was Clerk of the Robertson Fork Church of Christ for many years. The minutes of that church are very complete up until about 1860 but interestingly the names of Williams Thomas and his mother, Mary Ussery were never entered into the roll of members of that church. It is suspected that he and his mother possibly joined the Mars Hill Baptist Church, only two or three miles from their home. A note in W.T.'s obituary says that he delivered "his first sermon at his home in Giles County." He preached his first sermon in August of 1859, being 23 years old.
In 1860, W.T. was married to Matilda Edith Wright in Lawrence County, with Rev. S.C. Evins officiating. Evins, who later moved to Maury County, was evidently very influential in the life of the young preacher. Their lives were closely connected for the remainder of their days.
In most Baptist church of that day, it was unpopular, and considered by some, as unbiblical for a minister to pursue an education beyond the basic schooling offered locally to the general public. Thus, when young Ussery enrolled in Jackson College near Spring Hill, he was clearly going against the teaching of both the Church of Christ and Primitive Baptists. He finished his course in 1860 and began his work as a preacher and as a teacher in his native county. He also earned a degree from Union Seminary, later renamed Union University, while it was located in Lebanon. Ussery moved his family to Maury County sometime in 1865, Although he was within the age for military service, there is no record of his having served during the Civil War, nor is there any explanation as to the reason why he would not have served.
Between 1870 and 1915, W.T> was, at one time or another, pastor of almost every Baptist Church in Maury County as well as several others located in neighboring counties. Three facts should be kept in mind as we consider the ministry of this man. First, during his early years there were only six to twelve Missionary Baptist Churches in Maury County. These were small, scattered, and were able to pay their preacher only a small salary. However, some did give their ministers supplemental help in the form of produce or services. This made it necessary for the pastors to support themselves and their families by working at some other profession. W.T. was a school teacher and his name was connected with some school almost every year during this time.
A second fact is that most churches only had preaching once or twice a month and, since there was scarcity of preachers, a man might be pastor of two or three churches at the same time. (No doubt this did cut down on the need for sermon preparation as he could prepare two sermons and preach them two or three times each month.
We must not attempt to rank ministers in any sort of fashion, however, as we consider the men who served our churches during the later part of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, we are drawn to the conclusion that W.T. Ussery was possibly the man who, after Elijah Hanks, did more to secure the stakes and tighten the cords of Missionary Baptist work in this county than any other man. Many fine men came, served for a short while and then went on to other fields. Few, if any, served so well and so long.
The list of churches served by W.T. include:
1866-1867 Pleasant Grove & Knob Creek
1872-1876 (No Record)
1877-1879 Rock Springs & Friendship
1882-1892 Rock Springs
1892-1893 Knob Creek
1895-1896 Rock Springs
1897-1898 Santa Fe
1904-1906 Rock Springs
1904-1908 Knob Creek
1909-1912 Cross Bridges, Summertown & Waco
1916-1917 Rock Springs
During much of his years in Maury County, W.T. and his family lived in Columbia and kept their membership in the Columbia Baptist Church. Almost every year during this time his name appears as a delegate from this church to the Annual meeting of the Association.
Ussery was a strong advocate of the cooperative work of TN Baptist and of Southern Baptist. He often spent of his own money and time to attend the meetings of these conventions. He never missed, insofar as we can ascertain, a single meeting of the Duck River Association or, after its organization, of the Ebenezer Association. He was elected to be the first Moderator of the Ebenezer Association when it was formed in 1893 and then served as its Clerk for the next 13 years, and preached the annual sermon three times. The minutes of that Association recorded in its 1920 Annual that this was the first session in 27 years that W.T. was not present. He had died in March of that year. The writer of the minutes commented: "Those having died in the faith have gone to enjoy life in its fullest sense. Among those was out faithful fellow worker in the ministry, Bro. W.T. Ussery, who wrought well as an ambassador of Christ."
His obituary, published in the local newspaper said, "Dr. W.T. Ussery, 60 years a Preacher Dies. Dr. W.T. Ussery, one of the oldest and most beloved ministers who ever served a church in this section of the state, dies at his home Monday night after a comparatively brief illness. On March 20, Mr. Ussery celebrated his eighty-fourth birthday and up that time he had been a very active man physically and mentally very alert. he almost "died in Harness" in that he preached almost until the very end of his life...A few years ago, Dr. Ussery's Alma Mater conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. He was a close student, a good reader of good literature and devoted to the Scriptures. He read and re-read the Bible. He never wrote a communication or amplified a point that he did not summon Scripture to his aid. Whatever was not sanctioned by Holy Writ, he opposed. He was a man of the most intense convictions and always had the courage to defend them. Possibly Dr. Ussery had officiated at more marriages and preached the funeral sermon of more people than any minister whoever lived in this county. He literally joined thousands in the estate of matrimony and countless numbers have been cheered by his message of faith and love delivered at the bier of their loved ones. He has been a ministering angel to thousands of troubled and grief laden souls. Dr. Ussery will be greatly missed in every village and hamlet of the county. His patriarchal face was familiar to all the people of the county. Truly he walked with God all of his life and the world is better and richer that he lived..."
A tall marble shaft marks his grave on top of the hill in Rose Hill Cemetery. An even taller monument can be observed in the lives of generations of church members who owe a debt of gratitude to this Baptist preacher of whom they have probably never heard. At least six of his great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren have followed him into active ministry. One of them was Mariruth Barker Hawkins.
Submitted by: Fred L. Hawkins, Jr.