The Life of Moses Waddel: Part 2

Moses the Preacher

The Savannah River separated the territories of South Carolina and Georgia. Moses Waddel established himself as a preacher to churches all along the river, on both sides.

While Moses’ primary legacy is as a prominent educator, he was equally as influential in the religious sphere as well. Separating the teacher from the preacher is an impossible task, because both so intertwined to form the man that is Moses Waddel.

Moses’ body was prone to frailty and sickness, and his life experience proved heartbreaking and difficult at many times-but Moses often found himself being reminded of the “hope that is within.” His faith carried him through hardships and urged him to move forward with more vigor.

After the American Revolution and prior to 1796, all of Georgia had been considered as part of the jurisdiction of the Synod of the Carolinas in matters of Presbyterian church government. Many of the churches that Moses attended and preached at, including in Appling, though in Georgia, were overseen by the Presbytery of South Carolina.

The winter of 1796 and spring of 1797 was a historic time in Presbyterian history in the United States. In November of 1796, the Synod of the Carolinas voted to officially separate from the territory southwest of the Savannah river. Several ministers who had preached along the area and further inward parts of Georgia were detached and established as the first presbytery of Georgia, which they called Hopewell Presbytery. Among these first men were Moses Waddel, John Newton, John Springer, Robert M. Cunningham, and William Montgomery. In March 16, 1797 the first presbytery meeting was held at Liberty Church which Moses served as the clerk.

While the original Liberty Church doesn't seem to exist anymore, this church was formed as a branching off of the original Liberty congregation, to accommodate people who lived further South and who could not travel a further distance to the main church. "South Liberty" was established in 1820.
While the original Liberty Church doesn’t seem to exist anymore, this church was formed as a branching off of the original Liberty congregation, to accommodate people who lived further South and who could not travel a further distance to the main church. “South Liberty” was established in 1820.

It is also of some interest to note that Liberty Church was first built and established in 1779 by a group of French Huguenots who had settled in the Georgia territory along the Savannah River. Many of the Huguenot population had good relations with the Scotch-Irish and worshiped with the Presbyterians at their Liberty and Hopewell locations. For many years, Moses labored as the minister of both Liberty church and Hopewell church, separate congregations along the Savannah. Sometimes other preachers would divide the task, but as the locations were rural and there was already sparse labor, Moses often did the work himself. This meant that he often had to alternate, and even share, Sundays between the congregations, riding on horseback between the two. Even when Moses later settled in Vienna, on the South Carolina side of the river, he continued to aid the churches he had grown to love and labor over. This was not the simplest task.

George Howe’s History notes:

“In these excursions, after crossing the Savannah, he usually remained a night with Capt. P. Rosier, or with Pierre Gibert, Esq, French settlers on opposite sides of Little River, and by the assistance of these friendly families he was ferried across in a small canoe, while his horse either forded or swam according to the condition of the river. And here we may notice an indication of that punctual habit which thus early acquired, followed him through life, and which aided by his remarkable perseverance triumphed over every trifling obstacle, and suffered neither wind nor weather to detain him behind the time, or in any way to disappoint a congregation.”

In later years, he spent most of his time focused on his primary role as an educator-starting an Academy in Vienna, South Carolina, establishing the prominent southern school, Willington Academy, and later Franklin College (which became the University of Georgia). Still, Moses felt a special call to support the ministry in an evangelistic capacity and supported the work of the church even into his old age. At one point, after establishing himself more permanently in Athens, Moses Waddel guided the beginnings of First Presbyterian Church of Athens in 1820 and became its first minister.

George Howe relays an account of Moses’ missionary spirit in his History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina Vol. 2:

“It is said that he refused to enter into the pastoral relation, which was attributable in part to the fact, that his vocation as a teacher interfered with the proper discharge of the duties of that sacred office, and partly, to the missionary spirit he had imbibed in early youth, which inclined him to labor as an Evangelist whenever it should be practicable. He was fond of going to the help of his ministerial brethren, and this habit became so confirmed that in his advanced age he was much from home. We have the best authority for stating that Mr. Waddel adopted early in life the declaration of St. Paul as his motto: ‘I am chargeable to no man, etc.’…By the exercise of great industry and economy, combined with the fewness of his want in his simple and patriarchal mode of living, Mr. Waddel soon found himself acquiring a competent estate, so that he was enabled to become a cheerful giver; but his disbursements were all made in the faith of one who lends to the Lord, and this sentiment he saw no reason to change to the end of his days. Giving on one occasion the last twenty-five dollars from his pocket to a traveling agent, he returned that night from a marriage, and displaying the same amount of money to a friend, remarked with a smile, ‘I knew the Lord would return it; but I did not know that he would send it to-day.’”

As he was in all areas of life, Moses was inclined to the necessities and simplicities of life. Often teased about his resolute gaze, hard brow, and stout figure, he was not one to make a particularly notable impression. It was often noted that his “sermons were too long and his language blunt.”

James MacLeod notes:

“He was no rhetorician but he at least did not read his sermons. He divided his sermons into the usual three parts and took, sometimes extempore, each of the three major sections in depth, using ‘once more’ and ‘again’ over and over. At the conclusion of each division he used the word ‘finally,’ which usually perked up his congregation-until they learned Waddel was not at his sermon’s end until the third ‘finally.’ Some listeners, predictably, found this tedious. Boys at the University of Georgia, irritated over his constant use of ‘finally’ and his interminable sermons, ventilated their feelings. Over the chapel pulpit where he preached, they wrote in large letters, ‘I do not wish to be tedious; once more, finally, and again!’”

Still, Moses managed to procure the respect and admiration of his listeners, even without any natural charm or eloquence in and of himself. MacLeod writes that he “was a man of genuine compassion and utter sincerity.”

His son John reflected on his father’s ministry in the following:

“It is true, perhaps, as is generally supposed, that his name is more widely known and associated with the cause of education than with the ministry of the gospel; yet in the earliest years of his ministerial life he was much sought after, and he was greatly beloved by the more solid and substantial portions of his congregations, from the fact that he drew all his inspiration from the pure fountain of God’s word, of which he was always a close student. There assuredly never entered into his sermons, as an element, the slightest touch of sensationalism. His delivery was earnest and animated, but by no means boisterous or violent. His sermons were never written out in full. He always prepared skeletons on very small-sized leaves of paper and in a hand writing so diminutive, and with certain hieroglyphics of his own adoption so obscure, as to be almost illegible to any be side himself. He also had Bibles bound of duodecimal size with blank leaves inserted between the pages, on which he wrote these skeletons in this infinitesimal style. There are still in the possession of some of his surviving friends many of these briefs, serving only as relics of him, but not answering any further purpose by reason of their illegible chirography. Yet from these notes he was never at the slightest loss for language, but being a fluent speaker, his habit was to preach rarely ever less than one hour. His distribution of the matter of a sermon was exhaustive, and the peroration, or summing up, of the discourse left the entire sermon clearly and distinctly impressed upon the mind of any attentive listener.”

For Moses, his “heart was always more in the pulpit than in the classroom.” This remained true for Moses Waddel throughout his life. Even when old age and sickness overtook him at the end of his life, he found solace in serving the church by some means, even if it meant dragging himself out of his sick bed to preach to a small gathering in his home, or hobbling to his elder duties half-paralyzed and with a rickety cane. For the entirety of his life, Moses remained wholehearted in his calling to teach and minister. This steadfast devotion was a mark on Moses Waddel’s character and carried him through the highs and lows of life.

Dear eliza

To move forward in the story of Moses Waddel, it is necessary to take a step back. While Moses loved and cherished his dear Catherine, she was not the ‘first love’ of his life to have sparked.

During his time at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, Moses met a young woman named Elizabeth Woodson Pleasants. At the time, they became acquainted and grew a great fondness for one another, and John Newton Waddel mentions that his father may have even officially proposed. The two were engaged, at least in some form. However, when Eliza’s parents were approached, they refused to give consent because they didn’t want their daughter to be taken to what was then a remote wilderness and frontier state. Reasonably, they didn’t want the dangers and hard life to wear on their daughter. So while Moses and Eliza were deeply infatuated with one another, they heeded to her parent’s wishes to not cause a resentment and the matter was put aside.

Years later, when Moses and Catherine Calhoun were officially engaged, Moses received an unexpected letter from Eliza. She wrote a letter explaining that her parents had finally been persuaded to let her go to Georgia and that she could now marry him. At this time, however, Moses had already moved on and set his sights on a life with Catherine.

At thirty years of age, and over four years since the death of his first wife, Moses once again turned to his calling as a teacher. Moses’ life was beginning to get back on track. By 1800, he had begun to teach again at a school in Columbia county, Georgia, and had settled well into local ministry. So when he had heard news that Elizabeth was still unmarried, Moses sent word to her himself. It wasn’t long until the two had reconnected and were married the following year of 1801.

Soon after, they relocated to Vienna, a small village in the Abbeville district of South Carolina. There, Moses opened a new academy and  was called as pastor of the Hopewell and Liberty churches along the Savannah river.

James MacLeod writes of Eliza:

“Eliza Waddel’s temperament, quite unlike that of Moses, was mild and gentle, and she enjoyed the company of her children as companions…In that region Catherine [Calhoun]’s family and friends no doubt compared Eliza to Catherine many times, as it would have been only human for them to do. Eliza was undoubtedly a patient and tactful woman, or soon learned to be one…As Waddel’s wife she had to help in the practical affairs of the school, rear her family, look after her husband, and keep ‘lodgers.’ Since there were no dormitories, neighboring families supplemented their income and showed loyalty to the local school by boarding some of the students. The headmaster’s wife naturally had to do her share of the boarding. Nor can it be forgotten she had to do her share in the congregation as the minister’s wife…His judgement in marrying her was mature and sound, for she proved an able helpmate and a good mother to his children. It is evident she loved him, was a hard worker, and had the family interest at heart.”

To be continued in part 3




About the author


I write comics, draw penguins, and research family genealogy. Sometimes, all at once.

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