The Life of Moses Waddel: Part 4

Moses Waddel's gravestone located in Oconee Hill Cemetery near Athens, Georgia
Moses Waddel’s gravestone located in Oconee Hill Cemetery near Athens, Georgia

Life in Athens

In 1820, seeing that there was no church in the “jungle” of Athens, Moses Waddel helped lead in the establishment of First Presbyterian Church in Athens. While they weren’t able to afford a minister themselves, Moses himself volunteered to preach there, which he did until 1829.

As always, his heart was very tuned to the needs of the people around him, and he sought to fill the gaps. He preached in chapels and churches in the area; he lent his time and diligence to students needing extra tutelage; he tended to the families of Athens, and acquainted himself with the families of his students.

Athens seemed to bring out the best in Moses. He took care to spend every waking moment in serving his community.

MacLeod writes:

“He attended what must have been every community gathering in the village of Athens as well as his church meetings. His diary pages exhibit a compulsive list of events, debates, Bible societies, faculty college parties, and lectures that made heavy inroads into his time. Surprisingly he showed he had the temperament of a successful clubman who did not mind going in the least. And even upon his return home in the evening he was always delighted to find someone else to visit or talk to. His friends thought nothing of coming for a talk until bedtime; Waddel thought nothing at all of calling on others at breakfast, though he did note when his host did not offer him any eggs…Waddel’s sociability, church involvement, campus event attendance, and class examinations gave him the visibility that a successful administrator needs. He did appear in all places and was accessible to all sorts of students and citizens. There is little doubt he knew by name most people on the campus and in the town-no remarkable feat of memory, in view of the smallness of both, but still a remarkable proof of involvement.”

Dr. S. G. Hillyer once wrote to John reminiscing of Moses Waddel as he remembered. In it, he remarked:

“Your father would sometimes visit my mother and grandmother at our humble home near Athens. He was always kind to me. When I would occasionally go home with you it seemed to give him pleasure to entertain us with his humor and pleasantry; and after my graduation he, of his own good will, put me in correspondence with a prominent citizen of Florida, Colonel Gamble, which proved to be of great advantage to me.

No intelligent man could know your father’s life, character, and work without being impressed with the fact that he was indeed a great and a good man. He gave an impulse to the cause of education in South Carolina and Georgia which scarcely any other man at that time could have done.”

Moses Waddel entered into the wilderness, and left a prize jewel among the south. In his time teaching, he influenced hundreds of men, many who went on to become influential in the grand portrait of United States history.

Among them, MacLeod records “two Vice-Presidents, three Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of War, one Assistant Secretary of War, one US Attorney-general, Ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one US Supreme Court Justice, eleven governors, seven US Senators, thirty two members of the US House of Representatives, twenty two judges, eight college presidents, seventeen editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three Brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.”

At one point, James Parton writes in his account, Life of Andrew Jackson, a story which John Newton summarizes:

“As an illustration of the General’s habit of pronouncing many English words improperly, the author states that on one occasion the word development came into use in the course of conversation, when the General pronounced it with the accent upon the first and third syllables – ‘dé-vil-ópe-ment.’ When corrected he retorted with this defiant remark: ‘I care not how others pronounce that word; my old teacher, Dr. Waddel, always pronounced it this way, and so shall I!’”

While his son suggests that President Andrew Jackson was never one of Moses Waddel’s students, there is no other confirmation one way or another.

Even with such rapid success, the mid-1820s brought with it certain members of the board and those of influence who encouraged Moses Waddel to step down, claiming that he had “done all the good he was fitted to perform” and they sought someone with a “more distinguished literary reputation.”

MacLeod writes:

“Although Waddel was, in fact, only too happy to seize an opportunity to resign that he might go about full-time preaching, his departure would have been unfortunate. Waddel had unquestionably revived the college, but its reputation still rested on him. More time was needed to accustom people to thinking of the college as a good school in its own right. As it was, popular opinion considered it a coming school solely because Waddel was there.

After it was obvious that the school was on its feet, Waddel felt his work was done, as indeed it was, and he showed an interest in returning to Willington, which he considered his home. Characteristically his consideration was not money but preaching time. He wished to do more preaching, as he always had. But he could leave the college stable now. The year was 1829.”

Nearing the Promised Land

In the Spring of 1830, Moses and his family were once again settled in Willington, South Carolina. Without any means of income, Moses took to farming the land for the time being. His son notes this time as the “peaceful years, in freedom from heavy public responsibility, to which he had been so long looking with most earnest longings.”

Even as much as Athens brought out a unique spark in Moses Waddel, it seemed true that he preferred the quiet of the forest and rural living to business of a town.

The Waddels had wanted to leave Athens sooner, but Eliza’s health had begun to fail. For several years she had battled with a disease which turned into cancer, but no treatment or operation had helped. Once again, a time of pleasantry was nearing an end for Moses.

His son writes:

“Dr. Waddel had scarcely become settled in his new home stead when he was called, in the providence of God, to part with his beloved wife, the mother of his children, who had been the devoted companion of thirty laborious years of his life, the sharer of all his joys and sorrows, and his earthly support and comfort in all his trials. On the 4th of April, 1830, on the Lord’s day, Mrs. Eliza Woodson Waddel closed her life of bodily suffering, surrounded by a weeping and devoted family, and entered into that ‘rest that remaineth for the people of God.’”

Eliza’s gravestone in Willington Cemetery, McCormick County, South Carolina

While this drained his spirits, being back in Willington and free from administrative responsibility allowed him to once again return to that calling which he loved. His son writes, “Part of Dr. Waddel’s plan in returning to South Carolina was to devote himself more continuously to preaching, and to make that the chief work of his last days.”

He still exercised his skill in raising up schools–he had opened one nearby to which one of his son’s was appointed as teacher, and he continued to support the work. His primary service, however, was focused on the ministry.

He soon was preaching regularly at the nearby Willington Church and Rocky River church, which was a seventeen mile journey from his home, and still providing evangelistic services to many areas including Newberry, Laurens, Anderson, and Abbeville districts of South Carolina, and often to Lincoln county, Georgia, which was on the other side of the river.

While Moses dedicated himself to the church at the end of his life, and with as much passion and vigor as he had in his youth, his body simply would not keep up with him. The long journeys through the woods and weather drained his health, and often opened him up to sickness. Throughout his life he had been plagued with poor health, and it seemed it was all coming up in his old age.

James MacLeod notes:

“He felt lonely since Eliza had died and the children had scattered. As the years went by he did not feel as well even as he had once felt. He was still subject to severe and sometimes lasting bouts of depression. In September, 1833, in his diary he gave thanks ‘for some days of more calm and agreeable exercises of mind than usual.’ On November 25, 1834 he wrote, ‘My mind and my body were considerably disordered today.’ At such times preaching was still the best therapy he knew. When he was too ill to make it to the church, he dressed and preached to friends while sitting in a chair in the parlor of the manse. But beyond the depression were the frequent illnesses; again and again Waddel’s cry in these years was the diary notation, ‘I am unwell.’ From 1824 to 1836 his diary shows he was unwell with often recurring complaints: sciatica, rheumatism, lumbago, vertigo, back pains, cholera, diarrhea, colds, hoarseness, heartburn, dizziness, being giddy, irregular pulse, a pain in his ribs, a pain of the shoulder, a pain in his bottom loin, and chronic constipation.”

On the evening of September 5, 1836, Moses had returned from a preaching tour, and his sons Isaac and John were visiting. In the night, the two men were awoken by sounds from their father’s room and rushed to him only to find him slurring his speech, and claiming to have tried to get up, but to no effect. It’s apparent that Moses Waddel suffered a stroke, and from this he was paralyzed on his right side.

His son John writes a harrowing recollection of his final days:

“To all around him it was very readily seen that the light of his once clear intellect was now clouded, and that he was but a shattered wreck of his former self; so he lingered from the 6th of September, 1836, to the 21st of July, 1840—three years, ten months, and fifteen days. These last years were spent partly at his home in Willington, kindly cared for. He was able to walk with a slow and unsteady gait, and he rode a great deal of the time when the weather was fine, having a comfortable carriage and a pair of gentle horses, with a faithful body-servant, who attended on him wherever he went. This kind of life continued until toward the close of the year, at which time all of his children, by previous concert, met at his home for a reunion, that, in all probability, would be the last they should ever enjoy in his presence, considering the condition of his health and the widely-scattered places of their several homes. Then came his final earthly removal. His estate was equitably distributed, reserving an ample support for him and provision for his comfort. He abandoned his old home and removed to the residence of his eldest son, Professor James P. Waddel, in Athens, Ga., where his last days passed, as peacefully and happily as, under his personal and physical condition, was possible. It seemed a kind arrangement of Divine Providence that his closing period of life should be cast in such circumstances of rest and freedom from care and responsibility. There he was placed in the midst of old scenes of his former toils and cares in happy unconsciousness of both, surrounded by many old friends who visited him as of old, adding something to his simple and childlike enjoyment. Day by day his hold upon the interests of this world was waxing more and more feeble, until, on the morning of July 21st, as the dawn was lighting up the scene and banishing the shades of night, he gently and calmly sank into that dreamless sleep from which he was never again to awake until the morning of the resurrection, when ‘the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise.’”


Moses Waddel lived a life which, in many ways, mirrored that of his own Biblical namesake. Born weak and feeble to parents in a strange land, he navigated a life of troubled waters, and temptations which sought to draw him away from his calling. But the more he wandered in the wilderness (of the overgrown hills of Georgia rather than a Palestinian desert), Moses was brought closer into the fold of his rich faith and heritage. He no longer sought to wander, but to face the tasks set out for him as a mentor, teacher, and leader of the people. Surely, he took to heart and mind to, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”

He left a lasting impression on the landscape of America. His influence reached far and impacted many communities and touched numerous lives.

His legacy not only lives on in religious and academic circles, for it was in his parenting that he raised many intelligent, strong, and compassionate children who formed their own marks in the broad strokes of history. As a member of the Waddel family, he is a man worthy of admiration and respect for the way in which he lived his life, earnestly seeking to find what his hands could do, and doing so to the fullest of his ability.

For even as to many on first glance, he seemed a serious and strict man, he was full of passion and loved deeply. And, as his son John so poignantly proclaimed, “there never throbbed in human bosom a more kindly and tender heart.”

Moses Waddel Grave2

 Further Reading

I would like to take a moment to note that one of the resources I found invaluable was John Newton Waddel’s Memorials of an Academic Life which is a collection of many biographical sketches of his father, Moses Waddel, and his siblings. It goes far deeper and far truer in exploring the life of Moses Waddel, so that at times I found myself panging with his hurts and rejoicing in his triumphs. It makes it all the more worthwhile to read something written from his own child, as moments are even illuminated between the relationship that John had with his father. He seems to have deeply loved and respected him, and there is no better account of the life of the Waddels of that particular generation.

Sources for all parts of The Life of Moses Waddel (Parts 1-4) are as follows:
Memorials of Academic Life by John Newton Waddel

The Good Doctor by James Lewis MacLeod
History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina 1870(Vol. 1) by George Howe
History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina 1880 (Vol. 2) by George Howe
The Scotch Irish in America: Proceedings and Addresses of the Tenth Congress (published 1902) by Robert Clarke & Company
History of South Carolina (Vol. 2) by David Ramsay
– “July 29: Moses Waddell [1770-1840]”
– “March 4: Historic Hopewell Presbytery (1796-97)”




About the author


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

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