Our History & Our Heritage by Bill Kiefer

Thomas Campbell was centered on his church at Brush Run close to the border between Southwestern Pennsylvania and the extreme Northwestern section of Virginia. Alexander Campbell, was residing a few miles away in the area of Virginia near the Pennsylvania border known as Buffalo, after the creek of that name, as he had married Margaret Brown the daughter of one John Brown in 1811. Mr. Brown was a major landholder in the Buffalo Virginia area and Alexander and Margaret became part of his household. To this union were born eight children before Margaret’s death in 1827. It was the birth of his first child, an infant daughter a little more than a year after the marriage, that led Alexander to seriously ponder baptism. He came to the conclusion that there was no biblical evidence for the baptism of infants, and more specifically, that scriptures required the conversion of the knowing individual followed by baptism by immersion. About a year after the death of Margaret in 1827, Alexander married Selina Bakewell, with whom he had an additional six children.
While Thomas had been the leader, Alexander Campbell grew in stature from his 1810 sermon onward. At first his sermons were based upon the principle of reformation – that is, in all things, strict conformity to the word of God. This grew, through the strength of young Alexander’s exhortations to follow the word of God above, and ultimately against, traditions, creeds, confessions of faith and “every human substitute invented to put ecclesiastic bonds upon religious freedom and Christian fellowship.” From this grew a more explicit statement: “Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church, or to be made a term of Communion among Christians that is not as old as the New Testament.” Which led to: “Christian union can result from nothing short of the destruction of creeds and confessions of faith, inasmuch as human creeds and confessions have destroyed Christian Union.” He preached that by the setting aside of creeds Christians give proof of their belief in the word of God.
At this point I need to leave the issue of theology behind to talk about the life of Alexander Campbell. There was a move contemplated to Zanesville, Ohio. However, John Brown, perhaps not wanting Margaret and his grandchildren far away, deeded the Buffalo farm to Alexander Campbell in 1814, and removed himself from that location to Charlestown, now Wellsburg, to enter the grocery business. Alexander stayed on the farm, working it hard by all accounts, and prospering. Still he was a preacher and speaker in much demand. In 1819 he founded Buffalo Seminary. This was an educational endeavor chiefly designed to prepare young men for the ministry. It was conducted from Campbell’s home in Buffalo and flourished for some years.
Alexander Campbell was a prolific writer. He wrote and published letters, periodicals, books, etc. His writings encompass about sixty volumes. Many of these were distributed by mail. This posed a problem of inconvenience to him, as the nearest post office was in West Liberty about four tough miles away. He took on the task of getting a post office where he lived. In 1827 he induced the US Postal Service to establish a Post Office at his home. However, until that time the area was called “Buffalo.” Much like the situation with New Manchester and the use of the name of “Fairview;” there already was a Buffalo post office in Mason County, Virginia, therefore the name adopted for the new Post Office was “Bethany.” Alexander held the position of Post Master for over thirty-eight years. That position gave him “franking privileges”. This reduced the mailing cost on his correspondence to zero, at a time when ordinary postage ranged from six to twenty-five cents.
He also served as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829-1830, it was his only entry into politics. He neither sought the post, nor afterwards sought other involvement. It is known however, that he preached sermons on Sundays while so serving, and became well acquainted with James Madison and John Marshall. However, his interests lay with the Western citizens of Virginia, not those of the East which largely controlled the proceedings.
In 1840 Alexander Campbell commenced the great and crowning work of his life: the founding and endowment of Bethany College. At the outset he donated the land and fifteen thousand dollars of his own money to the construction of the necessary buildings to open the College. That amount of money had a “project worth” in the tens of millions of dollars. His educational institution flourished. In the Fall of 1841 the school opened with over 100 students and Mr. Campbell was not only President but the daily lecturer on the Bible, as he believed it to be the only infallible source on morality, it was therefore the basis of all Christian education. The College achieved much recognition for its ability to educate young people. Much of that came from efforts of those who followed in his shoes following his death on March 4, 1866, and continues to this day.
Leaving the College behind for a few thoughts, the efforts of Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell and also Barton Stone were not for naught. While their legitimate thoughts were to unite Christians under one big umbrella, or perhaps at one table they failed. At one time in the early 1960’s the Religious movement that they founded was considered the largest denomination founded in North America with several million adherents. It, like many other protestant denominations has been divided, or simply lost followers to newer groups providing an answer to those seeking guidance.
I could go on at great length as to the history of this change. But we can see it visually if not spiritually just in our home, Hancock County. In New Manchester and New Cumberland we have Christian Church bodies, independent of the Stone Campbell movement, while in Weirton we have at least one Christian Church still affiliated, and Churches Of Christ again which have split off. Nationally and Internationally I believe that there are as many as nine recognized groups which have emerged from a movement which started mostly in today’s Brooke County West Virginia. That is a pretty big footprint from something that started in our area.