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Rev. George Washington Nolley

THIS venerable man, now verging on eighty years, with a service in the ministry beyond a half-century, was a son of thunder in his prime, and of tireless zeal. He was a person of marked features and manner, tall, robust, brusque and positive, with "a face as the face of a lion." Even in his ashes the old fire often kindles. There is a fitness of things in such a veteran living near the training school of the sons of the prophets. His residence at Randolph Macon College, and the association with the young men preparing for the ministry, will be of enduring gain to them.

He was born of pious parents, in the county of Mecklenburg, Virginia, on the 25th of December, 1803. His father, James Nolley, was a native of Greensville -county, of the same State, and, for several years of the last century, he was an earnest and laborious travelling preacher of the Virginia Conference. His health failed him, however, from excessive labors, and he soon retired to the local ranks. The mother of Mr. Nolley was originally a Miss Seward, of Brunswick county, in his own words "one of the best women that ever lived." Her remains rest in the soil of that county till the morning of the resurrection.

Mr. Nolley received a tolerable academic education in his early life, and he still remembers with pleasure, an incident which occurred when he was about twelve years of age, and before he embraced religion. His father took him some distance from home to a boarding-school. The teacher, an educated Scotchman, examined him to ascertain what progress he had made in knowledge, and among other questions he asked him, "What is religion?" The youth replied, "It is the love of God in the heart of men." He doubts now, after an experience of about sixty years, if he could give a better definition of it.

On the 9th of October, 1819, young Nolley was born again at a camp-meeting in Mecklenburg, his native county, and soon afterwards connected himself with the Methodist Church. He devoted several following years to the business of teaching school.

But it seems that Providence designed another field of instruction for him: It is a singular fact, in his history, that, long before he embraced religion, he received the impression that he would become a minister of the gospel. The church seems to have had a similar impression, for not very long after his conversion, without any application or knowledge of his own, he was licensed to preach. In the fall and winter of 1824 he was employed to labor on the Bedford Circuit by the Rev. H. G. Leigh, P. E., in connexion with the Rev. William H. Starr, who was then the preacher in charge of that Circuit. In February, 1825, he was received on trial in the Virginia Conference and sent to labor on Banister Circuit, embracing the lower part of Pittsylvania, and the whole of Halifax county. The most of this county was missionary ground, but, with the blessing of God, he succeeded in forming a circuit which has since occupied a high position in the Virginia Conference. One incident on this circuit deserves to be remembered. The young preacher made an appointment to preach at an old Continental church, eight miles out of his usual course. He attended and preached as well as he could to a large congregation of respectable-looking hearers but at the close of the sermon no one asked him to go home with him, and take any refreshment or lodging for the night. So he returned, with a rather heavy heart to the family which he had left in the morning. Immediately he retired to his room to seek some comfort in prayer and reading the Scriptures. Providentially he opened his Bible upon the sixth verse in Psalm cxxvi : "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." This passage gave him comfort and encouraged him to go back to that church again. On this occasion the wealthiest man in the neighborhood took him home with him, and would have him preach to his own servants in his parlor at night.

In 1826 young Nolley was stationed on Granville Circuit, North Carolina. One of the most important incidents that occurred on this circuit was the fact, that, from the experience of a pious lady given in a class-meeting, on one occasion, he was brought to feel the need, and seek blessing of perfect love, and he never rested till he obtained it. In 1827 he was where there were upwards of two hundred souls converted during the year year. In 1828 he was stationed in Norfolk, in 1829 in Raleigh, and in 1830 again in Norfolk. In each of these stations he witnessed 44 times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." In 1831 he was stationed at Trinity Church, in Richmond, which was favored with a good revival in the course of the year. In 1832 he was on Princess Anne Circuit ; in 1833 on Caroline ; 1834 on Gates Circuit ; 1835 on Cumberland Circuit ; and in 1836 on Buckingham Circuit. 'In all of these appointments he witnessed displays of Divine power in the salvation of souls.

In 1837-'38-'39 and '40, he was on the Norfolk District. In 1841 he was, stationed at Shockoe Hill Church, in the city of Richmond. During this year there was a glorious revival of religion in that church, in which between one and two hundred persons made a profession and joined the church, and some are living now, steadfast and useful members.

In 1842-'43-'44 and '45, he was on the Charlottesville District. In 1846-'47-'48 and '49 he was on the Lynchburg District. In 1850 and '51 he was stationed on Chesterfield Circuit. In 1852 he was stationed on Louisa Circuit.

It may be mentioned that, on the last four named appointments, excepting the Lynchburg District, he purchased and furnished very comfortable parsonages. In 1853-'54 he was stationed on Hanover Circuit, when, in the town of Ashland, he built and furnished another parsonage. At the close of his term on this circuit, he purchased a house for himself and settled his family in Ashland. He attended the following Conference, which was held in Petersburg, with some degree of fear and trembling, doubting whether Bishop Andrew, who was to preside, would approve of his course. He sought the earliest opportunity to state his case to the Bishop. That noble old man replied, "Nolley, you have done exactly right, when a man has travelled as long as you have, and has as large a family as you have, he ought to provide a home for them and settle them in it." 

That decision of the Bishop removed a mountain from the mind of the veteran preacher-and since then, although his family has remained in Ashland, he has not hesitated to receive any appointment the Bishop has given him, however distant from home, even down to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.

From 1854 to 1863 Mr. Nolley was stationed at the African Methodist Church in the city Richmond. He found here a church of one hundred and seventy-five members, and left a membership of five hundred.

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At the close of the war in 1865, being excluded from his pulpit in Richmond by the Federal authorities, he repaired to his old friends on Princess Anne Circuit, then destitute of a preacher, and tendered them his services for the remaining part of the Conference year. He was returned to that circuit the following year in 1866. In '67 and '68 he was stationed on New Kent Circuit. This country was overrun by both armies during the late war. The result was, the churches were mostly destroyed, and the people so impoverished that they were not able of themselves to repair them ; but nothing dismayed, Mr. Nolley went into the chief cities of the North, and begged money enough to rebuild some houses of worship and repair many others. In 1868 he was stationed on Pasquotank Circuit, where he spent a most pleasant year, and witnessed a great many conversions. In 1869 and 1870 he was stationed in the town of Gordonsville, where he succeeded in completing and furnishing one of the most beautiful and commodious churches within all the bounds of the Virginia Conference. In addition to this, during the last year of his labors there, he had the happiness of seeing some thirty or forty persons converted and added to the church.

Since then, on account of the failure of his health, he has been laid aside from the regular work of the ministry. But still he preaches occasionally to his neighbors, and the students of our College in the town of Ashland, where his zeal and example in religious life is "as an ointment poured forth."  Notwithstanding his infirmities, he has answered to the call of his name on the first morning of every Annual Conference for the last fifty-five years, and now in the seventy-seventh year of his age, he is waiting for the call of his Master too the Conference and communion of Heaven!

He gave considerable aid to the Duncan Memorial Church in that town, by his large and liberal collections in different parts of the State.  

Source:  Sketches of the Virginia Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  by Rev. John J. Lafferty Richmond, Va., Christian Advocate Office 1880.

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The above biography is held at Genealogy Finds.  Permission has been granted to republish here.


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