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Rev. James McAden

ONE name alone on the Conference roll goes back to the last century. James McAden was born on the 15th August, 1795. He is of the long list of preachers that North Carolina has contributed to our ranks. His birth-place is Caswell county. The Methodists held a two days meeting in 1810, near Milton, on Dan river. Young McAden, the grandson of a Presbyterian minister, with nearly all his relations of that church, was among the converts. In 1812 he began to preach. Asbury and McKendree were the superintendents. There were at that time within the present territory of the Virginia Conference hardly twelve thousand members. John Early was travelling Greensville Circuit, with Philip Bruce as his Presiding Elder, on the Meherrin District. Jesse Lee served Richmond that year. The less famous but great Thomas L. Douglass, was on the James River District. John Buxton, the. Elder, of the Raleigh District, which took in "Haw River, Tar River and Roan Oak," sat in the Quarterly Conference that gave young McAden license to preach. The Virginia Conference (which included, in the main, North Carolina,) held its session of 1814 in Norfolk. McAden's name appears among those received on trial. The two superintendents, Asbury and McKendree, were present. There was no lack of debate. The licentiate found the tongue of the itinerent, like a swivel gun, easily trained on any object at any point of the compass. The "flashes of silence" must have been few. 

There surely was darkening of counsel by words. The Senior Bishop didn't value men for their much speaking. His journal has this line: "We have been mighty in talk this session." And he did not relish the syllogisms and rhetoric of the fathers! Even they were of like passions with ourselves, and not always wise. It is very reassuring to modern folly, swift to speak. It seems the preachers, and especially the one in Norfolk, had made the fine wardrobes of the sisters a target for their reproof. He was soon "in trouble not as other men," and found how hazardous it was to meddle with "the high heads and enormous bonnets" of the saintly mothers and maidens in Israel. The members brought a pressure on the Elder, and the rash brother was removed. The Conference reviewed the action of the Elder, and a battle of the ribbons, laces and furbelows ensued. Asbury took the part of the girls, and let fly at the dandies in the Conference.  He arose amid the debate, and said that he preferred the women even in extravagant dress rather than to see a preacher walk into the Conference room "with fair top boots, red morocco straps hanging down to his ankles, and a great gold watch and seal dangling from a fob.

 Dr. Bennett, who records this incident, observes "this gave a quietus to the debate, we presume.," A safe conjecture. McAden, at his first Conference, saw the grand old apostle of American Methodism, and saw too the mincing fellows in "fair top boots," badly routed by the batchelor Bishop while the belles in ribbons rejoiced at their discomforture.

The first appointment of the licentiate was Franklin Circuit. It embraced a wide field, probably a territory larger than the present Danville District. One year was the custom. So McAden swung around a great circle in a few years. Franklin, Raleigh, Albemarle Sound, Mecklenburg, Portsmouth, Petersburg, Richmond. He had been preaching eight years and travelling six. 

In 1820 he laid aside his saddle-bags for a time. A brief note from this venerable minister, now nearing ninety, tells why he ceased to itinerate. There is a subtile humour in the sentence if the reader will "mark the phraseology," as Bishop Early was wont to say. "In 1820 I located, it being the custom in those days that, when a preacher married, he located as a matter of course." "Tempora mutantur." The bachelors now object that the Conference offers a premium on matrimony. In the olden time a "man with a family" was at a heavy discount. Among the eighty preachers of the Virginia Conference present in 1809, Asbury records with evident satisfaction, "there are but three married men." At a subsequent Conference the good Bishop expressed his mind rather freely, saying from his seat, "I wouldn't give one single preacher for a half dozen married ones." Under a rigid rule of marching men out of the ranks " as a matter of course " when they took a wife, we can well account for the zeal of the Norfolk preacher and his brethren in banishing all the bewitchery of dress from his fair hearers. It was self-defence.

In a few years Mr. McAden was re-admitted, and has served through a long period, sometimes as missionary to the blacks, and then on circuits, and for four years on the Danville District, with success in building up the church. Disease now and then disabled him for awhile. He is now a superannuate, and far on in years. Yet, despite his age and infirmities, he has attended to four appointments a month. His work is nearly done. He opened his commission when the giants of Methodism were on the earth. The Church with only one member--a devout woman, Barbara Heck, has "become two bands." The venerable man in a note to this writer says: "I am now waiting the call of the Master."

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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