James Bourne Mitchell Autobiography

James B. Mitchell was born 27 June 1821, died March 12, 1901. He was the grandson of Robert Craig–son of John Mitchell and Ann Middleton Craig. He married Martha C. Dysart, born 5 March 1825–died February 19, 1912. They resided in Randolph Co. MO.

This autobiography is had courtesy of Mitchell Noll.

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James Bourne Mitchell Autobiography


In response to an urgent and repeated request of my son, Dr. John T. MITCHELL, the following sketch has been written after much hesitation and prayer as to whether the paper should be prepared and if so, what should be its contents.

To write about ones self is a very unpleasant talk to me and may be a temptation to think and say of ones self more highly than we ought to think or say. How far this has been avoided in these pages the reader will decide; but if this error has been committed, a sad failure of a fixed purpose has occurred.

To be true to history and therein to honor the Lord has been the rule of thought and expression. May the Lord honor himself in any gratification these pencilings may give to this son, his brothers and sisters, or their beloved Mother is my earnest desire.

Nativity and Parentage

James Bourne MITCHELL, youngest child of John and Ann M. MITCHELL, was born in Washington County, Virginia, June 27th, 1823. His Father was a native of Donegal County, Ireland, and his Mother was born and grew into womanhood in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her maiden name was CRAIG, daughter or Robert and Jane CRAIG.

John MITCHELL became a sailor in early boyhood and so continued for a number of years, being the Captain of a merchant ship for several years before he left the sea. He was born on a farm and had three brothers, James, Robert and George and one sister, Sarah. John and Robert, and a nephew, Andrew MITCHELL, were the only members of the family known to have emigrated to America. Robert and Andrew died without families. John died when his son James, the subject of this sketch, was only a few weeks old. The family resided on the farm where James was born until he had passed his fifteenth year. He was there taught habits of industry and economy; and the practical workings of a Christian life was inculcated by his Mother, who was an intelligent, energetic and self-sacrificing Christian. Her wisdom, good management and devoted Christian life were a rich heritage to her four sons and dour daughters. Though rather feeble for a number of years before her death, she made farm life attractive to her children resulting in the home being stored with sufficient plenty and the scene of family development and enjoyment. It so occurred,however, that the two younger sons had no other school advantages than the rural schools which were much less equipped for efficiency then now to be found in the common schools generally. Four miles had to be walked daily in going to and from the rude log school house of the community. Such things were not then considered a hardship, however, but merely facts of life to be met and mastered notwithstanding. James, like his father, was rather feeble physically until he passed his sixteenth year.

Removal to Missouri

In the fall of 1836, the family moved to Missouri and settled on a farm in Randolph County, where the devoted Mother died July 12, 1837, peacefully trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. On the evening of her death, she gave a Christian Mother’s parting counsel to each of her children present, and left words of loving advice for those away from home, offering an earnest prayer audibly for the salvation and Christly living of all her dear ones. Humanly speaking, her departure was a heavy loss to her children, as under her wise counsel and firm but loving government they had felt safe and happy. Her sweet Christian spirit and strraightforward womanly lifehad been a great inspiration to them, and to her they all, young and older, looked up with filial reverence and tender affection. Hence to be bereft of her personal presence and influence was a berevement no greater than which can befall an ungrown child. She left a precious motherly letter laid away by her ownloving hands in her trunk for them, written only a few weeks before her death, and not known to them until she had gone up to her heavenly reward.

His Youth under a Brother’s Care

At this time, James was only sixteen years old, the age at which the daily influence of the parent has so much to do in developing the future character. His second brother, Robert, had remained with the family and under the Mother, was the business manager. James shared fully in Robert’s warm brotherly care and supervision. Though not then a Christian, Robert was upright and scrupulously observed the rights and interests of others so far as social and secular relations go. In their now motherless home, farm life had its usual ups and downs as well as its impressive lessons of industry, frugality and self-reliance, which features are never lost on the well disposed and considerate youth.

The country being comparatively new, educational facilities were limited. Between the attention needed to be given to the farm and the infrequent and short school terms, mental culture from this source was necessarily slow and had to be supplemented by private home study at leisure hours. These hours a youth can utilize to good results if it is the determination to make the best possible personal improvement.

For several years after the Mother’s death, two brothers–Robert and James and two sisters–Ann and Louisa constituted the home family. Robert being much from home on business, the care and labor of the farm were mostly in the hands of James, and it may be added that his management and labor received Robert’s warm commendation.

The Origin and Working of his Christian Life

Up to this time, none of the brothers and sisters were Christians. In the spring of 1838, James accompanied his sisters to a sacramental meeting held at Sugar Creek Church in that county, under the pastoral care of Rev. Samuel C. DAVIS of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, on the last day of which he went forward for prayer and religious instruction. While as the result of his Mother’s teaching and practical Christian influence,he had been accustomed from early childhood to say his evening prayer, and read the scriptures, this had been mainly a formal habit, ripening however into a conviction of duty. From this time, he became prayerful in a better cause and read the Bible to learn the will of God. He trusted in Christ for personal salvation at home, in July 1838, while out on the farm at his usual work, and was very happy in his clear view of Jesus Christ as present to save him.

After the meeting referred to, it was his custom to carry a small Testament in his pocket in which to read short passages at leisure moments. Being alone at the time just mentioned and feeling greatly oppressed by a conviction of personal sinfulness,went to an adjoining wood and bowed in prayer with his Testament open at Matt. 11:28-30, which specially helped him then and there to look to Jesus for personal salvation. Thus going to the Savior, he was so richly blessed as to constrain him to speak out the Redeemer’s praise. Robert was from home when this precious experience of grace was realized. That evening, James told his sisters of his joyous experience and proposed to have family prayer which had been the daily custom of the household in their Mother’s lifetime. To this they readily consented, uniting within each evening in the service. Though these services were conducted in much weakness they were a rich feast to his young heart. When Robert returned home, James told him of his conversion and asked him if he might hold family worship every evening. To this Robert assented though he would sometimes retire before the service was held. Thus the fallen-down family altar was rebuilt and sought to be honored while the family remained together.

He Unites with the Church

Having informed himself relative to the doctrines and policy of the several churches in thatportion of the country, James united with the Eldad congregation of the Cumberland Presbytian Church of which Rev. S. C. DAVIS was pastor, in May of 1839. His parents were Presbyterians.

Conviction of Duty to Preach the Gospel

Coincident with his conversion, James felt it to be his duty to preach the Gospel which conviction was as clear and forceful as the evidence that he was a child of God. Of this however, he made no mention to anyone for some months, indeed not until some time after he had joined the church. This deeply felt conviction was a matter of daily thought and prayer. Though there was the consciousness of personal unworthiness for so holy a work and many serious difficulties confronting him, from the very first, it was as well settled in his mind that he ought to preach the Gospel as that he should pray, read the word of God, or engage in any other religious duty. While there was no light as to how he could become prepared for so responsible a work, he felt that he dared not say “No” to the Spirit’s deep conviction. When tempted to let the attending difficulties become an embarrassment, the”Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel” would ring in his heart in tones of controlling warning. But when he sought grace to trust the Lord Jesus Christ for help in the undertaking he was always filled with comfort and hopefullness.

Struggles, Hopes and Disappointments

One day while out on the farm with his brother, he told him of his conscious duty to preach, for which Robert did not seem at all prepared. Though he spoke kindly in his response, his words showed plainly that he suggested that it involved a very laborious and self-sacrificing life, having but small pecuniary renumeration, especially in a new country as that then was, reminding James that he was yet quite young to be thinking of entering upon so responsible a work, and more, that he did not have the needed education or the means of securing it. He added that he would not be in his way of living a consistent Christian life but thought it best to lay the matter of preaching till he reached riper years, closing with the remark that the impression, as he called it, might pass off after a time. The reference to youthfulness and the need of the necessary education without the means to procure it were recognized as important considerations to be had in mind, but the conviction that he must be true to the Lord’s leadings remained unimpaired in its authoritative force. he continued to read his Bible and to pray daily for light and strength to do the Lord’s will.

It was not long after this conference with his brother that from an unexpected source a proposition came to James to place him in a good school and this without the friend’s knowing anything about his feelings of duty to preach. Indeed, it came from a man who did not claim to be a Christian. Robert said to him that he could not do well without his aid on the farm that year and he readily consented to continue that assistance, for Robert had from his early life been much as a father to him. The purpose for which his aid on the farm having been realized the friend above referred to renewed his proposition to help James obtain an education, to his surprise and delight. This blotted out the unhappy regrets of the late disappointment as Robert said tohim that in a few weeks he could spare him from the farm. He prosecuted the work of these weeks full of cheer and bright expectations; but his brother in the meantime embarked in a business to which he could not give his personal attention and asked James to take charge of it and become equal sharer in the profits. This was an unlooked for obstruction and without any unkind reflection toward Robert as intruding to do him an injustice, James reminded him of the repeated and very generous offer of the family friend to assist in his education which he so much needed and desired, and which was much more to him than the prospect of making money. His brother replied that he had closed the contract which he could not honorably recall and he hoped he would consent to take charge of the business. James again informed his friend that circumstances were against his practically accepting his great kindness, which he therefore declined with thanks but with a heavy heart. As he was yet a minor and Robert had exercised such affectionate care over him, he thought it best to yield to his brother in the matter. It developed afterward that these moves of Robert were made no doubt largely at least to wear James off from the thought of preaching. His other brothers were very much opposed to his entering the Ministry, which may have had something to do in the course taken by Robert.

The new business was not remunerative as might have been expected,its practical workings being arrayed against God’s will so far as James’ connection with it was concerned. It involved heavy responsibility and much hard manual labor and bodily exposure as well, the last of which brought a long and dangerous illness to James, after being thus employed for six months. This he considered a chastisement by the Lord for permitting himself to be turned aside from what was evidently a providential opening to his becoming well educated thus early in life. As he slowly recovered from his protracted sickness, he informed Robert that he could not conscientiously resume the business, however legitimate in itself, that it must be disposed of at whatever financial loss to himself. There was really neither gain nor loss financially.

His Decisive Stand for the Lord

While James was greatly relieved in being honorably freed from what he had for these months felt to be against the Lord’s will, still there was a fearful darkness over him. He had during these months aimed to live a true Christian life but it was without his former joy, or even comfort, of an abiding character. He now went to God in deep humility and supplication, promising the Lord that if in His great grace He would restore divine light and strength, from that day he would by His gracious help let no person or thing come between him and the Gosepel Ministry. The Lord in His infinite love at that time and place filled his whole being unutterably full of light and comfort. The cloud of darkness then removed had been more oppressive than any ever upon him even before he was converted. In this darkness the devil’s temptation was as forcible as if spoken to the ear–“You are not a child of God else you would have been obeying him. You have just as clear evidence that you are called of God to preach the Gospel as you have that you are born of God. You have neglected the former, hence you have no sufficient reason to claim the latter”. Satan here made a strong case. He had vantage ground in the neglect that had been tolerated. Never had the determination been reached by James that he would not preach. Indeed, he had never entertained such a thought. Had the devil charged him with this he could have candidly pronounced it a false accusation; but he could not deny culpable neglect which through not self suggested had been permitted by him to control his actions. Indeed, the prospective privilege of inviting the unsaved to come to Christ had all the time been very dear to him.

The Divine Victory

Never after the Lord removed that cloud was there another upon him in reference either to his being accepted of God in Christ, or of his giving up all for the Gospel’s sake. Hence the Lord got to Himself complete and final victory over Satan in this battle as to whether His young servant should yield his life to preaching the Gospel of Christ. Wondrous in the power of God’s grace in the deliverance He brings to His weak and struggling ones when subject to temptations! Wondrous is His restoring and sustaining grace even to the most unworthy of all His servants!!

While these neglects should never have occurred, the lessons which they by the help of the Holy Spirit impressed were not without much worth in all after life, making James stronger in will to obey the Lord it may be than he would have been without some such trial of faith. The following message of the apostle doubtless thereby came more fully into his reckonings and doings:–“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this that the trying ofyour faith worketh patience; but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

Autobiography courtesy of Mitchell Noll

Transcribed by JMK 2001

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