BLAIRS OF RICHMOND, VIRGINIA Part 5

  1. 1873; married – Alexander; died in St. Louis, July 8, 1875. * *31
  1. Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. John and Elizabeth Durburrow Blair, married – Burrowes.

VII. Hannah Hodge Shippen Blair, *32 resided with her brother, Rev. John Durburrow Blair, in Richmond, Virginia; died unmarried, August 29, 1831, in her 70th year; buried near her brother John in Shockoe Cemetery, Richmond.

The data for the children of Rev. John Blair and Elizabeth Durburrow Blair, his wife, has been obtained largely from “The Blair Family,” by Roberdeau Buchanan, in the Rare Book Department, Library of Congress, and from a family chart compiled some years ago, in the possession of Mr. William Harrison Blair, of Richmond.

There are only a few things written by the Rev. John Blair which have been published, and these are occasional sermons and tracts in defense of important truths. A considerable part of his manuscripts were burnt by an accidental fire in his study.

“‘The New Creation Delineated,’ delivered at Philadelphia, February 26, 1767, by John Blair, A.M., minister at Fagg’s Manor. Published at the request of a number of hearers. Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee House.”

This sermon is introduced by the words “Candid Reader,” and ends “Courteous Reader, thy Soul’s Servant for Christ’s sake, John Blair, Fagg’s Manor, March 14, 1767.” (From the “Hazard Pamphlets,” in the Rare Book Division, Library of Congress.)

“Essays by John Blair, pastor of the church of Goodwill, (alias Wallkill) in the State of New York, Goodwill, Dec. 21st, 1770.” (Library of Congress.)

“‘Essays on the Sacraments of the New Testament’ by J. Blair, A.M., Pastor of the church of Goodwill (alias Wallkill) in the State of New York. Reprinted by Collier and Adam, Litchfield, Conn.”

The Silver Spring Blairs

The distinguished line of Francis Preston Blair and his descendants have been designated “The Silver Spring Blairs” from the name of their well-known country estate near Washington, D.C. The high positions taken by men of this line can be read in more detail in any of the larger American or English biographical dictionaries. This family has long occupied a recognized position in Washington society. Among its well-known women may be mentioned Mrs. Violet Janin. In deference to her, the Colonial Dames of the District of Columbia, of which she is President, hold their official meetings at her house, in the congenial atmosphere of the handsome portraits and many interesting relics of their president’s family. Mrs. Janin is an accomplished linguist; her library, of 8,000 volumes, contains many rare and beautiful editions of the foreign classics.

Letter to Colonel Walter Blair

From Reverend Archibald Alexander, D.D., President of Princeton.

Princeton, March 4, 1830

Colonel Walter Blair,

Dear Sir,

The memoirs of your father’s family which I promised to send you are herewith subjoined.

The Reverend Samuel Blair and the Reverend John Blair (your grandfather) were brothers, and both natives of the north of Ireland, but were brought to America when boys. They were both educated at the famous school at Neshaminy, in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, under the care of the Reverend W. Tennent, the father of Gilbert and William Tennent. The school obtained the name of the Log College, as the school was taught in a house constructed of logs. Samuel was the eldest of the brothers, and having turned his attention to the holy ministry, and having been licensed to preach the Gospel, he was soon settled as a pastor in the congregation of Fagg’s Manor, in Chester City, Pa. which is situated very near the line of the State of Delaware a few miles north of Wilmington. Here he preached with great zeal, power, and success. His ministry was richly blessed as the means of turning many sinners from darkness to light. But as there was at that time no college among the Presbyterians, Mr. Samuel Blair instituted an academy similar to the one in which he himself had been educated. In this school some of the brightest luminaries of the Presbyterian Church received their education. In this number was Samuel Davies, so celebrated afterwards in Virginia, Alexander Cumming, John Rodgers, Hugh Henry, etc. To his pupils he not only furnished a shining example of Christian piety, but also a model of pulpit eloquence. His preaching was awfully solemn, and in a high degree impressive. He lived in a time of a most extensive revival which was carried on by the preaching of the Reverend Whitefield, the Tennents, and the Blairs, and in Pennsylvania no man was more instrumental in promoting this good work than the Reverend Samuel Blair. He travelled much and preached often with most remarkable success. An old Presbyterian elder informed me that, when a young man, he was led by curiosity to hear him; and in going to the meeting-house he had to pass the house where Mr. B. was lodging. He was walking back and forward in the yard with his arms folded, and he assured me that he had a look of such awful solemnity that the very sight of the man struck a kind of terror to his heart; and when he mounted the pulpit and preached from the words “Except a man be born again, etc.” he was cut to the heart. His convictions never left him until he embraced Christ by faith, in the profession of which he had been living more than half a century, when above forty years ago he gave me this account. Although Mr. B. was so remarkable for solemnity of appearance both in the pulpit and out of it, yet he was by no means austere or morose in his manners, but in Christian intercourse was mild and courteous, and possessed a truly kind and catholic spirit.

On account of different views of the great revival which had extended over a great part of the country, the Presbyterian church was unhappily split into two parts, one of which was denominated The Old Side, the other The New Side. The former opposed the revival, the latter promoted and defended it. Both the Blairs were leaders in the party which stood up for the revival; and Mr. Samuel Blair published in 1744 “A Narrative of the State of Religion in Several Parts of Pennsylvania,” a pamphlet which I have never been able to lay my hands on. It no doubt contained an authentic account of that great work of grace. He also published “Animadversions on the Reasons of A. Craighead for Quitting the Presbyterian Church”. I have in early life seen a thin octavo volume of his sermons, but I am apprehensive that his writings are all out of print.

The Reverend John Blair (your grandfather) was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Newcastle, but in what year I am not informed. But I find that as early as 1742, he was settled in the ministry in a congregation in Cumberland County (probably Carlisle), but this being a frontier settlement was greatly harassed by the hostile invasion of the Indians, on which account he was obliged to leave that part of the country. The congregation of Fagg’s Manor having become vacant by the death of the Reverend Samuel Blair, preferred a call to his brother, which he accepted, and took charge also of the Classical Academy which the Reverend Samuel Blair had instituted. In this situation he continued for nine years, preaching with much acceptance and success. And here in all probability your father, Reverend John Durburrow Blair, was born.

But the College of New Jersey having been founded with the special view of educating young men for the ministry, the Trustees were desirous of obtaining a suitable person for the professor of theology, and on looking over the Presbyterian clergy, no one seemed to them to possess higher qualifications than Mr. John Blair. To this important office he was therefore invited; on which he resigned his pastoral charge and his academy, and took up his residence at Princeton, New Jersey. The college being left destitute of a president by the successive deaths of several eminent men, Mr. Blair was requested to take the management of the institution into his hands, which he accordingly did, and acted as president until the arrival of Dr. Witherspoon. He now resigned his professorship and retired into Orange County in the state of New York, and accepted an invitation to settle in Wallkill, where he remained until the time of his death, which event occurred on the 8th day of December, 1771. He is represented to have been a judicious and persuasive preacher, whose ministry was greatly blessed to the conversion of sinners and the edification of the pious. That he was a sound and clear-headed theologian is evident from some of his discourses which are still extant, as well as from his being selected to fill the office of professor of theology in the college. His usual mode of preaching was from short notes, for his occupations were so incessant that he had not time to write out his sermons in full; and his mind was so well furnished that he had no need to write everything which he spoke. His disposition was uncommonly placid, patient, and benevolent. He was also remarkable for a disinterested and cheerful spirit. He never indulged in any bitterness towards those who opposed him or differed from him. He was of the opinion that truth only needed to be fairly exhibited and properly understood to make its way. Even those who did not relish his piety could not but admire his amiableness and respect his talents. In his last sickness, he gave much good advice to his people, and urged upon his family the necessity of an interest in Christ. Shortly before his decease, he said, “I am going to glory – My Master calls me, and I must be gone.”

In his principles he was a thorough Presbyterian both in doctrine and church government, but he was no bigot, but charitable to good men who differed from him. The only pieces of his which I have read are “A Treatise on Regeneration” and another on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

The Reverend Robert Smith of Pequea, a man of like spirit with the Blairs, and also an instructor of a flourishing academy, married one of Mr. Blair’s sisters. Mr. Carmichael, another eminent minister, pastor of the church at Brandywine, married a second sister, and a third remained single, lived to be old, whom I saw at the Reverend Dr. Robert Smith’s, at Pequea in the year 1791. I have never heard that there were any other members of the family. (See “Research.”)

The Reverend Samuel Blair had one distinguished son, also named Samuel, who was educated at Princeton College, and after the death of Dr. Finley was invited by the Trustees to be president of New Jersey College though scarcely twenty-five years of age. This station he prudently declined but accepted an invitation to become the pastor of the Old South in Boston. But his health becoming feeble he resigned his charge and ever afterwards lived in retirement in Germantown, where I had the pleasure of a long acquaintance with him. He was a man of highly cultivated mind and great refinement of taste. His family are scattered and almost extinct.

It is probably known to you that one of your father’s sisters was married to the Reverend Dr. Linn, for many years minister of the Middle Dutch Church, New York, whose son, John Blair Linn, was an eloquent preacher and a poet, who was settled in the First Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia. He died young, and his widow married again. I find by the Catalogue of this college, that your father graduated here in 1775.

The preceding will, I hope, be gratifying to you. It is an honor to be descended from such ancestors.

I wished to have a memoir of your worthy father and expected to find it prefixed to the volume of his sermons which you presented to me, but was disappointed. If you have it in a pamphlet, you would oblige me by sending me a copy by mail.

After an extensive visit to my native state, I returned home in health, and through the divine blessing, I still enjoy comfortable health, for one of my age.

I am very respectfully yours,
A. Alexander

Rev. John Durburrow Blair

The Rev. John Durburrow Blair, son of Rev. John and Elizabeth Durburrow Blair, was born October 15, 1759, probably at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania. *33 He was named, presumably, for his maternal grandfather, John Durburrow, of Philadelphia. Of his early boyhood, we know little. Doubtless, he attended his father’s classical academy at Fagg’s Manor. It is quite evident that he was bright at his studies, and we know he was conversant later with Latin, Greek, and classical literature. He graduated at Princeton in 1775, when only sixteen years of age, *34 and, according to Dr. Archibald Alexander, became tutor in his alma mater, under

*33 Rev. John Blair moved to Fagg’s Manor in 1757, and remained there until 1767. Dr. Alexander in his letter to Col. Walter D. Blair of Richmond says: “And here in all probability your father was born.”

*34 “He (John Blair) had two sons, William Laurence Blair, who graduated in the class of 1769, and John Durburrow Blair, who graduated in the class of 1775.” (Letter to Mrs. Edward Hall from James Thayer Gerould, Librarian, Princeton University, Dec. 6, 1927.)

Dr. Witherspoon, before reaching his majority, served in the American Revolution. *30

“On the application of Edmund Randolph Esq. to Dr. Witherspoon for a qualified teacher for Washington Henry Academy, in Hanover County, in 1780, Mr. Blair, aged 21, came to Virginia as President of the institution. He presided over the Academy with much usefulness and credit for a number of years.” (Foote’s “Sketches of Virginia.”)

“Oppressed with the view of the spiritual desolations around him, his mind and heart were drawn to the subject of his early meditations and desires, the ministry of the gospel. He was received as a candidate by the Hanover Presbytery, May 20, 1784, at Bethel, and was licensed at Timber Ridge October 28th of the same year. *36 The record of his ordination is lost, but it necessarily took place previously to May 1786, as in that year he was enrolled a member of the Synod. *37 (Foote’s “Sketches of Virginia, Second Series.”)

*35 To Captain Henry S. Shore of the Richmond Blues from Rev. John D. Blair (Excerpt)

“’Tis true, when you were in your nurse’s arms, I served in war, nor dreaded war’s alarms; Had you been with us, and your gallant train, You would have sav’d us many a hard campaign; We should have seen you, like the lightning, fly on The roaring, swagg’ring, crouching British Lion; But when our Washington bade battle cease, I turned attention to the trade of peace; In that employment, handling arms no more, I take protection under Captain Shore.” (“The Two Parsons.”)

*36 See Longer note 8: “License to preach and Ordination of Rev. John D. Blair.”

*37 “The Presbytery of Hanover reported that they had ordained Messrs. Moses Hoge, John McCue, Samuel Houston, Samuel Carrick, Adam Rankin, Andrew McClure, James Mitchell, Samuel Shannon, and John D. Blair to the work of the gospel ministry, to particular charges, since May 1782. . . . Mr. Hoge, Mr. Carrick, Mr. Houston, and Mr. Blair, being present, took their seats.” (At Philadelphia, May 18, 1786.) (From Minutes of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, page 516, in “Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.”)

On pages 529 and 542 of the same, we find that Rev. John D. Blair, from Hanover Presbytery, was present at meetings of the Synod in Philadelphia, May 1787, and May 1788.

“John D. Blair was the forty-fourth member and the last ordained by the Presbytery (of Hanover) before the formation of the Virginia Synod.” (Foote’s “Sketches of Virginia, Second Series,” page 112.)

*38 See Longer note 11: Pole Green Church.

*39 See Longer note 12: Jordan-Winston Family.

According to the Synod records, “Since May 1782, Rev. J. D. Blair has been ordained to a particular charge.” He became pastor of Pole Green Church in Hanover County, Virginia, gathered by Rev. Samuel Davies on the ground where Morris had his Reading Room and John Durburrow’s father, Rev. John Blair, had preached with success. *38 Since he presided over Washington Henry Academy for eight or nine years, it is evident that he combined the office of President with that of minister to Pole Green. The Academy, the church, and “Laurel Grove” were in the same near neighborhood.

“John Durburrow Blair and Mary Winston were married on the 4th of March, 1785.” Thus, in his own handwriting, the Parson makes the first entry in his family Bible. The groom was 25, the bride 22. The ceremony took place at Laurel Grove, in all likelihood, the residence of her father, Geddes Winston; but of this, we have no record nor of the officiating clergyman. Ministers of the Presbyterian Church were absent from Richmond and its locality.

Mary Winston, 2nd daughter and 3rd child of Geddes and Mary Jordan Winston, was one of five lovely sisters. Her mother, daughter of Colonel Samuel Jordan of Buckingham County, Virginia, had been one of the seven beautiful Jordan sisters. *39 Geddes Winston, denoted “Gentleman” in official deeds, was in early life a man of landed estates, but dissipated his property by standing security for others. He presented his son-in-law Blair with a glebe. *40 The young couple lived, we may be sure, at Washington Henry Academy, as Mr. Blair had a residence assigned him there. *41

In the winter of 1790, Mr. Blair resigned from Washington Henry Academy to remove, by the inducement of friends, to Richmond to open a classical school there and preach to the Presbyterians in the city. We do not know the exact date of his removal. 1792 has been assumed, but 1790 or 1791 seems more likely. Mr. Blair continued to preach at Pole Green Church, in Hanover, every other Sunday. He had now two parishes on his hands as well as his school in Richmond. Pastoral and academic fees were customarily small in those days. British raids and fighting in the Revolution had lately swept eastern Virginia. The government was not settled; the monetary condition was bad; and the people generally straitened.

In 1796, the Board of Trustees of Hampden Sydney College invited Rev. John Durburrow Blair to the Presidency. According to Dr. Foote this shows the estimation in which Mr. Blair was held as a teacher by his brethren. (Foote’s Sketches, Second Series, pp. 113, 249.) We do not know the reasons for his refusal.

Besides a Friends’ Meeting-house in the valley of the town, the only church building in Richmond at the time (See Mordecai’s “Richmond in By-gone Days”) was St. John’s Episcopal Church on Church Hill. The two chief residence sections of the small city were Church Hill, crowned by St. John’s, and Shockoe Hill, commanded by the State Capitol. A wide and deep ravine separated the two heights, often inaccessible to each other. “But this lack of churches in Richmond gave rise to a beautiful illustration of Christian love and union. The Hall of the House of Delegates in the State Capitol was the only apartment in the city sufficiently spacious for a place of worship, and to this purpose it was devoted on the Sabbath. On each alternate Sunday, the one and the other (Rev. John Buchanan, *42 of St. John’s, and Rev. John Durburrow Blair) occupied the moveable pulpit; and such was the spirit of tolerance and liberality which the example of the pastors had inspired into their congregations that the same individuals formed a large portion of the worshippers on every Sabbath.” (“Two Parsons and Ne’er a Church,” in “Richmond in By-gone Days.”)

The lovely friendship existing between Parson Blair and Parson Buchanan has been inimitably told in Colonel George Wythe Munford’s book, “The Two Parsons,” as also their religious tolerance, their charity to all men, their Christian doctrine, their social spirit, sunny and temperate, their deeds of love, their success as peacemakers, their faithful attendance in illness, death, and joyous matrimony.

Mr. Blair purchased for his residence in Richmond property on Leigh Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. At the corner of Seventh and Leigh, he occupied a wooden cottage, to which was added on the west a stuccoed brick wing. *43

To John Durburrow Blair and Mary Winston Blair, his wife, were born eight children, whose names are given in the genealogy proper. Six survived their parents.

Rev. John Durburrow Blair died at his residence in Richmond, Virginia, January 10, 1823, aged 63. *44 Rev. John Buchanan, much older, had passed away a few weeks before. Mrs. Blair survived her husband eight years, dying on October 16, 1831. She was buried by his side in Shockoe Cemetery. About twenty years ago, a committee of his descendants, with Mrs. Margaret Blair Cannon as chairman, collected funds in the Blair family and replaced the flat slab tombstone on his grave with one made of durable granite, the first stone having become somewhat worn. A replica of the original inscription was used. The earlier stone was enclosed within the grave.

*44 Although the body of Parson Blair was carried to the Presbyterian Church on Shockoe Hill before burial, the funeral services were held at his residence on Leigh Street. Church funerals were not then a general custom. (See also the codicil to his will.) It is specially noted that the funeral of his widow took place from the church. One of the printed invitation cards, or “tickets,” to Parson Blair’s funeral is reproduced in this volume.

His grave is in old Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, about the middle of the burying-ground.

The burial sections of four of his sons: John Geddes, Samuel Jordan, Walter Dabney, and Thomas Rutherford, are not far from their father’s. His son James is interred in Hollywood Cemetery (Blair-Lesslie section). Elizabeth Durburrow, his daughter, was buried at “Powhatan,” seat of the Mayos.

The inscription reads:

Sacred
To the memory Of the Reverend John D. Blair,

First pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Shockoe Hill, who died in January 1823
Aged 64 years and 2 months *45

 

Mrs. Blair’s upright tombstone records:

Mrs. Mary Winston
Blair

Wife of the
Revd John D. Blair
Died on the
16th of October 1831,
In the 69th year of her age.

*45 He was really in his sixty-fourth year.

A memorial white marble tablet, erected by his descendants, hangs in the vestibule of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Richmond. This reads:

IN MEMORY
OF THE
REV. JOHN D. BLAIR,

FIRST PASTOR OF THIS CHURCH.

A MAN WITHOUT GUILE,
OF CULTIVATED INTELLECT,
GENTLE MANNERS,
SOUND IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE,
AND EMINENTLY BELOVED.

Born October 13, 1759.
Died January 10, 1823.

The sermons of Rev. John Durburrow Blair were published by his wife, in 1825, in compliance with the wish of a number of his friends. (Shepherd and Pollard, Richmond.) The preface states that the sermons are published from notes and are therefore less perfect than if they had been prepared by his own hand. But to his descendants, at least, if his thoughts have their attention, his sermons will appear evangelical, deeply pious, eloquent, and practical. The oration on the Death of Washington, delivered January 1800, by appointment of the General Assembly of Virginia, is in the collection, but was published additionally by their order. *46 (See also the “Martha Washington Collection of Eulogies on Washington,” Library of Congress.)

*46 “Sermons collected from the Manuscripts of the late Rev. John D. Blair. ‘That ye be not slothful, but followers of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.’ Richmond: Printed by Shepherd and Pollard. 1825.”

Mary Jordan Winston
-1811

Daughter of Col. Samuel Jordan of Buckingham County, Virginia, and wife of Geddes Winston Esq. From an oil portrait in the possession of Miss Ellen Donnell Codrington Blair.

The Virginia Evangelical Magazine, Vol. 1, 1818, published his sermon on “Anger.”

There are several portraits extant of John Durburrow Blair, two of which, at least, are believed to be originals: the portrait in oils, lately presented by Mrs. George Arnold Frick to the Virginia Historical Society, considered the best likeness (showing the Parson in his solemn mien), and a small portrait, also done in oils, in the Virginia State Library, depicting the amiable parson in a more genial manner. *47 A copper plate engraving by Martin, frontispiece of the Sermons, of very fine workmanship, is nevertheless distressing as a likeness. *48

In person, John Durburrow Blair “was tall and spare, with a grave-looking face, not indicating the merriment that lurked within.” His eyes were brown, his hair reddish-brown. *49

In personality, he inherited his father’s talents and disposition—“a bright example of every social virtue.”

The two Parsons, Buchanan and Blair, delighted to mingle with their fellow men, and we find them at the leading social events of their city, where their presence delighted, as their temperate example restrained. Mr. Blair wrote many merry notes in verse to his friends that did not lack wit. He had a fine sense of humor, relishing even when the tables were turned upon himself—he knew then that he could turn them back again. His disposition was amiable, his temper sweet, humble, and patient. It is said of him as a teacher that he never raised his voice unduly.

As a minister, Parson Blair has not escaped criticism. It was said he was a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners—that the fruits of his ministry were not apparent. The period in which he lived was not one of great toleration in his own denomination. Lines were sharply drawn, judgments pronounced without delay and without knowledge of circumstances or motives. The two Parsons lacked this intolerant spirit and were misunderstood on that

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