April 29, 1829 - July 24, 1914
|Robert James Harp, son of Luke and Ann Elizabeth Harp, was horn in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., April 29, 1829, and died in Shreveport, La., July 24, 1914, at the ripe age of eighty-five years. He was deprived of both parents at a very early age but not too early to have received a splendid endowment in character foundations.
We are in possession of some very interesting circumstances of his childhood and youth, contained in a biographical sketch prepared by his daughter, the material of which was furnished by her father from memory. I quote as follows: “He grew and thrived, loved and petted by the two older brothers, for be was next to the youngest of four boys, three of whom became preachers as they grew to young manhood. His father lived only a few years after the birth of Robert, and his mother died when he was but seven years old. Knowing she could not live much longer she gathered her fqur boys about her and gave them to God in prayer with the absolute confidence that .He would be both Father and Mother to them. This prayer her boys never forgot. The little seven-year-old Robert won the hearts of his mother’s friends and an old friend, Col. Morrow, when he knew the mother could not get well, begged that he be allowed to take the boy to his home where he would treat him as one of his own children as long as he wished to stay.” “After his mother’s death, Robert went to live with his foster-father.”
“That the child is father to the man” is illustrated by the incidents of his young boyhood that anticipate the character of his mature years. We see a foregleam of his gentleness in the incident which he remembered of playing in the woods, coming upon a little fawn which is not frightened at his approach, going up to it and putting his arms around its neck, the fawn following him home and growing up in his father’s pasture. We see the prophecy of his quenchless industry and independence of spirit in his, early farm work and his ambition “to plow like a man” when only eight years of age. His refusal to be dependent on others when eleven years old and going out to work for himself; his studying at night by a pine torch and studying even while he plowed during the day, his speller in the plow-handle. When be was twelve years old he and one of his brothers went to Mississippi to try raising cotton. They bought a piece of land in the Yazoo Valley, worked in the early morning and after school hours in the evening and that year they sold their cotton in the field for $400.
His life was a conspicuous refutation of the “wild oats theory” of manhood. Before leaving the home of Col. Morrow be had professed saving faith in Jesus and had become a member of the Church. In 1843 when he was only fourteen years of age be felt that he must preach the gospel. He was licensed and preached his first sermon In Yalobusha County, Mississippi, at this early age. He also applied for admission on trial to the Memphis Conference, which then included North Mississippi but was con-sidered too young. In the following year, 1844, however, he was admitted and stationed at Pontotoc Circuit, Mississippi, and in 1845 he was appointed to Sunflower Circuit, Mississippi.
His record as a minister of the gospel, in point of years has scarcely been duplicated the history of our Church. Beginning from the time when the child-prophet preached his first sermon he was a minister for seventy-one years, a regular member of the itinerant ranks for seventy years, with only an intermission of a few years of local relation, which should not by any means be subtracted. Where is there such a record and the whole of it filled with painstaking, self-sacrificing, efficient service for the Master? The history of his Itinerant ministry from 1844 is exactly contemporary with the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as a separate denomination, and practically also, with the history of the Louisiana Annual Conference.
In 1846 he was transferred to the Louisiana Conference which at the General Conference of the same year bad been separated from the Mississippi Conference. From the beginning this had been a difficult field and men of heroic mold were needed. Robert Harp, now seventeen years of age, responded to the call and was present for duty at the organization of the Conference in Opelousas. The young preacher was appointed to Caddo Circuit, including the town of Shreveport. A small church building had been erected before his coming, the only one in the place but there had been no ‘regular services. The Church was soon organized as a station and he was therefore the first station pastor of Shreveport where he remained during 1847 and 1848. At this time there was practically no observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest and general mora1 conditions were bad. He took great interest in the cause of temperance and organized Shreveport’s first temperance society. In 1849, Brother Harp by appoint-ment served the Alexandria charge; 1850 and 1851, Baton Rouge; 1852 and 1853, Thi-bodeaux; 1854 and 1855, Lake Providence; 1856, Waterproof and St. Joseph. During the years 1857-1859 he was engaged in raising money for a church in New Orleans and was successful in raising a large amount. Thus he was an early Church Extension Secretary and New Orleans Methodism became his debtor.
During the Civil War period, 1860-1864, he was financial secretary and executive officer for the Louisiana Soldiers’ Relief and Hospital Association and also presiding elder of the Opelousas District. Quoting again from Mrs. Frater’s sketch, “during this period Mi-. Harp traveled on foot or by horseback or buggy, through Louisiana and Mississippi, gathering supplies, clothing, sugar, cotton and molasses, to be exchanged for clothing for the Louisiana boys in gray. He had the measure of caps, shoes, clothing, etc., for every member of the Louisiana regiments. He personally organized hospitals and cared for thousands of wounded soldiers, getting supplies and medicines for them from the country. After the fall of New Orleans and the loss of the base of supplies in that city, Mr. Harp was ordered to Georgia to see what could be done for relief and betterment of the conditions in the army. He organized the Tract Publication Society for the Confederate Army and supplied the soldiers with intelligent read-ing matter and vest-pocket Testaments. He and his agents raised over $140,000, and he published the Army and Navy Herald, which had reached a circulation of 20000 copies a week and was distributed free to the soldiers. The Publishing House was located in Macon, Ga., and was in a high state of prosperity when it was burned by a Federal raid.”.
From 1865 to 1868 he was pastor of Moreau Street Church, New Orleans, and’ agent for the Nashville Publishing House. ‘It was during this pastorate that he met Miss Agnes Pennington, of Evansville, Indiana, who was an art’ student in New Orleans to whom he was afterward married, Sept. 23, 1869. The marriage union proved a most happy and blessed one. During all the subsequent years of his itinerant ministry she’ was his most faithful and efficient helpmeet and inspiration, in times of adversity as’ well as times of earthly joy. She preceded him to the heavenly shores by a little more than one year. Three daughters were born to them, Helen, now Mrs. (Dr.) F. J. Frater of Shreveport, Agnes, deceased and Bertha now Mrs. J. E. Whitworth, also of’ this city, in whose home Brother Harp passed away. In 1869 he was: appointed by the General Conference against his protest, agent for the Nashville House and Publisher of the New Orleans Christian Advocate, in which Work he continued until 1878. Dur-ing this time, if the writer understands the facts, Brother Harp again showed his ability in raising funds by securing money for the establishment of the Methodist Depository of New Orleans. In 1878 the New Orleans branch of the Publishing House, which was in a prosperous condition, was heavily drawn upon by the Nashville House, to prevent failure and the consequence was that both failed. Brother Harp was in the local relation from 1879 to 1883 spending his time in endeavoring to get a settlement from the Nashville House for the New Orleans creditors, supporting himself and family during this time as best he could. He voluntary absence from the itinerant ranks at this time in a tribute to his scrupulous and unselfish regard for business righteousness.
In January 1884, he was re-admitted and was stationed in Mansfield until 1887; 1887 to 1890, Caddo Circuit; 1891-1894, Presiding Elder of the Shreveport District, again residing in this city. Our Father in Heaven alone knows how, through all the inter- -veiling years, his early influence had extended, like a silver thread, from one genera-tion to another.
In 1895-1898 he was pastor of Lake Charles station; 1899, Jeanerette; 1900, Logansport charge; 1901, Texas Avenue, Shreveport: 1902, Red River Circuit; 1903-1904, Mooringsport; 1905-1906, Ida Circuit; 1907, Bossier Circuit; 1908, Noel Memorial. Since this time he has ‘been on our honor roll of retired veterans. His itinerant ministry touched at some time almost every section of the State and has had a unique and pro-foundly interesting relation to the city of Shreveport. There is scarcely a spot in this section that has not felt his holy influence. His heart rejoiced to witness the material and moral progress of Shreveport and was overjoyed to see the crowning achievement of the new edifice, successor of the little Church on Market and Fannin
Brother Harp had a cyclopedia memory for the details of our history during that heroic period in this most difficult field of our southern connection and by patient research, he had accumulated a great store of data, from which he was constructing a history of Methodism in Louisiana, which would, have been invaluable, but which, alas was destroyed by fire and cannot be replaced.
It is not in accord with the writer’s temperament to indulge in extreme praise of the living or the ‘dead but under the circumstances feel that scarcely anything I might write that bears upon the life, labor and character of Brother Harp, would be in the nature of an over-statement or exaggeration. Even though I give full rein to my heart, it would be impossible for me to do even partial justice to the simple grandeur and dignity of our beloved father in Israel, who has now at last closed his earthly labors.
In his entire wonderful career he was never a seeker for place or position and in this particular, conserved the highest ideals of a Methodist itinerant preacher. He entered cheerfully every sphere or mode of service into which’ he was called and with the most exacting and scrupulous fidelity, discharged every task at whatever cost.
He was a truly great man, after Christ’s standard of greatness. He consecrated all of his powers, which were of no ordinary kind, to unselfish ends; so much like Christ in spirit has he seemed to me that I have felt unworthy to loose the latchet of his shoe. Those who knew him best are the readiest witnesses to these rare qual-ities. His heart was full of brotherly love; one of his own home testifying that “he did not’ even ‘think evil.’” He ‘lived the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians as few others of us do.
He exhibited a rare serenity of life which was not disturbed by the most crucial tests, not when the iron of adversity for which others were responsible, entered his soul, not when cruel flames licked up the historic treasures of a life-time, nor when death more than once entered his home.
He belongs in the category of real sainthood, not of the medieval type, for he rejoiced in friendships, social intercourse and home companionship; not of the fanatic type, for he was chaste and temperate in speech, perfectly balanced in his emotions and unusually wise and sane in all his conduct; not of the Pharisee type, for he was utterly unconscious of the rare beauty and fragrance of his life; not of the effeminate type, for he bore every mark of genuine manhood.
It was really in his old age that we younger ministers knew him and we bear witness that his life of physical and mental industry of sacrificing devotion to the blessed gospel of Jesus, even during these years of increasing infirmity, puts us to shame. God help us to keep the faith of our fathers!
He never did rest on his oars, very reluctantly giving up the active work, ex-pecting to the very last, to resume his preaching again, his wandering mind during his final illness still being burdened with the necessity of filling appointments to preach the everlasting gospel.
Brother Harp’s life is an assurance of immortality. Such a soul as his must in-evitably continue to live and serve in. a higher order. We may see him in ,the com-pany of the redeemed, who sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”’ He has gone by spiritual gravitation to his place among the immortals, close up to the apostles and prophets and the Son of Man Himself.
I will conclude this memoir by quoting the final paragraph of a beautiful tribute paid by Rev. S. J. Davies:
“The ranks are thinning below and thickening above. The Christian warrior lives with his shield before him, and when the call comes, dies upon it. No weapon formed against it shall prosper. It is more than Lacedaemonean courage that wins the victory in the lifetime struggle. The invisible enemy is often the mightiest to overcome. It is by a faith born of God and nurtured throughout the weary years. ‘The great congregation of the redeemed has another accession and the angels weave anew an amaranthine crown.
“So they pass from stage to stage, along the shining course Of that fair river broadening like the seas
Old sorrows are forgotten now
|Source: Journal Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1914, pages 51-53, by R. H. Wynn.|