Nolley, Richmond


1784 - November 25, 1814
Paper on Richmond Nolley.

The saintly, heroic life of Richmond Nolley—the lonely and untimely death, and the time and circumstances connected with it, invest his story with a tragic and peculiar interest. He seems to have been the first itinerant Methodist preacher to die at his post” west of the Mississippi River.
In these notes I shall quote largely from the historians to whom we are indebted for most of the facts concerning his life and character in the hope that the memory of Nolley’s saintly life may inspire us to deeper devotion and love to our Master and lead us to larger success in winning lost ones to Him.

These notes are submitted by him, who deeply appreciates the kindness of his brethren in selecting him to give them at this, the fiftieth session of the Louisiana Annual Conference which he has attended.

Richmond Nolley was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, toward the close of the Eighteenth Century. His parents moved to Georgia during his childhood. Both parents died soon afterwards and the orphan boy found a home in the family of Captain Lucas a merchant of Sparta. Here he grew to manhood, and was converted at a camp meeting held six miles from Sparta in the year 1806.

He was admitted on trial in the South Carolina Conference in 1807, and in the bounds of that Conference he labored faithfully and successfully for four years. He was then transferred to the Tombigbee Mission in Alabama—a distant and hard field, Creek Indians were then ravaging the country, and the whites were in the forts. But he went from one fort to another with tireless devotion, bearing the message of salvation to those hardy pioneers.

He was transferred to the Mississippi Conference in 1813 and attended the session which was held in the private residence of Rev. Newet Vick in Jefferson County, November 1, 1813. He was appointed to the Attakapas Circuit in Louisiana. This was a year of arduous labor and he was exposed to many hardships and dangers. On one occasion he stopped to warm his shivering body at the smokestack of a wealthy sugar planter, who promptly ordered him away. “Sons of Belial,” writes Bishop McTyiere, “took him out of the pulpit at St. Martinsville, and were on the way to the to duck him, when a strange Deborah was raised up; a stout Negro woman armed with a hoe vigorously assailed them, and rescued the preacher out of their hands.” But, nothing daunted, by this experience of which the Bishop tells and by other trials he suffered, he preached, met the classes, visited from house to house, prayed with the families when privileged to do so, catechised the children, and talked to the Negroes and everybody who came in his way on the subject of their personal salvation. He consecrated his whole being to the work of soul-saving. He was successful in adding about thirty new members to the church, which in those days was estimated a siderable gain.

Nolley attended the Conference, which met at Rev. John Ford’s, in Marion County, “west of Pearl River,” November 14, 1814. The appointments at this Conference for Louisiana were: Louisiana District, Thomas Griffin, Presiding Elder Rapides, Elisha Lott; Attakapas, R. Nolley; Washita, Thomas Griffin.

Journeying together for some distance on the way to their appointments, Thomas Griffin and Nolley crossed the Mississippi River at Natchez on the morning of November 23. They reached Sicily Island that evening and spent their last night together.
Next morning Griffin turned toward the north and Nolley toward the south. Owing to heavy rains and the necessity of detouring to avoid swollen streams, Nolley traveled slowly, and it was late in the evening of the second day that “he came to a fitful swollen stream, the eastern branch of Hemphill Creek,” since called “Hemp’s Creek.” From a village of Indians near the creek he procured a guide and proceeded to the ford, and leaving his valise and saddlebags, he attempted to cross the creek The swift current bore his horse down stream and at the point of the further shore which they reached it was so steep that they could not get out. In the struggle Nolley and the horse parted. Nolley got hold of an overhanging bough and pulled himself out. The horse swam back to the shore from which they had started. Directing the Indian to keep himself horse till morning, then bring the horse and his baggage over the creek, Nolley started for the nearest house, that of Mr. Carter, about two miles distance.
“He had gone but a little way when the angels met him and took him away with sweet surprise NolIey found himself in the land of Beulah, though in a dreary swamp of Louisiana. Beholding the shining ones, he doubtless exclaimed with. One of old: ‘This is God’s host!’ Fancy must supply what history fails to record, for there were none present save those from the skies. It was Friday, his fast day. Chilled and exhausted, the cold and the darkness becoming every moment more intense, he sank down at a point about three-fourths of a mile from the ford. He seemed conscious of the approaching end. The prints of his knees were in the ground, showing what his last exercise had been. Having, commended his soul t0 God, with what sense of the nearness of heaven, it may be supposed, he laid him down at the roots of a clump of pines. The itinerant preacher received his discharge. There he lay on the cold ground and wet leaves, at full length, his eyes neatly closed, his left hand on his breast, and his right a little fallen off. The solitary spot and the gloomy surroundings were not incompatible with finishing his course with joy.

“Next day, the water having fallen, the Indian crossed over and found on the roadside, first, the heavy overcoat, and then the corpse. It was taken to the house he was trying to reach, and the neighbors gathered to the burial on Sunday. Slowly the news reached the circuit and spread among the people. The effect was profound and conciliating.”

“A widow lady—Mrs. Brown,” says Jones, “and her daughters made the shroud, and the men of the neighborhood dug the grave and provided the coffin.” Jones says that “The date of his death was the evening or night of November 25, 1814.” He was thirty years old at the time of his death, and he had been preaching seven years.

The grave of Richmond Nolley is about twenty-two miles west of Harrisonburg,. La., and near the road leading to Alexandria, which is thirty-five miles distant. “In the autumn of 1835,” says Jone., “when the author passed the place, the location of the grave was, pointed out as being in a little uncultivated, unfenced, old-field, surrounded by a young undergrowth.”

The Minutes of the Tenth Session of the Louisiana Conference, held in Bastrop, La, for Saturday, December 15, 1855, contain the following: “On motion of S. J Davis, it was resolved to appoint a committee of three to mature a plan for the erection of suitable tombstones over our deceased brethren in the ministry.” “J. C. Keener, J. S. Davies and R. Randle were appointed on said committee.” This committee reported -on Monday, December 17, 1855, at the same session, as follows: “That the remains of the following ministers who have labored in Louisiana, without tombs, (are as follows), Nolley rests in Catahoula, Brewer at Cotile, Jones beyond the Calcasieu, Hines at Donaldsonville, Tinder at the mouth of Bartholomew in Ouachita Parish, Page and two children were burnt in the steamboat Yellow Busha on his way to his appointment at Bayou Goula Tostrick at New Orleans, Jesse A. Guice at Tensas Parish, Brener at New Orleans, W. H. Turnley in Catahoula, Benton at Trinity or Bayou Boeuff, Childers at New Orleaiis.

“Resolved that tombs of white marble of uniform size and value be raised to these brethren, with an inscription, stating that it is erected by the Louisiana Conferemce, the place and date of birth, and also of conversion, the date of admission into the traveling connection;—the date and place of successive appointments;----the last text preached from.

“Resolved that the value of the stone be_____dollars, and the shape of the stone a solid parallelogram—whole measure four feet high, two feet square, upon a base of granite.

It is also—
“Resolved that each preacher in the bounds of whose work any traveling preacher may have
died shall ascertain the place where such now lies buried and forward a statement of the facts in the case of said deceased minister to a Committee on Tombstone at New Orleans to be appointed.”
The Minutes do not show who was appointed on this committee here mentioned. But Jones has the following: “On the 19th of May, 1856,” which was only a few months after the action of the Conference which has just been given, —”on the 19th of May,1856, a committee of three members of the Louisiana Conference, of which H. N. McTyeire, afterward bishop, was one, visited the place,” that is, the grave of Nolley, “and successfully sought and found the long neglected spot, and marked it for future generations.” (p 378). I quote a thrilling passage from Stephen’s History of Methodism, Vol. 4, page 421—”In 1856 three members of the Conference sought out the long neglected and almost forgotten spot, and marked it, and, kneeling down, consecrated themselves afresh to the same ministry of faith and patience and love. These forty years the recollection of Nolley has quickened the zeal of his brethren. From that mound of earth in the fenceless old field, a voice has spoken—’Be faithful.’ In the minds of the people the effect was profound:”
I now give some facts never published—as given me by Rev. Robert Parvin. Brother Robert Randle remembers them, but, unfortunately, neither of us carefully noted dates. So they are not claimed to be accurate in every case. Rev. Robert Par-vin transferred from the Memphis Conference to the Louisiana Conference, in December-1855. He was transferred to the Little Rock “Conference in 1866, but returned to the Louisiana Conference in 1871. He was at Harrisonburg in 1876. Brother Par-vin said: “A committee composed of N. A. Cravens, A. H. Goodwyn ‘and myself were appointed to visit Jena and find Nolley’s grave.” Only Parvin went. As he was pastor at Harrisonburg in 1856, that was probably the year in which he made the visit. He said: “I found Aunt Polly Francis, who wove the shroud, and who, together with her mother and sister made it.” He added: “I took her in my buggy and she guided me into the old field and to the grave, which she located in a certain direction and distance from a CHERRY TREE;” And Brother Parvin cut the letters R. N. in the bark of a small pine at or near the foot of the grave. He also found the blacksmith Mr. Young, who, hammered out the nails used in making the coffin. Mr. Young identified the tree, at whose root Nolley died, and they marked it by nailing a board on it about six feet from the ground.
Here the matter dropped for a number of years. About the year 1877 Brother Parvin, seerriingly by the appointment of the Conference, as he later made a report to the Conference and was continued in the work, was made a committee of one to collect money to build a monument to the memory of Richmond Nolley. The Minutes of the Conference for the year 1878, held in New Orleans in January, 1879, Bishop McTyeire presiding, contain the following: “Rev. R. Parvin made a verbal report on the grave of Richmond Nolley, announcing that $35 had been collected toward raising the desired monument. The Conference, on motion, continued the brother as a Committee of One to go on with the work.” The Minutes of December 1879, contain the following: “Robert Parvin reported progress in regard to the Richmond NolIey monument.” It was my recollection that he reported at the Conference held in January, 1879, that he had money enough to buy the stone, and that he asked Bishop McTyeire to go with him to buy the stone, and write the epitaph, but it seems after referring to the Minutes that such was not the case, for the Minutes I find record, as just stated above, that Brother Parvin reported that he had raised $35 toward the monument, and that he was continued as a committee of one to go on with the work. Also at the following Conference held in December of the same year, he “reported progress.” It must have been soon after that Conference, that the stone was bought and shipped to Harrisonburg. The epitaph, written from memory, had a mistake in the dates. Friends hauled the monument to Jena, but so little attention had been paid to the grave, that those interested did not identify it. So the stone was finally set up near the public road, ninety steps from the tree where he died. It was somewhat marred by pistol shots wantonly fired at it. So it was moved to the little chapel in the town of Jena. When the present church at Jena was built the monument was moved to the cemetery near the church.
In 1903 Rev. G. D. Anders was pastor at Jena, and he and I made an earnest effort to find the grave. A lady said: “My mother used to show me the grave” and “Brother Parvin cut his name on a tree.” We found the letters H. N., and we stood with uncovered heads as we felt that we were at the sacred spot. These letters were the only positive marks of identification, and we considered them sufficient. The grave is about two-fifths of a mile from the place of his death. When I visited the spot in 1881 Brother James Baker pointed out the tree, with the board still on it, placed there by Brother Parvin so long ago.
In 1903 1 tried to buy the tree. I wanted to make it a “Memorial Tree,” the property of our Conference. I had the promise of title, but failed to get it. It was a pine tree, venerable, large, straight and tall. For ninety years it had silently marked the spot of Nolley’s death, and it seemed sacred. But the timber man came. I fain would have said—.”Woodnian, spare that tree,” but I was in a distant part of the state, and it fell before the axe.
When I was at Jena some time ago I saw the stump in the enclosure around the cabin of a Negro. An effort was made some years ago to place a stone at the grave, but it has not been done.
The church at Jena is called Nolley Chapel, and likewise .the church at Monroe. The latter has a tablet to his memory.
I cannot better close the sketch of the life of this singularly pure and useful a than with the inscription on his monument which, with corrected dates, reads:


An itinerant Methodist Preacher who, in the discharge of duty
died near this place, November 25, 1814, (not Dec. 12, as it is on the stone).
This monument was erected by his brethren, A. D. 1879, as a Memorial of his heroism, his fidelity to duty, his purity, and his labors for the Lord.”

Source: Journal Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1921, pages 79-81, by D. Harper

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