|Dr. James Fishback|
|The Life Of Dr. James Fishback|
The life of Dr. James Fishback has found little place in the public eye for many generations. This, all but forgotten leader in the process of the restoration of the ancient order of things, led a colorful and diverse life. His religious presence in the early to mid 1800s in and around the counties of Woodford, Fayette and Clarke, Kentucky was prominent, and thus should be not be forgotten. In the religious community of his day the name Dr. Fishback was known in most every household. As to his family history and early life, he was the third child of Jacob and Phoebe Morgan Fishback. James recorded the following concerning his parents:
There is an unpublished autobiography of the subject of this sketch, the gleanings of which were entered in a volume entitled, Genealogy of the Fishback Family In America by Willis Miller Kemper. From it consider the following:
The potential for success is James' life was seen in the circles within which he walked. He was a charming young man who knew who he was, and what he wanted. Such is evidenced by the women he married. Over the course of his life two women from what might be determined as "American Royalty" graced his home as the lady of the house. The first was Miss Dorothea Dandridge Christian. She was the youngest daughter of Colonel William and Anne Christian. She was Virginia born on the June 5, 1785. Her mother was the sister of American patriot, Patrick Henry. She and James were married April 16, 1802; she was 18, and he was 26. They were married for thirty-eight years when she passed September 17, 1840. She was buried in the Fishback family cemetery near Winchester, Clarke County, Kentucky. The following year he married the widow, Susan Hart Shelby McKinney. She was the daughter of the first and fifth governor of the state of Kentucky, Governor Isaac Shelby. She had survived two husbands and at the age of fifty entered into a marriage with the doctor from Virginia, June 8, 1841. They were married until his death in 1845. Kemper further related:
His continued his research in the study of origins. It caused him to recognize the lack of works in print on the subject of Christian Apologetics. This led him to write a volume on the subject. Dr. Fishback reflected:
Concerning the effects of the volume, years later he would recall:
By 1816, the subject of baptism as to its mode and nature had so captivated the 40-year-old Presbyterian minister that he penned:
In the book, Disciples of Christ in Kentucky, Dr. Alonzo Fortune referred to a series of articles that appeared in the Christian Baptist beginning in February, 1825 under the title, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things.” This series energized many Baptists in Kentucky toward a re-analysis of their stand in view of the Scriptures. None were more moved by the concepts being shared than Dr. Fishback.
By 1826 the question of substituting the Bible as authority over the Philadelphia Confession of Faith led to a point of extreme excitement in the Lexington Baptist Church. Over the previous ten years, the doctor had been a member and preacher for the church. According to Kemper, in that period the church grew from 8 or 10 to over 175. At a meeting of the church leaders, Dr. Fishback put forth an official proposal that the church change its name to the church of Christ. The proposal was defeated, but ultimately a division took place and a group pulled away. They began meeting on Mill Street, calling themselves the church of Christ, under his leadership. This designation of church of Christ was completely separate from the name already being used interchangeably with the “Christian Church” by the Christian movement led by Barton W. Stone.
Stone’s forces united with the Reformed Baptists/Disciples of Christ movement in the region at a special meeting at the Hill Street church of Christ in Lexington on January 1, 1832. Though Dr. Fishback’s group at Mill Street church of Christ looked and enjoined the movement, he struggled with the essentiality of baptism for the remission of sin, a central doctrine prescribed in the group’s unity.
In the spring of 1834, Dr. Fishback took exception to some things Barton W. Stone was teaching on the subject of the atonement, the work of the blood of Christ in the forgiveness of sin. In the March issue of the Christian Messenger, Stone had written that his study of the Scriptures revealed that Christ’s sacrifice was not made in order to satisfy God’s wrath, as much as it was to admonish the sinner in the knowledge that it was done as a part of God’s mercy being extended to him in forgiveness. Stone argued against Jesus being a substitute for us, saying that if forgiveness could only be done if there was a substitute, then any forgiveness anytime would demand a substitute, a payment of sorts to satisfy justice. From this article, Dr. Fishback began publically to distance himself from the Stone movement, saying that Stone denied the role of the blood of Christ in redemption. Stone responded to it in the pages of the Christian Messenger, (1834, Vol. 8, pps. 203ff), saying that his statements had been misapplied by Dr. Fishback. Yet the distancing continued, even to the point that he left the Mill Street church of Christ and went back to preaching for the mainstream Baptists. Later that year, Stone moved to Jacksonville, Illinois and became less of a voice in the movement, at least locally. For the next several years Dr. Fishback preached for the Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Woodford County, but his beliefs that unity upon the Scriptures alone continued in his thoughts.
In 1841, John T. Johnson and others from within the Disciples/Christian movement began advertising for a unity meeting among churches around Lexington. When the event in early April began it was relatively ignored by most of the denominations in the area save Dr. James Fishback. The following is a length excerpt from History of the Disciples Of Christ, by W.T. Moore on pages 378-381 of the event. Alexander Campbell wrote Johnson the following:
As was stated above by W.T. Moore above, within a short time Dr. Fishback joined forces once again with the Christian movement. In the pages of the Millennial Harbinger it was reported,
The following year, an open letter appeared in the pages of the Millennial Harbinger from the pen of Dr. James Fishback. In the opening paragraphs he stated,
In the course of the lengthy treatise that followed he explained what he called, “ . . . my present position and the relation I sustain to the various Christian denominations and to the world.” In an attempt to disavow his former commitment to Calvinism, he went to great lengths explained the fallacy of the doctrines of election and irresistible grace as being long hindrances to many to obey the plain Biblical call for repentance of any sinner. He said of Calvinism, “This theory has mingled with the creeds for the last fourteen hundred years, and is a leading reason why the world is not now converted.” (page 360). Further he expressed,
By way of conclusion, Dr. Fishback expressed desire for union with all believers as Jesus called for in John 17:20,21. However in order to do so it was paramount that the Scriptures be held as the basis for such union.
In the following issue of the Millennial Harbinger, September, 1843, Alexander Campbell included Dr. Fishback’s involvement in an upcoming debate that was to be held in Lexington in November of that year. N.L. Rice, the Kentucky champion debater among the Presbyterians was set to face Alexander Campbell in a discussion on the nature of baptism. In a list of preliminaries and rules of discussion set out in print, Campbell reported the previously agreed upon determination by he and N.L. Rice.
The 18-day debate took place as scheduled in the Main Street Christian Church beginning November 15th. The great statesman and friend of Alexander Campbell, Henry Clay was the chief moderator. During the debate, Rice attempted to tear down the force of the argument that baptism was for the remission of sins sighting things in print written in previous years by Dr. James Fishback, and others who sat on the podium with Campbell. The now 67 year old doctor from Culpeper County, Virginia had previously held to the doctrine of hereditary total depravity as was charged by Rice. However the explanation of his beliefs in the August, 1843 issue of the Millennial Harbinger dispelled any confusion over his views. Calvinism and its tenants had become a belief of the past for Fishback, but no more.
For the last eighteen months of his life, Dr. Fishback continued to promote the cause of restoration. According to the Fishback family historian, Willis Miller Kemper, “after a lingering illness,” Dr. James passed from this life, June 26, 1845 at the age of 69 years, 4 months, and 22 days. He was survived by his wife, Susan. He was laid to rest in the Fishback family cemetery in Clarke County, Kentucky.
-Written by Scott Harp, web editor, June, 2011.
Sources include the Christian Baptist; Millennial Harbinger; Christian Messenger; Genealogy of the Fishback Family In America by Willis Miller Kemper, History of the Disciples of Christ, by W.T. Moore; Campbell-Rice Debate; The Gospel Advocate; The Evangelist, Walter Scott; Debates That Made History, J.J. Haley; Origin And Early History of the Disciples of Christ, Walter Wilson Jennings; Register of the State of Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 6.
|Excerpt From The Biography of John T. Johnson|
Dr. Fishback and J. T. Johnson, etc.— In 1836, J. T. Johnson and Dr. Fishback came into collision in the papers. I once thought I would not introduce the doctor's name into the life of the subject of this writing; but I have concluded that a brief notice of him is called for. The writer knew Dr. Fishback for some twenty-five years. He was a man of very fine personal appearance, fine speaking talent, respectable learning, and good mind. He seemed, too, to be a good man—a pious man. His great fault was want of decision of character, fixed principles. He was much given to change. He was first a Presbyterian, then a Baptist, then an Independent Christian; then in '32-3 and '34, he was very friendly with us. I preached for him in Lexington, and also at Mt. Vernon, I think, in '32. He was so much pleased with my sermon at Mt. Vernon, that he made a speech in favor of it, and would have his brethren raise something to help me. It was a meeting in the week, and not very many were present. Subsequently he became violent in his opposition to the reformation, and went back to the Baptists; but finally, I think, he united with the Church of Christ at Lexington, and died among us. We are poor, weak creatures. I would throw the mantle of charity over the doctor's aberrations, and hope he has been saved. I liked Dr. Fishback personally, though I was never very intimate with him.
In 1836, he wrote some severe articles in the Baptist Banner, which J.T. Johnson felt it his duty to notice. He [Dr. Fishback] wrote over the signature of "Observer." We propose to make a few extracts from his replies to those articles. They will be found in the "Gospel Advocate" for 1836, on pages 37-9, 55-61. He thus introduces his first article:
"The reformation principles have been so grossly traduced and caricatured by Dr. Fishback, in his 4th No., published in the Baptist Banner, that we design to place his conduct before the public, that they may know what reliance is to be placed in his word or promise, however solemnly pledged. 'Now [says the doctor], I do not hesitate, with full consideration of the subject, to pronounce that the reformation is wholly wrong on the subject of justification and forgiveness of sins; and, therefore, it is not easy to suppose it right on anything else.'" The doctor, in his articles, spoke disrespectfully of B. W. Stone's views. On page 61 of the Advocate, J. T. Johnson thus addresses him: "Learn to be as humble and as good a man as B. W. Stone, and imitate his virtues, instead of holding him up to the hatred of the religious community. Have you forgotten what brotherly love and confidence you manifested toward him while you were discarded by the Baptists? Did the old man persecute you? Did he ever refuse you the hand of friendship, or reject your overtures for united action in the cause of Christ? Do you recollect how you urged the brethren, including your humble servant, to visit Mt. Vernon, and assist in the proclamation of the gospel, even after you knew our sentiments? Do you recollect the assistance rendered you by brethren Fleming, Palmer, Rogers, and the accessions at some of those meetings? Do you recollect eulogizing any of the brethren?"
But I dislike to make any reference to these matters, and therefore close what I wish to present in one more brief extract from the last article of J.T. Johnson, in response to the doctor. He says, in conclusion: "We hope you will yet become sufficiently humble and docile to be taught by the apostles the true doctrine of faith, repentance and immersion for remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of eternal life, by a continuance in well doing, seeking for glory and honor, and immortality. He who fights against the reformation principles, fights against the sword of the Spirit, and will, like many who have gone before, fall a victim to his own folly and imprudence." So believed J.T. Johnson, and so believes the writer; and so finally thought, I presume, our erratic, but I hope sincere brother, Dr. Fishback. If we are true to ourselves, to our great positions, as certainly as God lives in heaven, and Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God, we must succeed. Dr. Fishback wrote a book in 1813, which, when a young man, I read with great interest. I have forgotten its title; but he demonstrated to my satisfaction that the idea of a self-existent Being entered the world by revelation. This being true, Infidelity, Deism, has not one inch of ground to stand upon. I esteem it a valuable work.
|Directions To The Grave of Dr. James Fishback|
The Fishback Cemetery is located west of Winchester, Kentucky on Colby Rd. The official address we found on a mailbox while there as shown in the picture below is 7130 Colby Rd. You must go through a cattle gate up into a field. Pass the first section of trees on the left. Then look ahead to the next group of trees. The cemetery is in the middle of this section in a rock enclosure. Access is best if you go through the gate just before coming to the clump of trees surrounding the graves. Information from descendants in 2011 state that at least seventeen are listed as having been buried there. See list here.
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Grave of Susan Hart Shelby Fishback
Photos Taken May, 2011
Courtesy of Scott Harp
Special thanks to Tom L. Childers and C. Wayne Kilpatrick for helping to find and access the cemetery location and grave of James Fishback. With your web editor we spent the last week in May, 2011 in southern and north central Kentucky RM related grave of Gospel preachers of yesteryear and other places of interest. Many thanks for the efforts of all.
Also, a BIG thank-you is extended to family member, John Drew for helping me locate the grave. Numerous emails back and forth made finding this "off the main beat" abandoned cemetery near Winchester, Kentucky.
|Fishback Cemetery List|