History of the Restoration Movement

Ryland T. Brown


Ryland T. Brown was born on the 5th of October, 1807, in Lewis county, Kentucky. His ancestors, on both his father's and his mother's side, were originally from Wales. His parents were exemplary members of the Baptist church, his father being noted as a leader in the singing exercises of the congregation. His mother still survives, and both the families from which he has descended, have been remarkable for their longevity.

In the Spring of 1809 his father removed to Ohio, and settled near New Richmond, in Clermont county. Shortly afterward a colony from Maine settled in the same neighborhood.

In the formation of that colony Yankee sagacity did not fail to discover that a schoolmaster would be a principal desideratum in the far West. Therefore, Mr. Mark P. Stenchfield, a teacher by profession, was induced to accompany the expedition; as a member of which he was regarded as not a whit less useful than the blacksmith, the shoemaker, or any other artisan. Simultaneously with the round-log domicile and workshop, the schoolhouse was erected in the same style of architecture; and as the smith's hammer was heard Winter and Summer, so Summer and Winter was heard the busy hum of Mr. Stenchfield's school. Thus Master Brown was furnished with a rare opportunity of acquiring knowledge from a truly competent instructor. He was equally fortunate in another respect. Being a weakly lad, of slender habit and feeble growth, his parents relieved him from labor onthe farm (which was popularly, though foolishly, regarded as fatal in such cases), and did all in their power to give him a good education, which they supposed the only means by which he would ever be able to make a living. For several years, therefore, he was sent regularly to the colonial school, in which he made rapid progress, and acquired a thorough knowledge of the common-school branches.

The teacher was a zealous Baptist, who did not neglect the moral and religious training of those under his charge. He made himself the companion of his scholars; entered into all their feelings and sympathies; and suffered no opportunity to escape by which he might impress his pupils with the paramount importance of a pious and devotional life. These lessons made a deep and lasting impression on the subject of this sketch; and together with the counsel and example of his pious parents, they gave direction to the whole current of his subsequent life.

Early in the year 1821 his father removed to Indiana, and settled in what is now the southeastern part of Bush county. But three years before, that section of country was ceded to the United States by the Delaware Indians; and it was only in a few places that the trees had been removed from what had been their hunting grounds. Here the delicate young student was transferred from the confinement and exhaustive toil of the schoolroom to the invigorating labors, hardships, and privations of a backwoods life.

For the first two or three years after removing to Indiana, he was employed much of his time as guide to land-hunters. In this employment he not only became an expert woodsman and a second Nimrod, or "mighty hunter," but here also he began to form the active habits, and to acquire the fondness for out-door pursuits, for which he has been distinguished through subsequent life. The change of occupation also contributed greatly to his physical development. The open air, the ramblings over hill and dale, and the excitement of the chase, strengthened every bone, invigorated every muscle, quickened the morbid action of every part of his system, and, in short, laid the physical foundation without which the intellectual superstructure could never have been reared.

In the Spring of 1822—being then in his fifteenth year—he made a profession of faith in Christ, was immersed, and united with a Baptist congregation known as "the Clifty church."

At that age he had no further opportunity of attending school; but, being passionately fond of reading, and constantly in search of intellectual food, he finally heard of the county library at Rushville. To his famishing mind this was a "feast of fat things" to which he resorted frequently, though distant ten miles, by a road very primitive and, at times, almost impassable. To his education, under these circumstances, the college or university was not essential: he did not need to be taught; all he asked was the means of learning.

In the Fall of 1825 he had the misfortune to lose his father by a very sudden and violent attack of congestive fever. It was this sad event that directed his mind to the study of diseases and remedies, and determined his profession for life.

In the year 1826 he chanced to meet with a copy of Campbell and Walker's Debate, from which he learned of the publication of the "Christian Baptist," to which he soon became a subscriber. From this date (1826) he is to be reckoned as a Reformer, though he remained, for & short time, a nominal Baptist.

His first overt act in the direction of reform was on this wise: the Flat Rock Association having arrogatedto themselves a little of the authority given to the Messiah, drew up certain articles of faith, and recommended their adoption by all the churches of which the said ecclesiastical body was composed. The matter being laid before the "Clifty church," a motion was made "to rescind the old articles and adopt the new." "Brother Brown," then only nineteen years old, called for a division of the question, the first part of which passed by the aid of no vote more cheerfully given than his own. Having thus freed the church, for a moment, from the bondage of human authority, he immediately moved to adopt the New Testament as an exponent of the faith of that congregation. This being offered as an amendment, and promptly seconded, was fairly before the house; and to dispose of it without voting directly against the Bible cost them not a little trouble.

From 1826 to the Spring of 1829, his time and attention were devoted exclusively to the study of medicine. His knowledge of this subject, as well as others, was principally acquired without a master; and but few men that have attained to equal eminence in the profession have qualified themselves for it under greater difficulties. Out of the bones of an Indian that had been exhumed near his father's farm he constructed an imperfect skeleton, to aid him in the study of anatomy and physiology. To the "great swelling words," that he encountered when on that branch of the subject, he gave names without regard to unknown rules of orthoepy, and attached ideas without knowledge of their derivation. No wonder, therefore, if he is sometimes liable to criticism in the pronunciation of enormous derivatives.

During the latter part of the period above mentioned, he attended the "Ohio Medical College," at Cincinnati, at which institution he was graduated in the Spring of 1829.

Returning to his home in Rush county, he spent the remainder of lhat year in search of a location, and in recruiting his powers of mind and body, then almost exhausted by three years' incessant study.

On his return he found the community greatly excited on the subject of Christianity, which excitement had been occasioned mainly by the introduction of a new religious element. Elder John P. Thompson (whose history is given elsewhere in this volume) had begun to proclaim the ancient gospel with great zeal; and under his labors great numbers were being added to all the Baptist churches in that region. But few understood the cause which had given the preaching of Elder Thompson such extraordinary power; yet not even the most rigidly orthodox thought of asking questions or interposing objections during the excitement of a great revival. On the contrary, Revs. Wm. McPherson and Wm. Thompson, both Baptist preachers of some note, fully co-operated in the glorious work, and materially aided in carrying forward the Reformation. Dr. Brown, the eyes of whose understanding had been enlightened, intelligently gave his heart, hand, and voice to the furtherance of the new movement.

But as soon as the excitement began to subside, the Baptist churches became greatly alarmed; and the cry of "Campbelliism" went up loud and long. The rulers in the Baptist Israel imagined that they saw tares among the wheat, and that it would be doing God service to "go and gather them up." Therefore the work of immolating heretics was commenced.

Dr. Brown, whose impertinent action on the creed question, three years before, had not been forgotten, was selected as the first victim in the State to be sacrificed on this altar of sectarian bigotry. He was arraigned on the very general charge of "being a Campbellite," and, as such, was excluded from the Church. The following account of the affair appeared in the "Christian Baptist" for June, 1830:
Abcadia, Rush Co., Ia., March 15, 1830.

Dear Brother,—A general conspiracy is forming among the "Orthodox Calvinistic Baptists" in Indiana, the object of which is to put a stop to the alarming spread of those principles contained in the "Christian Baptist," and advocated by all who earnestly pray for a "restoration of the ancient order of things;" which they, however, have seen proper to honor with the name of "damnable heresies." I have had the honor of being ranked among the first victims of this conspiracy. I have been immolated on the altar of party prejudice and sectarian jealousy. I have passed through the furnace of clerical indignation, "heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated." But the smell of fire has not passed on my garments. Clothed with the panopoly of faith, with the volume of unerring wisdom in my hand, I would be ashamed to fear a host of sectarians, who have no stronger armor, either offensive or defensive, than their creed.

Nearly four years ago I had the presumption to oppose the doctrine of creeds, etc., in a public assembly, for which I received repeated rebukes by the dominant clergy, who, however, made no attempt to oppugn the arguments I advanced in favor of my position. The three years immediately succeeding this passed with my saying little or nothing on this or any other of the religious questions which, during that period, were agitated; my time being entirely engrossed by studies of a different nature.

After spending some time at Cincinnati, I returned to my former residence in Rush county, and, being more at leisure, I determined to give the Scriptures a careful, and, if possible, an impartial examination. I did so without favor or affection to any party. The effect was a thorough conviction of the truth of the following propositions, viz.:

1. Faith is nothing more nor less than a conviction of the truth of any position from evidence.
2. That faith in Jesus Christ is nothing more than a belief of the facts recorded of him by the Evangelists, to wit: That Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, and that he gave impregnable proof of his divine mission by his miraculous birth, by the numerous miracles which he wrought while living, and by his death, resurrection, and ascension.
3. The evangelical writings, containing the facts relative to the mighty works which were done by Christ and his apostles, together with the corroborating testimony of the prophecies, form altogether a phalanx of evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that "Jesus is the Christ."
4. I became convinced that the popular doctrine of a partial atonement, and unconditional election and reprobation, were alike antichristian and unscriptural.

These opinions I at all times expressed freely, not a little to the annoyance of my Calvinistic friends. At length, after considerable threatening, the following resolution was adopted by the church on Clifty for my especial benefit:

"Resolved, That we will not fellowship the doctrines propagated by Alexander Campbell, of Bethany, Virginia."

I entered my protest against this resolution, as I conceived it was intended to condemn a man without giving him an opportunity of defense. But I soon learned I was to share the same fate. The heresies of Campbellism (as they pleased to call it) were charged home on me. I claimed the right of defense, but was informed it was a crime which did not admit of a defense. I next denied the charge of being the disciple or follower of any man, and required the proof of it. I was again told that no evidence was necessary. Thus, you see, I was charged without truth, tried without a hearing, and condemned without evidence; and thus, in due form, delivered over to Satan as an incorrigible heretic. Several more of this church are destined shortly to share my fate. Bishop John P. Thompson and about forty members of Little Flat Rock Church have been arrested for denying the traditions of the Fathers, and will no doubt be formally excommunicated. (By reference to the sketch of Elder Thompson, it will be seen that the attempt to excommnnicate those persons was delayed too long—they in the mean time becoming the majority.)

Notwithstanding these sorry attempts of the clergy to patch the worn out vail of ignorance, which has long covered the eyes of the people, light is dawning apace. Truth is omnipotent, and must prevail.

I shall make a defense of my principles before a candid public, the subject of which I would send you for publication in the "Harbinger," if it would not be too much of a repetition of what you have already said on those subjects in your essays published in the "Christian Baptist."

The above facts I consider as public property.

Yours, in the bonds of Christian love,

R. T. Brown.

On the fourth Lord's day in May, 1830, the majority that saved Elder Thompson from expulsion organized "The Church of Christ at Little Flat Rock,"which church continues to this day one of the largest and most influential in the State. Into it Dr. Brown entered with characteristic zeal; and in it he made the public defense, alluded to in his letter to A. Campbell. This defense had a great and good effect upon the community, and is to beregarded as the commencement of his public advocacy of the ancient gospel.

Having in 1829 married Miss Mary Reeder, he, in the Summer of 1832, located at Connersville, Fayette county, there to establish himself in the practice of medicine. Here he had to compete with old and experienced physicians under many disadvantages, not the least of which was his religion. The Reformation of the nineteenth century was then and there known only in the caricatures of a prejudiced pulpit; and to be simply a disciple of the Lord Jesus, without being identified with any orthodox sect, was looked upon as evidence of great ignorance or impiety, and was therefore a great reproach. But Dr. Brown was not the man to deny the faith for the sake of popularity, or filthy lucre. Both publicly and privately he proclaimed "all the words of this life," without regard to his own reputation or pecuniary interests. By close attention to business, and a manly advocacy of the truth, he was soon well respected in both his professions. The people favored him with a liberal patronage; and, what was far more gratifying to him, they gladly received the word and were baptized, both men and women. Shut out of the orthodox churches, he made a sanctuary of the court-house, in which he soon held a protracted meeting, being assisted by John O'Kane, at that time located at Milton, Wayne county. A considerable number being added to the saved at this meeting, Elder O'Kane removed to Connersville; and in January, 1833, the Church of Christ at that place was organized.

From this time until the year 1842, he preached extensively through the White Water country; and his name is identified with the early history of many churches in that region.

By these labors, and his arduous duties as a physician, his health was so impaired as to render a temporary abanclonmeiit of one or the other of his professions an absolute necessity. He therefore discontinued his own work, and gave himself exclusively to the Lord's.

At the State Meeting held at Connersville, in June, 1842, he, in conjunction with three others, was appointed to labor, in word and doctrine, "for the churches in Indiana." In various portions of this extensive field he spent about a year, exposing tradition in its several forms, and scattering the incorruptible seed broadcast over the land.

By this service his health was not improved. Suffering frequently from hemorrhage of the lungs, his fellow physicians assured him that, if he persisted in preaching, it would be at the cost of his life. He therefore resigned the commission received from the State Meeting, and spent one year in manual labor of that peculiar kind which is required to run a saw-mill. Under this severe treatment all symptoms of consumption disappeared, although he continued to preach the word on almost every Lord's day.

In the Spring of 1844 he located at Crawfordsville, Montgomery county, and resumed the practice of medicine in connection with the preaching of the word.

For years past he had devoted his leisure hours to the improvement of his education—especially to the study of natural science; and his residence in Crawfordsville he made equivalent to a regular course in college. The "Wabash College" being located at that place, he was kindly admitted to a free use of its extensive library and philosophical apparatus. This golden opportunity he improved so well that, in 1850, he received from that institution the honorary degree of A. M.; this being one of the few instances in which it was justly merited.

In 1854 he acted as State Geologist, by the appointment of Governor Wright, who was of a different school of politics, and therefore not influenced, in the selection, by partisan considerations. In this capacity he traversed almost every nook and corner of the State, finding
"books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."

In 1858 he was elected to the chair of Natural Science in the N. W. C. University, at Indianapolis; to which place he removed in August of that year. There he still resides—distinguished as an instructor, and indefatigable as a preacher. In all his labors, whether as physician, geologist, or professor, he has almost invariably devoted the first day of the week to the ministry of the word. Having thus performed double duty, he ought to be counted worthy of double honor.

He was also among the first, and has ever been among the most zealous, advocates of the Temperance Reform, both in Indiana and in other States of the Union. In company with General S. F. Carey he has travelled extensively as a public lecturer on that subject; and he now stands at the head of the temperance organization in his own State. He preaches the whole of the apostle's doctrine—"righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come."

Though he has never been a candidate for office, yet he has always taken an active part in politics. True to his convictions of right and duty, he acted with the Free Soil party fourteen years ago, when it seemed to be a hopeless minority. He was stigmatized as an Abolitionist even before that term assumed an application so general as to include almost every good and loyal citizen. Justly and legitimately the term cannot be applied to him; for although he is firmly opposed to slavery and to the extension thereof, yet he denies, and has always denied, the right of the General Government to abolish it in the States.

For many years past Dr. Brown has exerted no inconsiderable influence through the medium of the press. Many articles from his pen have appeared in the Indiana School Journal, Ohio Farmer, Christian Record, Christian Luminary, and other periodicals—religious, educational, agricultural, medical, and political. In all these departments he is fully up with the times if not a little in advance of them; hence it is not by any means in religion alone that he is to be recognized as a Reformer.

The personal appearance of Dr. Brown is rather homely, yet such as to fasten upon a stranger the conviction that he is in the presence of no ordinary man. He is of medium stature, fitly joined together, and weighs about one hundred and forty-five pounds. His eyes are pale blue or gray, his complexion fair and slightly flushed. His hair, now white as almond blossoms, was once light or sandy—in early youth almost red. His temperament is nervous-sanguine, the latter element predominating. There is, therefore, nothing sluggish about his movements, either physical or intellectual; and for him to be lazy is impossible.

His mind is of the highest order—clear, logical, comprehensive, and of an eminently practical cast. He is naturally a naturalist, possessing superior perceptive faculties, combined with extraordinary powers of analysis and classification. It is not extravagant to say that had he been properly educated and introduced to Nature in early life, he might have rivaled Agassiz or Humboldt in the number and value of his scientific achievements.

His scholarship partakes largely of the qualities of his mind. He is well acquainted with history, especially that of the church, and of humanity in its moral and religious phases. With such branches of mathematics as are of practical utility he is sufficiently familiar; but of the abstract theories of calculus he knows as little as he cares. Of the literature of his own language he has a respectable knowledge; but in Greek and Latin he has but little faith and but few attainments. He is well informed with regard to politics, the science of government, and every thing pertaining to the rights of man, whether civil or religious. In short he is practical rather than classical; and comprehensive at the expense of accuracy in little things. He knows more of the present than of the past, and is more familiar with nature than with books. It is in the department of Natural Science that he seems almost omniscient. There nothing is so minute as to have escaped his attention; nothing fathomable, that he has not sounded to the bottom.

He is emphatically an off-hand man. He writes no sermons and but few addresses of any kind. His college lectures, both before his classes and on Lord's days, are all extemporaneous. When he does write, however, his articles are characterized by clearness, force, and originality.

As a speaker he ranks above mediocrity. He has a pleasant voice of very great compass, which he employs with proper emphasis and unaffected earnestness. His language is fully adequate to the prompt expression of his ideas; and if he'repeats, several times, a clause of a sentence, it is not because he is unable to complete the proposition, but because he is indulging a wayside thought with reference to some other matter. If some such obtrusive thought entices him a little way from his line of argument, he comes back to the point with an emphatic "but," which is a fair warning that the main subject is about to be resumed. He indulges no flights of fancy, but deals with plain facts. He dilutes no sentiment in a flood of words, studies no attitudes for the sake of appearing graceful; but he expresses himself as forcibly as possible, and if a gesture is added it is designed to impress rather than to please. He abounds less in pathos than in imagination; has no gift of exhortation; hence has never been very successful in proselyting. His forte is to instruct the church and to convince the judgments of "them that are without." Those whom he does disciple have such "deepness of earth" that but few if any "wither away."

In society and at home he is "a plain, blunt man," possessing more of the fortiter in re than of the suavilcr in modo. True, he is kind, hospitable, and sufficiently affable; but on meeting a friend, he makes no courtly bows, feigns no unspeakable joy, puts on no hypocritical smiles. Though not remarkably awkward in the drawingroom, yet he is not a "star" in circles that abound in small talk; and sooner than spend his days in such a place, he would choose life in a prison where, undisturbed, he might stroke his long beard as he always does when absorbed in meditation.

He possesses an indomitable will; and is noted for great decision of character. He is of that class of men who suffer—not only reproach, but martyrdom, if need be, for their religion or cherished principles. Had he been the editor of the Knoxville Whig the world would perhaps have heard as much of Parson Brown, as it has heard of Parson Brownlow—they are at least as much alike in one respect as their names.

He is a man of remarkably active habits. Early in the Spring he spades up his large garden, because it could not well be ploughed to suit him; and, while thus engaged, he might easily be mistaken, at first glance, for a genuine son of the Emerald Isle. As the growing season advances he is to be found out in his grounds, planting, weeding, pruning, training, or otherwise laboring. Though neither poor nor penurious, he saws his own wood; and, while thus employed, he arranges in his mind the materials for his next sermon or lecture. If he preaches on Sunday at a distance of ten miles from the city, and if there is no early train on Monday morning, he regards it as a light matter to perform the journey on foot in time to hear his classes in the University. "In time," be it observed, for with him punctuality is a cardinal virtue. When he takes his class into the field to give them a little practical, as well as theoretical geology (a thing seldom done by tender-footed Professors), he astonishes them as much by his indefatigableness as by his familiarity with the names, qualities, and positions of the rocks. He is usually the last to cry "halt."

The burden of years is light upon him; and his present condition and appearance, Cowper has well described in the following lines :—

"A sparkling eye beneath a wrinkled front
The vet'ran shows, and, gracing a gray heard
With youthful smiles, descends towards the grave
Sprightly, and old almost without decay."

-Madison Evans, Biographical Sketches of Pioneer Preachers of Indiana, c.1862, pages 300-314

Location Of The Grave Of Ryland T. Brown

Ryland T. Brown is buried in the Crownhill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana. The location of the Crownhill Cemetery is at: 330 West 32nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46208, (317) 920-2631. Go to the office for assistance. They have good maps, or see the online map made available through this site here. The actual GPS location of the grave is: 39°49'05.7"N 86°10'23.5"W / or D.d. 39.818236, -86.173196

Ryland T. Brown
Oct. 5, 1807 in Ky.
May 2, 1890
At Indianapolis

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Terry J. Gardner for making the effort to locate the gravesite and submit the photos you see on this site.

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