Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Echoes of camp meetings and evangelist Rev. Elijah Kimsey

The Rev. Elijah Kimsey was a great uncle of the noted Dr. George W. Truett who became one of the outstanding Baptist pastors and denominational leaders of the 20th century. Rev. Kimsey did not travel far from the mountain area where he was born, but his evangelistic zeal and fiery preaching had such an effect on summer camp meetings in the mountains of Western North Carolina, North Georgia and East Tennessee that echoes of his influence still linger on in lives he touched and in legends told about him.

In a biography about Dr. George W. Truett written by that great preacher's son-in-law, Powhattan W. James, Dr. Truett recounts how his "Uncle Lije" Kimsey waked up a floundering Methodist Camp Meeting being held one summer near Hayesville, N.C.

The fact that Rev. Elijah Kimsey was a Baptist minister ordained November 20, 1847 did not deter him from going to the Methodist overseers of the Camp Meeting at Hayesville. He told them that he had prayed all night and the Lord had told him to seek out the arbor meeting gathering and preach there. Rev. Kimsey had a thick lisp to his speech. The Methodist ministers conferred and told the itinerant preacher their services were at 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. "When do you want to preach?" they asked Rev. Kimsey.

"Brethren, my thoul ith on fire. I want to preach to these people. The thooner, the better, brethren," Rev. Kimsey replied. "The fire is burning in my thoul," he reiterated.

The ministers told him he could preach at the 8 a.m. service. They rang the bell to gather the people from their wagons and tents, and soon a crowd was under the brush arbor tabernacle. After an introduction by one of the Methodist elders, Rev. Kimsey was given the pulpit.

The story has been passed on for generations about that camp meeting and how the evangelist with a speech impediment began to preach and seemed not to be able to stop. His lisp only added to the interest, because everyone listened carefully to understand every word as Rev. Kimsey expounded the Scriptures and poured out his heart in zealous preaching.

As he preached, and as the services went on, sometimes not even stopping for the usual meals and fellowship, people in the surrounding area heard about the revival. The crowd increased as the Camp Meeting went on with exhorting, testimonies, singing, and preaching. As much as the people enjoyed eating around their campfires, fasting was a natural outgrowth of the spiritual climate and praying. Campers preferred hearing the preacher with a lisp and anointed with the Word of the Lord than to cook and eat.

It has been said that particular meeting marked the beginning of a moral and spiritual awakening of that section of North Carolina, Western Tennessee and North Georgia. Word of the meeting lept over the mountains and sped through the valleys. Hundreds were converted and the people who gathered there went home at the end of the series of meetings with renewed hope and inspired zeal.

Who was this preacher with the gift to move people to spiritual commitment? Elijah Kimsey was born February 4, 1812, a son of Thomas and Nancy McClure Kimsey. His birthplace was old Buncombe County, N.C. His family moved from Buncombe to Haywood County (now Macon) when Elijah was a boy. He and Sallie Bryson married there, but by 1837 the new couple had moved to what was then Union County, Georgia, a county five years into organization. They settled in the Friendship Community which would later be taken in as part of Towns County in 1856.

Elijah Kimsey, despite his pronounced lisp, had a desire to serve through both teaching school and being a preacher. He pastored churches and taught in one-teacher schools in the area of North Carolina and Georgia near where he lived.

Rev. Elijah Kimsey and Rev. John Corn were chosen as representatives of Towns County to go to the secession convention held at the Georgia capitol then at Milledgeville. Both the ministers were pro-union. It is said that they did not protest the right of Georgia to secede from the Union but questioned the wisdom of such a move in their general opposition to war and division in the country. When a large majority voted in favor of secession, the Revs. Kimsey and Corn went on record as accepting the decision to secede.

Rev. Kimsey was too elderly by the time of the War Between the States to serve in the army. However, three of his sons enlisted and fought for the Confederacy.

Rev. Kimsey's beloved companion, Sarah Bryson Kimsey, mother of their nine children (William, Thomas, David, Nancy, Amanda, Josiah, Araminta, Elisha, and Sarah) died September 1, 1886 and was buried in the Burch Cemetery in Towns County. Following Sarah's death, Rev. Kimsey moved to Habersham County. There he married his second wife, Ella, on April 3, 1887. Rev. Elijah Kimsey died May 7, 1896 at age 84 and was buried in the Kimsey Cemetery, Mt. Airy, Ga.

The epitaph on Rev. Kimsey's tombstone is typical of his life: "He went and done what the Lord commanded."

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 4, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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