Nathan Callender — Pioneer Preacher
The Reverend Nathan Callender had a noteworthy life despite his modesty to narrate it. Requested by friends to write a sketch of his life, he opined that such might be considered egotistic. There are extant, however, two pages of his effort to comply with the request.
Upon his death, an obituary notice in a Scranton, Pennsylvania paper concluded with this paragraph: “Nathan Callender is dead, but the record of his life work remains without stain, open for the Inspection of all and it will take many long years for time to erase the record or to blot out the effects of his work.”
Quoting again from that obituary notice, we note these informative sentiments: “For nearly forty years his labors continued and during that time he never swerved a hair's breadth from what he believed to be right. Plain, honest, and outspoken, he made some enemies and lost some friends where others of less sincerity of purpose would not have dared to take such a decided stand as he did. He never preached for popularity and however much people may have differed from him at times, no one questioned the honesty of his motives, but all admired the magnificent ability with which he treated the topic he may have had under discussion. Considering the disabilities under which he labored through lack of early educational facilities, his career and power as a minister were remarkable. As a citizen and a neighbor his whole life, pure and blameless, was a splendid Illustration of magnificent manhood.”
The appraisal found in this and other obituary statements form a remarkable tribute. Beyond this we have heard the warmhearted praise from the lips of humble and devoted persons who had known him personally. We are convinced that the praise was merited and in harmony with the facts of his life.
His “straightforward honesty and forthright speech did produce some enemies. Yet the writer never heard anything other than that which reflected highest admiration from those who knew him personally. A kindly man, he possessed remarkable self-discipline along with high ability. His youngest son Stephen, my father, stated that the nearest he ever knew him to use profanity was when in a moment of irritation he said: "Confound It!" He was at once regretful and never again expressed himself in such strong language.
Our sources of Information regarding his life are chiefly small diaries, thirty-eight in number, a few loose pages of notes, and newspaper clippings. The diaries narrated day by day activities, weather conditions, and personal health. Sentences were usually abbreviated and in note form. There are no diaries at all for some of the more important years of his life.
Nathan Callender was born April 22, 1820, near Green Grove, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, the son of Stephen and Lucy (Wall) Callender. When he was about a year and half old, his father died. His sister Charlotte, later to become Mrs. Robert Tennant, was born after his father's death. The widowed mother of four young children made their home with the aged grandparents, Samuel and Martha (Slosser) Callender. Samuel Callender was a Revolutionary War hero in the bodyguard of George Washington.
Nathan describes life in that early home. “The house contains two quite large rooms and a hallway below. The lower story was sealed with the best pine boards, nicely planed. The East room was occupied by mother and the four children when all were home. S. H. (Silas Horton, the second boy) was much with grandfather Wall. In the West room lived the dear old grandparents. Much of the time we took our meals In the West room together. Around the table in this room we all stood while the dear old man asked God's blessing on the two families. In that room I got my earliest impression of God from the lips of grandmother Callender, long before my dear mother sought and found the Lord which must have been about 1830. In March of this year the dear old grandfather died.”
The above constitute the words of a sketch written by Nathan Callender and which is in my possession. The remainder of the sketch must be assumed lost. Perhaps it was in a trunk filled with valuable papers burned in the fire which destroyed my parents' home in Thompson, in December, 1907.
Nathan began his ministry in 1847. His first and last sermons were preached in his home church in Scott Valley. In those early days the church had no meeting place except in the houses of devoted members. Records of his licensing and ordination are found in the minutes of the Abington Association. He was licensed May 8, 1841, and ordained June 23, 1847. It would be gratifying to learn more about those years and his early education. At some time or other he studied in Lewisburg. He was reported as graduating in 1841. Since the college, later named Bucknell University, had not then been founded, and since his name does not appear in the college records, It must be assumed that he attended the academy which preceded the college. Diary entries in the late eighteen fifties mention attending commencements at Lewisburg. He had definite Interests at Bucknell.
A pathetic tragedy marked the beginning of his ministry. His diary best presents the tale. “Truly God has dealt with me mysteriously. I was united in marriage to a pious and lovely female on the evening of the ninth of September 1847. On the tenth of October, I was solicited to take the pastoral charge of the New Milford Baptist Church. I accepted the call and was about to move to the field of my labor when God laid his afflicting hand on me and took from my embrace my bosom companion after a most severe illness of three weeks. She expired on the Sabbath morning, 10:00 o'clock, November 21st, 1847.” The continued description is too sacred to repeat. Days of desolation followed; also steady prayer and labor.
Nathan married a second time on the second of October the following year. He took Harriet Darrow as his bride with this prayer: “May God see fit to bless our marriage.” Augustus Long, their first child, was born May 4, 1851 and is usually referred to in the diary as “A. L.” On the above date the event is described in these words: “Birthday of an heir, 6 1/2 o'clock in the morning; paid the doctor $2; preached two sermons at the meeting house.” Under date of May 13th he recorded that “Doctor Long, Lewisburg gave his name to our boy Augustus.”
He resigned his charge in New Milford, discontent with apparent lack of results. He continued services as usual. However, not having another church, He dedicated a new meeting house In January 1851. About this time he received a letter from the Berean Baptist Church, Carbondale “requesting me to visit with them with the view of becoming their pastor if we could agree.” January 24th he preached in Carbondale and spent several days there visiting in the homes. Finally on March 20th he writes: "Received a letter form the Carbondale Church informing me of the election of Brother G. to the pastorate by one majority after a second ballot. I am relieved. God and his ways are best. May he direct.”
The year 1853 must have been one of the most significant in his ministry. Services were being conducted at the Meylert, Moxley, and the Red School houses as well as at the Baptist Chapel in New Milford (actually South New Milford), and at Great Bend. At the same time negotiations were going on toward appointing him as a missionary in Sullivan County. Apparently William Meylert had moved from New Milford to Laporte and conceived the idea. Michael Meylert was a land agent for a large concern. Sullivan was a new County carved out of Luzerne, and the County Seat, Laporte, was named for the surveyor by that name.
A visit to Laporte was made In January 1853. It was situated in a primitive area with few roads through virgin forests. There was still virgin timber when I first visited the place In 1922. The diary entry for January 30 reads, "Drove to Laporte. Put up at Meylerts.” February 1 reads, "Preached at the Court House. Went to Judge Jonses.” I was given a picture of that old courthouse, since replaced. on my visit there in 1959. The first courthouse was erected in 1852.
According to plan he was to move to Laporte in May, 1853. The first load of household furnishings actually started on May 5th. Plans were changed, however, due to a revival which broke out. Daily diary entries report numbers of persons rising for prayer and going forward in decisions for Christ. There were continual baptisms as people were being added daily to the church. Obviously a minister must not leave a church in the midst of such a movement. A messenger was dispatched to Laporte from New Milford to make other arrangements. Consequently a one year furlough was granted to carry on the Revival. Later he wrote, “During this period (in which he had not written in his diary) have baptized into the New Milford Church seventy and into the Great Bend Church, fifteen.”
A second son was born August 29th of 1853 in New Milford at 1:00 o'clock in the morning, The name Jesse Worden was given him by another pioneer minister of Northeast Pennsylvania. Mr. Worden also gave the new born $1.00. Perhaps this was in gratitude for the honor. I was delighted to meet Mrs. E. A. Benson of Tunkhannock In 1959, as she was a granddaughter of Elder Worden and the wife of a respected retired Baptist minister, born in Jackson.
He must have been happy to write under date of December 22, 1853, “preached the dedication sermon at the meeting house below Harford.” My sister, Mrs. Burman, has been convinced that this is a building in South Harford, still in good condition and converted into a garage. We have a picture of it.
We gain some idea of the mission field which was his parish in Sullivan from some notes of a talk he once gave. It was titled How I Came to Go to a New Field, which was Talk #4 of Gospel Experiences. The outline: 1. How I came to go to a new field; the Meylert Family and their Interest in the new county. 2. Agreed to go In 1853 but delayed on account of revival work. 3. Landed on mission field in 1854. 4. Church in Laporte, 12 in number; one fell by wayside. 5. Reconnaissance; trip to Cherry Church, walked 15 miles. 6. A Mission Triangle; nine miles to Dushore, seven miles to Albany, eight miles to Wilmont Station.”
This Mission Triangle is easily distinguished on a road map. The larger part of it is in Bradford County. This composed the Cherry Church with its various preaching stations. The one at Narakonk School House must have been well on the way to Wyalusing. The Cherry Church is now the New Albany Church.
One finds an interesting entry under date of September 30, 1862: “Engaged to supply the Muncy Church preaching each alternate Sabbath evening for $10 per month for seven months.” This is toward the end of his ministry in Sullivan County after health conditions forced him to let up somewhat. Another item of entry had to do with the date of February 25, 1858: “Went to Forkville and assisted in recognizing a church there, acted as moderator and made the recognition prayer and gave the right hand of fellowship.” In one of the records of the Northumberland Association he was referred to as the Bishop of a string of preaching stations stretched along several miles of the Loyalsock River.
An obituary, written by “A Friend” in Sullivan County, was published at the time of his death and presents valuable information. It reads: “At the time there were two small (Baptist) churches within the bounds of the County known as Loyalsock and Cherry churches. The Loyalsock, which was constructed at the forks of the Loyalsock in 1822, had for its constituent members the Bird, the Rogers families and a small scattering membership extending along the length of the Loyalsock from Forkville to Barbers Mills with an important station at Rogers Woolen Factory at Bear Creek. The Cherry, now New Albany Church, was also divided in small groups, having meeting places at Dushore, Norkonks schoolhouse, New Albany, and Heavenly Settlement. During the first year of his labors the Laporte Church was constituted to which there were very soon considerable accessions made at Eaglesmere, having in addition one at lower Shrewsbury, known as Rock Run.”
The writer of the obituary went on to state that Elder Callender closed his work after ten years because of health broken by rugged work. A sample of “rugged work" is recognized as one reads the diary beginning December 31, 1854, and continues through January 18, 1855. In those eighteen days he preached at sixteen night services, traveling long miles between, mostly on foot through virgin forests in the heart of winter. On such trips he was entertained in various homes, sleeping in unheated rooms, and, at times, in cold damp bedding.
The two younger children were born In Laporte. Lucy, the only girl, arrived April 24, 1857. She was to become Mrs. Albert Smith, and later Mrs. William Miller. Stephen, my father, was born July 26, 1859. They lived in a house which he built on land purchased from Michael Meylert, and sold to the same when Laporte was left behind. This was part of a farm which Nathan operated to provide a necessary part of the living. He was In process of erecting a barn at the time my father was born. A visit to see the old place in 1959 found the house in good condition; the barn had been taken down. A copy of the bill of sale which is in my possession shows that the house was sold for $450. Meylert sold the place soon after, I was informed, for $1200.
His own summary of his missionary work states that he traveled about 16,000 miles. He kept records of the number of preaching services, calls, baptisms, and collections of money for the Convention. Reports were made to the Pennsylvania Baptist Convention and to the Missionary Committee of the Northumberland Association.
In the year 1864 Nathan returned from his Sullivan County Missionary Service to the New Milford Church which he had previously served. He owned and operated a farm on which he lived while preaching In New Milford and Harford. He also preached periodically in Jackson, Montrose Depot, and other nearby points. There is an Interesting account of paying a man $1.50 for shearing sheep which required nearly two days. The wool was taken to “Pope's” to be worked up. Several weeks later they returned for the cloth.
Nathan closed his work in New Milford to return to Scott Valley, now Montdale his native town, May 9, 1867, where he became pastor. Here he served to the end of his life, with but few interruptions. The church has now ceased to be, although the Great Bethel Church in nearby Justus, one of his preaching stations, is presently prospering. This period marks a great concern over and opposition against Secret Societies. He led the crusade against them In Northeast Pennsylvania in which he used sermons, lectures, published articles, and every other means at his disposal. He held the view of many clergymen and others in that time that the lodges were a serious threat to true Faith. He proved himself so able in debate that few dared to confront him. Yet there seems no doubt that the Scott Valley Baptist Church suffered for reason of the controversy.
Nathan bought land in Preston, in Wayne County, expecting to move there in 1870. He continued however to live in Scott Valley until late 1876 or early 1877 when he moved to Thompson in Susquehanna County. Even then he continued to serve his old church. The Panic of 1877 caused married members of his family to return home. The diary of August 17, 1877, reads: “Found Augustus and family and Jesse and family all here" on his return home that day. Albert and Lucy Smith also returned. In days of depression the farm is a good place to find shelter. food, and a place to work. He organized the activities, directed the farm operation, and preached on Sundays some twenty five miles away.
The house and other buildings on this place must contain evidences of his ability as a carpenter. Many of the clearings were made by him, aided by my father, as the great trees were out for timber, fuel, and the acid factory. Up the road a short distance is the spring house where my father met my mother, as both supposedly went for water. Mother had come from England as an orphan, and worked for the people who lived on the other side of the road. A cousin, Leroy Callender, lives on that place today and makes a good living as a farmer.
Those were days of activity, such as cutting the fallow, making shingles by hand, making maple syrup and sugar, manufacturing candles, smoking hams. They produced their own equipment to perform such operations. In the days of specialization and with machines to do everything but think, it is hard to imagine the multitude of tasks people could perform in those pioneer days. In addition to all this, Elder Callender at certain seasons would busy himself traveling around selling Bibles and religious books and periodicals. This he did more or less throughout his ministry. Two purposes were served by such activity: the spreading of good literature and additional Income for his needs.
The expansion of farm activity resulted in the leasing of the “Hubbard Farm" in 1878. The Callender place in Thompson, near Starrucca, was probably not large enough for increased needs. We do not know how much beyond 1878 Nathan Callender continued preaching at Scott Valley. Frequently he worked the entire week on the farm and then took a train to Olyphant to be at the church for Sunday services. This might be followed by spending the week in Scott Valley through the following Sunday, with a return to the farm on Monday.
His mother died after a long illness November 5th, 1877, at the home of her daughter Mrs. Robert Tennant, with whom she made her home. She was buried in the little burial lot in West Preston, across from where the district school once stood. One side of the Robert Tennant monument memorializes the heroic struggle of this noble pioneer mother, bringing up her four children and her fifty seven years of widowhood.
After a skip in the diary, we find Nathan living with his family in Thompson, but not preaching In Scott Valley. During 1881 he preached regularly at the Wrighter School House, a place of sentiment for my brothers and sisters. We all received our early schooling there. Two of our sisters taught school there in the building now owned by my brother Jesse as a summer camp. He supplied the Free Will Baptist church, Thompson, most of 1884 and into 85 where he received a dollar or two each week for his services. His brother Nelson lived near the church. At this same church I was ordained to the Gospel ministry June 17th, 1927, having been a member of it about seven years.
He resumed his pastoral care of the Scott Valley Church in 1885. That same year the farm known as "The Hubbard Place" was deeded to my father Stephen Nathan Callender. The arrival of mother's dower from England in February made this possible. Our parents were married in 1879. We were all born on that farm. The grandparents were again living in Scott Valley by January 1886. Mention of the death of Monroe Callender was made on date of January 17, 1887. That same year Nathan “made a deal to buy a gold watch for $30.” I presume that that was the watch given to me nearly fifty years later by Uncle Augustus. It kept perfect time until one day it was stolen from my room at school. He also mentions the death of sister Charlotte June 25, 1888.
That year the Scott Valley Church voted for him to serve for the next year for $300. At the close of the year the church was $50 in arrears. They used an interesting method of payment. Members paid their pledges to him at any convenient time or place. He kept record of all such gifts and credited them against the agreed upon salary. The profits from sales of books and Bibles, together with garden produce, were always a necessary part of his Income.
Ever a strong family man, he regularly visited his children living mostly in the vicinity of Scranton. Eager to perpetuate the memory of his grandfather Samuel of Revolutionary War fame, he had the remains of both his father and grandfather moved to their present resting places in Scott Valley from the Blakely Cemetery. He also had the remains of his mother moved and probably carried out plans for his grandfather and grandmother Wall.
He contrived to make the monument to Samuel Callender a truly family project. To that end he collected fifty cents each from various members. The Callender Union was apparently organized to promote this cause and to achieve a type of living monument in the hearts of appreciative members. The first Callender Reunion was held under his direction September 28, 1889, near the Samuel Callender Monument, with appropriate memorial ceremonies. Other reunions followed on August 26, 1890, and September 5, 1891. They have continued quite regularly ever since.
Nathan Callender passed from this life In April 1895. His body was laid to rest near that of his father and grandparents In Montdale. The cemetery association supplied a lot free of charge for the burial of Samuel Callender and wife. In the same plot the remains of Elder William Bishop were placed. He was the first clergyman in the Scranton area. His combination cabin and church, built of logs, was on North Main Avenue, Scranton where the West Side Theatre now stands. An Interesting side light to the funeral was that his lifelong friend, the Reverend Lyman died on the day of the funeral. It had been agreed between them that survivor would conduct the funeral of the other. Rev. William Miller, brother of Lyman, received word of the death while on his way to Elder Callender's funeral.
This account may appear a rather somber relating of the facts of a good man's life. If so, let us hasten to say that this belies the happy manner and jovial disposition of this man of God. The sparkle of good humor danced in his black eyes. There was a lively interest in people and in the manner in which they faced the problems of life. Nature in its various aspects drew his attention. A son of the backwoods, he loved to travel and made a train trip about every year. Points toured included Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Niagara Falls. He spent a month on a preaching tour in 1883 in Ohio and a part of Kentucky. In 1890 he went to see the new line of the Ontario and Western Railroad which went through a part of Preston.
The writer of a final tribute had written, “it will take many long years for time to erase that record or blot out the effects of his work.” Sixty five years have now elapsed and the world has moved on with dizzy pace, yet today around Scranton, Picture Rocks, Muncy, people have given verbal testimony that the ministry of Elder Nathan Callender had touched their lives with lasting blessing. The effects of, his work shall last until time shall be no more.
THESE PAGES ARE DEDICATED
TO THE LOVING MEMORY OF MY GRANDFATHER,
THE REVEREND NATHAN CALLENDER
Rev. Willard D. Callender
(1902 - 1987)