The online journal of Luke Dockery

Robert Graham and the Creation of Arkansas College


Robert Graham

In the context of studies of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the lives and impact of many first and second-generation leaders have been examined in detail, but one significant Restoration figure who seems to have largely slipped through the cracks of history is Robert Graham.[1]

This study seeks to remedy that problem, providing a detailed account of the life, work, and legacy of this “singularly-gifted, well educated, and godly” protégé of Alexander Campbell,[2] with special emphasis on his role in the creation of Arkansas College, and the legacy of that college long after its tragic demise during the dark days of the American Civil War.

The Road to Bethany College

Robert Graham was born in Liverpool, England on August 14, 1822. His father, William Graham, was a sea captain who sailed all over the world and occasionally took his young son with him,[3] instilling in him the experience of travel and an “abiding love for the ocean.”[4]

When he was five years old, Robert and his parents immigrated to the United States,[5] living in New York City for a time before settling in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania in 1831.[6] Around 1835, when Robert was 12 years old, he moved to Pittsburgh where he became an apprentice to a carpenter for five years, and during those years his life consisted of long days of work in the carpentry shop while his nights were devoted to schooling.[7]

Graham’s parents were “rigid Episcopalians”[8] and he was raised to “love God, to keep his commandments, and to reverence all sacred and beautiful things.”[9] Later, at the age of 14, Robert attended a Methodist revival in Allegheny City, and there for the first time he was “deeply impressed with the importance of religion.”[10] At that time in the Methodist tradition, conversion was shown by the outward manifestation of an emotional experience, and as Graham had no such experience, he was forced to enter the Methodist church on probation.[11] He became a full member six months later, but remained uneasy because “there were many passages of Scripture he could not harmonize with the teachings of the Church to which he belonged.”[12]

It was not until the fall of 1838 at the age of 16 that Robert Graham first became associated with the Stone-Campbell movement, as he was introduced to a small congregation of Disciples in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.[13] Through the influence of his friend, William Baxter, Graham re-examined his doctrinal views and as a result, was immersed in the Allegheny River on February 17, 1839 by Samuel Church, an elder of the congregation there.[14] With his doctrinal questions satisfied, Graham would turn out to be a lifelong advocate of the Stone-Campbell Movement who would work tirelessly to spread the principles of Restoration.

Following the completion of his apprenticeship as a carpenter, Graham set up shop for a time in Allegheny City.[15] There he developed such a good reputation for his work that when Alexander Campbell found himself in need of a carpenter to help with the construction of his Bethany College in West Virginia, Robert Graham was highly recommended to him, and Campbell invited him to come to Bethany to work.[16] This chance acquaintance of Graham with Alexander Campbell would turn out to be providential, as Campbell would later describe him as the greatest discovery he ever made.[17]

Robert Graham’s life at Bethany College began on January 1, 1843, but because poor winter weather delayed his outdoor labor, Alexander Campbell convinced him to enroll in classes until the weather would allow work to continue on the building.[18] Soon after, Graham represented one of Bethany’s literary societies at commencement ceremonies. He later called this “the turning point of my life,”[19] as the oration he gave at that time so impressed Campbell that, in the words of one commenter, “Mr. Campbell saw, at once, that to confine such a heart and such a mind to the drudgery of a house-carpenter was like hitching a race horse to a plow.”[20] At Campbell’s advice, Graham “laid down his carpenter’s rule to take up the Bible and the textbook”[21] instead, with the assurance that Campbell would help him come up with the funds for his schooling.[22]

Campbell’s investment in Graham would turn out to be a wise one, as Graham was an excellent student, and when he graduated on July 4, 1847, he shared top honors with A.R. Benton and delivered the Latin salutatory.[23] Also during his time at Bethany, Graham began his first regular preaching work, serving the congregation at Dutch Fork from 1844-1847, and married his wife, the former Maria Thornley, on December 24, 1844.[24]

Life as a Frontier Preacher

In December 1847, several months after graduating and at the request of Campbell, Graham embarked on a nine-month “collecting tour” of the Southwest. Campbell had printed both The Millennial Harbinger and hymn books for several years, and during that time had made many sales on credit for which he had never been paid.[25] Therefore, Graham traveled to Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—at that time considered to be the “very border of civilization”[26]—on his behalf to collect on these debts, and also to promote Bethany College.[27]

He would also preach wherever he went, and on December 29, 1848, he reached Little Rock, Arkansas, where at the urgent request of the congregation there he halted his tour for a week to preach day and night to large gatherings of people.[28] At that point, the Little Rock Disciples tried to convince Graham to stay to preach for them permanently, but nothing “could induce him to turn aside from the task he had undertaken at the request of Mr. Campbell,” and on January 6, 1848, he left Little Rock and headed north.[29]

After a tedious, month-long journey on horseback, Robert arrived in Fayetteville on February 2, 1848.[30] There he met a handful of members of the Christian Church, although until that point no actual congregation had been established in Fayetteville.[31] As had happened in Little Rock, Graham was invited to preach, and he did, using the old courthouse as an auditorium. The crowd was so interested in what he had to say that he was encouraged to give an extended meeting, and word of it spread around to the surrounding towns and villages.[32]

One of those who got word of the meeting was John T. Johnson, the man who had been instrumental in uniting the Stone and Campbell movements and who had developed quite a reputation himself as a preacher and revivalist.[33] Johnson had been making his own tour of the state of Arkansas and was in Van Buren, roughly 50 miles south of Fayetteville, when he heard about Graham’s meeting and “hurried on to Fayetteville to add his influence to the religious interest aroused.”[34] For the next two weeks, the two men worked together, proving “to be true yoke-fellows as well matched as Paul and Timothy.”[35] Graham, who “had an orator’s mouth and a wonderful command of language,”[36] did the preaching, Johnson did the exhorting, and the result was the organization of a Christian Church “50 strong, with elders and deacons.”[37]

Following this meeting, the members of the new congregation sought to retain the services of Robert Graham at Fayetteville as the Christians in Little Rock had done, but once again, Graham remained committed to his mission on behalf of Alexander Campbell. Leaving Fayetteville, he continued his travels throughout the Southwest,[38] preaching scores of sermons, holding revival meetings, and making many converts.[39] Finally, he returned to his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 7, 1848 after completing a tour of thousands of miles, most of them traveled on horseback.[40]

Unbeknownst to Graham as he completed his tour of the Southwest, James Stirman, a merchant from Fayetteville and one of the original members of the congregation there, had traveled to Pennsylvania on business and while there, had met with Graham’s wife Maria to persuade her to allow her husband to move his family to Fayetteville and work with the church there if he so desired.[41] When Graham returned from the South in August, he and his wife discussed the matter, and after seeking advice from both Campbell and Johnson,[42] he decided to accept the offer from the church in Fayetteville and moved along with his wife and young son[43] to Arkansas, arriving during the Christmas holidays.[44]

In Fayetteville, described by one minister as the “most moral and orderly town” in the state of Arkansas,[45] Graham found fertile ground for the spread of the gospel and hit the ground running in his work with the young church. The congregation had been meeting for some time in the local Masonic Hall, and Graham put his carpentry skills to work building pews and other furniture to make the building more suitable for worship.[46]

As a preacher, Graham was talented and successful. John T. Johnson described him as a speaker of “eloquence and power,”[47] while another Restoration evangelist, W. T. Moore, was even more effusive in his praise for Graham’s speaking abilities:

“He is a ready extemporaneous speaker, and, on a great occasion, is capable of exercising wonderful power over an audience. He possesses a strong, active, sympathetic nature, and this gives him great influence in the social circle. Few men have more ability to control the masses….”[48]

A popular speaker, Robert preached twice a month for the Fayetteville congregation,[49] which also gave him time to travel from place to place and hold evangelistic meetings. He would travel far and wide on horseback, often preaching outside at stands built in the forest because the audiences would be too large to fit in the rural schoolhouses. Graham would sometimes deliver sermons of two hours or more in length, often to men who had ridden 20 miles or further to hear him speak.[50] As a result of these efforts, Graham was able to plant churches in the communities of Cincinnati and Richland, and a third congregation along the Middle Fork of the White River.[51] He was soon in demand in other areas of the state as well, and “before long was looked upon as the most influential leader among Arkansas Disciples.”[52] Graham’s hard work reaped benefits for the Stone-Campbell Movement throughout the area, and under his leadership the Fayetteville Christian Church became the largest and most influential church in all of Northwest Arkansas.[53]

But the work was not easy. Speaking of Robert Graham as one of many “pioneer ministers”, N. M. Ragland, a later minister of the Fayetteville Christian Church, described the hardships faced by such men:

“It is difficult for a later generation to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made and the privations endured by the pioneer ministers and teachers of the word. Many of these scholarly, gifted, and godly men, preached the gospel without stipulated salary, taught five days in the week to support their families, and rejoiced in the high privilege of fellowship with Christ, who went about doing good, preaching the glad tidings to the poor, and who was in the world as one who served. There is no braver story in history than the story of the pioneer minister. It is replete with all that is heroic in faith, courage, labor, and sacrifice.”[54]

Graham soon found that the compensation for his work with the church in Fayetteville was not sufficient to provide for his family, so he began to teach to supplement his income.[55]

The Rise and Fall of Arkansas College

The Ozark Institute, a boy’s school located three miles northwest of Fayetteville in the Mount Comfort community, had been established in 1845 by Robert Mecklin, and in 1849, Robert Graham became Mecklin’s partner.[56] That arrangement continued until the fall of 1850, when Graham, with the advice and support from his friends in Fayetteville and throughout the state, withdrew from that school to form one under his own management in Fayetteville.[57] Twenty of Graham’s students from Ozark Institute followed him to the new school, Arkansas College,[58] which, after meeting for a short time in a private home, was located on a ten-acre plot of land donated by William McGarrah of Fayetteville on December 31, 1851.[59] The street running along the plot of land was called “College Avenue”, and remains the main north-south street in Fayetteville to this day.

Construction on the Arkansas College building began at the beginning of 1852, and once again, Graham’s skill as a carpenter proved very useful, as he served as the architect and superintendent of the work. J. W. McGarvey describes how Graham’s work on the college building earned respect for himself and support for his school:

“It was very strange to those farmers and rough mechanics to see a college man working as a carpenter, excelling them all in skill. And when heavy timbers were to be carried on hand-spikes, they were amazed to see this college man holding the hand-spike against the men among them. So he won popularity, finished his college, and had a large patronage.”[60]

Arkansas College building, 1852-1862

When it was finished, the building was large and elegant, with two wings and a library.[61] On December 14, 1852, the Arkansas State Legislature granted a charter to Arkansas College, the first charter ever given to an institution of learning in the state.[62] Robert Graham served as president and professor, and was joined in teaching duties by T.B. Van Horne and James M. Carpenter, with more teachers added as the college grew in numbers.[63] On July 4, 1854 seven men graduated from Arkansas College’s first class, receiving the Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree, the first degrees ever given in the state.[64]

That Robert Graham would desire to establish an institution of higher learning is not surprising considering the close relationship between education and the Stone-Campbell Movement from the beginning. Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Walter Scott were all educated men and recognized the value of education, and in 1840, with the creation of Bethany College, Campbell “established the theme of biblically centered holistic education”[65] largely with the aim of supplying churches with educated ministers and evangelists.[66] Bethany College would become a place of tremendous influence, as the graduates it churned out (like Robert Graham) would become the leaders of the next generation of the Restoration Movement, and many similar colleges sprang up,[67] closely following Bethany as a model.[68] Graham himself wanted to duplicate the success of Bethany, feeling that a “strong church college in Arkansas would make possible a dedicated and educated leadership for the young state.”[69]

Under the leadership of Robert Graham, Arkansas College certainly appeared to be heading in such a direction, rapidly developing a reputation “for the perfection of its discipline and [the] excellence of its teachings that far surpasses many older and distinguished institutions”.[70] Soon the school was filled with almost 200 students from the southwestern states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri, several more from the northern states, and a few students from as far away as England.[71] The United States Government even chose Arkansas College as an approved school for the education of Native American youths.[72] In the words of William Baxter, who succeeded Graham as the college president, “For hundreds of miles around, there was no institution at all comparable to it.”[73] The students were by no means limited to those who had ties to the Restoration Movement,[74] but it was certainly popular among those within Stone-Campbell circles. Writing to The Millennial Harbinger, evangelist Jacob Creath raved about Graham’s school:

“I would say to our brethren and friends in the Southwest, and I take pleasure in saying it, that this College is exclusively under the control of our brethren, and that if they wish their sons correctly and scientifically educated, and morally and Christianly trained in a thorough knowledge of the Bible, this is the place to do it.”[75]

For his part, Alexander Campbell was proud of the work of his protégé, referring to Graham in The Millennial Harbinger as “one of our best graduates of Bethany College,” and congratulating those at Arkansas College for possessing a President of such quality.[76]

The presence of Arkansas College in Fayetteville also did a great deal to enhance the reputation of the town. Along with the college, two female seminaries were located there, and soon Fayetteville became a popular location for families to live while educating their children,[77] and was even known as “The Athens of the Ozarks” because of its reputation as a place of learning.[78]

In 1858, Graham was asked by Robert Richardson, one of his former professors at Bethany College and a close associate of Alexander Campbell, to leave Arkansas College to go to Kentucky University in Harrodsburg and serve as the Chair of Belles-Lettres and History.[79] That Graham was willing to leave Fayetteville at a time when Arkansas College was beginning to experience great success may seem surprising, and he was in fact hesitant to leave,[80] but, according to Disciples of Christ historian Lester G. McAllister, he was also beginning to feel uncomfortable in the South because of his political views:

“As happy in his work as he was there was a problem for Graham at this time. The issue of slavery began increasingly to be discussed. As political tensions mounted, Graham, believing in freedom for the slaves, felt more and more uncomfortable and compromised. In consequence, he resigned his pulpit and the presidency of the college that spring, accepting a teaching position in a college in Kentucky.”[81]

To make sure that both Arkansas College and the Fayetteville Christian Church were left in good hands, Graham convinced the trustees of the college and the leaders of the congregation to appoint his old friend, William Baxter, as his successor at both places.[82] Baxter, who had been instrumental in uniting Graham with the Restoration Movement 20 years earlier, arrived with his family in Fayetteville at the end of 1858.[83] From January to August of 1859, Graham traveled around Arkansas and Louisiana, visiting various congregations to evangelize and solicit funds for the college,[84] and then he left for Kentucky. However, he left behind his wife and son in Fayetteville; Baxter and other friends had convinced him to do this in hopes that he “could be persuaded to return and remain in the South.”[85]

This would prove to be good advice, as Graham would return to Arkansas in the summer of 1860 after spending only nine months at Kentucky University.[86] His quick departure from Harrodsburg was not due to any problems that had arisen there. On the contrary, in the words of Alexander Campbell, “His temporary connection with the Kentucky University greatly endeared him to the managers of that useful institution, and it was with the greatest reluctance that they consented to give him up.”[87] However, his friends in Fayetteville wanted him back, and it was their influence combined with his sense of duty that led him back to Arkansas:

“Elder Graham had just resigned the Chair of Belles-Lettres and History in Kentucky University, which he had filled with such ability that inducements which few men would have resisted were offered to retain him; but he saw such a broad and promising field in the South-West that he resolved to forego comparative ease, honor, and emolument, and to enter upon such a life of toil as few men propose to themselves, simply from a conviction of duty and a desire to be greatly useful.”[88]

Specifically, Graham was returning to Fayetteville as the General Agent of the newly formed Southern Christian Missionary Society.[89] In this new role, Graham planned to spend two-thirds of his time away from home, traveling with fellow worker John Trott throughout Arkansas and Louisiana, visiting churches “to arouse them to a sense of duty on the all important matter of converting the world”[90] and also to promote Arkansas College.[91]

But when Graham returned to Fayetteville, he found that the atmosphere had changed considerably in the year he had been away, as the tensions between the North and the South which would eventually lead to war had taken firm root.[92] The political climate of the time distracted people from spiritual matters and limited the effectiveness of Graham and Trott as they traveled around the state.[93] Things only worsened after the fallout of the presidential election of 1860:

“By the time we reached the southern border of Arkansas we found it was useless to go farther. The day on which Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated—March 4, 1861—we sadly turned our faced homeward. Soon the lurid flames of strife broke forth. Situated, as we were, on the boundaries of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and the Cherokee Nation, we were subject to the struggle of conflicting opinions, which was unknown to states remote from Mason and Dixon’s line. The conflict raged with increasing fury till nearly all that made our town a place of beauty was destroyed, and the population scattered far and wide. Within a few months the labor of years was lost….”[94]

The loss of “the labor of years” that Graham refers to is almost certainly the dissolution of Arkansas College, which began almost immediately. With the failure of the Southern Christian Missionary Society, Graham returned to Fayetteville and was there when the news came of the Arkansas State Legislature’s decision to secede from the Union.[95] The news of secession greatly affected Arkansas College, where, despite the efforts of President Baxter, young men stirred by duty to the Southern cause and the pressure of public sentiment left school to enlist.[96] The graduating class of 1861 would be the eighth and final class of Arkansas College,[97] and before long, many of those students would be killed in battle. As Baxter said later, “…thus was one of the brightest pages in my life’s history soon sadly blurred with blood and tears.”[98]

Any hopes that the excellent work of Arkansas College could resume after the war were dashed on the night of March 4, 1862, when the college, along with the furniture and library, was burned to the ground during troop movements through Fayetteville prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge.[99] Graham and Baxter stood by watching: “As the smoke curled skyward in the calm of midnight, this shrine of learning, the abode of peace, fell a sacrifice to the fierce spirit of war and destruction.”[100]

Graham had now been in Fayetteville for almost a year since his return from his failed tour on behalf of the Southern Christian Missionary Society, and while in town, had preached as he had the opportunity. However, the preacher who had once been so popular and in such great demand now faced sharp criticism:

“It had not escaped the observation of some of the warm advocates of secession, that his prayers were much the same as before the war broke out; the Confederacy, its army, and executive were never mentioned, and the reason of this was obvious to many. On one occasion, just after he had preached, he was interrogated in such a manner as to render a reply indispensable. ‘Mr. Graham,’ said a secessionist, ‘why do you not pray for our rulers and army?’ He replied, ‘There is only one Scriptural ground on which I could do so.’ ‘What may that be?’ ‘Why,’ said he, ‘we are instructed to pray for our enemies.’”[101]

With a reputation as a Union sympathizer in a town held by the Confederacy, Graham soon began to fear for his safety and with Arkansas College now destroyed, it was a good time to leave. Leaving his family behind until it would be safer for them to travel, on July 27, 1862, Graham left Fayetteville on horseback, traveling through the Confederate lines and avoiding Rebel pickets and made his way to the Federal lines in Cassville, Missouri.[102] From there he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio where he was later joined by his wife and son.[103]

One might think that the sad and sudden end to Graham’s educational dream in Arkansas would have left a bitter taste in his mouth, but such was not the case. Looking back on his lifetime of ministry, Graham counted his days in Fayetteville as the happiest of his life:

“I have never regarded the life of a pioneer preacher among us a peculiarly hard one. I liked it fifty years ago, and were I young again I should like it still. The years spent on the frontier and among the poor were years of physical toil, of sacrifice, and of some privation, but there were compensations, many and precious….Of all my ministerial life, perhaps that spent in Arkansas was marked by the greatest ‘trails and triumphs,’ and, it may be added, by the greatest enjoyment.”[104]

Later Life and Work

Although much could be written about Robert Graham’s life following his departure from Fayetteville during the Civil War, for the purposes of this study, a brief summary will suffice. Graham remained in Cincinnati for two years where he served as a minister for the Eighth and Walnut Street Christian Church, before fulfilling a “long-cherished desire” by moving to California from 1864-1866, where he worked one year each with congregations in Santa Rosa and San Francisco.[105]

Having spent a year teaching in Kentucky in 1859, Graham returned to Kentucky in 1866, where he would remain involved in college education for over 30 years, first as the President of the Liberal Arts College of Kentucky University (1866-1869), then as the President of Hocker Female College (1869-1875), and finally as the President of the College of the Bible in Kentucky (1875-1895).[106] As the College of the Bible President, Graham was described as “dignified, competent, industrious, loyal to the truth and an excellent college professor.”[107] While at the College of the Bible, Graham became part of “The Sacred Trio” of himself, J. W. McGarvey, and Isaiah Grubbs, who had all been students at Bethany College and were renowned as exceptional teachers.[108]

In 1895, he stepped down from the presidency but remained a professor until 1898 when, at the age of 76, he retired from active work. He passed away three years later, on January 20, 1901.[109]

The Legacy of Robert Graham and Arkansas College

Although perhaps better known for his later years as the President of the College of the Bible in Kentucky, Robert Graham was likely at the peak of his influence and effectiveness when he was in Arkansas, where he served as the unquestioned leader of the Stone-Campbell Movement from 1850-1860.[110]

Sadly, the Civil War systematically destroyed what was potentially Graham’s greatest achievement, first by taking the young men of Arkansas College to serve in its armies, then destroying its campus, and finally by prompting its leaders to leave the area.[111] With its demise, Graham’s dream of producing the next generation of leaders for the Stone-Campbell Movement in Arkansas was shattered, and in the words of one commentator, “It was a tragedy both for the church and for the state.”[112]

But despite the destruction of the college, the tireless efforts of Robert Graham were in large part responsible for planting a seed in Fayetteville that helped to establish it as “The Athens of the Ozarks” because of the opportunities it provided for learning and education. That seed would come to fruition in 1871 with the establishment of Arkansas Industrial University there, which later became the University of Arkansas.[113] Students of the university today may be unaware of their school’s ties to the Stone-Campbell Movement and may have never heard of Robert Graham, but the close link between the two institutions remains.

In the final analysis, that, along with a lifetime of persevering faithfulness characterize the life of this carpenter, frontier preacher, and educator who was “the most earnest, indefatigable, and successful laborer in the cause of education and religion in the Southwest.”[114]

[1]Roy L. Griggs, “Robert Graham: Pioneer Defender of Truth,” Lexington Theological Quarterly 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 118, 127-28.

[2]M. N. Ragland, A History of the First Christian Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR, 1925), 3.

[3]M. D. Clubb, “Robert Graham,” in Churches of Christ: A Historical, Biographical, and Pictorial History of Churches of Christ in the United States, Australasia, England and Canada, ed. John T. Brown (Louisville: John P. Morton And Company, 1904), 427.

[4]Ragland, First Christian Church, 4.

[5]Robert Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” Christian Standard 32 (March 21, 1896): 359, writing about his own early life states that he was five years old when moving to the United States. This conflicts with Frederick D. Kershner, “Comets and Constellations: Robert Graham,” Christian Standard 77 (March 7, 1942): 223, which says that Graham had “…emigrated with his parents to the United States when he was eight years of age.” It seems likely that Kershner simply confused Graham’s age upon arrival in America with his age when he and his family settled in Allegheny City.

[6]Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359. Griggs, 119.

[7]Dwight E. Stevenson, Lexington Theological Seminary, 1865-1965: The College of the Bible Century (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1964), 68. W. T. Moore, ed., The Living Pulpit of the Christian Church: a series of discourses, doctrinal and practical, from representative men among the Disciples of Christ, with a brief biographical sketch and steel portrait of each contributor (Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co., 1867), 207, further states that Graham joined a literary society at this time and “made considerable progress in the study of history, Belles-Lettres, Biblical Criticism, Natural Science, etc.”

[8]Moore, 207.

[9]Ragland, First Christian Church, 4. Speaking of Graham, Ragland says that, “His piety, inbred and inborn, was as natural to him as breathing.”

[10]Clubb, 427.

[11]Griggs, 119.

[12]Moore, 207.

[13]Clubb, 427.

[14]Griggs, 119; Moore, 207.

[15]Ragland, First Christian Church, 4.

[16]J. W. McGarvey, Chapel Talks, delivered before the student body of the College of the Bible in 1910 and 1911 (Lufkin, TX: Gospel Guardian Co., 1956), 82-83.

[17]Peter M. Morgan, “Robert Graham (1822-1901),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 367.

[18]Ragland, First Christian Church, 5.

[19]Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359.

[20]Ragland, First Christian Church, 5.

[21]Stevenson, 68.

[22]McGarvey, 83, “Mr. Campbell was the editor and publisher of the only hymn book of our people at that time, and he devoted the profits of this publication to the education of young men for the ministry. By this means he enabled Robert Graham to accept his advice.” Kershner, 223, seems to question Campbell’s generosity by noting that the amount loaned to Graham was later paid back with interest, but Graham, “Early Trials and Triumphs,” 359, emphasizes that it was he, not Campbell, who insisted on repaying the loan with interest in 1854.

[23]Clubb, 427.

[24]Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359.

[25]McGarvey, 83; Griggs, 120.

[26]Morgan, 367.

[27]John Rogers, The Biography of Elder J.T. Johnson, (Cincinnati, 1861), 277, states that Graham succeeded in raising scholarships for Bethany College and procuring additional subscriptions to The Millennial Harbinger on this tour. Later records indicate that Graham remained a representative of The Millennial Harbinger throughout his time in Arkansas. Robert Graham, “News from Arkansas,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 5 (July 1855): 407; Alexander Campbell, “Bro. Robert Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 6 (March 1856): 180.

[28]Ragland, First Christian Church, 6.

[29]Ibid., 6.


[31]Marian Tebbetts Banes, The Journal of Marian Tebbetts Banes (Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1977), 38.

[32]Ibid., 38.

[33]Richard L. Harrison, “John T. Johnson (1788-1858),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 431.

[34]Banes, 38.

[35]Ragland, First Christian Church, 9.

[36]Ibid., 8.

[37]Rogers, 277.

[38]Banes, 38-39.

[39]Ragland, First Christian Church, 14.

[40]Ibid., 14.

[41]Virginia Lynn Vego, “The Restoration Movement in Arkansas, 1832-1860,” (Master’s thesis, University of Arkansas, 2009), 37-39.

[42]Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359.

[43]Ragland, First Christian Church, 38.

[44]There is a great deal of discrepancy regarding the arrival date of Graham and his family in Arkansas. Recalling the event almost 50 years later, Graham, “Trials and Triumphs,” 359, says they arrived in “the fall of 1848”. Griggs, 121, places the event in December 1848, while Moore, 208, dates it in January 1849, and W. J. Lemke, Early Colleges and Academies of Washington County, Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR: The Washington County Historical Society, 1971), 59, puts it as late as February 1849. Nevertheless, the majority of sources, including Ragland, First Christian Church 38, Vego, 39, and Roy W. Roberts, The First Christian Church Fayetteville, Arkansas: One Hundred Twenty Five Years of Discipleship 1848 to 1973 (Fayetteville, AR, 1973), 1, all place their arrival “during the Christmas holidays” or “around Christmas.” This seems to be the best estimate, and could arguably harmonize with sources that place the Grahams’ arrival in December or January.

[45]Jacob Creath, “A Word of Cheer from Bro. Creath,” Millennial Harbinger (January 1860): 292.

[46]Ragland, First Christian Church, 38-39.

[47]Rogers, 277.

[48]Moore, 208.

[49]Vego, 41.

[50]McGarvey, 83-84.

[51]Ragland, First Christian Church, 40. Cincinnati is near the border of modern-day Oklahoma, and Richland is a community 15 miles east of Fayetteville. The Middle Fork of the White River is just east of Fayetteville.

[52]Lester G. McAllister, Arkansas Disciples: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arkansas (N.p.: Christian Church Disciples of Christ, 1984), 19.

[53]Banes, 59.

[54]Ragland, First Christian Church, 39-40.

[55]Vego, 41, mentions that Graham’s salary for the church was $400 a year. This is possibly contradicted by Graham himself in Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 359, where he states, “For one congregation I worked twelve years, receiving not one cent of salary.” Although he does not specifically identify the Fayetteville church as the congregation to which he was referring, he was with the church there for twelve years and there are no records that indicate that he worked with any other church for as long. Regardless of this, the sources agree that whatever income (if any) he received from his work with the Fayetteville church, it was not sufficient to provide for his family.

[56]McAllister, 29.

[57]M. N. Ragland, History of the Arkansas College 1852-1862 (Fayetteville, AR, [1925?]), 6.

[58]Lemke, 15.

[59]Ragland, Arkansas College, 7. William S. Campbell, One Hundred Years Of Fayetteville: 1828-1928 (Fayetteville, AR: Washington County Historical Society, 1977), 54-55, describes how McGarrah refused to sell the land for the college to Graham, but was glad to give it him.

[60]McGarvey, 83.

[61]Ragland, Arkansas College, 7.

[62]Ibid., 8-11. Some sources claim that Cane Hill College, also located in Northwest Arkansas, was the first school in the state to receive such a charter, but Arkansas College received its charter from the Arkansas State Legislature one day earlier.

[63]Ibid., 13.

[64]McAllister, 32. William Campbell, 55, describes how many of the original graduates went on to have distinguished and well-known careers in various fields.

[65]John L. Morrison, “Philosophy of Education,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas A. Foster et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 293-94.

[66]Erret Gates, The Disciples of Christ (New York: The Baker & Taylor Co., 1905), 290-91.

[67]Pat Donat, “‘Shrine of Learning’ Falls,” Northwest Arkansas Times, March 9, 1977, states that Arkansas College was one of approximately 50 colleges operating at that time under the Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ.

[68]McAllister, 31.

[69]Ibid., 30.

[70]Lemke, 67.

[71]William Campbell, 55.

[72]Lemke, 60; Vego, 41.

[73]William Baxter, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, or, Scenes and incidents of the war in Arkansas (Cincinnati: Poe & Hitchcock, 1864), 10.

[74]Vego, 42-43, states, “Even though the Disciples of Christ ran the college, it attracted students from all religious backgrounds; in fact, most students had no affiliation with the Disciples upon entering school there, but after some time became joined to the Fayetteville congregation.”

[75]Creath, 292.

[76]Alexander Campbell, Remarks on “News from Arkansas,” Millennial Harbinger 4, no. 5 (July 1855): 407-08.

[77]Ragland, Arkansas College, 7.

[78]Ibid., 5.

[79]Cloyd Goodnight and Dwight E. Stevenson, Home to Bethpage: A Biography of Robert Richardson (St. Louis: Christian Board of Publication, 1949), 193. Moore, 208. Kentucky University was the current manifestation of the school that had once been Bacon College, and would eventually be the College of the Bible.

[80]Griggs 121-22. William Campbell, 55, suggests that it was political differences that caused Graham to resign his position at Arkansas College. No other sources suggest this, but it is true that Graham did have trouble because of his political views after his return to Arkansas at the eve of the Civil War in 1860.

[81]McAllister, 25. William Campbell, 55, also mentions Graham’s political views as the reason for his leaving Fayetteville.

[82]Ragland, Arkansas College, 16.

[83] Ibid., 16.

[84]McAllister, 25. Lemke, 68.

[85]Ragland, Arkansas College, 16.

[86]McAllister, 26.

[87]Alexander Campbell, Remarks on “Letter from Bro. R. Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 4 (January 1861): 50.

[88]Baxter, 12.

[89]McAllister, 26; Clubb, 208. Graham’s role within the Southern Christian Missionary Society is noteworthy since differences on the issues of missionary societies and instrumental music in worship have traditionally been identified as the main causes of the division between Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 15-16. Graham, who passed away before the formalized division in 1906, seemed to be on both sides of the argument: while clearly approving of missionary societies, even in the late 1890s, he served as an elder of the Broadway Christian Church in Lexington Kentucky “where no instrumental music was yet permitted in the worship,” Kershner, 240.

[90]Robert Graham, “Letter from Bro. R. Graham,” Millennial Harbinger 5, no. 4 (January 1861): 49.

[91]Ibid., 50.

[92]Griggs, 122.

[93]McAllister, 26.

[94]Ragland, First Christian Church, 67.

[95]Banes, 86.

[96]Baxter, 30-33.

[97]Ragland, First Christian Church, 54.

[98]Baxter 33-35.

[99]Ragland, First Christian Church, 66. William Campbell, 55, states that, “Both Federal and Confederate troops are charged with burning it. It will never be determined.” Baxter, 24-25, 90-91, writing with Union sympathies, is quick to point out that Confederate General Ben McCulloch was responsible for the burning of Fayetteville, but he does not specifically blame the Confederates for the burning of Arkansas College.

[100]Baxter, 91.

[101]Ibid., 160-61.

[102]Lemke, 62.

[103]Ibid., 62.

[104]Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 391.

[105]Ibid., “Trials and Triumphs”, 391, 359.

[106]Stevenson, 69.

[107]Kershner, 224.

[108]Stevenson, 67-68. Morgan, 367, writes, “In the exceptional faculty of his ear it is said that J. W. McGarvey was admired, Isaiah Grubbs was loved, and Graham was revered.”

[109]Clubb, 427.

[110]McAllister, 36, speaking of Graham, states, “The loss of his leadership was great. Graham had proven himself scholarly and progressive. His influence was wide and lasting….” Graham, “A Word from Arkansas,” Apostolic Times (April 1869), cites a letter from a Christian brother from Arkansas named Flippin, who, almost ten years after the fact, laments the loss of Graham and his college.

[111]McAllister, 37, “When former students and graduates of Arkansas College returned at the end of the war in 1865 they found ruins, their teachers gone and many of their classmates either dead or scattered.”

[112]Ibid, 38.

[113]William Campbell, 55, speaking of the relationship between Arkansas College and the modern day University of Arkansas, states, “…Upon its ashes, and the rock of its influences rose a cultural ideal that set majestic halls in the western gates of these seven hills.” Lemke, 5, 15, says, “…The establishment of the state university in Fayetteville in 1871 was largely due to the antebellum schools that had give this county a reputation for education that no other section could match,” and that, furthermore, of these antebellum schools, “…none attained the fame that came to Arkansas College in Fayetteville.” Graham, “Trials and Triumphs”, 391, himself mentions the connection of the two schools, saying that although the college was broken up during the war, it “reappeared to some extent in the State University now there….”

[114]Baxter, 10.



  1. Bob Walker

    Very nice, Luke. I enjoyed the read.

  2. Luke

    Thanks Robbo. Glad you enjoyed it!

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