Hezekiah Balch - Minister, Educator, Abolitionist

Hezekiah Balch (1741 - April 1810) was born in Deer Creek, Maryland to Thomas and Agnes (Sommerville) Balch. Little is known about his life before his graduation from Princeton (with an A.M. Degree) in 1766. Graduating the same year, in the same class, was his first cousin, with the name of Hezekiah James Balch.

After graduation Hezekiah studied for the ministry in the Presbyterian church. On May 17, 1769 the New Castle Presbytery (serving Delaware and parts of Maryland) licensed Hezekiah to preach. A year later, May 16, 1770, the Hannover Presbytery, of North Carolina, ordained him. In May of 1770 we see Hezekiah petitioning, along with others, for the creation of the Orange Presbytery (North Carolina). Hezekiah served as a minister within the Orange Presbytery from aproximately 1770 to 1774. From aproximately 1775 to 1782 Hezekiah was serving in the Donegall Presbytery (North Carolina) followed by a move to eastern Tennesee where he helped in planting new churches.

In sometime around 1785 Hezekiah was in eastern Tennesee helping to establish Presbyterian churches. Some sources seem to suggest that he was leading services in forests surrounding Greeneville, Tennesee. About 1790 Hezekiah, along with a man by the name of Samuel Doak, founded the Hebron Presbyterian Church (later to become the Jonesborough Presbyterian). The church at first held meetings in a log cabin, it would be a few years before they upgraded their building.

Hezekiah believed strongly that it wasn't enough to simply provide spiritual guidance for his followers. It was also important that the people of the frontier be educated. To accomplish this goal, in September of 1794, he helped establish the first college west of the Alleghenies called Greeneville College. Hezekiah would be the first president of this college and he would serve from 1794 to 1810.

Theological Controversy

It was college business that led Hezekiah to have a great deal of difficulty with the church in Greeneville. In 1795, on a trip to New England, Hezekiah was apparently exposed to the teachings of Samuel Hopkins. Hopkins teachings weren't in complete agreement with mainstream Presbyterianism. When Hezekiah returned to Tennessee, intending to teach the new doctrines, he immediately set off a firestorm of protest. Samuel Doak, along with others, aggressively resisted the new ideas presented by Hezekiah. At one point Hezekiah was even locked out of the church where he took up preaching under the trees. In the end a significant portion of the church sided with Hezekiah and he resumed his role of pastor within the church building. Samuel Doak, and his followers, moved on to form another church and eventually a rival college. Hezekiah would be brought before ecclesiastical authorities numerous times largely because of Samuel Doak and this controversy.

During this time of controversy Dr. Charles Coffin, a graduate of Harvard, managed to be respected by both sides. In 1805 Coffin managed to persuade Hezekiah to relinquish one third of his pastoral duties. Two years later Hezekiah gave up all of his pastoral duties in the church at Greeneville. A few years later, in April of 1810, Hezekiah died and was replaced, in his role of presidency at the college, by Dr. Charles Coffin.

Involvement in the Anti-slavery Movement

During his time in Greeneville Hezekiah seems to have had a significant impact in several areas. Not only did he help establish the Presbyterian church, in eastern Tennessee, but also was very active in creating higher education in what was then a frontier territory. Beyond his role, in ministry and education, Hezekiah seems to have been influential in creating a movement opposed to slavery. It is the philosophy and teachings of Hezekiah, and others of his type, that led east Tennessee to be a major center of abolitionist thought up until the American Civil War. In his book A History of Apalachia Richard B. Drake states that "in the 1820's for a time, Jonesboro, Tennessee, became the capital of the nation's anti-slavery crusade". It was because of the efforts, of people like Hezekiah Balch and Samuel Doak, that this was the reality.

Genealogy of Hezekiah:

Father: Thomas Balch
Mother: Agnes Sommerville

Wife1: Hannah Lewis
Married: Unknown

Children: Six Children

1. John Tennant Balch
2. Unknown
3. Unknown
4. Unknown
5. Unknown
6. Unknown

Wife2: Ann Lucky
Married: Aproximately 1808


1. No Children

Primary Sources/Links

Balch Genealogica - By: Thomas Balch

Cyclopedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature ..., Volume 1 By John McClintock, James Strong

Tusculum College Tennessee - By: Frank Wheeler

Touring the East Tennessee Backroads - By: Carolyn Sakowski

Southern Cousins - Balch, pg. 2

Sketches of Virginia, Historical and Biographical - By: William Henry Foote

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church - Jonesborough, TN

Samuel Hopkins - Wikipedia

A History of Appalachia - By: Richard B. Drake

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License