From time to time I chance upon unremarkable discoveries that seem to compel me to search out their secrets. Of course, if I was better informed to start with I could dispense with the effort and move on to something more productive. However, today productivity must take a back seat to the necessity of curiosity (i.e. I’m wasting valuable time).
Today’s adventure is not my fault. I happen to work with the greatest theological librarian in Middle-earth, TNB. He is constantly assaulting me with relics from a bygone age which he has uncovered in his never-ending quest to spend all of our school’s money on more books. Alas, I should banish him, but not just yet. After all, he may have some new discovery for me. I’m not sure if his statements that he is “feeding the beast” are a reference to my leadership style or some apocalyptic gloom and doomery.
I’m intrigued because the title page of the mystery book refers to the “Southern Baptist Publication Society” of Memphis, Tennessee…my fair city. I could not remember any Southern Baptist agencies located in my town in the 1870s but I had a guess as to what this might be. Also, the 1874 publication date is just nine years after the conclusion of the American Civil War and the southern economy had been severely affected by the rebellion and war.
A quick search turns up the fact that the Southern Baptist Publication Society was a part of the work of Baptist preacher, editor, and apologist J. R. Graves. A lot of people do not like Graves (probably because he was a Vermonter in Tennessee) but I find him a fascinating figure. Hopefully, my book about his doings will come to light in the next few years, blog willing.
Now to the author, Norvell Robertson. He was born in Georgia in 1796 just eight years before his father took up preaching. The Robertson family soon made the arduous trek to Mississippi so that Norvell Roberston, Sr., the father, could pastor Leaf River Baptist Church in Lawrence County, Mississippi. Since Mississippi only became a state in 1817 the Roberston family represented the movement of Anglo settlers west from the eastern coastal states. Son Norvell Roberston came to Christ in 1830 and was ordained to the ministry in 1833, making his family pioneers of Baptist work in Mississippi. After professing Christ and being baptized, Norvell entered the preaching ministry in 1833. He planted his life and pastored Bethany Baptist Church, the church which had ordained him to the gospel ministry, located in the town of Silver Creek, Lawrence County in southern Mississippi.
According to the biographical information in the introduction, Norvell Roberston pastored Bethany church for forty-one years. He and his wife N. J. had seven children that lived to adulthood. Biographer W. D. Mayfield stated that Norvell had never enjoyed good health but that his faithful ministry earned him the title “Father Robinson” to all who knew him.
Well done, Mr. Librarian, well done. You are spared…for today.
Roberston, Norvell. Church Members’ Hand-Book of Theology. Memphis, TN: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1874.