William Woods


William Woods


REV. WILLIAM WOODS. Mr. Samuel Woods, the father of the first pastor of Plain Grove church, was a native of London, England. He was born in the year 1749. He came to America, in 1768, and settled in York county, Pennsylvania. A few years afterwards, he married Mrs. Isabella Sankey. By this marriage four children were born—three sons and one daughter. William was the oldest of these four children. He was born in York county, on March 27th, 1776, in the midst of the stirring scenes of the outbreak of the Revolution. Sometime afterwards, but just when, we have no means now of knowing, Samuel Woods and his family moved into the western part of the State. He died in Butler county, in 1817, leaving the widow and four children all living.

Of the early life of William Woods but little is now known. He most probably led an ordinary and quiet life at home with his father’s family, until probably eighteen years of age, when in same way, he came under Dr. John McMillen’s influence, at Chartiers. He attended the Cannonsburgh Academy, where he doubtless enjoyed all the advantages of an academic course there afforded. He then went, as a matter of course, to Dr. McMillen’s log-cabin, where he studied theology, under that “father of education, in this western land, in its higher grades.” The advantages to be derived from Dr. McMillen’s log-cabin course were not to come from books, as books even in Dr. McMillen’s library were few. The textbook in theology used in that “Theological Seminary,” was Dr. McMillen’s lectures, which had to be copied with painstaking labor by the students for themselves. Many copies of these lectures have been handed down from father to son, and are extant today. Mr. Woods was received by the Presbytery of Ohio, on the 26th day of December, 1800, as a candidate for the ministry. He continued to prosecute his studies till October 29th, 1801, when he was licensed to preach the gospel.

In the early history of the church when Mr. Woods was licensed, and for a number of years afterwards, there was an extremely large field to be cultivated, and the laborers were indeed few. The demand for ministers far exceeded the supply. As evidence of this, we have but to refer to the old records of Presbyteries, and note the number of churches and missionary points that asked for supplies, at the different meetings. In the Erie Presbytery, during its earlier history, from twenty to thirty churches and places of preaching would file their “supplications” for supplies. It was into such a field that William Woods, the young “reaper of life’s harvest,” entered just after licensure. He spent the Winter of 1801-2, preaching for vacant churches and at missionary points, principally, of course, in the bounds of what was made to be, at the October meeting of the Synod of Virginia, the Presbytery of Erie. No doubt he preached, at least a part of that Winter, for these two churches, Plain Grove and Centre. At the Spring meeting of the Ohio Presbytery, he was dismissed to put himself under the care of the newly formed Presbytery of Erie, as these churches, Plain Grove and Centre, had placed a call in his hands, each for half of his ministerial labors. The Erie Presbytery held its second meeting, as we have seen in the history foregoing, at Union church, in Armstrong county, on June 15th, 1802. At this meeting, William Woods was received, examined on experimental religion, and a subject for his trial sermon assigned him. He probably continued to preach for these churches and act as pastor till November 3rd, when the Presbytery met here, and ordained and installed him, as related in the history.

After his pastorate of nearly fourteen years, he was dismissed from this church on the 7th day of October, 1816. He had, however, practically ceased to be the pastor in March of this years having begun his labors in Neshannock and Hopewell churches, on the 11th of that month. He was dismissed to the Presbytery of Hartford, on the first day of April, 1817, having received calls from the churches of Neshannock and Hopewell. He was installed as the pastor of those churches on October 22d, 1817. He was released from the charge of Hopewell on June 25th, 1828. He then gave all his time to Neshannock, till January 1st, 1837, when he was released from that charge. He moved to Utica, Licking county, Ohio, where he spent the remainder of his days. His death took place on the 31st day of July, 1839, only a few months after the installation of Mr. Walker over this church. When Mr. Woods died he was in the sixty-fourth year of his age.

Mr. Woods had married Miss Margaret Donald of Washington county, on May 17th, 1798, who, although in rather delicate health, was his faithful companion and helpmeet till the last. She was born on the 17th day of February, 1781. She died April 20th, 1842, at Utica, Ohio. To them twelve children were born.

Her patient toil and endurance under great privation, and even suffering, can never be fully appreciated by us at this distance from the scenes of her surroundings. On one occasion, a neighbor, Mr. Wallace, called at their home and found Mrs. Woods alone with her family of little children. They were crying around her, while she was endeavoring, out of the tenderness of her heart, to soothe and comfort them. On inquiry, Mr. Wallace learned that they were hungry and that their patient and trustful, though care and toil-worn mother, had no food in the house to give them. His kindly heart and ready hand relieved their wants for that time. But how many scenes like this, that uncomplaining mother may have passed through, unseen, unknown by neighbors and human friends, can be known to God alone. This community owes much more than it realizes to that consecrated Woman, under God, who bore such burdens of self-denial to assist her husband to plant the Gospel here.

Mr. Woods was a man of Probably a little above the medium height, and squarely and strongly built. His physical man was such that he was regarded as one of the very best hands at all “log-rollings” or other “frolics.” He was fair complexioned, had a clear white skin, light hair, bordering on the sandy, had blue eyes, was a man of full habit and robust health. He was considered by some of the good old grandmothers, who were young ladies during his pastorate, to be quite a handsome man. He was a man of jovial and social nature, he was very fond of music, and has left behind him the reputation of having been an excellent singer. He frequently taught Singing classes, and was considered a quite proficient performer on the violin. He was an interesting and earnest conversationalist He was not only interested in talking to others, but he entered earnestly into the spirit of what others had to say to him or in his presence, he was an attentive Listener. He would in a few minutes become wholly absorbed in a conversation. On one occasion he was on his way to supply the church of Neshannock, and stopped over Saturday night at the house of William Denniston. On Sabbath morning he became so engaged in conversation with the family that he seemed to forget his mission, and had to be reminded that he had barely time to get to his destination in time to fill his appointment.

His jovial, social and obliging disposition was, at least, on one occasion, taken advantage of. At a meeting of Presbytery, held at Cool Spring, on June 26th, 1811, a paper was presented to the Pres­bytery by a Mr. George Hosack, reflecting seriously on the character of Mr. Woods and some of the members of Centre session, The paper was not drawn in an orderly form and could not, therefore, be taken up by the Presbytery At Mr. Woods’ urgent request, however, a commission of Presbytery was appointed to investigate the matter and take such evidence as might seem proper, and report to Presbytery. Rev. Samuel Tait, Rev. Cyrus Riggs and Rev, Robert Lee; and elders Forker McKee and ___ Creighton were appointed as the commis­sion, and instructed to meet at the house of Mr. James Moore, on the second Wednesday of July, and proceed according to their instructions. They met at the time and Place appointed, investigated the case and prepared their report for Presbytery, At a meeting of Presbytery held at Mercer, January 14th, 1812, this report was presented, containing a full minute of the investigation and all the evidence the commission could procure, After mature deliber­ation, Presbytery judged the charges “not sustained and whollygroundless” In the minute adopted by the Presbytery, George Hosack was declared to be “an uncandid slanderer of the gospel ministry,” and was sentenced to be rebuked by the moderator, and was suspended from the communion of the church until he would give evidence of repentance. This action was ordered to be read in the church of Plain Grove. The ground of Mr. Hosack’s charge, so far as it can now be known, seems to be that Mr. Woods, on the occasion of a wedding in the bounds of the Centre church, had played the violin sometime during the day, for the entertainment of the company. The story grew and went abroad in an exaggerated form, that Mr. Woods had “played the fiddle” for the people at the wedding to dance. Mr. Hosack seems to have taken up the story without first having assured himself of its truthfulness, and given credence to the rumor, and preferred the charges before Presbytery. At all events, the character of Mr. Woods and of all the others implicated, suffered nothing at the hands of Mr. Hosack; for his charges were most conclusively disproved.

Mr. Woods was a faithful Presbyter. He was regular arid punctual in attendance at the meetings, and was frequently given responsible positions and trusts. He was sent to the General Assembly a number of times, was made moderator and clerk on different occasions, and was frequently appointed on important committees, He seems to have won and retained the fullest confidence of all his fellow-presbyters.

Mr. Woods was a man of ardent and impulsive temperament. He had no patience with lagging or sluggish work. He was never so happy as when everything was moving rapidly on. He chafed a little in the harness when men and things would not, or could not, come up to his standard, but he was a man of deep spirituality. He was at Cannonsburgh, when there were gracious showers of divine grace poured out on the Academy and surrounding churches, and hundreds were gathered into the fold of Christ. The work was a genuine and thorough one. It was characterized by deep and pungent convictions; a very affecting sense of sin, guilt, and danger was present: distressing apprehensions of the divine wrath hung over the mind: but these were followed by glorious apprehensions of the mercy of God in Christ, and such a pervading of the soul by the Holy Ghost as wrought faith to believe in Christ with a trustful confidence, and thence came peace,—peace with God and peace with conscience—peace as a relation, and peace as an experience,—peace because delivered from the penalty of the law, and peace felt by the loosening of the soul from the bonds of sin, cut by the Sword of the Spirit, wielded by the Holy Ghost. Amid these scenes William Woods was educated, And, most important of all, he was taught of the greatest of all teachers, he was wrought upon by the greatest of all powers,—he was instructed in the Wisdom, and wrought upon by the Power of God. Deep in his soul were laid the principles of spiritual man­hood in Christ.

Mr. Woods was an earnest and impressive preacher. He preached to sinners. He realized that men are sinners and in need of salvation. He cared little for the criticism of his hearers. He apparently made no effort at excellence of style or manner, in his pulpit preparations and delivery. Earnestness and naturalness were the eminent qualities of his pulpit work. His whole endeavor was to impress the truth. When warmed up he spoke very rapidly and sometimes with little reference to the grammatical relation of verbs and nouns as singular or plural, and with little care as to whether the words he used were the best he could have chosen. Quite a number of occasions are still remembered when he preached very impressive or “powerful” sermons. One night at the house of John Emery, Esq., Mr. Woods preached a sermon on Heb. XI: 14-16, that made a deep and lasting impression on Rev. James Coulter, then only a small boy. A daughter of Rev. William Wick, who was united in marriage with Doctor Woods, a son of the subject of this sketch, remembers several very effective sermons preached by him. She speaks particularly of one on the Judgment, as most deeply impressive. He became absolutely enwrapped in the subject, and preached with such great earnestness and fervor, as to completely exhaust his physical strength before he finished. He was compelled to stop before he was through and lie down and remain still and quiet for a considerable length of time.

Mr. Woods was a man of excellent natural abilities. Had he enjoyed opportunities for a broader and more thorough education, he could without any doubt, have taken a much higher standing in the church, and filled a much more responsible position. He had a large family to support, and was always hampered for means, and could not afford to purchase books and periodicals. As it was, he was not a great theologian, but viewed Bible doctrine from a practical, rather than a theoretical or systematic standpoint. He saw the human rather than the divine side of truths. He leaned towards the “New school” views of certain doctrines. The great discussions that led to the division between the “Old” and “New school” bodies, and the division itself, caused him a great deal of anxious thought; and many a night he walked the floor unable to sleep. He remained in the “Old school” body until his death, but sympathized with the “New school”  branch in some of their distinctive views. On one occasion he was discussing the subject of the sinner’s ability, with Rev. Robert Sample of New Castle. In the course of the discussion which had waxed quite earnest, Mr. Sample, to prove the sinner’s inability to comply with the requirements of the gospel without the gift of “efficacious grace,” quoted the text, “No man can come to me, except the Father which sent me, draw him.” Mr. Woods quickly responded, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life,” adding, “the cannot of your text is the will not of mine.”

Plain Grove, A History of Its Early Settlement and the Planting and Growth of the Church in That Region by Rev. R. McCaslin, 1884, Chapter XVIII, pages 242-251



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