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George P. Cavanah (1823 - 1863)


Elder George P. Cavanah (1823 - 1863)

George P. Cavanah would have been a man of mark anywhere. He was born in Christian county, Kentucky, February 8, 1823. When eighteen years of age, his father lost his property, and the son set about redeeming it. In this he succeeded, though not until after protracted efforts, and his health had been somewhat undermined.

While intent on this, he came across two General Baptist ministers, George W. McAndrew and James M. Hunt. "Under their labors," he says, "I became concerned about my soul's salvation. My associations, to some extent, were unfavorable to religion. My employers were religious men, and gave me all the encouragement that I could have asked. But my favorite young men, with whom I associated, were very rude. From them, I received no encouragement. I was for a long time vacillating. Sometimes I was deeply concerned, at other times I felt indifferent.

“I continued in this state until some time in the summer of 1842. During that season there was a considerable revival of religion in the neighborhood where I lived. I attended these meetings, and resolved that I would renounce all my sins and give my heart to the Lord. After I had formed this resolution, I was very attentive to what I was told to be my duty. I was particularly attentive to secret prayer; so much so, that I settled down in a kind of stupor in my feelings, and would sometimes reason with myself in this way`-Well, I have done my duty, and I guess the Lord will save me.”

“Ultimately, however, my soul became unusually burdened, and attendance to secret prayer failed to bring that temporary comfort to my mind. I attended a meeting in the settlement. Mourners were invited, and I distinguished myself as a seeker after the Word of Life. I then exhausted all my strength, pleading and crying for mercy; and, after my strength failed, yea, after prayers and tears failed to bring salvation to my poor, agonizing soul, for want of strength, I began to look around for help. I could find no earthly power that could administer the balm. Last of all, I turned my eyes toward Him, who was once a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. To my great surprise, instead of looking on me with indignation, I beheld a reconciled countenance: and, instead of spurning me from his presence, he seemed to speak in sweet accents of love, and said, 'Thy sins are all forgiven thee ! take my yoke upon you, and you shall find rest to your soul.' I found myself in an ecstasy of delight in a moment, under his smiles, and felt myself united to his people by an indissoluble tie.”

“An opportunity was given the same night, being the 6th of September, 1842, and I united with the General Baptist church, and submitted to the ordinance of baptism some few days after my union with the church, by Elder James M. Hunt.”

“I was still enthralled for a portion of the money that I. had borrowed to redeem my father's land, which confined me to constant labor, and deprived me of the many privileges I might otherwise have enjoyed. During that fall and winter, I attended with the brethren in weekly prayer meetings, and was frequently urged forward in exhortation. Nothing so delighted me as to be engaged in those social meetings. My desire to serve God for what he had done for me increased daily.”

“In the spring of 184I3, the church recommended me to the presbytery. Accordingly, I attended presbytery, was examined and licensed to preach on the 15th day, of April, 1843, Elder George W. McAndrew presiding. I proceeded immediately to the work of the ministry. I employed myself in teaching a primary school for a livelihood, and preached what I could during the spring and summer.”

“In the fall, the Union Association met in the settlement where I lived, and I attended. Elder Benoni Stinson was there, and he prevailed on me to go to school. It was with no small degree of embarrassment that I consented to do so, on account of my pecuniary circumstances. But some of the brethren joined with Brother Stinson, and promised to assist me. I now commenced making preparation to attend school the following winter.”

“In the month of November, 1843, I set out for the state of Indiana, and crossed the Ohio river at Henderson, walked some four miles up the river to the house of James Starnes, Esq., where I was kindly received by the family and hospitably entertained until the day following, which being church meeting day, I attended church and listened to Elder Benoni Stinson who was pastor of the church. I accompanied Brother Stinson to his home, where I remained a week, during which time I was agreeably entertained, both by the family and the library of Elder Stinson. Here it was agreed that I should attend a district school taught by Brother W. W. Willard, who was a competent teacher, and that I should board with Brottier Starnes.”

This ends his own account of himself. But he speedily captivated everyone by the sweetness of his spirit, and surprised all by the quickness of his understanding Everybody liked him, and everybody admired him. He outstripped his fellow students, and soon took up by himself branches that were not among the studies of the school. In this, he was encouraged and materially helped by Mr. Stinson, and by the use of the books of his library.

Capt. Reavis, in his Sketches, says :- “Elder Cavanah became one of the brightest stars, and ablest preachers, not only as compared with General Baptist ministers, but with those of any denomination. He did not receive anything more than a good common school education. But he applied himself so closely that he was well versed in the English branches of learning, and very well read in theology. As a preacher, his style was not only dignified, but his reasoning was clear and convincing, and his logic was irresistible. His gestures were fine and manly, and his voice was full of pathos and tenderness.”

“He was so kind, so loving and affectionate in his manner, that he won the affectionate regard not only of his own people, but of many who belonged to other denominations. I once heard a distinguished minister of the Methodist church remark that, for natural ability as a gospel minister, he had never heard any man who was superior to George P. Cavanah. From the time that Elder Cavanah took the field, next to Elder Stinson, he was certainly the most eminent and useful of all the General Baptist ministers known to me. His preaching was listened to by great crowds of people wherever lie was known, and his name became a tower of strength to the denomination.”

“After marrying a Miss Lydia Robb, of Posey county, Indiana, he settled down in Gibson county; Indiana. He lived in Indiana from the time he crossed the Ohio river, to receive a better education, and made his home a part of the time in Gibson, and a part of the time in Posey county. For some years, he was pastor of Mount Pleasant church in the latter, and of Owensville church in the former, where he was most distinguished for his usefulness. But, besides this, his ministrations took a much wider range. Being thoroughly imbued with the missionary spirit, he often visited the outposts of the denomination, not only in Indiana, but in Kentucky and Illinois as well.”

“It was a great relief to Father Stinson, as I have often heard him say, to know that he had such strong support as Elder Cavanah, who was his co-worker in every movement which was gotten up for the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom. Elder Stinson had taken this man by the hand when he first set his foot on Indiana soil as a mere boy, assisted him in his education, opened to him his house, and his home, together with his library; and, it was there, at 'Goshen Farm,' the name of Father Stinson's old homestead, on the banks of the beautiful Ohio river, where young Cavanah laid the foundation for that brilliant career, which afterwards gave him so much distinction.

“But, so bright a star, and so brilliant a genius, was not destined to remain long on earth. Elder Cavanah began to decline in health soon after he began to preach. From his boyhood, he had seen trouble. To see his aged parents suddenly plunged from a position of comparative wealth to dependence-their old home stead, dear Alike to him and to then, sold under the hammer of the sheriff, for the debts of another; and then the struggle of young Cavanah, both physical and mental, who toiled for years to restore to his parents their home, although like the hero he was he gained the victory, yet it told heavily upon his constitution, insomuch that he never fully recovered it.”

“It is true Elder Cavanah rallied, and went out cheerfully into the great gospel field, and did noble work. But, it is also true that he did this with great pain. This young trouble, and other worldly troubles, not necessary to mention here, so weighed upon his spirits that he, like our dear Savior in that respect, was indeed `A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' Never shall I forget how solemn and grave he looked, especially in the pulpit. His face betokened much thought and deep feeling, and great sorrows had left an imprint there, which could be noticed by the casual observer.”

“He was not always serious. He could occasionally enjoy a joke with his friends. But his general deportment was very grave and dignified. He delighted in his profession, and gave much of his time to his work. It was his meat and his drink to do his Master's will. He was thoroughly in earnest in the great work to which he felt himself called, and but for pecuniary embarrassment would have given his whole time to the cause of Christ. As I have undertaken to vindicate the truth of history, I must say our brethren did not support Elder Cavanah as he should have been supported. Many of the brethren, it is true, gave to him liberally. But this spirit of liberality in support of the gospel was not as general towards him as it should have been.”

“He had sometimes to quit the field in the midst of his usefulness, and engage for a time in secular pursuits such as teaching school, or standing in a store, for subsistence. Nothing so discourages a good man, engaged in an honorable calling, as a want of proper appreciation of his services, and this is more keenly felt by the true minister of the gospel than any other class. I think that this neglect was one of the causes of the deep sorrows which followed Elder Cavanah to the grave.”

“Before he died, Elder Cavanah compiled for the General Baptists an elegant Hymn Book, which has gone through several editions; and it has been the most popular Hymn Book ever used by our people.”

“It is to be regretted that he left no written sermons behind him He was not in the habit of writing his sermons, however. He occasionally used notes on special occasions, but generally preached without looking at his theme. His mind was so clear, and his memory so good, that he did tot need such help. But he is known to have been a good writer. He had the happy faculty of condensing much in a short space. Among the men of culture among us, he was perhaps the most prominent. His talents were of such an order that he could have interested learned audiences and profound thinkers, in any of the great cities on our continent. He was, indeed: a workman that need not be ashamed.”

“Pressed down with the weight and burdens of which we have already made mention, he lived on, a spotless life, never having at any time brought reproach on the cause which he had espoused. He recognized the hand of God in all his afflictions, and never lost sight of the `mark of the prize.' After suffering much, he closed his eyes on earth; to open his spiritual eyes in our Father's house, where there are many mansions. He died at Owensville, Gibson County, Indiana, on the 20th of September, 1863, aged forty years, seven months, and twelve days. His remains now rest in the cemetery near `White' or Columbia church, about three miles southwest of Princeton, Indiana.”

“Notwithstanding Elder Cavanah was so popular, he was so good, loving and kind to all, that no minister could ever find it in his heart to hold any jealousies against him. I have seen many of his survivors in the ministry weep when the name of Cavanah was mentioned in connection with the enterprise of the church in his day. He believed that every truly regenerated person wag one in Christ, their head, and as such had a right to commune together at the Lord's Supper. Probably through his instrumentality as much was done firmly to establish this practice among General Baptists as any other man in the denomination.”

Taken from: Benoni Stinson and The General Baptists. Williams, A. D. 1892.