Campbell, Alexander (Rev.)

Born: 1788-09-12 Ireland, United Kingdom

Died: 1866-03-04 West Virginia

Flourished: West Virginia

Alexander Campbell, religious reformer and founder of the Disciples of Christ, was born in County Antrim and was educated at home and in academies in County Armagh and County Down. Campbell studied at the University of Glasgow for a year in about 1808, and the following year he and his family joined his father, a Presbyterian minister, in the United States. The family settled in Pennsylvania, where they formed the Christian Association of Washington, an evangelical society which in 1811 became Brush Run Church, the first church of the Disciples of Christ. The Christian Association of Washington was established on the principles of preaching the gospel, Christian union, restoring primitive New Testament faith and practices, and liberty. Campbell was ordained in 1812 and over the course of the next two years he replaced his father as leader of the Disciples of Christ. The Brush Run Church initially joined an association of Baptist churches, within which they were known as Reformers. In contrast to Baptist doctrine, Campbell ultimately came to see baptism as necessary to the forgiveness of sins. This and other differences of opinion led Baptist associations to part ways with Disciples of Christ congregations beginning in 1826, and the Disciples thereafter evolved into a separate denomination. During his long career, Campbell achieved prominence through lengthy speaking tours, high profile public debates, and by publishing religious periodicals. He resettled early on in the area of what is now Bethany, West Virginia, and in 1840 he founded Bethany College there, serving as president of the institution and leading the college for the remainder of his life. In the lead up to the Civil War, Campbell was criticized by both the opponents and supporters of slavery. He manumitted the enslaved people he owned, supported the American Colonization Society in the 1830s, and hoped for an end to slavery, but would not himself become an abolitionist or denounce other religious leaders who enslaved people. Campbell married Margaret Brown in 1811, and after her death in 1827 married Selina Bakewell. Both marriages produced children.

Hiram J. Lester, “Campbell, Alexander,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4:267-70; Henry Kalloch Rowe, “Campbell, Alexander,” Dictionary of American Biography, ed. by Allen Johnson, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), 3:446-48; The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (WV), 6 March 1866, 1:3-5; Gravestone, Campbell Cemetery, Bethany, WV.