By W. Thomas Carden

September 29, 1904
Biographical Sketch of Bishop Robert Paine

Robert Paine, son of James and Mary A. Paine, was born in Person County, North Carolina, November 12, 1799, and came to Giles County, with his parents in 1814. He secured the best education the neighborhood schools could bestow. Possessing a remarkably precocious mind, by diligence and application, he attained a polish and refinement rarely accomplished by one under similar handicaps and environs. The late Dr. W. P. Harrison, a scholar of wide repute, said among other things in speaking of him: "Among those men who became the chief factors in the sum of intellectual progress in the nineteenth century, no name stands higher than that of Robert Paine". He attended a private school near Culleoka and boarded with a Dr. Rutledge. Some of his classmates procured some of Voltaire's works on infidelity and Paine began reading one of the volumes and became absorbed in its contents. The sophistry and well deducted reasoning of the book appealed to his imagination and tender mind as a pabatum to satiate the innermost yearnings of the aching void in every rational breast. Dr. Rutledge, who was a devout Christian, in passing through the room one day, saw Paine reading the nefarious writing; without saying a word the good doctor took the book from his hands and laid it upon the coals. Bishop Paine often spoke of this incident and ever was grateful that he never finished the book. He taught school for awhile at Bethany, now Bryson.

In 1817 he was converted at the campmeetinq at this place under a large Poplar Tree on the west side of the hill, and joined the Methodist Church. Some say that he was converted at a cottage prayer-meeting held in the neighborhood. Reverend Thomas L. Douglass was the presiding elder of the Nashville District and was at this place in the campmeeting, Paine's conversion was under his ministry. His conversion was bright and his call to preach clear. At Franklin in 1817 (October 30-November 8) he attended the Tennessee Annual Conference and was the colleague of Miles Harper, with T. L. Douglass as presiding elder. He was timid and felt the cross so heavy, that he was sorely tempted to quit. However, perseverance and consecration bore him up and he was tided over the treacherous shoals. October 1, 1818, he was admitted on trial into the Tennessee Conference, at Nashville, Bishops McKendree and George presiding. It was then and there his acquaintance began with Bishop McKendree.

There were. nineteen in the class with Bishop Paine, to wit: Joshua Boucher, Jr., John Brooks, Samuel B. Harwell, Obidiah Freeman, Samuel D. Sansom, Anchil Richardson, Hartwell H. Brown, Sterling C. Brown, George Locke, Thomas Maddin, Robert Hooper, Daniel Adams, Abraham Still, Lewis S. Marshall, George Brown and a Mr. Kesterson. I.do not learn the names of the others. Several of this class became distinguished. Harwell, the Brown brothers and Paine, came from this section. Some of them afterwards rode this circuit. Robert Paine's first charge was, the Flint River work, Tennessee District, under Thomas D. Porter, presiding elder. In 1819 he was sent to Tuscaloosa, in the Tennessee River District under the same presiding elder. The country around Tuscaloosa was a wilderness at that time and Paine was a missionary. He was sent to Murfreesboro and Shelbyville in 1820-21. In 1822, he was at Franklin and Lebanon: 1823, he succeeded Lewis Garrett on the Foeked Deer District. He was preacher in charge of Nashville Town in 1824 and 1825. In 1824 he was assistant secretary of the Conference. He was a member of every General Conference from 1824 to 1844, at which session the Church was provisionally divided. In March 1824 he rode to Baltimore, the seat of the General Conference, in company with Bishop McKendree, who traveled in a barouche owing to his frail health, Thomas L. Douglass, and wife and a servant named Aaron. They went up the Cumberland River, recrossed that stream at mouth of Caney Fork, where Carthage is now located (which place the writer is fully acquainted with) and struck an old trail for the Cumberland Mountains. They crossed over the mountains, crossed Clintch River, proceeded through Knoxville to Strawberry Plains, and near Jonesboro encountered the Allegheny Mountains, which they crossed and passed over the Yadkin River to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Huntsville, on to Salem, old Guilford Court House and to Petersburg, finally, reaching Baltimore the 28th of April. In 1826-27-28 to 29 Robert Paine was the presiding elder of the Nashville District. This was his last pastoral work. In 1829 he was appointed superintendent of a college and lived at Tuscumbia, Alabama. LaGrange College, of which he was President seventeen years, was in Franklin County, Alabama. When he took charge, it was a young school with no endowment. Under Paine's skillful management it soon became a very popular educational institution, and many claim it as their almamater. In 1844 he was chairman of the committee who reported the "Plan of Seperation". He transferred to the Louisville Conference in 1845.

The General Conference for 1846 met in May of that year, at Petersburg, Virginia. It was the first quadrennial session of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and attracted widespread attention. William Capers, D. D. and Robert Paine, D. D., were elected to the episcopy. Several years prior to his election as Bishop the Degree of Doctor of Divinity had been conferred on him. He was ordained by Bishops Soule and Andrew. At LaGrange he was assisted in the college work by Professor Simmes, Professor Ellison, of South Carolina, Professors Tutwiler and Barbour, of Virginia and Professor Elliott, a graduate of Augusta College. He was succeeded by Dr. Wadsworth and Professor Hardy. LaGrange College was burned during the war. The General Conference held at Columbus, Georgia, May 1854, requested Bishop Paine to write the biography of Bishop William McKendree. Bishop Paine was intimately associated with Bishop McKendree for many years: he traveled thousands of miles with him, frequently heard him preach, assisted him in the preparation of his addresses to the General Conference and Annual Conference, and other important papers, in fact he was McKendree's traveling companion and amanuensis for several months at a time. Paine was familiar with McKendree's views of the constitution and policy of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and gave them his cordial endorsement. He was, though comparatively young, the particular confidential friend of the Bishop and entertained for him a most devoted affection and veneration and cherished for his memory the most profound regard as a son in the Gospel. By short stages these two passed through Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, over several battlefields of the Revolution: visiting the vicinity of Mt. Vernon: talking occasionally about McKendree's recollection of Washington and the war of Independence: sitting together in Washington's family pew, which had the initials of his name still upon its door. In 1828 while he was presiding elder of the Nashville District Bishop McKendree preached for him, September 7, at 11 o'clock, at Douglass's campmeeting, to 6,000 people. That year Bishop McKendree visited at this place with Robert Paine. In 1829 Paine presided at the session of Tennessee Conference held at Huntsville, Alabama, until Bishop R. R. Roberts arrived. November 6, 1833, at the session held at Pulaski, McKendree was too feeble to attend to his duties. T. L. Douglass presided and Lewis Garrett and Robert Paine did the cabinet work. In 1847-48-51-54-67-69 Bishop Paine wielded the gavel over the deliberations of the Tennessee Conference, Bishop Paine was distinctly a Tennessee Bishop.

In appearance Bishop Paine was a splendid looking man, robust, stalwart, with a patrician face and Roman Senator-like head. He had all the courtly graces of a Christian Knight. None knew better than he how to wield the sword of the Spirit in defense of his most Holy Faith. The whole congregation moved as one at his preaching. The greatest effort of his life was the funeral sermon of Reverend Lorenzo D. Overall by request of the dead preacher, at Lebanon, November 1854, before the conference body, from the text: "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc". In the fall of 1846 Bishop Paine moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi, where he lived until his death, October 19, 1882. For some time before his death he was the senior living bishop in the Southern Methodist Church.

His wife died at Aberdeen January 3, 1904. The following children at the' Bishop's death survived him, viz; Mrs. J. H. Scruggs, Mrs. S. F. Hamilton, Dr. William M. Paine and George C. Paine, Attorney and Counselor at Law.

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