PHOENIX AND INDIANS' ADVOCATE
Wednesday, February 18, 1829
Volume 1 No. 49
Page 1 Col. 3a-4b
Dear Brethren: At the late session of the Tennessee Conference, I was
requested to prepare for publication in the Advocate and Journal, the memoir
of brother Neeley. In compliance with that request I submit the following
brief and imperfect obituary, embracing a few event s of his short but useful
Your brother in Christ.
RICHARD NEELEY, whose name must ever be dear to the friends of missions among the American aborigines was born of reputable parents in Rowan County, North Carolina on January 18, 1802. While he was yet young his parents removed to Rutherford on Tennessee. At ten years of age he lost his mother, not, however before she had taught him the truths of Christianity, and impressed upon his mind, in some degree, their great importance.
On the 20th of August, 1819, he professed religion at a camp meeting, became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and at once commenced his useful career. He was licensed to exhort the 30th of April, 1821, and in the following September was licensed to preach and recommend for admission on trial in the Tennessee Annual Conference.
His first appointment was to Jackson circuit, where in 1822 he labored acceptably and with success. Fired with apostolical zeal, his labors were not confined to his regular circuit appointments; but crossing the Tennessee River he obtained a preaching place in the Cherokee Nation of Indians, at brother Richard Riley's where he preached every round, and raised a society of thirty-three natives. This was the last regular preaching the Methodists ever attempted, & the last society they ever founded in the nation and this was the origin of the most successful mission now in the United States. Richard Neeley, a boy, was the instrument!
The ensuing year he travelled Wayne circuit. In the fall of 1823 he was appointed to succeed Andrew Crawford, as missionary and teacher of the school established the year previously at Creek Path, in the Cherokee Nation. He was in a situation for which he was admirably qualified. His mild and gently manners, his piety, zeal, and profound devotion to the spiritual interest of the Cherokees secured to him their unbounded esteem and confidence.
The same enterprising spirit of ministerial benevolence which first impelled him to visit the Cherokees across the Tennessee River, still marked his course, and he frequently made tours into all the Indian settlements, declaring to all "Jesus and the resurrection." These visits were of great importance for two reasons.- First, it awakens the natives to inquire into the subject of religion.- Secondly, they exhibited the practicability of forming and travelling circuits in the nation by most successful commencement. In conversation with his presiding elder, brother M'Mahon, on the subject of forming and traveling a circuit, about this time, he remarked with evident feeling, after having reflected awhile on the untired experiment, that "he was willing to devote his life to the mission cause among the Cherokees," and that "if one were formed he would willingly travel it."
At the next Tennessee Conference he was appointed to form and travel Wills Valley circuit, lying altogether in the nation. On this circuit he was continued the second year; so sensible were the conference of his usefulness and qualifications for this very responsible work. This circuit led him across the lofty Lookout and Raccoon Mountains. After travelling all day through the pathless woods, often did he lie down in the solitary wild and wrap himself up in his saddle blanket for the night; the lofty firmament his roof- his bed the cold earth. Many deep and dangerous streams he was compelled to swim, and in a word, he passed the difficulties peculiar to such a state of society with patience and gladness to hunt up the lost and scattered over these dark and hitherto desolate regions.
But our youthful soldier in the missionary cause was destined to an early grave. These unremitting labors and excessive exposures were too heavy for his tender frame. The giant spirit within tenanted a house of clay. "The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak." And like a young but lofty tree covered with foliage, flowers, and fruits, suddenly becomes blighted and begins to wither; so our beloved brother sunk under these exertions, and in the midst of present and promised usefulness began very perceptibly to fall into a decline.
At the succeeding conference he was compelled to take a supernumerary relation. He still lived and labored in the nation acceptably and usefully, though it was evident his bodily powers were prostrated. At the conference of 1827 he was superinnuated (sic); indeed he was then, and had been for some time, at the grave's mouth. He presented his sermon, which was his farewell address to the Cherokees, in the fall of 1827. He preached in great pain, and was almost all the time bathed in tears. He attended preaching but once after the preachers returned from conference.
It now became obvious to all that his final hour was hastening on; but he never ceased to warn and exhort, to admonish or stimulate, as their cases required, all that came in his way.- On the 15th January, he was taken in a carriage in search of medical aid.- He arrived at Dr. Wright's near Knoxville, on the 19th, very much exhausted. There he remained, still rapidly sinking until the 2d February, 1828, when his spirit took its flight for eternity. On receiving a letter the day before his death from one of the missionaries, he rejoiced considerably, & just before he died, observed to his wife, (a Cherkee) (sic) that he loved her next to God & if it were the will of God he would like to recover his health that he might preach Jesus to his dear Cherokee friends; but that he was resigned, and was not afraid to die." The last words he ever articulated were "Heaven is a better place than this."
Thus lived and died our beloved brother Richard Neeley. His understanding sound and clear. His person small, neat, and handsome: his piety pure and deep: his course consistent, and his ministerial career very successful. His memory is inscribed upon the affectionate hearts of his brethren in the ministry, and a thousands of grateful Cherokees have treasured up his name as embodying all that is noble in man or pure in life. Sweet is his savour (sic)! And while the majestic Tennessee shall roll its mighty flood to the ocean, or the towering Lookout lift its head amidst the clouds of heaven, so long shall the missionary register, in revealing the progress of the Cross over heathen lands, bear upon its faithful page the name of "RICHARD NEELEY,the apostle of Methodism to the Cherokees, and a martyr in the cause of God."