Born in 1827, Jacob Tol Miller became a member of Rolling Fork United Baptist Church in Nelson County. He started a journal in 1856, the same year he was ordained as a Baptist minister and began riding the circuit to churches throughout Kentucky. With few interruptions, his journal documents some 25 years of life as a clergyman, especially during the era of camp meeting revivals that preceded the Civil War.
At first, Miller may have felt inadequate to the task of spreading God’s word. In the months following his ordination, at meeting after meeting and sometimes several times a day, “I tried to preach,” he recorded. He gratefully accepted whatever remuneration was offered: over five days at a Taylor County church at which he “tried to preach 8 times,” he received two dollars. He performed baptisms and solemnized marriages, and was heartened when he arrived at a meeting and “saw many anxiously enquiring for Jesus.”
Miller also noted personal milestones in his journal, some joyful and others heartbreaking. In November, 1857 he wed 20-year-old Martha Jeffries, upon whom, he confessed, his thoughts on the subject of marriage had long been focused. In October, 1858 his son Henry was born, but a month later, on the couple’s first wedding anniversary, a stunned Miller wrote that “disappointment has come.” After battling typhoid following her child’s birth, Martha had died. “It was the happy part of my life,” Miller reflected on their short time together. Struggling with “indescribable feelings,” he looked to God for strength.
Perhaps his faith was rewarded. Miller was married again in 1860, to his late wife’s sister. His travels on the circuit continued, to meetings large and small, both in churches and outside “in the woods.” And he preached. The phrase “tried to” disappeared from his journal.
Click here to download a finding aid for Jacob Tol Miller’s journal, a copy of which is housed in WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for an associated collection, the records of Rolling Fork United Baptist Church of Christ. For other collections relating to churches and clergymen, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.