A Tribute to the Memory of
Elder Thomas Whiteley

"In my travels through Fayette and Effingham, different brethren spoke of brother Whiteley, who died some eight years ago, in Clay county. In his time they said they were visited, he never stopped for cold nor heat. In icy weather he had been known to take the blanket from under his saddle, wrap his horse's feet and thus proceed over the ice. This looks like the spirit of primitive Christianity, and not like the dull hireling system of the present day. O Lord, send more Whiteley's among us." - Editor, Western Evangelist.

Thomas Whiteley, the first child of Joseph and Sarah Stapleton Whiteley, was born about 1776 in North Carolina. He was born at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, and for the next six years of his young life, he knew only the unsettled existence of a family caught up in the midst of war. He no doubt experienced hunger and strife, which were the conditions of the times. His father, Joseph Whiteley, had already enlisted in the North Carolina Militia and had been called for services with the New Bern Battalion of Minute Men on February 26, 1776. By the year 1786, Thomas Whiteley, then about ten years of age, moved with his parents into Russell county, Virginia (created from Washington). In about 1802 Thomas, now age 26, married Winifred Van Hook, the daughter of Samuel Van Hook, of Russell county, Virginia. In 1810 Thomas and Winifred Whiteley, with six of their eleven children, moved into Pulaski county, Kentucky. Here, he apparently became a minister of the gospel. Three of his sons, Amos Martin, John A., and Thomas S., and one son-in-law, Cyrus Wright, also afterward became ministers of the same faith. Winifred, his wife, died in Washington County, Indiana, and in 1827 Elder Thomas Whiteley moved to Clay County, Illinois. In a short time, four churches were established, Fox Prairie, Salem, Crooked Creek, and Skillet Fork (also Liberty, in Marion county, and Four Mile Prairie, in Fayette county), which he served as pastor. In November 1829, Elder Thomas Whiteley married again, to Kesiah Bishop, widow of John Bishop, the ceremony being performed by Elder John Miller. Elder Thomas Whiteley died July 15, 1834, and was buried on his Clay county farm.

The History of Effingham County says the first preachers here, or at least among the first, in the county, were Elders Whiteley and Sorrels, Regular Baptists, or as they are sometimes irreverently called, "Hardshells." They preached at people's houses long before there were any churches built in the county. James Turner's house was, for years, a preaching place for these and other pioneer ministers. The History of Wayne and Clay Counties says, the Old Baptists, among whom were Enoch Scaife and wife, Jephtha Allen and wife, Levi Daniels and others, were early organized by Elder Whiteley. They built their first church house near the center of Oskaloosa township on Crooked Creek. This house was burned, and they erected another, near the north line of the township. In 1830, the first schoolhouse was built. it was made of round logs, having a puncheon floor, and old-fashioned "stick-in-the-mud" chimney, and to afford a little light, a portion of a log was cut away and the opening covered with a greased paper. This house stood in the timber in Sec. 21. Elder Whiteley was the first teacher, and taught one term. He was well qualified for the responsibilities of a pioneer teacher, and conducted school with marked ability. In Xenia township, the first religious gatherings were held at the house of John Onstott, and were conducted by Elder Whiteley, a resident of what is now Songer township, and the man who taught the first school in the township.

Elder John Fanshier wrote an account of his religious experience, which was published in the "Messenger of Peace," in 1874-1875, which includes the following: "We were now living in Marion County, Illinois, and not long after we stopped here, Elder Thomas Whiteley came, also, to the neighborhood, and brought my brother-in-law out, and we moved about two miles, and settled down in a new place. Elder Whiteley had with him a son-in-law, by the name of Cyrus Wright, who, at that time, was considered a very wicked man. He soon after volunteered to join what is called the Black Hawk war, and requested me to stay with his family, while he was gone, which I did. In the meanwhile, Elder Whiteley was preaching through the country, and for a church in Clay County, called Crooked Creek. In the latter part of the winter of 1834, there was quite a revival of religion commenced, under the preaching of Elder Whiteley. About this time myself, and friend Wright, both became greatly concerned about ourselves, I at least, feeling myself to be a lost, and ruined sinner. Many others, around and through the neighborhood, seemed to be in the same condition; under which circumstances Elder Whiteley was almost continually preaching, from house to house. Frequently, at the close of his sermons, he would tell poor, broken hearted sinners, that if we wished him to pray for us, and would come forward and give him our hands, he would do so. I often went forward and gave him my hand, and did truly desire him to pray for me, poor, unworthy me. And well do I remember, to this day, (though it has been nearly 40 years,) what my thoughts and feelings were, in regard to this matter. I felt myself to be a guilty, and condemned sinner, in the sight of a just, righteous, and holy God; and, of course, he could not hear, and accept the prayers of a poor, sinful wretch like I felt myself to be; but I looked upon Elder Whiteley as being truly a man of God, and a friend of God, and therefore thought, that perhaps the Lord might hear and accept his prayers, in my behalf. But instead of feeling better, I felt to be getting worse and worse, for what little hope or expectation I might have had, of being benefitted by the prayers of a righteous man, they were blasted, and of course, I must try some other means; but, as the poet said, every refuge failed me, and all my hopes were crossed.

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