This biography is also in the book Biographies of Notable and Not-So-Notable: Alabama Pioneers (Volume 1)
JOHN WESLEY STARR, JR.
BIOGRAPHY and GENEALOGY
(1830 – 1853)
John Wesley, Jr was born 22 Oct 1830 in Wilkes County, Georgia, the 2nd son and 3rd child of Rev. John Wesley and Hannah(Miller) Starr.
Being named after the founder of Methodism and after his father, who was one of the early Circuit Riders in both the Georgia and Alabama Methodist Conferences, it is no surprise that John Wesley Starr, Jr., having been educated at Emory College, Oxford, Georgia, joined the Alabama Conference to follow in his father’s footsteps.
During his first year in service in the Mobile, Alabama area, he contracted yellow fever while tending to his flock there. He would not leave his post, and after contracting the dreaded disease, died on 20 Sep 1853. He and two other men who stayed to help minister to the sick and dying are memorialized with a large monument to the three martyrs in the Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama.
The following letter of Rev. J. W. Starr was published soon after his death in 1853. Brother Starr had just graduated at Emory College, Oxford, Ga. and joined the Alabama Conference. He died in his first year. The yellow fever was worse that year than it has ever been with the exception of 1839.
August 29, 1853
To my Parents, Brothers and Friends:
I am now in Mobile, surrounded by the dead and the living. The pestilence walketh in the darkness, and the destruction wasteth at noonday. Day and night, more or less, I am visiting the victims of the plague. I am called to the funeral of one, and before I leave the grave my ears are met by the cry of another bereaved one, asking me to attend the burial of a departed relative. I return to the city from the home of the dead and find the sick growing worse, and new victims falling prey to the ravaging fever.
As the minister of God I am constantly witnessing the sufferings of the sick and dying. Unflinchingly (I say it to the praise of God, for no one is naturally more fearful of a sick chamber than I) have gone into the midst of the contagion, impelled by no presumptious pride or courage, but by an honest conviction of duty – of duty to God and to fellow-mortals. This I have done so far, but the disease has just begun its ravages, not withstanding there were twenty-seven burials on yesterday. I shall therefore, be liable to die almost any day, especially as I am unacclimated and unused to such fatiguing labor. Lest, therefore, I should be hurriedly swept away without having the opportunity of leaving a word to you, my surviving friends, I take advantage of the present moment of health-leisure to speak a few things to you relative to my present state of mind, to record also my testimony to the goodness of our common Lord.
Let none suppose that by thus anticipating death I would, in the smallest degree, distrust the power of the Almighty God to preserve me. That God will give me protection, I have not the shadow of a doubt. But I thus calmly anticipate death in recognition of the truth that God in His wisdom may see that the enclosure of the coffin and the grave is the very best protection that He can furnish for my body, and the bosom of my blessed Savior the very best protection for my immortal soul and spirit. I do not doubt the power of God. He will keep me in being as long as His glory demands it. And the very moment His glory will be more promoted by my death than by my life, then that moment I shall die.
I do not say that I expect to live or die. With me this is not the question. I have asked God to work in me His own will, having I trust, no other motive than the glory of God. If I am submissive to His will He will show forth in me His glory and thus will He fulfill in me the Scripture which teacheth us that the “joy of the Lord shall be our strength.”
Nothing but the confidence which I have in the special providence of God could have enabled me to resist your pressing solicitations to fly from the danger. I felt that the danger was in flying. In the midst of destruction I feel that I am in safety, because I am in the place, and surrounded by the circumstances which God ordered for me. Already, however, do I sympathize with you in your sorrowings, as by anticipation I view my death.
Oh dear kindred blood! How I love you all! And how you all love me! Ah, yes, I am afraid you love me too much – more than I deserve. If an angel can sympathize with the living, I will remember your grief, because at so tender an age, and so far away from you, I died of the plague. But the cause of Christ is more dear to me than you, and for this reason was I compelled to deny your request to leave the city.
In the ministry I have passed my happiest days. To preach the gospel is the work to which I am sure I am called, and, having committed myself to that work, I have endeavored diligently to discharge it. The blessings of God, in fulfillment of the promise, “Lo I am with you always” have attended my ministry. And though we have had no marked display of the divine power in the church of which I have the pastoral charge, yet I am sensible that good has been done both to the people and to myself. Our membership has been nearly doubled, and there has evidently been a growth in the piety of many of the members.
To be sure I have frequently come short of fulfilling my whole duty, but by the abundance of grace, I now feel that my shortcomings are forgiven, and that my peace is made with God. Here I set up my Ebenezer. If I die, I believe that I shall be saved. Let none think, however, that I expect salvation because I have done my duty, but let all know that if I am saved it will be because Christ died for me, and because the grace of God is infinite. If that grace had not been infinite, it had never reached me. That grace sustained me in my ministry, and made me happy under the most trying circumstances. I love the ministry. Oh, that I had been more faithful.
In the estimation of yourselves, as human beings may be thought worthy the respect which is usually paid the dead in funeral sermons, I wish to leave this word. If I am worthy this respect, it is solely because by faith in Christ I have secured the favor of God, who has graciously made me a temple of the Holy Ghost. The respect seemingly due to me is really due to the spirit of God, and if rendered, let it be done as unto God through me. I have no works whereof to boast. If any, therefore see fit to preach my funeral sermon, let these be the words of the text, viz: By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. – Ephesians 11,8.
To me, as to all, the winding sheet, the grave and the worms, are revolting. I have a human heart and human affections, hence I feel the pang of separation from earthly friends. The pang is rather sympathetic than original or direct with me, however. When I remember that I am leaving good friends to join with better, I am consoled. Hence I sorrow in sympathy with you more than on my own account. For, thank God, my spirit is above the flesh, with St. Paul realizes that though good to be with you, to depart and be with Christ is far better. By grace, however, I am what I am, not by any personal good or merit.
I am sorry that I have not the money to discharge the following debts. If I had lived I should have paid them all. I am less grieved on their account, however, because they were incurred from necessity and not from prodigality. My friends in Mobile generously proposed to pay them for me, partly as a compliment, and partly as a remuneration, for the labor they expected me to perform. If I die, it is to be hoped that they will pay them to the Lord. If I were able I would suffer no one to pay them. I incurred the indebtedness while preparing for the ministry, and if God had spared my life I would suffer no one to pay them; and they should have been liquidated. I owe T.H. $50., S.S. $50, my dear father $53, H.F. $45, and K. of LaFayette $10.50 and M. of Covington $3.75, making a total of $210.25.
Up to this time my stewards have not paid me half the apportionment. If I had lived they had appropriated $500.00 – I should have been able to have paid most of the above without calling on friends. In this matter I have done the best I could.
My books, a small number – may be sent to my father’s house, where my younger brothers, I trust, will make better use of them than I have done. My manuscripts, mere hurry graphs, full of errors of every possible sort – are few and worthless, perhaps to everybody but me. My father may dispose of them as he sees proper, provided he keeps them together. Some men die and leave their sermons to younger brothers, who may be called to the ministry.
I suppose that should my brothers be called to this work, none of them would conjecture that I have put down in these manuscripts anything which they might not find out for themselves. But even if I thought otherwise, I prefer to say to my brothers: Do as I have tried to do (However far I have succeeded I leave you to judge.) Get help from no other quarter but from the Holy Ghost, as the interpreter of the Bible, and as the guide “to lead you to truth.” This is good counsel.
I might say much more, but let this suffice. Only let me add once more that God is good. To be sure His providence placed me in the midst of the pestilence. But this, it was plain to see, was the design of Providence to take from me my life. He meant only to free me from its ills, and introduce me through death unto life which lacks nothing of being perfectly blessed and glorious. It is wrong to start at death; being is itself a curse without death. I had rather not had being, than to live always here. All that God does is good, however, it seems. I shall be glad to meet Him. Every day I am wont to ask myself this question (and let me say that few inquiries have been made of such profit to me. Ask it yourself often), viz: “Would I like to see God now?” He who is afraid to meet God should had better pray more. Only sinners are afraid to see God. The Christian realizes that “God is love”, and that he is loved of God. If I know that God loves me, how is it possible that I should be afraid to go to Him? God loves me. God can do me no harm, “therefore will I trust Him, though he slay me.” I am the enemy of no human being. So far as I know I have no enemy but the devil. If I have, God bless him.
My prayer for you all now is, and shall be till I die, that you may all be saved, I expect to meet you ere long in heaven
Farewell father, mother, sister, brother, friends
Farewell sun, moon, stars, earth and time
Farewell, farewell! day and night
Welcome heaven, heaven! Thou great!
Father! Welcome Christ my elder brother – thou
Son of Righteousness, Thou light of the skies!
Welcome eternal day! Angels welcome!
J. W. Starr Jr. 1853
October 14, 1853, page 78
THE REV. J. W., JR.
Mr. Editor,–I send you herewith a letter of the Rev. John W., Jr., who died of Yellow Fever in Mobile, Ala., September 20. It was finished, as you will perceive, just seven days before his death, having been begun on the 12th, the day before. It was sent by his father to Bro. Samuel, of this place, who had been John’s benefactor, and to whom he was much attached and reached here by the same mail that brought us the melancholy news of his death. The letter will speak for itself, and will, I think, justify the opinion of the fitness and propriety of its publication in your paper. Our departed brother graduated at Emory College at the Commencement of 1852, and shared at that time the first honor of his class. His improvement after he came among us was as rapid perhaps as that of any young man I ever knew. He as a thorough scholar, and was distinguished both as a writer and speaker. His deportment was specially dignified and manly. His piety was uniform and exemplary, and in all respects I may safely say he commanded the respect of all with whom he mingled. I distinctly remember the mighty struggle which he experienced during he last term he was with us in reference to his call to the Ministry, and in the several conversations which he sought with me on that subject, I could but notice with admiration his enlarged and enlightened views, and the evident manifestation of a heroic purpose to assume the full measure of christian responsibility. Few young men have left us, in regard to whom more confident anticipations were indulged of a successful career of honorable fame and distinguished usefulness. But how soon has that career terminated. The providence, though mysterious, is yet just. Resignation becomes us.
Though dead he yet lives. He lives in heaven. He lives on earth, in the hearts of those his virtues had won, and in the bright example he has left us, of unfaltering trust and courageous devotion to duty. “He died at his post.”
William J. Sasnett
Oxford, Ga., Oct. 4, 1853
1. Death notice published in THE SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE Vol. 27 No. 20, October 14, 1853, page 78
2. (Letter Contributed by Ouida Starr Woodson of Camden, Alabama)
3. Find A Grave Memorial# 28972851
This biography as well as many others can be found in Biographies of Notable and Not-so-Notable Alabama Pioneers Vol. I now in paperback
SOME SOUTHERN STARR FAMILIES Compiled Genealogy Records, Notes, Biographies, Census & Sources ama Pioneers