Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Joab Powell

For some reason my brother has a newfound interest in some of our family history. A distant relative first came through our hometown maybe 27 years ago. He had done all this research on our family tree. What was somewhat interesting (for those interested in this kind of stuff) was that I had moved to Oregon and for awhile (unbeknownst to me, until my mother came to visit), I ended up in the neck of the woods with several of my distant relatives. We ended up meeting two or three of them and even visited a church that my great great grandfather had built and a graveyard where lots of my dead relations were buried. Joab Powell was my great great great grandfather (I think), a circuit rider, and a real character it seems. Here's something my brother just sent me

Singing Circuit Rider Battled Sin To Save Oregon Souls

...a note from history

Joab Powell was one of the first and certainly one of the most effective of the early circuit riders in the Northwest. A big man, standing over six feet tall and heavily built, he preached the word of the Lord with gusto throughout the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys of Oregon.

In 1853, Joab Powell, along with J.G. Berkley and R. Cheadle, organized the Providence Church on the Powell Donation Land Claim near Scio in the Willamette Valley. Acting on the belief that “Providence has surely led us here,” Uncle Joab rode far afield to carry the “word” to the scattered settlers.

As he rode the circuit, Joab Powell’s voice announced his coming before ever he came in sight himself. Booming an out-of-tune rendition of “The Judgment Day, the Judgment Day is rolling on,” he sang his way across the Willamette Valley.

Through the 1850s and 1860s, Powell rode thousands of pioneer miles to carry his message to anyone who would listen, saved or sinner. Over 3,000 are said to have repented and came at his invitation to be saved during the 21 years of his ministry in Oregon. His church near Scio had as many as 400 members at one time during this period; some Sundays he would baptize up to 30 persons, immersing them in nearby chilly Crabtree Creek.

Powell’s delivery of his message was attention-getting and awe-inspiring. He would set himself squarely down before the gathering, prop his muddy boots upon a bench, close his eyes, run his fingers through his hair and begin to sing. If the congregation joined in that was fine; if they didn’t, that was all right, too. When he finished the hymn, and maybe another one or two if he felt like it, he would raise himself to his full height of 6 feet, smooth down his coat, and greet the pioneers with a smile.

Then, with everyone’s attention, he would begin to reel off chapter after chapter from the Bible, stopping occasional to intersperse the scripture with admonitions of fire and brimstone in good old frontier language. If he really wanted to make a point, he would pause, slowly unbutton his coat, remove it, and proceed with his message in his shirt sleeves. What he lacked in formal education, he made up for with vigor and persuasion.

Powell came originally to Oregon in 1852 with his wife and 14 children. His wife read the Bible to him often and he memorized scripture from her reading, for he could actually read very little himself. In the frontier towns of the Northwest, his battle against sin was every bit as energetic as the battle of other pioneers against the Indians or harsh weather conditions.

He used whatever tactic he felt would work best in a community to get his message across. For instance in one village, his first convert was the local saloon keeper. After that, whenever he came through, services were held in the saloon, with the “saved” proprietor locking the door while the hat was passed for Uncle Joab, and directing his customers to fill it up!

The pioneer cemetery of Providence Church is the final resting place of Joab Powell. The Baptist Church erected a memorial to him there in 1924. However, it is unlikely that Uncle Joab’s spirit is content to rest quietly; he is undoubtedly still galloping along the country roads of Oregon, singing as he rides.

from the Old Stuff archives.

Are these people freaky looking or what? This is Joab and his wife.He was known as "The Fighting Quaker."


James said...

I love looking into family history. I just did a post on this today actually.

Adrienne Parker said...

I'll head on over for a read. Family history is both scary and intriguing for me.

Anonymous said...

I am a navtive Oregonian and my mother's family name is Powell. We are also descendents of Joab Powell. Most of my family still lives near the church, in Jefferson, Scio and Albany. I am trying to find out more because my step daughter's family is related to him as well.

Adrienne Parker said...

Hi anonymous, My brother is traveling up that way today and will be the the area for a while. Perhaps you aren't in the area any longer? Anyway, he is interested in making some contact so if you are interested, email me your phone number and I will give it to him.

MA said...

Hi Joab was my GGGF on my mom's side.
I have a little booklet that my GF sent my mom in 1935 with family history in it. It is written in my GF's interesting handwriting and spelling.
I scanned it into the computer so if I can find it in the mess that is my files I can send it to you.
Mike Harper

Adrienne Parker said...

Hi Distant Relative Mike!

Oh, that would be lovely. If you find it, please email it to me. Thanks so much. Now I'm going to have to talk with my mother again to see how many greats connect with with Joab. It is from my maternal grandfathers side. Thanks for your note.

Anonymous said...

There's a marveouls book "Joab Powell:Homespun Missionary" by M. Leona Nichols written in 1933. This Joab Powell was born in 1799. He was quite a preacher in the Baptist church.

Anonymous said...

I have just recently been looking into my family history. Joab is my 5th great grandfather. It goes down from Joab Sr. to Joab Jr. to John to Marcus to Lloyd to My grandfather Virgil and to my Dad Larry and on to me. I am very interested see the previous posts. The internet is a wonderful place for history.

Anonymous said...

It was Joab Powell's father, Joseph Powell, who was famous as The Fighting Quaker. He fought in the Revolutionary War.

Michelle Powell Nelson said...

I am also a ggggrandchild of Joab through his son Elias. I was raised not far from the homestead and my Powell great grandfather used to ride his mule to visit us in the 70's. My dad's family always called eachother Okies so I always thought we were from Oklahoma. Not at all the case. There is a lot of information on this branch of the family available on the internet and it has been fun to learn about it as my dad and his dad have both passed and didn't seem to know much.

Anonymous said...

Joab Sr is my great great grandfather. Elias
is my great grandfather. Clarence is my grandfather. Family history is fascinating. I have a book documenting these family lines. I just can't put it down.