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My parents, John and Susan Hitchcock, were born and reared in North Carolina. They immigrated with their parents to Georgia. My grandfather, David Hitchcock, was one of the early settlers in Hancock County. My mother's father was one of the few men who fought through the Revolutionary war, and came home alive, though with many wounds, and lived somewhere in Southwest Georgia, and died at the advanced age of 111 years.
I was born on October 9, 1813 in Hancock County, Georgia. When about two years old, my mother was left a widow almost penniless, to struggle through life, and raise her children the best she could. When I was five or six years old when my mother moved to Putnam County, where the most of her people lived, but none of them were able to help her much. So when my brothers and I were old enough to work, we were hired out for what we could get. Though my lot was hard, I always bore it the best I could and did the work assigned me. I never had any trouble in finding work, but no time to go to school until I was about 19 years old. I went to school about two months.
I passed a period of about four years of trouble and anguish of soul. Around the 1st of June 1834, my troubles were so great I could not hide them. One evening I was standing looking at the setting sun, it occurred to me look well at it; it is the last sight of it, when it sets it seals your condemnation. When it went out of sight I had to say, "farewell sun, and all earthly things; this night thy soul shall be required of thee." It was a night of darkness, mourning and grief to my poor burdened and condemned soul. But God through great mercy spared my life through the night; and long before day I was up looking for the sun with greater anxiety than ever before. I walked the yard round and round, trying to praise God for sparing my life to see another day. I was for a few moments with my back toward the East, and turning, there was the sun with all its brightness and glory! In a moment it was revealed to my poor soul, this is Christ, the Son of God, rising for your justification! He was delivered for your offences and raised again for your justification! And there is the righteousness you have been trying to work out. I cried out, "Glory to God in the highest." Peace was in my soul! I felt that my sins were all forgiven and they would never be a burden to my soul more.
But another burden soon got on my mind and whispered, "you ought to go to the church and be baptized." I was afraid to go, but could not stay away satisfied; so I went to the church at Harmony, Putnam County, Ga., and was received into the fellowship of the church August 1834, and baptized by Richard Pace.
It was not my privilege to live in this happy frame of mind long at a time. I soon found that there was a new and dangerous element making its way into the church. Fuller's followers began to come in with their new inventions, preaching free will, and a general atonement, etc. Some of the members were already soft enough to receive them, and their new doctrine. Those who could not endorse their doctrine, but contended against it. They were admonished not to oppose it, lest they be found fighting against God. Though I was young and ignorant, having never up to this time read a chapter in the Bible, nor heard much preaching, my own experience taught me that salvation was of the Lord and by grace alone. I could not endorse those new ideas. In 1837 we withdrew from them and were constituted into a church called Mt. Zion.
I was married December 1834, to Miss Sarah Moore. The first impressions that it was my duty to preach for the comfort and edification of God's people, was made the same morning that I obtained a hope in Christ. It seemed to grow stronger and stronger until it became a constant burden to my mind. On one occasion the burden was so heavy that I stopped my horse, loosed him from the plow, went over into a patch of woods and poured out my soul in prayer to God asking him to remove this burden from me; and if it was His will that I should preach, to enable me to do so with as much ability as others.
All this time I was trying to learn how to read the Bible: I would work all day and study half the night. I had a great anxiety to read and understand the Bible. I learned to read a little by spelling the words as I went. When I got so I could read a little better, I took it for my task to read the Bible through in one year. I did so; and then read it through the next year and so continued till I had read it through four times in four consecutive years. For with one breath I would ask God to enable me to preach; with the next I would declare I would not do it. No doubt many will be astonished at my inconsistencies, as well as myself; but so it was. The brethren and some of the sisters would often say to me, "you will have to preach, and you had as well go at it." I would answer, "no, I cannot."
I concluded that I could live no longer under such heavy distress, so I left the country to go where I was not known. I paid my fare and went to Walton County, put me up a shop and went to work, thinking all was well. But my trouble soon returned two-fold worse than before, so much so I really felt like I was in the very belly of hell. But in my agony of soul I promised the Lord if He would let me live and go back to Putnam County, I would try to preach. The Lord and the people in Putnam were already making arrangements to that end entirely out of my sight. I soon received a letter from my old friends in Putnam informing me what they had done, and what they would do, if I would return to Putnam; one would do one thing, and another thing; one would come with his wagon and team and move me back without charge. I read the letter and wept freely for joy, and felt to say, "the Lord is good". So I arrived back in my same old neighborhood and church; but still with an aching heart. The brethren from time to time would offer me a chance to preach, but I really felt no nearer ready than before I left. The brethren being so well acquainted with my rebellious nature and timidity, concluded to try another plan; so in conference the brother Deacon arose and said, "Brother Moderator, I move that we give Bro. Hitchcock license to preach". In a moment nearly every other brother said, "I second the move." Before the Moderator could speak, I was on my feet all in a tremble, and said, "good Lord, Bro. Winn! Who ever heard such a move? What, license a man to preach that you never heard try?" The Moderator said, "sit down, Bro. Hitchcock, you are out of order." And they would take the vote despite all I could say; and it was unanimous. The same brother arose and said, "now Brother Moderator, I propose to appoint the 3rd Sunday in this month for Bro. Hitchcock to preach" which was the 3rd Sunday in September 1846. I only had two weeks allowed me before I had to preach, or fail. I spent almost the whole time in prayer that God would prepare me for the work.
One night while I was bowed and pleading my imperfections before God, something seemed to whisper within, saying, "my grace is sufficient for you." The time came and several brothers from Tirzah Church came a distance of eight or ten miles, and were at my house by 8 or 9 o'clock. They said that they feared that I would run away; and they came to carry me to the place of meeting. They then began persuading my wife to go. She told them that she would not go for one thousand dollars; but still they got her to go. Being late in arriving, we found the whole grove crowded with horses and vehicles, and enough people to fill the house quite full. I felt that I could not face them and try to speak; but they commenced singing praises to God. I arose from my seat and started towards the table, the Deacon jumped up and opened the pulpit door and said, "go up there, that is the place for preachers." I said, "I know that, but not for me." So I took the floor and lined out a hymn, and the brethren and congregation sung. I tried to pray, and when I closed, I arose from my knees and set down, saying in my mind, "what shall I do?" The Deacon spoke and said, "get up and go to preaching." I arose and commenced talking. I would not quote a text; but thought I would work on in a way that they would not know that I had any text. But the one I thought I would use was, "loose him, and let him go." I spoke about forty-five minutes; I could see no one laughing at me, but all looked serious. When I sat down, old Bro. Akin, from Crooked Creek Church, arose and began to speak, though so full he would pause awhile from emotion, and then go on again. I soon found that he knew what my text was and would apply it to me, and said, "brethren you have done right - loose him and let him go -the Lord has a use for him." When he closed, old Bro. Barnes followed and seemed to be much in the spirit. So, upon the whole, we had a good meeting and many went home rejoicing; wife and I went home somewhat surprised. I felt that I had lost a burden that I had carried for twelve years. She seemed to be more serious for a time than I had ever seen her before. She had been a member of that church for two years. That was the first time and the last she ever heard me preach, as she departed this life Oct. 11, 1846. I was left alone with two little children to do the best I could. I was invited to every church that was near, so that I tried to preach every Sunday for a long time.
On September 17, 1847, the Brethren formed themselves into a Presbytery, and I was set before them for examination; and afterward they expressed their satisfaction and proceeded to ordain me by prayer and the laying on of hands.
The Presbytery was Games Henderson, Cary Cox, and James H. Montgomery.
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Experience of Elder D. L. Hitchcock