Soul Winner: Edward O. Guerrant, the Kentucky Home Missions, and the “Discovery” of Appalachia
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 5, Number 4, Winter 2005
- pp. 47-64
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Soul Winner: Edward 0. Guerrant,tbe Kentucky Home Missions,and tbe Discovery"of Appalacbia MARK ANDREW HUI) DLE n January 1916,the Presbyterian newspaper,the Christian( Obsert,er. invited the famous home missionar>·. Edward 0. Guerrant,to contribute sonie reminiscences ot his long, productive ministry. Guerrant, who would soon celebrate his seventyeighth birthday, had labored more than half his life in the southern Appalachian mountains. He had been one of the first individuals to identify the inhabitants of that region as an exceptional population" in need of the benefits of mission work. Along with the Rev. Stuart Robinson, Guerrant worked for years to convince the Synod of Kentucky to devote its precious resources to the " uplift" ot illountain people, and within a decade his efforts had become a model for denominatic, nal outreach iii other parts ot the country. After two decades as the Synod's evingelist in 3% * the eastern Kentucky mountains, Guerrant fc„ inded the k:11>·,' . ff interdenominational " Society ot Soul Winners." The :· e_ et·.. Society recruited and trained ministers : ind teachers for ,j*, jj*# the " mountain work, as well as built churches, mission ». t schools, colleges,an orphanage,and a hospital. In 1911, » 4* Guerrant transferred control of the Society of Soul Winners * 3 to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the P United States ( South).But even at the age of seventy, he' maintained a remarkably strenuous schedule, crisscrossing the mountains,otten on horseback,to minister to the , people of the niountains. Guerrant responded to the Obsen,( 79 request with a lengthy piece entitled, " Forty Years Among the American Highlanders." In it,he offered a description of the mountain folk that he had served for so long: They are today the purest stock of ScotchIrish and AngloSaxon races on the continent. Fc, r hundreds of years they have lived isolated from the outside world,with no foreign intermixture.... They are not a degenerate people. They are brave,independent,highspirited people, whose poverty and location have isolated them frotii the Edward 0. Giterrant 18381916 ), ca. 1860. The Filsoii J listorical Society WINTER 2005 47 SOUL WINNER C. ongregation ilt Buckbom, Kentucky,1903. Tbe Filson Historical Society advantages of education and religion. They have been simply passed by in the march of progress iii this great age, because they were oiit of the way.' Guerrant's brief description illustrated many of the tensions that contributed to the rise of the home missions movement and made it so controversial then and since. The missic, ns to the mountains were the product of a specific historical moment when the southern Appalachians and the people who lived there held a singular fascination for many Americans. At a time of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and especially imiiiratioii, these " pure"Ainericans, isolated and " passed by in the march of progress"awaited only the civilizing power of education and religion. These were not seemingly inassimilable foreigners but native-born Americans who just needed a hand up. P erhaps no group has had such a controversial place in the literature of Appalachian studies as the home missionaries. For a variety of reasons, they played a critical role in the creatic, n of Appalachian stereotypes and the perceptions of mountain people as outside the American mainstreani, or " the other in historical parlance. They have been portrayed as being in willing partnership with the economic interests that moved to exploit the region's resources or as the unwitting st 41¢' WINTER 2005 51 SOUL WINNER Leesburg,Tennessee. No scholarly treatment of Guerrant's missionary work takes note of his familial ties to the mountains of east Tennessee. If the rhetoric of the home missions literature often portrayed the southern mountains as foreign land, the personal connections of the missionaries to the region were often far more coinplicated. When hostilities ceased in the spring of 1865,Guerrant's life took a surprising turn. Rather than returning to the seminary,he enrolled in the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. After a year at the school, Guerrant transferred to Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City, graduating in the spring of 1867. Few clues suggest why he made such an abrupt change of direction. What is clear...