A founder of the Christian Church, Alexander Campbell (September 12, 1788-March 4, 1866) was a preacher, philosopher, author, scholar, publisher, orator, statesman, college founder, and sheep farmer. Throughout his adult life, he worked to bring about religious, political, educational, and social reforms.
The son of Thomas and Jane (Corneigle) Campbell, he was born in the county of Antrim, Ireland. He migrated to America in 1809 and in 1811 settled in Buffaloe [sic], Brooke County, now Bethany, where he farmed and produced fine wool. Campbell married Margaret Brown of Buffaloe, and after her death in 1827 he married Selina Huntington Bakewell of nearby Wellsburg. He had eight children by his first wife and six by his second, and was the uncle of state founder Archibald W. Campbell.
Campbell, a pacifist, grew to maturity in Ireland during an era of sectarianism and political violence. His father, Thomas Campbell, a teacher and Presbyterian clergyman, migrated in 1807 to Washington, Pennsylvania, a few miles east of present Bethany. Alexander Campbell attended the University of Glasgow (1808–09), after which the family reunited in America.
Having severed Presbyterian ties, Thomas Campbell drafted The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington (1809), a charter for religious reformation based on Christian unity and liberty. This led to formation of one of the largest indigenous religious bodies in America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the founders of which were Alexander Campbell, Barton Warren Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Walter Scott.
Alexander Campbell conducted Buffaloe Seminary in his home (1818–22). He operated one of the most influential religious presses on the frontier, editing and publishing The Christian Baptist (1823–30) and The Millennial Harbinger (1830–70). When Bethany became a post-town, Campbell served as the first postmaster (1827–65). As delegate from Brooke County to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829, he argued for a public system of education and an end to slavery. Campbell’s views on the latter subject were complex, and he was sometimes accused of being pro-slavery; while personally opposed to slavery, he felt that it had to be tolerated wherever it was legal, and that laws must not be broken in seeking its end. As the main speaker at the historic educational convention in Clarksburg (1841), he argued again for public education.
He founded Bethany College (March 2, 1840), the oldest degree-granting institution in West Virginia, serving as president and professor until his death. Campbell was elected president of the first general convention of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and at the same time was elected president of the newly established American Christian Missionary Society (1849), positions he held until his death.
Alexander Campbell is buried near the historic Campbell mansion at Bethany. The mansion is now a National Historic Landmark, one of only 16 in West Virginia.
Read the National Historic Landmark nomination for the Alexander Campbell Mansion.
This Article was written by Rosemary Jeanne Cobb
Last Revised on January 23, 2013
Campbell, Selina H. Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell. St. Louis: John Burns, 1882.
Richardson, Robert. Memoirs of Alexander Campbell. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1868-70.
Smith, Benjamin L. Alexander Campbell. St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1930.