DR ALEXANDER McLEOD MILLIGAN. There is no name in the church history of Westmoreland county which shines forth with more lustre than that of Milligan. From the sturdy Scotch grandsire of the early years of last century down to the polished and eloquqent grandsons of today, three generations of ministers have worthily born the name, and each in turn, eight in all, have contributed to its greatness. Like the Beechers., they have been a family of great ministers, and like them they sprang from a famous ancestry, whose greatness was eclipsed by the matchless eloquence of an illustrious son.
The ancestor was Dr.. James Milligan. He was born in Scotland, August 7, 1785, and came to America and settled in Westmoreland county in i8oi. Though brought up in the Presbyterian faith, he joined the Covenanter church in 1805, and prepared himself for the ministry. He was graduated with honor from Jefferson College in 1809, and after a theological course began preaching in 1812. In 1817 he was installed pastor at Ryegate, Vermont, where he was married to Miss Mary Trumbull in 1820. He remained there until 1839, when he removed with his family to New Alexandria, in this county, and became pastor of the Covenanter church of that place. In 1848 he removed to Illinois and remained there until 1855, after which he was engaged mostly in the missionary work of his church. He died in Michigan, January 2, 1862. He was a man of high intellectual attainments and was perhaps most noted for his knowledge of the languages and the fearless manner in which he denounced the evils of his day, particularly those of slavery and intemperance. On these questions there were few men of his day equal to him. His public utterances on the slavery question were not confined to his church, but he traveled widely in the East, and by his eloquence awakened great sympathy for the oppressed race of the South.
He had three sons who rose to eminence in the ministry - Alexander McLeod, born in 1822; James Saurin Turretin, born in 1826; and John Calvin Knox, born in 1829.
It was Alexander McLeod Milligan who became in our judgment the ablest minister and the most fearless and eloquent speaker our county has yet produced. From his earliest youth his father designed him for the ministry and directed his studies to that end. To assist in procuring an education he began teaching school near New Alexandria, his home. In 1843 he was graduated from Duquesne College, and pursued the study of theology in Allegheny and Cincinnati Seminaries. He was licensed to preach by the Pittsburg Presbytery in 1847, and the year following began his life work by succeeding his father as pastor of the United Congregations of Greensburg and New Alexandria. Remaining there until 1853, he was called to the pastorate of the Third Congregation of Philadelphia. In 1856 he returned to his first charge, where he remained ten years, after which he removed to Pittsburg, and there labored until his death. During all these years his work was not by any means confined to the pulpit. He was a leader of public thought, and advocated the cause of abolition in almost every part of the Union, and, it must be remembered, too, that he did this in an age when abolition was the most unpopular of all public causes, and when even the churches of the Union had not yet taken up the question. His eye never quailed nor was his voice ever hushed by opposition or by threats of personal violence.
Nature had lavishly bestowed her gifts on Dr. Milligan. In personal appearance he was fully six feet tall, finely built and commanding, and at sight impressed his hearers with the importance of the message he bore. His powerful voice was extremely musical and flexible, and always under the most perfect control. In a few short sentences he could at will expand it from the gentle tones like those of a flute, which he was wont to use in conversation, to a climax of clarion notes which would fill the auditorium and startle his hearers in the remotest galleries. Thrilled by his magnetic eloquence, which was frequently compared with that of Henry Ward Beecher, his audience forgot the passing hour and remembered only the down-trodden slave or the lowly Nazarene whose cause he pleaded.
Few men of his day had studied more closely the public questions of the hour than he. His mind was well stored with information on all topics and he spoke, whether in the pulpit or on the platform, as though from an inexhaustible storehouse within. And with unusual readiness could he summon all his powers and call them into action. He introduced Louis Kossuth when he visited the United States in 1854, in a short address, and the great Hungarian reformer said of him that he was the ablest natural orator he had ever heard on either side of the Atlantic ocean.
Preeminently, however, he was a minister of the gospel, and those who heard the preacher, heard him at his best. But perhaps outside of the pulpit the cause which lay nearest his heart was the abolition of slavery. It mattered not to him that the cause was in that day extremely unpopular. Like Garrison, Stevens, Beecher, Philips, Adams and Giddings, he bore without complaint his full share of the obloquy which was heaped upon all who dared to raise their voices in defense of the black man. He deemed no sacrifice too great if it could but advance the cause. Audiences in the Eastern cities which had scarcely passed from under the magic spell of the great Beecher found themselves enchained and convinced by the majestic eloquence of Milligan. He was, in the true sense of the term, a magnetic speaker.
He sided with John Brown, not perhaps with the drastic method he adopted to further his scheme, but certainly with his purpose to free the slaves by force. He wrote him a consolatory letter in 1859, when he was confined in jail under sentence of death. This letter has since been published broadcast throughout the country. In 1861 he reiterated his admiration for the old hero by naming his son Ossawattomie Brown, now one of the ablest ministers of Ohio. From one of his public letters we quote the following:
"I rejoice that I have lived to see the emancipation and enfranchisement of the Slave, for whose liberty I gave twenty of the best years of my life." He was prominent in any field of labor he sought to enter, which required the ability of an advocate, and whether in the pulpit or on the platform, or in the councils of the church, composed only of learned men, he was listened to with the same marked attention and eager interest. Although his reputation rests mostly on his ability as a public speaker, yet the Christian Statesman, Our Banner, and other church magazines contain many contributions from his able pen. These show beyond doubt his mastery of the subjects he handled, and that his strength as a speaker lay largely in the clear expression which he gave to his thoughts.
In 1847 he was married to Ellen Snodgrass, a daughter of Hon. John Snodgrass, of New Alexandria. He survived her, and on August 24, 1871, he was married to Belle A. Stewart, who yet lives in New Alexandria.
Perhaps the most marked trait of his character was his love of home life and of children. He was never so happy as when surrounded by them, and his family yet exhibits a smiling picture of him with four mirthful grandchildren on his knee. It was doubtless this inborn feeling for the weak and innocent that led him to espouse the cause of the helpless and down-trodden African slave.
In the spring of 1884 his health began to fail and he journeyed to Southern California; hoping that a milder climate would benefit him. Disappointed in this, attended by his faithful wife, he turned, his face homeward to die, as he thought, among his kindred. Unfortunately he died on his way, on the train in Wyoming, on May 7, 1885. His remains were brought home, and while they lay in state in Pittsburg, colored people flocked to weep over his death and to honor the fearless advocate of the rights of their race. He is buried in Bellevue cemetery, in Allegheny.
Source: Page(s) 667-669, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
Westmoreland County Genealogy Project Notice:
These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format, for any presentation, without prior written permission.
Return to Westmoreland County History Project
Return to Westmoreland County Home Page
(c) Westmoreland County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project