The Reverends Finney and McGraw

Reverend William D. Finney (1788-1873) was a native of New London, PA, the son of Walter Finney (1747-1820) and Mary O’Hara (1753-1823). Finney married Susan LNU (1791-1817) who died a few months after the death of their son, Walter Scott Finney (1816-1817). He then married Margaret Miller (1790-1865) and they had six children:

  • Susan Finney (1822-1894)
  • John M. Finney, MD (1823-1896) was a beloved doctor in Churchville, MD for 50 years
  • Rev. Ebenezer Dickey Finney (1825-1904), a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary who eventually settled as the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Belair, MD where he was pastor from 1872-1895, and father to John Miller Turpin Finney, Sr., MD (1863-1942)
  • William D. Finney, Jr. (1829-1863) who died near Drytown, CA where he was a partner in the Maryland Quartz Mining Company
  • Charles M. Finney (1829-1897)
  • George Junkin Finney (1830-1906) who was a Harford County politician and judge who married Louisa Lyons Webster (1838-1927).

Rev. Finney was the pastor of the Churchville Presbyterian Church in Harford County, MD from November 1813 until his death, though his activities had been curtailed by age at the end. The nomination of the church for the National Register of Historic Places (HA-441) (NRHP) describes Finney’s arrival at Churchville this way:

The Churchville Presbyterian Church’s congregation, the oldest in Harford County, dates back to 1738, when it was chartered as the Deer Creek Presbyterian Congregation and was supplied by the Donegal Presbytery. Those early worshipers met, according to church records, in a log structure on Graveyard Branch, about two miles northeast of the present building. The congregation relocated to its now-permanent site in 1759 and built themselves a simple brick meeting house. But various issues began to divide the congregation into splinter groups of ever-decreasing importance; this unfortunate situation was worsened by the absence of any minister for 25 years. This decline was reversed, however, when the Rev. William T. Finney (sic) (1789-1873; B.A. Princeton, 1809) came to the parish. Finney was a native of New London in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where two of the Deer Creek’s elders heard him preach in October, 1812. The Marylanders were so impressed that they asked the young man to come to Harford and he agreed, being installed here on November 17, 1813. Finney revived the dying parish and caused the main block of the present church to be built.

There is a lot of information about Rev. Finney and his family and their influence on the development of Harford County. I’m a little surprised I didn’t discover a book about them. Three Finney houses north of Churchville on Glenville Road are designated by the NRHP as the Finney Houses Historic District (HA-1751), one of them is Rev. Finney’s house built in 1821 which contains a plaque inscribed with his and Margaret’s names, the date 1821, and the Latin phrase tempus fugit irreparabile (time flees irretrievably). A 20-foot-tall monument to Rev. Finney by the Baltimore sculptor Hugh Sisson faces the front door of the Churchville Presbyterian Church. Here is a description of Rev. Finney’s funeral with remarks by his successor, Rev. John R. Paxton.

Rev. James McGraw (variant: Magraw) (1775-1835) served the Presbyterians of the West Nottingham Community in neighboring Cecil County and was a friend and mentor to Rev. Finney. McGraw was born in Bart Township, PA, to Irish immigrant John McGraw (1750-1818) and Jane Kerr about whom not much is known. He married Rebecca Cochran (1780-1831), the daughter of Captain Stephen Cochran (1732-1790) of Cochranville, PA and Jane LNU (1740-1783). Their children were:

  • James Cochran McGraw (1804-1868) was postmaster of Cumberland, MD; presiding judge of the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court at the time of his death; he married Mary Anne Correy (1804-1874) and they had three girls and two boys.
  • Stephen John McGraw (1806-1848) was postmaster of Havre de Grace, MD when he died.
  • Samuel Martin McGraw (1806-1871) was a Harford County Orphans’ Court judge, a principle of the Bel Air Academy and of the West Nottingham Academy, and a delegate to Maryland’s Constitutional Convention of 1850 (Magraw); he married Mary Anne S. Maxwell (1807-1868) and they had one son.
  • Jane Eliza McGraw (1811-1826)
  • Robert Mitchell McGraw (1811-1866) was a director and president of the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad.
  • Henry Slaymaker McGraw (1815-1867) was a lawyer in Pittsburgh, the treasurer of Pennsylvania, and a member of the Maryland House of Delegates when he died.
  • Ann Isabella McGraw (1817-1843)
  • William Miller Finney McGraw (1818-1864) was the first person to carry mail to Utah.

Rev. McGraw’s biography in The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and District
of Columbia
(Baltimore: National Biographical Publishing Co., 1879, p. 359-60):

MAGRAW, JAMES, Clergyman and Educator, was born in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, January 1, 1775. His father, John Magraw, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland, having been compelled to flee his native land, because of his connection with a secret political club, which was regarded as inimical to the British Government, fled first to Gibraltar, and thence to this country, and settled in Pennsylvania. Being well educated, he taught school at Upper Octorara, and other places in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He was a volunteer soldier in a Pennsylvania regiment during the entire Revolutionary war, and was in most of the battles in Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. He was at Valley Forge, and crossed the Delaware with Washington {George Washington}, and was wounded at the battle of Princeton. He married Jane Kerr, of Middle Octorara, and died December 22, 1818, aged sixty-eight. Their son James, the subject of this sketch, received his primary education at a classical school near Strasburg, Pennsylvania, and afterwards entered Franklin College, at Lancaster city, where he was graduated with honor. In 1800 he entered upon the study of theology, under the Rev. Nathaniel Sample, pastor of the churches of Leacock and Middle Octorara. In the same year he was received as a candidate for the Gospel ministry by the Presbytery of New Castle. On December 16, 1801, he was sent on a mission to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. In 1803 he received calls from Washington and Buffalo, in Pennsylvania, and from West Nottingham, in Cecil County, Maryland. After mature consideration, he accepted the call to West Nottingham, and April 4, 1804, was ordained and installed pastor by the Presbytery of New Castle. The society at that time was comparatively feeble, but it steadily prospered under Mr. Magraw’s ministry, and at the time of his death it was a large and flourishing congregation. In 1822 he organized a church at Charlestown [MD] and remained its pastor until his death, after which the church at that place became extinct. In 1825 Dickinson College conferred upon Mr. Magraw the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Dr. Magraw was a prominent and influential member of the church courts. He took a decided and active part with the Old School, in the church controversy which commenced in 1831, and issued in 1837 in the division of the Church into New and Old School. In reference to the part he sustained in this controversy the Rev. Robert J. Breckenridge, DD, said, “Beyond a doubt the great chapter in Dr. Magraw’s life was his connection with the reform of the Presbyterian Church from 1831 until his death.” He was a member of the General Assembly of 1834, also an active member of the Convention of Ministers and Elders that met in Philadelphia, and drew up and signed the famous “Act and Testimony.” In 1812, through the agency of Dr. Magraw, the West Nottingham Academy was established. After a few years of indifferent success and frequent changes of teachers, he became its principal, and continued to hold that relation until his death. Under his management this institution attained a high reputation. Students were attracted to it from distant parts of the country, and many who have and still hold prominent positions in business, political, and professional life, received their education at this academy. Dr. Magraw was emphatically a man of action. His administrative abilities were of a high order. He faithfully discharged the duties of his pastoral charge; efficiently superintended the West Nottingham Academy; was an earnest worker in the temperance reform in its infancy; and amid all these labors, successfully managed the large farm on which he resided. In person Dr. Magraw was tall, somewhat corpulent, and had a robust and vigorous constitution. Endowed with high intellectual powers, of strong will, affable and agreeable manners, he exercised a great influence over his fellow-men and commanded their respect.

Rev. Finney sent Rev. McGraw’s son, Stephen, the following cover letter with a booklet containing copies of the eulogies delivered at Rev. and Mrs. Finney’s funerals, presumably by him, an obituary, and remarks made at the communion table to memorize Rev. Finney. The following are scans of the original documents followed by my transcription of them.

January 24th, 1844
Mr. S. J. Magraw
Dear Sir—I have often regretted that so little that is permanent has been put on record in relation to your Father & Mother. I beg leave to suggest, if you think it worth while, that you would send what I have written to your sister, & let her write a copy for each one of her Brothers—at any rate a copy for William
[William was apparently named after Rev. Finney].
I have copied what I promised and a little more—supposing it would not be unacceptable. The date at the top of the 6th page you can supply. I recollected the month but not the day of the year
[the date, the 1st, was added on page six]. Any other mistakes you may notice please to correct.
Sincerely yours,
W. Finney

Substance of an address delivered at the funeral of Mrs. Rebecca Magraw.
We have assembled to pay the last duties of affection, to one whose loss will be long felt, & very long deplored. It is no common loss we have sustained — & yet it is accompanied with consolations, of no ordinary kind. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death.”_ The lifeless clay which we have just covered up, ’till the last trump shall sound, was animated by a spirit, which we trust, has winged its way to the paradise above. Around this hope, hang no misgivings. We cannot, surely, be mistaken. The meek and peaceful spirit of the gospel, was strikingly & uniformly manifested in her whole deportment. Her example was noiseless, but impressive. Like

the “Dew of Hermon[Psalm 133; Mt. Hermon] it distilled its refreshing influence, upon the circle in which she moved. Her calm & peaceful view of eternity, as she gradually approached its brink, & her expressions of confidence in the pardoning blood of Christ, were sure and comfortable evidences that the departing spirit was fitted for its flight. How consolatory to survivors, is the sweet assurance that death to her was gain! And who would not on, witnessing the peace of her expiring moments, & the hallowed calm that was thrown around her death-bed exclaim — Let me die the death of the righteous & let my last end be like hers!__

We have stood around the grave, & have committed to its trust, the precious but lifeless remnant, of the beloved, inestimable woman who had long been united to many of us, by sacred & tender ties. These ties have been dissolved, and the deathless spirit of our departed friend, has bidden us a long adieu. To the bereaved partner of her joys and sorrows, a crowd of consolations calculated to calm. The tumult of his feelings, are presented in the single fact that she sleeps in Jesus. What a privilege to have been the husband of such a wife! And altho’ a feeling of desolation, & loneliness must pass over his soul, it is his unutterable privilege to look beyond the lowering cloud, to the bow of the covenant beyond it, & exclaim, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And while it is his privilege thus to bow, in peaceful submission,

to the sovereign will of God, how overwhelming are the motives presented in this scene of sorrow, to denote the short remnant of his span, with increased & redoubled diligence, to the care of that deathless spirit committed to his trust, & which in a little while must begin its eternal flight.

By the children of our departed friend, the solemn transactions of this solemn day, will not — cannot be soon forgotten. You have looked into a mother’s grave, yes, a mother’s grave. It is the voice of a beloved, departed mother, whose living form you will see no more, & whose prayers for her children had so often ascended to the throne, in agonizing earnestness, that now addresses you from the tomb, and tells you to prepare to meet your God. Can you resist an appeal so overwhelming — an appeal so calculated to thrill upon every cord, and every fibre of the heart? And will you not in this hour so full of solemn, & tender recollections, resolve that you will seek with an earnestness, never felt before, the favor of a mother’s Covenant God, & prepare to follow in the wake of her deathless spirit, departed for the skies? __
W. F._

Notice, published in the newspaper—
Departed this life on Monday Dec. 1st after a distressing & protracted illness, Mrs. Rebecca Magraw, wife of the Reverend Jas. Magraw, DD of Cecil County, Md, in the 55th year of her age. It is not intended in this notice to give in detail the history of her life, but merely a brief memorial. It is not known to the writer at what period in life she gave up the world for Christ. It is most probable however that it was in her youth. For many years she was a consistent & exemplary member of the visible Church & deeply interested in the general prosperity of Zion. In all the benevolent efforts of the day, she manifested a deep and increasing interest to the last. And if any one Christian enterprise shared in her affections more largely than another, it was the training up of young men for the gospel ministry. And some of them now in distant fields of labour, should they read this little memorial, will feel that they have indeed lost a mother — & the tear of gratitude will fall as memory brings up her kind attentions & untiring efforts to help them forward to the sacred office.
As a wife she was yielding, affectionate & kind — as a mother a rare example of devotedness to the best interests of her children — as a friend decided and ardent in her attachments. The meek and peaceful spirit of the Gospel threw a moral charm over her whole deportment.

Her example was noiseless but impressive. It shed like the dew of Hermon its refreshing influence upon the circle in which she moved. Her calm and peaceful view of eternity as she gradually approached its brink — her expressions of confidence in the pardoning blood of Christ, were sure and comfortable evidences that the departing spirit was fitted for its flight.
As her end drew near, she was asked by a friend if Christ was precious — precious! she exclaimed as if surprised at the question: “He is my whole dependence!” Death when he came created no alarm. She felt the gentle intimation that her hour was come; & clasping her hands upon her breast, & raising her eyes to Heaven in a fixed & ardent gaze resigned her spirit unto God who gave it.

“So sets the morning star,
“Which goes not down behind the darkened West,
“Nor hides obscured ‘mid tempests of the sky,
But melts away into the light of Heaven.”

[poem; text]

Extract from an address delivered at the communion-table in W. Nottingham Church shortly after the death of Dr. Magraw — W. F.
It has been my lot in the providence of God, occasionally to stand upon this spot & distribute to those around this Table, the memorials of the Redeemer’s death: — But never did I perform that service here, in such solemn circumstances. I feel that there is something wanting. The seat at the head of this table is not filled, as on former occasions — the Pulpit is empty — the chair unoccupied, & I listen to catch the sound of the voice which was so familiar, — so solemn, & so impressive at the communion table. But I look, & listen & wait in vain — And the truth that your beloved Pastor is no more, seems to fall upon the heart with an overwhelming certainty, that is professed not, when we stood in sorrow, & silence around his grave. He has performed, then, his last communion service, & placed in your hands for the last time, the memorials of the Redeemer’s death.
At the table, where we trust he sits, no bread & wine are needed, to remind him of the sorrows of Gethsemane, or the agonies of the Cross — but even there, if spirits of the departed, are permitted to look down upon the table below, he is no indifferent spectator, of this solemn scene. It was at the communion table that his feelings seemed to be most deeply enlisted, & his whole soul, to be thrown into his solemn & overwhelming appeals, to the conscience, & the heart. — A feeling of desolation comes over the soul, as

the reality forces itself upon us, that we shall see his face no more — that to this house, this sacred desk, this flock without a shepherd, he has bidden a long adieu: But you will meet him again, when the grave shall have given up its dead. To some of you, we trust, it will be a meeting full of joy. Are not some of my hearers, the seals of his ministry — the spiritual children of our departed Brother? — Then you will meet again where the faithful Pastor & the believing flock will be adorned with crowns of victory.

And perhaps I speak to some who have not been profited by his ministrations — some over whom he has wept and prayed in vain. Alas! What a fearful meeting will take place between the Pastor, who so faithfully and affectionately warned, & and his reckless hearer who fled not from the wrath to come! But if the life, & preaching and example of our Brother, now no more, failed to impress, will his death too be unimproved? To-day, he seems to address you, not from the Pulpit, but from the grave — not in the living voice, that falls upon the ear, but in the low unearthly whisper, that breaths upon the heart. And will you not now resolve, in dependence upon the grace & the spirit of God, that you will make the one thing needful the object of your supreme regard. Shall there not be joy to-day among the Angels of God over some in this assembly that have repented?

Extract from a sermon — “Ye shall see my face no more.” —
And with what solemn emphasis is this declaration pressed upon our hearts at this solemn moment? He who was pastor of this church, for more than 30 years, has been suddenly summoned to his last account, & you will see his face no more. How faithful he warned his hearers, thro’ that so long period, to flee from the wrath to come. How affectionately he invited them to accept of an offered Savior! How deeply he sympathized with them, in all their sorrows, & how diligently he toiled, & labored & prayed for their salvation, the hearts & consciences of many present will testify . . . as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, he was deterred by no bodily toil, or sacrifice of ease, from delivering the messages of his Master. As a member of the Presbytery, of the Synod, and general assembly, his services were not only invaluable, but cheerfully given. His death has left a blank in those departments of the Church, which cannot soon be filled. As a friend (I speak from experience) he was faithful, & devoted. For more than 20 years it has been my privilege, however undeserving, to share largely in his kindness, & receive substantial evidences of his regard — but I shall see his face no more — & have been denied too the melancholy privilege of a parting interview. It would been a mournful consolation, to have stood over his dying bed, & to have witnessed the cheering & sustaining influence of that gospel, he had so long preached to others. It would have been pleasant to have seen “how a Christian could die.” — But the Rubicon is passed, & that face upon which death has affixed his seal, you will see no more. That voice which so often resounded within these walls you will hear no more . . . but will the Pastor & his flock without a shepherd, meet no more? Yes you will meet him, at the bar of judgement, as a long absent friend, mingling his joys with yours, or as a swift and terrible witness against you. Upon your choice depends the joy or the sorrow of that meeting. Have you neglected the warnings of the living Watchman? Oh! seek to be profited by his death. Listen to the invitation he gives from the tomb. It is the silent solemn eloquence of death. It is his his last appeal, whose face you will see no more. ——

February 2022 update: My wife gets me out of my urban canyon on weekends by taking me on a discovery drive out in the county (outnacanty) and today we came across the monument to Reverend Finney mentioned above. We stopped for a photo:

The monument to Rev. Finney by the Baltimore sculptor Hugh Sisson faces the front door of the Churchville Presbyterian Church, 2844 Churchville Road, Churchville, MD

One thought on “The Reverends Finney and McGraw

Leave a Reply