An excerpt from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Volume 15 - 1953 (reprint)
By Rev. F.l. Cherry - "Okossee"
James Mitchell's second child and eldest son, Rev. William M. Mitchell, the only survivor of all his children, was born about the year 1820, in Chester District, SC, and lived with his father until about twenty years of age, when he started the battle of life alone as a teacher in the Chewacla neighborhood, where he taught during the years 1840, 1841, and 1842. Several of his pupils, now grandparents, still live in the neighborhood and will ever remember those days of school life with kind feelings towards their first teacher, among whom is the wife of the writer; some of whom he has bound together in the holy estate of wedlock, others baptized into the Church and other some, performed the last sad rites at the grave. Mr. Mitchell has been a sufferer from injuries received in early life, while assisting his father at the milling business, at various times, which, in 1843, culminated in entirely disabling him from active manual labor. His early education was quite limited, but by diligent application and extensive, but select reading, he is now considered a well-educated man in which there is little or nothing superfluous or ornamental, more than nature has supplied, who in his instance has been bountiful in solid and useful gifts, which he has improved and used to great advantage. In 1842 he married Miss Mary E. Taylor, daughter of the late Jesse Taylor, of the same neighborhood, who is still by his side. In 1842 Mr. Mitchell was received into the fellowship of the Primitive Baptist church at Providence, a church of that order which once stood about two miles northeast of the Chewacla Lime Works, and about six miles
southwest of Salem, but which has long since disappeared. In 1843 Mr. Mitchell was one of six initial members who organized what has ever since been known as Mt. Olive Church, which was first located about two miles south of its present site, on a road which, at that time, led from the Nunn place to the resident of the late Jesse Taylor, a
large grave yard still holds the spot as sacred to the memory of the dead, though the church was moved to its present location about 1851 or 1852. There were four churches, within an area of five miles, rebuilt about the same time, viz: Lebanon, Mt. Olive, Union and Chewacla - two Methodist, one Primitive Baptist and one Missionary
Baptist. But of this and those, a future chapter will treat in full.
On the fourth Sunday in June, 1843, Mr. Mitchell took his first text and delivered his first sermon before the congregation at Mr. Olive, and at the close of the year was regularly called as its Pastor. Forty years have passed since then, and he is still the Pastor of the same flock. For forty years, at the close of each, he has been regularly called and
has faithfully served. For forty years he has been going in and out among the same people, walking circumspectly before the, leading them to green pastures, feeding them with the sincere milk of the word, baptizing successively three generations as they came in, uniting them in marriage as they grew up and solemnizing their burial as they
passed away, and, in all probability, will continue to do so until he enters into "the rest which remaineth to the people of God." So long, faithful, acceptable and uninterrupted a pastorate of one church and congregation has no parallel in the State, in any denomination, and but few in any State anywhere, and today his congregations are as large as the population of the neighborhood will give any pastor of any church, and are as attentive, During all theses, Mr. Mitchell has been a regular voluntary contributor to the journalistic literature of his church, and his views and opinions are recognized as the standard in faith and doctrine by the denomination in the United States. In testimony of the high appreciation in which he is held as a divine, in 181 he was urgently solicited to become Associate Editor, in connection with Rev. J.R. Respess, of the "Gospel Messenger" a fifty-two page Monthly Periodical of the highest reputation, published in Butler, Ga., and devoted to the interests of the Primitive Baptist Church, which position he still retains, with a steadily increasing reputation. In 1876 Mr. Mitchell's several congregations gave him a vacation, and also in 1871 - the only two of any length he has enjoyed in a forty years' pastorate - during which he visited the North, traveling and preaching throughout the tour. During his ministry, he has traveled in thirteen
States and preached in eleven, viz: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York; also, in Washington City, D.C., attending three Associations in New Jersey, on in Pennsylvania and one in New York, and preached twelve consecutive sermons in the town of Warwick. In 1871, he attended four Associations North.
These facts illustrate that his reputation is national, to which that of Talmage and Beecher is not to be compared. Mr. Mitchell is universally recognized as a Christian Minister of the highest and purest type, laboring exclusively in the service of the Master in his own legitimate sphere, and stands high above the charge of sordid worldliness. There are but few men who have reached fame of whom this can be a truthfully spoken.
This worthy couple has had eleven children born to them, the eldest of which, John, was mortally wounded May 3rd, 1863, at Chancellorsville, and died May16th in Richmond. They are now in the mellow shadow of life's decline, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, but the halo of a divine light casts a certain and a brilliant ray across their path. In addition to his suffering of a chronic nature, of long standing, Mr. Mitchell has been afflicted recently with his eyes, which, however, at this time appear to be improving. He still lives three miles South of Opelika, which has been his residence for thirty years.
In closing this sketch, I will relate an incident which occurred at Mr. Olive during the late war, and about 1863 or 1864. It was on the fourth Sunday in July, which has been the date of the Yearly Meeting of Mt. Olive for more than forty years. Two candidates had been accepted for membership and were baptized by r. Mitchell, as a part of the morning service, in a pool at the crossing of the creek which runs through the plantation of James N. Cole, Esq., and about a quarter of a mile east of his residence. A very large company attended this service. On returning to the church, the next proceeding in order, was the administration of the Eucharist, which was followed by what is called "feet washing," a form of service practiced in this country only by the Primitive Baptist Church, and which is observed only once a year. While this service was in progress, I was seated on a front bench out of the circle of the worshipers, and the now venerable Judge Robert Kellum was sitting next to me and both of, though of different denominations from each other, as also from the worshipers, were both respectful and deeply interested spectators of what was passing. Here the incident occurred which neither of us will forget as long as we live. Nearly all the worshipers had exchanged with each other the recommendation of our Divine Patron to "wash ye also one another's
feet," when Mr. Mitchell, with napkin and basin in hand approached his venerable father, the late James Mitchell, and standing before him in respectful and humble attitude, said: "My father, is your child worthy to wash your feet?" His father, raising his almost sightless eyes to the radiant face of his boy, replied in faltering tones, as the big, honest tears rolled down his face: "My Son is Worthy."
In order to avoid betraying an emotion which might be considered by some as weakness and wholly out of place on such an occasion, I left the house for a few minutes, and was immediately followed by Judge Kellum. It was a touching scene indeed, and one which I shall never forget, and is as fresh in my memory as on the day it occurred, though twenty years have passed between. There are many who will read this that can, and do, and will ever remember it. Whatever may have been my prejudices against feet washing prior to that incident, I can say that I do not cherish any now, though of a different sect, and I have made it a point to witness the service whenever it was observed in my reach ever since.