Skip to main content

Blackburn, Gideon (1772-1838)



Gideon Blackburn was born in Augusta Country, Virginia, on 1772 August 27. He became an orphan at age 11. In 1787 he moved to eastern Tennessee with his grandfather and uncle. There he became a Presbyterian and began seminary. He studied at Martin's Academy and received his education in theology from Dr. Robert Henderson. He then attended Dickinson College. In 1790 he moved to Washington Country, Tennessee. Two years later he received his preaching license from Abingdon Presbytery.

Blackburn then began preaching and establishing churches in the southeast. He moved to Fort Craig, Virginia, where he formed New Providence Church. He also began overseeing a church called Eusebia. In October of 1793 he married Grizzel Blackburn, a cousin, with whom he had eleven children. He also preached in the surrounding area and was responsible for forming many new churches during this time period.

Blackburn acted as a preacher for Tennessee forces in the war between the Chickamaugas and the Creeks. This experience, along with the upswing of parishoners he gained during the second Great Awakening in 1800, gave Blackburn the inspiration and means to begin missionary work among Native American communities, particularly the Cherokee. Blackburn requested assistance from the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1803 to begin a missionary school for Cherokee children. He received monetary assistance from both the Presbytery and private donors. He also requested (and received) permission from President Thomas Jefferson and local Cherokee authorities to start the mission.

In 1804 Blackburn opened his first mission school for Cherokee children. His second school was founded only a year later. He focused on teaching traditional Christian values to the children. Because they were taught in English, these schools attracted primarily bicultural boys planning to enter a profession. Politically, Blackburn began working with Cherokee leaders to adopt various Anglo-American customs, including patrilineal inheritance and more strictly defined property laws. After the assassination of Blackburn's Cherokee ally Doublehead, he moved his school to Tellico Blockhouse.

In 1809 Blackburn and his charity work fell out of favor with the Cherokee nation when Blackburn, his brother, and two chiefs, John McIntosh and The Ridge, were involved with a plan to transport alcohol through Creek territory. Citing financial difficulties, Blackburn closed the mission in 1810. The following year he moved his family to Franklin, Tennessee. He began preaching in the surrounding area and established five more churches. In 1818 he established the first church in Alabama territory. He also involved himself in the military and politics by raising forces for President Andrew Jackson in the Creek war and becoming a confidante of Jackson's wife.

The Blackburn family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1823. On November 12 of that year, he became the pastor of a Presbyterian church there. From 1827 to 1830 he served as the President of Centre College. Then in 1830 he moved to Versailles, Kentucky. Here he became involved in the Kentucky Temperance Society.

In 1833 Blackburn and his family moved to Macoupin County, Illinois, in order to help Illinois college raise funds. He also began fundraising for a theological seminary in Illinois (later to become Blackburn College). However, Blackburn was injured in a fall and died in 1838 before he could see the college completed.

"August 27: Gideon Blackburn" This Day in Presbyterian History (2013). PCA Historical Center. Accessed 2015 Feb 15.
"Gideon Blackburn: Centre College President (1827-1830)". Centre College. Accessed 2015 Feb 15.
Nichols, David A., “Gideon Blackburn (1772-1838)”, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Penelope Johnson Allen papers

Identifier: MS-002
Scope and Contents

This collection contains research notes, correspondence, clippings, histories, photographs, receipts, deeds, and research notes on the topics of Brainerd Mission and the Cherokee Indians that were created or collected by Penelope Johnson Allen primarily from 1933 to 1976. The collection also documents the historian's work with the Daughters of the American Revolution to preserve the cemetery at Brainerd Mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Dates: 1772-1990