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Rev. Robert Lewis

Reverend Dr. Robert Louis Dabney of Virginia

Robert Louis Dabney was one of the most influential Presbyterian theologians of this day and an admirer of John C. Calhoun. He was an archetype of the 19th-century liberal, a God-fearing man, an ardent advocate of small government and self-rule, and a believer in a market and a polity defined by individual liberty. He was also a descendant of Cornelius Dabney of Virginia and a cousin of George Rockingham Gilmer, in short, a scan of the Virginia and Broad River families. Dabney harbored a profound and deeply antagonistic distrust of Yankees in the antebellum era and beyond. A major during the Civil War, he served as General Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff. Another Broad River scion and possible kinsman, Major Robert Meriwether, was also attached to Jackson's outfit and later was a South Carolina advance aged to Brazil. The two men were friends and stayed in contact for many years after the latter’s permanent removal to São Paulo province. Though Dabney seriously considered leaving the United States after the war, he did not. Instead, he moved to Austin, Texas, in the late 1800s and with Reverend Richmond Kelly Smoot laid the groundwork for founding the Austin School of Theology, (later the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary,) Dabney’s ruminations on immigrating are revealing.

In August 1865, he wrote to his brother, expressing his interest to go to Brazil, although he also laid out possibilities for immigration to other places. One scenario envisioned a quiet and cultured lifestyle,” if only a few are going, they are to go to some of the quieter towns of Holland, Protestant Germany, or Protestant Switzerland, such as Arnheim, Frankfort, Berne.” These locations would offer good government and climate, cultivated society, religious liberty, and a prevalence of Protestants, “living in decent moderation astonishingly cheap and educational needs, with access to noble libraries, Galleries, etc., for a song.”. A second option was for locations in the Americas appropriate for a larger number of migrants,” If so many Confederates are going, that they will find their own community and a prevalent public opinion, so as to absorb socially, instead of being absorbed, then they ought to go to a new and wide country, offering fertile cheap lands, and a great deal of it.....they must have a leader, a Moses, to bargain for Homesteads, and chartered rights to religious liberty.....I have suggested General Breckenridge and the region of Argentina's La Plata in the southern temperate zone.”

Dabney also considered Mexico, (An effort led by Matthew Fontaine Maury),, but by late January 1866, he had dismissed it.” I have no doubt at all, of the physical advantages of parts of Mexico recommended by General Price. But it is too near the Yankees, and unless Maximilian is to be backed up beyond a peradventure, by the strong powers, I shall have nothing to do with it.....unless they, the Yankees, are kept off of Mexico, by the European powers, they will be filibustering all over it before ten years.

In contrast, “the La Plata country deserves to be looked into. It is out of the Yankees beat.” But Dabney’s personal situation complicated matters, especially his mother's illness. Financially, Daphne was struggling but was not in dire straits. He was teaching at Union Theological Seminary in Hampden-Sydney, Virginia, and thanks to “aid extended by northern copperheads to the treasury of the seminary,” he had “almost a living salary” but otherwise was contending with his shattered financial barque.”. He worried about his family if something were to happen to him, his eldest son was only ten.


Dabney was also writing a biography of Stonewall Jackson that he believed could land him in jail if published. It was “undoubtedly contraband, with its outspoken, truthful narration of Yankee crimes, and assertion of free principles, and with its atmosphere and coloring of independent, indignant feeling.”. He considered publishing it in Halifax or London then smuggling it into the country, “To let it fate be the sign and test, whether I are to live in the U.S”. In fact, the book was published in New York in 1866 as Life and Campaign of Lieutenant General Thomas J Jackson.

Dabney concluded that “these things point this way, that whatever other Confederates stay, I must emigrate.” But the viability and continuation of the Southern Presbyterian Church that was formed in 1861 gave him pause. Dabney believed that a secession word “about to take place in the Northern church,”  which he regarded as an apostate, if so, “the churches in the Confederacy are the last sound rallying point for conservative Christianity.”  The recent demise of Reverend James Henley Thornwell, a leading southern theologian, put Daphne in an even greater quandary. Dabney was then “looked to as the acknowledge leader of theological education in the south, would be disastrous to be robbed of my labors in the lecture room, of my pen, and of my counsels.”Thornwell  was such a vocal Calhounite that he was known as the “Calhoun of the church.”

But Dabney wondered if his leadership was reason enough to overlook other considerations. “Of what avail is the pen, logic, science, and instruction, where there is no liberty of speech, and all these are chained. I should go hence, for the very purpose of wielding these for the truth. Continuing in the same vein, this descendent of Virginia Huguenots took his inspiration from that cultural legacy, “Confederate Christianity..... is the only salt of the land. What if this salt should lose it savour through the corrupting influence of despotism?  It is to my mind an open question, whether this salt can be saved for the good of mankind in any other way, then that in which the influence of the Huguenots was saved by emigration.

In early 1866, Dabney’s resolve to migrate was even firmer, and he anticipated many others would do likewise.” I have never for one moment been deluded into the dream that the country was not irreparably ruined.  I see every development making that fact more patent to other people’s eyes, (not to my own,) and watch, without any surprise, the steady and extensive leavening of the mind of our people, with the desire for emigration. Be assured, we shall have company enough, and that of the best: the folly and wickedness of the Yankees assure that.”


An important theme emerges in Dabney's writings: the quality of one's life was not so much a function of place as of the company of like society. Dabney attributed little value to where you lived. The location simply provided a setting for THE morel important pursuit of a particular lifestyle: “ All that is needed is the proper selection of refuge, and the respectable head slips, to make the movement so general, as to aggregate in our new home, all that is desirable of the Confederacy..... could these hopes be realized, we should have nothing to regret after the local ties were once surrendered, and the actual labours of removal gotten through: but might find ourselves in a better situation than we ever were before, even during our good days. Our chinquapin region of Virginia was a hard country at best: and nothing but a set of social circumstances acceptable to our feelings and habits made it a tolerable home. Now that these are gone, it seems to me, the only sensible view to take of it is..... to get away as soon as possible”.

Dabney envisioned large numbers of migrants, “My faith is still firm, and that when the Confederate colonies are started properly, they will speedily be, large enough to demand a large country, and to make an unsettled government settled. A hiatus in the brother’s correspondence between early 1866 and 1872  prevents our knowing exactly why Dabney ultimately rejected emigration. In 1872, he was in contact with Rev. Edward E. Lane one of two Southern Presbyterian missionaries who had taken up posts in Campinas, Sao Paulo, as of 1869. The other missionary was Rev. George Nash Morton of Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia, who had scouted out Brazil in 1868. Dabney had supported a motion at the denomination’s 1866 general assembly to send missionaries to Brazil, but the proposal was regarded as “premature” and was defeated.


Morton and Lane were not the first Presbyterian clergy from the United States to go to Brazil. James Cooley Fletcher arrived in Rio in 1851 as “a chaplain missionary of the American and foreign Christian union, and of the American Seamen's Friend Society.”. Fletcher has been educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Brown University, and Princeton Theological Seminary. Although not technically a missionary, he saw himself as such in the years following Herndon and Gibbon’s exploration of the Amazon, which had led to tense relations between the Brazilian and U.S. governments. (Brazil feared the undertaking represented the first step toward American domination of the region.)  Fletcher's goal was to convert Brazil to Protestantism. Between the mid-1850s and early 1860s, he traveled extensively as an agent of the American Sunday school union distributing Bibles. He also spent time ingratiating himself with leading Brazilian liberals in pursuit of his dream. This aspect of his activities knitted together the Brazilian and U.S .networks that facilitated southern immigration.

The first formal U.S. Presbyterian representative in Brazil was Reverend Ashbel Green Simonton of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, one of the two main northern branches. Named for Ashbel Green, a theologian, Chapman to Congress, and President of Princeton University, Ashbel Green Simonton arrived in Rio in 1859 and rented space above the warehouse occupied by Horace Many Lane., a young merchant from Maine, who became his traveling companion. Lane imported U.S. plows and kerosene, was a Freemason, and later was a founder and director of the Presbyterian affiliated McKenzie College in South Paulo. Judith McKenzie Jones cautioned her readers not to confuse Horace Manley Lane with the Horace Lane who was an associate of Dr. John H Blue. Other scholars assume they are one and the same for some compelling reasons. Horace Manley Lane returned to the United States after spending 1859-63 in Brazil, received a medical degree, and practice in a “small town” in Blue’s home state of Missouri. Two other Presbyterian missionaries arrived in Brazil soon after Simonton, his brother-in-law Reverend Alexander Latimer Blackford and Reverend George W Chamberlain.


Two Southern Presbyterian clergyman were in São Paulo before Morton and Lane’s 1869 arrival, Reverend James H Baird, of South Carolina, and Reverend William Curtis Emerson, a resident of Meridian, Mississippi. Emerson, who was born in the Broad River community of Abbeville, South Carolina, resided in Sumter County, Alabama, in 1845 at the time of his first marriage. He was also a planter and a college president. While in Mississippi in the 1850s, he came to know Ashbel Green Simonton and his brother James S. Simonton. Ashbel and James both graduated Princeton and 8052, then spent eighteen months in the south, where Ashbel taught at a boys academy in Starkville, Mississippi. Emerson and others encouraged Ashbel to choose the ministry as his profession, although he briefly studied law.  By 1855, though, he was immersed in theology at Princeton Seminary. In 1857, his sights were set on missionary work, and he began learning Portuguese before departing for Brazil in 1859.

Reverend Blackford, a northerner, encouragement the southern church to send missionaries to Brazil. Both nations adopted the attitude that their work was to be defined by all of Brazil, not just the existing Presbyterian communities among ex-patriots, southern or otherwise. Morton and Lane were most cordially received by Blackbird and Chamberlain, and it was decided among them that the southerners who settled at Santa Barbara would be on Morton and Lane’s circuit, even though Simonton and his associates had established congregations in Rio in São Paulo provinces before the southerners arrival.


Blackford also met South Carolinian and fellow  Presbyterian Dr. James McFadden Gaston during the latter’s scouting trip to Brazil in late 1865 and the two became close friends. Of Blackford and his wife, Gaston remarked “there seems to be no political prejudice against the course pursued by the South,  on the part of either, and indeed Mr. Blackford had sympathized with us in the recent struggle to resist the encroachments upon our constitutional rights by the Federal Government. After Blackford was widowed, he married Gaston's daughter Nanny. Gaston and Simonton were probably very distant in-laws by way of various ancestors hailing from Antrim County, Ireland, where the Gastons appear to have been relocated Huguenots. These commonalities suggest that shared religious values and extended kinship may have provided the common ground on which social relationships in Brazil were founded among individuals who were on opposite sides during the war.

Although Dabney ultimately decided not to migrate to Brazil, he did not lose interest in that country. He maintained contact with Edward Lane who once forwarded a letter from Robert Meriwether that gave an account of his farming experiences in the Santa Barbara area where he recorded crop yields about four times those of similar acreage he had farmed in South Carolina and Georgia. Meriwether was heavily indebted at war’s end, later moved from Santa Barbara to Botucatu( Sao Paulo province where he bought land and slaves, cultivated a hundred thousand coffee trees, built a sawmill, and founded a Presbyterian Church. As late as 1872, Dabney was still wrestling with “the subject of suitable occupation for our farming people, to make their efforts more remunerative” and was considering “Cuban seed leaf tobacco”. Some Confederated around Santa Barbara was already raising that crop. Their homemade cigars were popular in Rio and enjoyed by Emperor Dom Pedro II. Dabney’s ongoing interest in Brazil is also reflected in his nephew, John Watkins Daphne, who became a missionary there in the mid-1880s. By then, his uncle was in Austin working toward founding a new seminary. John's middle name of Watkins, (his mother's maiden name,) is another Broad River surname.

SOURCE:  A Confluence of Transatlantic Network   Pages 182-187

See also Simonton and Blackford

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From Wikipedia:

                                   Robert Lewis Dabney (March 5, 1820 – January 3, 1898) was an American Christian theologianSouthern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate States Army chaplain, and architect. He was also chief of staff and biographer to Stonewall Jackson. His biography of Jackson remains in print today.

Dabney and James Henley Thornwell were two of Southern Presbyterianism's most influential scholars. They were both CalvinistOld School Presbyterians, and social conservatives. Some conservative Presbyterians, particularly within the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, still value their theological writings, although both these churches have repudiated Dabney's and Thornwell's beliefs on race and support of antebellum slavery.[2][3] Dabney denounced public schools, which were rare in the South prior to Reconstruction, in often-racially-charged terms. His criticisms of public education became highly influential within the American conservative movement, as well as among theonomists such as Rousas John Rushdoony, who largely sympathized with the Confederacy. [4]

Robert Lewis Dabney was born on March 5, 1820. He was the sixth child (third son) of Charles William Dabney (1786–1833) and Elizabeth Randolph Price Dabney, and a descendant of Cornelius d'Aubigné from an extended d'Aubigné (Dabney) Huguenot family that settled in Virginia and Massachusetts in the 17th century.[5][6] [See "Origin of the Dabney Family of Virginia," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XLV, April 1937, No. 2, which disproves this. The Virginia progenitor of this line was present in Virginia before the Edict of Nantes, which started the Huguenot exodus] His brother, Charles William Dabney (1809–1895) was the captain of Company C, 15th Virginia Infantry Regiment.[7]

He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1837 and received a master's degree from the University of Virginia in 1842. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1846.[8]

He served as a missionary in Louisa County, Virginia, from 1846 to 1847 and pastor at Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church from 1847 to 1853, being also the headmaster of a classical school for a portion of this time. He is considered a distinguished son of Providence Presbyterian Church.[9] It was at Tinkling Spring that he met Margaret Lavinia Morrison. They were married on March 28, 1848. They had six sons together, three of whom died in childhood from diphtheria (two in 1855, the other in 1862). From 1853 to 1859, he was a professor of ecclesiastical history and polity, and from 1859 to 1869 adjunct professor of systematic theology in the Union Theological Seminary, where he later became a full professor of systematics. In 1883, he was appointed professor of mental and moral philosophy at the University of Texas.

Dabney defended the biblical "righteousness" of slavery and opposed public schools. In the 1870s, he wrote that it was unjust to tax "oppressed" white people to provide "pretended education to the brats of black paupers". He rejected "the Yankee theory of popular state education" and the democratic government itself, which interfered with the liberty of the South.[10]

By 1894, failing health compelled him to retire from active life, although he still lectured occasionally. He was co-pastor, with his brother-in-law B. M. Smith, of the Hampden-Sydney College Church 1858 to 1874, also serving Hampden-Sydney College in a professorial capacity on occasions of vacancies in its faculty. Dabney, whose wife was a third cousin to Stonewall Jackson's wife, participated in the American Civil War: during the summer of 1861 he was chaplain of the 18th Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army, and in the following year was chief of staff to Jackson during the Valley Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.


College Church at Hampden–Sydney College, c. 1860, designed by Dabney.

Dabney's designs for the Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church and for two other churches in Virginia are credited with influencing church architecture in Virginia.[11] Three works associated with Dabney are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places: Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church; Briery Church, in Briery, Virginia; and New Providence Presbyterian Church, near Brownsburg, Virginia.[12]

He died on January 3, 1898, due to complications from an acute illness.

Major works

  • Memoir of Rev. Dr. Francis S. Sampson (1855), whose commentary on Hebrews he edited (1857)

  • Life of General Thomas J. Jackson (1866)

  • A Defense of Virginia, and Through Her, of the South, in Recent and Pending Contests Against the Sectional Party (1867), an apologia for chattel slavery.

  • Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric (1870)

  • Women's Rights women (1871)

  • Syllabus and Notes of the Course of Systematic and Polemic Theology (1871; 2nd ed. 1878), later republished as Systematic Theology.

  • Systematic Theology (1878)

  • Sensualistic Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century Examined (1875; 2nd ed. 1887)

  • Practical Philosophy (1897)

  • Penal Character of the Atonement of Christ Discussed in the Light of Recent Popular Heresies (1898, posthumous), on the satisfaction view of the atonement.

  • Discussions (1890–1897), Four volumes of his shorter essays, edited by C. R. Vaughan.

  1. Theological and Evangelical (1890)

  2. Evangelical (1891)

  3. Philosophical (1892)

  4. Secular (1897)

Also expanded later into five volumes, with the fifth volume consisting of selected shorter works, edited by J. H. Varner, published by Sprinkle Publications in 1999.[13]

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