Presbyterians of the Past

Edwin Cater, 1813-1882

Map of South, 1906, 1-6-2016Edwin Cater was born in the scenic South Carolina Low Country in Beaufort County, November 1, 1813. He was orphaned at a young age, so the family of his uncle, Rev. Richard Cater, took him in and saw to his needs. Rev. Cater was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Barnwell. At the age of fifteen, he made a profession of faith and became a communing member of his uncle’s flock. At seventeen, he entered Franklin College in Athens, Georgia (University of Georgia), where he graduated in 1834 with two classmates that would also become Presbyterian ministers. One was a fellow South Carolinian, James F. Gibert, who was of Huguenot descent, and the other was a Georgian, James H. Saye. Gibert would have an extended ministry in the Lebanon Church in Abbeville, 1837-1883, and J. H. Saye would serve several churches in Georgia and South Carolina. Edwin Cater taught school briefly before pursuing his call to the ministry by studying divinity at Columbia Theological Seminary where he, Gibert, and Saye would make up half of the class of 1837.

Divinity degree in hand, Cater was ordained in 1837 by South Carolina Presbytery for his call to the Anderson Court House Presbyterian Church (First Church, Anderson) where he also supplied the Rocky Creek Church near Abbeville half time beginning in January 1838. In the spring of 1839 he resigned his call to Anderson and dedicated himself full time to the Rocky Creek congregation until his resignation in the fall of 1846. It was during these early years of ministry that he married Miss Sarah M. Leland in 1838. Sarah was the daughter of one of Cater’s professors at Columbia Seminary, Dr. Aaron W. Leland. As has been seen in other biographies of ministers on Presbyterians of the Past, it was not uncommon for a seminary student to marry a daughter of one of his professors. Surely, a young lady on campus would draw the attention of many of the young seminarians to courting.

Rev. Cater remained in his home state of South Carolina for the first years of his ministry. In 1846, he was called to the Lebanon and Salem churches in Fairfield District, South Carolina, where he continued for four years. As was sometimes the case for ministers whether Presbyterian or of another denomination, Edwin Cater left full-time pulpit ministry to work in education, which in his case was the Bradford Springs Female Institute in Sumter District. He returned to a full-time pastoral call when he relocated to Mt. Pleasant near Charleston and labored outside the bounds of presbytery in the Wappetaw Congregational Church, 1853-1860. The Wappetaw Church had been burned by the British during the Revolutionary War, was then rebuilt, but would be abandoned during the Civil War with its remaining members organizing Presbyterian churches in Mt. Pleasant and McClellanville. It was during his ministry at Wappetaw that his family was greatly saddened when Sarah died of yellow fever. But by the time he left Wappetaw he had married his second wife, Miss Margaret R. Barr, who was the daughter of the pastor of Upper Long Cane Presbyterian Church, Rev. William Hampton Barr.

Because of poor health Pastor Cater moved his family from the coastal region of South Carolina with its heat, humidity, and mosquitos to the cooler northern area of the state where they remained in Spartanburg for about a year. The Caters continued on their travels into the western regions of the South relocating to Somerville, Tennessee, where Cater served First Presbyterian Church, 1860-1865. At some point during the Civil War, likely around the time of the fall of Memphis in June 1862, he briefly supplied the churches in Alabama at Demopolis and Livingston. Somerville is near Memphis and he may have thought that the family would be safer during the war if they lived away from the strategic and important port city on the Mississippi River.

In 1867 the Cater household began another series of moves as he found ministry opportunities in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida. He accepted a call to the churches of Scooba and Macon in Mississippi. However, after a few years with these two churches he moved to the College Hill Church near Oxford where he continued for seven years. After Oxford, a move to Louisiana provided a brief call of two years serving the churches in Opelousas and Vermillionville. The family then returned to Mississippi where Cater served the First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City beginning in 1878 and continuing until he resigned in March 1881.

Having experienced many moves over the years, Pastor Cater relocated once again, this time to Florida. In the late nineteenth century Florida was already becoming a haven for Americans in their senior years. He moved in April 1881 to Gainesville and lived with his son, Professor E. P. Cater, who may have taught for the University of Florida. Cater transferred his ministerial credentials to the Presbytery of St. Johns in October 1881. He tried to serve his presbytery in the churches as he had opportunity, but his feeble health would not allow him to do much. On May 1, 1882, he left Gainesville to return to his former city of residence, Somerville, to live with his daughter, Mrs. E. W. Smith, and her husband. The fatigue of travel so weakened him that he was not able to recover. After a few days of continued decline in his condition he passed away at 5:00 in the afternoon of June 13, 1882. His funeral service was held on June 16 in the church he had served in Somerville. The service was led by its pastor, Rev. William S. Cochran, who was assisted by Rev. E. K. Bransford of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was buried in Somerville. Other than the son and daughter mentioned, information regarding his survivors was not located.

Edwin Cater was active in the church courts. He was a member of the General Assembly committee appointed in 1856 for better fraternal relations with the Associate Reformed Synod of the South, and he had been previously appointed by the Synod of South Carolina to the committee to work with the Associate Reformed on a new Psalter. When the assembly committee met with the Associate Reformed committee later in 1856, the two committees resolved to include composing a new Psalter as part of its work. The Presbyterian Magazine, Oct. 1856, 566-67, reported that the committees decided the new edition “shall consist of the Scotch version now in use, with verbal amendments, together with a new version of most or all of the Psalms in a variety of metres.” The first twenty Psalms were assigned to the Associate Reformed, and the succeeding thirty were to be revised by the PCUSA committee. However, no mention of the new version of the Psalms was found in the PCUSA assembly minutes for 1857-1860, and in 1859, the Synod of South Carolina discharged its committee, so the new Psalter may have been lost altogether. Also during the 1856 assembly, Rev. Cater was appointed to a special committee to review the report of the Committee of the Trustees on the Fund for Disabled Ministers, he then took the floor to discuss J. H. Thornwell’s motion to indefinitely postpone action on the report from the committee on the disabled minister’s fund, and he was one of 35 speakers who took the floor to discuss, with a time limitation of five minutes per speaker, a judicial case.

Rev. Cater had two articles published in The Southern Presbyterian Review. The first is titled, “A Plea in Behalf of the Widows and Orphans of Deceased Ministers of the Presbyterian Church in the United States,” 20:2 (April 1869), 181-193, which shows his continued interest in the welfare of ministers and their families, and the second article is titled, “Geological Speculation,” 10:4 (January 1858), 534-573. He also published a pamphlet titled, The Appeal of Rev. Edwin Cater, Pastor of the College Church, North Mississippi Presbytery, to the Candid Judgment of the People of God against the Assaults made upon Him on the Floor of General Assembly at Huntsville, Ala., in May 1871, and Repeated in Newspapers, and in the Southern Presbyterian Review, for October, 1871, by Edwin Cater (College Hill: Printed for Rev. Edwin Cater, 1871), 31 pages.


Notes—After the completion of this biography, an email from Wayne Sparkman of the PCA Historical Center informed me of a book by Rev. Robert Milton Winter of Holly Springs, titled, Outposts of Zion: A History of Mississippi Presbyterians in the Nineteenth Century, 2014, which has additional information about Rev. Cater’s years in Mississippi. There is no mention of Cater’s licensure because there was no information available to the author regarding the subject. The image of the portrait was given by Rev. Charlie Wingard of First Church, Yazoo City. With reference to Mrs. Cater’s death from yellow fever, the biography of George D. Armstrong, 1813-1899, on Presbyterians of the Past tells about his experiences with a yellow fever epidemic.

Sources—The key source for biographical information other than standard Presbyterian reference works including assembly and synod minutes was, Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, Columbia: Printed at the Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884, pages 240-242. Some information regarding Cater’s last weeks of life was obtained from his obituary in the Public Ledger, June 16, 1882, which was published in Memphis and is available online at the Library of Congress website.

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