The Southern Presbyterian Review
Digitization Project: Author Biography

John Lafayette Girardeau
(14 November 1825 - 23 June 1898)
by Dr. C. N. Willborn, formerly associate professor of Church History and Biblical Theology at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and currently pastor of the Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church, Oakridge, TN.
©PCA Historical Center, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO, 2004. All Rights Reserved.

John Lafayette Girardeau (1825-98) John Lafayette Girardeau was born as Lafayette Freer Girardeau on November 14, 1825 to John Bohun Girardeau and Claudia Herne Freer Girardeau. The parents of young Girardeau were of French Huguenot descent and, by the time of their eldest son's birth on James Island (across the Ashley River from Charleston), possessors of a rich colonial ancestry, which included at least one Revolutionary War hero. John Bohun (a planter) and Claudia Freer were also solid Presbyterians of the Scottish type. The Holy Scriptures and Westminster Standards were the standard fare for the Girardeau children with both father and mother active in their religious upbringing.

The Rev. Dr. John Lafayette Girardeau
Source: The Southern Presbyterian Pulpit, (Richmond: Presb. Committee of Publ., 1896)

Also important in Girardeau's formative years were two notable pastors, Aaron W. Leland and Thomas Smyth. Leland was the wee lad's pastor on James Island and Smyth nurtured him during his early adolescent years in Charleston. Although Leland was of English ancestry, he was of the Scottish persuasion when it came to his theology and ecclesiology. Smyth was of Scotch-Irish background and pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The lowcountry Presbyterians had from the first identified with Scotland rather than the Mid-Atlantic Presbyterians. This was no doubt true because of Archibald Stobo, the pioneering Scot who founded the earliest distinctly Presbyterian churches in the South.

Girardeau was educated on James Island and in Charleston, completing Charleston College (now College of Charleston) in 1844 at the age of seventeen. He graduated with first honors (valedictorian) as a Greek and Latin scholar. Upon his graduation, Professor William Hawksworth exclaimed to those around him, "There goes a fine Greek scholar to make a poor Presbyterian preacher."

Source: used by permission
After a year of tutoring and teaching on James Island and Mt. Pleasant (to raise money), he matriculated at the Theological Seminary of the Synod of South Carolina and Georgia (later Columbia Theological Seminary). As a ministerial student at Columbia he studied under his childhood pastor, Aaron W. Leland, and the venerable George Howe. Girardeau supplemented his seminary education by regularly attending the pulpit ministrations of Benjamin Morgan Palmer at the Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian), a short walk from both the seminary and South Carolina College. The seminarian also placed himself under the tutelage of James Henley Thornwell at the College (now University of South Carolina). Thornwell was at the time Professor of Moral Philosophy and preached or lectured regularly in the college chapel (Rutledge Chapel). Girardeau and other seminary students attended Dr. Thornwell's addresses assiduously. Indeed, Girardeau attributed Dr. Thornwell's chapel addresses with giving "shape and form" to his theology, which was already stoutly Westminsterian.

As a child of Claudia Herne Girardeau, the scion of South Carolina had learned to respect the poor and needy of society. During the latter years of college he had held regular meetings for the slaves on his father's plantation, exhorting them to believe the gospel and rest upon Christ for their deliverance from sin. In seminary he held evangelistic meetings in a warehouse where the poor, enslaved, derelict, and disreputable attended. Shortly after graduation from seminary in 1848 he was ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament and embarked upon a brief series of pastorates-Wappetaw Church and Wilton Presbyterian Church-that would culminate in Charleston as a famous pastor to slaves.

In January 1854, he and his wife Penelope Sarah ("Sal") moved from St. John Parish and Wilton Presbyterian Church (January 1849-December 53) to Charleston to assume the work begun by John B. Adger and the session of Second Presbyterian Church. The work was designed to establish a church for and of the slaves. In 1850, citizens of Charleston built a meeting house on Anson Street for the exclusive use of the slaves. After Adger's health failed, Girardeau was handpicked by Adger and Smyth to lead the work forward. The work expanded from thirty-six black members when Girardeau arrived to over 600 at the time of the American Armageddon. He preached to over 1,500 weekly from 1859 through 1861.

In 1858/59 the Anson Street Mission experienced a marvelous revival and in April 1859 they moved into a new building at the prestigious and prime intersection of Meeting and Calhoun Streets. The black membership was given the privilege of naming their church (which was particularized in 1858) and they chose "Zion." Zion Presbyterian Church became famous for Girardeau's preaching-he was called "the Spurgeon of America"-, but it was also noteworthy for its diaconal ministry in the community, catechetical training of hundreds in the city, sewing clubs for the women, and missionary activity. The outreach and influence of Zion was of such public notoriety that Girardeau and the session were often criticized and sometimes physically threatened. For example, the catechetical training and teaching of hymns and psalms was so effective that some Charlestonians believed Girardeau was teaching the slaves to read for themselves (which was contrary to state law).

After the War and before Girardeau could return to Charleston, a number of freedmen of Zion Presbyterian Church beckoned Girardeau to return to "the Holy City" and resume his work with them. They desired to have their white pastor whom they knew, loved, and respected, rather than a black missionary from the North. Throughout the post-War and Reconstruction years, he arduously worked amongst both black and white in Charleston. He mightily labored within the Southern Presbyterian Church to see that the freedmen were included in the church and in 1869 he nominated seven freedmen for the office of ruling elder in Zion Presbyterian Church, preached the ordination service, and with the white members of his session laid hands on his black brothers.

Unfortunately, the pressures of Reconstruction and the Freedmen's Bureau, and the hardened positions of notables like B. M. Palmer and R. L. Dabney brought the church to a pivotal moment. The weight of political and social issues eventuated in "organic separation" of white membership and black membership and the formation of churches along the color line. Girardeau alone dissented against the resolution at the 1874 General Assembly in Columbus, Mississippi, for which he served as Moderator.

In 1875, B. M. Palmer nominated Girardeau for Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Columbia Seminary, a position W. S. Plumer had held since 1866. In January 1876 he began his seminary labors which lasted until June 1895. During his academic career he continued as a popular preacher in the Southern Church, defended biblical orthodoxy against the inroads of modernism in the Woodrow Controversy at Columbia Seminary, labored actively against union with the Northern Presbyterian Church, served the courts of the church tirelessly, contributed many theological, ecclesiological, and philosophical articles to academic journals, and wrote several important monographs on theology, worship, and philosophy. He made significant contributions to the doctrine of adoption and the diaconate.

Girardeau and his beloved wife "Sal" had ten children who crowned their forty-nine years of marriage. Seven Girardeau children lived to adulthood while three died in infancy. Three Girardeau daughters married Presbyterian ministers, including the notable theologian and churchman Robert Alexander Webb. This pastor to slaves and theologian of the Southern Church died quietly at his home in Columbia on June 23, 1898, just a few months after his friend R. L. Dabney had passed away. B. M. Palmer wrote of Girardeau that "It will be long before another generation can produce his equal; and those, who have known him from the first to last, feel that we lay him to rest among the immortals of the past." His body rests just a few short steps from his mentor and friend James Henley Thornwell in Columbia's Elmwood Cemetery.

For further reading see:
Blackburn, George A., editor, The Life Work of John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL.D. (Columbia, S.C. : The State Co., 1916), 432pp.
Kelly, Douglas. Preachers with Power: Four Stalwarts of the South, (Edinburgh : Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 198pp.
Willborn, C. N. "John L. Girardeau: Pastor to Slaves and Theologian of Causes", unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary,

The Southern Presbyterian Review-
Ministerial Consecration and Ministerial Support, 23.2 (April 1872) 161-188.
Our Ecclesiastical Relations to Freedmen, 18.1 (July 1867) 1-17.
The Book of Church Order, 29.1 (January 1878) 125-140. [published anonymously, but identified as being by Girardeau by William Childs Robinson in Columbia Theological Seminary and the Southern Presbyterian Church, p. 92. Our thanks to Dr. C.N. Willborn for this information]
The Diaconate, 30.1 (January 1879) 1-32 and 31.1 (January 1880) 117-160 and 32.2 (April 1881) 191-209.
The Diaconate Again, 32.4 (October 1881) 628-664 and 33.1 (January 1882) 175-208.
The Freedom of the Will in its Theological Relations, 29.4 (October 1878) 611-655; 30.1 (January 1879) 51-84; 31.1 (January 1880) 1-45; 31.2 (April 1880) 323-350; 31.4 (October 1880) 613-648 and 32.1 (January 1881) 63-102.
The Importance of the Office of Deacon, 32.1 (January 1881) 1-29.
The Philanthropic Argument for Foreign Missions, 29.3 (July 1878) 547-574.
The Suffering Seaboard of South Carolina, 27.2 (April 1876) 199-227.
The Support of Superannuated Ministers, and the Indigent Families of Deceased Ministers, 11.4 (January 1859) 592-608.
Theology as a Science, Involving an Infinite Element [inaugural address], 27.3 (July 1876) 462-485.

Criticisms and Reviews, in
The Southern Presbyterian Review--
"Critical Notices," rev. of "The Emotions. By James McCosh." Southern Presbyterian Review 31, no. 2 (April 1880): 354-59.

The Presbyterian Quarterly-

Berkeley's Idealism, 1.1 (July 1887) 1 - 31.
Natural Religion and the Gospel, 7.3 (July 1893) 331-352.
The Christo-Centric Principle of Theology, 6.1 (January 1892) 1-20.
The Contra-Natural Character of the Miracle, 2.2 (July 1888) 177-207.
The Relation of Miracle to the Evidences of a Divine Revelation, 2.3 (October 1888) 369-387.

Criticisms and Reviews, in
The Presbyterian Quarterly--
4 Alexander's Problems in Philosophy, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.1 (July 1887) 186-189. Review of Some Problems of Philosophy, by Archibald Alexander, Professor of Philosophy in Columbia College. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886).
4 Dr. Fairbairn's "Morality," The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.3 (January 1888) 559-561. Review of Of the Doctrine of Morality in its Relation to the Grace of Redemption, by Robert B. Fairbairn, D.D., LL.D., Warden of St. Stephen's College, Annandale, N.Y. (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1887) Dr. Morris vs. Future Probation, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.3 (January 1888) 545-551.
4 Dr. Morris vs. Future Probation, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.3 (January 1888) 545-551. Review of Is There Salvation After Death? A Treatise on the Gospel in the Intermediate State, by E.D. Morris, D.D., LL.D., Lane Theological Seminary. Second edition. A.C. Armstrong & Son, 714 Broadway, New York: Crown 8vo., pp. 252. 1857.
4 Dr. Watt's Reign of Causality, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 2.1 (April 1888) 145-148. Review of The Reign of Causality by Robert Watts, D.D., Professor of Systematic Theology in the General Assembly's College, Belfast. (New York: Scribner & Welford, 743-745 Broadway), 414pp., larger 12mo.
4 Harris's Self-Revelation of God, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.1 (July 1887) 174-177. Review of The Self-Revelation of God, by Samuel Harris, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Systematic Theology in Yale University, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887).
4 McCosh's Realistic Philosophy, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.1 (July 1887) 179-186. Review of Realistic Philosophy, Defended in a Philosophic Series, by James McCosh, D.D., LL.D., Litt. D., (etc.), President of Princeton College. In two volumes; I. Expository; II. Historical and Critical. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887).
4 Peabody's Moral Philosophy, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.1 (July 1887) 177-179. Review of Moral Philosophy: A Series of Lectures by Andrew P. Moody, D.D., LL.D., Emeritus Professor of Christian Morals in Harvard University, (Boston: Lee and Shepherd, Publishers, No. 10 Milk street, 1 vol. 12 mo. Pp. 337. 1887.)
4 Plumtre's "Spirits in Prison," The Presbyterian Quarterly, 1.2 (October 1887) 368-371. Review of The Spirits in Prison, and Other Studies on the Life After Death, by E.H. Plumtre, D.D., Dean of Wells. (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1887)
4 Dr. Lindsay Alexander's Theology, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 2.3 (October 1888) 484-487. Review of A System of Biblical Theology, by the late W. Lindsay Alexander, D.D., LL.D., Principal of the Theological Hall of the Congregational Churches in Scotland, Minister of Augustine Church, Edinburgh, etc., etc. In two volumes. New York: Scribner & Welford, 743-745 Broadway. 8vo. pp. 973.
4 Ewald's Theology, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 2.3 (October 1888) 484-487. Review of Old and New Testament Theology, by Heinrich Ewald, late Professor in the University of Göttingen, Author of the "History of Israel," "Prophets of the Old Testament," etc. Translated from the German, by the Rev. Thomas Goadby, B.A., President of the Baptist College, Nottingham. New York: Scribner & Welford, 743-745 Broadway. 8vo. pp. 458.
4 Lichtenberger's History of German Theology." The Presbyterian Quarterly 9 (July 1889): 446-452. Review of History of German Theology in the Nineteenth Century. By F. Lictenberger, Dean of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at Paris. Translated and edited by W. Hastie, B.D., Examiner in Theology, University of Edinburgh. New York: Scribner & Welford. 1889. 8vo. pp. 624.
4 Strong's Systematic Theology, The Presbyterian Quarterly, (January 1890) 122-124. Review of Systematic Theology. A Compendium and Commonplace Book, Designed for the use of Theological Students. By Augustus Hopkins Strong, D.D., President and Professor of Biblical Theology in the Rochester Theological Seminary. Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged. New York: A.C. Armstrong & Son, 714 Broadway. 1889. Large 8vo., pp. 760.
4 Van Dyke's Lectures On The Church, The Presbyterian Quarterly, 15 (January 1891) 133-139. Review of The Church: Her Ministry and Sacraments. Lectures Delivered on the L.P. Stone Foundation at Princeton Theological Seminary, in 1890. By Henry J. Van Dyke, D.D., Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn. 8vo., pp. 265. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co., 38 West Twenty-third Street. 1890.
4 Mead's "Supernatural Revelation," The Presbyterian Quarterly, 4.2 (April 1890) 302-308. Review of Supernatural Revelation: An Essay concerning the Basis of the Christian Faith. By C.M. Mead, Ph.D., D.D., lately Professor in Andover Theological Seminary. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co. 1889. Large 8vo., Pp. 469.

Books and separately published items, organized chronologically --
4 Obituary of Mrs. Eliza Leland, consort of Rev. A.W. Leland, D.D., professor of theology in the Seminary at Columbia, S.C., and epitaphs from the burial place, (Charleston : Walker, Evans, 1857), 12pp.; 22 cm.
4An address on behalf of the Society for the Relief of Superannuated Ministers and the Indigent Families of Deceased Ministers of the Synod of South Carolina, (Columbia, S.C. : R.W. Gibbes, 1858), 19pp.; 21 cm. [SBT]
4 A catechism for the oral instructions of coloured persons who are inquirers concerning religion, or candidates for admission into the church, (Charleston [S.C.] Printed by Evans & Cogswell, 1860), 88pp. 15 cm. [NDD]
4 Conscience and Civil Government: An Oration Delivered Before The Society of Alumni of the College of Charleston on Commencement Day, March 27th, 1860, (Charleston, SC: Evans & Cogswell, 1860), 20pp.; 24 cm. Special Collections Library, College of Charleston. [also, SBT]
4 Confederate Memorial Day at Charleston, S.C.: Reinterment of the Carolina Dead from Gettysburg. (Charleston: William G. Mazyck, Printer, 1871).
Christ's pastoral presence with his dying people: a sermon delivered January 7th, 1872, in Zion Church, Glebe Street, Charleston, S.C. (Charleston, S.C. : Walker, Evans, & Cogswell, 1872), 16 p. ; 24 cm. [SBM]
4 The remembrance of the righteous: A memorial sermon, occasioned by the death of the Rev. David H. Porter, D.D., and preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Ga., Feb. 8th, 1874, (Columbia, S.C.: Printed at the Presbyterian Pub. House, 1874), 27pp.; 22 cm.
4 Theology as a science, involving an infinite element: Inaugural address, delivered before the General Assembly at Savannah, Ga., May 23d, 1876 (Columbia, S.C.: Presbyterian Publishing House, 1876), 34pp.; 22 cm.; Originally published in the Southern Presbyterian Review, 27.3 (July 1876) 462-485.
4"Eulogy on Professor George Howe, D.D., LL.D.," in Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, (Columbia, SC: Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884), pages 387-418.
4 "The Federal Theology: Its Import and Its Relative Influence," in Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, (Columbia, SC: Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884), pages 96-128.
4 Rev. David H. Porter, D.D. [biographical sketch], in Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, (Columbia, SC: Printed at the Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884), pp. 347-348. [HC]
4 Rev. Robert R. Small [biographical sketch], in Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, (Columbia, SC: Printed at the Presbyterian Publishing House, 1884), pp. 360-361. [HC]
4 "Historical Address." in Historical Addresses and Commemorative Ode, Delivered in the Synod of South Carolina in Purity Church, Chester, October 24, 1885. (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, Printers, 1885).
The substance of two speeches on the teaching of evolution in Columbia Theological Seminary, delivered in the Synod of South Carolina at Greenville, S.C., Oct., 1884, (Columbia, S.C., William Sloane, 1885), 35pp.; 22 cm.
4 Instrumental Music in Public Worship. (Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, Printers, 1888).
4 Individual liberty and church authority: A sermon preached at Westminster Church, Charleston, Thursday night, April 11, 1889, during the sessions of Charleston Presbytery, (Columbia, S.C. : William Sloane, 1889), 18pp.; 21 cm.

Calvinism and Evangelicalism. (Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publications, 1890).
4 The Will In Its Theological Relations. (Columbia, SC: W. J. Duffie and New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1891).

4 Discussions of Philosophical Questions. Edited by George A. Blackburn. Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publications, 1900.
4 Discussions of Theological Questions. Edited by George A. Blackburn. (Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publications, 1905).
4 Sermons. Edited by George A. Blackburn. (Columbia, SC: The State Company, 1907).
4 R. L. Dabney, R. K. Smoot, J. L. Girardeau, C. R. Vaughn, C. F. Collier, W. L.T. Prince, James D. Armstrong. An Open Letter To The Members Of The Southern Presbyterian Church. (New Orleans: E. S. Upton, n.d.)

Edited Works [i.e., with Girardeau serving as Editor or Co-editor]--
The collected writings of James Henley Thornwell, D.D., LL. D., late professor of theology in the Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina, John B. Adger and John L. Girardeau, editors, (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1871-1873), 4 volumes; 23 cm.