‘Preacher Jim’ Howard was a beloved man of God and the Dark Corner

Published 3:44pm Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perhaps no one “born and raised” in Glassy Mountain township can equal the definitive Everyman persona of James Alexander Howard.

James Alexander Howard

Born at the foot of Glassy Mountain on Oct. 18, 1894, he was the oldest son of James Holland and Margaret Elizabeth Moon Howard, and was the great-great grandson of Capt. Thomas Howard, who led young South and North Carolina militiamen against renegade Cherokees and Tories in the 1776 Battle of Round Mountain.

The Howards originated in Cumberland County, England, on the border with Scotland and westerly across the Irish Sea from Northern Ireland, in the 12th Century. They began coming to the new American colonies, particularly Virginia, in the 17th Century. Many migrated south to the North and South Carolina colonies.

These sturdy Anglo-Saxons brought with them the conviction that they had a God-given, inalienable right to make their own “water of life” (whiskey) for medicinal purposes, for social interaction and for economic survival.

The New World offered a new grain, maize, grown by native Indians, for producing a different “water of life.” The Scots-Irish and borderland England settlers, including the Howards, renamed the native grain corn.

When they began to make corn whiskey by the light of the moon so that smoke rising from their distilleries could not be easily seen and located, the term, moonshine, was given to it.

Young James Alexander Howard was born into this Appalachian corn whiskey-making way of life, in which his father and brothers were accomplished moonshiners. His first paying job, at age 17, was hauling moonshine in a wagon down Glassy Mountain.

Little did he know that his future would be distinctly different. He not only would have a call to ministry, but his father would later become an unpaid Constable and be killed in a distillery raid near Hogback Mountain.

Young James began driving a buggy for Dr. John A. Lindsey on house calls to ailing patients. He began to show a great interest in getting an education. He attended North Greenville Baptist Academy (forerunner of North Greenville University) and was outstanding in academics and football at the school.

Answering a distinct call to ministry, he graduated from Fruitland Bible Institute, Furman University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He pastured churches in Texas and Oklahoma as well as in South Carolina.

His easy-going manner endeared him to everyone, and he became affectionately known as “Preacher Jim.”

In 1934, at age 40, he married Ruth Elmore Hill, the daughter of the Reverend Henry Elmore and Eliza Lucinda Kingsmore Hill. They served the Lord together until his death on Jan. 9, 1988.

He became Superintendent of Evangelism for the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1940, a position he held until his retirement in 1961. Furman University gave him an Honorary Doctorate degree on April 20, 1951. He served as trustee for Limestone College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Following his retirement, he did pastoral supply, evangelistic outreach, speaking engagements and spent a great deal of time in research of his native Dark Corner. He became the person with the greatest knowledge of the unique region.

In 1978, a number of other researchers and area residents encouraged him to write a history of the Dark Corner from his wealth of knowledge on the subject. He began a two-year compilation of all aspects of living there.

He published his Dark Corner Heritage in 1980. I was honored to assist him with editing of the manuscript and contributing both drawings and photographs to the book.

I was even more deeply honored when he ended the volume by passing the mantle of Dark Corner historian to me.

It is a trust to which I shall ever be faithful.

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