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The Rev. Joseph-
The Rev. Joseph Bullen,
pioneer Mississippi and Jefferson County settler, was born on July 8, 1750,
in Brimfield, Massachusetts. He was a member of an old and colonial
family, being the fourth generation in America. From an interview
he recorded many years later, Joseph said as a younger son, he was designated
for the church. Therefore, he went to Yale College, from which he
graduated in 1172. Evidently, graduation implied ordination, and
as a Congregational minister.
On February 11,
1774, he became minister of the church in Westminster, Vermont. After
eleven years there, he moved his family north to very rural Athens, Vermont.
There he engaged in a variety of occupations - a minister first, also a
schoolteacher, a miller, and a farmer. In 1788 and 1791 he was elected
to the Vermont Colonial Legislature. in its Proceedings he
is frequently mentioned, active for his district, and as a chaplain.
Particularly noteworthy was "a patriotic sermon" delivered before that
An unanswered question,
not mentioned in the various Bullen studies, is why did he leave an established
and obviously successful life to become a pioneer missionary? Perhaps
it was the benign influence of his distant cousin, George Whitefield, the
great colonial evangelist? Whitefield came several times to New England,
and his final journey was to nearby New Hampshire.
In 1796, the newly
organized New York Missionary Society published an appeal for "missionaries
to the destitute parts of the country." Joseph was the sole applicant,
and following his commissioning h e and his son, Joseph, then age 16, left
on horseback to make the trip to the Mississippi Territory "to work among
the Chickasaw Indians." Close to present day Pontotoc, the two men
began a school, teaching and preaching. Joseph reported regularly
to the Society, and his letters were published in its Magazine.
From these, and in subsequent writings, it is evident that Indian service
was not an unqualified success.
The following year,
the men returned to Vermont, where they gathered Hanna and five children
to go back to Mississippi. (Two daughters remained in Vermont, and
one other, sadly, died on the journey.)
In 1802, Joseph
finished his obligation to the Society, and settled in Jefferson County,
north of Natchez. There he farmed, and began establishing Presbyterian
churches - five in all. One of these, Bethel, organized in 1804,
is the oldest Protestant congregation in the Territory. How he became
Joseph, Presbyterian minister, instead of Joseph, Congregational minister,
is a minor mystery. Probably one was so alike the other, change was
informal and quick.
Joseph, the oldest
son, went north to live in Tennessee. The remaining sons and daughters
married and began Mississippi families; descendants are living in
Jefferson County and throughout the state.
and content in his successes, but frail and old, Father Bullen died March
26, 1825. He and Hannah are buried in a now abandoned cemetery in
Jefferson County. Relatives restored the markers and graves in time
for the Bicentennial. The direction to the cemetery is designated
by a state highway marker.
-Contributed by Robert W. Bullen