Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


George Murray of Keosauqua is one of many descendants of a Van Buren County pioneer who acted upon his convictions, was a man of great physical strength, and helped promote Methodist doctrine.

Thomas Spencer and his wife lived in Virginia. Both of their fathers had fought in the American Revolution and both lived on remote plantations where they had few chances of obtaining education. After their marriage, a son was born to them named John, who was of exceptional intellect, and who grew in stature and strength, developing a fearless disposition.

John Spencer was about six feet four inches tall and weighed between 225 and 250 pounds! Although he had a gentle, forgiving nature, he learned to fight and was always a defender of women.

Once, he met a man at a shooting match who invited him home. Arriving at suppertime, the man demanded supper immediately, and as his wife quickly scraped together some meal and water and put it in the oven to bake, he demanded to know why his tearful wife hadnít made biscuits. Spencer invited the man outside, placed a rope around his neck and threw it over a limb. He then drew the man upward until he was limp. Letting him down, he warned him that he would check on the household frequently, and if he didnít change his attitude towards his wife and look after his family properly, Spencer would string him up for good!

His little talk had the desired effect, and the man reformed.

In Iowa, Spencer settled near Lebanon. He was a whisky drinker until he was 35 years old. He lived among Methodists and was converted, and then promoted the service of God on the frontier. He often displayed great wisdom when dealing with others. For example, one night a zealous new convert concluded that he had been called to preach. He expressed this desire to John hoping for some favorable advice.

Mr. Spencer told the young man to come over to his place the next morning at ten oíclock, and the young man appeared promptly. Spencer asked him to go with him to the smokehouse. He turned a barrel upside down to use as a pulpit and gave him a text to preach from. Suspended from the ceiling were hung smoked meat and apples. Spencer reasoned that the young, blossoming evangelist could use these props for an audience.

"Go ahead," he said. "If the Lord wants you to preach, he will provide you with liberty of speech." If the young man had come over that morning with any preconceived ideas, they all vanished as words escaped him. But, this was an excellent way to let the young man down easily without hurting his feelings.

All of the preachers loved "Uncle John" Spencer, the children loved him, and Methodism flourished. Rarely did anyone say a harmful or distrustful word about Spencer. He was well known throughout the county, as he attended the tent meeting revivals, quarterly meetings, and Methodist conferences.

(information supplied by George Murray of Keosauqua, including some biographical sketches written by Edgar R. Harlan in 1926.)

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick