Born: Thompson, Windham County, Connecticut, August 26, 1829.
Died: Chicago, Illinois, March 14, 1882.
OTIS ASA BURGESS was born August 26, 1829, in the town of Thompson, Windham County, Connecticut. Thomas Burgess, one of his paternal ancestors, joined the Pilgrim Colony in 1637. His maternal ancestors were of the same stock.
He remained in Connecticut till eight years of age, when he removed to Norwich, Chenango County, New York. The next nine years of his life were spent in attending school four months in the year, and working the remaining eight months "amid the rocks and stumps of a sterile farm." During this time, and when about fourteen, his mother died. This event made a strong impression on his mind. His religious training had been after the straightest sect of Calvinism, but his mother's death melted him down so that he laid aside the "doctrine of the decrees," and began to earnestly "seek after God." Accordingly he went through the entire programme of the popular method of "getting religion" at the "mourners' bench," but did not succeed. Others professed to have "got" it at the same meeting, but all his prayers and tears were unavailing. He finally concluded that he was either predestined to be damned, or given over to a hardness of heart. In this terrible state of mind, he was led to almost hate God, and utterly reject all revealed religion.
At the age of seventeen he entered "Norwich Academy," a flourishing institution of its kind, about six miles from home. He remained here only a few weeks, but made sufficient progress during his stay to teach successfully a common-school during the remaining portion of the year. ln the spring of 1 847 he re-entered "Norwich Academy," and in fourteen weeks finished the entire course, except the classics. In the fall of the same year he removed to Metamora, Woodford County, Illinois, and taught school till the summer of 1851. At this point he first heard of the Disciples. They were vulgarly called "Campbellites," and spoken of in the most disrespectful terms by all the religious parties in the place. Being already scoffer at religion, it did not require much effort for him to join in the general outcry against the Disciples. He formed the most unfavorable opinion of them, and was more than willing to believe that they were false teachers and mere pretenders. Of course, he did not go to hear their preachers, and, consequently, was under this misconception for some time. Finally, in the good providence of God, he was permitted to hear "Old Father Palmer," as he was familiarly called, preach the Primitive Gospel. The discourse was founded on Acts ii: 38, and was a clear and forcible presentation of the Gospel and its conditions.
Concerning the effect of this discourse, Brother BURGESS says: "It was new, wonderful. It opened a new world. I could scarcely refrain from joining that day, but did not fully believe what he said. I had heard that the Disciples had a Bible of their own, and, believing this, thought Palmer quoted Acts ii: 38, from his own Bible. I was at least positive the text was not in mine." But it was there just as he had heard it; and when he went home, and saw it in his own Bible, with his own eyes, he could not get away from the truth, but confessed, and was immersed on the 21st of July, 1850. He soon formed a resolution to go to Bethany College, where he could hear, from Mr. Campbell's own lips, the great truths with which he was now partially acquainted. This resolution was carried into effect in the fall of 1851. Arriving at the college with only $4.50, his prospects for long remaining there were indeed gloomy, and would have discouraged any one with a less determined spirit. He secured boarding on trust, and, by constant perseverance and industry, was able to work his way through college--at one time teaching in the "Primary," at another laboring with his own hands at whatever work would best yield a support.
In 1854 he graduated, and returned to Illinois, and took charge of the Church of Christ in Washington, where he remained one year. He was next Professor in Eureka College a year, after which he divided his time between the churches in Metamora and Washington. In 1862 he took charge of the Church of Christ in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he has remained ever since. At this point his labors have been greatly blessed, the membership of the Church having more than doubled since his connection with it as pastor. He has always taken a deep interest in missionary work, and was at one time Corresponding Secretary of the A. C. M. S.
His chief characteristics are energy, persistence, and force. He is never idle, knows no such word as fail, and, in whatever department he may choose to labor, wields a decided and powerful influence. As a speaker, he is logical, pointed, and forcible, but gives little attention to the graces of rhetoric or the charms of elocution. And yet, if the true orator is the man who carries his point, Brother BURGESS need not be concerned about the tinseled drapery which is too often the principal staple of modern oratory.