Skip to main content

Finis Ewing collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS 1396

Scope and Contents

Collection consists of correspondence of Finis Ewing and incoming letters of his son Finis Y. Ewing. Finis Ewing corresponded with a number of notable men between 1824 and 1844 including Senators Thomas H. Benton and Henry Clay, Governors Lilburn W. Boggs and John Miller, and William Thorton and Levi Woodbury. Except for four letters written to Mr. M.M. Marmeduke all the letters in the collection are addressed to Finis Ewing. These letters answer Ewing's questions about his personal affairs and include discussions of contemporary political issues such as presidential elections, the National Bank, the Preemption Bill, and the U.S. Postal Service. As a Democrat, he was interested in party candidates, and his involvement in Democratic politics was a major subject in his correspondence with Governor John Miller and Senator Benton. Their letters to Ewing demonstrate their interest in the election of Democratic candidates to local and national positions, and also provide insights into the internal affairs of Missouri state government. The Finis Y. Ewing correspondence consists entirely of incoming letters. During his expedition to the Pacific Northwest from 1837 to 1838, such men as Marcus Whitman, H.H. Spalding and John McLaughlin wrote letters of recommendation to helpful people in his behalf. After Finis Jr. returned from the West, the letters written to him deal with economic possibilities in Missouri. Also included in the collection are a number of official certificates of appointment to government positions that Finis and his son received.


  • 1824-1841


Conditions Governing Access

The only original manuscripts in the collection are some of the letters and these are restricted from general use. They are arranged alphabetically by correspondent in two categories, viz. Finis Ewing and Finis Y. Ewing and are located in fd. 11 and 12. (See Container List). These originals may only be used by those scholars who demonstrate absolute need to have access to them rather than to the photocopies. Permission to use the originals may be obtained from the Curator of Manuscripts.

Conditions Governing Use

Literary rights are undetermined. Before any item is published in its entirety, permission must be obtained from the Harold B. Lee Library. Persons wishing to quote from those letters acquired from the Missouri Historical Society, must first obtain consent from that institution.

Permission to publish material from the Finis Ewing collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Finis Ewing, founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, received his unusual given name because he was the last of twelve children of Robert and Mary (Baker) Ewing. He was born in Bedford County, Virginia on July 10, 1773. From boyhood he lived on the frontier near Nashville, Tennessee where he obtained some schooling, and profited by the debates of a "literary society." In 1793 he married Peggy Davidson, daughter of General William Davidson, and the next year settled near Russellville, Kentucky, where he soon became a prosperous and influential farmer. The preaching of James McGready brought Ewing to a vital Christian experience. In the great Cumberland revival of 1800 the presbyteries of Transylvania and Cumberland, unable to keep up with the growing need for preachers, licensed and ordained some men, Ewing among them, who did not satisfy Presbyterian educational requirements. However, the part Kentucky Synod and General Assembly disapproved of their licensing and ordinations. Because of this action, Ewing and two other ministers formed an independent body called the Presbytery of Cumberland, in 1810. For the next nine years he traveled and preached throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, using camp meetings as a means of building up congregations in regions destitute of religion.

In his new role, Ewing was principal author of the "Circular Letter" issued by the Cumberland Presbytery. During 1812, he was a half time pastor of the Lebanon Church in Christian County, Kentucky. By 1813, the Presbytery had grown to a synod. Meanwhile, Ewing continued pressing for church separation and became one of the framers of a revised Westminster Confession, the adoption of which by the Synod in 1814 marked the separate life of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The new Church taught a middle ground between the Calvanistic doctrine of predestination and the Arminian doctrine of salvation by works. With Robert Donnell, Ewing wrote an account of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for Woodward's edition of Charles Buck's Theology Dictionary(1814), which brought the sect to general notice.

In 1820 Ewing moved to new Lebanon, Missouri, where he formed another congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In his own house he maintained a training-school for ministers. Many of his teachings are included in his Lectures on Theological Subjects(1872), a text widely circulated among Cumberland Presbyterians. Though once a slaveholder, his views on slavery altered to the point that he began agitating against slavery. He also was a pioneer leader of the temperance movement in Missouri. He later moved to Lexington, Missouri where he not only served as pastor but was also registrar of the Land Office, thereby supporting himself while continuing in the ministry. Because of his efforts, the Cumberland Church was greatly strengthened. He died July 4, 1841.

Although nothing in the collection would indicate it, other sources claim that Ewing was one of the prime instigators of the Missouri persecutions against the Mormons. David Pettigrew, a Mormon colonizer in Missouri, recorded in his autobiography that Ewing was "a wealthy farmer residing near Lexington, Mo.", a leader of the local Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and "a man of great influence" in Jackson county. Pettigrew went on to say that this same Ewing rode "at the head of two hundred men . . . armed and equipped for the purpose of driving the Mormons from their home (Jackson County)." (Autobiography of David Pettigrew, pp. 13-15, BYU Archives Mss 473.)

Ewing's son, Finis Y. Ewing, was known by the name of Young Ewing. He became a merchant and clerk of Laclede County in 1821, while his family lived at New Lebanon, Missouri. In 1837 Young Ewing traveled cross country to the Pacific Northwest returning in 1838. He married Tabitha J. Rice on February 19, 1840. He engaged again in commerce and later became a trustee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, shippers of freight between Salt Lake City and the East. He resigned his position as a trustee in 1861.


1 box (0.5 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, certificates, and legal papers dealing with Ewing's personal and business life in Missouri. Some of the correspondence is from Thomas Hart Benton, Henry Clay, and Lilburn W. Boggs. The items relate to contemporary political issues both in Missouri and in the United States.


The entire collection has been photocopied and the photocopies are arranged and described first on the container list. The original manuscripts are restricted from general use (see below). Two indexes of the letters, one alphabetical and another chronological are provided.

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed finding aid is available in print in the repository.

Other Finding Aids

File-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

The original materials in the collection were purchased from Fred Rosenstock in about 1965. He had earlier acquired most of the collection from Mrs. Robert Ellison of Denver, Colorado. They were part of the extensive collection of her husband, which at one time also included the W.M. Camp papers. Additional Ellison papers are preserved at the Denver Public Library and in the Lilly Library, University of Indiana.

The present collection was assembled in segments. The original body of papers consisted of 48 items. To supplement these the archival staff photocopied and added the following: twenty letters from the Missouri Historical Society, F.R. Cossitt's The Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing (1853 dition), and finally Finis Ewing's own book, A Series of Lectures on the Most Important Subjects in Divinity (1827 dition).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased; Fred Rosenstock; 1965.

Acquired; Missouri Historical Society.


19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.


Related book: Robert A. Trennert, Indian Traders on the Middle Border: The House of Ewing, 1827-54 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981).

Processing Information

Processed; Niel D. Harding; 1998.

Register of the Finis Ewing collection
Niel D. Harding
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States