Churches and schools

One who played a prominent role in the early history of the Presbyterian Church in Nashville was Robert Smiley. Smiley, a native of Ireland according to his gravestone inscription in Nashville City Cemetery, was one of the founding members and first ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in Nashville in 1814. He was the mainstay of the congregation in its earliest years and was took a leading role in having the meeting house constructed.

Smiley died on his 40th birthday, 11 September 1823. Four days before his death he had been chosen president of the first Sunday School Society in Nashville. His obituary in The Whig described him as a ‘good man, and a pillar in the church’. His inscription concludes with the lines:

In the full triumph of Christian faith

In the last hour of his departure

He offered these words

All is peace within me

Peace with my God & Peace with the world


Behold the upright man sees his end.

He married Araminta Eliza Gibson, who had moved with her mother to Nashville in 1804, in 1812 and they had seven children. She survived him by fully 57 years.

Adam Gillespie Adams

Another important figure in the history of Presbyterianism in Nashville was Adam Gillespie Adams who was born near Strabane in 1820. His parents were David Adams, a blacksmith, and Jane Gillespie. After leaving school at the age of 12 he worked as a clerk for a wholesale goods firm. In 1839 he left for America, accompanied by a younger brother.

Arriving in New York he travelled overland to Nashville where two brothers as well as other relatives were already settled. He found employment with Eakin Bros, a wholesale house, eventually becoming a partner in the firm. When the firm divided in 1858 he took over the boot, shoe and clothing departments, operating under the name A. G. Adams & Co. There was a short hiatus in the firm’s history during the Civil War when Adams spent much of his time in New York.

He was involved in other business enterprises, taking an active part, for example, in the establishment of the first cotton mill in Nashville, as well as serving as president of the Equitable Fire Insurance Company. On his retirement from business he was succeeded by his sons Adam Gillespie junior and David.

He had a lifelong commitment to the Presbyterian Church, becoming a member of the Urney congregation near Strabane at the age of 15. In 1840, shortly after arriving in Nashville, he joined the Presbyterian Church there.

He was active in the congregation, organising the Sunday School which evolved into the Second Presbyterian Church in 1842. In this congregation Adams served as an elder and superintendent of the Sunday School. When differences arose he separated from that congregation, rejoining the First Presbyterian Church in 1866 and becoming an elder in it the following year.

Adams was involved in other religious and charitable activities. For over 40 yeas he was the treasurer of the Nashville Bible Society, while he was also president of the Board of Directors of Ward’s Presbyterian Seminary for Young Ladies. Such was the regard in which he was held by his fellow citizens that in 1880 he was made Chairman of the Committee of Reception and member of the Board of Directors of the Centennial Commission, the body established to mark Nashville’s one hundredth anniversary. Conscious of his Ulster roots, Adams was one of the first members of the Scotch-Irish Society of America and served as vice-president of the Tennessee branch until his death on 31 March 1895.

Contribution to education

Settlers from Ireland were also involved in educational institutions in Nashville. The importance attached to education can be seen in the will of Alexander Porter senior in which the testator specified that his sons Alexander, William and Robert were ‘if possible to get a first rate education’. He also made suggestions as to the career each of his sons could pursue – Alexander might consider becoming a merchant or lawyer, William a lawyer and Robert a doctor.

He also suggested that if they were in need of advice on this matter they should turn to their cousin Alexander Porter. In the 1820s ,Mrs James Scott, from Ireland, moved to Nashville and established a school for girls, what became the Female Academy. She began in a rented room in High Street and then built a house and schoolroom on Vine Street opposite the Episcopal Church. She was considered ‘one of the finest lady teachers that ever taught here.’ She died in February 1841 in her 51st year.