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James Waddel (July 1739 – September 17, 1805) was an Irish American Presbyterian preacher from Virginia noted for his eloquence.

Waddel was born in Newry, Ireland in July 1739. His parents emigrated to the United States in his infancy, settling in southwestern Pennsylvania. He was educated at the West Nottingham Academy under Reverend Samuel Finley and became an assistant teacher in Reverend Robert Smith's academy in Pequea, Lancaster County.

Afterward he emigrated to Virginia, and, under the influence of Samuel Davies, decided to study for the ministry. He was licensed to preach in 1761, and the next year became pastor of Presbyterian churches in the Northern Neck of Virginia. He removed to the Tinkling Spring church in Augusta County in 1775 and also preached in Staunton. In 1785 he settled on an estate in Louisa County, where he supplied vacant pulpits and was principal of a classical school.

He became blind about 1787, but continued his labors without interruption, writing as well as preaching with great industry, and was known as "the blind preacher." Before his death he ordered that all his manuscripts be burned, so that his eloquence has become a matter of tradition.

The best idea of him as a pulpit orator is to be gathered from the sketch of Dr. Waddel as the blind preacher in William Wirt's Letters of a British Spy. This was written in 1803, when Dr. Waddel was old and infirm. It has been questioned how far the author gave himself the license of fiction in his description, but Dr. Waddel's biographer, James Waddel Alexander, says:

"Mr. Wirt stated to me that, so far from adding colors to the picture of Dr. Waddel's eloquence, he had fallen below the truth. In person he was tall and erect, his mien was unusually dignified, and his manners graceful and eloquent. Under his preaching, audiences were irresistibly and simultaneously moved, like the wind-shaken forest."

James Madison, who had been his pupil, said: "He has spoiled me for all other preaching," and Patrick Henry classed him with Samuel Davies as one of the two greatest orators he had ever heard.

Dickinson College gave him the degree of D.D. in 1792. He died at his Louisa County estate in 1805.

His daughter, Janetta Waddel, married the Reverend Archibald Alexander in 1802. His grandson, James Waddel Alexander, wrote a memoir of him originally published in the Watchman of the South (1846).

External links

This article incorporates text from the public domain Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography.

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