Leland, Rev. John, was born in Grafton, Mass., May 14, 1754. At the age of eighteen he passed through an experience not unlike that of John Bunyan, coming out gradually into the liberty of the gospel. Within a month after his conversion, in June, 1774, he made his first attempt at public speaking. Having connected himself with the church in Mount Poney, Culpeper Co., Va., he was ordained by the choice of the church. He preached from place to place, everywhere proclaiming “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Wonderful revivals everywhere followed the labors of Mr. Leland in Virginia. Hundreds came under the power of converting grace, and professed their faith in Christ. The summary of his labors during the fifteen years of his ministry in Virginia is thus recorded,- 3009 sermons preached, 700 persons baptized, and two large churches formed, one of 300 members, and another of 200.
Having finished the work which he thought his Master had given him to do in Virginia, Mr. Leland returned to his native State, and made his home for the most of the remainder of his life in Cheshire, Mass. Here, and in the region about, the same power and the same success followed his ministry. He reports the whole number of persons whom he had baptized down to 1821 as 1352. “Some of them,” he says, “have been men of wealth and rank, and ladies of quality, but the chief part have been in the middle and lower grades of life. Ten or twelve of them have engaged to preach.” Missionary tours were made in almost every direction, and multitudes crowded to hear him. The story of the “mammoth cheese” sent by the people of Cheshire to President Jefferson belongs to this period. He was the bearer of the gift to Washington. “Mr. Jefferson,” remarks Rev. J. T. Smith, “treated him with much deference, among other things taking him into the Senate chamber.” Year after year he went on doing that special work to which he believed the Lord had called him. “From seventy to beyond eighty years of age he probably averaged more sermons a week than most settled pastors.” And it is interesting to have the following recorded of him by one who could speak intelligently about him, “The large attendance on his preaching was as creditable to the hearers as to the preacher. A sensational preacher he was not, nor a mere bundle of eccentricities. The discriminating and thoughtful listened to him with the most interest and attention.” He was evidently “a born preacher.” The life of a settled pastor would have been irksome to him. He wanted freedom from all restraint, and to do his own work at his own time and in his own way. In politics he was a Democrat of the Jeffersonian school, a hater of all oppression, whether civil or ecclesiastical. His warmest sympathies went out to his Baptist brethren in their efforts to secure a complete divorce of the Church from the State. Everywhere he pleaded with all the energy of his soul for civil and religious liberty, and he had the satisfaction of seeing it at last come out of the conflict victorious over all foes. Among the class of ministers whom God raised up during the last century to do the special work which it was given the Baptist denomination to perform, John Leland occupies a conspicuous place. We doubt if his equal will ever be seen again. Mr. Leland died Jan. 14, 1841.
* The Baptist Encyclopedia: Edited by William Cathcart. (1883)