I was born 31st July, 1859, in extreme poverty. My father's house was of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families around in this part of North Carolina; wherefore I have nothing of rank to boast of as others have, neither do I desire it; but instead thereof, I glory in my infirmities and low state according to the flesh, that I may the more abundantly exalt my God. I was born and reared in about eight miles of where I now live, in the most obscure part of Surry county, N. C. I was the oldest child of my father's family. My next brother was nearly two years younger than myself, and was dumb and perfectly helpless, and he lived to be about fourteen years old and died. I have two other brothers, the next in birth, and they are about grown young men, and are very wicked; and many times have I bowed in prayer for them; and O, may all who read this unite in prayer with me for them. The fifth child of my father's is a girl, now nearly grown, and is my only sister, and is yet out of the Ark of Safety. O, that God may bring her tender soul in. The sixth and last child was my infant brother who died in infancy, and is therefore better off than any of us yet living in time. My dear mother died when I was at the tender age of ten years, and left an old log cabin nearly full of little children, none of whom at that time were able to do any labor but myself; for all were too small to do anything, except my oldest brother, and he was helpless, and my father was a weakly man, being diseased from a child. I had been brought up, until this period, without any education, or any knowledge of religion; for my parents never had any thought for religion, as it seemed, for they never went to any kind of meeting; neither did they seem to have any thought for reading, as they had no Bible or any other kind of a book in their possession.
I was reared in perfect obscurity; for I lived until I was about eighteen year's old and had never been at any public gathering, never been to school, nor heard any one speak in public. As I have said, mother died and left me at the age of ten years to take care of a pitiful and helpless family; but my little infant brother in a few weeks followed his mother. My dear reader, I cannot tell the trouble, turmoil I have undergone since the death of my dear mother; and if I were to write for days and days I could not tell half of the many hardships, troubles and trials I have had in this world of sin and sorrow. I had to work out of doors in the day time in summer, to try to make something for us all to eat; and also had to prepare our meals three times a day, and had to carry those little children with me to the field. I also had to chew everything my little helpless brother ate, and had to strip him three times a day, and many times, oftener. I had to wash and patch for them (my three little brothers, father and one little sister) of nights; for my father was gone from home the most of his time. O, the lonesome hours I saw; for no one came to see us, though there were two dwellings just across the small stream from where we lived, both in sight; and after I had become a grown man, I visited those houses and they did not know who I was--even those people who lived in sight of where I was raised did not know me when I went to their houses, for they had never seen me, only at a distance, since I was a little fellow and nobody ever came to see whether we were dead or alive. Now the general excuse that they (the people in the neighborhood in which I was raised) put up for not visiting us was that my father was such a wicked and sorry man; but my notion is different from that; I think that the cause was they lacked charity.
Now, dearly beloved in the Lord, I cannot describe what I have suffered during those cold and stormy winters; for I never wore a coat or vest, nor anything else, save a shirt and pantaloons of domestics, until after I was eighteen years old. How piercing those sharp winds felt to my thinly-dressed body when I had to leave my little brothers and sister and sometimes father, and go to the woods for wood to burn, to keep them from freezing! When I would return with my turn of wood on my shoulder, I would be so cold that I would be benumbed all over. When I look back over my rugged road, I am made to wonder that I am still alive. But my wonder ceases when I consider that the omnipotent hand of a loving Father has led me through this terrible desert and preserved me from its numberless dangers. O, was it not the loving hand of Jehovah that kept a poor blind (spiritually blind) boy from having childish ways and from the carelessness common to children. For if I had been of the disposition common to children, I would not have striven to maintain my father and his helpless family, but to the reverse. I have often thought if it had not been for God's kind providence we would all have been burned up together in our little old log cabin years ago. But, thanks to His holy name! he watched over us and brought me to manhood without any help of man, and without any of the luxuries of earth. Then does he not work all things after the counsel of his own will, and out of the sight of poor, finite mortals?
After my helpless brother had died my labor was not so severe. Well do I recollect when he died; it was one evening during a thunder storm. I was sitting by his side, rocking him in his cradle when the thunders were rolling and the sharp lightnings were flashing, and it was almost as dark as night. I looked my little brother in the face and saw the hand of death there; his eyes were turned into death. How awful I felt! While looking on him the tears rolled down my cheeks, and I called to my father, for I could not endure to gaze alone upon that dying boy. Time moved on with me and still I knew but little, and thought less, of a Supreme Being. I knew God only by these names, "The Good Man," and the "Lord." This was all I could learn of God by my father. When I would ask him what caused the thunder, etc., he would say that it was the "Good Man" that thundered. When I was a little boy I remember that my mother told me the same, and that he (the Good Man) would destroy all that stole, told lies, etc., in a pit of fire. So sometimes I would be much afraid of these things, and dreaded frightful dreams. But my disposition was dreadfully wicked. I will mention a few of my many wicked thoughts and intentions while in a state of death. I had heard of the many pleasant (to me then) sinful practices of mankind from my father telling me of them. So I thought that I would work very hard and lay up, and when I became a man I would buy a suit of clothing and fix up and go out into the world and take my pleasure in all the sins common to wicked young men; for I thought as I had always been a subject, of obscurity and sorrowful privations, that when I became a man I would see some pleasure. But all my expectations were cut short by the hand of Omnipotence; for I became greatly burdened, and my troubles were very great, for I felt myself to be the greatest sinner on earth. O, how wretched I felt! I was ashamed of myself. There were some black people who lived near us, and I was ashamed of them, so that when they came about I would hide from them. O, how wicked I did feel! I often went and tried to pray, though I knew little about what men or women did when at prayer; what position they occupied, or what words they used, for I had never heard any one pray. So when I went out to pray I would some times, and most of the time, fall on my face. So finally I concluded that I was going to die and sink down into a lake of fire unquenchable and everlasting, and that because of my sinfulness. I viewed myself as nothing but a great mass of corrupted wickedness, and that the Good Man, as I knew, was going to sink me into irretrievable woe and misery on account of my sin. Then I began to examinee myself to see why it was that I must sink down into hell, and why it was that I was the worst being on earth, and could not solve the mystery; for I had never been as wicked as I had heard of some being. I had never acted the thief, neither had I been a liar, nor had I been guilty of any big crime. Then what is the matter? I could not tell why I was so guilty. But when I had viewed sin in all its deformity, then I could solve the mystery; for I then saw that it was that original guilt and my total depravity in nature that condemned me. But all my reasoning about not having been guilty of any great crime did me no good; and finally sleep fled from me; and one evening I watched the sun go down, and as he sank below the horizon I bade him farewell, and never expected to see the sun rise again. O, how dreadful I felt! for I thought I would soon be dead, and no sooner dead than damned. When night came on and all my father's family were asleep, I arose softly and went out and going a considerable distance from the house, I fell down upon my face to pray. I thought I must now sink into eternal woe and misery, for what hope have I? I had never heard anything of such a being as Christ Jesus, or a Saviour; neither did I know anything of the New Testament at that time; but just at the moment when I thought I was gone, I saw Jesus as it was a bright star descend from heaven and the next I saw to that superior bright star was a little infant lying in a very shabby-looking stable, and I thought, or it was revealed to me, that this shining light left heaven to become a way for my redemption from death and hell, and became an infant to that end. I then had a view of the whole life of Christ, even to his crucifixion. I then saw Jesus suspended between the heavens and the earth, as an outcast of both. He was hanging, I thought, about half way between the heavens and the earth; his feet were crossed a large iron about the size of a forty-penny nail pierced through them both, his hands were pierced with smaller irons, and his side was pierced open, and a great stream, of bloody water was pouring or gushing out of it; and I saw that his whole blessed body was streaming in blood, every part being bathed, and the blood streamed unto the earth. Then I heard a voice say, Fear no longer, for this will overshield and overspread you from all harm, from the thunder storms, etc. This voice was sweetest melody to me; my whole being; was filled with sweet and holy melody, and I felt as innocent as a little new-born infant; for all my load of sin and guilt was gone. Now it was right here I saw, or it was revealed to me, just how Jesus came into the world; for I viewed that he lived for me a perfect life of obedience in the flesh, and that he died for me, or died in my stead, and arose for me a victorious conqueror over death, hell and the grave; and then ascended to heaven for me. I also had the same view in regard to the whole church in her triumphant state. Now this heavenly view and divine revelation was so great to me that in after years when I had gotten in possession of the New Testament and began to read it, it seemed as though I had always been acquainted with its readings.
Now I have never gone to school but about two months in all my life, and that during the winter of 1878, and during this same winter I borrowed some clothing and went to Rock Springs meting house and heard Elder B. E. Caudle preach, which was the first sermon I ever heard preached in my life. So time passed on with me in many ups and downs, doubts and fears, until the 18th of May, 1878, when I went to the church and told some of the great things which I hoped the Lord had done for me.
In June following I borrowed clothing of Brother C. W. York to be baptized in, and walked to Mitchell's River meeting house, about eighteen miles, and was baptized by Elder B. E. Caudle. Now, I never had heard any one tell an experience, or join the church, nor had seen any one baptized until after I was baptized myself. I moved on in poverty's vale in many severe trials, and was favored with many rich blessings of God's grace, as I some times hope, until the second Sunday in August, 1878, when I contemplated trying to preach. When I commenced trying to preach I did not know a tune of any song in the world; neither could I give out a hymn correctly, for I could scarcely read. So I passed on in my trials, having to toil yet very hard for my father, and he was all the time opposed to my religious exercises; but I would beg him often to let me go and try to preach, which he would sometimes consent to. So I would go in my rags and walk for many miles to preach to the people. Yes, I would go through the dark as well as the daytime; going through wet and dry, cold and heat, and preaching to the poorer sort of people.
On the 25th of August, 1880, I was married to Miss A. L. Moody, a beautiful girl seventeen years old. She was a very poor girl, for she had nothing but her clothing. We leased a piece of land in the woods and built a little log cabin and moved in it., and we got shingles for a sustenance during the fall and winter, working day and night; for I would some nights dress or draw three hundred shingles after supper. But when summer was come we rented stock and land and made a crop, and have been doing that way ever since. The first meal we ever ate in our little log cabin was in one teacup and one saucer; I ate out of the saucer and my wife out of the cup; and she had one old knife, made in the shop, to eat with, while I used my pocket-knife. We had to go in debt the year we were married for bedding and other household and kitchen necessaries, and we paid out the next fall, but had to go in debt again. I have had a powerful hard struggle to barely keep something to eat and wear, and many times both myself and family have suffered for want of food and raiment, and are in need even now. I have tried to go and preach Jesus as often as I possibly could, and have always had to walk, for the Primitive Baptists are very few in this country, and are very poor and widely scattered, therefore I never have had a helping hand from any mortal in this part. My family consists at present of my wife and three little children.
I was set apart and ordained to the gospel ministry by Elders Joshua Long and Wm. Hall on the 3rd Saturday in May 1882, and have been trying to fill that calling ever since but have labored under so many disadvantages that it seems there was never given for me any ease or satisfaction in this world. Yes, it seems that I was born unto trouble tribulations and disappointments, for my days have been as prone to trouble as the sparks are to fly upwards. And there are but two things that make me want to stay here in Time's many distempers, and that is my poor little poverty-stricken family and the poor little saints who are scattered here in this mountain country. They are but few in number and poor in the world, and yet I am knit to them in love.
Brother Respess, I submit this to your kindness, hoping it may find grace in your sight. I am your poor little unworthy brother in hope of the resurrection of life eternal.
State Road, N. C. William. R. WELBORN
P.S. Dear Brother Respess: – It is at the request of several of your readers that I have written this short sketch of my life and experience for your precious paper, THE GOSPEL MESSENGER; please give it a corner in your precious paper.
The Gospel Messenger – May 1887