Presbyterian Pioneer Minister
The Rev. Joseph Bullen, pioneer Mississippi and Jefferson County settler, was born on 8 July 1750, in Brimfield Massachusetts. He was a member of an old colonial family, being the fourth generation in America.
From an interview recorded many years later, Joseph said as a younger son, he was designated for the church. Therefore, he went to Yale College, from which he graduated in 1772. Evidently, graduation implied ordination, and as a Congregational minister.
On 11 February 1774, he married Hannah Morse, and in subsequent years nine children were born. Later in 1774, he became minister of the church in Westminster, Vermont. After eleven years there, he moved his family north to very rural Athens, Vermont. There he engaged in a variety of occupations – a minister first, also a schoolteacher, a miller, and a farmer.
In 1788 and 1791 he was elected to the Vermont Colonial Legislature. In its “Proceedings” he is frequently mentioned, active for his district, and as a chaplain. Particularly noteworthy was “a patriotic sermon” delivered before that body. An unanswered question, not mentioned in the various Bullen studies, is why did he leave an established and obviously successful life to become a pioneer missionary? Perhaps it was the benign influence of his distant cousin, George Whitefield, the great colonial evangelist? Whitefield came several times to New England, and his final journey was to nearby New Hampshire.
In 1796, the newly organized New York Missionary Society published an appeal for “missionaries to the destitute parts of the country.” Joseph was the sole applicant, and following his commissioning he and his son, Joseph, then age 16, left on horseback to make the trip to the Mississippi Territory “to work among the Chickasaw Indians.”
Close to present day Pontotoc, the two men began a school, teaching and preaching. Joseph reported regularly to the Society, and his letters were published in its Magazine. From these, and in subsequent writings, it is evident that Indian service was not an unqualified success.
The following year, the men returned to Vermont, where they gathered Hannah and five children to go back to Mississippi (Two daughters remained in Vermont, and one other, sadly, died on the journey). In 1802, Joseph finished his obligation to the Society, and settled in Jefferson County, north of Natchez. There he farmed, and began establishing Presbyterian churches- five in all. One of these, Bethel, organized in 1804, is the oldest Protestant congregation in the Territory. How he became Joseph, Presbyterian minister, instead of Joseph, Congregational minister, is a minor mystery. Probably one was so alike the other, change was informal and quick.
Joseph, the oldest son, went north to live in Tennessee. The remaining sons and daughters married and began Mississippi families; descendants are living in Jefferson County and throughout the state. Seemingly happy and content in his successes, but frail and old, Father Bullen died 26 March 1825. He and Hannah are buried in a now-abandoned cemetery in Jefferson County. Relatives restored the markers and graves in time for the Bicentennial. The direction to the cemetery is designated by a state highway marker.
Submitted by Robert W. Bullen