REV. JOHN F. DEVORE, D.D. – Doctor Devore was a native of Kentucky, being born near Lexington, December 7, 1817. He was of French descent, as the name indicates, and owed very much to the pious example of religious parents, who urged him with their last words to be “faithful to his God.” The “Life of Bramwell” fell into his hands at an early date, was read with great relish, and had much to do in molding the shape of his after life. Entering the ministry, he joined the Rock river conference in 1842, Bishop Roberts presiding. He was ordained deacon at Milwaukee in 1844 by Bishop Morris, and elder at Galena, Illinois, in 1846 by Bishop Hamline. In May, 1853, he was transferred to the Oregon conference by Bishop Waugh, and arrived with his family at Steilacoom, Washington Territory, the latter part of August in that year, and entered at once upon his singularly interesting and successful career of ministerial labor on this coast, embracing a period of thirty-six eventful years.
While in the Oregon conference, Doctor Devore’s appointments were as follows: Steilacoom two years, 1853-55; Olympia one year, 1855-56; presiding elder Puget Sound district three years, 1856-59; Vancouver two years, 1859-61; The Dalles two years, 1861-63; East Tualitan two years, 1863-65; Milwaukee one year, 1865-66; presiding elder Portland district four years, 1870-74; Vancouver two years, 1874-76; Albany three years, 1876-79; Seattle two years; 1879-81; Tacoma three years, 1881-84.
In the Puget Sound conference, organized in 1884, by Bishop Fowler, Doctor Devore’s appointments were as follows: West Tacoma two years, 1884-86; presiding elder Olympia district one year, 1886-87; conference agent of church extension one year, 1887-88; and educational agent for the University at Tacoma one year, 1888-89, at which post of duty he fell, July 28, 1889, at four o’clock A.M., in the seventy-second year of his age.
Doctor Devore was for many years one of the publishing committee of the Pacific Christian Advocate and trustee of the Willamette University, and also of the Olympia Collegiate Institute. In all of these relations he was prompt and active in the discharge of duty, laboring incessantly for the prosperity of all these institutions.
As delegate to the general conference at Brooklyn in 1872, with Doctor C.C. Stratton as colleague, Doctor Devore labored with unusual perseverance and success for the interests of the whole church, but especially for the benefit of this Northwest coast. He introduced some important amendments to the discipline, and had passed by the general conference a memorial providing for the purchase of lots in the city of Portland, and the erection thereon of a suitable building for the Pacific Christian Advocate, and a book depository, – measures which, if they had been carried out as intended, would to-day have proved a source of vast influence for good.
His last active appointment was to the presiding eldership of the Olympia district, by Bishop Harris, in 1886. To this work he went promptly, and apparently with the vigor of youth renewed. At every appointment he seemed to infuse fresh activity and enterprise, manifesting a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of the preachers and their charges.
Before the year closed he was stricken down in helplessness, and returned reluctantly to his home in Tacoma, and resigned the work. While thus afflicted he wrote to the writer expressing the characteristic wish that he “might be spared to build a few more churches.” He was spared, and for two more years as conference agent of the Church Extension Society, and educational agent of the University of Tacoma, he held up the banner of the cross, and with pen and voice led on in cheer for the great work. Gradually declining in health and strength, and expressing form time to time perfect resignation to the will of God, without pain or struggling, he passed peacefully home on that Sabbath morning, to rest from the labors of a long and useful life.
His beloved wife, two married daughters, Mrs. Josie Devore Johnson, of Oregon City, and Mrs. Mary Devore Edmonds, of Clarke county, Washington Territory, and one son, George R. Devore, mourn his loss; but the great consolation is theirs that they had such a man of God for husband and father, and that his faithful record is now in heaven. Appropriate memorial services were held in the First Methodist-Episcopal church of Tacoma.
Doctor John F. Devore was a man of marked peculiarities. Over six feet in height and well proportioned physically, his venerable and striking mien commanded observation in whatever assembly he appeared. When he arose to speak, a pleased and riveted attention was given to his utterances, which were accompanied usually with an inimitable quaintness of logic and expression. His sermons were well prepared, but always brief and practical, and were delivered with a marked intonation of voice that became not unpleasant, but which no minister would dare to imitate. In pastoral fidelity and tact he had no superior. He could more easily and skillfully apportion the work to be done by his parishioners, and visit and pray with more families in one afternoon, than the most active of his brethren in the ministry. His life-long habit of visiting and addressing day schools and Sunday schools, and of calling promptly upon strangers and imparting to them all needful information concerning the country and the church privileges, was most commendable and exemplary. Next to his efforts to win his fellow beings to “wisdom’s was” and to God were his unceasing labors to erect churches, build parsonages and foster institutions of learning. In his best days, none could surpass him in ability or success in such work, as his numerous monuments in this line will testify. He was a follower of Bramwell in his promptness to meet every engagement. He was happy in his temperament and at times even jovial among friends; but, if any controversy arose likely to produce unpleasantness, his love for peace prompted reticence, acting on the motto, ” The least said the better. ” he truly and wisely aimed to lead a “blameless life,” – honest in the sight of men as well as before God. In all religious meetings he took an active part from principle, and made it a duty to be among the very first to speak or pray.
He is gone. His like in all respects as a worker for Christ and humanity we may never see again. We shall miss his genial presence at our annual conferences. He will be missed by his many friends in all the districts, stations, circuits and boards of trustees in which he has labored. At home and every place where he has lived and worked, will be missed and mourned the genial, quaint, true-hearted and indefatigable John F. Devore.
“Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past.
The battles fought, the race is won;
And thou art crowned at last.”
The foregoing is a verbatim extract from the very eloquent and appropriate obituary notice of good Father Devore by his friend and able confrére in the ministry, the Reverend Isaac Dillon, D.D. The writer has the esteemed privilege of adding thereto some of his recollections of the life-service of Father Devore outside of the Methodist church, for humanity at large, for every community who were blest for a period with the presence in their midst of that great humanitarian and philanthropist. That distinguished minister never for a moment paraded sanctity of claim, never forgot his calling, his profession, his duty to himself, to his church, and above all his love for humanity, – his interest in their welfare.
His great ambition was to labor for the good and advancement of the locality in which he lived. If his duty called him to a place where there was neither church, schoolhouse nor lyceum in which meetings for worship or for the amelioration of the race might he held, Father Devore at once initiated the movement to provide the necessary sanctuary or temple of learning. He then labored on until the necessity ceased to exist. He aimed first to have a church edifice for his own denomination; and, when he did commence, success usually followed. If the church edifice was supplied, then he assisted as zealously in supplying the schoolhouse or the lyceum. While always loyal to his church, he was equally zealous in serving humanity. The communities in Washington in which he has ministered (the writer speaks from knowledge as to such territory; and he has been informed that the same may be said of Oregon communities) have occasion to remember with gratitude the active services of the untiring worker for the benefit of his race, in adding to their public improvements, frequently the church, the schoolhouse, the institute, the lyceum hall, or some road or wharf or bridge or other beneficial work for the public.
In 1857, just after the Indian war had impoverished the people of Washington, when Indian war scrip, as it was called, constituted almost the circulating medium of the country, Father Devore undertook the erection of a large and commodious Methodist-Episcopal church in the city of Olympia. Some three years previously he had secured the means and caused the erection of a good church building in Steilacoom. It was a trying time at Olympia financially; but Father Devore took the matter in hand in dead earnest. He received donations in the scrip referred to (scrip was a certificate of indebtedness issued by the territorial volunteer authorities for services performed or supplies furnished by the citizens in the Indian war of 1855-56); he collected a considerable amount of that paper, sold it at a discount, and applied the proceeds to the erection of the church. He also received subscriptions in money or material.
He was ready and willing to utilize any and everything of value which could contribute to his darling purpose. Full of resource, shirking no responsibility, and of the very highest order of courage, he continued his labor. Nothing could discourage or daunt him; occasionally some ribald phrase by some worthless specimen of humanity would be addressed to him. But this deterred him not; and generally his patient, mild reply would disarm the most malignant, and cause the offender to regret his ill manners to that faithful servant of his Master.
He was ready for any proposition that could be made. An old friend had been called upon by him for a donation of lumber; having pleaded his inability to make a cash contribution, thinking to put off Father Devore without actually denying him, the party offered Father Devore, as a donation for the church, all the lumber that he would personally pack from the mill wharf at Tumwater and raft alone to Olympia, a distance of two miles. Without either accepting or declining the offer, Father Devore waited until the tides should best subserve his purpose. Within a few days after the donation he repaired to Tumwater in the night, to be on hand when the long ebb tide at the head of the Sound should commence to run out. At the first of that long ebb, he began to pack the lumber to the beach; and, as the tide receded, leaving the ground dry, he commenced to construct his raft. He labored incessantly during all that long ebb, and until the next flood, in packing lumber and making a raft. The flood tide floated the raft, and enabled it to reach Olympia. Long before the raft was afloat, the donor of the lumber was watching with genial good humor the zealous father at work in his shirtsleeves, and that huge raft of lumber of sufficient dimensions to build a church. This incident among the many which might be related is illustrative of the energy, directness of purpose, and the methods of that earnest and most practical man, who contributed so much to the building up of the outposts of civilization by his active and personal exertion, who infused hope in others, and who so generously encouraged every laudable enterprise.
But those active contributions were not restricted to his sect. He assisted all; and all those many towns and communities in which he ministered abound with the monuments attesting his personal labor; and many living witnesses will bear affectionate testimony as to his great usefulness. How truly it was said by his eulogist; “He will be missed by his many friends in all the districts, stations, circuits and boards of trustees in which he has labored. At home, and every place where he has lived and worked, will be missed and mourned the genial, quaint, true-hearted and indefatigable John F. Devore.”