Minister and pioneer Samuel Doak founded the earliest schools and many of the Presbyterian churches of East Tennessee. The son of Irish immigrants, Doak was born August 1, 1749, in Augusta County, Virginia. He grew up on a frontier farm and began his education with Robert Alexander, who later founded the Academy of Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University). After attending an academy in Maryland, he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), from which he graduated two years later in 1775. Doak married Esther Houston Montgomery of Augusta County in October 1775.
Doak taught at Hampden-Sydney College in the spring of 1776. There he studied theology under Samuel Stanhope Smith, president, and completed his theological training in 1777 at Liberty Hall. He assumed his first pastorate in Abingdon, Virginia, and also began to "ride circuit" in eastern Tennessee. In 1778 he settled in Tennessee in Sullivan County and was ordained a minister. In 1780 he moved to Washington County, where he formed Salem Church and a school, which was chartered as St. Martin's Academy in 1783, the first chartered school in the region. In 1795 it became Washington College. Moving to the Holston valley in Tennessee, Doak established the New Bethel Presbyterian Church. He later moved to Limestone, Tennessee, where he founded Salem Presbyterian Church. He also established an academy which grew into Washington College, of which he was president from 1790 to 1818.
Doak served as president of Washington College (1795-1818) before turning it over to his oldest son, John Whitfield Doak. Esther Doak had died in 1807, and in 1818 he moved with his second wife, Margaretta Houston McEwen, to Tusculum Academy (later Tusculum College) and taught there with his son Samuel W. Doak until his death on December 12, 1830. He is buried at Salem Church. In 1780, Doak preached to settlers at the Big Spring in Greeneville, Tennessee. Regular services began around the spring, and in 1783, Mt. Bethel Presbyterian Church (now First Presbyterian Church) was formed, Hezekiah Balch being the first settled minister.
He was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree for his tireless efforts at promoting Presbyterianism and education. He was generally known as "the Presbyterian Bishop."
After becoming convinced of the iniquity of slavery, he freed his own slaves in 1818. Afterwards, for the rest of his life, Doak advocated immediate abolition. He was referred to as being "the apostle of learning and religion in the West."
Doak delivered the following sermon and prayer at Sycamore Shoals, September 26, 1780 for the mustering of the troops prior to the Battle of Kings Mountain. They afterwards fought a victorious battle against Loyalist troops commanded by British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.
- My countrymen, you are about to set out on an expedition which is full of hardships and dangers, but one in which the Almighty will attend you. The Mother Country has her hand upon you, these American colonies, and takes that for which our fathers planted their homes in the wilderness - OUR LIBERTY. Taxation without representation and the quartering of soldiers in the homes of our people without their consent are evidence that the crown of England would take from its American Subjects the last vestige of Freedom. Your brethren across the mountains are crying like Macedonia unto your help. God forbid that you should refuse to hear and answer their call - but the call of your brethren is not all. The enemy is marching hither to destroy your homes. Brave men, you are not unacquainted with battle. Your hands have already been taught to war and your fingers to fight. You have wrested these beautiful valleys of the Holston and Watauga from the savage hand. Will you tarry now until the other enemy carries fire and sword to your very doors? No, it shall not be. Go forth then in the strength of your manhood to the aid of your brethren, the defense of your liberty and the protection of your homes. And may the God of Justice be with you and give you victory.
- Let us pray. Almighty and gracious God! Thou hast been the refuge and strength of Thy people in all ages. In time of sorest need we have learned to come to Thee - our Rock and our Fortress. Thou knowest the dangers and snares that surround us on march and in battle. Thou knowest the dangers that constantly threaten the humble, but well beloved homes, which Thy servants have left behind them. Oh, in Thine infinite mercy, save us from the cruel hand of the savage, and of tyrant. Save the unprotected homes while fathers and husbands and sons are far away fighting for freedom and helping the oppressed. Thou, who promised to protect the sparrow in its flight, keep ceaseless watch, by day and by night, over our loved ones. The helpless women and little children, we commit to Thy care. Thou wilt not leave them or forsake them in times of loneliness and anxiety and terror. Oh, God of Battle, arise in Thy might. Avenge the slaughter of Thy people. Confound those who plot for our destruction. Crown this mighty effort with victory, and smite those who exalt themselves against liberty and justice and truth. Help us as good soldiers to wield the SWORD OF THE LORD AND GIDEON. AMEN.
Three schools in Greeneville are named for Samuel Doak:
- Doak Elementary School, located less than a mile away from his two story home
- Chuckey-Doak Middle School, estimated at a mile away
- Chuckey-Doak High School, directly behind the middle school
The Doak House Museum is a non-profit, educational institution, established as a museum in 1975.
- Samuel Doak biography, from the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
- Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, volume III (New York, 1857)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "Doak, Samuel". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- Salem Presbyterian Church