Robert Logan Patton IV


Taken from "The Heritage of Burke County 1981"
Patton, Robert Logan IV (525) Pages 339-341 

     It has been well said that in all the annals of heroic struggle for an education and of sacrificial service in its use it would be difficult to find a more inspiring example than that afforded in the career of Robert Logan Patton.  He was the son of Robert Patton and Emiline Warlick, his wife, and was born on his father’s farm on Irish Creek, ten miles north of Morganton in Burke County, North Carolina, January 22, 1849.

     Here, “on narrow but fertile acres the lad whetted his will and toughened his sinews for the struggle and service of future years.”  The greatest driving force of his life was the influence of his Christian mother who died in his eleventh year, laying upon him the injunction: “Be a useful man and meet me in Heaven.”

     At an early age he united with the Baptist Church, and the youthful attachment thus formed remained one of the greatest loyalties of his life.  Having exhausted all the meager opportunities then afforded by the neighborhood schools, he resolved, at the age of seventeen years, “to get an education and be something.”  The circumstances under which this resolution was adopted were described by him in later years in the following language:

     “Through R. A. Spainhour and Rev. W. B. Gwaltney I heard much about Wake Forest College.  My ambition was to be able some day to go there, but the war had just closed, times were hard, and my father’s family was large, and he did not see the necessity of sending me off to school, but wanted me to stay at home and help support the family.  Often I mentioned going to college, but no word of encouragement did I receive.  Every way I turned all was dark.  I had no money or means whatever to pay my way; but I did have a strong body, a willing mind and a fixed purpose to go to school.”

     The thirst of Logan Patton, as he was familiarly called, for a collegiate education was so intense that he overcame almost insurmountable obstacles in attaining the desired end.  His struggles in this regard were portrayed by a former student as follows:

     “At seventeen years of age, wearing a suit of home-made jeans, carrying his clothes and other effects in a pillow case, and having only fifteen cents in money, he set out from home in search of an education.  It was on Tuesday morning, the second day of October, 1866, that, as he tells us, his father called him up about two hours before day to build a fire.  He went out to get a load of wood and did not return until after the lapse of ten years.  Instead of going to the wood-pile he went to the peach orchard to get the clothes he had stored there the night before and then, without bidding a formal good-bye, he struck a swift pace westward across the mountains into Tennessee, on through Kentucky and Indiana, and into Illinois.

     “He seemed like the patriarch journeying he knew not whither, yet led like Israel through much privation and rough experience by the pillars of cloud and of fire.  After walking more than a thousand miles he entered Hillsboro Academy, Illinois, where he worked his way for three years.  Thence he went to Phillips Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, where he studied two years under such teachers as Wentworth, the mathematician.

     “Now prepared for college but penniless and in debt, he entered the freshman class of Amherst College, Massachusetts, in 1872.  That he remained here four years until his graduation with honor in 1876 is nothing less than a miracle of self denial, energy undaunted and purpose indomitable.  He did it by living at times only on crackers and milk; by chopping wood for villagers at five cents an hour; by keeping open to visitors some college buildings two hours daily during his sophomore year; by ringing the college bell seventeen times a day, making up twenty beds, and cleaning several recitation rooms during his junior year; by allowing himself only six hours of sleep to eighteen hours of work daily; by strictest economy, incessant industry, and iron will.

     “At one time when there seemed no possible way for him to continue in college and under sheer necessity he was on the point of leaving, the president wrote: ‘A boy who is willing to read borrowed books, study in bed when he lacks the means to buy coal, and work his way through college can never leave Amherst for lack of money.’ Patton stayed on and took his diploma.

     “After graduation he turned his face homeward and what happened on arrival he tells in a newspaper article written some years ago.  “At Morganton,” he says, “we were met by my brother Peter with a wagon to convey us home.  As we passed Zion Church Peter said, ‘You had better get that load of wood father sent you after ten years ago.’ ‘All right,’ said I.  In about an hour we at last reached my father’s house on Irish Creek with the long-delayed load of wood.”

     Equipped with a splendid education, Robert Logan Patton was beckoned by many alluring opportunities to employ it for his own gain and aggrandizement.  He chose, however, to spend his days in the service of the section which gave him birth.  Desiring to “kindle the fire of ambition in many a youthful heart” and to “put education in easier reach of others than it was to him,” he began to teach at Table Rock School, near his old home, in the summer of 1876, and thereafter he continued in educational and religious work, with an utter disdain for his own material advancement, until the weight of years dimmed his physical powers.

     After his work at Table Rock, he taught at Boonville, the Globe, Amherst, Moravian Falls, Glen Alpine, and Morganton.  From 1897 until 1899 he was superintendent of public instruction in Burke County.  In 1900 he removed for a season to the State of Washington.  Returning to North Carolina, he filled the pulpit of the First Baptist Church of High Point from 1901 until 1903.  During the later years, he was elected as the first superintendent of the newly established Morganton Graded School and this post he occupied for two years.  Morganton was his residence for the remainder of his life.  From 1903 till 1910 he again held the office of superintendent of public instruction in Burke, and from 1912 to 1914 he served as county treasurer.

     For many years he conducted the famous Patton School, a private institution, in Morganton.  In politics, he was a Democrat.  As a licensed Baptist minister, he preached from time to time to various congregations and actively participated in the deliberations and work of the church, being especially interested in foreign missions, temperance and education.  A striking event well illustrates his attachment to his church.  When the Baptists of Morganton were seriously perplexed as to how to raise the means necessary for the erection of the structure for the First Baptist Church on South King Street, he pointed out the way by mortgaging his home and donating the money thereby secured to this cause.

     On June 6, 1876, Robert Logan Patton married Miss Margaret Spainhour, the daughter of Michael Spainhour and Lettie Estes, his wife.  He was singularly happy in his home, and the strong and beautiful character of his wife afforded him constant inspiration in his work.

     R. L. Patton died at Morganton January 8, 1920, being survived by his widow and six children: Mrs. W. F. Powell, the wife of a distinguished Baptist divine; Joe C. Patton, for many years the able editor of the Charlotte News; Mrs. Thomas W. Anthony, who taught in the Morganton Graded Schools; Miss Mabel Patton of Charlotte; Robert Logan Patton, V, who, as Superintendent of the Burke County Public Schools, worthily followed his father’s example in the educational world; and Mrs. Collier Ellis of High Point.

     The life of Robert Logan Patton was characterized by intense loyalties to religion and education.  Being devout by nature and belief, he frequently preached on Sunday, and during the week never opened school without religious exercises.  In a private letter hastily written to a daughter he unconsciously epitomized his conception of life and its supreme duty: “At best life is short.  Opportunities will soon be behind us.  I am doing all I can in school for the Master.”

     His one-time pastor, the late Dr. M. L. Kesler, said of him:

     “After the completion of his education at a northern college, naturally gifted with a mind trained and a marvelous power of persuasive speech, he could easily have gone to any of the great cities and won a place at the front as a pleader at the bar.  And after deciding to give himself to God’s kingdom he could easily have made for himself a name in the great pulpits of the nation.  But, like Moses, he chose to come back to his own people, and gave the greater part of his life to Burke and Caldwell Counties.  Here he lost himself, and here he found himself . . .

     “He made it clear that a brilliant man with gifts that could carry him to the world’s broadest forums can find full expression of his life in quiet places among a plain people.  He saw what we are slow to see at the present time – that the high schools need and deserve the most virile men we have . . . He possessed rare qualities as a preacher and public speaker.  His power lay in the courage of his convictions, coupled with a deep humility.

     “He had a marvelous quality of voice, and a direct and simple use of English that was the despair of his fellow craftsmen.  He had the power not only of arousing the emotion, but the power of fixing it in the mind of his hearers – the power of projecting his own powerful personality into the lives of those before him.”

     “To “Logue” Patton religion was a way of life – not a creed.  This conception induced him to devote his major energies to the school rather than to the pulpit.  In the classroom he found the fullest opportunity to mold youth and build character.  Having no toleration for frivolity, he strictly enforced discipline, and, if the event demanded, did not spare the rod.

     “His methods of teaching were unique.  For days at a time in his more mature classes he did not have a book opened, and the instruction imparted by him on these occasions gave his scholars their most valuable training for meeting life’s tasks.  As a teacher he required above all else a complete mastery of the subjects studied, and to the backward but sincere pupil he manifested an infinite patience.  Recalling at all times his own bitter struggle for an education, poverty alone never prevented any worthy boy or girl from receiving a thorough schooling at his hands.”

     “He literally opened the door of opportunity to countless boys and girls who otherwise would have been denied all educational advantages, and owing to the thoroughness of his instruction, hundreds of his students made useful men and women in many and varied walks of life.  It has been fittingly said that ‘he was pre-eminently an educator, demanding an immense amount of work from his students but he gave back into their lives a force of inspiration which baffles analysis and admits of few comparisons.’”

     It is impossible to measure the value of the life of Robert Logan Patton in tangible things.  The good which he did in building elements of strength into the characters of those who sat at his feet will bless generations yet unborn.

     Sources: First Baptist Church Records; School Records; Robert Logan Patton, IV, My Struggles for an Education; Robert Patton, IV. Letter to a Daughter; and M. L. Kesler, typed manuscript.

- Sam J. Ervin, Jr. 



Taken from The heritage of Burke County 1981
Patton, Robert Logan IV (526) Page 341


         Robert Logan Patton, IV was born February 22, 1849 to a mother of German extraction and a Scotch-Irish father on his parents’ Irish Creek farm ten miles north of Morganton, Burke County, North Carolina.  His mother died when he was ten years old and his father remarried twice.  The family included brothers John, Levi, Joseph, Jacob, William, and Peter and sisters Clara, Lou, Lillian, Margaret (Moore), Mary (Arndt), Harriet (Todd), Sarah (Bellmer), Alice (Zimmerman), and Brent (Rhyne).

         Their earliest American ancestor was the first Robert Logan Patton whose parents had immigrated to Pennsylvania from Essex County, England.  He served in the Revolutionary War, married in 1782 and settled in the South Middle Creek area of Burke County.

         Robert IV attended the small Irish Creek school near his home and, being too young to serve as a soldier, served as a water boy during the Civil War but his hunger for education was unsatisfied.  He left home secretly in the night when sent for firewood and walked to Hillsboro Academy, Hillsboro, Illinois to enroll.  Later he entered Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire and finally graduated from Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts in June 1876 at the age of 27.  His struggle had lasted ten years and had secured for him as fine an education as that of any North Carolinian.  On returning home he gathered up firewood for which he had been sent much earlier, then walked in to a family he had not seen for a decade.

         A devout Baptist, he now began the most serious work of his life.  Having been trained for the ministry and teaching, he determined to pursue both.  This he did with a zeal and intensity seldom equaled.  He founded a group of rural schools while, at the same time, holding pastorates at a number of nearby country churches.  Obviously, he focused his efforts on those who were being served least.  As a speaker his impact on listeners was tremendous.

         He used verbatim quotes, clear and logical analyses and lucid, yet simple language.  His audiences were usually caught up by the power of his eloquence.  Once his schools gained public financing he became Superintendent of Morganton Graded Schools, then Burke County Superintendent of Public Instruction.  His uncommon generosity was displayed in many instances.  Once, before delivering a sermon at an orphanage, he stripped his home of valuables to provide donations.  A parallel occurred when he mortgaged his home to pay debts against the Morganton Baptist Church which he had helped found and was to dedicate.

         An interest in better government dictated participation in politics.  He served two years as Burke County Treasurer and, although a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully as an Independent for Congress.  This loss may well have been a compliment as the electorate perceived him as an idealist above political expediency.  He was, however, not to lose the fight when he made a vigorous stand against corruption.  He won that fight hands down.

         The Reverend Patton’s personal life was as marked by achievement as his public life.  On June 6, 1877 he took as a life partner Margaret Spainhour, a sister of J. F. Spainhour of Morganton.  This strong, quiet woman of dignity and character was to become the steadying, inspiring force in a life already proven exceptional.  She was to bear him six children.  All were molded by her into an interesting family.  They were Winnie P. (Powell), Joseph C. Patton, Maude P. (Anthony), Mabel P. (Whitmire)., Robert L. Patton, V. and Ruth P. (Ellis).   

         The twilight years were marked by waning physical capacity but his intent remained undiminished.  He continued his contacts by distributing Christian literature to former students and friends always enclosing an inspirational personal message that was warmly received and appreciated.  Much good work was done during those eight years of partial paralysis as an active mind, still unhampered, drove him on relentlessly.

         The end of this compelling ministry came in Morganton on January 8, 1920 but its fruits live on.  He was buried in Forest Hill cemetery.  Inscribed on his tombstone is a fitting epitaph chosen from the Book of Timothy.  “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course.”

         Sources: Moore, Hight C., Patton: Southern Highlander, Morganton, North Carolina, 1964; Patton Curtis, A Genealogy of Robert Patton I, Morganton, North Carolina, Aug. 25, 1965; Patton, Rev. Robert Logan, IV, My Struggles for An Education, Morganton, North Carolina; “Man of the Year” 1966, The News Herald, Morganton, North Carolina; Patton, Robert Logan V, A Brief History of Burke County Schools, Morganton, North Carolina Feb. 1961.

- J. C. Grady

Ruth Patton Grady

Betty Patton Cave




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