Baptist evangelist. There were more than 33,000 conversions
during the first year of the ministry of Mordecai Ham. As a
result of his ministry, more than 300,000 new converts joined
Baptist churches in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee,
Kentucky, and the Carolinas in a space of 30 years. The au-
thor of the amendment for Prohibition stated that Billy Sun-
day and Mordecai Ham nearly put the saloons out of business.
A close observer wrote concerning him, “He exalts Christ and
fights sin with all his might. There is no middle ground in
his campaigns. It is impossible to evaluate his ministry. Un-
der his preaching I have seen murderers saved, drunkards con-
verted, homes reunited, and men and women dedicate their
lives for special service.”
Billy Graham was saved under Mordecai Ham’s preach-
ing, in a revival in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November,
ARTIST’S NOTE: Fruit is the main theme of Mordecai Ham’s
life. The purple is indicative of the passage on the vine,
and fruit-bearing found in the 15th chapter of the Gospel of
Mordecai Flower Ham
BORN: April 2, 1877 Scottsville, Kentucky
DIED: November 1, 1961 Pewel Valley, Kentucky
LIFE SPAN: 84 years, 6 months, 29 days
MORDECAI HAM’S MOST FAMOUS convert was Billy Graham, one of
303,387 people brought to Jesus Christ through his crusades.
Includes were preachers such as John Wimbish and Grady Wilson,
Judge Jenkins (Truett’s father-in-law), plus scores of the
hardened sinner type.
Ham’s career in evangelism stretched from 1902 to 1927 and
1929 to 1961. It was in November, 1934, that a sixteen-year-old
boy named Billy Graham went forward in the Charlotte, North
Carolina crusade. Little did Graham realize at that time that he
would be preaching to multitudes one day.
Ham was the son of Tobias and Ollie (McElroy) and was born
on a farm in Allen County near Scottsville. He came from eight
generations of Baptist preachers. In 1886 his family moved to
Bowling Green staying till 1888 when they returned to a second
farm near Greenwood in Warren County. His conversion and
spiritual inclinations were attributed to the devotional habits
of his boyhood home. He cannot date his conversion. He stated,
“From the time I was eight years old, I never thought of myself
as anything but a Christian. At nine I had definite convictions
that the Lord wanted me to preach….” At sixteen he was Sunday
School superintendent of the family church at Greenwood.
From country school, young Ham went to Ogden College (later
Western Kentucky State Teacher’s College) in Bowling Green, also
studying law with a private tutor. Because he was too young for a
Bar examination, he took a job as a traveling salesman for a
grocery concern. From 1897 to 1900 he was crew manager for a
picture-enlarging firm with headquarters in Chicago. His
grandfather’s death on Feb. 28, 1899 was a renewed call of God to
start serving the Lord. He married Bessie Simmons in July, 1900
and in December he quit his business and answered the call to
preach. He gave his partner his entire share in the business,
borrowing money to get started in the Lord’s work.
For the first eight months of 1901 he carefully studied and
prayerfully read his Bible. His first sermon was on the absolute
Lordship of Jesus Christ. In September, 1901, he accompanied his
father to a meeting of the District Association at Bethlehem,
near Scottsville, where his grandfather had pastored for over
forty years. There he was put on the spot and asked to preach.
When he finished, the congregation was praising God and someone
invited him to speak in the First Baptist Church of Scottsville
that very night. He was then asked to preach in Kentucky at the
Mt. Gilead Baptist Church.
At this, his first revival, he established a pattern that
was to follow him the rest of his days. He went after the biggest
sinners in town and often saw them saved. He believed enough
personal evangelism would produce mass results.
A typical story is that of Ham seeking out the most
notorious sinner in a Southern town. Ham was directed to a
certain cornfield. The infidel saw the feared preacher
approaching and went into hiding. The evangelist began to hunt
his prey and, hearing suspicious sounds under a cornshock, hauled
“What are you going to do with me?” the atheist quavered.
Ham retorted, “I’m going to ask God to kill you! You don’t
believe God exists. If there is no God, then my prayers can’t
hurt you. But if there is a God, you deserve to die because you
are making atheists out of your children and grandchildren.”
As the infidel begged him not to pray that way, Ham said,
“Very well then, I shall ask God to save you.” He was saved, and
before the meeting was over, all of that infidel’s family was
baptized–forty of them!
At Mount Gilead he encountered two incidents he could never
First, a strange power came over him to prepare him for an
experience on the next day. It was much like that which Finney
and Moody described…an almost unbelievable power from the Holy
Spirit. Ham always preached in that power from then on.
The next day came the other incident. Ham visited a dying
girl named Lulu. As Lulu, who apparently was unsaved, closed her
eyes in death he called to her, “Lulu, how is it?” A voice came
back, not the voice of one living, but that of one who is in
another world. He was never able to forget
it…”Lost…lost…Oh…so dark; so dark!…”
His sermon, “And Sudden Death,” was heard by thousands in
the days ahead. When he closed out this crusade he had sixty-six
baptized and received a love offering of $34.00. This was the
beginning of his career in evangelism. He was ordained back home
at the Drake’s Greek Baptist Church in Bowling Green.
While Ham was holding a meeting at Mount Zion, Kentucky, he
ran into the type of opposition that was to follow him most of
his career. On the second night of the meeting the moonshine
crowd surrounded the church and threw rocks at the preachers. The
leader threatened Ham with a long knife. Ham said, “Put up that
knife, you coward…Now I’m going to ask the Lord either to
convert you and your crowd or kill you.” The bully died the next
morning before Ham could get to his bedside. On the same day a
neighborhood sawmill blew up and killed three others of the
crowd. That night he announced he wanted everything that was
stolen to be returned before God killed the rest of the
tormentors. Everything was returned. Eighty were saved in his
His first year ended with 339 conversions. In 1902, his
second year as an evangelist, he had 934 additions. In January,
1903, he took his first meeting outside of Kentucky when he went
to the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, Louisiana. Here one
man threatened to kill him if his daughter joined the church. He
later came back and was converted after Ham warned him that God
was going to kill him. Other great 1903 revivals were in Garland,
Texas and Russellville, Kentucky. A large meeting was held in
Paducah, Kentucky, in January of 1904. His first revival to
produce large results was in Jackson, Tennessee, in April 1905,
where he had 1,500 additions. The whole area was shaken and Ham’s
fame was rising.
On December 4, 1905 his wife died, stricken with cerebral
meningitis. He was shaken to the depths, losing some fifty pounds
and in January, 1906 he sailed abroad to tour the Holy Land,
greatly upset by the course of events.
The Houston campaign of November 12, 1906 to March 1, 1907
was outstanding. Starting as a Baptist meeting, it soon became a
city-wide endeavor with 4,000 attending in a downtown skating
rink. Enthusiasm swept throughout the city. Five hundred were
converted during the first five weeks.
Then came two issues to hurt the crusade–an “Apostolic
Faith” movement started to infiltrate the revival with their
“tongue” participation. Then a controversy concerning the
enforcement of Sunday laws (closing of theatres and saloons,
which was not enforced) detracted from the meeting and divided
some of the sponsoring pastors closing the meeting prematurely.
The 1907 Asheville, North Carolina, crusade saw some of the
big saloon men converted. Then it was Louisville, Kentucky, and
Wilmington, North Carolina, where the liquor crowd fought him
hard. One night a drunken desperado rushed into the church and
threatened everybody with a gun. Ham jumped off the platform
singing, Tell Mother I’ll Be There, and by the time he reached
the fellow, the Lord had knocked him down, and he was on the
floor begging for mercy. He was gloriously saved as he threw down
a liquor bottle, a pair of dice and a gun.
In August of 1907 he held a meeting at Pleasureville,
Kentucky. His fame reached to the communities all around,
including Eminence, seven miles distance. From here, a Dr. and
Mrs. W.S. Smith and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Annie
Laurie, attended the meetings. Ham had just turned thirty.
Visiting in the home, the little girl took the preacher for a
ride in the buggy. Before the meeting closed, he mentioned to
Mrs. Smith he wanted to take her daughter with him to Europe, as
his wife! On June 3, 1908 the thirty-one-year-old evangelist
married a beautiful girl of fifteen. Three days later the happy
couple sailed for Naples, Italy. She traveled with her husband
for the most part during his meetings, playing the piano often in
his campaigns. They had three daughters, Martha Elizabeth, on
September 16, 1912; Dorothy, December 16, 1915; and Annie Laurie,
Jr., born December 11, 1924. The marriage was very successful and
her warm and encouraging spirit enabled him to shoulder burdens
that few have had. They made their home in Anchorage, Kentucky
(1909-1927), then two years in the pastorate at Oklahoma City,
and after 1929 in Louisville, Kentucky. The mother-in-law, Mrs.
W.S. Smith, lived over forty years of her life in their home,
enabling Mrs. Ham to travel frequently with her husband.
In March, 1908 the Mardi Gras of New Orleans proved an
exciting time. Ham started his city-wide crusade during the
corruption of this celebration. Three thousand were added to the
local participating churches before it was all over. It is said
this was the first time that New Orleans became Protestant
The Ham revival was the only other important thing happening
besides the election of a pope during the year as far as the
local townspeople were concerned. Thousands of Gospels of John
were distributed, but the Roman Catholics instructed their people
to burn them. As a result of that crusade, the state legislature
passed two reform bills: one that separated saloons from grocery
stores, and another that killed race-track gambling.
At one point, a drunken ex-steamboat captain entered Ham’s
hotel room waving a gun in his face, threatening to kill him. Ham
got him down on his knees and prayed (with his eyes open). The
man was saved.
In 1908 he was also back in Asheville for another meeting.
On to Salisbury, North Carolina, where in May the State
Prohibition election was to be held. The night before the
election Ham had to be escorted to and from the tabernacle by
armed guards and after the service the men paraded through the
streets all night shouting, “Hang Ham! Hang Ham!” As he left by
train, a U.S. Marshall had to stand outside on the station
platform holding two pistols pointed toward the crowd. A railroad
detective sat by his berth all the way to Asheville, and got
There’s a great fascination in learning how some of the
great hymns of all time came to be written. Here’s the story of
one of them, Saved, Saved:
As Mordecai Ham preached on the “Cities of Refuge” during a
July, 1910, meeting in Gonzales, Texas, a murderer was sitting in
the audience. He had killed four men and despaired of ever being
saved. Midway through the sermon, he jumped up from his seat and
shouted, “Saved! Saved! Saved!” Jack Scofield was directing the
choir and was so inspired that, on the next afternoon, he sat
outside the hotel and composed both the words and music for the
hymn, titled, Saved, Saved. That night the tabernacle audience
heard the song for the first time.
In April, 1911, Ham held his first meeting in Fort Worth,
Texas, sponsored by J. Frank Norris and the First Baptist Church.
During the first half of 1912 he held other meetings in Texas. It
was at a Waco crusade that his song leader, W.J. Ramsey of
Chattanooga, Tennessee, joined him. Texas and Oklahoma continued
to dominate these days. In January of 1916 he began a meeting in
Corpus Christi, Texas, and as usual, hit liquor hard. On this
occasion, after preaching hard against liquor, he was assaulted
in the lobby of his hotel. Ham deflected the blow with his Bible,
and another man rushed up saying, “You are under arrest for
fighting.” Nothing came of this, but Justice Miles subpoenaed him
to appear in court and give the sources of his information
concerning corruption and law violation in Corpus Christi. Word
that the evangelist might be arrested, placed under bond, and
tried for contempt of court fired up 3,500 followers of the
meetings. As a result, the matter was thrown out of court. Then
the grand jury took up the attack and ordered him to appear.
Three thousand people gathered outside to take the courthouse
apart, so the trumped up charges were dismissed. During this
time, Mordecai Ham received constant threats that his little
daughter would be kidnapped.
Back at Fort Worth, on September 11, 1916, Ham was assaulted
as he was leaving the Westbrook Hotel on his way to the
tabernacle to preach. He was struck from behind on the back of
the head with gashes cut into the side of his face. Leading up to
this, the “wet” opposition harassed and crippled the work of the
campaign by outrageous nuisance tactics. At the tabernacle where
some 12,000 people assembled, the meeting was broken up by a
procession of automobiles laden with yelling men, following a
squad of policemen who pushed back the ushers and others who
attempted to bar their entrance. The meeting ended in a near
riot, with Ham’s crowd declaring war on the city administration.
In San Benite, Taxas, in January 1918, some military
servicemen broke into the Woodman Hall and put on a dance. They
were angered because Ham refused to allow his tabernacle to be
used for a Red Cross rally when he heard a dance was to be part
of the rally. Crazed with liquor, they marched into his
tabernacle, seized him and started up the railroad tracks with a
rope, a bucket of tar, and a sack of feathers. A detachment of
cavalry from the nearest army base came to his rescue as the
mayor wired Washington of the predicament. They were three miles
down the track before they were overtaken.
In 1920 and 1921 he was back in Kentucky and Tennessee,
eight months of 1921 spent in Nashville, Tennessee. From 1922 to
1925 he was in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia. The 1924
Raleigh, North Carolina, meeting had 5,000 decisions for Christ.
Then, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Mordecai Ham was to
endure a new wave of persecution and “thorn in the flesh” pain at
the hands of one W.O. Saunders, who compiled a viciously
slanderous book titled The Book of Ham, and circulated it in the
cities where the evangelist undertook to hold meetings.
But Ham continued to minister. There were meetings in
Burlington, North Carolina, as well as Greenville, South
Carolina, where he had 3,000 additions, in April of 1925. In 1926
and 1927 he had two meetings in Danville, Virginia, resulting in
His total results since starting to preach up through 1927
included 33,650 souls in Texas, 8,737 in Oklahoma, 12,043 in
Kentucky, 10,013 in Tennessee, 26,475 in North Carolina, 9,500 in
South Carolina, and 4,385 in Virginia. It was thought that much
of the success of Prohibition was attributed to the preaching of
Billy Sunday and Mordecai Ham.
Ham’s team members varied through the years but his closest
associate was W.J. Ramsay, who, from May, 1912, through 1945 was
his right-hand man. He was an excellent choir director and
counterbalanced Ham’s sternness with his own sense of humor.
Ham turned to pastoring in 1927. It all started with a
crusade in 1926 that won 888. He then went to London in the fall
of that year. In the spring, upon returning to his friends in
Oklahoma City to give a report, he was met at the train by forty
of the leading laymen of the First Baptist Church. Their pastor
had resigned and they entreated Ham to accept the pastorate. At
first reluctant to be the pastor of a local congregation, Ham
said a unanimous vote by the congregation would clinch it. He had
always made enemies and never dreamed of total support anywhere–
so it was with shock he received the news of a unanimous ballot.
He became their pastor on June 19, 1927.
His big fight at the time was against the American
Association for the Advancement of Atheism. On August 3, as he
was crossing the street, he was struck down by an automobile and
dragged for half a block. Whether it was an accident or a
deliberate plot by the enemies of Christ remained an unanswered
question. He was knocked out of commission for six weeks with a
skull fracture. Fourteen doctors cared for him. Members of his
Bible class guarded his hospital room to keep out curious
visitors. Then, back in the harness against atheism and
modernism, prayer meeting crowds rose to 2,200. He campaigned
hard and fast for Herbert Hoover in the 1928 election, the first
and only time he allied himself with politics. On June 16, 1929
he resigned from the pastorate as the fires of evangelism burned
in his soul.
The Hams moved to Louisville, and joined the Walnut Street
Baptist Church late in 1929. He began campaigning in Jackson,
Tennessee; Lubbock, Texas; Danville, Kentucky; and then in
November-December of 1929, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Here a miracle
happened. Meeting in a tabernacle on an icy, snowy night, the
timbers creaked from the weight of the snow on the roof. During
the message, someone suggested they go to the First Baptist
Church to finish the meeting. When the last person had left the
building, the center section caved in with a roar, cutting down
seats like a great knife! A great tragedy was averted as God
spared His people.
Six crusades were held in 1931, witnessing 11,400 decisions
for Christ. In Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1931, Ham led 2,500 to
the Lord in a six-week meeting after the Pastor’s Conference had
voted not to ask him to come.
Three outstanding conversions took place in the next three
years to further confirm Mordecai Ham’s ministry:
The 1932 crusade in Chattanooga saw Wyatt Larimore
converted. He was the “king” of the local underworld. He had been
in court for almost everything from minor traffic violations to
first-degree murder. He had more than 300 men working under him.
In January of 1933 Ham opened a campaign in Little Rock,
Arkansas, where a man named Otto Sutton was saved. He was a wild,
worldly, wicked and reckless heavyweight fighter at the time. He
later became the pastor of the Valence Street Baptist Church of
New Orleans, Louisiana.
It was in the fall crusade in Charlotte, North Carolina,
where Ham was having a trying time, that Billy Graham was saved.
The place was a temporary tabernacle on Pecan Avenue on the
outskirts of town. A total of 6,400 were saved at this crusade.
Young Graham was amazed as he saw more than 5,000 in every
meeting, and every seat was filled. People were getting saved all
around him. It seemed to the young boy that the only place safe
from the evangelist’s wrath was the choir–and that’s where he
and his friend, Grady Wilson, sat the next night.
The evangelist’s first words were, “There’s a great sinner
in this place tonight.”
Billy thought, “Mother’s been telling him about me.”
That night he turned to Grady and said, “Let’s go!” Graham
was saved and later became the most renown evangelist in history.
Ham went on to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he saw
8,500 making decisions for Christ! This was the largest crusade
of his life.
The Ham-Ramsay tent revival of 1937 was launched in
Louisville, Kentucky, lasting four months. Some 4,000 decisions
for Christ were made. In 1939 he led a campaign in Jacksonville,
Florida, where 2,000 a night came. In 1940 it was Minneapolis and
St. Paul, Minnesota. His last campaigns in 1941 were in Decatur,
Alabama, Murfreesboro and Nashville, Tennessee, and Denver,
In 1935 Ham was honored with a D.D. degree from Bob Jones
University. In 1936 he was elected president of the International
Association of Christian Evangelists. His rugged pace continued
until his sixty-fifth year, 1941, when he began his last year in
tent and tabernacle campaigns.
From 1929 to 1941 he had seen some 168,550 decisions (new
converts, backslidden church members reclaimed), in sixty-one
crusades in fifteen states. Southern Baptist churches benefited
The last twenty years of his life he continued a vigorous
schedule highlighted by his radio preaching and appearances in
over 600 cities, often preaching three and four times a day. He
started a network ministry in 1940 on Mutual Broadcasting
Network’s southern hookup of some fifty stations. In 1947 he
started the publication of a paper bearing the title, The Old
Kentucky Home Revivalist.
A close observer said it well: “He exalts Christ and fights
with all his might. Under his preaching I have seen murderers
saved, drunkards converted, homes reunited, and men and women
dedicating their lives for special service.” Over 7,000 workers
were saved or called into Christian work during his meetings.
Ham authored the books, The Second Coming of Christ and
Revelation. Booklets bearing his titles are Believing a Lie,
Light on the Dance, The Jews, and The Sabbath Question.