The Kelley Family

Missionaries and Mission Supporters

David Kelley was born in Tennessee to a prominent Methodist family in 1833. A precocious lad, he was graduated from college at eighteen, entered the Methodist ministry at nineteen, and received a medical degree at twenty. His mother, Margaret Lavinia Kelley, founded the first women’s missionary support group in her minister-husband’s circuit in central Tennessee. Its purpose was to undergird the work of Mary Lambuth in China. Several years after the Civil War disrupted and ended this effort, the widowed Lavinia Kelley rose up again to create a woman’s group in Nashville. The work of this group led directly to the organization of the denomination-wide Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society.

China drew young David Kelley’s attention, and he offered himself as a medical-evangelist missionary in 1853. His father and mother were present at the Tennessee Annual Conference session where he was ordained deacon and elder in view of his impending service abroad. Kelley returned to the United States in 1856. He continued to serve churches in the Tennessee Conference until the Civil War, when he joined a cavalry regiment and eventually became its colonel. Surviving the conflict, Kelley re-entered the ministry, pastoring large churches and service as presiding elder. For most of the postwar period, he was an active and very influential member of the Board of Missions, holding the jobs of assistant secretary and of treasurer. He was even the acting general secretary briefly in 1882. Often a member of the Tennessee Conference delegation to General Conference, he regularly served on the General Conference Committee on Missions.

Kelley died in 1909 at the home of his daughter. That daughter, Daisy, was a missionary in her own right. In 1877, she married Walter R. Lambuth and served with her husband as missionary to China and Japan. This marriage connected the two most distinguished families of the Southern Methodist mission movement.

Taken from Robert W. Sledge, “Five Dollars and Myself”: The History of Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1845-1939. (New York: General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 2005), p. 79.

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