Arkansas Conference President, 1903-1904
His Early Years
Jacob A. Sommerville was born on April 18, 1841, in Lexington, Indiana, the fifth of eight children. His father, Joseph, was considered a very prosperous farmer for that time period (Ancestry, 2019). Jacob enlisted in the Union army as a Private Company C, of the 38th Indiana Volunteer Infantry in September 1861 and mustered out nearly two years later in July 1863 (Fold3, 2016). He married Rachel Jennetta “Nettie” Miller on October 18, 1864. Jacob and Rachel had nine children over the next eighteen years, three of whom died in infancy and two in early adulthood. Jacob started out as a farmer but around 1875 he had studied and become a physician (Ancestry, 2019).
Years of Ministry
The Sommerville family moved to Arkansas in the mid 1880s and settled near Springdale, where they heard and accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message (Martin, 1917). Dr. Jacob A. Sommerville was issued a ministerial license in 1890 and worked as a lay evangelist, serving on various conference session committees including the conference executive committee (Beeler, 1996). He was ordained in September 1893 and worked in public evangelistic meetings as an assistant to Elder J. A. Holbrook, W. F. Martin, and others. Sometime after 1898 Dr. Sommerville had his ministerial license removed, apparently for apostasy. However, in early August 1899, Elder R. M. Kilgore wrote, “The return of Elder J. A. Sommerville, with confession and repentance, brought joy to the hearts of all. He has again received credentials, and will go south with one of the tents” (Kilgore, 1899). In 1902, Elder Sommerville was asked to fill a vacancy of the Oklahoma Conference Committee and he began holding meetings throughout Oklahoma and Indian Territory (Review, 1902).
At the March 1903 General Conference session, Elder A. E. Field “expressed a strong desire to be relieved of the presidency of the Arkansas Conference. . . . After several names had been considered, it was unanimously recommended that Elder J. A. Sommerville” be the new president of the Arkansas conference. The committee felt that with Elder Sommerville’s long acquaintance with the work in Arkansas, he would be better able to fill the presidency than anyone else (Woodward, 1903). Elder A. E. Field, stated that “W. F. Martin and Elder J. A. Sommerville labored together raising up eighteen churches through the State” (Field, 1903). Elder Field and Elder Sommerville traded places, with Elder Field going to Oklahoma. At the August 1903 Arkansas Conference session Elder Sommerville was re-elected as the president (Record, 1903), but at the 1904 conference session Urbanus E. Bender was elected president for the coming year, and Dr. Sommerville again took up the practice of medicine. N. P. Nelson wrote that, “By this he may be able to bring some to a saving knowledge of the truth, who might not be reached in any other way” (Nelson, 1904).
Dr. and Mrs. Sommerville moved to California around 1913. Unfortunately Army service had broken Dr. Sommerville’s health and after a stroke of paralysis in 1915, his strength gradually failed. He died at Anaheim, California, on October 31, 1917 (Martin, 1917).
(1902, May 27). Review and Herald, p. 16.
(1903, May 25). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
(1903, Aug. 17). Ibid., pp. 1, 2.
Ancestry Family Trees. (2019, Sep. 14). Dr. Jacob A. Sommerville. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
Beeler, Charles R. (1996). A History of Seventh-day Adventists in Arkansas and Louisiana 1888-1996.Keene: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, pp. 43, 44.
Field, A. E. (1903, Mar. 9). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
Find a Grave. (2007, Jan. 26). Dr Jacob A. Sommerville. Retrieved from findagrave.com.
Fold3. (2016). Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933. The National Archives.
Kilgore, R. M. (1899, Aug. 8). Review and Herald, p. 513.
Martin, W. F. (1917, Dec. 27). Ibid., p. 23.
Nelson, N. P. (1904, Aug. 29). Southwestern Union Record, p. 1.