Baptist History Homepage

A History of Kentucky Baptists
By J. H. Spencer

Chapter 9
Regular and Separate Baptists -- Two Associations Forms

[p. 102]
We have now followed the Baptists in their labors in Kentucky, during a period of ten years. We may make a brief pause, look over the field, and see what has been done. The first settlement was made at Boonesboro in the summer of 1775. As far as we can learn, all the first families in this settlement were of Baptist persuasion. The Boones, Calloways and Frenches were known to have been Baptists. The first marriage ceremony was performed, August 7, 1776, between Samuel Henderson and Betsy Calloway, by Squire Boone, (a younger brother of Daniel) who was a Baptist preacher.1 In the spring of 1776, Thomas Tinsley and Wm. Hickman preached at Harrodsburg; in 1779, John Taylor visited the infant settlements; the following spring, Joseph Redding conducted a colony, principally of Baptists, to the present site of Louisville, and, during the two years last named, Baptist ministers began to settle with their families, in the new country. In 1781, three Regular Baptist churches were organized. At the close of the year, 1785, there had been constituted in Kentucky, eighteen churches -- eleven of Regular Baptists, and seven of Separate Baptists. There were in the new country, at the same period, at least nineteen Regular Baptist preachers, viz: Squire Boone, Joseph Barnett, James Garrard, John Whitaker, Augustine Eastin, Wm. Taylor, Wm. Marshall, John Tanner, George Stokes Smith, William Edmund Waller, Richard Cave, John Taylor, John Dupuy, Lewis Craig, Elijah Craig, Wm, Hickman, Wm. Wood, John Price and James Rucker. There were also seven Separate Baptist preachers, viz.: Benjamin Lynn, James Skaggs, James Smith, John Bailey, Joseph Bledsoe, Joseph Craig and Robert Elkin.
[p. 103]
These churches and preachers occupied the whole of the country then settled. Wherever there was a settlement formed, some of these valiant soldiers of Christ hastened to occupy it in the name of the Master. If we would appreciate the true character of these noble men of God, we must not forget the circumstances that surrounded them. With a single exception, they were poor men, and most of them had “large and growing families.” They were compelled to live in small, rude cabins and wear coarse, rough clothing. To procure a supply of coarse food for their families, required much care and labor. Besides this, perpetual danger beset them and their families. The wily, vindictive savages attacked them when they were asleep, and spared neither age nor sex. They lurked in ambush along every trace the preachers had to travel over. They drove off their stock and wasted their growing crops. They burned their buildings, and slaughtered and scalped their wives and children, or carried them away into captivity. There was no hour in the year, day ornight, when these hardy settlers could feel secure from attack by the relentless foe. Yet their zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men was such as to make them despise every toil, and dare every danger, not even counting their lives dear, if they might finish their course with joy.

Most of the pioneer preachers lived and labored till the land was well peopled and subdued; when the savages had retired far towards the setting sun, the broad, dark forests had given place to green, fruitful fields, and their sons and daughters had entered comfortable homes of their own; when the people of God met to worship in commodious houses, God had raised up strong young men to lead his people in right ways, and point the rising generation to the cross of Christ, and green, flowery church yards waited to receive the worn out bodies of the faithful old veterans of the Cross. But we are anticipating the day of peace and rest. They still had the harness on, at the time of which we write, and most of them had yet many years of toil and danger before them.

The year 1785, was one of great interest, and much activity among the Bapatists of Kentucky. Hitherto each little church had stood isolated from its sisters. No organization existed through which the churches could work together in harmony.
[p. 104]
But under the influence of the first revival that occurred in the country, they began to feel the need of a bond of general union. Early in that year, the brethren began to discuss the propriety of forming an association.2 But a grievous obstacle presented itself. Some of the churches were Regular, and others Separate Baptists: They were all essentially Baptists, and their differences were comparatively trifling. But they were sufficient to prevent cordial fellowship; and, as these differences were the cause of the first general confusion among the Baptists of Kentucky, it will be appropriate to give a brief account of their origin.

Congregationalism was the established religion of all the colonies in New England, except Rhode Island, and conformity to the established religion was enforced by the civil law. To worship God publicly, in any way, except according to the rules and regulations of the Congregational churches, was so great a crime in the eye of the law that it was punished by fines, imprisonment, whipping, and banishment. The Baptists had to endure all these penalities, in New England, during a period of about one hundred and seventy-five years.

In early days, in New England, the Congregationalists required candidates, for membership in their churches to relate an experience of grace, as Baptists do now. After awhile, they allowed applicants to relate their experiences in writing, and, finally, abandoned "the giving in of experiences," altogether. Their churches, which, at first, were very spiritual, rapidly declined in piety, till it was believed that a majority of their preachers were unconverted. This state of affairs continued till about 1740, when vital godliness seemed almost banished from the land.

At that period, George Whitfield of England, was one of the most eloquent and renowned preachers in the world. He was an Episcopalian, and, for a time, was associated with John and Charles Wesley. But they became Arminian in doctrine, and he, being a decided Calvinist, soon parted company with them. In December, 1737, he came from England to Georgia, and remained in America nearly a year. He embarked for America a second time, in August, 1739. This time, he traveled and preached as far north as New York, from whence
[p. 105]
he returned to South Carolina. Being invited to visit New England, he sailed from Charleston, and landed at Newport, Rhode Island, September 14, 1740. He preached in New England about two months, and a most wonderful revival followed. Multitudes of church members and a number of preachers professed to be converted. Some of the ministers of the established churches, and among them the great and pious Jonathan Edwards, favored the revival, and labored to promote it; but a majority of them opposed it, and were supported by the colonial governments. This caused great confusion. Many persons, both men and women, were fined and imprisoned for laboring to promote the revival. Some of the Congregational churches divided on the subject Those who favored the revival, and split off from the churches, were called Separates, because they had separated from the established churches. These formed themselves into bodies, and were called Separate churches. The old organizations were called Regular churches, because they were established by law. In this manner, the terms Regular and Separate first came to be applied to churches. At this time, neither of these terms had ever been applied to Baptist churches, in any part of the world.

When this great revival first commenced, the Baptists were confused about it, and, as it progressed became divided on the subject. Some opposed, and others favored the work. At that time, there were only forty Baptist churches on the American continent, and most or all of them were very small. Of this number, nine were in Massachusetts, thirteen in Rhode Island, three in Connecticut and no other in the remainder of New England. The pastor of the Baptist church in Boston, Massachusetts, opposed the revival. This caused a small faction to split off from that body, in 1742, which was constituted a church, the next year. The new organization was called a Separate Baptist church, while the old one was denominated Regular Baptists. This was the first application of these terms to Baptist churches, and was an inappropriate imitation of the Congregationalists. Other Baptist churches followed the example of that at Boston, a number of Separate Congregational organizations submitted to believers’ baptism and identified themselves with the Baptists, and the Separate Baptists became quite numerous in New England.
[p. 106]
It will readily be seen that the division of the Baptists into these two parties was not caused by any doctrinal differences, but solely on the ground of one party's favoring "the Whitfield revival," while the other opposed it. But Mr. Whitfield was strongly Calvinistic in doctrine, and it soon became manifest that the Separates were much clearer in the doctrines of grace than the Regulars. The distinguished John Gill was so much pleased with the views of the Separate Baptists, that he made a present to the church at Boston, consisting of a communion set and a valuable collection of books.

During "the Whitfield revival," two men in Connecticut, of moderate gifts and acquirements, were converted to the faith of the Separate Congregationalists. These men were destined to exert a wonderful influence for the cause of Christ, in the South. Their names were Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall, the latter having married the sister of the former. Marshall went to preach among the Indians. Stearns joined the Separate Baptists, and began to preach with flaming zeal. After a short time, he became strongly impressed with the conviction, that there was a great work for him to do, far to the south. Under this impression, he took his family and started southward, without any definite idea as to where he was going. He made his first stop in Berkley county, Virginia, in 1754. Here he met Daniel Marshall, who had been compelled to leave the Indian country on account of a great war that had broken out among the savages. There was a small Baptist church where Mr. Stearns stopped, under the care of John Garrard. Marshall became convinced of the duty of submitting to believers’ baptism, and was soon baptized. Stearns became restless, in Virginia, and soon he and Marshall, with their families and a few others who had cone with Stearns from Connecticut, set out to the southward. After traveling about two hundred miles, they stopped on Sandy creek, in Guilford county, North Carolina, November 22, 1755. Here they formed, of sixteen members, the first Separate Baptist church south of New England. This church grew so rapidly that it soon numbered six hundred and six members, and from it, sprang all the Separate Baptists of the whole South. When these zealous Separates spread like a flame over nearly the whole of Virginia, the few Baptists in the northern part of that colony,
[p. 107]
most of whom originated from Pennsylvania, were called Regular Baptists, to distinguish them from the Separates. The Pennsylvania Baptists, and those of Virginia who originated from them, had adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. At first the Separates were even more Calvinistic than the Regulars. But they refused to adopt any formulated creed, and soon, some of their leading preachers began to differ widely in their interpretations of the Scriptures. John Waller, one of the ablest ministers among them, adopted the Arminian theory, and made a determined effort to convert the General Association to his new vie vs. Failing in this attempt, he and his church withdrew from that body. At another time, the General Association was divided into two nearly equal parts, on the same question of doctrine. Finally, the brilliant and popular Jeremiah Walker drew off a party to the Arminian theory. These breaches were all healed, and union was restored, at least, to outward appearance. "But they were far from being uniform in doctrine." It was while in this confused state of doctrinal sentiment, that they began to emigrate to the West.

Of the first twenty-five Baptist preachers that settled in Kentucky, twenty are known to have been Separate Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina; of the other five, only Joseph Barnett is known to have been a Regular Baptist. Yet, after they settled in Kentucky, eighteen of the twenty-five subscribed to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and identified themselves with the Regular Baptists. The names of the seven who retained the appellation of Separate Baptists, have already been given. They organized most of the churches on the south side of Kentucky river, constituted previous to the year 1786, and two, on the north side of that stream. The Regulars had two churches on the south side of the Kentucky river.

This was the attitude of the Baptists in Kentucky, when, in the spring of 1785, they began to consider the propriety of an association. Preparatory to the accomplishment of this object, a meeting was appointed for the purpose of attempting to consummate a union of the Regular and Separate parties. All the churches were requested to send messengers to the meeting. According to this appointment, a convention met at
[p. 108]
South Elkhorn in Fayette county, June 25, 1785. The following Regular Baptist churches, the names of whose messengers are annexed, were represented:

South Elkhorn, LEWIS CRAIG, WILLIAM HICKMAN and Benj. Craig.
Big Crossing, William Cave and Bartlett Collins.
Tates Creek, JOHN TANNER and William Jones.

Some of the Separate churches were also represented, but their names have not been ascertained. Lewis Craig was chosen moderator of the meeting, and Richard Young, clerk. James Garrard, Augustine Eastin and Henry Roach were invited to seats. It was agreed that the meeting should be governed by a majority, in any matter that should come before it. The first question that came before the body was worded as follows:

"QUERY, — Whether the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, adopted by the Baptists, shall be strictly adhered to, as the rule of our communion, or whether a suspension thereof, for the sake of society, be best?"
If there were serious hopes of effecting a Union between the Regulars and Separates, this was the grave question of the meeting. It was known that the Separates had persistently refused to adopt any Confession of Faith. If the pending question was decided in favor of the Confession of Faith under advisement, the Separates must unequivocally abandon their ground, or reject the proffered Union. The query was answered in the following explicit terms: "It is agreed that the said recited Confession of Faith be strictly adhered to." The proffered Union was rejected, and the breach made wider. The contention between the parties became more distressing. The Separates succeeded in drawing off factions from a number of their rival churches, and constituting them into Separate organizations in the immediate neighborhood of the bodies from which they had withdrawn. By this means, within the next five years, Tates Creek, Boones Creek, Hardins Creek and Forks of Elkhorn had, each, formed from its members, another church bearing its name, and adhering to the Separate
[p. 109]
Baptists. This state of confusion continued about fifteen years after this attempt to form a Union between the Separates and Regulars, and doubtless did much to stir up strife among brethren, and retard the progress of religion.

The next subject, discussed by South Elkhorn Convention, was the propriety of forming an association. This was decided in the affirmative, and a time was appointed for its consummation. Accordingly messengers from six churches met at the house of John Craig3 on Clear creek in Woodford county, September 30, 1785, and Elkhorn Association was constituted.4

The Baptists of the more westerly settlements were separated from those on the waters of Kentucky river, by a broad belt of unsettled country, much infested by Indians. Communication between them was infrequent at the time of which we write. A journey from Louisville to Lancaster was performed by that most energetic pioneer, John Taylor, in six days, and, during the very year of which we now treat, a little church, planted in Shelby county, was so beset by the prowling savages, that it held no meeting for two or three years after its constitution. Under these circumstances, the little churches in the western settlements were ignorant of what their brethren were doing on Elkhorn. They were fewer in numbers of both members and preachers, than their brethren in the upper counties. But, like them, they appreciated the advantages, and felt the need of an association, in which they might meet at least once a year, and devise means for the advancement of the great cause that was dearer to them than all besides, and which afforded to them their only solace in the wilderness of toil, danger and wearying care.

On Saturday, October 29, 1785, four Regular Baptist churches met, by their messengers, on Cox’s creek, Nelson county, Kentucky, for the purpose of forming an association. A sermon suitable for this occasion was preached by Joseph Barnett, from John 2:17.

Joseph Barnett was chosen moderator, and Andrew Paul, clerk.
[p. 110]
Letters from four churches were read and the following facts recorded:
Severns Valley, constituted June 18, 1781. Members 37. No pastor.
Cedar Creek, constituted July 4, 1781. Members 41. Joseph Barnett, pastor.
Bear Grass, constituted January, 1784. Members 19. John Whitaker, pastor.
Cox's Creek, constituted April, 1785. Members 26. William Taylor, pastor.

This was the second Regular Baptist Association organized west of the Alleghany Mountains. It was constituted only twenty-nine days later than Elkhorn Association, and evidently had not heard of the existence of the latter organization. For, after adopting the "Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and the Treatise of Discipline thereto annexed" they proposed correspondence with the Philadelphia, Ketocton and Monongahela Associations, without mentioning Elkhorn. 5

The fraternity thus formed assumed the name of Salem Association of Regular Baptists, and comprised all the Regular Baptist churches in Kentucky, west of Frankfort, the church on Brashears Creek having been dispersed by the Indians. It had but three preachers within the bounds of its immense territory, and it received but few accessions to its ministry, till it raised them up in its own churches. This body was very small at the beginning, and its growth was very slow till the great revival of 1800-3, when it received very large accessions, and has since maintained a prominent position among the associations of the State. The Separate Baptists, who had seven churches in the country, did not deem it expedient to form an association till two years later. The revival, to which reference has been made as the first that occurred in Kentucky, continued to spread slowly in every direction, till it not only reached all the churches in the new country, but extended its benign influence to the Atlantic coast, and continued about three years. "It was a memorable time indeed," says Mr. Semple, "almost throughout the state of Virginia."
[p. 111]
There had been such an utter deadness in religion from the time the first settlement was made in the country, that the shedding of a tear under preachingwas as surprising as it was new, in Kentucky. John Taylor gives the following account of a meeting he held soon after the revival commenced: "Soon after the awakening of Mrs. Cash, I had a meeting at Hillsboro, at John Whitaker's. It being in the spring of the year, I took a text from the Canticles, about the winter being past, and the flowers appearing, and the voice of the turtle being heard in our land. The people being affected, when I stopped speaking, two men and their wives, as if they had previously consulted, rose up, and, with trembling, came forward and asked me to pray for them, they being strangers to me. The thing being so new to the people, it spread a heavenly blaze through the assembly. They all soon afterwards obtained hope in the Lord, and were baptized."


1 Collins Hist., Vol. I, p. 511.
2 History of Ten Churches, p. 55.
3 Hickman's Narrative, p. 22.
4 See History of Elkhorn Association, in vol. ii.
5 See History of Salem Association in vol. ii.

[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]

Go to Chapter 10
Return to Kentucky Baptist Church Histories
Return to American Church Histories
Return to Homepage