WILLIAM CALMES BUCK was one of the leaders of God's host, in Kentucky, at a period when a wise, bold leader was most needed. To him, the Baptists of this Commonwealth, and of the whole Mississippi Valley, owe, more than to any other man, their deliverance from the narrow prejudice against missionary operations, which had been chiefly fostered by Alexander Campbell, and the chilling spirit of Antinomianism, enkindled by Parker, Dudley, Nuckols and their satellites. More than any other preacher in the State, did this champion of christian benevolence stir up and foster the spirit of missions. Possessing great physical strength and remarkable powers of endurance, he traveled on horse-back, among the churches, winter and summer, day and night, and urged upon them the solemn duty of supporting their pastors, at home, and sending the gospel to the perishing, abroad. He possessed a strong, steady nerve, a cool self-possession and a courage that did not falter. His tongue was as the pen of a ready writer, and his voice was as the roaring of a lion. Perhaps no other man ever preached, in Kentucky, that could command the attention of so large an audience, in the open air. Who will question, that God called and qualified him, for the specific work he performed!
William C. Buck was born in Virginia, August 23, 1790. His educational advantages were poor. But having a quick, strong native intellect, and being ambitious to acquire knowledge, he became what is termed a self-made man, of excellent attainments, both in general literature and theology. In early life, he united with the church at Waterlick, in Shenandoah county, Virginia, where he was ordained to the ministry, in October, 1815. In 1820, he moved to Kentucky, and settled on the present site of Morganfield, in Union county. Here he took charge of a little church, called Highland. The same year, he gathered another small church, called Little Bethel, to which he also ministered. He afterwards took charge of a church near Princeton, where he baptized William Morrison, a Presbyterian licentiate, who became a very useful Baptist preacher. In September, 1820, Highland Association was formed, of the two churches ministered to by Mr. Buck, and a few others, almost equally small and poor. Within the bounds of this little fraternity, with no other Baptist preacher within thirty miles of him, and two-thirds of the population of his county being Catholics, he labored about sixteen years.
In 1836, he moved to Louisville, where he succeeded the lamented John. S. Wilson in the pastoral charge of the First Baptist church in that city. He served this church four years, during which period, its membership increased, from 306, to 532. In 1838, with the consent of his pastoral charge, he accepted the General Agency of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. It will be remembered that, at that period, very few Baptist pastors, in Kentucky, received a salary for preaching. It is probable that a very large majority of them received less than five dollars a year, for their ministrations: and the small pittances they did receive, were understood to be "gifts," and not pay. The first object of the General Association, was to correct this evil. To secure the payment of reasonable salaries to the pastors, was the principal object of Mr. Buck's agency; although he collected such small amounts as he could, consistently with this object, for missionary purposes. The following extract from his report, slightly abridged, will give some idea of the nature of his work, and his competency to perform it:"Agreeably to arrangements previously made, I left home on the 16th of April, and rode to Harrods Creek, when I met Brother J. Dale, and preached in the afternoon to a small but attentive assembly. On the next day, I preached at the same place. The weather was cold and rainy, but the people came out. A deep impression seemed to be made on all present, and some comfortable indications of a revival were manifested. I collected here $11.31 ¼ for the General Association, and $10. 90 for the China Mission; but made no effort for the pastor, as I had no opportunity of conferring with him.
"On Wednesday we met a few persons at Dover church. The little audience attended to the word spoken, with deep attention and evident interest. They have no settled preacher here. Some difficulties agitate the church, and many of the members are so prejudiced against all efforts, that they would not come out. Still, the generous few who were present gave me $13.50 for the General Association, and $12.75 for the China Mission.
"The next day we met at Fox Run. Few of the members attended. Prejudice here seems to be so strongly set against the light, that they who need it most will not come to it. Few seemed to receive the word with gladness, and had not God provided for us, by sending the family of Brother King to meeting, I am not sure but we would have been compelled to go out of the neighborhood for our dinners; but in him and his family, we found friends. Here I collected $2.00 for the General Association, and $3.43 3/4 for the China Mission.
"On Friday we went to New Castle. Prospects here were at the first very discouraging; but, whatever their prejudices might have been, like the noble Bereans, they came out to hear for themselves; and, by the evening, the clouds began to dissipate. Twice we met them again, on Saturday; and, on Sabbath morning, the house, though large, could not contain near all the people. Every cloud was now gone, a bright heaven canopied the church, and harmony pervaded the entire rank and file of the host. I met them again in the afternoon, and obtained individual pledges to the amount of $400 for their pastor, and donations in cash for the General Association, of $48.10, and for the China Mission, $22.75. The prospects here are bright."
"On Monday and Tuesday I preached at Hillsboro, where Elder J. A. McGuire is pastor, and obtained, by individual pledges, the sum of $150 for his support one-half of his time and $1 in cash for the China Mission. I regret to state that there is remaining here some opposition to the plan of sustaining the ministry, but I trust that the prudent and persevering course of their pastor will soon convince them of their error.
" On Wednesday and Thursday following, we met the church at Sulphur Fork, and obtained the like pledge of $150 as at Hillsboro, for an equal share of Brother McGuire's time here as at the above place. Their pastor will have some difficulties to meet from those who love their gold better than their God; but this should not discourage him, nor tempt him to relax his efforts. Here I obtained $2.00 for the China Mission.
"On the next day we met a congregation at Cane Run. A great deal of solemnity seemed to pervade the assembly during service, but, owing to circumstances beyond my control, I attempted nothing for the General Association. A young Mr. Stanton gave me 50 cents for the China Mission, and we crossed the Kentucky. Having Saturday as a recess, we passed to the mouth of the river.
"On Lord's-day we met a large congregation at Four-Mile. Elder John Price is the pastor here. His age and infirmities render him unable to labor, so that I made no special effort here: a few friends here gave me $2.50 for the China Mission. Here Elder Scott met us, and continued with us all the time we were on that side of the river, being near three weeks.
"On Monday and Tuesday we met the church at Whites Run. Elder L. D. Alexander has the care of this little body, and I feel justified in applauding the alacrity with which they pledged the sum of $79.00 for one quarter of his time, besides a liberal donation to the China Mission.
"On Wednesday and Thursday we met the church at McCooles Bottom. It rained both days; still the people came out. Much interest was taken in the preaching, and on Thursday, besides a liberal donation to the China Mission, $100 was pledged for their pastor, Elder Alexander, one quarter of his time. From the promptness with which this sum was pledged, I doubt not that much more would have been supplied had I asked it. On Friday and Saturday we remained with Elder J. Scott, and met the church at Sharon. Elder Scott is wealthy, and, although he preaches much, is not in a situation to give all his time to the Ministry: consequently he refused to take any pay of his church; but still the church, at my suggestion, pledged $42.50 for him, to be appropriated as he thought best. They also raised a contribution for Brother Dale and myself: $3.62 ½ being mine, I gave to the China Mission, as I did in all other cases where private presents were made me. Here also a liberal donation was made to the China Mission.
"On Lord's-day morning we rode ten miles, to New Liberty; and, although it rained, their spacious house was filled, and I preached to them twice; and on Monday we met again, and obtained, by personal pledges, the sum of $222.50 for the use of the ministry there; $100 of which will be appropriated to Elder Alexander, as pastor for one quarter of his time, and the balance it is likely the church will divide between brethren Smith and Montgomery, so as to have the labor of each, one Sabbath a month. Here also I obtained a liberal donation to the China Mission. I doubt not but this church will, after this year, secure the entire time of their pastor.
"On Tuesday we met the church at Emmaus, and, although but few of the members were present, yet, by the liberal aid of some of the friends from New Liberty, I had but little trouble in securing pledges to the amount of $102.50 for the last quarter of Elder Alexander's time; so that his hands are quite free to the work to which he is called.
"On Wednesday we met the church at Long Ridge. Here Brother Suter presides as pastor, with whom I conferred as to the possibility of his giving his whole time to the work of the ministry, and of his disposition to do so, under such arrangements as I might be able to make in his favor. He seemed willing to devote all his time to the work, and approved the general objects of the Association; but doubted the propriety of his accepting funds raised by me, without a special act of the church appropriating them to his use. I proceeded to preach, and then to raise $100 for the pastor, believing that a prophet should not care whether angels or ravens fed him, so that thereby he was enabled to do his Master's will. And I, with great ease, obtained pledges to the amount of $105 which I left with the church, not doubting but Brother Suter would go to work. Here also I obtained a liberal contribution to the China Mission.
"On Thursday we met the church in Owenton. Brother C. Duval preaches to this church. I preached, and explained the objects of the General Association to them, and, with great ease, obtained pledges for $105 for their pastor, besides a very liberal appropriation to the China Mission.
"On Friday we went to Greenups Fork. There are a few here that should not eat because they will not work, as there are in some other churches where I have been, but, after sermon, I had but little trouble to secure pledges to the amount of $110 for Elder Suter, as well as a contribution to the China Mission.
"We left Greenups Fork at half-past three, recrossed the Kentucky river, and rode about 19 miles, to a Brother Thompson's, and on Saturday I met the church at Indian Fork. Being their regular day of business, their aged pastor, Elder Cook, invited me to preach, with which I cheerfully complied; and after the transaction of their usual business, I asked and obtained leave to explain the objects of the General Association. I found the church here much more ready to do their duty than their pastor was to receive their support; and yet he thinks it right that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, but, like Paul, does not wish it so done unto him.
"On Tuesday I met a large assembly at Salem, and after addressing them about three hours, I obtained pledges for $105 in behalf of their pastor, and an appropriation of $1.70 for the China Mission.
"On Wednesday I met a large assembly at Buck Creek. This church had anticipated my arrival, and, with a noble liberality, which I commend as an example to others, had pledged the sum of $200 to Elder G. Waller, their pastor, for one quarter of his time. They also contributed $23.90 to me for the China Mission.
"On Friday, the 17th of May, I arrived at home, after an absence of 31 days. I averaged at least three hours' pulpit labor each day while absent, traveled about 210 miles, and collected in cash for the General Association $77.41, for pastorates $1,671.50, for the China Mission $272.89, and for the Banner $28. 50, making a total of $2,050.30."
This lengthy extract, giving so graphic a picture of Mr. Buck's labors, and indicating the condition of the Baptist denomination, in Kentucky, at that period, with respect to the support of pastors, by no means gives an adequate idea of the opposition the agent met with. The report would soon be read by the public, and had it embodied a full account of the opposition, from both churches and preachers, it would have encouraged the foes, and dispirited the timid and lukewarm friends of missions and ministerial support. Within two years after this report was published, several of the churches named in it, were divided on the subject of missions and ministerial support; insomuch that a new association, which declared openly its opposition to benevolent institutions and "hireling preachers," was formed on the territory referred to in the report. This new fraternity was called Mt. Pleasant Association of Regular Baptists, and still maintains a feeble existence.
In the manner described in the report, Mr. Buck continued to canvass the churches, as long as he was Agent of the General Association. But, in 1841, believing that he could reach the churches of the whole State, more speedily and effectively, through the medium of the press, he took the editorial charge of the Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer, a large religious weekly, hitherto conducted by John L. Waller. He edited this paper about nine years, with much ability. In 1840, he resigned the charge of the First Church, after which, among a multitude of other engagements, he preached in a market house, in the eastern part of the city, till East Church was constituted, in 1842. To this Church, he preached the rest of the time that he remained in the State.
In 1850, having lost his property, through an attempt to conduct the Louisville Advertiser, which he had purchased, on the retirement of Shadrach Penn, he moved to the State of Alabama. Here he labored some ten years, both with tongue and pen. He published a book entitled the Philosophy of Religion, and was editing a religious paper at the breaking out of the Civil War. After this he went to Texas, where he spent the evening of a long, busy and eminently useful life. He died of a cancer on his face, at his residence near Waco, surrounded by his children, on the 18th of May, 1872.
[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1886; rpt. 1984, Vol. 2, pp. 171-177. — jrd]
In 1838, Wm. C. Buck was the chosen Moderator and Preacher for the annual meeting of the General Association of Baptists of Kentucky, that convened in Bowling Green that year; he was Moderator in 1840 at the meeting in Elizabethtown; also Moderator in 1842 at Bloomfield, in 1843 at Georgetown and in 1847 at Maysville. [Wm. D. Nowlin, Kentucky Baptist History, p. 128.] — Jim Duvall
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