Ryland Thompson Dillard succeeded John Price in the pastoral care of East Hickman church. He was a young preacher at that time, but was well educated, full of holy zeal, and possessed excellent gifts for the gospel ministry. He preached to this church from the time of his ordination, till the infirmities of old age compelled him to retire from the pastoral office.
R. T. Dillard was born in Caroline county, Virginia, November 17, 1797. His father, John Dillard, was a wealthy farmer, and was of English extraction. His mother's maiden name was Alice Duvall. She was of French extraction. They were both Episcopalians. They raised eleven children -- six daughters and five sons of which Ryland Thompson was the youngest. His father died when Ryland was about three years old. He was raised up on a farm, and in the church of his parents, and enjoyed the advantages of the best schools the country could afford. At the age of fourteen, he entered Rappahannock Academy, where he remained four years, and received a diploma of graduation. Just about the time he returned home from school, the British invaded Virginia. Young Dillard entered the army as a volunteer, and remained in the service till the war closed. In 1817, he visited Kentucky, and was so well pleased with the country, that he determined to make it his future home. Accordingly, he came to Winchester, the next year, and immediately commenced reading law in the office of Hubbard Taylor, Jr. After reading six months, he was admitted to the bar, by a license from Judges James Clark and Eli Shortridge. After practicing a short time, he entered into a copartnership with Richard French, at Winchester. On the 23rd of February, 1820, he was married to Amelia Ann, daughter of William E. Dudley, and grand-daughter of that eminent servant of Jesus Christ, Ambrose Dudley. He settled in Winchester, and continued the practice of law, about four years, with brilliant success. His worldly prospects were as flattering as a young man could reasonably desire. Wealth and honor were before him, and he possessed all the means of laying hold of them. But God had chosen him to occupy a higher calling, and had set before him greater honors and more durable riches.
He was at this time a member of the Episcopal church, but was so far from being a christain, that he openly avowed his contempt for the christian religion. "I prided myself," said he, "on my infidelity. I took great pleasure in trying to prove to Elder Thomas P. Dudley, (an uncle of his wife) that he was wrong in being a christian. I had studied Tom Paine's Age of Reason thoroughly, and thought myself master of the subject. But by some means I got to reading the Bible closely, and became much interested in it. This I endeavored to conceal, even from my wife. There was one text that greatly puzzled me. It was this.-- 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion: So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.' My trouble became very great. About this time my wife went on a visit to her friends in Fayette county. I determined to drown my troubles in amusements during her absence. The first night, I and two other young men spent in gambling for watermelons. At daylight, I dropped down on my bed and fell asleep. When I awoke the sun was shining brightly. The thought occurred to me with great power.-- 'What if this were the Judgment Day?' I became more miserable than ever. I read the Bible every opportunity, but carefully concealed this from everybody around me. One day, about this time, Captain Allen, an infidel, passing my office as I was sitting in the door, slapped me on the shoulder and said.-- 'I hear that McClure (a blacksmith and a Baptist) has converted you.' I replied.-- 'There is not a word of truth in it. I would to God it were so. I would give a world to have a hope in Christ.' Allen burst into tears, and said.-- 'If I had known there was any truth in the report, I would not have named it to you in this familiar way, for any consideration.' The last of that week, I went to see my wife, and on Sunday, went to hear old father Ambrose Dudley preach at Bryants. His text was.-- 'Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son.' I thought I could see how others could be justified, and I felt different from what I ever had felt before, but was not satisfied that I was truly converted."
Within the next month, Mr. Dillard gained such a degree of assurance as enabled him to relate his exercises to the church. The brethren, being satisfied of his conversion, gave him the hand of christian fellowship. The next day be was baptized in to the fellowship of the Particular Baptist church at Bryants, by the venerable Ambrose Dudley. This was in September, 1823. Mr. Dillard was the last individual that this aged man of God ever baptized. Two years after this he went to give an account of his stewardship.
Almost immediately after Mr. Dillard's conversion, he felt impressed with the duty to preach the Gospel. The struggle between duty and interest was felt, but did not long continue. He began at once to take an active part in the prayer meetings; and when the impression that God had called him to preach took the form of conviction, he conferred no longer with flesh and blood, but determined immediately to abandon the practice of law, and devote his life to preaching the Gospel of the Son of God.
Early in the year of 1824, the church at Bryants licensed him to exercise his gift. The first attempt he made to preach was from the text: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you." He was much discouraged at what appeared to him an entire failure, and, before he was done speaking, resolved not to make another effort to preach. The meeting was at a private house near Winchester. When he was done speaking, an old brother sprang up and exclaimed: -- "I thank God that the good Lord has cheated the devil out of another lawyer." Mr. Dillard was soon encouraged to make another effort, and, from that, he continued to make and fill appointments till the fall of that year. At this time, the church, formerly called Marble Creek, but now known as East Hickman, had become reduced to twenty-seven members. Of these, only two were males, and they were too old and feeble to attend to business. The church met and invited Mr. Dillard to become its pastor. Two sisters were appointed a committee to inform him of the call. He accepted, and was ordained to the full work of the ministry, by Thomas P. Dudley and William Rash, in the fall of 1824. To East Hickman church he preached about forty- six years.
On the resignation of Jeremiah Vardeman, in 1830, Mr. Dillard was called to the care of Davids Fork church, to which he ministered twenty-six years.
David’s Fork Church was a branch, or "arm," of Bryants, for about fifteen years. The mother church, which was constituted in 1786, occupied a large territory, and grew so rapidly that it was deemed best to have two places. of worship. The church held its business meetings at Bryants Station, but built another house on the head waters of a small stream called Davids Fork of Elkhorn. To this point an arm of Bryants was extended the next year after that church was constituted. Ambrose Dudley preached alternately at Bryants and Davids Fork.
On the 26th of August, 1801, the Arm on Davids Fork was constituted an independent church, and, the following year, reported to Elkhorn Association a membership of 297. Mr. Dudley accepted the pastoral care of this young, but full-grown, church, at the time of its constitution, and served in that capacity till 1806, when he resigned in order to devote more of his time to Bryants. He was succeeded by Robinson Hunt, who presided over the church till December, 1808, when he was removed by death. Jeremiah Vardeman was the next pastor. He accepted the charge in February, 1810. During the first six months of Mr. Vardeman's partoral labors, at Davids Fork, a hundred and seventy souls were added to the church and among them, that valuable pioneer preacher of Missouri, James E. Welsh. During this general revival of 1827--8, more than two hundred souls were added to this church. Among these was the gifted evangelist, T. J. Fisher. Soon after this revival, thirty-one members were excluded from the church in consequence of their having embraced the heresy of Alexander Campbell. This occurred in 1830. In August of that year, Mr. Vardeman resigned his charge, to move to Missouri. Mr. Dillard was his immediate successor. To Davids Fork and East Hickman churches he devoted the principal pastoral labors of his long and eminently useful ministry. Under some urgent contingencies, he took the pastoral care of several other churches, at different periods, and for short times.
In 1827, the Baptist church in Lexington was divided into two parties by an attempt, on the part of its pastor, James Fishback, to have its name changed from “the Baptist church," to "the Church of Christ." Fishback led off a faction of thirty-eight members, and became their pastor. Jeremiah Vardeman became pastor of the old church. After a few years, Mr. Dillard succeeded in uniting the parties, and preach- ed to them till harmony was restored; when Silas M. Noel was called to take charge of the church.
Mr. Dillard was pastor, for brief periods, of Providence Ephesus, Paris and Clear Creek churches. While pastor of the latter, during a period of t\VO years, it enjoyed an extensive revival. He related the following incident, which occurred during the revival:
The mother of Henry Clay [the distinguished statesman,] was a member of Clear Creek church. One night during the revival, we had meeting at a private house. After preaching commenced, a very gay young lady, a niece of Mr. Clay, came in. She was elegantly dressed, and wore, as an especial attraction, a new styled hat, adorned with a very fine ostrich feather. She took a conspicuous seat on a piece of furniture in the room. At the close of the sermon there wag much feeling among the people. Several came up and desired me to pray for them. Just as we were about to kneel in prayer, the gay young lady sprang from her seat, tore her fine hat from her head, dashed it on the floor, exclaiming, 'My hat and feathers came well nigh sending my soul to hell,' and rushed forward to join the penitents in prayer. As we knelt in prayer, the venerable mother of Mr. Clay, cried out, 'Brother Dillard, don't forget Henry.'"
Mr. Dillard was afflicted from his youth by a scrofulous affection. It first attacked his lungs, in the nature of tuburculosis, and threatened to carry him off: After he was relieved from this, he was attacked with fistula. This refused to yield to medical treatment. His physicians advised him to take a sea voyage, as the only hope of obtaining relief. Accordingly, in January, 1839, he sailed for Europe. During the first part of the voyage, his health, already very feeble, seemed to decline rapidly, until he reached mid-ocean, when he despaired of living through the approaching night. He described his situation after the following manner:
"When night came on, I, and all on board, thought I would die before morning. I knew how they disposed of dead bodies at sea, by nailing them up in boxes and casting them into the deep. My feeling, at the thought of being cast into the ocean, was horrible beyond description. I thought of all the grave-yards that I could remember, and felt great longings to be buried in the humblest, among slaves, rather than be thrown into the sea. I would have gladly given all I possessed to be buried then in my own family grave-yard, near Lexington. But while I was suffering this inexpressible agony of soul, this passage of Scripture came into my mind. 'And the sea gave up the dead which were in it.' This gave me immediate comfort. I felt that I would be as safe in the sea, as on the dry land. In a few minutes 1 went to sleep, and in the morning awoke, feeling much better."
After traveling over England, France, Scotland and a part of Ireland, he returned home with his health restored, having been absent about six months.
In 1843, he was appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Kentucky. He filled this position, with honor to himself, and usefulness to the cause of education. He lectured on education in all the counties in the state, except three or four. But what seemed to give him most satisfaction was, that he felt assured he had served the cause of Christ, during this term of office, as successfully as during any similar period of his life. On one occasion, he lectured on education a number of days in succession, and preached every night, at the Forks of Dix River. An extensive Revival occurred, and seventy-two souls were baptized. He labored in a similar manner at Covington, where about a hundred and fifty were baptized. He endeavored to use his social powers for the honor of Christ. The following incident will hardly fail to remind the reader of some occurrences in the life of the distinguished John Gano. "On one occasion, while riding through Casey county," said Mr. Dillard, "I was overtaken by three rough looking fellows, one of whom offered to bet five dollars that he could beat me on a quarter race. I objected, that the sum was too small, and the road too rough. Presently we all came to the bank of Green river. Here we stopped. One of the men said: 'This is the road to run the race on.' 'Well,' said I, 'if you will agree to my proposition, I will run a race with you. These men are strangers to me. They may be honest, and they may be rascals. I do not like the judges, the track, nor the distance. But if you will run over the course of time, for a crown of Righteousness, and let Jesus Christ be the judge – go!'"
About 1859, Mr. Dillard was attacked with a cancer on his face, which compelled him to relinquish his pastoral charges. After some months he recovered sufficiently to engage in his holy calling, and again took charge of East Hickman and two other churches. In 1868, his health became feeble, and he resigned all his pastoral charges. He, however, continued to go among the churches, and preach as often as his failing strength would permit. During this period, he often remarked that he had his trunk already packed for his last journey. When asked what he had in his trunk, he would reply; "Nothing but the grace of God." The cancerous affection in his face continued to become more and more aggravated, till it exhausted his physical powers. He frequently expressed his willingness, and even his anxiety, to depart. A few hours before his departure, he expressed his reliance on Christ. On the 26th of December, 1878, he passed quietly away to the home of the blessed.
Mr. Dillard, whose wife went home some years before him, raised five daughters and three sons, all of whom became Baptists. His oldest son, William, commenced preaching, but had to desist on account of failing health. Three of his daughters married Baptist preachers. The oldest married W. M. Pratt, the second, D. O. Yeiser, and the third, George Hunt.*
The Baptists of Kentucky have had few ministers of more value to the Denomination and the cause of Christ, than Ryland T. Dillard. He was a man of good intellectual and social culture, was dignified and gentlemanly in his bearing, frank and open in conversation, and possessed the capacity to make the humblest feel easy in his company. His social popularity was evinced in the fact that he married 845 couples. As a speaker, he was chaste, forcible, and eloquent. In his prime, he was one of the first orators in the Kentucky pulpit. He was a farmer and a good business man, and accumulated a comfortable property. He used his business talent for the cause of Christ as he did any other grace which God had afforded him, and was among the foremost in all the enterprises of the Denomination. Both as a pastor and an evangelist, he was eminently successful. He labored in many great revivals, besides those in his own immediate charges. During his ministry, he baptized about 2,500 with his own hands. The two churches to which he ministered so long, and faithfully, grew to be large, strong bodies. At one time they contained nearly a thousand members, and are now among the leading churches of Elkhorn Association.
___________* Most of the facts in the foregoing sketch were taken from Mr. Dillard's lips, by the author, at his home, July 7, 1869.
====================[From J. H. Spencer, History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. I, pp. 139-146. - jrd]
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