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The Origin of the Licking Baptist Association (KY)
A History of Kentucky Baptists
By J. H. Spencer

     In 1810, Licking Association was formed of several churches, and parts of churches, which broke off from Elkhorn Association, on account of dissatisfaction with the proceedings of that body. The circumstances that led to this result, were most unhappy, not only causing much bickering and heart-burning, among the Baptists throughout the territory of Elkhorn Association, and far beyond its borders, but also retarding the progress of religion, and encouraging strife and infidelity.

     The circumstances appear to have been about these: Not far from the year 1805, Jacob Creath, Sen., and Thomas Lewis, the former a member and the pastor, and the latter a member of Town Fork church, near Lexington, made an exchange of two servant girls, Creath giving his note to Lewis for the difference in the value of the slaves. Soon after the transaction, the girl Creath had bartered for, died, and he refused to pay the note given to Lewis. The matter was brought before the church for adjustment; Creath was probably, at that time, "the first orator in the Kentucky pulpit." Lewis was a man of eminent respectability and considerable wealth. The decision rendered by the church, according to the recollection of Elder Thomas P. Dudley, was, that, "inasmuch as Brother Lewis is rich, and Brother Creath poor, the latter shall be excused from paying the note." This appeared, to many, an outrage upon justice. Elijah Craig, an eminently useful minister in former years, but now grown wealthy and much immersed in business, published a very bitter pamphlet, titled, "A Portrait of Jacob Creath." In this publication, fourteen charges were specified against Mr. Creath, some of them of a very grave, and others, of a frivolous character. Town Fork church called a council, from sixteen churches, to investigate these charges. Forty-two delegates assembled, in July, 1807. After an investigation of four days' continuance, the council unanimously acquitted Mr. Creath of all the charges. This decision gave much dissatisfaction to many of the churches, and a number of the most prominent ministers in Elkhorn Association. Much excitement prevailed. Joseph Redding alleged three charges against Mr. Creath. These were taken up by the church; one of them was withdrawn by the prosecutor, and Mr. Creath was acquitted of the other two. In 1808, the church at Bryants brought three charges against Town Fork church, for disorder, before the Association, while in session at Silas. The Association acquitted the church of all the charges. This dicision [sic] again caused disappointment and bitter mortification. At the next meeting of the Association, at South Elkhorn, in 1809, there were no messengers from the churches at Bryants, Boones Creek, East Hickman, Elk Lick, Ravens Creek, Mountain Island, Silas, Rock Bridge, Mill Creek and Flat Creek. This showed that a large and influential minority of the Association was grievously, offended. The following extract from the minutes of the proceedings of Bryants church, in February, 1810, exhibits still more forcibly the bitterness felt by the mal-contents: "Received a letter signed by a number of our brethren who have thought it would be most for the glory of God, and for the peace and happiness of society, under our present distress, to call a meeting on the first Tuesday in March, to meet at the Forks of Elkhorn, in order to dissolve Elkhorn Association, which was agreed to. And brethren Ambrose Dudley and Leonard Young are chosen to attend the said meeting, and let the brethren know that we chose to meet at what they call the New Elkhorn Association, at Bryants."

     The meaning of this remarkable proceeding is: That a minority of Elkhorn Association proposed to meet and dissolve that body, without consulting the majority, and then meet again, and reconstitute it, according to their own plans. The nearest that they could come to finding a precedent for this absurd proceeding was in the case of Mero District Association in Middle Tennessee. This body, at its regular meeting, in 1803, was dissolved by an overwhelming majority, and reconstituted under the name of Cumberland Association, leaving out Joseph Dorris and the churches of which he was pastor. But in the case under consideration, a minority convened by a circular letter, proposed to dissolve Elkhorn Association, and to reconstitute it, at another "called meeting," under the same style, apparently for no other purpose than that of leaving out Jacob Creath and those who failed to adjudge him guilty of the misdemeanors laid to his charge.

     The circular letter, signed by seven ministers, invited the churches to meet, by messengers, at Bryants, on the second Saturday in August, 1810, the same day that the real Elkhorn Association was to meet at Clear Creek in Woodford county, "saying that if only a few from a church met them, they (the ministers who had signed the circular) would consider them the Elkhorn Association."1 The old Association and the factious minority met at the same time, and both organized under the style of Elkhorn Association. The majority sent overtures to the minority, pleading for reunion and forgetfulness of all the unpleasant strifes of the past. The minority replied curtly: "You are in possession of our difficulties, until they are removed, we remain a distressed and grieved people." They, however, agreed to take the name of Licking Association. They also expressed their conviction that it was best for the two bodies to remain separate. Thus was all hope of a reunion cut off for the present. 2

      "These measures were peculiarly distressing to the friends of Zion throughout an extensive circle. The ministers who promoted them were John Price, Ambrose Dudley, Joseph Redding, Lewis Corbin, Absalom Bainbridge, and some others whose influence was not so great. These ministers were among the oldest and most respectable of the State. They had long borne the burthen and heat of the day, and their names were everywhere mentioned with respect. Considering their age and experience, none could suppose they would contend for trifles, and yet it was difficult for any to discover sufficient reason for their dividing measures. The most active among them was John Price, a man of unpleasant temper, of great asperity of manners, and whose zeal on all occasions, has partaken too much of the nature of party spirit. Mr. Creath, against whom their united efforts were directed, is in the meridian of life, of popular talents, but not the most amiable in his manners, nor concilitating in his address. He evidently, in many cases, displayed to [sic] much of the air of triumph towards his aggrieved brethren.

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Notes


1 Records of the (Missionary) church at Bryants.
2 For full particulars of this most distressing affair, the reader is referred to Dr. Fishback's Defence of Elkhorn Association. Minutes of Elkhorn and Licking Associations, and Benedict's History of the Baptists, vol. 2.
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[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, 1886; rpt. 1984, pp. 550-553. The title is added. Footnotes are changed to endnotes; symbols to numbers. jrd]


     In 1845 Thomas P. Dudley, long-time moderator of the association, was requested to write a Ciruclar Letter for the next Associational meeting. His Circular caused a great disturbance and the publishing of it was postponed. It was later published in 1848 and many churches broke fellowship with Licking Association. A link to the Circular is here. The Twin Creek Baptist Association was one new association organized as a result of this disturbance. jrd
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