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A History of Kentucky Baptists
By J. H. Spencer
First Baptist Settlers in Kentucky
The first attempt to explore Kentucky was made by Daniel Boone, in 1769. The following extract is from his autobiography:
"It was on the first of May, 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness, and left my family and peaceful habitation on the Yadkin river in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America in quest of the country of Kentucky, in company with John Finley, John Stuart, Joseph Holden, Money and Wm. Cool. On the 7th of June, after traveling through a mountainous wilderness, in a western direction, we found ourselves on Red river, where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians, and, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky."
During the following December, Boone and Stuart were taken prisoners by the Indians, but made their escape after remaining in captivity about a week. Meanwhile, Squire Boone, a brother of Daniel, had come to Kentucky with another man, and, in their wanderings, the two brothers accidentally met, about the first of January, 1770. Soon after this, John Stuart was killed by the Indians. The rest of the party having returned home, the Boone brothers spent the winter alone in the great western wilderness. On the first of May, Squire Boone returned to North Carolina for a supply of ammunition. He rejoined his brother, on the 27th of July. After this they traveled as far south as the Cumberland river. In March, 1771, they returned to their homes in North Carolina.
In 1770, James Knox, with eleven hunters from the Holston, New River, and Clinch settlements, made an exploring tour to Green river and the western part of Cumberland. They remained in the country about a year. Three years later, Thomas Bullitt, with a party of surveyors, came to the falls of
the Ohio. Robert, James and George McAfee, John Floyd and others visited various parts of Kentucky, the same year. In 1774. James Harrod built a log cabin where Harrodsburg now stands, the first erected in Kentucky.
During this year, Richard Henderson bought of the Cherokee Indians all the land lying south of the Kentucky river. The purchase was afterward made void by an act of the Virginia legislature; but, for the the time being, Col. Henderson was regarded lord proprietor of the soil, and, under his employment, in 1775, Daniel Boone erected a fort on the Kentucky river at aplace since called Boonesboro, in Madison county. "On the 14th of June," says Boone, "having finished the fort, I returned to my family on the Clinch. Soon after, I removed my family to this fort; we arrived safe, my wife and daughters being the first white women that stood on the banks of the Kentucky river."
In September of the same year, three men named Denton, McGary, and Hogan came with their wives and children to Harrodsburg, then called Harrodstown.
Early in the spring of 1776, Col. Richard Calloway, with his wife and two daughters, came to Boonesboro, and, in March of the same year, Col. Benjamin Logan brought his family to Logans fort, about one mile west of the present town of Stanford in Lincoln county, where he, with a few slaves, had raised a crop of corn, in 1775. Simon Kenton built a cabin, and raised a crop of corn, in 1775 where the town of Washington in Mason county is now located. Of the church relation of the few families which settled in Kentucky, in 1775, and the year following, nothing has been learned. We know however, that the Boones and Calloways were Baptists in sentiment, and that Squire Boone, who settled in the country a little later, was a Baptist preacher. Daniel Boone was never a member of any church. Some of his family became Baptists. Among the descendants of Squire Boone, have been several Baptist preachers, and the descendants of Col. Calloway have been prominent among the Baptists of both Kentucky and Missouri. A few years after the settlement of Boonesboro and Harrodsburg, many prominent Baptists settled in Kentucky, some of whom will be noticed in subsequent pages.
The first Baptist preacher known to have been in Kentucky,
except Squire Boone, who explored it before any settlement was made, was Thomas Tinsley. Beyond the simple fact that he was in Harrodsburg, and was regularly preaching there on Sabbath days, in the spring of 1776, but little is known of him. Wm. Hickman, who visited Harrodsburg at that time, and who afterward became an eminent preacher among the early Baptists of Kentucky, in a narrative of his "Life and Travels," says:
"We got to Harrodstown the first day of April. * * * * Myself, brother Thomas Tinsley and my old friend, Mr. Morton, took our lodgings at Mr. John Gordonís, four miles from town. Mr. Tinsley was a good old preacher, Mr. Morton a good, pious Presbyterian, and love and friendship abounded among us. We went nearly every Sunday to town to hear Mr. Tinsley preach. I generally concluded his meetings. One Sunday Morning, sitting at the head of a spring at this place, he laid his Bible on my thigh and said to me, 'you must preach to day.' He said if I did not, he would not. I knew he would not draw back. I took the book and turned to the 23d chapter of Numbers, 10th verse: 'Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.' I suppose I spake fifteen or twenty minutes, a good deal scared, thinking if I had left any gaps down, he would put them up. He followed me with a good discourse, but never mentioned any blunders."
What is contained in this paragraph is all that can now be known of the first Baptist preacher that ever preached in Kentucky, or, as far as is known, in any part of the great West. At what time he came to Kentucky, or where from, is not known. He did not come with Mr. Hickman; for the latter gives the names of all who left Virginia with him, and Mr. Tinsley's is not among them. He either fell in with Mr. Hickman's party on the way, or was at Harrodsburg when the latter reached that village. However curious we may be to know more of the good old soldier of the Cross, who first bore the tidings of salvation to this great valley, we shall probably never be gratified till we meet with him in "the house of many mansions."
William Hickman was not a preacher when he came to Harrodsburg; but he was a zealous Baptist, and, as we have seen, was ready to take part in the service of his Master when
called on. He preached his first sermon at Harrodsburg, without license from his church, at the request of good old Thomas Tinsley. On his return to Virginia, he was hailed as a preacher, and immediately entered the vineyard of the Lord as a minister of the gospel. George Stokes Smith, a distinguished pioneer preacher among the Baptists, came to. Kentucky in company with Mr. Hickman, and probably went to Boonesboro. He also returned to Virginia, where he continued to preach for a time, and then settled permanently in Kentucky. Of these ministers and others that followed them, a fuller account will be given hereafter. Edmund Woolridge, a Baptist, came to Kentucky, in 1776, and subsequently settled at the fork of Elkhorn.
In the fall of 1779, John Taylor, who had been preaching with much success in Virginia, came to Kentucky, and spent the following winter among the settlers. Joseph Redding started with his family to come by water, the same fall, but did not reach Kentucky till the next spring. These two preachers intended to settle in the new country, if they were pleased with it; but being discouraged by the low state of religion, they both returned to Virginia the following summer. It is not known that any preacher settled in Kentucky previous to 1779, But during that and the following year, several found homes in the wilderness, and raised the standard of the Cross in different localities.
WILLIAM MARSHALL, if not the first, was among the first preachers that became permanent residents in the new country. The exact date of his arrival is not known. John Taylor says he moved to Kentucky "in 1779 or '80." He appears to have settled first in what is now Lincoln county, and afterwards to have located in Shelby.
William Marshall was born low down in the Northern Neck in Virginia, in 1735. His family was of eminent respectability, and he was raised in affluence. He was an uncle to the distinguished Chief Justice Marshall, and a brother to Col. Thomas Marshall, who was distinguished among the Kentucky pioneers, and whose descendants have been so noted for brilliancy of talent, in Kentucky, from its first settlement to the present time. He spent his youth in sport and social gayety. "In youth," says J.B. Taylor, "he was remarkable for his devotion
to the fashionable amusements of the day. His tall, graceful form, dark piercing eye and engaging manners rendered him the pride of the circle in which he moved." This vain and thoughtless course of life was continued till near middle age; but having married the sister of Elder John Pickett, he was brought under the ministry of that faithful servant of Christ and other Baptist preachers. In 1768, some of the zealous Separate Baptists visited Fauquier county, and Mr. Marshall was converted and baptized. John Taylor, in his biography of William Marshall, speaks of him thus: "He soon began to preach, and a flaming zealot he was. His preaching was of the loud thunder-gust kind. His labors were mostly employed on the waters of the Shenandoah river, west of the Blue Ridge. It was not long before the people became marvelously affected, and their cries would often drown Mr. Marshall's voice while preaching. To see one or more thousands of people gathered at a large meeting house, lately put up, without room to receive them, and in the dead of winter, the people standing in the snow for hours together to hear the word, and hundreds at once crying out for mercy, or loudly rejoicing in hope-and all this was so new that the spectators would be apt to think the end of the world was come, or to say, 'We have seen strange things to day.'" At this time Mr. Marshall had not been ordained. Many people were converted to the Lord. Samuel Harris traveled about two hundred miles to baptize them. Fifty three were immersed the first time, and a larger number afterwards. This was the first baptism ever performed in Shenandoah river. It occured in 1770. South River church of Separate Baptists was constituted the same day. During these meetings held by Mr. Marshall, Joseph and Isaac Redding were converted. John Taylor was converted soon afterwards. These three men became useful preachers among the pioneers of Kentucky. They will occupy their appropriate places in our future pages.
Mr. Marshall continued to labor in this region with great zeal and success, nearly twelve years. Meanwhile he was ordained, and became pastor of South River church, afterwards called Happy Creek. As has been related, he moved to Kentucky as early as 1780. After laboring in this new field some years, he fell from his horse, and was so disabled that he was a
long time confined to his home. During this period he devoted himself to study, and made considerable changes in his doctrinal views. Concerning his latter years, we again quote from John Taylor, his biographer:
"In his days of success, he preached after the apostolic mode, strongly urging repentance towards God and faith in Christ Jesus, and with longing, heart-melting invitations, exhorting every sinner in his congregation to seek the salvation of his soul . . . . He now studied consistency, beginning with Godís decrees. There he found eternal justification, couched in the doctrine of election; and so on with the several links of his chain, till he was led to find out that the gospel address was only to certain characters which, when explained, were already righteous, though they well deserved the name of sinners. But as for mere sinners, the law of Moses only was their portion . . . . He found that a number of his Baptist Christians could not eat what they called his strong meat. This led him to doubt their christianity, or, at least, the soundness of their faith. This led on to a dispute in Fox Run church in Shelby county, where his membership was, which terminated in his expulsion. After this, he never could agree to return to the church, though a very little from him would have given the church satisfaction. A few years after, he died, aged 78 years, and about 40 years after he began to preach."
Mr. Marshall's labors, though neither so abundant nor successful in the new country as they had been in Virginia, were valuable at a period when he was the only preacher of any denomination in all that portion of Kentucky lying east of the present turnpike road leading from Louisville, by way of Bardstown, to Nashville. About the same time that he settled in Lincoln county, five other Baptist preachers -- four ordained and one licensed -- located in the small settlements south of Louisville. Those ordained were Joseph Barnett, John Whitaker, James Skaggs and Benjamin Lynn, the licentiate being John Gerrard.
JOS. BARNETT settled in what is now Nelson county, as early as 1780. He came from Virginia, where he had been active in building up the churches of which Ketocton Association was formed. He belonged to the Regular Baptists. After his removal to Kentucky he and John Whitaker, with the aid of
John Gerrard, gathered Severns Valley church in what is now Hardin county, and Cedar Creek in what is now Nelson, The former was constituted on the 18th of June, 1781, the latter, on the 4th of July of the same year. These were the first churches gathered on the soil of Kentucky. Mr. Barnett was pastor of Cedar Creek church at least four years. He preached the introductory sermon before the convention that formed Salem Association, at Cox's Creek in Nelson county, on the 31st of October, 1785. This is the last we hear of him. Even tradition is silent, and we shall probably know no more of him till we meet with him at the judgement Seat of Christ.
JOHN GERRARD, to whom further reference will be made in the history of Severns Valley church, settled in what is now Hardin county as early as 1780. Little is known of him, except that he was ordained the first pastor of Severns Valley, at the time of its constitution, assisted in constituting Cedar Creek church in Nelson county and, in the spring of 1782, started out to hunt in the forest near his home. He was never afterwards heard of, and is supposed to have been murdered by the Indians.
BENJAMIN LYNN, who is supposed to have emigrated from Virginia, came to Kentucky, in 1780. He probably remained a short time in Philips' fort in what is now LaRue county, where, according to tradition, he raised up the church now called South Fork, in 1782. Afterwards he settled on Beech Fork in Nelson county, where he raised up Pottengers Creek church, in 1785. Of these two churches and another which he and his co-laborer, James Skaggs, constituted under the style of Level Woods, he was pastor during about fifteen years. He was a Separate Baptist, and seems to have possessed all the zeal that characterized his brethren in Virginia, as well as the courage, love of adventure and powers of endurance of Daniel Boone. His time was divided between hunting and preaching. After laboring among the settlements between Salt river and Green river about twenty years, he moved to where his brother William had settled, on the southern border of the State. Here he fell in with the "Newlights," under the leadership of Barton W. Stone, and finally united with them. Some time after this he visited his old neighborhood, and went among the churches he had planted in Nelson and La Rue counties, by the members
of which he had been greatly beloved. But now that he had united with another sect, they received him coldly. The old father was much mortified, and soon returned home. Not long after this, he went to give an account of his stewardship to the Master in whose service he had spent many years of toil and danger.
Mr. Lynn was reckoned a good preacher, and a man of undoubted piety and devotion to the cause of the Redeemer. His name is perpetuated in Nolin river and Lynn Camp creek, and honored in Nolin church, Nolynn Association, Lynn Association and Lynland Institute.
JAMES SKAGGS came from Virginia to Kentucky about the same time that Benjamin Lynn did, and was associated with that famous pioneer in his early labors in the new country. After a few years, he fell under reproach on account of immoral conduct, and moved further west. After this nothing more is known of him. A creek or small river in Barren county bears his name.
At the close of the year, 1780, there were one licensed and five ordained Baptist preachers in what is now the large and populous State of Kentucky -- William Marshall, Joseph Barnett, John Whitaker, Benjamin Lynn, James Skaggs and licentiate John Gerrard. If there were any others it is not now known. There was no preacher of any other sect in the new country, The broad field was left, for the present, to the Baptists alone. We know of a few Baptist church members, and doubtless there were others whose names we shall not know. But few as there were, at this period, they had brought with them, the seeds of discord, some of the bitter fruits of which we shall see in the sequel. Some of them were Separate and others Regular Baptists -- a distinction almost without a difference. Of the preachers, Marshall, Lynn and Skaggs were Separates, while Barnett, Whitaker and Gerrard were Regulars. There was no church organization of any kind in the country. But these workmen were doubtless preparing materials of which to erect habitations of God through the Spirit. We shall see something of the first fruits of their labors in the wilderness, in the next chapter.
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984. ó jrd]
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