Early History of Other Sects than Baptists -- Statistics
"The Baptists were the pioneers in Kentucky," but the Presbyterians followed hard after them. Indeed, it is by no means certain that there were not Presbyterians in the new country, as early as there were Baptists. It is certain that William Hickman met his old friend, "Mr. Morton, a good pious Presbyterian," at Harrodsburg, in the spring of 1776.1 But there was no preacher of that denomination in the country at so early a day. Having previously visited Kentucky, David Rice, in answer to a call, signed by 300 men, moved to the country, in 1783. That as many as three hundred men should sign a call for a Presbyterian minister to preach to them, proves that sect to have been numerous among the settlers. Mr. Rice soon gathered three congregations, to which he ministered. The next year, Adam Rankin, settled in Lexington, and gathered a congregation of which he became the pastor. In July, 1785, twelve congregations were represented in a conference, held at Cane Run. Two preachers and two probationers were present. The probationers, James Crawford and Terah Templin, were ordained the same year. In 1786, according to Dr. Davidson:2 "The Presbyterians and Baptists had an equal number of congregations, viz., sixteen of each denomination. But the latter had greatly the advantage as regards preachers, boasting no fewer than thirty, while the Presbyterians could count only seven. These two were, for some years, the only prominent sects in the country." This advantage the Baptists possessed in the superior number of their preachers, was, doubtless from the fact that the Presbyterians would allow none of
their members to preach without a classical education, while the Baptists permitted all to preach whom they deemed "called of God," though they understood not the simplest rules of English grammar. Had the Presbytertans adopted the same polity, it is not unlikely that they would have had equal, if not superior advantages, in this respect. They were wanting in these advantages, simply because they were governed by a polity that would not allow of their use. This was amply proved by the action of the Cumberland Presbytery. When, by the advice of "Father Rice," this Presbytery inducted into the ministry pious men, who appeared to possess useful gifts, they soon had preachers enough, not only to supply their congregations, but also to send out many missionaries.
But if the Baptists had the advantage of the Presbyterians in one respect, the latter had decided advantages of them in several very important features. The Baptists had not one classically educated minister in their whole rank in Kentucky. The aged David Thomas and John Gano had some advantage of academical instruction, but neither of them had ever matriculated at a college. All the others were illiterate men, and most of them were ignorant of the first principles of English grammar. On the other hand, all the Presbyterian preachers were classically educated, and trained in the schools of theology.
Humphrey Marshall, the author of the first history of Kentucky, delineates the advantages of the Presbyterians over those of the Baptists, after the following manner:
"The Presbyterians and Baptists composed a large proportion of the population. The first having ample claims to literature, the latter but little, either in possession, or expectancy, deeming learning unnecessary in expounding the Scriptures. The Presbyterians, in common with the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, admit infants into their church.
"The Baptists, on the contrary, differ essentially, [from them] on these subjects. Their members must be of discreet years. Their own children are admitted into their church only upon condition of their making certain declarations of experienced religion, and of giving assurance of divine acceptance, which but few educated people can, or will do. The result is, that when a Baptist has educated his son for the higher occupations
in life, there are three chances to one, against his becoming a member of his father's church. There are yet more chances against any other well educated man's becoming a member of the Baptist church in Kentucky. While the Presbyterians receive children into their congregation, raise them up members, and educate them in their own faith and practice; for which reason they ever after remain in the same church. The consequences are not more obvious than important. Presbyterians are found qualified for every department, civil, ecclesiastic, military, and forensic. They have, therefore, divines, lawyers, doctors, politicians, judges, governors, and legislators. Thus the [Presbyterian] society improves, ornaments and dignifies its members, who in their turn, reflect the honors and advantages of office on their society, promoting thus the temporal emolument of each, and of all. And thus also, 'they gain strength in high places, and make unto themselves friends of the mammon of this world.'"3
That the Presbyterians possessed the educational advantages over the Baptists that Mr. Marshall claims for them, at the period of which we write, is doubtless exaggerated, according to the uniform habit of that author, but that they possessed considerable advantages, cannot reasonably be doubted. Whether or not, they used these advantages for the purposes Mr. Marshall attributed to them, may be left for their own decision. If they did, "verily they received their reward;" if not, their eulogist did them a great injustice, as followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. But the chief advantage they enjoyed over all other sects, in the early history of the country, was State patronage, in the affairs of the higher education of the period. Transylvania Academy, endowed by the State with 20,000 acres of land and one-sixth of the surveyor's fees, was opened in the house of Rev. David Rice, in February, 1785. In 1788, it was removed to Lexington, and placed under the control of the Presbyterians, or rather, it remained under their control. In June, 1794, they were succeeded in its management, and Harry Toulmin, a Unitarian was placed at its head. The Presbyterians then opened what they called Kentucky Academy, which the Legislature endowed with 6,000
acres of land. In 1798, Transylvania Academy and Kentucky Academy were united under the style of Transylvania University, and placed under control of a Board of Directors, a majority of whom should be Presbyterians. The faculty consisted of three professors, all of whom were Presbyterian ministers. A law and medical department were soon afterwards added, and Transylvania University became the educational center of the State, and the only school of high grade in the commonwealth.
Thus enlarged and amply endowed by the State, the Presbyterians controlled it, till 1818, when through their neglect, Rev. Horace Holly, L.L.D. an Episcopalian was elected president of the Institution, and they lost control of it. But they had now controlled it about thirty years, during all of which time, it had had no rival in the State. The country had become thickly settled, wealth had accumulated, and they were able to build a college of their own; which they did soon afterward. Their new institution was dedicated at Danville, under the title of CENTER COLLEGE.
To have under their control the education of all the young men, who had sufficient aspiration to seek a collegiate training, or, whose parents were sufficiently wealthy and liberal minded to seek a higher education for their sons, during the formation of the social and religious fabric of the country, was certainly no small advantage. From a human standpoint, Mr. Marshall seems to have been warranted in making the prediction that the Presbyterians would prosper abundantly, while the Baptists would diminish, and fall into contempt, if not utterly perish.
With an equal number of churches, with the Baptists, and in the same field of operation, with an educated and trained ministry, with at least an assumed social superiority, and with all the higher grade educational interests of the State under their control, the contest for the religious leadership of the people between the two sects, could hardly seem doubtful. To these advantages must be added another of very considerable importance in the contest. ThePresbyterians were the pioneers of the Green River country. James McGready was pastor of three congregations on Gasper river, Muddy river, and Red river, in 1796, and before the Baptists had an organization in the whole western end of the State. Here, in Mr. McGready's congregations, the great
revival of 1800, began, and its operations, so far as human agency was concerned, were conducted by Presbyterian ministers.
With all these apparent advantages, the Presbyterians failed to make any considerable progress from 1786, at which time the number of their churches was equal to that of the Baptist churches, to 1810, a period of twenty-four years. . . . Some of the reasons of this failure are sufficiently apparent to the philosopher as well as the theologian.
In the first place, their preachers were unsuited to the field in which they were called to labor. They had long been under training in schools of learning, which too often emaciates the bodily powers, and renders men incapable of enduring the labor and hardship, necessary to success in preaching the gospel in the backwoods. They had formed habits of delicate living, cultivated nice precision in speaking, acquainted themselves with books rather than men, and adapted their manners to the cultivated few, rather than to the illiterate masses. They were every way out of harmony with the rough, sturdy men they would have led in the way of salvation. Their manner of living required more money than the poor frontier people were willing to give them for their ministerial services. This led to crimination and recrimination between them and their congregations, and, in a great measure, destroyed their influence with the people. The following circumstance will illustrate their troubles, originating in their demanding a fixed salary for their services.
David Rice, pastor of the Presbyterian church at Danville, on one occasion "refused to administer the sacrament,” because the congregation had failed 'to pay his salary. The following pasquinade written by Tom Johnson, of Danville, and afterward published in a small volume of his poems, entitled "the Kentucky Miscellany," reflects the popular sentiment on that subject, in 1796:
"ON PARSON R — E,
WHO REFUSED TO PERFORM DIVINE SERVICE TILL HIS ARREARS WERE PAID.
Ye fools! I told you once or twice,
You'd hear no more of canting R — e.
He cannot settle his affairs,
Nor pay attention unto prayers,
Unless you pay up your arrears.
O, he would, in pulpit storm,
And fill all hell with dire alarm!
Vengeance pronounce against each vice,
And, more then all, cursed avarice.
Preached money was the root of ill,
Consign'd each rich man unto hell;
But since he finds you will not pay,
Both rich and poor may go that way.
'Tis no more than I expected —
The meeting house is now neglected:
All trades are subject to this chance,
No longer pipe, no longer dance."4
These lines do not too strongly express the popular contempt for a man who was suppossed to preach for money. It was regarded scarcely less blasphemous than Simon's proposal to purchase the gift of God with money, and no less sacrilegious than Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Ghost. Among the Baptists, especially, who still remembered the collectors of church rates, under Episcopal domination, in Virginia, salaried preachers were denominated "hirelings," and denounced with withering scorn from the pulpit. This was the honest sentiment of ministers who had lain weary months in Virginia prisons for preaching the gospel to the poor, without charge, and to gratify the jealousy and malice of a hireling clergy, and it met a ready response in the popular heart. Presbyterian mininters failed to appreciate the necessity of adapting themselves to the condition of the western people, or were wanting in the spirit of self-sacrifice that such adaptation required. The manner and the matter of their preaching were equally repugnant to the habits of practical thought and energetic action of the western people. They read their sermons, too frequently, in a dull monotonous style, of tame composition, and treating on the impracticable abstractions of the schools. "These were not the men to win upon the affections, and gain the confidence of the hardy first settlers of the West." The doctrines of the Presbyterian church did not commend themselves to the western people. From its theory of eternal decrees, they deduced the doctrines of necessity and infant damnation.
Their form of government bestowed exclusive privileges on a class, and the congregations could neither elect nor dismiss a pastor, without the concurrence of a higher power. But, most of all, were their ordinances objectionable. Infant baptism was, to practical westernminds a meaningless rite, for which the plain backwoodsman could find no authority in his English Bible, and it seemed plain to him, that, immersion was the only baptism taught in the sacred Book. Another popular objection to Presbyterian ministrations, was the stickling of their preachers for what they called order. If a pious female involuntarily gave expression to her warmth of feeling, in shouting, it was reprimanded as an imprudence closely verging on crime. The twitching of the muscles, falling on the meeting-house floor, or the spontaneous exhortation of a "happy" brother or sister, instead of being passed by in silence, as a trifle unworty of notice, was made the text for a grave homily on order. This trammelled the freedom, with which sincere and warm-hearted people delighted to worship God.
It may be simply queried as to whether Mr. Marshall's representation is true, that: While the Baptists seemed to view these things with different sentiments, being either careless of the honors, distinctions, emoluments of office, or waiting for every good thing to come down from Heaven, the Presbyterians seek to qualify themselves for lawyers, doctors, politicians, governors, and judges, and legislators; to improve, ornament, and dignify their members -- who in their turn reflect the honors and advantages of office on their church -- to promote the temporal emolument of their members; to gain strength in high places, and make unto themselves friends of the mammon of this world?5 Were the Presbyterians neglecting to look for every good things to come down from Heaven? Were they seeking to become politicians, judges and governors? to promote the temporal emoluments of their members? to gain strength in high places, and make friends of the mammon of this world? If these were the motives that prompted the Christian(?) labors of that highly respectable denomination, in Kentucky, at that period, it is no marvel that a jealous God rent their society into
fragments, and scattered it upon the winds, by the same means that he used in trebling the membership of its more humble and unpretending rival sects.
As before seen, there was but a meager fragment of the Presbyterian church in Kentucky left, at the close of the Great Revival of 1800. Years of church litigation ensued, and long continued suspense sickened the hearts of its most courageous men. Finally it cut off all the schismatics it could not reclaim. In 1809, it numbered 35 ministers, and 1,348 members.
THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH was the third religious denomination that obtained a foot hold on the soil of Kentucky. There were doubtless some Methodists among the very early settlers, but we find no organization of that society, till 1783, the same year that the first Presbyterian congregations were gathered, and in the same locality. During that year, Francis Clark, a local preacher, accompanied by John Durham, a class leader,and some others came from Virginia, and settled about six miles from the present site of Danville. Here a class was formed, and Mr. Durham was appointed its leader. About the same period, Thomas Stephenson and his wife, both Methodists, came from Maryland, and settled in Mason county. A church was organized in their house, in 1786.
The Kentucky circuit, belonging to the Virginia conference, was formed in 1786. It comprised the whole state of Kentucky. Two preachers were sent to occupy it. Their names were Benjamin Ogden and James Haw. The next year they reported a membership of go to the conference. 1787 was the period of the second religious revival in Kentucky. During this year, the number of Methodists increased from 90 to 480. Kentucky circuit was divided into Lexington and Danville circuits, and supplied, in 1788, by James Haw, Francis Poythress, elders, and Thomas Williamson, Peter Massie and Benjamin Snelling were put on the Lexington circuit, and Wilson Lee on that of Danville.
In 1790, Bishop Asbury visited Kentucky, and an annual conference was organized, which embraced six preachers. At the close of the year, 1,555 members were reported. From this time the Methodist church gradually increased, till 1800, when it embraced five circuits and a membership of 1,742. It had extended its field of operations all over the settled portions
of the State, and was well organized for work, when the Great Revival began. The manner in which its ministers labored in connection with the Presbyterians, has already been noted. But they also labored in their own churches, and on one occasion, at the mouth of Kentucky River, they engaged in a union meeting with the Baptists.
An unrestrained zeal was the prominent feature in their worship, at all times. To repress an impulse to shout, was, in their estimation, to "quench the spirit," and to discourage any extravagance in worship, was to "resist the Holy Ghost." When the Great Revival was in progress, their zeal knew no bounds. Almost at the very beginning of the revival, at one of Mr. McGready's sacramental meetings. "the Methodist, John McGee, overcome by his feelings, broke in upon the usual orderly customs of the Presbyterians and urged the excited congregation to shout."5 They gave the fullest encouragement to excitement, and to its most vehement expression. With Wesley's Hymns, they mingled rude ditties, containing such expressions as: "The Devil hates the Methodists; O halle -- halleluia;
Because they do keep so much fuss,
O glory halleluia."
And "shout! shout! we are gaining ground
O halle -- halleluia.
The Devil’s kingdom shall come down;
O glory halleluia!" 6
Verses like these were varied to suit the occasions, or the tastes of the singers. Singing was a very prominent feature in their worship. Their songs were so selected and arranged that the masses could join in the exercise, and it was performed very heartily. All the "bodily exercises" accompanying the revival were hailed with joy, as powerful manifestations of the divine presence. The best meeting was the one in which there was most shouting, falling, jerking, barking and laughing. These exercises were courted and encouraged, and became more and more prevalent among the Methodists to the close of the revival.
Their public (and not unfrequently their private) prayers were uttered in the loudest tones the petitioners could command, and with an intonation peculiar to themselves, while loud responses of Amen! Glory to God! and hallelujah! were heard all over the congregation. Their appreciation of the utility of prayer was expressed in one of their popular melodies; thus:
"The richest man I ever saw was one that begged the most,
His soul was filled with glory and with the Holy Ghost,
And a-begging I will go -- will go -- will go!
And a-begging I will go."7
No feature in Methodism was more popular with the multitudes than its claim to a broad catholicity. Its adherents universally made this claim, both for themselves personally, and for their religious system. The preachers would exhort the people to "get religion, and then join any branch of the church they pleased." "One church is just as good as another." "We are all aiming to get to the same place." "Join wherever you think you can live happiest," and other similar expressions became proverbs among the Methodists. The private members of the church, with equal freedom, asserted that they "loved Baptists and Presbyterians just as much as they did Methodists." At a time when the revival had filled the hearts of the people with that charity that "believeth all things," this claim to liberality gave them great influence over the people. Their enthusiasm was of so amiable a character that it won the hearts of many who were opposed to its excesses. The Presbyterians suffered much loss of popular favor by contrasting their stern demands for order with the generous freedom which the Methodists allowed to human excitement and inclination.
Meanwhile, the Methodists were, in reality, not less sectarian than any one of their rival denominations. The full measure of their zeal and energy wasexerted in spreading their peculiar tenets. They preached them from their pulpits, mingled them with their prayers, sung them in their songs, and made them the subject of their private teaching. Every member of their society was eager, and labored zealously to build up his own sect. Their success during the revival was great. There is no means at hand of determining the exact number added
during that period, but in 1810, their records show that they numbered, in Kentucky, 1 conference, 2 districts, 14 circuits, 25 preachers and 7,057 members. They were now, next to the Baptists, the largest denomination in the State.
TWO ROMAN CATHOLIC families, those of Dr. Hart and William Coomes, settled in Harrodsburg in 1775, where Dr. Hart began at once to practice medicine, and Mrs. Coomes to teach school. After a few years, these, with other Catholic families, settled near Bardstown. In 1785, a large colony of Catholics from Maryland, settled on Pottengers creek in Nelson county. By 1787, there were about fifty Catholic families in Kentucky. During this year, Mr. Whelan, an Irish priest, came to the new country and ministered to the Catholics about three years. Mr. Baden, who came out in 1793, was their next priest. At this date, the number of Catholic families in the State was estimated at 300. From that time we have no estimate of their number till 1846, when there was supposed to be 6,000 familes.
In 1810, there was one Episcopal church in Kentucky. It was organized in Lexington in 1794, and was under the pastoral charge of James Moore, who was its first rector. The Newlights were hardly organized at this period, although they had been severed from the Presbyterians seven years before. Their number can not be ascertained. The Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized during this year, and the number of its members in Kentucky is unknown. There was no religious organization in the State at that period, except those which have been named.
We can approach very near the exact number of Baptists in Kentucky, in 1810. The statistics of Green River, South District and Red River Associations, are taken from the minutes of 1812, and those of Cumberland River from its records of 1811; all the rest from the minutes of 1810. Red River Association lay partly in Tennessee, but we give statistics only of the churches that were located in Kentucky. Union Association had been organized and dissolved during this decade. The population of the State, in 1810, was 406, 511. The Baptists had, in the State, 286 churches, and 16,650 members. This makes, in round numbers, one church to every 1,421 of the population, anal one Baptist to every 24 of the population.
The following table shows the name of each association in the State, in 1810, with the date of its constitution, the number of its churches and the number of members:Date of Con. Name of Asso. Churches. Members 1785 Elkhorn 20 1,800 1785 Salem 20 1,198 1793 Tates Creek 19 952 1799 Bracken 17 603 1800 Green River 33 2,499 1802 North District 28 1,461 1802 South District 15 1,153 1803 South Kentucky 20 744 1803 North Bend 12 504 1803 Long Run 37 2,851 1805 Stocktons Valley 16 416 1804 Russells Creek 12 353 1807 Red River 13 905 1809 Cumberland River 13 447 1810 Licking 11 764 Total, 15 286 16,650
1 Hickman's Narrative, p. 6. 2 History of the Presbyterian Church, pp. 84, 85. 3 HIstory of Kentucky, V. I, et. seq. condensed. 4 Davidson's History of Presbyterian Church, p. 69. 5 Marshall's History of Kentucky, Vol. I, p. 446. 6 Davidson's History of Presbyterian Church, p. 140. 7 The author remembers to have heard these and other similar ditties sung often as "Methodist songs" in his early childhood. 8 See foot-note on p. 563 [# 7 above]. =============
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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