Churches Planted in 1783
At the beginning of the year 1783, there were in Kentucky only five churches and eight preachers. Gerrard having been massacred by the Indians, the spring before. The year just closed had been fraught with many dangers, trials and sorrows. One preacher, out of nine, had fallen a victim to savage barbarity, and many other settlers of the country had perished in the same manner. The imigrants had been compelled to remain in forts most of the summer, so that they had raised but little grain, and now set in the winter, always dreary enough to the poor, but doubly gloomy when the snow covers the fresh graves of murdered husbands and fathers. Many poor widows and orphans, hundreds of miles from all their old friends and surrounded by an almost boundless wilderness, every acre of which teemed with deadly danger, were weeping and shivering in rude log cabins in Kentucky. How much they needed the comforts of a holy religion, to encourage them amid their deep despondency. But God had not forgotten his little ones. He sent strong, brave men, with hearts full of love and faith, who were ready to dare every danger, to pray in the rude cabins of weak and timid christians, to cheer and encourage despairing mourners, and to warn reckless sinners of their awful danger. Marshall, Craig, Cave, Smith, Barnett, Whitaker and Lynn had been tried in the relentless fires of persecution and purified as silver. Inured to hardhips and dangers, they had lost the sense of earthly fear, and were prepared to surmount every difficulty, that they might gather into folds Christ's scattered sheep, and feed them with the bread of life. They were traversing the wilderness in search of the straying lambs, and calling them together to partake
again of the heavenly feast of love and fellowship, which they had so sweetly enjoyed in the now far away churches of their native land. The efforts of these Godly ministers were blessed, and three more churches were added to the number in Kentucky, during the year.
GILBERTS CREEK church of Separate Baptists was gathered by Joseph Bledsoe, in what is now Garrard county. There has been some confusion in the popular mind concerning the history of this church, caused by confounding it with Gilberts Creek church of Regular Baptists. The latter, as we have already seen, was organized by Lewis Craig and others, in December, 1781; the former was gathered by Joseph Bledsoe, as we shall presently see, in 1783. Asplund and Benedict both date its constitution in that year. John Taylor, who was a member of the Regular Baptist church on Gilberts Creek, during the winter of 1783-4, says: "Just before I got to Kentucky (in 1783) Craig, with a number of others, had left Gilberts Creek, and moved to South Elkhorn and set up a church there. The remnant left of Gilberts Creek kept up order; it was this remnant I united with. Among them was George Smith, commonly called Stokes Smith, a valuable preacher; Richard Cave, then an ordained minister, William Cave, who afterwards became a very good preacher, and many other valuable members. Soon after, George Stokes Smith and chief of the members at Gilberts Creek also moved to the north side of Kentucky; and a Separate Baptist church being set up at Gilberts Creek, by Joseph Bledsoe, the old church became dissolved, and the Separate Baptists chiefly took possession of the south side of the Kentucky river." In another place, Mr. Taylor says: "The church I have been writing of, at Gilberts Creek was swallowed up, partly by Craig's members moving away, and partly by a Separate church settling there under the care of old Mr. Joseph Bledsoe, and, though the old gentleman is dead, it seems the church yet exists."
This testimony is sufficiently conclusive. The present Gilberts Creek church was constituted in 1783, and was one of the churches that formed South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists, in 1787. It entered into the general union of the Separate and Regular Baptists, in 1801, but soon afterwards went off with a faction headed by John Bailey
and Thomas J. Chilton, again assuming the name of Separate Baptists. It returned to the United Baptists, in 1845. Among the many pastors who have served this church, may be named Joseph Bledsoe, Michael Dillingham, John Bailey, Thomas J. Chilton, Thomas Chilton, Absalom Quinn, Jesse C. Portman, John G. Pond and Burdett Kemper. Quinn and Pond were ordained in this church. During the year 1828, 101 were added to its membership, and, in 1837, it received 37 additons. It was long a prosperous body, but for a number of years past, it has been declining. It is now without a house of worship, and only has a name to live.
JOSEPH BLEDSOE was the founder and first pastor of this church. As early as 1778, he was associated with Ambrose Dudley and Lewis Craig in gathering Wilderness church in Spottsylvania County, Virginia. Of this congregation he was chosen the first pastor. But "they were not happy under his care," and he resigned his charge to move to Kentucky, where we find him pastor of Gilberts Creek church, in 1783. He was an old man at that time, and probably remained in charge of this congregation until his death. His brother, Aaron Bledsoe, was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, his son William was a Baptist preacher of more talent than piety, in Kentucky, and his son Jesse was a prominent lawyer and a politician of the last named State, and was two years in the United States Senate, and several years judge of the circuit court. Another Bledsoe, named Moses, was a Baptist preacher in Kentucky. Many ofthe family possessed brilliant talents, but they were generally unstable and erratic.
"SOUTH ELKHORN, not far from Lexington," says John Taylor, "was the fourth church in which I had my membership. This was the first worshiping congregation, of any kind, organized on the north side of the Kentucky river, and early in the fall of 1783." This church was gathered by Lewis Craig, and was constituted principally of members who had belonged to Upper Spottsylvania church in Virginia, had emigrated with Mr. Craig to Kentucky, in 1781, and had again followed him from Gilberts Creek to South Elkhorn in Fayette county. In organizing this church, Mr. Craig doubtless had the assistance of George Stokes Smith and Richard Cave, who were still members of the first Gilberts Creek church. In the summer of
1785, these preachers and most of the other members of Gilberts Creek church moved to the north side of Kentucky river, and united with the new organization. John Taylor moved to Kentucky, in 1783, just after South Elkhorn church was constituted, and, settling at Lewis Craig's station in Garrard county took membership in Gilberts Creek church. But, in the summer of 1784, he moved to what is now Woodford county, and joined South Elkhorn church. William Hickman, John Dupuy, and James Rucker, having moved to the new country, also united with this church, in 1785. There were now seven preachers within the bounds of the church: viz., Craig, Cave, Dupuy, Hickman, Rucker, Smith and Taylor. Four of them, however, went into the constitution of a new church, on Clear Creek in Woodford county, early in that year.
Down to the period now under consideration, there had been no baptism in Kentucky, so far as our knowledge extends, if we except the traditional account of that performed by Benjamin Lynn, in 1782. But very early in the year 1785, a revival spirit began to be manifested among some members of South Elkhorn church, who had made a settlement on Clear Creek in Woodford county. This work began under the ministry of John Taylor, and continued to spread over the extensive territory of the church till large numbers were baptized. Among them were four of William Hickmanís children. At least two preachers, William Hickman, jr. and Warren Cash, were fruits of this revival. The results of this work of grace, together with a large imigration, so increased the membership of the church, that it was deemed expedient to send out a colony. Accordingly Clear Creek church was constituted, while the revival yet prevailed.
Lewis Craig was chosen pastor of South Elkhorn church, at the time of its constitution, and under his ministry, it continued to prosper, till about 1792, when he resigned, and moved to Bracken county, recommending John Shackleford as his successor. Mr. Shackleford was immediately called to fillthe position. Under his ministry the church continued to enjoy great prosperity, about thirty years. During this period many extensive revivals occured in the church, in one of which 309 were baptized for its fellowship, during the year 1801. Again
about the year 1817, near 200 were added to it, during one winter. A few years after this, the buddings of Campbellism began to appear in the church, and soon produced a schism. The majority was ministered to by the two Creaths, who ultimately led it off with the Campbellite schism. The minority continued under the care of the old pastor, till his death, in 1829. After this, it gradually diminished, till it became extinct.
From this fruitful nursery, went out many colonies to form other churches which are still large and flourishing bodies. But old South Elkhorn, "in a manner the mother of all the churches north of Kentucky River," and owner of the first house of worship in that extensive territory, was long since dissolved. Yet will she be remembered, and her name will be venerated as long as the Baptists of Kentucky shall preserve their history. Another church has risen near her ancient site, and taken her venerated name.
JOHN SHACKLEFORD was born in Caroline county, Va. in 1750. He commenced his ministry at about the age of 22 years, and was a zealous laborer in the Vineyard of the Lord, about six years, before he was ordained. During this period he was honored with a term in Essex county jail. Of this affair, Mr. Semple gives the following account:
"On March 13, 1774, the day on which Piscataway church was constituted, a warrant was issued to apprehend all the Baptist preachers that were at meeting. Accordingly, John Waller, John Shackleford, Robert Ware and Ivison Lewis were taken and carried before a magistrate. Ivison Lewis was dismissed, not having preached in the county; the other three were sent to prison. It appears from Mr. Waller's journals, which we have before us, that while in prison, God permitted them to pass through divers fiery trials; their minds, for a season, being greatly harrassed by the enemy of souls. They however, from first to last of their imprisonment, preached twice a week, gave much godly advice to such as came to visit them, read a great deal, and prayed almost without ceasing. In their stated devotion, morning, noon and night, they were often joined by others. They continued in close confinement from the 13th to the 21st of March, which was court day; being brought to trial, they were required to
give bond and security for their good behavior for twelve months, or go back to prison. Ware and Shackleford gave bond and went home; Waller being always doubtful of the propriety of giving any bond whatever, determined to go back to jail." Mr. Waller remained in jail fourteen days longer, and was then released.
Soon after this imprisonment, Mr. Shackleford was ordained to the care of a small church which had been gathered by Lewis Craig, under the name of Tuckahoe, in Caroline county. In 1788, this church "had a revival. It was a memorable time indeed," says Mr. Semple, "not only in this church, but almost throughout the state of Virginia. In the course of this divine season, Mr. Shackleford baptized about three hundred." In addition to his pastoral work, he labored much, according to the custom of the time, among the destitute, and, like other Baptist preachers at that period, endured much persecution. In 1792 Mr. Shackleford moved to Kentucky, just at the time Mr. Craig resigned the charge of South Elkhorn church, and was immediately called to succeed his early colaborer and fellow-sufferer. To South Elkorn church he ministered about 37 years, including the most stormy period of the history of Kentucky Baptists. The first trouble he experienced in his pastoral relation at south Elkhorn grew out of a personal difficulty between Elijah Craig and Jacob Creath, sr. This contension was long continued, and finally involed the whole of Elkhorn Association and produced a division in that fraternity. A result of this unfortunate quarrel was the formation of Licking Association of Particular Baptists. Mr. Shackleford identified himself with the Craig party, and about one-fourth of his church adhered to him, and entered with him into Licking Association. The majority, under the ministry of the Creaths, ultimately went off with the Campbellites. The minority withered, and was finally dissolved. The evening of Mr. Shacklefordís life was rendered uncomfortable by these painful divisions. But the grace of God, that, in his youth, supported him in fiery persecutions, also upheld him in his old age; he died in the triumph of the christianís hope, in 1829, in his 79th year. He was probably the last of that noble band of preachers who were confined in Virginia jails for preaching the gospel.
PROVIDENCE church was the third and last to occupy a place on Kentucky soil, in 1783. Like the first Gilberts Creek church, it was organized in Virginia, and moved to Kentucky in a church capacity. The following traditionary account of its origin is from the pen of A.G. Bush, a descendant of Capt. Wm. Bush, and, for many years past, clerk of Providence church: "Daniel Boone, on his second trip to Kentucky, was accompanied by Capt. Wm. Bush of Orange county, Virginia. Capt. Bush on his return, gave such a glowing description of the wilds of Kentucky, that a colony, composed mainly of Baptists, was induced to start toBoonesboro' on the Kentucky River. Capt. Bush went forward to locate lands, while the colony was preparing to start. As soon as the preparations were finished, they set out, and proceeded as far as the Holston, arriving at that point, in December, 1780. Here they received intelligence from Capt. Bush, who was then in the fort, not to proceed any farther, as the Indians were very troublesome at that time."
The following extract is copied literally from the Book of Records of Providence church: "A company of Baptists came from the older parts of Virginia to Holson River, in December 1780 . . . . Robert Elkin minister and John Vivian elder, and in January, 1781, they, with other Baptists, formed themselves a body, in order to carry on church discipline, and, in September the 28th, 1781, became constituted by Lewis Cragg and John Vivian, with the members: to wit" [here follows a list of 42 names.] Robert Elkin who was a minister in the colony on the Holston, and is spoken of as one of the company of Baptists that came from the older parts of Virginia, seems to have had nothing to do in the matter. His name does not appear, either as one of the constituting presbytery, or in the list of members that entered into the constitution. This probably originated from his being a Regular Baptist, while the church was a Separate Baptist organization. This may also account for the delay in constituting the church. John Vivian was not a minister, but merely an elder, an officer with a very illy defined office, that some Baptist churches recognized at that period. Lewis Craig, (sometimes improperly spelt Cragg) was at this time, a Separate Baptist minister, and was now on his journey to Kentucky, as known circumstances sufficiently prove,
with the church that settled on Gilberts Creek, in December of that year.
At what time Robert Elkin united with the church on Holston, or became its pastor, the Record does not state. The church remained on the Holston "till the first day of September 1783. Then a principle part of the members, with their minister being about to move to Kentucky, it was agreed they should carry the constitution with them." "And now having arrived in Kentucky, and settling on the south side of the River," continues the Record "near Craggs station, but, through the badness of the weather and our scattered situation, nothing of importance was done till April 3d, 1784." "Through a turn of God's providence, the church chiefly moved to the north side of Kentucky, and, for the health and prosperity of zion, we have appointed a church meeting at bro. William Bushe's Nov. 27th [1784.]" This was the first meeting of the church on the North Side of Kentucky river. Here it located on a small stream called Howard Creek, in what is now Clark county, and about three miles from Boonesboro:
In 1785, James Quesenberry, an ordained minister from Virginia, joined the church, and in January of the next year, Andrew Tribble, also a minister from the same State, became one of its members. About this time a Revival commenced in the church, and continued nearly two years. During this period, a considerable number was baptized, of whom were Christopher Harris. Squire Boone, jr. and James Haggard, who became preachers. In 1787, the church entered into the constitution of South Kentucky Association. In 1790, another Revival visited the church, and many were baptized, among whom was Edward Kindred, who became a good preacher. The church had now become quite large. But during this year a difficulty between Robert Elkin and Andrew Tribble caused a division in the body. By the advice of Elders John Bailey, Joseph and William Bledsoe and others, the Elkin party retained the church constitution but changed its name from Howards Creek to Providence; while the Tribble party was constituted under the style of Unity church. The two churches agreed to live in fellowship. After the division, Providence church continued to prosper, under the care of Mr. Elkin, till 1822, when the faithful old shepherd was called to his final reward. Since that time the
church seems never to have been able to obtain and retain a suitable pastor; for, between 1822 and 1876, it made no less than nineteen pastoral changes. But despite this unfavorable circumstance, it has been a prosperous body during its entire history, and is now a leading member of Boones Creek Association. It continued a Separate Baptist church till 1801, when the terms of general union between the Regulars and Separates were ratified at its house of worship. After that it belonged to the old North District confederacy for a number of years, and finally united with Boones Creek Association. Many prominent citizen of the county have been among its members, and most of the Bushes, Haggards, Quesenberrys and Elkins, in the state, and multitudes of them in the great West, are descendants of the fathers of this famous old church.
ROBERT ELKINS, the first pastor of Providence church, was the first minister that settled in what is now Clark county. Of his early life little is known, except that he was born and raised in Virginia, and was "born again" at a place called Cheeks Cross-roads. He came with a colony from the older settlements of Virginia to that on Holston river, in 1780, and appears to have been the only preacher at the latter place, at that period. Here a church was constituted, in 1781, and he became its pastor. Two years later he came with his church to Kentucky, and, in 1784, settled in Clark county, where hecontinued to minister to Providence church till a short time before his death, which occurred in March, 1822. He was regarded a good, plain, solid preacher and an excellent disciplinarian. Most of his ministerial labors were devoted to his pastoral charge, and, hence he did not acquire the reputation of being a "traveling preacher." This may have been caused by the fact that "he was twice married, and raised twenty-two children, most of whom raised large families in turn." ==============
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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