First Revival in Kentucky
The year 1785 was one of great activity and prosperity among the Baptists of Kentucky. It opened, as the preceding year had closed, very gloomily. But it had not advanced far before some glimmerings of the approaching dawn began to encourage the desponding saints. Increased interest in religious worship began to be manifest. The ministers held meetings in the cabins of the settlers more frequently, and there was an increase in the size of their congregations. Before the winter was over, some tenderness of feeling began to be manifest, and there was some weeping under the ministry of the word. The first appearance of this blessed work was in John Craig's settlement on Clear creek, in what is now Woodford county. Towards spring some persons professed conversion. The revival spread to other neighborhoods, and, during that year and the next, pervaded most of the settlements in the new country. As this work began under the ministry of Mr. Taylor, it is deemed proper to give a brief sketch of his eminently useful life, in this place.
JOHN TAYLOR was born in Fauquier county, Virginia, in 1752. His father had wasted his estate through intemperance, and young Taylor was brought up to hard labor on a farm. While he was a youth, his parents moved over the Blue Ridge, and settled on the Shenandoah river, in Frederick county. Here, at the age of 17, he heard the gospel preached for the first time. The preacher was William Marshall, a sketch of whose life has already been given. He was much affected under Mr. Marshall's preaching, and resolved to attend no more of his meetings. But the Holy Spirit had lodged an arrow in his heart, and he was unable to rid himself of the awful impression of guilt that weighed upon his soul. After a while
he began to read the Bible and pray much. Like John Bunyan, under similar circumstances, he presently concluded that he had made himself as good as any body, and that he would "go to heaven without making any noise about it." Meanwhile, quite a revival had followed Mr. Marshall's preaching. A number of persons had been baptized, and among them two brothers of the names of Joseph and Isaac Redding, both of whom were afterwards valuable preachers in Kentucky. The two young zealots commenced holding meetings in the neighborhood soon after their conversion. They had been intimate associates with young Taylor in sinful amusements, which caused the latter to attend one of their meetings. "The burthen of their preaching was, that men must be born again or never see the kingdom of heaven." "Under the preaching of the Reddings," says Mr. Taylor, "the poor rags of my own righteousness took fire and soon burnt me to death." After this he endured great remorse and agony of mind for many months. At last he found peace of soul in Christ, and was baptized by that devoted "prisoner ofthe Lord," James Ireland. This was in his 10th year. He now felt much impressed to warn sinners of their danger, and invite them to a Savior he had found precious to his own soul. He felt such a desire to communicate his feelings to Joseph Redding, who had moved to South Carolina, and to be constantly near him, that he immediately set out to seek him and induce him to return or to remain in South Carolina with him. In the following spring, they both returned to Virginia, and the two zealous young men commenced laboring together in the gospel of Christ. For about ten years, Mr. Taylor, sometimes with Redding, sometimes with others, devoted himself to preaching in the frontier settlements, following the emigrants to the extreme borders of civilization, God crowning his labors with abundant success.
In the fall of 1779, he visited Kentucky, traveling across the mountains on horseback. Joseph Redding started at the same time, with his family, to come down the Ohio river on a flat-boat. But being detained on the way, he did not reach Louisville till the following spring. Being discouraged by sickness in his family and the death of one of his children he determined to go back to Virginia. Mr. Taylor was discouraged by the low state of religion in Kentucky, and the two yoke-fellows
returned across the wilderness together to their former field of labor. Here Mr. Taylor continued to labor as formerly, till the fall of 1783, when, having married and received a small property by the will of an unmarried uncle, he determined to move to Kentucky and make it his permanent home. The description of his journey is here given in his own unpolished but graphic language:
"It was a gloomy thing at that time to move to Kentucky. . . . Without a single friend or acquaintance to accompany me, with my young helpless family, to feel all the horrors that then lay in the way to Kentucky, we took water at Redstone; and for want of a better opening, I paid for a passage in a lonely, ill-fixed boat of strangers. The river being low, this lonesome boat was about seven weeks before she landed at Bear Grass. Not a soul was then settled on the Ohio between Wheeling and Louisville, a space of five or six hundred miles, and not one hour, day or night, in safety. Though it was now winter, not a soul in all Bear Grass settlement was in safety, but by being in a fort.
"I then meditated travelling about eighty miles, to Craigs Station on Gilberts creek, in Lincoln county. We set out in a few days. Nearly all I owned was then at stake. I had three horses. Two of them were packed, the other my wife rode with as much lumber besides as the beast could bear. I had four black people, one man and three smaller ones. The pack-horses were led, one by myself, the other by my man. The trail, what there was, being so narrow and bad, we had no chance but to wade through all the mud, rivers, and creeks we came to. Salt river, with a number of its large branches, we had to deal with often. Those waters being flush, we often must wade to our middle, the weather cold. Those struggles often made us forget the dangers we were in from Indians. We only encamped in the woods one night, where we could only look for protection from the Lord. One Indian might have defeated us; for though I had a rifle, I had very little skill to use it. After six days painful travel of this kind, we arrived at Craigs Station, a little before Christmas, and about three months after our start from Virginia. Through all this rugged travel, my wife was in a very helpless state; for about one month after our arrival, my son Ben was born."1
The reader is already aware that Craigs Station was in what is now Garrard county, two or three miles east of Lancaster. After remaining here about seven months, Mr. Taylor moved on his own land in what is now Woodford county, where there was not a single settlement between him and the towns of the hostile Indians. This was in the summer of 1784.
That the reader may understand how these old pioneer preachers labored so abundantly in the vineyard of the Lord, without pecuniary compensation, and still supported their families well, and in many cases accumulated good estates, it may be interesting to read Mr. Taylor's account of his experience in business matters. It is here given in his own words: "On my settlement at home (in my little cabin sixteen feet square, with no floor but the natural earth, without table, bedstead or stool,) I had nothing before me but hard labor, being entirely in the woods. After getting another little cabin up and fixed for the winter, our first work was to make fence rails, and enclose all the land we intended to clear through the winter. The first fence that was put upon the place, I did with my own hands. I will state one of my day’s work: I went out on a cold morning, late in October or early in November. When I counted my ground work, I found fifty panels were laid. This, I thought to myself, I must put up, and fifty more to-day; the rails all lying where they were split at different distances. At it I went, with nimble step. I only put up the fence six rails high, but this I found a full day’s work. About sunset I finished my task, as I called it. In one day, I had a hundred panels of fence put up, with my own hands, and the newly split logs moved from one to fifty steps, through the brush and fallen timber, except the fifty panels of ground-work, first laid. The rails were of a size for six of them to a panel, to make a safe fence. In this early day, their length was eleven feet. I name this day’s work, that it may be accounted for, how I have cleared near four hundred acres of land, in the heavy forest of Kentucky, besides making other good improvements. We had about twenty-two acres fenced in beforeChristmas, all of which we cleared and planted the next spring. Our crop, of every kind, grew finely that year, and in the fall I had about two hundred and fifty barrels of corn, the greater part of which I had to spare, to new comers, at a good price;
[p. 58]for there was plenty of cane, and other good food in the woods for stock. When I first moved, I had purchased two small sows with seven or eight pigs, from which, the next year, I killed about a thousand weight of pork. Salt was with us then about six pence2 per pound." 3
This may serve as an example. So lived and labored those noble men of God, who planted our churches and laid the foundation of our future prosperity, in the wilderness of Kentucky. They labored all day, six days in the week, except when they were called to attend their Saturday meetings, preach funerals, or attend to other duties of their holy calling. Then they preached on Sunday, and often several nights in the week.
It was under the preaching of John Taylor, in his own cabin and those of his neighbors, just at the time he was performing the hard physical labor described above, that the first religious revival, of which we have any account, in "Upper Kentucky," commenced. It was just after the sad wailings of God's ministers over the deathlike coldness of Christ's sheep in the wilderness, referred to in the preceding chapter, that the first buddings of the precious harvest began to appear. In the winter of 1784-5, "We began," says Taylor, "to hold night meetings at our little cabins in the woods." "There seemed to be some heart-melting among the people. The first, I recollect, was at a night meeting, at my little cabin. Though the night was wet and dark, and scarcely a trace to get to my house, the little cabin was pretty well filled with people, and what was best of all, I have no doubt the Lord was there. A Mrs. Cash, the wife of Warren Cash, was much affected and soon after was hopefully converted. Others were also touched to the heart, who afterwards obtained relief in the Lord." Mrs. Cash was, as far as we know, the first fruits unto the Lord in the far-famed Blue Grass Region of Kentucky.
SUSANNAH CASH was the daughter of Elder William Baskett and his wife Mary, whose maiden name was Pace. She was one of thirteen children -- eight sons and five daughters -- born to her parents. She was born and raised in Goochland county, Virginia. Her father being a prosperous man, she received a fair education for that time. In November, 1783, she was married to a soldier, who had served four years in the Revolutionary
War, of the name of Warren Cash, a wild, reckless young man, who was so illiterate that he was unable to read. A few months after her marriage, she moved with her husband to Kentucky. They first stopped in Madison county, but soon afterwards moved to Woodford, and settled where Mortonville is now located. Here, as we have seen above, she was converted to the Lord. Soon afterwards her husband was converted, and they were both baptized into the fellowship of Clear Creek church, soon after its constitution, by John Taylor. She now set about teaching her husband. In this she succeeded, and being a man of good natural mind, Warren Cash soon became a useful preacher. "His tutoress and instrument of his conversion," says John Taylor, "is one of the most pious minded and best taught females in the religion of the heart, I was ever acquainted with." Mrs. Cash lived to see most or all of her children baptized, and one of them, Jeremiah, an acceptable preacher.
The indications of a revival in the little settlement on Clear creek so encouraged the brethren living in that locality, that they began to think of constituting a church. These brethren were members of the church on South Elkhorn, but the distance from their homes to that church made it inconvenient for them to attend. After due consultation they met, in April, 1785, and constituted the Regular Baptist Church on Clear creek. There were about thirty members in the constitution, and among them four ordained preachers, viz: John Taylor, William Cave, James Rucker and John Dupuy.
Clear Creek was the second church on the north side of Kentucky river. Several persons had been converted during the winter, but none of them had been baptized. The revival continued on through the year, and about twenty were baptized. The following winter, the church began to canvass the propriety of choosing a pastor. It may be interesting to the reader to know how the old fathers in Kentucky proceeded in calling and installing a pastor. The proceedings in these matters at Clear Creek are given by John Taylor as follows: "Sometime in the next winter [after the church was constituted] the question began to be stirred about a pastor, in the church. When this talk came to my ears, it gave me alarm, thinking the peace of the church might be broken on this question;
[p. 60]for I had seen much trouble, at times, in Virginia, in choosing a pastor, where there were a number of preachers, And my own opinion was, that a church could do fully as well without, as with a particular pastor. Two of the preachers that were with us, Dupuy and Rucker, had been pastors in Virginia, and a number of their old flocks, then members of Clear Creek church. My own fears were that we should have a heavy contest which of them should be the pastor. But the question was brought into the church, and the day fixed on to choose a pastor. Helps were sent for to Elkhorn and the Great Crossing to install, (as they called it), a pastor in the church. I think it was at our March monthly meeting that the helps came, perhaps six or eight. Lewis Craig acted as moderator. His mode was to ask every member of the church, male or female, bond or free, ‘Whom do you choose for your pastor?’ I think the church was now about sixty in number. I must confess it filled me with surprise, when the first man that was asked, answered that he chose me; and my astonishment continued to increase, until the question went all around; only one man objected but Lewis Craig soon worked him out of his objection, for it lay in thinking my coat was too fine."4
Mr. Taylor, in his rare but commendable humility, was not only much surprised at being elected to the pastoral charge of the church which he had been the principal instrument in gathering, but he promptly declined to accept the position, which he felt he was incapable of filling. The "helps" went home with him, and labored with him most of the night. Finally they induced him to agree that, if the church should be in the same mind next day, he would accept the call. They met next day, according to appointment, and proceeded with the ceremonies as follows:
"After preaching had ended, the moderator, Lewis Craig, called the church together, informing them that if they were of the same mind that they were the day before, I had agreed to serve them. The voice of the church being unanimous, those helps proceeded to install me, as they called it, into the pastoral care of Clear Creek church. Their mode was: three of them to kneel down with me, while they all laid their
right hands on my head. Two of them prayed, after which the moderator took my right hand in his, and gave me the solemn charge to fulfill the duty of the pastor to the church. After which he called forward the church, each to give me the right hand of fellowship, as their pastor. This soon produced more heart-melting effect than we had ever before seen at Clear Creek. What wrought most on my feelings was, that almost every sinner in the crowded house pushed forward, either looking solemn as death, or in a flood of tears, to give me their trembling hands."5
Such were the ceremonies of an installation of a pastor, in Kentucky, in 1786. This seems to have been an established custom of the times and doubtless the men who were now practicing it here brought it from Virginia, whence they had so recently come. Whatever may be said of the propriety of so much ceremony in an institution as simple in all its arrangements as a Baptist church, and that without any plain scriptural precept or example, it seems to have had a good effect in this case. "From that day's meeting," says Mr. Taylor, "an instantaneous revival took place in the settlement of Clear Creek. That summer I baptized about sixty of my neighbors, and a number of them the most respectable. I took notice that four experiences were received dating their first awakening from the day that I took the care of the church.
"This year a house of worship was built by this church, and the pastor's salary was fixed at seventy dollars. Next year it was raised to one hundred. The plan adopted for paying the pastor was to proportion the amount among the members according to their ability to pay. When the apportionment was made out the paper was handed to the pastor, and as it was to be paid in produce, he was to credit members when the commodities were delivered. Of the one hundred and seventy dollars, only about forty was paid. But as the pastor was not required to report to the church, those who paid did not know but what it had all been paid."
John Taylor continued the pastor of Clear Creek church about three years, and then, supposing that he saw some jealousy arising in the church, and especially among some of the
[f]our ordained preachers of his charge, he resigned. He however continued to minister to the church till the spring of 1795, when he moved to the Ohio river, near the present locality of Bullittsburg church, in Boone county. Here he remained about five years, laboring actively in building up the feeble churches, and helping to constitute new ones. During this period he frequently visited Trimble county, and preached to the settlers on Corn creek. Having collected together a sufficient number of Baptists to form a church, they were constituted the Regular Baptist church on Corn creek, in the year 1800. Two years afterward, Mr. Taylor moved to this neighborhood, and settled on a tract of land he had purchased on Mount Byrd, near the present site of Milton. He lived here about fifteen years, very uncomfortably. The settlement contained only about fifty families. He had not much opportunity of preaching, without traveling long distances. He accumulated property rapidly, and grew cold in religion. His conscientious opposition to Freemasonry caused some unworthy member of that order to institute malicious prosecutions against him; and finally he sustained a heavy loss of property by the burning of his immense barn by a stroke of lightning. Amid all these afflictions, though not so active in the ministry as he had been under more favorable circumstances, he performed much labor in the gospel. He meekly attributed all his misfortunes to the hand of God, chastening him for his unfaithfulness in his holy calling.
In 1815 he moved to Franklin county, and connected himself with Big Spring church in Woodford county, then under the pastoral care of Silas M. Noel. He remained with this church only about ten months, when, on the 7th of January, 1816, he went into the constitution of a church in Frankfort. Here he remained only about two years, when he went into the constitution of Buck Run church in Franklin county, January 31, 1818. Here he found his final church home. He was now in his 66th year; but he continued to travel and preach with unabated zeal. After this he labored in many extensive revivals. He usually attended seven or eight associations every tall, and was a wise, conservative counsellor. The last meeting of the kind he ever attended was Franklin Association, in 1835. He was then about 83 years old. He there agreed to attend the next meeting of Elkhorn Association, but before that period
came round God took him to Himself In January, 1836, he passed away to his eternal home.
Mr. Taylor was uneducated, in the popular meaning of the term, but was a man of a remarkably strong, clear intellect, and of calm, sound judgment. As a writer he was crude, but always strong and eminently practical. "Everything he ever wrote," said the distinguished William Vaughan, "is worth reading." He was very familiar with the Bible, and, as a preacher he was plain, practical and abundantly successful. He was, like Boone, a pioneer by nature. His History of Ten Churches, published in 1827, is, by far, the most valuable contribution that has yet been made to the history of the early Baptists of Kentucky.
This brief sketch of his life has been here presented that the reader may have some slight knowledge of his character, and his labors, but he cannot be dismissed. His name and labors are interwoven with the whole texture of Baptist history in central Kentucky, from 1783 till 1835.
CLEAR CREEK CHURCH was constituted of about thirty members, dismissed from South Elkhorn for that purpose, in April, 1785. A revival had commenced in the neighborhood the previous winter, which continued with but little interruption for about two years. During this period between eighty and one hundred were baptized. John Taylor was chosen pastor of this church, which he had gathered, in March, 1786, and continued in that office about three years, when he resigned. The church then numbered about 150 members. Mr. Taylor continued to supply the church with preaching, and to administer ordinances among them, till 1795, when he moved to Boone county. In 1790 another refreshing from the Lord visited this church, and continued seven or eight months. “About an hundred and fifty were added to Clear Creek church, which brought her number to upwards of three hundred. She was now the largest church in Elkhorn Association and continued so for many years."6 Towards the close of the century this church partook of the general coldness and consequent strife that pervaded all the religious organization in the State atthat time. But all her troubles of this kind were soon healed, at least for the time, and her prosperity became greater than ever.
"In the great revival in Kentucky, about the close of the last century, Clear Creek greatly partook of this blessing, so that the church grew up to about five hundred members. A principal instrument in this great revival was Richard Cave."7
For a period of about twenty years from this time, under the pastoral care of Jacob Creath, Henry Toler and perhaps other preachers, at different times, this old church steadily declined. Hillsboro’, Griers Creek and Versailles churches were constituted of members dismissed from her, and she became so reduced in numbers that the members began to talk about dissolving her organization. Henry Toler had become discouraged and resigned her pastoral care, and for some time she remained without a pastor, and without an ordained minister in her membership. Under these gloomy circumstances she applied once more to her founder and first pastor. On the third Saturday in January, 1822, the church extended a unanimous call to John Taylor to become their pastor. It had been just thirty-seven years since the first revival on Clear Creek commenced under the preaching of this old pioneer, at his own little cabin, then in the wilderness. In their present despondency, the minds of the old fathers and mothers of Clear Creek church ran back to these bright, happy days, and they imagined that, if they had "Brother Taylor" with them again, the happy scenes of "the long ago" would be reproduced. They talked to their children and grand-children about it, with tears in their eyes. Perhaps, to appease the old members, the church extended a unanimous call to "Brother Taylor." Mr. Taylor now lived on Buck Run, in Franklin county, about twenty miles from Clear Creek. He, too, had grown old. He was now in his seventieth year. But he had neither forgotten, nor lost, interest in Clear Creek church. Let us hear how the old patriarch spent that bitter cold night in January -- the night of the same day that the church made the call -- he knowing nothing of the transaction. The following account is from his own pen: "I had gone to a meeting at the North Fork of Elkhorn, the third Saturday in January, very cold weather. I staid all night at Brother St. Clair's, slept in a small upper room, when I dreamed I was fishing, with another man, in very clear water,
[p. 65]about middle deep. We saw a number of large fishes which we endeavored to take with a gig. Though they seemed gentle, we caught none of them. A number of small fish began to skip out of the water, and using their fins as wings, came flying over our heads in abundance. When we became anxious to catch some of those very small fishes, striking at them with my hat, I only caught one of them. The fins of this little captive looked the color of silver, and while fluttering, being entangled in the lining of my hat, I awoke.Being very drowsy, I turned over and soon dropped to sleep, and, as soon, got to fishing again, and several others with me. Being very intent on success, we came to a water wherein was a vast number of very large fishes. Being very gentle, they were basking under a dark scum that was on the water. Only their tails could be seen, waving near the surface of the very clear water. I grasped two of them, near the tail fin, one in each hand, and their weight was such that my whole strength could scarcely draw them out of the water. Laying them by, I prepared for another draught. Laying hold of only one, I now found it more difficult to draw it out of the water, owing to a great number of smaller ones connected with it, all of which came out together. Though my comrades were engaged in other places, I said to one of them near me, 'These small fishes will make a fine fry.' The idea was, the others were for future use. I awoke from this second dream, with feelings very different from the first. I sprang from the bed, with an agonizing tremor through, my whole soul and body. I could scarcely hold a joint still. The place seemed as dreadful as when Jacob saw the ladder. A while I would walk the room, and a while be on my knee? or sitting, weeping out my soul in prayers to God, for a revival of religion among us.” “I know not whether I was ever more solicitous for my own salvation, than to see a revival of religion at poor old Clear Creek church. All my prayers seemed to run particularly to that point." "I had not experienced such encouraging impressions as now for the space of twenty years. The balance of the night was spent in awful anxiety, and joyful hope."8
"Your old men shall dream dreams," came into the mind of the faithful old servant. When, a few days afterwards, the
messenger of the church came to inform him of the call, he felt that the message was from God, and he arose and went. He did not agree to become pastor of the church, but promised to visit them as often as he could till they could secure a pastor. He at once commenced holding meetings within the bounds of old Clear Creek church. The church owned, at this period, a commodious brick house of worship. But he preferred to hold his meetings in the houses of the brethren, as in the olden time. He invited the younger ministers in the neighborhood to assist him. A revival commenced almost immediately, and continued more than a year. "More than 160 were baptized." Up to this period this church had received about one thousand members by experience and baptism, half of which number had been baptized by John Taylor. Warren Cash and his wife, the first baptized into its fellowship, were still living, and continued to do service for the Master more than twenty-five years after this.
After this revival, James Sugget was pastor of the church for a short time, and was succeeded by Theodrick Boulware. Mr. Boulware preached to the church three or four years, and then moved to Calloway county, Missouri, in October, 1827.
From this time the church continued rather an even course for a number of years, and then began gradually to decline. It is now very small and feeble. Its mighty strength of the past has been distributed to its numerous offspring, and now as it approaches its centennial, it seems old and ready to depart. Yet it is written: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." __________________
1 John Taylor, History of Ten Churches, pp. 13, 14.
2 8 1/3 cents.
3 History of Ten Churches, pp. 44-47.
4 History of Ten Churches, pp. 55, 56.
5 History of Ten Churches, pp. 57, 58.
6 History of Ten Churches, p. 13.
7 History of Ten Churches, p. 82.
8 History of Ten Churches, pp. 83, 84.
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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