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Virginia Baptist History

By David Benedict

Middle Division

Paterson Creek Association Ebenezer do. Valley Greenbrier New River Washington Lebanon.

In this Division I include all the Associations in the great valley which lies between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany mountains, and also in the mountain districts. The extensive territory embraced in this central portion of Virginia, begins with Maryland on the north, and runs in a south-western direction the whole width of the State, to North Carolina on the south. I shall begin at the upper end, and take the Associations, as much as possible, in a geographical connection.


Was formed in 1827, and is, I believe, the most northern community of our denomination in the division now under review; one of the churches is in Alleghany Co., Md. No accounts of it, either historical or statistical, have I been able to obtain for more than ten years past, when its number of members did not amount to two hundred.


Was organized in 1828, with ten churches, which were dismissed for the purpose, from the Shiloh fraternity, formerly called Culpepper. This took off one-third of the churches from the mother body. The measure was adopted by mutual agreement. The Blue Ridge became the dividing line, and the, body was formed at the west of it.45

This community contains eleven churches, mostly small, and between three and four hundred members. It is in the counties of Page, Shenandoah, Rockingham, Pendleton, and Hardy. The ministers named as pastors in the last Minutes, were Rev. Messrs. A. C. Booten, J. Jerkins. R. Garrett, C. Keyser and J. Duval.
MOUNT CARMEL CHURCH, A. C. Booten pastor, is the largest in this Association.46


Was formed from old Strawberry, in 1841; it began with 16 churches, and 1000 members. A. C. Dempsey, J. N. Johnson, C. Tyree, J. G. Thompson, and W. H. Hayhurst, took the lead in getting up this new interest.47

"The Natural Bridge of Virginia is about the local centre of this Association. The Association nearest is the Strawberry, 30 miles south-east of us, the other side of the Blue Ridge. The Greenbrier, on the N. W., is in the valley (or middle section) of Virginia, at a distance of 60 or 70 miles.48
* * * *
"This valley was settled about 100 years ago, by emigrants, via Pennsylvania from the north of Ireland, and Germany. Most of them were Scotch, and Irish Presbyterians, who have maintained their preponderance. From Lexington down to Winchester, there is but one baptist church (at Harrisonburg), and that was formed, I think, last year."49
* * * *
This communication from Mr. Brown, contains all the information I have obtained relative to this young community, except what I gather from their
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Minutes, which are deficient in some material points; -- the ministers are not distinguished from the other delegates, nor are the counties named against the churches. Some of them I gather from the places where their sessions were held, and other incidental notices are in Botetourt and Rockbridge.
The church called Cowpasture is the largest in this body.50


Was organized in 1807, of but four churches, all of them young and small.
The origin of the baptists in this region is thus given, in documents referred to below:51

"Early in the year 1777, Elder John Alderson, who became an apostle in western Virginia, settled on the ground where this Association arose, while it was in a new and uncultivated condition in every point of view."

"On reaching Jackson's river, he learned that the Indians, had attacked the horse of Col. James Graham, in Greenbrier, and had killed one of the family, and taken another prisoner; in consequence of which he remained there some two or three months, reaching the place of destination some time in October.52 His first location was in Jerrett's Fort, on Wolf creek, now Munroe [Monroe] county. Soon after, he settled on the bank of Greenbrier river, where he opened a farm, and often followed the plough with a gun swung from his shoulder. In a little time he was enabled to collect together as many as twelve members, himself and wife included. They considered themselves as a branch of the Lynville Creek church, in Rockingham Co., of which Mr. Alderson had been pastor, but it transacted business as a separate body. On the 24th of November, 1781, they were regularly constituted into a church, called the Greenbrier Baptist Church, and the following year they connected themselves with the Ketockton Association.

"At this time the members were very in much scattered over the country, some living more than twenty miles from the location of the church. Agreeable with an order of the church, the pastor, in company with other members designated, held church meetings in different sections. Occasionally, such meetings were field at Second Creek Gap, in Big Levels, above Lewisburg and on New river.

"Notwithstanding the members were so dispersed, measures were taken to build a house for public worship as early as June 1783; and in May following, the ground on which the Greenbrier Baptist meeting-house now stands was fixed upon as a suitable location. In July following, the meeting-house was so nearly completed as to be used for public worship. This was the first meeting-house in all this part of Virginia."

Such was the introduction of this apostle of the baptists in western Virginia.53

The Indian depredations above referred to, continued a number of years; the inhabitants, for their mutual protection, mostly resided in forts; and from one to another, protected by a small guard through the woods, this zealous and laborious minister traveled in pursuit of his dangerous and arduous vocation. In some of the forts he was received with kindness and heard with attention, while in others, the rough mountaineers, notwithstanding their perilous condition, threatened to exclude him front their rude defenses, and leave him exposed to the merciless savages, who were continually prowling around them. Such a barbarous policy, however, was never carried into effect.

Under all the disadvantages of such a peculiar location, and amidst all the dangers and privations of a pioneer life on a mountainous and most rugged frontier for seven long years, Mr. Alderson labored on without ever seeing one minister of his own order, and but very few of any other.

At length, Elders James Johnson, and Josiah Osbourne came to his aid, and by these three ministers, the Greenbrier Association was formed; James Ellison and Edward Hughes, were soon after added to the number of this little band of baptists elders; the three last of whom were raised up in the newly formed churches in this region.
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Elder Alderson continued his ministry in this wide field of labor about forty years, and closed a long life in the full confidence of his brethren, in 1816.

Greenbrier for many years at first became a nursery for the western States, which made such frequent drafts on their numbers, that although they were favored with continual additions, they but little more than held their own. But their branches were extended until, in about ten years from their commencement, they had gone down the river Kanawha; and their branches reached to the farthest extremities of the State, and came in contact with the, Ohio and Kentucky lines.

This Association very early became identified with missionary operations; first with the Triennial Convention, and next with the General Association of Virginia, while as yet the whole region of country was considered missionary ground. A reciprocity of feeling and action has long been maintained between this well regulated branch, and the General Association, and probably in few parts of the State has the General body seen their efforts and disbursements operate with more decided success.

Rev. Josiah Osbourne,54 as has already been mentioned, was one of the three ministers by whom this body was organized; he was also the moderator of the first meeting, and often afterwards officiated as clerk.

The decidedly missionary character of this Association, is ascribed to a visit made there by Rev. Luther Rice, in 1816. The venerable Alderson received him with the greatest cordiality and joy, and introduced him to the body then in session; and front that period it has maintained a missionary spirits.55

This body was never large, compared with some of the Associations in the middle and in the eastern districts, but it has always been in a sound and progressive condition, and now holds a rank among the most decided friends of all the principles and institutions which their brethren delight to promote.

Their ministers at present (1845) consist of ten; six ordained and four licentiates, viz.: Messrs. Remley, Ellison, Margrave, Woodson, Chandler, Bibb, Alderson, Wood, Corron, Woodson, and Bragg.

Rev. John Spotts, a ruling elder of the Presbyterian church of Lewisburg, within the bounds of this Association, in 1831 united with the baptists; soon after he became a minister, and for upwards of seven years was one of their highly esteemed and useful men. He died at the age of forty-six, April, 1838.

Mr. Spotts was a distinguished promoter of Sunday schools, both as a Presbyterian and a baptist. He was the first who made a successful effort in this cause in this part of Virginia, and for sixteen years he was a zealous and successful superintendent in this department. And it is a remarkable fact, that no less than twenty-one of the scholars who had been under his care, became ministers of the gospel, one of whom was Rev. Mr. Shuck, now a missionary in China. In this remote region originated this successful missionary. By the Lewisburg church he was licensed to preach, and in the Seminary now called Richmond college, his studies were pursued preparatory to his present employment.

Mr. Spotts was also distinguished for an early attention to the temperance cause; and in 1828, only four years after the formation of the first temperance society in the U. S., he was president of an institution of this kind in Lewisburg.56

This body, after having been drawn upon at different points for materials for new organizations, at present is confined mostly to the county of the same name; some of its churches appear to be in Monroe and Nicholas, and perhaps some others. There is a want of explicitness on this subject in their Minutes.

In the Minutes for 1844, is a table which exhibits in different columns the
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progress of this old body, for 43 years, viz.: from 1801, the time of its full organization to that date, showing fur each year the following items -- At what place it convened -- who preached the introductory sermon -- the Moderators -- No. of Churches -- do. baptized total. It began with 177; had increased to about four hundred: when the Teay's Valley was formed it was reduced to 148, but in a few years it regained its numerical strength, and notwithstanding all the drafts upon it in favor of new interests, has steadily increased to the present time. The highest number baptized in one year war, 149 -- that was in 1832.

The moderators had been Josiah Osbourne, James Johnston, John Alderson, James Ellison, Robert Teasdale, Johnston Keaton, Eli Ball, Wm. C. Ligon, John Spotts, and Joseph Alderson. The two Aldersons, father and son, presided over this body twenty-two years.

THE GREENBRIER CHURCH, L. A. Alderson pastor, is the largest in this body. 57


Was formed by a colony from the Strawberry, in 1793. The Blue Ridge was the dividing line, and the churches in this then new formation were all to the west of it. This community was small at its commencement, and never appears to leave attained to any considerable numerical strength.

Its churches are in the counties of Floyd, Grayson, and Patrick. I have seen no Minutes of this body later than 1844; at that time they amounted to 16. In none of them did the membership amount to one hundred.


This body originated from the Holston, in Tenn., near the line of which it is situated, and was organized in 1811. The ministers on this ground at that time, and who promoted the planting of it, were George Brown Thomas Colby, Edward Kelly, David Jessee, Stephen Wheeler, Jos. Foley, Alonzo Kizer, and William Lazell.

This Association occupied an important position in this lower region of the State for a long course of years, and went on with harmony and prosperity, until a portion of their members attempted to mould them to the new effort policy; this miserable plan threw them into trouble, and in the end led to the formation of a new interest, by the name of the


Which bears date from May 1846; the Convention, which met for consultation on the expediency of attempting a new organization out of the old Community, set forth their reasons fur their doings in the following

To the churches which I shall here insert. It will serve as a specimen of the rending and distracting course which has been pursued in too many places in the south and west.

"Dear Brethren": A crisis has arrived in the history of the Washington Association. At its late meeting, the Constitution has been wantonly violated, by establishing a new test, which we consider contrary to the word of God in its character, and intolerant and oppressive in its operation. The 6th Article of the Constitution says: 'New Churches may be admitted into the Union, who shall petition by Letter and Delegates; and if found upon examination orthodox and orderly, shall be received by the Association, and manifested by the Moderator giving the right hand of fellowship.' Such a Church presented itself at its late meeting. It was admitted that it had been regularly constituted of members in good standing, and they set forth, in their communication to the Association, a declaration of those doctrines which have had adopted by that body as orthodox. Yet, strange as it may appear, this Church (the Church recently organized at Marion), was rejected, and its members refused a seat in the Association, solely because the Church favored missionary operations, and its Pastor,

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(Elder N. C. Baldwin), had received an appointment from the General Association of Virginia. This must appear to every unprejudiced mind, a palpable violation of the Constitution. And it is certainly known that, in the former actions of the Association, missionary or anti-missionary sentiments have never been known as a test of fellowship, or a condition of its privileges. In addition to this, all correspondents from sister Associations, who favored missionary enterprises, were on that account rejected. The Holston Association, from which this body originated, and with whom an uninterrupted correspondence has been maintained ever since the Washington Association was first organized, sent ant affectionate Letter of Correspondence, by the hands of several well known brethren who have always, before this time, been must cordially greeted. These brethren were rejected, because they, and the body to which they belong, were identified with missionary operations. The General Agent of the General Association of Virginia reported himself as a correspondent from that body, and was rejected on the same account.

"On the other hand, a letter was presented from the Mountain Association; in which that body arrogantly required the Washington Association to dissolve its connection with the Ketockton Association and the Greenbrier Association, and all other bodies which have any connection with the benevolent enterprises of the day, or else they (the Mountain Association) will maintain, no further correspondence with them. This letter and these correspondents were received, and a correspondence continued. This is not all. A correspondence was also opened with the New River Association, which it is well known has long since declared non-fellowship with all those who are engaged in the missionary enterprise, and is distinguished for its inveterate hostility to almost every thing that is calculated to elevate the human character, and better the condition of our race. While there acts were done by a majority of the Association present on this occasion, we are confident that it is not a representation of the sentiments and wishes of a majority of our Churches. And we consider that the action of this body is a virtual declaration of non-fellowship with those of our own Association, who favor those enterprises, out account of which the corresponding brethren were rejected. Being deeply grieved on account of these unconstitutional and intolerant measures, a number of the brethren convened at Lebanon, as you see from the above Minutes, for the purpose of adopting measures for the restoration of peace to our Churches, and the maintenance of our rights as men and as Christians.

"And now, dear brethren, we have laid before you our grievances, entertaining the assurance that there will be found many Churches and brethren whose sympathies are with us, and who will promptly respond to our call, by sending up a delegation to the meeting proposed above. We are assured that there are many, and we believe a large majority of the churches, who will not consent to rudely tear asunder long cherished bonds of union and affection with sister Associations and with Ministers of our own body, simply because they are doing something to send the Light of Life into the dark corners of our own country, and to the benighted heathen. And we trust that there are very many, who will not suffer themselves to be hindered in their cooperation in this glorious work of Christian philanthropy, by intermeddlers, who not only do nothing themselves, but deride and oppose those who would work for God. We earnestly request that you seriously and prayerfully consider these things. Consider the claims that the cause of our Master, and the wants and woes of a perishing world have upon the Christian Church, and take such action in this matter as duty dictates.

"Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied.
"Your brethren and companions in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.
"LEWIS B. DULANY, Committee."
The first session of the new institution, which the brethren were obliged to form, or leave the ground to be given up to the arbitrary dictation of the opposers of all benevolent societies, was held in Sept. following. It began will eleven churches, five ministers, and upwards of five hundred members. The old body, at the time of the division, contained about fifteen hundred members I have not had their Minutes since Sept., 1845, but it must of course be minus that number. The largest at that time was
CASTLE WOOD, Russel Co., David Jessee, Sen., pastor.58
Red Hill, Scott Co., E. Martin pastor, with others have gone off wholly, or in part, in the new organization.


45. Letter of Wm. Slaughter, Jun., Esq., clerk of the Shiloh Association.

46. In the Minutes of 1845, it reported 113; Hawks - bill, C. Keyser, 96.

47. Communication from Rev. J. Newton Brown, of Lexington, 1847.

48. The Natural Bridge over Cedar Creek, is twelve miles south of Lexington, and is a great curiosity. The river runs through a chasm which is 90 feet wide at the top. The sides are 250 feet high, and almost perpendicular. The bridge is a huge rock thrown across this chasm at the top. It is 60 feet wide, and covered with earth and trees, and forms a sublime spectacle when beheld from the margin of the creek. Morse's Gazetteer.

49. Letter of Rev. J. N. Brown, of Lexington, to the author, 1847.

50. In 1846, it reported 213; Natural Bridge, 189; Zion's Hill, 161; Fincastle, 154; Catawba, 150.

51. Historical sketch of the Greenbrier Association prepared by Joseph Adelson, Esq., the present moderator, at the request of the body. -- Semple's History, Taylor's Biography of Virginia baptist ministers.

52. Mr. Alderson had made three visits to this country previous to his removal to it, and baptized three persons, two of whom, were John Griffith and Mrs. Kenny.

53. The seat of this body is 250 miles west of Richmond.

54. This was the author of a treatise on baptism entitled David and Goliah [Goliath], referred to in my article on baptism.

55. Historical Sketches, &c.

56. The biography of this distinguished man, as well as that of his father, will be more fully given in my biographical work.

57. In 1846, it reported 155; Hopewell, 147; Red Sulphur, 145; Guyandotte, 100.

58. It then reported 225; New Garden, J. Wallis, 119; Copper Creek, 112; St. Clair's Bottom 103; all the others are under 100. The largest church in the now connection, is Castle wood, 110; as this is less than one-half of the former number, I infer that there has been a division at home, this, and probably in a number of the other churches.

Lewis B. Dulaney, Esq., of Estillville, Scott Co., is my principal correspondent for this region the State; he has given me a minute account of the colored members in the old Washington community as it stood before the division, amounting, in all, to but 76, out of upwards of 1500. Some of the churches had but one or two, a number none at all.


[Taken from David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848; rpt, 1977, pp. 672-676. jrd]

Section 5 of Benedict's Virginia History

Virginia Baptist History
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