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David Barrow
Kentucky Emancipationist
A History of Kentucky Baptists
By John H. Spencer, 1885

     David Barrow was much the most distinguished preacher among the emancipationists in Kentucky. With the exception of John Gano, he was probably the ablest preacher, and, without any exception, the ablest writer among the Baptist ministers in Kentucky, at the beginning of the present century. Of his purity of life, devotion to the cause of his beloved Master and constancy of zeal and piety, it would be difficult to say too much. He began his ministry with flaming zeal and dauntless courage, at an unusually early period of life, and at a time that “tried men’s souls,” and labored on through trials, suffering and persecutions, without apparent abatement of zeal, faltering of courage, or a visible spot

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on his garment, till God took him to himself, at a ripe old age. That he made mistakes, as all men in the flesh do, there can be no doubt; but that he acted from sincere motives, with a view to promote the glory of God and the good of men, during his entire ministry, we have the united opinion of all his contemporaries, whose testimony has reached us.

      David Barrow was born in Brunswick county, Virginia, October 30, 1753. His father, William Barrow, was a plain farmer who, after raising his family, moved to North Carolina, and died in the gist year of his age. David was brought up on a farm, with very little education. But after his marriage, he studied grammar under Elder Jeremiah Walker, and it is said that "he became an excellent grammarian." He professed conversion at about the age of sixteen years, and was baptized by Zachariah Thompson, into Fountains Creek church. Like most of his contemporaries, who became Baptist ministers, in Virginia, he began to exhort others to seek the Savior almost immediately after he, himself, had found him precious to his soul. He was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry in his 19th year, and, in the same year, was married to Sarah, daughter of Hinchia Gillum, a respectable farmer of Sussex county, Virginia, and a native of Scotland. The ordination of Mr. Barrow occurred in 1771. For three years from this time, he did not enter the pastoral office, but traveled and preached extensively in Virginia and North Carolina. During this period, and till two or three years later, he was called on to endure much hardness for the Master. But he bore it as a good soldier for Christ.

      In 1774, he became pastor of the Isle of Wight church. There were several churches in this vicinity, and the contiguous parts of North Carolina, that had been gathered by a sect then called General Baptists. They held substantially the same doctrine that is now preached by the Campbellites. Some account of this sect was given in the sketch of John Tanner. Mr. Barrow joined with Mr. Tanner and others, in renovating these churches. In this they succeeded, and in a few years they had a respectable association of churches, formed on the orthodox plan. They took out of the old churches such as could give a satisfactory account of a change of heart, and formed them in to new churches, to which many were added by experience

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and baptism. The old churches soon perished. By this means Kehukee Association was formed.

      At the breaking out of the Revolution, in 1776, Mr. Barrow shouldered a musket, and entered the army in defense of his country. When his term of service ended he entered, or, rather, continued his warfare in the service of Christ; for he was not the less a Christian when he was a soldier, in the service of his country. "His unexceptionable deportment rendered him very popular with all classes of men." Mr. Benedict gives the following incident, as a specimen of the rude persecutions this eminent and devoted servant of Christ was compelled to endure.

      In 1778, Mr. Barrow was invited to preach at the house of a gentleman, living on Nansemond river, near the mouth of James river. A preacher of the name of Mintz accompanied him. On their arrival, they were informed that they might expect rough usage. And so it happened. A gang of well dressed men came up to the stage, which had been erected under some trees. As soon as a hymn was given out, the persecutor sang an obscene song. They then seized both the preachers, and dragged them down to a muddy pond, saying to them: “As you are fond of dipping, you shall have enough of it." They then plunged Mr. Barrow into the mud and water, holding him under till he was almost drowned. They then raised him up and asked him derisively if he believed. In this manner they plunged him the third time, asking him each time if he believed. He finally said: "I believe you will drown me." They plunged Mr. Mintz but once. The whole assembly was shocked. The women shrieked. But none dared to interfere; for about twenty stout fellows were engaged in this horrid measure. They insulted and abused the gentleman who invited them to preach, as well as every one who spoke in their favor. Before these persecuted men could change their clothes, they were dragged from the house and driven off by these outrageous churchmen.

      Such were some of the persecutions the Baptists had to endure, only a hundred years ago, for no other crime than that of preaching the gospel. And let it not be forgotten that the persecutors were members of the Episcopal church. Let no one entertain a vindictive, or even unkind, feeling towards the

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church, under whose auspices these horrid outrages were committed. But it would surely be unwise to forget that the principles which led to these monstrous cruelties, in the past, would lead to the same results again, should their adherents ever gain sufficient power.

      But in the case related above, he who said: "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," avenged his servants, speedily. Three or four of these persecutors died in a distracted manner, in a few weeks, and one of them wished that he had been in hell before he joined the company.1

      "After the Revolution, Mr. Barrow was persuaded to accept the office of magistrate, the duties of which he discharged with fidelity, for some years.” But finding that this office interfered with his ministerial duties, he resigned it. Henceforth he gave himself wholly to his sacred calling. While contending for the liberty of the American colonies, he imbibed the notion of universal liberty. Upon this principle, he came to the conclusion that it was sinful to hold slaves. Accordingly, he freed all his negroes, of which he owned a considerable number. "Although this measure proved his disinterested zeal to do right,” remarks Mr. Semple, "it is questionable whether it was not, in the end productive of more harm than good. While it lessened his resources at home, for maintaining a large family, it rendered him suspicious among his acquaintances, and probably in both ways limited his usefulness."

      Besides the church on the Isle of Wight, Mr. Barrow was pastor of Shoulder Hill, Black Creek and Mill Swamp churches; all of which were prosperous under his ministry. For a number of years before he moved to the West, he was generally the moderator of Portsmouth Association. After laboring with great zeal and success in Virginia and North Carolina during a period of more than twenty years, he moved to Kentucky. He arrived in Montgomery county, June 24, 1798, where he settled for the remainder of his earthly life. There "he quickly distinguished himself as a man of piety, talent and usefulness." When Governor Garrard and Augustine Eastin embraced Unitarianism, Mr. Barrow was one of the committee, sent by Elkhorn Association to convince them and Cowper's Run church,

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of their error. In 1803, he published a pamphlet on "The Trinity." This production exhibited marked ability, and, doubtless, did much to check the progress of that growing heresy, against which it was written. Mr. Barrow was also employed in negociating terms of union between the Regular and Separate Baptists, in 1801, and, as he had been successful in a similar enterprise, in North Carolina, so he and his coadjutors were now successful in Kentucky.

      Soon after his arrival in Kentucky, Mr. Barrow united with Mount Sterling church, and became its pastor. He also accepted the pastoral care of Goshen and Lulbegrud churches. In a history of Lulbegrud church, published in 1877, the author speaks of its ancient pastor thus: "Elder David Barrow was a man of the highest order of talent; a fine preacher, very zealous, well educated, possessed a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and was known in his day as the 'Wise Man.'" This was not saying too much. Perhaps no minister in Kentucky enjoyed the confidence and esteem of his brethren, and the people generally, in a higher degree than did Mr. Barrow. But he did not long enjoy this popularity. The people became excited on the subject of slavery, through the intemperate zeal of Sutton and Carman. Mr. Barrow was an emancipationist from principle, and this was well known. But He was "a wise man," and would have advocated his views with prudence. But imprudent zealots hurried on a crisis. Elkhorn Association transcended its legitimate authority, in fulminating a bull, concerning what churches and preachers should not teach. But North District Association made a nearer approach to papal arrogance. It not only expelled Mr. Barrow from his seat in that body, but also appointed a committee to go to his church and accuse him there.2 This presented to the church the alternative of excluding their pastor from the church, or being excluded from the Association. There was no charge of immorality or heresy against Mr. Barrow or his church. The complaint was that he preached emancipation. Such an action by a mere "advisory council" serves to give an idea of the excitement that prevailed at that time. Elkhorn and North District Associations were guided by good and wise men, who well

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understood the duties, privileges and powers of associations, and were jealous of the rights of the churches. But the madness of fanaticism ruled the hour, and under its influence, they made this blunder. Thus excluded from the fellowship of the great body of the Baptists in Kentucky, Mr. Barrow directed his attention to the few that would fellowship him. He soon brought order out of confusion. The churches and fragments of churches that held to the emancipation scheme were organized, and a respectable Association was formed. Mr. Barrow published a pamphlet of sixty-four pages on the evils of slavery. It is said to have been well written, "in a calm, dignified and manly style." This served to strengthen the "Friends of Humanity," and, possibly made some converts. But the popular current was too strong for the little emancipation bark to stem. The Society soon began to wither. Mr. Barrow supported it with zeal and wisdom as long as he lived. But when his hand was taken away, it speedily perished. How sad that fourteen years of the life of such a man should have been wasted in so hopeless an enterprise. However, he continued to labor in the gospel, abundantly, till God called him away.

      As the close of this good man's life drew near, he anticipated it with triumphant joy. A little before he breathed his last, he repeated a part of the 23rd Psalm. On Sabbath morning, Nov. 14, 1819, he passed triumphantly from the thorny walks of men to the paradise of God.3


1 Benedict's History of Baptists., Vol. 2, p. 249.
2 Benedict's His. Bap., Vol. 2, p. 249
3 The author is indebted to an aged son of Mr. Barrow, recently living in Montgomery county, for many interesting facts concerning his father.


[From John H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885, Volume I, pp. 192-197. Endnote numbers changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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