Rev. Loudon Ferrell
Pastor of a Church Incorporated by a State Legislature -
An Old-Time Preacher - Hired by Town Trustees to Preach to the Colored People
By W. J. Simmons, 1887
a- ONE of the most wonderful men who ever lived on the soil of Kentucky was the second pastor of what is now known as the First Baptist church in Lexington. He was the slave of Mrs. Anna Winston, in Hanover county, Virginia. His youth was spent about as boys usually spent their time; but at eleven years of age a singular thing happened to him, which made him think of a future life. He was bathing with a companion and they were saved from drowning only by the help of a woman, who caught them by the hair of the head and drew them ashore. After recovering, he received severe punishment and strict orders were given him to keep away from the river. In a sketch written at the time of his death, it is said that both of the boys were of the opinion that had they died they would have gone to the lake of fire and brimstone; they covenanted together that henceforth they would serve God only.
He served an apprenticeship as a house-joiner. Ferrill
was faithful to his promise, while his partner was recreant throughout. After baptism he felt that he was called to preach the gospel, but he was disobedient to the promptings of his heart. At that time no slave was permitted to be ordained. Ferrill was permitted, however, by his brethren, to preach, so far as their power extended, in these words: "To go forth and preach the gospel wherever the Lord might cast his lot, and the door should be open to him." Fifty persons were soon converts under his ministry. When his old master died he became free, and he and his wife (for at this time he was married) came to Kentucky in search of a new field of labor.
When he arrived at Lexington he found a preacher known as "Old Captain" laboring among the people; however, his days were numbered and the people desired Ferrill to preach to them, which he refused to do because of the organization not being in fellowship with the Baptist denomination, although they held the faith and general practice of Baptists; but he entered into the constitution of the First Baptist church (white) in 1817. The colored people then applied to the white church for his services. The church being in doubt as to what to do, proposed to the Elkhorn association, in 1821, the following queries: First. "Can persons baptized on a confession of faith by an administrator not ordained be received into our churches under any circumstances whatever without being again baptized?" Second. "Is it admissible for the association to ordain free men of color ministers of the gospel?" The queries were taken up by a committee, consisting of Jeremiah Vardeman, James Fishback, John Edwards,
Edmund Waller and Jacob Creath, who were appointed to consider the matter. They reported, first, that it is not regular to receive such members; second, that they knew no reason why free men of color could not be ordained ministers of the gospel, the gospel qualification being possessed by them. This first resolution referred to those colored people who had been baptized by "Old Captain," and the second to Ferrill's ordination. However, they were all received without re-baptism, and Ferrill was ordained. Ferrill took regular charge of the church and served it thirty-two years, during which time it increased from 280 to 1820 members, and became the largest church in Kentucky. Ferrill was a remarkable man; he was descended from a royal line of Africans. Dr. William Bright, a white pastor in the State, said of him: "He had the manner of authority and command, and was respected by the whole population of Lexington, and his influence was more potent to keep order among the blacks than the police force of the city."
In 1833, when the cholera was raging in Lexington, he was the only minister that remained faithful; nursing his wife, who died at this time, and at whose funeral the largest number attended, which was thirteen, of any of the funerals of that dreadful day.
There has been many a dispute as to the length of time it takes to baptize any number of candidates. It is recorded in 'Spencer's History of the Baptists,' from whence we get many valuable facts, that he baptized at one time 220 persons in 85 minutes, and at another time 60 in 45 minutes
So popular was Loudon Ferrill that the trustees of the town of Lexington employed him to preach to the colored people. It is a singular fact that all good men have enemies, and his endeavored to destroy his church. Solomon Walker, his oldest deacon, advised him to discontinue his meetings, but Ferrill said: No, by the help of the Lord he was going on and believed that he would see so many people there that the house would not hold them. And this vision was fully realized, for under his preaching the attendance at his church was always a very large one, frequently his church was filled to overflowing.
Harry Quills, "whose heart was said to have been as black as his face," spread a report that Ferrill's character was not good in Virginia, but upon some of the white elders writing to persons living in the neighborhood in which he was born and raised, they were informed that his character was unspotted. He made another attempt to injure Ferrill; knowing that the law was such that no free colored person could remain in this State over thirty days, unless a native of the State, thought he would drive Ferrill away in this manner. He had warrants gotten out; a number of free people were sold and a number went away. The white people got Dr. Fishback to draw up a petition to the Legislature to give Ferrill permission to stay in the State, which was granted, and his church at length was incorporated by the Legislature under the name of the "Old Apostolic Church."
In his will he left his property to his two adopted children, and left the following prayer, also, as a legacy for Kentucky:
O! Great Father of Heaven and earth, bless the citizens of Richmond, Virginia, for their kindness toward me in my youthful days; but more particularly, O Lord, be merciful to the citizens of Lexington, Kentucky, and may it please Thee to bless, preserve and keep them from sin. Guide them in all their walks, make them peaceable, happy and truly righteous; and when they come to lie down on the bed of death, may thy good spirit hover around ready to waft their ransomed souls to Thy good presence. Lord, grant this for Christ's sake; and, O! God, bless the church of which I am pastor, and govern it with Thy unerring wisdom, and keep it the church as long as time shall last; and O, my Maker, choose, when I am gone, some pastor for them, who may be enabled to labor with more zeal than your humble petitioner has ever done, and grant that it may continue to prosper and do good among the colored race. O, merciful Father, bless the white people, who have always treated me as though I was a white man. And bless, I pray Thee, all those who through envy or malice have mistreated me, and save them, is my prayer. Bless the Church of Christ, everywhere; bless the Christians in every land. Bless, O Lord, my two adopted children and keep them in Thy way. Bring all sinners in all countries to feel their need of a Saviour, and pardon all their sins, and when they come to die, take them unto Thyself, and the glory shall be to the Father and Son and the Holy Ghost forever and ever. Amen.
The author of this book feels grateful that he shares especially in this prayer, as he pastored this same church so nobly established by this servant of the Most High. At the death of Mr. Ferrill, October 12, 1854, the Lexington Observer said "that he rests from his labors and his works do follow him." He had justly acquired an immense influence among the colored people of this city and surrounding country, and he always exercised this influence with prudence and for the furtherance of good morals and religion.
The Kentucky Gazette, March 6, 1878, speaking of his death, said:
Page 326The colored people of Lexington are under a lasting debt and obligation to Brother Ferrill; for he did more for their elevation and instruction than all other agencies combined, and we know that the masters of his people regarded him as a most useful and valuable assistant in governing and controlling them, and often averted harsher means. It is well to familiarize the generation that has sprung up since his death with the history of his blameless and useful life, for the lessons that it teaches can hardly be lost upon them. This good man is remembered by persons now living in Lexington, who worshiped him almost as a saint, and are never weary of telling of his good deeds. It is said, that in marrying slaves he used a very sensible ceremony. He pronounced them "united until death or distance do them part." Long may he be remembered, and his example of holiness and faithfulness be an inspiration to the rising generation.
[From W. J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, 1887, chapter XXXVI, pp. 321-326; via UNC digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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