The revival had its beginning in Kentucky, where the apex of irreligion and heathenism were found. This frontier state increased in population from 73,677 in 1790 to 220,955 in 1800. The churches had simply been unable to keep up with the staggering population growth. When revival did come, it came not as a still small voice but rather as an earthquake and a whirlwind. It was marked by emotional extremes and much physical contortion on the part of many who were affected by it.
Though Baptists participated fairly universally in the frontier revivals, they seem not to have been as caught up in the emotional excesses as either the Methodists or the Presbyterians. The Baptist historian [John H.] Spencer virtually exonerates all Baptists of any undue extremes.1 This did not noticeably impede their numerical gains.
The beginning of the revival among Baptists in Kentucky was at the village of Port William (now Carrollton) where a union meeting was taking place. This was in the early spring of 1800 before the camp meetings came into existence. John Taylor, the preacher through whom revival had come to Kentucky, in both 1785 and 1788, preached in the house of Benjamin Craig, brother of the famous Louis Craig. After his message, prayer and praise and exhortation continued until late in the night. Many anxious inquirers were dealt with and found deliverance throughout the hours of the night. Taylor left the next day for Trimble County where revival was experienced during his stay of three days. From here he went to Clear Creek in Woodford County and a bountiful harvest was reaped. Next to feel the impact of revival through Taylor's ministry was Bullittsburg, where over a period of time almost every adult in the community was baptized.
By the end of 1800, the revival had spread to all parts of the state. Unprecedented numbers were added to Kentucky Baptist churches. In most regions of Kentucky, the number of Baptists doubled or tripled. It was not the noisy excitement of the camp meetings but a solemn moving of God's spirit. "The preaching was doctrinal rather than hortatory. The exhortations were fervent and made up largely of Scripture quotations, as were also the prayers. The songs were of Watts' collections, and were sung slowly and gravely!"2
Statistically, what happened in some churches is of great interest. Severns Valley Church numbered 47 members in 1801. Over a period of a few months, 146 were received by baptism. At South Elkhorn, a church numbering 127, 318 were baptized. In a church which numbered 170 in 1800, 424 were baptized during the revival period. Great Crossing Church numbered 107 members before the revival. Four hundred and seven people were baptized into this church.3 The Elkhorn Association which had reported 82 baptisms in 1800 reported 3,011 in 1801 and 488 in 1802.4 In 1800 there were seven associations, 106 churches, and 5,119 members. In 1803 after the revival, there were 10 associations, 219 churches, and 15,495 members. In three years, the number of churches had doubled and the number of members had tripled.
The affect on morals in Kentucky was so stupendous that the land itself seemed to have been regenerated. So many infidels had been converted, (many of whom became preachers), that John Mason Peck declared that the revival dealt infidelity in that state its death blow. Evangelistic and missionary zeal were quickened, fellowship was restored between Baptist groups who had been separated by indifferences, and benevolent interests were supported with new vigor.5
Baptist work in Kentucky was blessed with revival again from 1810-13. The year 1817 was also a year of mighty revivals in Kentucky. Though these did not spread as rapidly, and though there were not as many converts as in the revival of 1800, both represented unusual work of divine grace. By 1820, revivals during the preceding decade had helped to increase the number of Baptist churches in Kentucky to 491 and the total membership to 31,689.6 In twenty years the number of churches and members had doubled in Kentucky.
In 1827 another great period of revival began among Kentucky Baptists. It also lasted for approximately three years. Baptisms in the Salem Association which had been around one hundred or fewer for several years sky-rocketed to 1,007 in 1829.7 In Elkhorn Association the number of baptisms increased from 72 in 1827 to 1,676 in 1828.8 In the small Bracken Association over 1,300 people were baptized during the revival. In Catcs Creek Association, a rather small association, over 1,600 people were baptized. During the period of the revival something over 15,000 people wore baptized in Kentucky and the churches were greatly enlarged in numbers.9 In 1829 there were 614 churches in Kentucky; 45,442 members. The last general revival experienced in Kentucky before 1845 began in 1837 and lasted for some six years. It was the most extensive awakening that had occurred in the state since the revival of 1800. It began in the First Baptist Church in Louisville, which baptized over 600 people into its fellowship in a six-year period. Almost 18,000 were baptized in the first t h ree years and approximately 12,000 in the next three. This was a period of significance in evangelism in Kentucky due to the fact that "protracted meetings" were practiced for the first time in the state during this period. Up until this time even during revival seasons meetings were held only on weekends with occasional meetings in homes during the week. At this period meetings began to approach a duration of two weeks. The year 1840 found Kentucky Baptists with 711 churches, 49,308 members.10
1 J. H. Spencer, History of Kentucky Baptists, from 1769 to 1885 Including More than 800 Biographical Sketches, Volume I, (Cincinnati: T. R. Baumes, 1885), p. 539.
2 Ibid., p. 539.
3 Ibid., p. 540.
4 Minutes of Elkhorn Association.
5 Ibid., p. 541.
7 Minutes of Salem Association.
8 Minutes of Elkhorn Association.
9 Spencer, op. cit., p. 599.
10 Ibid., p. 671 ff.
[This is a portion of an essay by Roy Fish from The Lord's Free People, 1976, pp. 105-107. The footnote numbers have been changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Kentucky Baptists
Baptist History Homepage