John Taylor: Kentucky Frontier Baptist Preacher
by James R. Duvall, 2006
Rev. John Taylor was a distinguished pioneer Baptist preacher and writer who was born in Faquier County, VA in 1752. He united with the Baptists when he was twenty years old. He began to preach almost immediately after he joined the church and continued with great success. He moved in Kentucky in 1785. The first religious revival in the state began under his preaching in Woodford County in 1785. In that year he helped establish Clear Creek Baptist Church and was pastor there about ten years. In June, 1794 he assisted the Great Crossing Baptist Church, Scott County, KY in constituting the Bullittsburg Baptist Church -- the first church of any kind in northern Kentucky. In 1795 he moved to what would soon become Boone County and became the first preacher for Bullittsburg. He ministered there for seven years though he never was their official pastor. During that time the church experienced revival in 1800-01 (in what is often called the "Second Great Awakening in America"); there were 113 people converted and baptized into the Bullitsburg Baptist Church.
Mr. Taylor left Boone County in 1802 and settled in Trimble County (Gallatin at that time), where two years before he had helped establish the Corn Creek Baptist Church, near Mount Byrd. He ministered there for 13 years. While pastor there, he helped constitute the Long Run Association in 1803. He preached the Introductory Sermon and was on the committee of organization.1 Taylor also became very prosperous while in Gallatin County; he states: "When we moved from Bullittsburg to Mount Byrd, we soon emerged from great family affliction, into a state of great health, and though we did a great deal of hard labour, yet prosperity attended our efforts for a number of years, till with my fine Mount Byrd, and two thousand acres of valuable land on the River connected with it, besides other valuable lands at a distance, I owned about twenty slaves, clear of debt and had a considerable amount of stock in different banks."2 His family lived there for thirteen years; one of the reasons for moving was, "the town of Madison [Indiana] sprung up opposite to where I lived, and its inhabitants trafficking with the negroes for all that they brought to market, and my absence from home, and always on Sundays placed everything I had in jeopardy." 3
In 1815 he moved to Franklin County where he aided in constituting a Baptist church in Frankfort in 1816, to which he also ministered. In 1818 he helped constitute the Buck Run Baptist Church and was pastor for a number of years.
Taylor traveled and preached extensively. He was successful as a pioneer Baptist preacher in Kentucky. Though not formally educated, he was an expressive and strongly opinioned writer. His The History of Ten Baptist Churches, gives an important look at the life and religious views of Baptists and others on the western edge of the frontier in Virginia and Kentucky. He also wrote a history of the Clear Creek Baptist Church (Woodford County, KY); an important booklet entitled "Thoughts on Missions" and several brief biographies, as well as many articles that were published in religious periodicals. He died at his residence near Frankfort in 1836.4
Taylor is written of in the Concise Dictionary of American Biography. His listing says: "Taylor, John (b. Fauquier Co., VA, 1752; d. 1835), Baptist preacher, farmer. Organized and served churches in the Virginia frontier settlements; removed to Kentucky, 1783, where he continued his work. Author of A History of Ten Baptist Churches (1823), a fine picture of religion on the frontier."5
Taylor gives personal glimpses of his early life and religious experience in History of Clear Creek Church,6 "At my birth, and in the early part of my life, my lot was cast in the backwoods of Virginia, where Indians often killed people, not far from where I was. My parents, who were of the church of England, told me, I had been christened when young. Being taught in all the rules of the old prayer book, I had my partialities that way; but we lived so frontier, I never heard any man preach, till about 17 years old; this was a baptist, (William Marshall). My awakening that day, was so striking, that I was won over to Marshall, and the religion he taught. A little more than two years after this, by the conviction I had from the New Testament, I was baptised, [sic] and became a baptist from principle. To this way, and cause, I have had warm and decided attachments ever since. I would not be hard or unfriendly to other christian societies; but I am a decided, full bred baptist...."
Taylor is usually mentioned in any discussion of the anti-mission movement among Baptists because of a booklet he wrote in 1820. It is interesting that neither William Cathcart, editor of The Baptist Encyclopedia (1881) nor Sylvester Hassell, historian of the Predestinarian Baptists, mentions John Taylor as being associated with the anti-mission movement. Cushing B. Hassell finished the work begun by his father, and published the History of the Church of God, in 1886. The book is considered by many as the definitive history on Primitive (Old School) Baptists and "anti-mission" Baptists.7 In Taylor's booklet Thoughts on Missions he criticized mission societies and their methods in soliciting money from the local churches on the frontier. Many say he had a leading role in the anti-mission movement that erupted in the United States in the 1820s. Taylor later said he probably made a mistake in writing the pamphlet. Larry D. Smith was the first to point out that Taylor was opposed only to "mission societies;" he was never opposed to missions.8 As the writer in The Baptist Encyclopedia says, "He traveled and preached extensively and probably performed more labor, and was more successful than any other pioneer Baptist preacher in Kentucky." Hassell's History is over 1,000 pages and he claims some for the "Primitive" cause who were not anti-mission, but he does not claim John Taylor.
When John Taylor left Boone County, he did not remove himself from contact with the churches and pastors of the area. He attended the local associational meetings beginning in 1805 through 1834 a total of twenty-five times and was invited to preach virtually each time he attended. Fourteen of these visits were at Boone County churches, as they hosted the associational meetings. When he wrote his "Missions" pamphlet in 1820, he gave a copy to the local (Northbend) association, which they "received for the purpose of examining the same," but they made no further comment, neither that year nor in any following year. He was invited to preach for the association that year and at later times when he attended.9 The Elkhorn Association meeting at Great Crossings Baptist Church, in 1820 reported in their Minutes,Bro. John Taylor presented to the Association a pamphlet, written by himself, on the subject of missions, which was referred to the committee on arrangement." At a later session of the body, "after much discussion it was agreed to strike out that item from the arrangement, and return the pamphlet to the author."Mr. Taylor presented this booklet to the Long Run Association with vitually the same response.
John Taylor's influence on Boone County Baptists far exceeded the seven years he resided and preached in the county. He was one of two Baptist ministers invited to preach at the funeral of Absalom Graves in 1826; Graves was the leading missionary advocate among Baptists in Boone County.
When the Elkhorn Baptist Association was constituted on June 25, 1785, he was here as a messenger from Clear Creek Baptist Church, Versailles. When Long Run Association was constituted in 1803, he was there as a representative from Cow Creek in Gallatin (now Trimble) County. He was one of the early leaders of Long Run.
1 Long Run Association Minutes, 1803.
2John Taylor, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, Frankfort: (np), 1823; reprt., Cincinnati: Art Guild Reprints, Inc., 1968, p. 125.
3 Ibid., p. 119.
4 Adapted from William Cathcart, ed., The Baptist Encyclopedia, Philadelphia, 1881; reprint 1988, 1136; Bullittsburg Baptist Church Minutes, 1800-1801.
5 Concise Dictionary of American Biography, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964, 1047.
6 John Taylor, A History of Clear Creek Church: and Campbellism Exposed, Frankfort, KY, Printed by A. G. Hodges, Commentator Office, 1830.
7 Reprinted by Turner Lassetter, 919 N. Highland Ave., N.E., Atlanta, GA, 1955.
8 Larry Douglas Smith, "John Taylor and Missions: A New Interpretation," Quarterly Review, April-June, 1982, 54-61.
9 North Bend Baptist Association Minutes, 1820.
There are significant works by John Taylor and about him; some are listed:
Carlysle C. Crank, "Life of John Taylor, a Frontiersman, Missionary, Baptist Minister, and Historian," University of Richmond, M. A. Thesis [unpublished], 1956.
S. H. Ford, "Pioneer Preachers: John Taylor," Christian Repository, June 1859, 400-410.
Harry Trent Hutcheson, "John Taylor: Frontier Baptist Preacher of Kentucky," Emory University, M.A. Thesis [unpublished], 1969.
Larry Douglas Smith, "John Taylor and Missions: A New Interpretation," Quarterly Review, April-June, 1982, 54-61.
John Taylor, "Thoughts on Missions", Franklin County, KY, 1820. A 36 page pamphlet against the organized mission movement of eastern U. S. Baptists that was developing in Kentucky. This tract proved to be very useful to the anti-mission forces.
__________, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, Frankfort: (np), 1823; reprt., Cincinnati: Art Guild Reprints, Inc., 1968. This important work was edited by Chester R. Young and republished as Baptist Churches on the American Frontier, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press,1995.
_________, A History of Clear Creek Church: and Campbellism Exposed, Frankfort, KY, Printed by A. G. Hodges, Commentator Office, 1830. A small booklet of more than 60 pages that tells of the difficulties of the church in Woodford County during the late 1820s when Taylor says the disciples of Alexander Campbell were causing serious problems in the church. Taylor was there and describes many of the events. Campbell shortly thereafter wrote a long, critical review of Taylor's booklet in his periodical, the Millennial Harbinger, 1830.
__________, Letters and articles in the Baptist Chronicle and Literary, 1830; a periodical published in Georgetown, KY that was anti-Campbell in sentiment. Taylor answered Alexander Campbell and his followers' charges against him in this paper. Harry Trent Hutcheson has a discussion of these issues in his thesis.
Dorothy Brown Thompson, "John Taylor of the Ten Churches," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 46, No. 156, July, 1948, 239-25. Thompson is a descendant of Taylor.
____________________, "John Taylor and the Day of Controversy," The Register, Vol. 53, No. 184, July, 1955, 196-233.
____________________, "Additional Notes on the John Taylor Family," The Register, Vol. 53, No. 185, October, 1955, 348-354.
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