Baptist History Homepage


John Taylor
By Samuel H. Ford, 1859

      Four or five miles from the city of Frankfort, Ky., is the lone and neglected grave of John Taylor [Editor's note: Taylor's grave has been moved to the Clear Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Versailles, KY. - jrd]. Not far from it reposes the dust of the sainted John Gano. No Monument marks the spot. The property has passed out of the hands of their posterity, and the resting place of those "Fathers in our Israel" is almost unknown.

     Standing beside those tombless graves, in the midst of that glorious landscape, rich in all colorings of nature and of cultivation, the mind recurs with mournful pleasure to the scene of a by-gone and more spiritual generation. Eighty years ago! The Indian yell then rung through the unbroken forests. Yonder stood the block-house and the fort. Around it the brave Virginian, with his rifle on his back, broke the earth and cultivated his little crop in the face of his savage foeman. As the red-man retired before the tread of emigration, and the grandfathers of those who cultivate these now fertile farms were marking out and defending their surveys, the man who sleeps in this unknown spot gathered the people in the fort - in the forest; lifted in their midst the banner of Jesus; announced the glad tidings of the gospel, and in tears sowed the seed whose product is ripe for the harvest.

     These have all departed. With that hale and fearless race of pioneers have also gone those who preached to them the gospel of Christ. Labor and persecution were their lot in life. A neglected grave is all that earth awards them. But their spirits repose above - imperishable monuments of endless blessing, enwreathed with a halo of ever-brightening splendor. "Servants of God, well done."

     John Taylor was born in Farquier county, Va., in 1752. His early life was spent in poverty, the habits of his father having made hard labor and penury his inevitable lot.

     When about seventeen years of age, his father moved to Frederic county, back of the Blue Ridge, on the Shenandoah river. Up to this time he had never even heard of that people called Baptists; and being almost entirely ignorant of the scriptures, he knew but little of his situation as a sinner, or his responsibilities to God. At this point in his history, he witnessed a scene which influenced his whole future life. It was this:

William Marshall visited and preached in the neighborhood. Marshall belonged to one of the most influential families in Virginia. Of polished manners, liberal education, and fine speaking talents, he gave to the Anabaptists something of respectability in the eyes of the world. At least, wherever he went he attracted large audiences, and was treated with comparative respect. 1

     At one of the early visits of Marshall to the neighborhood, John was present, merely through curiosity. It was generally reported that at those Baptist meetings the people hallooed, cried out, trembled, and fell down, and went into strange exercises. "My object," says Taylor, "was to see and amuse myself at all this, as I would at other sports. The people were so numerous that the preacher went to a white oak stump, three or four feet over, and about six feet from the meeting-house, that all might hear. The vast concourse of people took their stand in the snow, there being no seats to sit on."

     What a scene was that! In the midst of persecution, and bitter reproach, a man of intellect and accomplishment, journeying a hundred miles in mid winter to preach the gospel to the poor, with no earthly remuneration but insult, and perhaps imprisonment. But he went; unsent by human organization, uncalled for by those to whom he preached. And the concourse stood in the snow, while the preacher stood on the stump, and, in "thunder tones," proclaimed to them the riches of Christ.

     "While I was diverting myself," continues Taylor, "ranging through the company to see the exercise of the people, I came near the stump, when Thomas broke out into a flood of tears and a loud cry for mercy. He being an old playmate, I stared at him awhile, with awful wonder, and just at that time my eye and ear were caught by the preaching of the minister. He was treating of the scenes of the judgment." Taylor's mind was arrested. He retired from the scene to a lonely, hanging rock, which leaned over South River, and cried to God for mercy, and found peace in believing.

     A few days afterwards, a scene of deepest interest took place. Never had a primitive baptism been witnessed in all that region of Virginia. God's blessing had accompanied the preaching of Marshall. Towards the close of the meeting (which lasted seven days), Samuel Harris arrived. He had traveled two hundred miles to be present and administer the ordinance of baptism for Marshall. Elijah Craig and John Waller, who were with him, were, as yet unordained. "I think fifty-three were baptized," says Taylor. "The rite of laying on of hands on the newly baptized was practiced by the Baptists of those days."

     He was, soon afterwards, received into the fellowship of the church, and baptized by James Ireland. He was then in his twentieth year. He soon began to feel anxious to make known what he had found and felt to others. Poor, without education, with the prospect of persecution and imprisonment before him, he longed to go forth, preaching the kingdom. His friend and co-laborer in after life, Joseph Redding, held meetings in his house, and occasionally asked Taylor to aid him. To talk to sinners; to unfold the simple, yet glorious plan of salvation; to invite the lost and ruined to take shelter in the only refuge from impending wrath - this he felt his duty, his delight; and he determined to do it at any cost, any sacrifice.

     Oh, the miserable speeches we sometimes hear about young men seeking other professions, because of the poor prospect of remuneration in the ministry. Let them go to other professions - go anywhere but into the pulpit. The man who is influenced by profit and loss would be a curse, as thousands such have been, to the ministry.

     Taylor was finally ordained, by the laying on of hands, by a Presbytery, consisting of Lewis Craig, John Picket, John Cunes, Joseph Redding, and Theodoric Noel.

     The following recollections of these early times, together with the labors and hardships of Taylor and Redding, will give a clear insight in his character. They are from a tract he once published, called "Thoughts on Missions."

"I am fully persuaded of the great aptitude in us poor, imperfect mortals, to consider ourselves a standard of orthodoxy, and even in most of the transactions of life; all of which leads me to hesitate a little as to our missionaries. I have expressed myself in the foregoing sheets with all the plainness that I think one friend should speak to another. Perhaps some things may appear harsh; but I know, that for all the men that I have brought in review, I have a sympathizing friendship. It is probable they think they are doing right, though of their sincerity I have strong doubt. Happy should I be hereafter to find myself mistaken, and these men what I wish them to be, the faithful servants of Christ. But my great doubt concerning them arises, both from the scriptures and all the observation and experience I have had near fifty years. That far back I remember what kind of men of the Baptist name in Virginia were buffeted, imprisoned, and counted the off scouring of all things. I remember their looks, their labors, and their success. Though not willing to make myself a standard, I recollect that far back, the great anxiety of my soul for the prosperity of Zion, and the good of my fellow-men, so that I could not rest, day nor night, for years together; and of what little moment in that case money appeared to me! So that from my soul I could say, "I seek not yours, but you." And in that case I coveted no man's silver, gold, or apparel; so that perhaps to a man, this temper attended all the Baptist preachers of that day. Myself began to preach at about twenty years of age, and about five months after, I was baptized by James Ireland, a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. My previous opportunity and my capacities, in my own esteem, were very small, and they must have appeared small in the esteem of others; but the church to which I belonged treated me with all the tenderness of a mother. Their preachers also treated me as a son, for the church had three other preachers, to wit: James Ireland, their pastor; William Marshall, and the well-known laborious one of his day, Joseph Redding. With the latter I traveled the most. He being an older man than myself, he was to me as a father, though seemed to acknowledge me as his yoke-fellow. We labored together in the wilds of Virginia about ten years before Kentucky came in vogue, to which place we both came in early times; and here he died a few years past.

Our range of labor was from the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah river to the back of Virginia, on the branches of the Potomac and Ohio rivers, a distance of about two hundred miles; and ofttimes among the dangerous rage of savage fury; though this circumstance took us out of the way of Virginia persecution below the Blue Ridge. Neither of us was ever put in prison, though at times either beaten or driven from our meetings by wicked mobs. We ofttimes traveled a whole day from our frontier settlement to another, through the rugged mountains, without seeing a house, and our lives in danger every step we took, and when we could not reach a house, our lot was to camp in the woods. We went to many places where the gospel had never sounded before, and so great was the effect, that ofttimes the cries of the people would drown our voices. We then hoped that many experienced conversion, and some churches were built up where the Lord's name was not called on before, but to blaspheme it.

Both of us having been raised to hardships, nothing appeared hard to surmount. We therefore performed a number of these tours on foot. I will name one or two them. In one instance, Redding had moved his family about forty miles from where I made my home. From his house about a week's meetings were appointed, and the distance about a hundred and fifty miles. When I got to Redding's, my horse being young, and he nothing to ride but a mare with a young colt, we concluded to take it on foot. Our first meeting was twenty miles from his house. We started at sunrise, and met a large assembly in due time. As a rich reward of that day's labor, a numbed of people obtained a hope of conversion from that day's meeting. We had twenty miles to the next day's meeting, and eighteen miles afterwards to get to quarters. A number came the last eighteen miles to meet us. It did seem as if the Lord blessed this foot tour more than usual. Another shorter tour we took on foot. I had staid all night at Redding's, and there being neither stable nor pasture, we turned our horses into the woods. One the next morning the rain was violent, and though we turned out in it, and searched diligently till near 9 o'clock, we could not find our horses, though they were belled. Then the council was, what shall be done? There was but little time to counsel, for the meeting was fifteen miles distant, and a very mountainous way. It appeared to us awful to disappoint a meeting. The rain slackened a little, off we set. To make this fifteen miles in about three hours, something more than walking was needful. The rain set in afresh; we ran, we walked, we perspired, and received the rain from above, till there was not a dry thread on us, and met about twenty people about half after twelve. I will leave the reader to judge whether this effort was not being righteous over much; for myself immediately took such a cough, with all the appearance of the whooping-cough, that I did not get rid of it for a twelvemonth.

Redding, having a family, did not always go with me in these dreary Alleghany tours, himself also having the care of a large church, lately built up about the head of the Potomac river; so that I often traveled these dreary, dangerous roads by myself, where frost-biting in winter, with snows knee-deep, and often unbroken roads, with forty and fifty miles from one settlement to another, and danger of being scalped by the Indians in the summer, marked my way for a numbering of years. Though a great part of the people would have done anything for me, that they would have done for their own son or brother, their poverty forbade it. The poor things would, now and then, make me some little presents of the best they had, that I thought in my conscience was more than my poor preaching deserved - which, perhaps, never amounted to Fifty Dollars per year, exclusive of the food myself and horse lived on, and my own food scarcely safe from putrefaction for want of slat; and from that habit, to this day, salt food is disagreeable to me.

I know that I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not, when I say, that I do not recollect that is ever occurred to me that I suffered hardship. What I have said of Redding and myself, in some instances, is only a specimen of our general course, and was not singular thing among the Baptists in those days.

      This simple record gives us a just appreciation of the character of those men, who, under God, laid the foundations of our present prosperity. "They believed, therefore they spoke." They felt the awful responsibility of their calling. "Woe, woe is me if I preach not." They never thought of "seeking locations;" of preaching "trial sermons," as "candidates for a settlement;" of taking the high ground, "no pay, no preach." No, no. The love of God was in their hearts. The fire was in their bones. They were sent to preach the gospel to a sinful world, and they would have preached till they starved - preached though they died at the stake for it. Thank God, there are many such among us yet.

      In 1783, Taylor came to Kentucky. He took water at Redstone, near Wheeling, and landed at the mouth of Beargrass, where Louisville now stands. Lewis Craig, and nearly all the members of the old Spotsylvania Church in Virginia, had moved in a body to Kentucky, and had settled in the neighborhood of Gilbert's Creek, now Garrard county. Taylor landed with his young wife at Louisville in mid winter. It was then the out-post and most dangerous point in the unsettled wilderness. He immediately set out on horseback, through the woods, for Craig's Station, over a hundred miles distant, exposed all the way to constant dangers. On his arrival at Gilbert's Creek, Craig, and most of the members, had moved over into the neighborhood of Lexington, and thither Taylor soon followed, and joined the South Elkhorn Church,

     "I moved," he tells us, "in the summer of 1784, and sooner than go into fort, settled on my own land, with no family between me and the Indian town, and in the height of war. But we were not long in much danger. The next winter we moved out from the fort, so that we soon began to hold nightly meetings in our little cabins in the woods. Our Sunday preaching was uniformly at the station. For some time we had to pack corn forty miles, and then send a mile to grind at a hand-mill, before we could get bread. As to meat, it must come from the woods, and myself no hunter. My little cabin was sixteen square, with no floor but the natural earth; without table, bedstead, or stool."

     This was in the county of Woodford. What a change has passed over it since.

     But the numerous incidents in his history would swell this article to a volume. In fact, his life was interwoven with the early history of the Baptists of Kentucky. He was the principal instrument in the establishment of some twenty churches, and no man in Kentucky wielded a greater influence for good.

     There are many anecdotes told of "Johnny Taylor," as he was familiarly called, which throw light upon his character, and the state of society.

     A young preacher, of considerable talents and ingenuity, being appointed to preach at the stand on an associational occasion, took for this text the vision of waters, in Ezekiel:

"And he brought me through the waters; the waters were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through; the waters were to the loins. Again he measured, and the waters were risen to swim in." The young preacher divided his subject into four parts, according to the depth of the water. Ankle-deep was the doctrine of repentance. Knee-deep, of assurance. He had spiritualized and rankled along under these two divisions until nearly an hour had been consumed. Taylor was sitting behind him on the stand, with his head bowed, and resting on his hand. His utter dislike to all speculative preaching was well known, and his posture revealed his disapprobation of the sermon. The preacher closed up his second division, "up to the knees." "Thirdly," said the preacher, "we go a little deeper - where the waters reached the loins." Taylor raised up, pointed out his finger, and, as though the preacher had almost gone beyond hearing, called out, "Young man, come ashore, you are deep enough, deep enough."

     The preachers on the stand bowed their heads on their hands to hide the smiles they could not restrain. The preacher turned round, completely confounded, and met the calm look of Taylor, solemn as the grave. "May the Lord bless truth, and pardon error," said the young man, and sat down in confusion. It was a good lesson, but rather a severe one. 2

     On another occasion, a young man, who was an assistant teacher in Col. Johnson's Indian school, was appointed to fill the stand, on Sabbath, at the Elkhorn Association. It occurred at Stamping Ground. His text was, "What is man?" He announced three divisions. His first division was Man, physically considered, which gave him an opportunity of showing all the knowledge he had of anatomy. Taylor never preached over three-quarters of an hour. He always preached the gospel. It was evident that he was disgusted with the wordy display the young orator was making, and many eyes were on him to see how he would bear up under the infliction [affliction].

     The preacher passed through his fist division, and announced, "We shall consider, secondly, What is man, morally?" Taylor rose from his seat, deliberately drew out his watch, moved towards the front of the stand, and exclaimed, loud enough to be heard by the vast concourse, "One hour gone, and gone forever, and nothing said."

     There was a painful pause, as he deliberately took his seat again. The preacher mumbled out a few confused words of apology for speaking so long, and took his seat, and John Bryce, whose turn it was to follow, arose and continued the exercises. It must not be thought, however, that he discouraged young preacher by his severity. No man took more interest, more pains to encourage the humble, modest young man, whose object was to preach Christ, and not himself.

     The following letter will illustrate this trait of character. It was written by Walter Warder about a month before he died:

"Dear Bro. Waller: -
Being detained from my meeting to-day by bad health (a rare occurrence with me till of late), while reclining on my pillow, two occurrences respecting my dear old Bro. Taylor became the subject of reflection. You are apprised that old preachers are not always tender and affectionate to young ones, even when there is nothing forbidding such a course on their part. But Bro. T. delighted in their company, and had a happy way of encouraging them and stimulating them. He sentimentally drank into the belief that the prosperity of the church and the conversion of sinners were very intimately connected with the faithful preaching of the everlasting gospel.

"As illustrative of the above, when I was a young man, and was under very many doubts whether it was required of me to endeavor to preach or not, I came from the Green River Association to Elkhorn as a corresponding messenger, and there, for the first time, was introduced to Bro. Taylor. After having been together several days, through his management, it was my lot, at a night meeting, to endeavor to preach. With fear and trembling the task was performed. The state of feeling was pleasant in the congregation. An exhortation and some delightful songs followed, and the time had arrived, as we supposed, for dismission, when the old Brother arose and remarked, that when Paul came to Jerusalem, and Peter, James and John saw the gift that was in him, they gave him the right hand of fellowship. And then observed, that though neither Paul, Peter, James, nor John were there, yet there were several old preachers and other brethren present; and he thought they perceived the gift that was in their young brother, and that he proposed they give him the right hand of fellowship as a young minister. Very soon his venerable arms were round me, imploring the divine blessing to rest on me, which was followed by others in a very solemn manner. I felt like "a women and no man," and could not hold up my head. Yet, if it was ever my lot to preach, this was one of the best occurrences of my life. The mind of the Lord is apt to be with his people, and in my desponding moments the recollection of that scene increased my strength, and aided to keep me from sinking under my own weight. We often met afterwards, and I ever looked to him as a father. Our parting scene (permit me to present it) was at old Bullittsburg, in Boone county, Four of us had been appointed to preach. The first lot was his, the last mine. The pain and pleasure of that day will long be remembered by me and many others.

* * * *

"And now to arrive at the object with reference to Bro. Taylor. As the subject was closing, he arose and made his way to me, gave me his hand, took me in his arms amidst a scene of tenderness seldom surpassed. And thus we parted; and oh, may it be my privilege to mingle with him in scenes more joyful and interesting in the blessed mansions above. If all the aged ministers were to take more pains to encourage the young, unaspiring ministers, who greatly need their assistance, how much good might result therefrom.

"A few words respecting my affliction, and I close this address, already too long.

"I do not know whether it is to terminate in dyspepsia or liver-complaint. Riding and preaching are still my work, but am rather anticipating a change from an active, laborious life, to have to consult the storm, and, perhaps, at no distant period, even should life continue, to have to reduce my efforts, and probably decline entirely. These thoughts fall heavily on me; nevertheless, I am in the Lord's hand, and he can well sustain his cause without me. In about two weeks I expect to start to Missouri on a steamboat; expect to be gone about two months, and, peradventure, the rest during that time may have no small tendency to restore my health. The will of the Lord be done.

"Upon a survey of my life for about thirty years, though many have called me a zealous and laborious minister, and I am supposed to have regarded the various duties of religion in the several relations of life, yet all is a perfect blank -- nothing at all to build upon, and take away the atoneing [sic] blood, the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ, and all my hope for heaven vanishes. And yet, if I could do a thousand times more in his cause, the debt of love I owe would require it. To him alone I commit my cause. May his presence sustain you and your unworthy brother in Christ,

     But we must close this abbreviated sketch of one of the truest and best of men.

     The old pioneer attended the Franklin Association, in 1835, being eighty-three years of age. He agreed at attend as a delegate the succeeding session of the Elkhorn Association. But his work was done. The following winter, in the month of January, 1836, he passed calmly away to his eternal repose.       S.H.F.


     1 John Taylor's life of William Marshall. I have collected the materials for this sketch from Taylor's History of Ten Churches; an incident in his life written by, and attached to a pamphlet called "Thoughts on Missions;" an article of his in the Gospel Herald, 1813.

     2 I record these from the lips of Dr. Dillard, who was seated on the stand beside Taylor on the occasion.


[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, June, 1859, pp. 400-410. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage