Baptist History Homepage

The Early Baptist Churches of Kentucky
By Wm. M. Pratt, D. D.
     The earliest immigration to Kentucky was amid the struggles and triumphs of civil and religious liberty in America. On the 17 th of April, 1775, at Lexington, near Boston, Massachusetts, was fought the first battle of the Revolution. About two months from that time the report of this battle reached a company of "Long Hunters," who were camped in the center of the "blue-grass" region of Kentucky, and they gave the memorial name Lexington to the spot where now stands the flourishing city of that name.

     On the 17th of June of the same year, the Continental Congress elected General George Washington commander-in-chief of the American army. Two days previous to this, Daniel Boone, of North Carolina, who had explored this region in 1769, and had sojourned here most of the time, having builded the first fort, inclosing cabins for residences, started back to North Carolina to bring his family to this uninhabited country. His wife and daughters were the first white women who came to Kentucky. This was the first resident family. Parties of surveyors, hunters, and explorers were contemporaries of Boone. Returning to the East they awakened in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and other States an anxiety to settle in this fertile and beautiful region.

     The reports of these explorers remind us of the description Moses gives of the land of Canaan, on the eve of the tribes of Israel entering upon its conquest under the leadership of one of the most renowned of military leaders, Joshua (Deut. viii, 7-9): "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass." Substituting coal for iron, the native and cultivated fruits for the olive, fig, and pomegranate, and the description would answer for Kentucky.

     Virginia had obtained at various times chartered rights from the crown of England more favorable than any of the other colonies. She possessed a vast extent of territory west and north-west, and she extinguished the title of Iroquois Indians by cash purchase of $20,000. The Catawbas on the south subsequently gave up their claim to the lands in Kentucky, west of Tennessee River, for a like sum. Virginia, in 1784, ceded to the General Government her title to the Northwest Territory, retaining that of Kentucky under the title of "County of Fincastle." Virginia also, having furnished soldiers in the French and English wars on this continent, and in the war of the Revolution, paid them off in land-script, and permitted them to locate, by their individual survey, four, hundred acres land in Kentucky. This induced an immense emigration during, and especially at the close of the Revolutionary war. Says Lewis Collins in his first edition of History of Kentucky, page 308: "No country was settled by men of more distinct character from the great mass, and the infusion of those traits was so common to the population of the early emigrants, that it will take centuries to eradicate it from their descendants. More of the gallant officers of the American Revolution, and their no less gallant soldiers, found a retreat in Kentucky than in any other part of America, and they brought with them to the West the young men of enterprise, talent, and courage, who, like Sidney, were to 'find or to make' a way to distinction."(1)

     The Baptist Church was more largely represented than any other religious persuasion among the pioneers of this State, and probably as many, if not more, than all others.

     Rev. J. M. Peck says (Christian Review, October, 1852): "At the close of the Revolutionary War (1783), there were not over fifty thousand Baptists in America, and but two small churches in all the valley of the Mississippi" -- and these were Baptist churches -- the Severn Valley, in Hardin County, and the Gilbert's Creek, in Garrard County.

     According to Spencer's History of Kentucky Baptists, there were three Baptist churches in Kentucky in 1781 - Severn Valley, in Hardin County, Cedar Creek, Nelson County, and Gilbert's Creek, Garrard County.

     In 1782, Forks of Dix River was founded by Lewis Craig.

     In 1783, South Elkhorn, Fayette County, was founded by the removal of Elder Lewis Craig, and a large portion of his church at Gilbert's Creek to this place, the first church north of Kentucky River.

     In 1784, Bear Grass church, Jefferson County, six miles east of Louisville, was constituted by John Whitaker, and Howard Creek (now Providence), Clark County, by Elder Robert Elkin.

     In 1785, twelve churches were founded viz., Limestone (now Washington), Mason County, by Elder William Wood; Clear Creek, Woodford County, by Elder John Taylor; Pottenger Creek, Nelson County, by Benjamin Lynn; Cox's Creek, Nelson County, by William Taylor; Brashears (Clear Creek), Shelby County, by Elders William Taylor and John Whitaker; Rush Branch, Lincoln County, by Elder John Bailey; Head of Boone Creek, by Elder Joseph Craig; Big Crossing, Scott County, by Elder Elijah Craig; Tate's Creek, Madison County, by Elder John Tanner; Town Fork (Lexington), by Elder John Gano; Bryant Station, Fayette County, by Elder Lewis Craig; Boone Creek (Athens), by Elder David Thompson;

     In 1786, Tate's Creek, Madison County, by Elder Andrew Tribble.

     In 1787, Marble Creek (East Hickman), Fayette County, by Elders William Hickman and John Price; Cooper's Run, Bourbon County, by Elder Augustine Eastin; New Providence, Lincoln County, by Elder William Marshall; South Fork, Nelson County, by Elder James S. Skaggs.

     In 1788, Huston Creek, Bourbon County, by Elder Moses Bledsoe; Forks of Elkhorn, Franklin County, by Elder William Hickman; Rolling Fork, Nelson County, by Elder John Carman; Buck Run, Franklin County, by Elders John and James Dupuy; Shawnee Run, Mercer County, by Elder John Rice.

     In 1789, Hardin Creek, Nelson County, by Elder Baldwin; Clifton, May's Lick, Mason County, by Elders Wood and Garrard.

     In 1790, Indian Creek, Harrison County, by Elder A. Eastin; Unity, Clark County; Hickman Creek and Hardin's Creek, Mercer County; Mount Pleasant, Franklin County, and West Fork, Cox Creek, Nelson County, White Oak, Nelson County.

     In 1791, Stony Point, Mercer County, Strode's Fork, Fayette, County, Taylor's Fork, Green Creek, Bourbon, Bloomfield, Nelson County; Crab Orchard, Lincoln County; Pitman's Creek and Brush Creek, Green County.

     These churches were located in seventeen counties, all east of the track of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and Lincoln and Green were the southern counties.

     In 1790 there were in Kentucky 42 churches, 40 ordained ministers, 21 licentiates, and 3,105 members in the Church Associations.

     The first Association formed in Kentucky was Elkhorn, on the 1st of October, 1785. Six churches entered into the organization, viz: Gilbert's Creek, Tate's Creek, South Elkhorn, Clear Creek, Big Crossing, and Limestone. The ministers representing these churches were Elders George Stokes Smith, John Price, John Tanner; Lewis Craig, William Hickman, John Taylor, James Rucker, John Dupuy, and William Wood. This body was enlarged nearly every year until it comprised thirty-eight churches, extending from Columbia Church near the mouth of Little Miami, Ohio, to Cumberland, Tennessee.

     In 1802 it attained to 48 churches, and a membership of 5,310.

     Salem Association was formed on the 27th of the same month and year of Elkhorn. Four churches, viz: Severn's Valley, 37: members, no pastor; Cedar Creek, 41 members, Joseph Barnett, pastor; Bear Grass, 19 members, John Whitaker, pastor; Cox's Creek, 26 members.

     In 1802 its territory extended from the Ohio to Green River, west of Kentucky River, and numbered 34 churches and 2,500 members. The third Association, formed near the close of the last century, is the "South Kentucky." The churches composing this were Separate Baptists, and Dr. Spencer fixes the time of its formation, May, 1788.

     The annual meeting of an Association was to the Baptist a very important and interesting occasion. They were held in the shadows of the forest, and the attendance was large, the hospitality abundant. Most of the time was devoted to the ministry of the word. Visiting ministers from a great distance would attend, and imparting and receiving spiritual instruction was the prominent feature of the services. The circular letter, upon some doctrinal or practical matter, was referred to judicious brethren for examination, and, if approved, published in the minutes; if not approved, it was rejected, and another ordered to be prepared on the occasion. The demand for the circular, in these times of books and periodical literature, is not what it was in times of literary scarcity. The gathering together of the circulars of the Philadelphia and of the Elkhorn Association in, their early period would make a book of about as sound theoretic and practical theology as could be found in the market. The deliverances of the Associations to the many queries sent up by the churches are now regarded as wise and true.

     The early ministers who gathered these churches were mostly men of limited education, and who, shortly after their conversion, were licensed to preach. The elements of their conviction and conversion, what was denominated experimental religion, a sense of accountability to God, of sin and condemnation, moral inability, redemption through Christ and sanctification through the Holy Spirit, were the main matters of their preaching. The introduction was explanatory of the connection of the text, and the closing application brought out their power in exhortation. Many had what was called a "heavenly tone" that gave effect to their discourse. Their illustrations were drawn from natural phenomena and incidents that fell under their personal observation. They had devotion to their calling, and were ready to travel long distances, endure hardships, encounter dangers, to minister to the people of God in the wilderness and to gather them into church organizations. Their record is on high. Some of the early ministers were educated, and of great influence in Church and State. Elder William Marshall, uncle of Chief Justice Marshall, and belonging to a family of intellectual force in Virginia and Kentucky, was the earliest settled minister in the territory. In the same year, 1780, John Whitaker -- who, with his son Aquila, the Indian fighter, accompanied General George Rogers Clarke at the head of one thousand men, destroyed the Piqua towns on the Miami River -- was the only Baptist minister within fifty miles of the "Falls of the Ohio," now Louisville. He aided in the formation of most of the churches in this region, and was a man of energy and enterprise.

     James Rogers, of Nelson County, who entered into the constitution of Cedar Creek, the second church formed in Kentucky, was of Irish descent. He was a member of the "Danville Convention" of 1785, and wrote a number of pamphlets on religious subjects, one of which was on restricted communion. Rogers' Fort; four miles west of Bardstown, was built by him and his two brothers.

     In 1781 Lewis Craig, and probably his brother Joseph, came to Kentucky, followed, in 1786, by another brother, Elijah, and by his brother-in-law, Richard Cave, a pioneer preacher. These Craigs were the sons of Toliver Craig, of Orange County, Va., whose large family of seven sons and four daughters were members of the church. The three sons who came to Kentucky were effective preachers in Virginia, and were a number of times thrown in prison. Lewis Craig, the elder of the three, was pastor of the "migrating church" of two hundred, of Upper Spottsylvania, and after a long, fatiguing pilgrimage, maintaining their organization and worship on the way, settled on Gilbert Creek, Garrard County, October, 1781. Elijah Craig was first pastor of Big Crossing, laid out the town of Georgetown, established the classical school in that place, which is now the seat of Georgetown College. These two brothers were men of strong minds and of great influence in molding the character of the infant churches.

     In 1783 John Taylor settled in Central Kentucky. He and Joseph Redding visited. Kentucky in 1779, and after a brief sojourn returned. Mr. Redding moved his family to this State in 1789. These men of strong sense, and of deep piety and great usefulness, were converted under the preaching of Elder William Marshall, in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, previous to his removal to this State.

     In 1784 nine men of distinction are found in the list of the Baptists ministry who came to this State, viz., James Garrard, Augustine Eastin, William Taylor, William Bailey, John Tanner, Robert Elkin, William Hickman, John Dupuy and George Stokes Smith -- James Dupuy and George Smith, brother and half brother of the last two. These were all leading men in our Zion.

     James Garrard joined the Baptist Church in early life, was an officer in the Revolutionary War, a member of the Virginia Legislature, "where he contributed, by his zeal and prudence, as much and perhaps more than any other individual to the passage of the act securing universal religious liberty."

     On his removal to Kentucky he became a leader in the State and Church. In the convention of 1792 to form the State Constitution, of forty-five members, eight were members of the Baptist Church, viz., Thomas Lewis, Robert Fryer, William King, Jacob Froman, Richard Young, James Garrard, George Stokes Smith, and John Bailey. The last three were Baptist ministers. James Garrard was frequently elected to the legislature, and for eight years, from 1796 to 1804, served the State as Governor. "Kentucky has never had a citizen that stood higher in popular estimation than Gov. Garrard."

     William Hickman was one of the most pious, consecrated, unselfish, and successful of the early ministers. He united with a church called Skinquarter, in Cumberland County, Va., in 1773. As the fruits of the revival that prevailed in that neighborhood seven became ministers of the gospel, of whom five came to Kentucky, viz., William Hickman, George Smith, George Stokes Smith, John and James Dupuy. Elder Hickman settled at the Forks of Elkhorn church in.1788, and formed that church, and was identified with the establishment of very many in Woodford and adjoining counties. At the Forks he lived, labored, and died, and his remains lie buried in the plat of ground given to him to induce his settlement at that place one hundred years ago, within one mile and a half of those of the Rev. John Gano, on one side, and of Rev. John Taylor on the other side of North Elkhorn -- blessed trio of eminent and successful servants of Christ and his Church.

     William Taylor settled in Nelson County this year (1785), "and became," says Spencer, "to the Regular Baptists of the southern settlements what Lewis Craig was to those of the northern. By the middle of April he had collected Baptists enough to constitute Cox's Creek church; of this he became pastor. There were now four little churches, aggregating one hundred and twenty-three members, including three ordained ministers, in this part of the country. These he induced to meet by messengers at Cox's Creek, on the 29th of October, 1785, and form Salem Association" He was a man of spotless character, and his life carried conviction of the truth and value of the religion he preached.

     In 1786 Ambrose Dudley moved his family to Kentucky, and bought fourteen hundred and fifty acres of land, at twenty shillings per acre, in the neighborhood of Bryant Station, and was the first pastor of the church called Bryan's, and continued so until his death in 1825. He was an officer in the Revolutionary army. While stationed at Williamsburg, he heard Lewis Craig and John Shackleford preach from within the prison walls, and was convicted of sin and led to the foot of the cross, where he found peace in believing in the ability and willingness of Christ to save. It is an interesting fact, communicated to me by his son, Elder Thomas P. Dudley, that the church in Spottsylvania, where he lived, had a special meeting for prayer that God would send them a preacher. This prayer was answered. He returned to them as a candidate for baptism and membership and with the impression of duty to preach the gospel. He resigned as officer of the army, entered the Christian ministry and was faithful to this high and holy calling until removed from earth. John Shackleford and Lewis Craig ordained him in Virginia. When his son, Thomas P. Dudley, who was a valiant soldier in the war of 1812, afterward, for years, a bank officer, was converted and called to the ministry, these same men who ordained the father in Virginia ordained the son in Kentucky. On the death of the father, the son was elected his successor, and continued such for sixty years. So the joint pastorship of father and son covered nearly a century. These two men, in profound knowledge of Bible truth, dignity, and purity of character, and in the might of their influence have not been excelled in the annals of the pulpit of Kentucky.

     The limit of this address will not permit us to do honor to many other ministers of merit. We must allude to two others, who came to Kentucky toward the close of the last century:

     The venerable John Gano, who spent the last sixteen years of his long, laborious, and useful life in Kentucky, from 1788 to 1804, when "he fell on sleep." His birthplace was Hopewell, N. J. He was probably educated at "Eaton Academy," the first Baptist institution of learning in America, and which gave to Brown University its first president, Rev. Dr. James Manning, in 1765. Elder Gano and Dr. Manning were brothers-in-law, having married sisters, the daughters of John Stites, of Hopewell, N. J.

     In June, 1762, the first Baptist church in New York was constituted on seventeen members from Scotch Plains, and Mr. Gano, who had served them in the old church, was elected as the pastor. He held the position for twenty-six eventful years. He entered the army as chaplain of Gen. Clinton's New York brigade. His fearless exposure to danger, and his devotion to the sick, and to the success of the war of Independence, which was shared by other Baptist ministers, led Gen. Washington to say, "Baptist chaplains were the most prominent and useful in the army." He was commissioned by the Philadelphia Association to visit the newly formed churches in Virginia and North Carolina during the wonderful work of grace in those parts, and he exercised a most wholesome and conservative influence.

     About the time he came to Kentucky the "Town Fork" church was constituted, in Lexington, and a house of worship was erected on what has been known for years as the "old Baptist Graveyard." This spot was abandoned after a few years, and a meeting-house was built on the old Frankfort road, some three miles from town, to suit the convenience of the most of the members who resided in the vicinity. John Gano was elected pastor, and continued so for ten years, when he became disabled by a broken shoulder and afterward by partial paralysis. Dr. Richard Furman, of South Carolina, said of him, "As a minister of Christ, he shone like a star of the first magnitude in the American church and moved in a widely extended field of action. For this office God had endowed him with a large portion of grace and excellent gifts. Resembling the sun, he rose in the church with morning brightness, advanced regularly to his station of meridian splendor, and then gently declined with mild effulgence, till he disappeared without a cloud to intercept his rays or obscure his glory."

     David Thomas, A. M., was an intimate companion of John Gano. He was educated at the same academy, and received his degree of A. M. from Rhode Island College. He was ordained when but eighteen years old. In 1751 he was sent with John Gano and James Miller as missionaries of the Philadelphia Association to Virginia. Mr. Thomas remained in Virginia when the others returned. Immense crowds attended when he preached, some coming from one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles. During the Revolutionary War, like Gano, he devoted his talents to the success of the Colonies. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry held him in high esteem, and Robert Semple wrote, "There were few such men in the world in his day." Like Gano he followed, in his old age, his children and kinsmen to Kentucky. He ministered for awhile to the Washington church in Mason County, and then spent his last years in the neighborhood of East Hickman church, and lies buried in the county of Jessamine, as Gano lies buried in the contiguous county of Woodford. It seems providential that two such men, in the maturity of their ministerial gifts and richness of experience, should spend their last years in this then new country, and aid to establish the churches in doctrine and discipline, and to influence the ministry to piety, learning, and devotion.


     The early Baptists, in common with other immigrants, had trials without and within. The trials without were manifold and severe.

     First. The hardships of the journey. Those from the north-western part of Virginia went to Redstone on a branch of the Monongahela, and in flatboats came down the Ohio River to Maysville or Louisville, some seven hundred miles by water from Pittsburgh. This was very hazardous on account of the Indians, who watched the river in order to plunder and kill. Those who were fortunate in reaching a port of entry had to work their way through an unbroken wilderness to some point in the interior. Those who came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, generally took the same route. Those from Eastern, and Central Virginia, as well as those from North Carolina, went through Cumberland Gap. Lewis Craig with his family, and two hundred members of Upper Spottsylvania, came by way of Cumberland Gap, and the traveling church must have journeyed over five hundred miles to reach their destination. This was in an inclement season, no bridges over the many streams, and no road, cut out of the immense growth of trees and shrubs. When these emigrants arrived they had no houses to live in, no fields cleared to cultivate, and no supplies of groceries, wearing apparel, ammunition, tools to work with, only as brought at cost and trouble from the eastern settlements. Besides, no government or courts of justice. They must get laws and justice from Virginia.

     Second. The terrible troubles they had with the Indians. The various tribes on the south, and especially on the north, regarded the whites as intruders upon their immemorial and rich hunting grounds. They had been driven from their eastern homes, and now regarded the Alleghany Mountains as a barrier to further intrusion on their original rights. We can not be surprised at their opposition to this immigration, considering their savage nature. For seventeen long years the first settlers were exposed to attacks of these wild sons of the forests. At times the woods seemed to be filled with them. Forts were built in every settlement for protection, and when they went to their fields, to mill, or to a place of worship, they had to carry their guns and be prepared to defend their lives. The very first pastor of the first church in the great west, John Garrard, in less than one year after his pastorage at Severn's Valley, left his family to hunt game in the woods, and was seen no more. This, however, was a common circumstance, though a kind Providence preserved the ministers of the gospel most remarkably during this long period. A minute narrative of battles, neighborhood, and individual conflicts with the Indians, of male and female heroism and suffering would fill a number of volumes. Our time will not permit details.

     Third. Another outward trouble was disputes about their possessions. Different companies of surveyors made partial surveys. Individuals with land warrants were permitted to survey a certain amount of Government bounty land, and the various surveys overlapped one another, or were located on previous surveys. This gave rise to long-continued and bitter litigation and personal alienations. Even Daniel Boone was deprived of his lands through some legal flaw in his title, and in disgust left the State and died a poor man in Missouri.

     Fourth. Another outward trouble was the long and discouraging efforts to become relieved of reliance on Virginia for law, justice, and protection, and to become an independent State and possess a government of her own citizens. The first convention for that purpose was held at Danville, December 27, 1784. It took seven years and nine conventions to become an independent State and form a constitution and be received into the Union of States. During all this period the public mind was in a state of political unrest.

     Fifth. In the mean time representatives of the Spanish Government at New Orleans were intriguing with leading men in Kentucky and men in high positions in the General Government to seduce Kentucky to unite herself with them in establishing an independent government in the Southwest, with New Orleans as its seat of government. The prejudice of Kentuckians against the General Government for not affording them sufficient protection and encouragement predisposed many to this project, and kept the public mind in a ferment of excitement.

     Sixth. The influx of French infidelity, and the writings of Thomas Paine against the Christian religion, was a serious impediment to the progress of church enlargement. Tom Paine's Age of Reason, and Voltaire's and other infidel works, were more numerous than Bibles. It took the wonderful work of grace which spread over Kentucky, 1800 - '3, to destroy this work of the devil and to limit its prevalence alone to comparatively few.

     All this while the Baptist Church maintained the even tenor of her way; her increase was mainly by immigration; she was not seriously impaired by these outward trials.

     The early Baptist churches in Kentucky had troubles within.

     First. To secure unity between the two classes of Baptists, the Regulars and the Separates.

     The Separates Baptists had their origin in New England about the middle of the last century, as the result of the great revival under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. Those who withdrew from the "Standing Order" (Congregationalist) were called Separates or New Lights. Among their number was Shubal Stearns, who subsequently, on investigating the Scriptures, united with the Baptists, and was baptized by Elder Wait Palmer at Tolland, Connecticut, and was ordained to the Baptist ministry by Elders Palmer and Moore. He felt impressed that his work in the ministry was to be outside of New England, as in 1754, together with his wife, sons, and his two brothers and their wives, his brother-in-law, David Marshall and wife, Joseph Breed and wife, Enos Steinson and wife, and Joseph Polk and wife, he left for the South, and located on Sandy Creek, North Carolina, and immediately formed a church of these members of his household. David Marshall and Joseph R. Breed were appointed by the infant church to assist the pastor in his ministerial work. On his way to North Carolina he stopped for a short time in Northeast Virginia and formed acquaintance with two churches in that region. The spirituality of the Christian religion was then untaught and, only in isolated instances, was unknown in that region. The most wonderful effects resulted from the preaching of these men of God, and the spirituality of this little church on Sandy Creek, Guildford County, North Carolina, in the middle of the State, and about forty miles east of the Yadkin River, where Daniel Boone resided, at the time when he explored Kentucky. Dr. Cathcart says, "The parent body, in a few years, had six hundred and six members, and in seventeen years from its origin it had branches southward as far as Georgia, eastward to the sea and the Chesapeake Bay, and northward to the waters of the Potomac. It has become the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of forty-two churches, from which one hundred and twenty-five ministers were sent out as licentiates or ordained clergymen. And in after years the power that God gave Shubal Stearns and his Sandy Creek church in early years swept over Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina with resistless force, and brought immense throngs to Christ and established multitudes of Baptist churches." (Baptist Encyclopedia.) Probably no one minister in America has exerted so extensive and permanent influence. George Whitfield was Calvinistic in his view, so was Shubal Stearns. A peculiar feature of his church was a refusal to formulate articles of faith. They merely had a written Church Covenant, and took the Bible alone as their rule of belief. He possessed the spirit and activity of the early Methodists, and communicated the same to his disciples.

     The large majority of the earlier ministers of Kentucky were baptized by Separate Baptist ministers, imbibed the spirit and pursued the course of Shubal Stearns, traveling to distant fields of evangelical labor, organizing churches and becoming themselves pioneers in church enterprise. The Philadelphia Association was constituted in 1707, and at one time comprehended nearly all the churches from New England to South Carolina. She was the originator of Eaton's Academy at Hopewell, N. J., and Brown's University in Rhode Island, and her ministers were of considerable culture. She adopted and published her creed in 1742. (Printed by Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia, 1743.) This was the "Confession of Faith" by Baptists in London and the country in 1689. This mother of Baptist Associations in America exerted a most conservative and wise influence over these newly formed churches in the South. She commissioned her wisest men to visit the settlements, and to give wholesome instruction to the churches and their ministers. The churches connected immediately with her body were called "Regular," and those which arose from this new movement were termed "Separate." As a result of this judicious course most of the early ministers who came to Kentucky and established churches adopted the "Philadelphia Confession" as an exponent of their faith. The churches south of Kentucky River mostly organized on the original platform of Shubal Stearns, with simply a church covenant. The Associations of the Regular Baptists, both in Virginia and Kentucky, made overtures to the Separates for a union, which, after some delay, was consummated in Virginia, August 10, 1787, and in Kentucky, partially in 1797, and fully in 1801, under the name of "United Baptists," adopting in both States the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, with certain "explanations." Thus the Baptists of Virginia and Kentucky possess the two-fold elements of Calvinistic faith of the oldest Association iu America and the holy fervor and boundless zeal of the Separates -- a most excellent combination. The two classes are so thoroughly wedded, that for years past not only party names dropped, but the word "United" also, and "Baptist" alone remains to indicate our distinctive views.

     A second trial was the rise of Arianism within the bounds of Elkhorn Association. Henry Toulmin came from England to Kentucky in 1791. He was the son of Rev. Thomas Toulmin, of Taunton, England, a Baptist minister of learning, and author of a number of publications. Henry was well educated, and was regarded as an ordained Baptist minister. In 1792 he returned to England and published a description of Kentucky, in order to induce emigration to this country. In 1794, having returned to Kentucky, the trustees of Transylvania Seminary, at Lexington, elected him Principal of the Institution. In 1796, Col. James Garrard, elected Governor of the State, selected Harry Toulmin Secretary of State, and Continued him in the office during the eight years of his administration. He possessed the mind of the Governor with his Arian views, and the Governor influenced his pastor, Augustine Eastin, and through both, the Cooper's Run church, in Bourbon County, where they held their membership, to like views. The Association endeavored to convince these brethren of wrongly interpreting the Scriptures with reference to eternal and divine son-ship of Jesus Christ, but to no effect. The aged Gano, in 1803 was taken to Lexington, and though feeble in body, and had to be lifted into the pulpit, preached a masterly discourse on the Deity of Jesus Christ, which checked the spread of the heresy. (Spencer, Vol. I, p. 120.)

     Another trouble in the churches was respecting the institution of slavery. The Baptists in Virginia, as well as many of its most distinguished citizens, had their misgivings in reference to its continued existence at the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution. The Baptists had contended for religious liberty as well as political, and it was natural for them to carry the principle to that of personal liberty of the enslaved. Dr. Spencer gives a very full account of the agitation of this matter, from which we lean this historic fact (Vol. I, p. 182): "The subject of abolishing slavery was first introduced in the Baptist General Committee at their general meeting at Williams' meeting-house, in Goochland County, Va., March 7, 1788. The subject was regarded of such importance as to demand calm deliberation. It was deferred, in order for deliberation by the churches and the expression of their sentiments, until the meeting of the committee in Richmond, August 8, 1789. 'The propriety of hereditary slavery was taken up at this session,' says Mr. Semple, and after some time employed in the consideration of the subject, the following resolution was offered by Mr. John Leland, and adopted:

"'Resolved', That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government, and therefore recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land, and pray Almighty God that our honorable legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the great jubilee, consistent with the principles of good policy."

     The Baptists of Kentucky were too intimately connected with those of Virginia not to sustain with them a general harmony of sentiment, and so a like agitation pervaded the churches in Kentucky.

     In October, 1789, the subject was introduced into Salem Association by a query: "Is it lawful in the sight of God for a member of Christ's Church to keep his fellow-creature in perpetual slavery?" The Association declined to "enter into so important and critical a matter at present." Two other churches of the Association were in part or as a whole possessed of the same sentiment. Members of three churches, Cox's Creek, Cedar Creek, and Lick Creek, withdrew, and constituted an emancipation church six miles northwest of Bardstown. Elders Joshua Carman and Josiah Dodge headed this movement.

     In 1791 Elkhorn Association appointed a committee of three, to wit, Augustine Eastin, James Garrard, and Ambrose Dudley, to draw up a memorial to the Convention to be held on the third day of April next, requesting that body to take up the subjects of Religious Liberty and Perpetual Slavery, in the formation of the Constitution of the District, and to report at the Crossings on the 8th of September. At the meeting at the Great Crossings, the memorial of this committee favorable to emancipation was read and approved. The sentiments in reference to emancipation were not approved by the churches, so, at a meeting at Bryant's, in December, the action of the September meeting was reconsidered and rejected. In 1805 the Association passed the following resolution:

"This Association judges it improper for ministers, churches, and Associations to meddle with emancipation from slavery, or any other political subject, and, as such, we advise ministers and churches to have nothing to do therewith in their religious capacities."

     "Slavery," says Spencer (Vol. I, p. 484), "was by far the most fruitful of mischief of all the questions that agitated the Baptist churches of Kentucky from 1788 to 1820. Opposition to slavery extended to every part of the territory, and engaged the talents of some of the ablest ministers of the denomination."

     The principal agitators were Cornelius Duese, John Murphy, John H. Owen, Elijah Davidson, and Carter Tarrent, in the Green River Association; Joshua Carman, Josiah Dodge, and Thomas Whitman, in the Salem Association; William Hickman, John Satton, William Buckley, Donald Holmes, George Smith, George Stokes Smith, and David Barrow, in Elkhorn and Bracken Associations.

     Another matter troubled the churches at the opening of the present century, viz., secret societies. The first lodge of Free-masons in Kentucky was formed November 17, 1788, at Lexington. In the minutes of Long Run Association, in 1805, the subject of church members joining the Masonic lodge was discussed, and it was decided that "any member of our society is condemned in joining a Freemason lodge."

     In 1815 North District Association decided, "It is not right for members of the Baptist Church to sit in Freemason lodges."

     In 1817 Elkhorn "advised the members in our connection in no case to join the Masonic lodge."

     In 1818, upon a query from the church at Lexington, in reference to her action that it is considered inconsistent for the members of her body hereafter to unite themselves to the Masonic, Tammany, or any other society, the principle of which is secrecy, the Association approved the deliverance of the Lexington church.

     Our fathers regarded political, social, or worldly secret fellowships as undermining Christian and Church fellowship -- and I think so too.

     CHURCH DOINGS. -- The monthly church meeting on Saturday was regarded as all important. Every member was expected to be in attendance. After a sermon from the pastor, records of the last meeting read and approved or corrected and signed by both moderator and clerk; the church covenant was read, visiting brethren invited to seats, and a door was opened for the reception of members. If there was an applicant for membership by experience and baptism, the candidate narrated the exercises of his or her mind and heart while delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son; after which, the pastor or any member of the church was at liberty to interrogate the candidate upon points not satisfactorily explained, and if approved by unanimous vote of the members present, the right hand of fellowship was extended to them. We are not so particular about this matter now as our fathers were.

     The early Church was very strict in discipline., A single quotation will suffice upon this Point. Prof. J. N. Bradley, in his history of Great Crossing church, in the minutes of Elkhorn Association of 1876, gives a summary of matters of discipline in that church: "Members were dealt with for fighting, swearing, drunkenness, speaking evil of a brother, gambling, buying lottery tickets or managing lotteries, having connection with racing, dancing, or any thing of that character. There is a record of one having been excluded for allowing 'race-paths' to be cleaned out near his tavern. There is another case of this brother being advised to pay seventeen bushels of merchantable wheat to another brother on account of a contract; and still later the church insisted strongly on its members not even attending dancing picnics and barbacues, and in one case some of the leading men in the church on account of attending a barbacue were disciplined."

     Conclusion. From this very limited and imperfect sketch of the earliest Baptist churches in Kentucky, we are impressed with the physical and moral heroism of the ministers and members "in encountering the dangers and surmounting the difficulties attendant upon the early habitation of Kentucky; of their steadfastness to the faith and principles they professed in the midst of infidelity, worldly mindedness, profanity, drunkenness, gambling, and manifold other forms of wickedness; of the efforts put forth to gather the sheep in the wilderness into the folds of safety, and lead them into pastures of truth and righteousness, and of transmitting to us of the third and fourth generation their bright example of loyalty to the King of Zion."

[P. S. The latter part of this address was not delivered, as the moderator announced that my time was up.]

     Dr. Spencer will excuse me for not referring more frequently to his excellent work, "History of Kentucky Baptists," out of which I have derived a large portion of the matter in this address. Having devoted twenty years of his useful life in gathering materials for his work, he has left very limited gleanings of unrecorded facts.
W. M. P.


1. The limitations of this article require the omission of the catalogue of the distinguished statesmen, warriors, judges, and lawyers, ministers of the gospel, and civilians, who adorn the pages of the early history of Kentucky and occupy a portion of the address.


[From Memorial Volume Containing the Papers and Addresses that were Delivered at the Jubilee of the Association of the General Association of Baptists, Louisville, 1888, pp. 36-52.

Bio of Pratt

     WILLIAM M. PRATT, D.D., now one of the oldest active ministers in Elkhorn Association, was born in Madison county. N. Y., January 13, 1817. He finished his education at what is now Madison University, taking a course of four years in the collegiate, and two years in the theological department, graduating in 1839. He was married the day after he graduated, and within two weeks started to his field of labor at Crawfordsville, Ind. Here he conducted a female school about a year, preaching as he could make opportunity. After this he spent about four years in preaching and building up churches, in what was then a comparatively new country. In 1845, he moved from Indiana to Kentucky, and accepted a call to the First Baptist church in Lexington. He labored as pastor of this church, seventeen years, resigning in 1862. After this, he moved to Louisville, and, in addition to discharging the duties of Corresponding Secretary of the General Association, supplied the pulpit of Bank Street church, in New Albany, and, afterwards, at different times, those of Broadway and Walnut street churches in Louisville. In 1871, he took charge of the church in Shelbyville, where he ministered several years. Subsequently, he moved to Lexington, where he now resides. He is still (1885) actively engaged in the ministry.

     Dr. Pratt is not only an excellent preacher and pastor, but he is also a superior business man. He has been a prominent actor in the benevolent enterprises of the Kentucky Baptists, and has rendered invaluable service to the denomination, in the various capacities, in which he has served it.

[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 2, 1886; rpt. pp. 40-41, 1984. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Return to Kentucky Baptist Church Histories

Return to American Church Histories

Return to HOME Page