Chapter III. - Church in the Wilderness
The Autumn sun kindled the misty peaks of the frowning Alleghenies [sic], as the Pilgrim Church slowly descended the rugged steeps of the Blue Ridge. Already they had performed a long and painful journey. Yet settlements at convenient distances lay along their path, and the hospitalities of Virginia cheered them on their way. But they were now passing what was considered the boundary of the "Old Dominion."1 Before them was the wilderness, drear and desolate, whose dangers real and appalling, were heightened in horror by the tales of blood and suffering from returning and affrighted fugitives. "From the Holstein to the head waters of the Cumberland, the Kentucky and Clinch rivers, there dwelt not one single human inhabitant."2 The wandering tribes of the Shawnees, forsaking their "springs" and "cabins" at Winchester, or driven from their hunting grounds by the victorious Cherokees, wandered along the line of the Blue Ridge and Alleghanies, to the head waters of the Tennessee, the Broad River, and the Savannah. Secure amid those solitudes, where, ranged in frowning columns, the mountains flanked and hid their narrow path, the restless Shawnees passed from the Alabama to the banks of the Susquehanna; and in 1732 were found seven hundred fighting men in Pennsylvania, the most of whom were Shawnee emigrants. Thus sheltered in the wilderness from other hostile tribes, they filled it with dangers to the emigrant white man. The trace chosen by the red man, because of its safety, was everywhere marked with the blood of the pale face. And this path the pilgrims must follow, as the only one practicable, to their far off destination.
Such were the dangers before them, as they looked from the Blue Ridge on the cheerless wilderness and the distant mountains. Behind them were the homes of their childhood, on the banks of the Rappahanock, endeared to them by sufferings as well as joys. Among them were the aged, who were following their children to an unknown land, perhaps to a bloody grave. The venerable father, Jolever Craig, with his noble sons and numerous grandchildren around him, sat down beside his aged companion and wept aloud, as he looked for the last time on the land of his fathers, his own loved Virginia.
But the morning air rung with cheerful songs, as onward the pilgrims pursued their journey. Their wagons, which with difficulty they had brought thus far, they had to abandon at a sacrifice. Their "plunder," as they termed it, was fastened on pack saddles, made of forked timber cut from the trees, and hewed to fit the horses' backs without galling them. The women road on horseback, generally with a child in front, and often one behind, together with as much baggage as the beast could carry. The men, for the most part, walked the whole distance of near six hundred miles.
There were three hundred and sixty in the company, included children and servants; nearly two hundred members composed the traveling church. It had been constituted in 1767, by Read Harris and Dutton Lane. On the second of June, 1770, Lewis Craig became its pastor,3 then in his thirtieth year. It was from the yard of their meeting house that Craig, Waller, Childs, and three other preachers, were dragged before three magistrates, who came to the meeting to arrest them. Their church, blessed with successive and lasting revivals, was the special object of clerical malice, of legalized persecution, of popular insult and outrage. Brave and unbending had they stood amid the tempest. Nobly had they fought and won the battle of truth. They went forth to meet the dangers and endurances of a new settlement; filled with ardent, enthusiastic zeal for the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom.
Although the old Spotsylvania Church still continued its existence, and those leaving were by vote constituted an independent body, yet so small was the remnant left behind, that the old church book was brought along by the clerk; and the same pastor, the same deacons, and the same record book, made it, in fact, the old church, prepared to carry on its usual business whenever a halt was sounded. One such halt was ever after remembered with pleasure.4
In the month of November, on the margin of the Holstein, the second Lord's day dawned on the weary pilgrims. The early blast of the horn, which morning after morning rung through these desolate solitudes as the signal for starting on the new day's journey, was not heard. The white tents still stood along the stream, while the day poured its full radiance over the dark brown wilderness. It was the regular meeting day of the old Spotsylvania Church, and was ever afterwards considered by the pilgrims doubly sacred. It was an Indian summer. The deep-tinged clouds, in massive col[u]mn, rolled slowly through the calm sky, and a rich glory mantled the wild prospect. Behind them rose the Blue Ridge. At their feet murmured the flowing stream; and from the hoar summits of the Alleghanies, circled in clouds, blazed the circling light of morning.
The usual hour of worship arrived. The horn sounded for public worship. Sentinels were posted along the trace. On an out-cropping ledge of rocks Lewis Craig gave out a hymn, and the wilderness whose solitudes for centuries were disturbed but by the tread of the Indian, his war hoop and wild dance, now reechoed the harmonies of holy song, of christian praise.
"For the Lord's portion is his people," reads the preacher: " Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land in a most howling wilderness. He led him about. He instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye."
Of the pleasing melody of Lewis Craig's voice, all who ever heard him bear united testimony. One more musical and affecting few men possessed. Once heard it was seldom forgotten. But never did its rich tone and deep pathos equal the long remembered impression when he preached from the rock to the church in the wilderness;5 and as he dwelt on all they had suffered and all they had suffered and all the mercies they had received, and pointed them beyond this wilderness to the promised land of final rest, where partings are unknown, they wept as they thanked God and took courage.
As the services closed one of the sentinels ran into the camp with breathless haste. He had heard the reports of rifles in the distance. While he was telling it, another and another report was heard; and before one hour three men came into the camp. They had been attacked by a small party of Indians and driven back, and one of their number killed. They all spent a restless night, but it passed off quietly. The next morning it commenced raining. It rained nearly all the time the remainder of the journey. Some hours after they had started, they saw the man who was killed the day before, lying scalped and in his gore across the trace; they halted and dug a grave, where they deposited his remains. Distressing was the rest of their journey; the rain fell in torrents. It was cold, and the Clinch and Powell rivers were swollen. The trace was narrow and slippery. They were now in the most difficult, the most dreary, and at the same time the most dangerous part of their journey. They had already traveled about four hundred miles, nearly all of them on foot, over the worst of roads. Their shoes were torn and almost useless. It rained so unceasingly that it was impossible to dry their soaked garments. Their wheat biscuits gave out or became musty and uneatable; and not a deer bounded across their path, not a bird, not a living thing but what had deserted the dark, drear wilds from the Holstein to the Cumberland. As night appeared, wet and worn down, they built with difficulties their camp fires, and ground their corn with their little hand mills; and after eating their ash cake, and arranging for sleep on the damp ground, the voice of solemn, confiding prayer of grateful praise was heard from every tent — holy, affecting sounds, mingling strangely with the howling of the wolves and the wail of the wild winds. But each tent was a sanctuary; each christian was a priest of the most high; and altars, whence ascended richer incense than the wealth of earth could procure, were gladdened by the radiance of that star that beamed on the manger and the straw. Never did those pilgrims, in their after prosperity and comforts, feel as grateful, as trusting, as full of hope, as fit for heaven. Let their descendants, from their security and abundance, look back at the piety and content of their ancestry, and the contemplation will, or ought to, cover us with burning blushes.
About the first of December they passed the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland ford was high, as had been Powell's and the Clinch rivers. The men had to wade across it, breast deep, and travel till night in their wet and freezing clothes. Reports of Indians met them almost every mile of their journey from the Gap to Logan's Fort; but nothing occurred except the loss of some horses and cattle; and on the second Lord's day, in December, 1781, they had arrived in Lincoln, and met as a Baptist Church of Christ at Gilbert's Creek.
______________Old William Marshall preached to them, with their pastor, the first Sunday after their arrival. Among their members were nearly all the family of the Craigs, the old father and mother, four sons and their daughters, all married. The Bowmans, a name associated with the daring and bloody conflicts with the Indian warriors, are found in the list of Ashers, Singletons, Smiths, Hunts, Shotwells, Mitchums, Curds, Caves, Hickersons, Sanders, - many, in fine, whose names are familiar, and their descendants are to be found all over Kentucky, who were members of this traveling church. They built a little fort near Logan's, and called it Craig's Station; and within this enclosure of log cabins and stockades they had regular preaching weekly. Their cabins were about sixteen feet square, and furnished with a bed on the ground, or on poles resting on forks driven in the ground; table of a smaller character, and seats of short logs set on end. Their food was principally wild meat, which they learned to eat without bread or salt. Their clothing was to a great extent made of skins, and was, soon after their arrival, as scanty as that of their Indian foes. Corn could be obtained but with danger from the mouth of Bear Grass, near Louisville, and at from twenty to sixty dollars a barrel. The Indians were constantly making inroads upon the settlements, and it was at the peril of life that any one could live outside the Fort, or Station. But "fervent in spirit," they were also "diligent in business." They plunged into the "tangled wilderness," and before the sweep of their axe the dark forest disappeared. "Every year since I came to Kentucky," writes Joseph Craig, "I have had corn to sell." It was so with most of them; and soon prosperity added every comfort to their happy homes.
The First Regular Worshiping Congregation of any Kind in Kentucky.6
J. Craig, indeed, had prepared for the privations of the new country before he left Virginia, and his fore-thought, though it accomplished nothing else, displayed the faithfulness of a christian servant, and the influence of religion.
Peter, the servant of Joseph Craig, was among the first members of the old Spotsylvania church. He soon commenced preaching to his fellow servants, and was considered, even by the Craigs, a more effective preacher than "Master Joe." A year previous to the emigration of the Church, Peter was sent on ahead with a two-horse wagon and farming utensils, to raise, if possible, a small crop of corn for the use of the family on its arrival. He came the long journey by himself; keeping near, however, to a party he overtook on the way. He managed to work his way through every difficulty, and arrived safely at Bryant's Station in the spring of 1781. He ploughed, planted, and cultivated several acres of corn, but about the time it was tasselling an excursion of the Indians drove the settlers into the Fort, and the corn was destroyed. Old Peter wept as he looked on the desolation. He geered up his horses and went back alone, the whole distance of nearly six hundred miles, to tell his master his misfortunes, and arrived just as the Church was starting for Kentucky. Peter returned, and was their guide; and was long a faithful and useful preacher among his people.
The year 1782 opened with the gloomiest forebodings. Logan's Fort had been repeatedly attacked, and almost miraculously preserved. Logan found on the person of an Indian an offer of protection and pardon, directed from the British government to the despairing settlers, on their return to their allegiance to his Majesty, and denouncing ruin if they continued in rebellion. This was kept secret as long as possible, but it soon became known. By this they learned that the mighty resources of England were backing these unnumbered savages, while from the struggling colonies no assistance could be expected. But the threats and the reward, the dangers darkening round them, and the certainty of protection under the British flag, caused no wavering in those stout hearts. And among those tempted but unmoved patriots, were Baptists and Baptist preachers - Marshall and Thomas, and Tinsley - men who, in the language of Dr. Hawes, "were republican from religious principle;" and whose first blows on the battlements of English tyranny were embodied in the burning words of Patrick Henry, their leader, "give me liberty or give me death."
In 1782 occurred the memorable defeat of Estill, not far from Craig's Station. In that memorable and melancholy conflict, some of the members of Gilbert Creek Church were engaged, and the story with all the circumstances of locality, was told again and again, until even the children knew it by heart.
But the attacks of the Indians became less frequent and terrible as the number of emigrants increased. But little of interest occurred in the Gilbert Creek Church till the close of 1783, when Lewis Craig and the larger portion of the church moved into the neighborhood of Lexington. In the meantime, Joseph Bledoe, who, with the Craigs, had suffered fines and imprisonments in Virginia, moved into the neighborhood of Gilbert Creek. He was a Separate Baptist, and so indeed was Lewis Craig and William Marshall. The latter was a hyper-Calvinist, believing in eternal justification and eternal pardon. Joseph Bledsoe was an Arminian in his sentiments, and advocated a general atonement, and leaned towards justification by works. Not that either of them were willing to be called by those distinguishing appellations. They denied that they were either Calvinists or Arminians. Yet these terms marked the systems which each thought the word of God inculcated. Lewis Craig and the main body of the church were what would be termed Moderate Calvinists, or Fullerites - though this was before Fuller had given anything to the public. William Marshall, on the one side, and Joseph Bledsoe on the other, complained, the one of the Arminianism, and the other of the Calvinism of Craig. Neither of these old preachers joined the Gilbert Creek Church. It should be remembered here that this Church, in which the only difficulties that occurred were about doctrine, had no creed, no articles of faith, no formula nor abstract - nothing but the word of God. The first Baptist Church in Kentucky, like the first Baptist Church in Rhode Island, had no creed but the Bible. But that the written or published principles of a community must cause division, or that the entire absence of a written creed or confession, must necessarily effect harmony and union are propositions equally at war with sound reasoning and stern facts. The little community at Gilbert's Creek, with the New Testament as their only creed, still differed about its teachings, and a want of harmony existed.
In the bitter month of December, 1783, John Taylor landed at Bear Grass, on his way to Craig's Station. "It was a gloomy thing," says Taylor, "at that day, to move to Kentucky. Nor had I seen the place, and without a single friend or acquaintance to accompany me with my helpless family; to feel all the horrors that then lay in the way. We took water at Red Stone, and for the want of a better opening, I paid for a passage in a lonely, ill-fixed flat-boat of strangers. The river being low, this lonesome boat was about seven weeks before she landed at Bear Grass. Not a soul was then landed on the Ohio River between Wheeling and Louisville - a distance of five or six hundred miles - and not one hour, day or night, in safety. Though it was now winter, not a soul in all Bear Grass (Louisville) was in safety but by being in a Fort. I meditated traveling eighty miles further to Craig's Station, in Lincoln county. We set out in a few days. Nearly all I owned was at stake. I had three horses, two of them were packed, the other my wife rode, with as much lumber besides as the beast could bear. The pack-horses were led, the one by myself, the other by my (black) man. The trace being so narrow and bad, we had no chance but to wade through all the mud, rivers and creeks till we came to Salt River. With a number of its branches we had to deal often. Those waters being flush, we often must wade to our middle, the weather cold. Those struggles often made us forget the danger we were in from Indians. We encamped in the woods, where we could only look for protection from the Lord. One Indian might have defeated us. After six days' painful travel of this kind, we arrived at Craig's Station, a little before Christmas. My wife was in a very helpless state for about a month; after our arrival my son Ben, was born."7
On his arrival, Taylor found his old friend and father in the gospel. Lewis Craig was gone to the north side of the Kentucky River, near Lexington. Such was the pastor's influence that nearly the whole church followed him, and but a small remnant was left at Gilbert Creek. It had nearly as many preachers as male members. William Marshall, Joseph Bledsoe, Richard Cave, Joseph Craig, G. Stokes Smith, Samuel Asher, and now John Taylor, were all members, some of them having joined after Lewis Craig had removed. In some months afterwards, Taylor, Cave, Joseph Craig, Asher, and about half the remnant of the church had moved over into the neighborhood of Lexington, and what is now Woodford county.
When it was found necessary for mutual advice and cooperation to form an association, the question of the Philadelphia Confession was introduced. It was held at Lewis Craig's in 1785. The Gilbert Creek Church, now under the influence of Bledsoe, and indeed all the churches south of the Kentucky objected to any Confession, a union could not be effected; and the Gilbert's Creek Church entered into a reorganization as a separate Baptist Church. It still stands; but we shall pass, for the present, from its history, to follow the pioneer of Kentucky Baptists, Lewis Craig, and the oldest church on the north side of the Kentucky River.
Our future path will be plain, and our progress more rapid. We shall trace the establishment and advance of the immortal principles of the Baptists in this natural park of the Indian, the garden spot of Kentucky, and perhaps of the world. South Elkhorn, Clear Creek, Great Crossing and Bryant's Station, spots, some of which calls up, in connection with the constitution of Baptist churches, tales of blood and scenes of suffering - of Indian cruelties, victories and defeats.
1 As late as 1756 the Blue Ridge was the North-Western frontier. - Marshall's Washington. In 1781, west of the James River, it was looked upon in the same light by the emigrants.
2 John Haywood's History Tenn., p. 35.
3 Semple's History of Virginia Baptists, p. 10.
4 For these and other facts to be recited, I am indebted to several immediate descendants of members of this church, and an old way-bill of the journey obtained from John Lancaster when in his eighty-third year; but especially to Samuel H. Craig, of Woodford, son of Joseph Craig. He is the only survivor that came in this company. He was then six years old, and is now in his eighty-fourth year. His strength of body and mind is remarkable. The old gentleman stood a whole hour while I preached recently in Versailles, so as to hear all the sermon. He afterwards told me I misquoted one text.
5 This, of course, is traditional.
6 Asplund, in his register, sets this church down 1783; and Nolima and Cedar Creek churches 1782. I have his register on which is written, "George Stokes Smith bought of John Assplend, a Sweed;" and this ancient mistake is made with the pen. Smith was a member of this church. Aspplend must have overlooked altogether the old church and meant the separate church constituted by Joseph Bledsoe. See also, Davidson's History of Presbyterians in Ky., Finley, Inley Marshall.
7 History Tenn. [Ten] Churches, p. 13, 14.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, March, 1856, pp. 133-142. The footnotes are changed to endnotes; symbols to numbers. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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