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History of the Kentucky Baptists
The Christian Repository, 1856
By Samuel H. Ford

Chapter V. - South Elkhorn - Clear Creek - and Big Crossing Churches - Formation of Elkhorn Association
A country's wealth and beauty consist as much in its streams as in its soil. The one is rarely found but beside the other. Without the spring, the brook, the river, the richest soil is usually abandoned to its wild luxuriance. To the explorers of a new country, the streams, so essential to their existence, are the guides, the landmarks, the prominent features by which the face of each particular region is diversified and known. Along their level margin the pioneer huntsman would find, perhaps, the only passable path. Their murmuring flow cheered his solitude; the animals that lingered on the banks supplied an abundance of game; and the towering bluff, the gorge, the dark recess, or hidden cave, afforded shelter and security. The stream became a kind of companion; there was society in its presence. For months Daniel Boone lived on the banks of the Shawnee, sheltered through the bitter winter in a cave; and at its mouth still stands a tree on which, during those solitary months, he carved his name. In almost any other age or nation, these streams, and medicinal waters, would have been peopled with nymphs, genii or saints. Known to us by more poetic names, those salt springs and streams would be objects of superstitious veneration.

But to the pioneers of Kentucky, euphonious sounds and effeminate superstition were alike strangers. Brooks, rivulets, and streamlets were called by the harsher names of creeks, runs, and branches. From some local incident or fancied resemblance their names were derived. Big Bone Lick, and Muddy Lick, and Cow Lick, are names of as bright and healing waters as flow in any land. Crooked Creek, Dry Creek, and Brushy Creek, names given by the first hunters, are the names of some of the wealthiest settlements in Kentucky. That by these singular names the old churches of Kentucky Baptists are called, has been used in ridicule by their more ignorant opposes. If the Baptist churches of Kentucky are called after creeks, and licks, and runs, and this proved their desire to have their gatherings near murmuring streams, they need not blush at it. But the first settlements were made on those streams, and were known by the same name. The first churches were Baptist, and were constituted in those settlements, and of course called after them.

A few miles below Frankfort a deep, clear stream, empties its waters into the Kentucky; about ten miles from its mouth two small rivers meet and form the main stream or trunk. The numerous branches of those two streams, and the appearance at their conjunction suggested the branching horns of the elk; and the river, with its numerous tributaries, received the name of Elkhorn. Following up its southern branch, winding through Franklin, Woodford, and Fayette, it sweeps round Lexington, receiving a tribute from a clear spring which rises near Ashland, meanders through Lexington, and is called the Town Fork of Elkhorn. A richer or lovelier country that that through which these waters flow, can hardly be found beneath the sun; and though its aspect, when robed by nature's unaided hand, and decked with her luxuriant beauties is changed and furrowed by the march of years and improvement; though the elk and the buffalo have long disappeared, and the deer that bounded from the tall waving cane at the startling tread of the hunter; and the native clover and wild pea vine, sheeting broad glades and table lands with breathing flowers, burdening the air with their perfumed sweets; though there remain few of the features which called forth from the first beholders those bursts of enthusiastic delight, yet the traveler as he passes through it will pause to pay tribute of admiration to a spot on which nature has been so lavish of her gifts.

In the center of this region stands Lexington. About six miles south, where the south fork of Elkhorn crosses the road from Lexington to Harrodsburg, Lewis Craig, in 1783, purchased land, and soon after moved his family from the settlement on Gilbert's Creek. This was one year after the incorporation of Lexington by the Legislature of Virginia, and while it was still defended by a block-house and fort.1

Such was the influence of Lewis Craig on those belonging to his church, that wherever he moved numbers would at once sell out and follow him. No sooner had he settled on South Elkhorn than, one after another, nearly the whole of the church at Gilbert's Creek purchased and settled in Fayette, some on Clear Creek, others on Marble Creek, but most of them in his immediate neighborhood.

He preached in his mill, or in the woods; and the first time the ordinance of baptism was observed in Kentucky, was performed by Lewis Craig.

The number of Baptists in the settlement were now sufficient to justify the regular constitution of a church; and accordingly a conference was held at the house of Lewis Craig for that purpose. From its minutes the following is copied:

"Fayette County, North Side of Kentucke River
"At a church meeting, held by appointment, at South Elkhorn, Saturday, the 31st of July, 1784: Present, Wm. Cave, George Smith, John Haydon, John Conner and Jacob Hiatt, and others. Wm. Cave was chosen moderator and Richard Young, clerk; a motion was made for a church of Christ, called Baptist, to be organized in this country, which was debated and agreed to; and that the Philadelphia Confession of Faith be adopted.

"Members present, who were considered in this constitution and agreed to this Confession of Faith - Lewis Craig, Elizabeth Craig, Mary Craig, John Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Benjamin Craig, Ann Craig, Philemon Hawkins, Catherine Hawkins, Richard Young, Mary Young, George Boon, Reuben Craig, Sallie Craig. John Craig and Sarah Craig received by letter."2

This was constituted in the forests of Kentucky, ere the Indian had retired from his hunting grounds, the first church of any description, in that wide sweep of country stretching from the Kentucky river to the Virginia line.

The rules of order were few, simple, but not exceptional. They were not confined to those immediately connected with the church, but were thus headed: "Rules and Regulations to be observed by the church: and that the Baptist professors, not joined to this society, be requested to attend the next meeting and give their reasons for not joining." This is the singular caption to the regulations of the church; nor did it remain a dead letter, but was regularly enforced. Those who would not attend, or who could give no good reason for not joining, were dealt with, and the clerk ordered to write to the churches which granted them letters. A plan which it were well to re-adopt. It was the duty of the moderator never to express his opinion on any business matter, unless he gave up his chair while the question was pending. He was "collect the mind of the church before giving his opinion." This is the imperative duty of every moderator. And the habit of urging a matter, or answering an opponent, or letting it be known on which side of a question the moderator is on in a matter of church discipline, is a violation of his obligation. Another rule was, if any one shall "publicly express his satisfaction with a candidate," till the vote is taken, "he shall be reproved."

This excellent custom is, in many churches, most mischievously changed for its opposite. Pastors frequently tell the church that they are satisfied, and then take the vote; or simply ask, "is there any objection?" Such a custom would have been publicly reproved by our fathers, and should be so still. If any one wishes to join the church he ought to tell it to the church, not to the leaders, its presbytery, or priest. The church should hear it, and the church decide on the evidences of his moral fitness to enter her communion. A departure from this scriptural rule may swell the numbers of a church during an excitement, but like the ephemra [ephemera], they will live but for a day - when the excitement sinks to rest they will sink back in moral death.

Any member had a right to invite into the pulpit a traveling preacher, but the church reserved the right to "deny the privileges of the pulpit" to "any one who reflects on our constitution." The effects of both these rules will be afterwards seen.

To linger over the early history of this church, and pay a passing tribute to its more prominent members, would not be a waste of time or attention. From its constitution to its final expulsion from the Elkhorn Association, and connection with the current Reformation; the defeat of its old pastor, John Shakelford, and the triumph of Jacob Creath - its checkered and to some extent, war-like history, is fraught with lessons of wisdom and warning. Faithfully shall all be recorded.

Among its early members were Abraham Bowman, known in the revolutionary history of the country. Distinguished as a colonel in the army of Washington, he became an humble, consistent christian, whose influence on society in its formation in Kentucky, was manifest and beneficial. He was a member, from Fayette county, of the Legislature that met under the first Constitution of Kentucky. James Garrard, who was connected with this church, and afterwards a member at Cooper's Run, was one of the members from Kentucky in the Virginia Legislature which ratified the Constitution of the United States. Than the Craigs, a nobler set of men never trod this soil. In the convention that met in Danville, in 1785, John Craig was a prominent and influential member. And the first effort made in the West to awaken a spirit of intellectual improvement, announced in the "Kentucky Gazette" as "a society for promoting useful knowledge," was an appeal published in that paper in Dec., 1787, and is signed by John Craig, James Speed, Robert Johnson and James Garrard, all Baptists, and three of them members of South Elkhorn Church.

Clear Creek Church
There are other aspects, however, not so pleasing to dwell on. The settlements were sparsely populated, were rude, and constantly exposed to danger from the Indians. After a temporary stay at Gilbert's Creek, John Taylor moved to the north side of the Kentucky, abut two miles from John Craig's Station, on Clear Creek, then Fayette, but now Woodford county. He moved in the summer of 1784, and thus describes his situation and the state of society:
"Rather than go into fort, I settled on my own land, with no family between me and the Indian towns, and in the height of war. For the next winter the people settled out, so that we soon began to hold night meetings. Our Sunday preaching was uniformly at the Station. I now began to think seriously of my situation. For some time we had to pack corn forty miles, and men send a mile to a hand mill to grind it, before we could get bread. As to meat, it had to come from the woods and myself no hunter. My little cabin, sixteen feet square, with no floor but the natural earth, without table, bedstead or stool. Perhaps in the month of August I joined the South Elkhorn Church, under the pastoral care of Lewis Craig, who was now in the prime of life * * * Notwithstanding the exertion of the people in the woods to get something to subsist on, there seemed to be some melting move among them."3
The settlement on Clear Creek was about ten miles from South Elkhorn; nearly half of the church were living in this neighborhood, and John Taylor preached regularly in the fort. The church meetings were held alternately at South Elkhorn and Clear Creek. The materials and necessity now existed for a church at Clear Creek. Many desired that one should be constituted. But many of the members had followed Lewis Craig through the wilderness; they had moved after him from Gilbert's Creek. Could they be cut off from their old pastor? And if a church were constituted, would they not lose him? They seemed to have no idea of his preaching to them once a month, and he the pastor of two churches. Such a thought was as distant from them as for him to take two wives. Here was a difficulty.

"Though we had four ordained preachers among us, all of us did not make on Lewis Craig. But after several counsels we concluded to have a church convenient to us; we would go into a constitution with the understanding that brother Craig would visit us and set us right when we got wrong. To this height of respectability was Lewis Craig in Kentucky."4

At the church meeting at South Elkhorn, April 23d, 1785, Lewis Craig, moderator, Elder William Hickman and Elizabeth Hickman received by letter. A motion being made for a constitution of a church at Clear Creek, was ordered to be laid over till the next regular meeting. At the May meeting it was taken up and laid over to the adjourned meeting on Sunday.

"May 29th, 1785. Met according to adjournment. A motion was made for the constitution of a church at Clear Creek. Debated and agreed to, and that the helps called were present, Lewis Craig, Geo. Smith, William Cave, William Hickman, Benjamin Craig, Jno. Hayden, Samuel Dedman, who were to counsel and advise the church; and it was unanimously agreed that the boundary was as follows, between Clear Creek and South Elkhorn: to begin where the road between Clear Creek and Lexington crosses Shannon's Run, thence a straight line to Scott's Station, thence south to Kentucky, and from the beginning a north course to the south fork of Elkhorn."

Those acquainted with the country will see that these two churches divided the whole of north Kentucky. The object of this specification was, that the ancient rule might be enforced, of each person to belong to his own "parish," and each church extending its watch-care over those in its own vicinage.

Among the early members of Clear Creek, were the representatives of many large families now scattered though the South and West. The Caves, Watkinses, Stuarts, Ruckers, Dupeys, Craigs, Graveses, Woolridges, Singletons, Mortons, Shaws, Youngs. They were, most of them, members of the old Spotsyvania church in Virginia, and followed the Craigs through the wilderness, and formed the first church of any name in Kentucky - the Baptist Church of Christ, on Gilbert's Creek. They formed a principal part of the first church north of the Kentucky, on South Elkhorn; and on the 3d Saturday, the 18th of June, 1785, they were constituted into a Church of Christ on Clear Creek, by Lewis Craig, William Hickman, George Smith, and James Garrard. After considerable difficulties as to the propriety of a pastor, helps were called for the purpose of an election. It was made a day of fasting and prayer. Lewis Craig was moderator, according to a previous resolve; and a wise and time-honored custom, each member's name was called out by the clerk, and the moderator asking them - "Whom do you choose for your pastor?" It was a solemn and impressive scene. Not a whisper was heard, not a word dare be spoken to influence a vote. All was done as in the sight of God alone, and with confidence in his assistance; and a deep sense of the responsibility of the transaction. The persons called out, answered by giviving [giving] the name of him preferred as pastor. No explanations were allowed. No one dare find fault with the choice. It was regarded as the individual's conscientious decision. To object to it, or try to control it, would have been deemed highly criminal. There were four Elders belonging to the church; each had their friends; some of them were surrounded by those who had been members of their old churches in Virginia. But when Craig announced the decision of the majority, it was regarded as the fair, unbiased voice of the church; was recognized as the voice of God. Not a murmur, not a difficulty succeeded the choice of a pastor; and were such a custom followed still - were miserable cliques, called "Committees," forever abandoned to the regions of Babylon, whence they are borrowed -- were the voice of the church brought out in the choice of a pastor, the ruin of ministerial reputation and usefulness, and the wreck of churches would not so often sadden us. [Editor's note: John Taylor was chosen as the pastor of the church. - jrd]

But these characteristics of our early churches should be grouped together after other churches shall have been introduced.

The Great Crossing Church
Or, as it was first known, the Big Crossing. During the year 1776, several families collected from the mouth of Kentucky River and Drennon's Lick, and built a fort at Royal Spring, where Georgetown, Scott county, now stands. About three miles north-west of the spring, the great buffalo trace from the south Kentucky to the Ohio, crossed the Elkhorn. A small fort was built there in 1778, but was soon abandoned, as was also Clelland's Station, at the Royal Spring. Clelland was killed, and his party returned to Harrodsburg and Bryan's Station. The winter of 1783-4 was a severe one, yet the hunters and surveyors were out in all directions pursuing their different objects. Colonel Robert Johnson, whose residence had been at Bryan's Station, removed to the Great Crossing in the spring of 1784. It was the most exposed frontier. Not a week, scarcely a day, passed but some Indian sign was seen, or some desperate effort to invade or burn the fort.5 This was erected a few hundred yards from the crossing.

Col. Johnson was distinguished for that high-toned integrity and courage which marked the age in which he lived; and in the sanguinary conflicts with the savage foe, the confidence reposed in his skill and courage, gave him a conspicuous position in any hazardous enterprise. A companion in arms with Logan and Clark, and Boone, he was elected to the first Convention held in Danville to form Kentucky into a State; was a member of the Convention which framed the first Constitution, and was among the first senators chosen by the electors in 1792. His sons, Richard M. Johnson, and James Johnson, and J. T. Johnson, are names familiar.

No sooner did the settlement increase around the crossing fort, than Johnson, who was a man of God, urged the constitution of a church. Lewis Craig, John Taylor and William Hickman had made visits, and preached in the fort while sentinels kept guard, and bands of Indians were known to be in the vicinity. The internal space, surrounded by block-houses and palisades, was the temples where God was worshiped and his word proclaimed.

On the 23d of May, 1785, sixteen Baptists were gathered in the cabin of Col. Robert Johnson for the purpose of giving themselves to each other and the Lord. They were William Cave, Robert Johnson, James Suggett, William Carr, Bartlett Collins, and nine others. One month afterwards, in the fort, with the echo of the war-cry still ringing in their ears, and tragic scenes of blood and massacre fresh in their memory, Lewis Craig, Wm. Hickman, and John Taylor attended as helps; and the "Baptist Church of Jesus Christ at Big Crossing," made the third church constituted north of the Kentucky river. For the first year nothing of special importance occurred, except that Elijah Craig moved soon after into the neighborhood, and became pastor of the church. In the meantime we constituted in the northern part of Kentucky, the Limestone Church.

In 1784, Simon Kenton returned from Virginia, where he had gone for his family, and settled near his old camp near the present town of Washington. He had cultivated a small patch of corn some years previously; but the inroads of the Indians had now to all appearances, been effectually checked, and numerous emigrants settled around his fort. On a creek, whose water empty into the Ohio, where Maysville now stands, a number of Baptists had settled. Among them was William Wood, of Virginia, whose misfortunes will appear in another place. He constituted these scattered Baptists into a church in July, 1785. Among them were one of the Wallers and E Dobbins. It was scattered in two years by the attacks of the Indians; and the constitution of a church at Washington, and a remnant, afterwards met for worship on the other side of the Ohio, and was finally dissolved. On the south side of the Kentucky river was a church older than any of those mentioned - Tate's Creek Church. It was constituted in 1783, one year before South Elkhorn; but as it was soon afterwards united with an association on the south side of the river, its history is interwoven with that of the Tate's Creek Association.6

Formation of Elkhorn Association
Having now introduced these six churches, their constitution, rules of decorum, and ministers, and more prominent members, we can appreciate their desire for, and need of associational fellowship, counsel and support. There were other churches in the State. One at Cedar Creek, at Nolin, and one at Beargrass (Louisville). With many of these Lewis Craig had labored in times of persecution in Virginia. He ardently desired to have them united with him in this "foreign land." To effect it, a conference was called.

Minutes of the First Conference for an Association
At a conference held at Lewis Craig's, on South Elkhorn June 25th, 1785 - Lewis Craig, moderator, Richard Young, clerk.
Present, Joseph Bledsoe, Wm Hickman, John Taylor, George S. Smith, Joseph Craig, and others.
Agreed to be ruled in any matter coming before them by a majority.
On a query touching the Philadelphia Confession of Faith as a rule of communion -
By a majority, agreed that it be strictly adhered to.
Elijah Craig, Augustus Easton and James Garrard, invited to seats.
Adjourned to meet at John Craig's, on Clear Creek, September 3d, next.

The discussion was warm and decisive. The old and distracting differences between the Regular and Separates were renewed, and disunion and alienation ensued.

The first Baptist Association, from which most of those in Virginia and Kentucky derive their origin, was held at Sandy Creek Church, Guilford county, North Carolina, in January, 1760. Shubal Stearns, the first Separate Baptist preacher, was the father of this Association. Stearns was a preacher in the new light stir under the ministry of Mr. Whitfield, in New England. He and his followers were called Separates. In 1751, he was convinced of believer's baptism, and became the founder of that large denomination known as Separate Baptists. When Mr. Stearns changed, some of the pedo-Baptists followed him. They were then called Separate Baptists. Hence we see this distinction did not originate in a difference in principle, but rather by accident.

The Regulars were originally emigrants from England, who settled in South-eastern Virginia, and were so numerous as to arrest public attention in the middle of the seventeenth century.

In 1778-9, the Separates and Regulars seriously disagreed. Points of doctrine were discussed, and communion and fellowship withdrawn. The difficulties were dragged by the emigrants over the mountains, and renewed with fresh vigor in Kentucky. The Separates were in the majority, but many of these were Calvinistic, and uniting with the few Regulars, left the more Arminian Separates in the minority. The Philadelphia Confession was the test and the bone of contention.

The conference adjourned without forming a union. Three months afterwards, those accepting the Confession met and organized the Elkhorn Association, deriving its name from the South Elkhorn Church, where the first conference was held. Its first minutes.7

"Baptist Association held at Clear Creek, Friday, the 30th of September, 1785, at 3 o'clock; sermon by Brother Wm Hickman, from the 23d chapter of Exodus, 30th verse; Wm. Wood chosen Moderator, Richard Young, Clerk. Letters were read from six churches.

Delegates' Names
Gilbert's Creek - Geo. S. Smith and John Price.
Tate's Creek - John Tanner, Wm. James and Wm. Williams.
South Elkhorn - Lewis Craig, Wm. Hickman, and Benjamin Craig.
Clear Creek - John Taylor, James Rucker and John Dypuy.
Big Crossing - Wm Cave, Bartlett Collins and Robert Johnson.
Limestone - Wm. Wood and Edward Dobbins.

Being assembled together, and taking into serious consideration what might be most advantageous for the glory of God, the advancement of the kingdom of the Dear Redeemer and the mutual comfort and happiness of the churches of Christ; having unanimously agreed to unite in the strongest bonds of christian love and fellowship; and in order to support and keep that union, do hereby adopt the Baptist Confession of Faith, first put forth in the name of the seven congregations met together in London in the year in 1643, containing a system of the Evangelical Doctrines agreeably to the gospel of Christ, which we do heartily believe in and receive, but something in the 3d and 5th chapters in said book we do except, if construed in that light that makes God the cause or author of sin; but we do acknowledge and believe God to be an Almighty Sovereign, wisely to direct and govern all things so as to promote his own glory. Also in chapter 31st, concerning laying on of hands on persons baptized as essential in their reception into the church. It is agreed on by us, that the using or not using of that practice shall not effect our fellowship each to the other.

And as there is a number of christian professors in this country, under the Baptist name - in order to distinguish ourselves from these, we are of opinion that no appellation is more suitable to our profession than that of Regular Baptist, which name we profess.

WM. WOOD, Moderator."

The "Confession of Faith," or publication of the soul's convictions of those who were willing to die in their defence, was first put forth in the name of seven congregations met together in London in 1643; was the same in substances as that published by the ministers and members of upwards of one hundred Baptist churches met in London in 1689, and adopted by the Baptist Association met in Philadelphia in 1742. It was but the expression of what they understood God's word to teach; and yet there were serious objections to its adoption. With the Separates the objection were insuperable; they withdrew and formed the South Kentucky Association. But despite these and others discouragements, the standard of truth was uplifted and steadily borne onward by those valiant men. Success crowned their efforts. They lived to labor, and fell covered with glory.

The church at Bryan's Station, Marble Creek, Washington, Booneboro', Town Fork and Copper Run, with their progress and difficulties in the next succeeding sessions of the Elkhorn Association, will occupy the next chapter.


1 The first grist mill erected in Kentucky was built by Lewis Craig. It was afterwards sold to John Higbee, a member at South Elkhorn, and known as Higbee's Mill. See Collins' History, p. 273.

2 Asplund's register dates this church 1785, evidently a mistake of a year. I have with considerable difficulty obtained the old church record from which I have quoted.

3 History of the Ten Churches, p. 46.

4 History Ten Churches., p. 54. Elder Taylor dates from memory. I have quoted from the original records, and of course am correct.

5 Collins' History of Kentucky., p. 509.

6 Asplund dates it 1785; it was 1783.

7 The minutes of this Association were not printed for several years. With much trouble I have procured copies of the written minutes.


[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, pp. 261-273. The Footnotes are changed to endnotes; the symbols to numbers. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Chapter Six
Ford's Kentucky Baptist History
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