Chapter VII. - McConnell's Run - Stamping Ground - Bracken's Association
The difficulties in the Crossing Church resulted in a friendly separation and the constitution of a new Church. The minority with Elijah Craig, were collected by that man of God, William Hickman, on whose head fell the blessings promised to the peacemaker. He preached in a large barn, of Mrs. Ficklin's. His labors were blessed to the conversion of many in the neighborhood; and some old Baptists, living near, together with the young converts, formed a very respectable and able Church, under the care of Elijah Craig.1 Craig lived in Georgetown; was still engaged in extensive business operations, and resigning the care of the Church, William Hickman was called to its pastorship.
The intrepidity of McConnell, and his achievements in the Indian wars, gave his name to a small creek in the north-west of the present county of Scott. On the banks of this stream the new Church was organized in 1796, and called McConnell's Run. William Hickman, George Eve, and Richard Cave, assisted in its constitution. Among those in the constitution, were Rhodes Smith, John Payne, Toliver Craig, William Hawkins, and other prominent and active men. The Church steadily prospered under the ministration of a succession of faithful pastors - Elijah Craig, George Eve, John Taylor, Samuel Trott, Theoderic Bowlware, James Surgett, and S. McNoel. With one exception, these worthies have gone to their reward; but their foot-prints may still be traced in the fields of their labors. Among the memberships were men of sterling integrity, great moral worth, and strong intellect. Nathaniel Mothershead, John Scott, Travis Alexander, Thomas, and Herndon, were pioneers in every moral and social improvement. Rhodes Smith, among the last of this noble band that was called to his fathers, filled many important stations in political life with honor and distinction; yet devoted to his Church, and prompt in the discharge of every duty, he added to its strength, and gave consistency to its operations. Seldom was he absent from his place in the house of God; never did his public life cause him to shrink from or evade his responsibilities as a Christian and a member of the Church.
Large herds of buffalo, in search of salt springs, made a kind of gathering place of a spot in the north-west of Scott county, not far from the Great Crossings. Not only the under-growth, but the soil, for some distance around, was stamped down below its natural level. This was sufficient to designate the region, and it was consequently called Stamping Ground. In 1819, a large, new meeting house was erected on this ground, where a little village had sprung up, and the Church changed its name from McConnell's Run to Stamping Ground, or, as it was familiarly called, the "Stomp Church." Though its beginning was in the midst of dissension, and the difficulties which terminated its organization came near dividing the Association, yet few Churches or societies in Kentucky have enjoyed greater peace and prosperity. Soon after the erection of the new building, in 1822, a revival, under the labors of James Suggett, added greatly to the strength of the Church. Among the additions were Elder James Black, and his wife. He soon commenced exhorting and praying in public; and in 1829 was called to the pastorate of the Church. This relation he has sustained for twenty-seven years, useful and beloved, having, during that time, baptized into the fellowship of the Church, not less than one thousand persons.
Other Churches sprung up. In places where, till recently, the foot of civilization had never trod; often without a home of worship; without a missionary; without a regular preacher, the "two or three gathered together," and following the guidance of the gospel, planted independent and spiritual Churches of Jesus Christ.
Lick Creek Church. Not far from the present town of Shelbyville, stood a frontier fort, or station, erected by Esquire Boone, in 1781. In this fort, in 1782, Lewis Craig preached the first sermon ever preached in the counties of Nelson, Shelby, or Jefferson, then comprised in the last named county. Alarmed by the inroads of the Indians, the fort was soon after abandoned, and the inhabitants took shelter at Beargrass, now Louisville. As the Indian signs disappeared, a few families ventured again into the wilderness, and settled about mid way between Big Benson and Shelbyville. Among these were several Baptists. No sooner was this known, than some of those apostolic men of God risked danger and death to mingle among them, and break to them the bread of life. In the fort built by Bracket Owen, Elders William Taylor and John Whitaker took up their abode. The zeal and self-sacrificing spirit of these men has never been fully known or appreciated. The company which settled at Esquire Boone's station, in their flight to Louisville - necessarily encumbered with women and children, and house-hold goods - was attacked by a large party of Indians, near Long Run. Many of these were wounded, some taken prisoners, and several killed. In going from the falls to the newly erected forts, a small company was always in danger, and would often be attacked and defeated. Many years subsequent, a regular guard accompanied messengers from one fort to another. Yet these two missionaries of the Cross, Taylor and Whitaker, without even the possibility of remuneration, plunged into the tangled forest; traveled on foot, and through the midnight cold of winter, with the signs of the savage meeting them at every step, to preach the words of life at the little out stations. Their heroism has never been recorded; yet does it not stand almost without a parallel?
In 1786, they gathered eight persons, baptized believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the fort in the wilderness, with the war-cry of the savage in the distance, constituted a gospel Church. No records of that little encampment remain. The storm of savage war broke over them; several were killed, and the rest scattered; but its name, and the recollection of its trials, remained; and when the storm was passed, they were again gathered in the fort, under the ministrations of the venerable Hickman.
"Two young men," he tells us, "sons of Mr. Bracket Owen, solicited me to come down to their father's, to preach, as their mother was an old professor (a Baptist). I concluded to go. The day came that I was to start. It was a cold season, so much so that everything was frozen up. We crossed the river (at Frankfort) one at a time, and swam our horses by the side of the canoe. When we all got over, the moon was shining. We had twenty miles to go in the night; sometimes it was snowing, and then the moon would shine out. We crossed Benson nineteen times. At some fords the ice would bear us over; at others, some steps it would bear us, and then break in. We continued this disagreeable road, if such it could be called, till we came to the waters of what was called 'Lick Creek.' We passed a number of evacuated camp-fires, whose owners had been killed or driven off by the Indians. The night was bitter cold, and wet. It was about three o'clock when we arrived at the gate of the fort. The old gentleman was not there, and the old lady had strongly barred up the gate, and it was some time before we could convince her who we were, as she was afraid of a decoy. At last she let us in. She soon got a good fire, and a warm supper, or, rather, breakfast, and put all to bed and covered us up warm."
Such is the simple record of this man of God. Such were the labors, the zeal, the sacrifices, of our forefathers in the Baptist ministry.
"The next morning she sent out runners to the different forts, and about noon collected one of the rooms nearly full of people. About two years before, a small Church had been constituted; but the Indians were so very bad among them, that they scattered, and kept up no (Church) government."2
Hickman preached to them several days in the different little forts. With glad hearts did the few scattered people of God listen again, amid the dangers of the forest, to the words of life and consolation that gushed from the warm heart of the servant of the Lord. The philosopher might have curled his lip at that scene. The pretenders of apostolic succession and cannonical ordination might have looked on with priestly contempt, and the advocates of an educated ministry only, might have smiled - have looked on coldly; but God looked down on it with complacency and delight, and poured on it the dews of his blessing.
They called Hickman to the charge of the little Church, and proffered him "a guard to the Run to meet him and guard him back." He visited them frequently, as did John Gano and James McQuade. They baptized at almost every visit; and at length Joshua Morris settled among them, and became its pastor. To its history reference will again be made.
In the meantime, Indian Fork, Cave Spring, Taylor's Fork, Mount Sterling, Bullittsburg, and Mayslick, were added to the Association, whose history belongs to other Associations. To some of these Associations let us now turn, and thus be enabled to take a full view of the state of the denomination in Kentucky, preceding the great revival which swept over the State at the close of the eighteenth century.
At the session of Elkhorn Association, held at Forks of Elkhorn, the Washington, Mayslick, and Bracken Churches, situated in the northern part of the State, applied for letters of dismission, to form a new Association of these Churches; and of this new Association an account will now be given.
Washington Church The painful difficulties which effected the first Churches of Kentucky, sprung, principally, from the uncertainty of land titles, and consequently ruin of many who speculated largely in land. William Wood received, either for a present or small compensation, one thousand acres of land from his friend and associate, Simeon [Simon] Kenton. He immediately laid off the town of Washington, and organized a Church - a remnant of that constituted at Limestone, in 1785. Wood was an excellent scholar; an effective preacher, and a thorough and sound divine. But of sanguine temperament, he was inclined to build splendid castles in the air, and met with many a sad defeat. By his solicitations and glowing account of the county, he induced Garver to remove to Kentucky, when things were far from what he was led to anticipate.
The temperament of Wood, plunged him into speculations in land titles; as was the case with Kenton, with Boone and afterwards with Lewis Craig. The shrewd calculations of northern speculators over-reached the honest-hearted pioneers, and the cold, selfish stranger possessed and drove from the soil the brave men who won it from the wilderness and the savage.
Wood was ruined. The lands he purchases in good faith, and which he sold for what he gave for them, proved to have defective titles, and he had to give up all he possessed to satisfy men who afterwards obtained from the legislature of Virginia, decrees, making these same titles valid.
The difficulties, however, bringing others in their train, were introduced into the Church, and Wood was excluded, though afterwards restored to confidence and usefulness. The Church, of course, felt the effects of his fall. A large party were attached to their pastor, and vindicated his innocence. The consequence was the division of the Church, and two parties, as usual, excluding each other. Yet principle triumphed; and the gospel plan of Church independency, pursued by the light of God's word, proved fully equal to the emergency, and re-union and harmony were again restored. This was now the oldest, though not the largest, of these Churches about to organize the new Association.
In 1796, the Church built a large meeting house, and though few in numbers, they voted L80 a year for the "support of the pastor;" who was "to give his time to preaching, studying and visiting;" and the pastor "agreed that this was sufficient to support himself and family; and that he would devote his time wholly to the society." This liberality would do credit to any Church with the same number of members. It was fully equal to hundred dollars at the present day, and is another proof that the early Baptists did not refuse a competent support to their minister.
The Mayslick Church In the cabin of Cornelius Drake, on Mayslick, on the 28th day of November, 1789, four persons - David Morris, Cornelius Drake, Ann Shotwell, and Lydia Drake, met "for the purpose of joining themselves to the Lord, and to one another, by the will of God, in a Church state." William Wood was the only minister present. With no dispensation from Conference, Assembly, or mitred Bishop, the little company sought the blessing of Him whose presence is promised wherever two or three are met in His name. Looking alone to Him for guidance and strength, they subscribed the following:
"Solemn covenant of the first day Baptist Church, at Mayslick, Mason county, in the District of Kentucky, State of Virginia.
Desiring, together in the fear of God and through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to give ourselves to Him, and to each other, according to the apostolic practice and constitution (2 Corinthians 6:16, 17), that He may be our God, and that we may be His people. We believe in a trinity of persons in the incomprehensible and adorable Godhead; holding the sovereign and eternal election of God's free grace; the effectual call annd final perseverance of the saints; the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting; together with all the doctrines contained in the word of God; and that therein is contained the only rule for our faith and practice - we do solemnly join ourselves together in holy union."
Their covenant included their "meeting together on Lord's days, and at other times, for his worship;" and, "according to our abilities, to communicate to our pastor, or minister - God having ordained that they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel."
The characteristics of this covenant, or confession, do honor to it framers. Most of the members had come from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where Seventh Day Baptists were numerous. Hence the propriety of distinguishing themselves as "First Day Baptists." The announcement of their convictions was a creed; one which, in its main features, every Christian has, and will, willingly subscribe to. The recognition of the principle, that the "laborer is worthy of his hire," and the vote of the Church, granting a specified salary to its first pastor, is another of the thousand evidences that the early Churches of Kentucky have been more persecuted in regard to supporting their pastors.
William Wood was chosen pastor of the Church, and baptized the first converts; but was, soon afterwards, succeeded by Donald Holmes.
Bracken Church In the spring of 1793, Lewis Craig left his Church, on South Elkhorn, where he was endeared to the people and a blessing to the Church and community, and removed into Mason county. It has often been disastrous to the efficiency of a preacher, to leave a community, where he has long labored and is beloved among those he has spent his prime of life, and gained an extended moral influence - to enter on new fields, and among total strangers, who know not his worth. The removal of Craig was the beginning of the good man's trials. Between Big and Little Bracken creeks, called from an old minister, who was killed near their banks, Lewis Craig purchased land, on which he settled. He soon commenced preaching in his new neighborhood, and the constitution of the "Bracken Church of Jesus Christ," called Baptists, was constituted in the spring of 1795. Among it's first members were Philemon Thomas, Stephen Hiatt, and Thomas Kelly. For years the Church prospered amid its own trials, till swept away by the great storm of the "begun reformation."
Stone Lick Church In March, 1796, twenty-one members of the Washington Church, living in the neighborhood of Stone Lick, desired letters of dismission, to be organized into an independent Church. Their request was granted, and the following month they were constituted a regular Church by Holmes, Drake and Lewis Craig. Four other Churches were in the vicinity, but as they have become extinct, and their records lost, we shall hasten to introduce the formation of the
Bracken Association Delegates from these eight Churches met on the 26th of May, 1796. A champion of truth - one of the most learned and eloquent of all those sufferers for the conscience's sake when the storm of persecution swept over the Baptist ranks in Virginia - was David Thomas,3 pastor of the Washington Church, who preached the introductory sermon: "Let us draw near with a true heart," &c. Hebrews 10:22.
James Turner was chosen Moderator, and Donald Holmes, Clerk.
Washington numbered ninety members; Mayslick, one hundred and thirty; Bracken, one hundred and fifty-six; Stonelick, fifty-eight; Ohio Locust, twenty-five; Licking Locust, eleven; Richland Creek, thirteen; making five hundred and thirty-nine members in the Association, and seven ordained ministers.
Among the first resolutions passed by the body, was the following:
"Agreed, that for the supply of destitute Churches, our ministers be enrolled, and the work divided among them."
Soon after, a minister was appointed, and paid to devote his time to the destitute parts of the county. Thus again did these first Churches prove their missionary spirit - unsurpassed by any denomination in similar circumstances. Two other Churches were added to the Association, and at the close of the century the Association numbered six hundred and twenty-three. Two other Associations existed in the State, Salem, and South Kentucky. To these our investigations will be directed. ______________
1 Hickman's Narrative, page 29. It will be seen from this that Craig was looked upon as an excluded member, or minister, as stated by Semple, [History of the Baptists in Virginia, 1810].
2 Hickman's Narrative, page 27.
3 The life of this old blind preacher is replete with interest, and shall soon appear in the pages of the Repository.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, September, 1856, pp. 139-147. Footnotes changed to endnotes; symbols changed to numbers. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Ford's Kentucky Baptist History
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