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History of the Kentucky Baptists
The Christian Repository, 1859
By Samuel H. Ford

Chapter XXIII - Early Scenes in Louisville - Attack of the Indians

On an elevated plain, at the falls of the Ohio, seventy feet above law water mark, gently descending towards its southern border, stands the prosperous city of Louisville. Proud residences, rising like palaces from amid evergreens and shade-trees, adorn broad and beautiful streets, where, seventy years ago, ponds and forests covered the uninhabited and sickly station known as the Mouth of Beargrass. Immense warehouses are crowded with the products of every clime, freighted by floating palaces down the beautiful river. Where, seventy-six years ago, David Broadhead, "commenced a new era by exposing goods from Philadelphia for sale in Louisville. The merchandise had been brought from Philadelphia to Pittsburg in wagons, and thence to Louisville in flatboats. The belles of our forest-land then began to shine in all the magnificence of calico, and the gentlemen in the luxury of wool hats."

Where now there are some forty places of worship, then a solitary Baptist preacher gathered the only worshiping congregation, and preached the Cross of Christ in the fort on Beargrass.

Of the brilliant attack and conquest of Vincennes by Clark; of the calm heroism of those who raised a crop of corn on the island opposite the city while surrounded by their watchful foes; of deeds of daring and wonderful escapes, which render memorable the early history of Louisville, this is not the place to speak. But the history of the Baptists of Kentucky must include the privdtions [privations] endured, and the part taken by the members of our early churches.

Among the gallant men who won this land from the savage, the names of Taylor, Whitaker, and Hynes are recorded. Taylor, the uncle of Gen. Z. Taylor, was a Baptist. Capt. Whitaker, whose wisdom in council and valor in the field made him a terror to the Indians, was a member of the Baptist Church constituted in the fort on Beargrass.

Louisville, in 1780, comprised only thirty souls. The settlers were sixty or seventy miles distant from any other settlement, and had nothing but their insular position to defend them from the Indians. Among those thirty was Elder John Whitaker, brother of Capt. Aquilla Whitaker. He had come from Redstone (now Wheeling, Va.), and like the whole class of pioneer preachers, at once took measures to establish a church in the infant settlement. Squire Boon, with a number of daring settlers, left Boonesboro' in the fall of 1800, and erected a block-house where the town of Shelbyville now stands. Among them were several Baptists. John Whitaker soon visited the fort, preached, and constituted a small church.

The winter passed in safety. With the dawning of spring, they opened the virgin soil, and hopefully cast the seed-corn upon its bosom. The summer advanced. The fresh April breeze was fragrant with the breath of wild flowers, and the tangled forests rung with the silver song of early birds. Sabbath after Sabbath old John Whitaker met the little congregation in the fort, and pointed them to Christ. The first church in all these regions was constituted there in 1780.

But the sign of Indians startled first the more timid, and then the boldest. It was evident that their situation was eminently dangerous, and it was determined to abandon the fort, and little fields, now green with springing corn. The little party made their way towards Louisville. Their march was slow, for they were encumbered with baggage, and the women and children had to travel on foot. The creeks were high, and with difficulty forded. Their situation was distressing. Just as the weary company reached Floyd's Fork, the shout of the savage was heard. A volley of musketry was poured in among them. Several of the little band were killed; some were taken prisoners, and the survivors reached Louisville hardly able to recount the bloody scene, so exhausted from suffering and fatigue.

Col. Floyd, before the straggling fugitives reached the fort, heard of the attack, and hastened to their rescue. He divided his men, and proceeded with great caution; but this did not prevent his falling into an ambuscade. The Indians, whose force was three times as great as his, completely defeated him, killing about half his men.1

As soon as the prospect of security arrived, the fugitives returned. Seven new forts were erected, and the little church constituted by Whitaker assumed a regular appearance. The records of its early history are lost. But in the midst of seventeen churches, now in Shelby county, the old church still exists. Its earliest record is found in the Salem Association Record-book.

"Constituted July 4th, 1781, by James Smith, James Gerrard [Garrard], and John Whitaker. Number of members forty-seven."

This man passed mysteriously away, and there is no record of his life or death. Near the present town of Elizabeth, he, with Whitaker and Barnett, constituted the Severn's Valley Church. The tread of the Indian was ever ringing in their ears. They were in the very midst of those savages who thirsted for the blood of the pale-faced invaders occupying their sacred hunting-ground. Garrard was suddenly missed. Night came on. He did not return to the camp. Search was made for him in vain. Years passed, and no tidings were heard of him. Imagination alone can dwell on his probable doom and death amid Indian tortures.

Three years passed before a church was constituted in the neighborhood of Louisville. The settlement was sickly. It was more open to the attacks of the Indians, who could cross and re-cross the river, and thus make sudden attacks with impunity. "Their foes were ever on the watch. Danger crouched in every path, and lurked behind every tree."

These men of God, Whitaker and Smith, passed from fort to fort preaching the gospel, and the first record of the first organized congregation in Jefferson count followed.

"Constituted 1784, by James Smith and John Whitaker. Delegates five; members nineteen."

The state of society at the time this church was constituted may be gathered from the early history of Louisville. The following is the record of the court;

"May 7th, 1784.
George Pomeroy, being brought before the Court charged with having been guilty of a breach of the act of the Assembly, entitled 'Divulger of False News,' on examination sundry witnesses and said Pomeroy heard in his defence; the Court is of opinion that the said Pomeroy is guilty of a breach of said law, and it is ordered that he be fined 200 pounds of tobacco for the same. And it is further ordered, that said George Pomeroy give security for his good behaviour."

Were such a law in force now, it would add materially to the business of the Courts.

In 1789, the little church on Beargrass erected a log meeting-house. The beginning of the present century found Louisville with a population of six hundred in the midst of her ponds, with no place of worship except on Beargrass, some three miles distant from the town. Of the history and progress of the church but little is known. Its records are lost, and the remnant of the church was finally swept in the Current Reformation. But from 1781 till 1816, it was the only regular religious assembly in Louisville or vicinity.

"At Louisville," says the writer, "in the State of Kentucky, they have no church. When the earthquake gave them the first shock, they grew very devout in one night, and on the next day, with long faces, they subscribed a Thousand Dollars to build a house of worship. Thus the matter rested till the second shock came, when another devout paroxysm produced another Thousand Dollars. It rested again till a third earthquake. There was not more of the matter. They soon after built a theatre, which cost Seven Thousand Dollars."

But in 1816, a man of God whose influence can be traced and felt throughout Kentucky, visited Louisville. It was JEREMIAH VARDEMAN. He commenced a series of meetings at the Court-house. The late Hon. Judge Rowan, a distinguished jurist and statesman, was a warm friend of Vardeman, and regarded him as one of the greatest pulpit orators he had ever heard. The influence of Judge Rowan brought a class of persons not in the habit of attending public worship. Col. M'Kay, who was present, says: "His fame as a preacher brought out immense congregations of people for several successive days, to whom he preached with great effect; and from these meetings the city of Louisville is indebted, in a great measure, for its flourishing churches. Immediately after Mr. Vardeman's visit, a large Presbyterian Church arose, then a first Baptist Church, and so on.2

1 Nash, 166.
2 J. M. Peck's "Life of Vardeman," Repository, Volume vi., p. 106.


[From Samuel H. Ford, The Christian Repository, April, 1859, pp. 241-245. The document is from microfilm at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. - Transcribed by scanned by Jim Duvall.]

Ford's Kentucky Baptist History
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