Baptist History Homepage

A Period of Controversy
1896 - 1899
By Frank Masters
      During this brief period the Baptists of Kentucky engaged in one of the fiercest controversies in their history. The occasion of this strife and division was over a question in English and American Baptist History raised by Dr. William H. Whitsitt, President and Professor of Ecclesiastical History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, often called the "Whitsitt Controversy." The issues involved will be considered in relation to the proceedings of the sessions of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky of this period, where the contentions between the opposing forces developed into a "battle royal." The author, who was a student in the Seminary during the major part of the controversy, is well aware of the difficult task in preparing this chapter for a rightful place in the History of Kentucky Baptists.


      The General Association composed of 174 messengers met with the First Baptist Church, Bowling Green, on Saturday June 20. Dr. J. S. Coleman was unanimously chosen Moderator, while Professor F. H. Kerfoot of the Southern Baptist Seminary and President A. C. Davidson of Georgetown College were elected assistant moderators.

      Among the large number of visitors recognized were: I. T. Tichenor, Corresponding Secretary of the Home Mission Board; R. J. Willingham, Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board; J. M. Frost, Corresponding Secretary of the Sunday School Board; A. J. Holt, Corresponding Secretary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention; E. E. Folk, Editor of the Baptist and Reflector, Nashville, Tennessee and J. F. Edens, representing the Christian Index, Atlanta, Georgia. Also three colored visitors were recognized, namely, P. H. Kennedy, General Missionary; Charles L. Puree, President of State University of Colored Baptists in Louisville; and Robert Mitchell, pastor of State Street Baptist Church, colored, Bowling Green.

      The Committee appointed at the last session on the relation of the General Association and the Colleges of the state reported that correspondence had been opened with the representatives of all the Baptist schools in Kentucky, and that only one - the Bardstown Institute - had accepted the action of the Association "to come into the same relation to this body, which our Theological Seminary bears to the Southern Baptist Convention." Georgetown College responded by appointing a committee "to ascertain and report what changes are practicable and desirable to bring the college into closer relations to the churches." Bethel, Clinton and Williamsburg Colleges stated they "believe their present relations are the best at present practicable." This committee then recommended to the body that another committee be appointed "to prosecute this work, to see what can be done to bring our institutions of learning into closer relations with the churches, both in the way" of securing action from the trustees of these institutions, and of modifying their charters."

      Dr. J. W. Warder, during his sixteen years of service as Corresponding Secretary of the General Association, had continued to emphasize the policy "to secure the cordial and thorough co-operation of all the Boards in inducing every church member to give, and to give systematically to all missions. . . . But special appeals ought to be brought in the narrowest possible limits." Dr. Warder also advised the Mission Boards "to depend uniformly upon the regular contributions to carry on the missionary work." He claimed that special offerings from the churches by agents "tend to disorganization and are a serious menace to regular and systematic giving." The total missionary contributions for the year ending May 1, were $35,379.91. Of this amount, $14,672.20 was for all State Work; $10,585 for Foreign Missions, and $8,198.02 for Home Missions. Sixty-seven Missionaries and colporteurs were employed during the year, and reported 1614 additions to the mission churches.

      The Committee on Schools and Colleges reported that the session of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary just closed has been very gratifying, and that the general trend and tone of affairs have been upward and onward. The enrollment of students reached the number of 318, the largest in the history of the institution. Mr. Joshua Levering of Baltimore, President of the Board of Trustees "has generously undertaken to build a gymnasium, to be ready next session, at a cost of not less than $10,000." Dr. W. H. Whitsitt closed his first session as President of the Seminary, which was regarded as "highly successful." But unfortunately about a month before the Seminary Commencement a series of attacks began to be made on President Whitsitt, caused by his announced position on the form of baptism practiced by the English Baptists prior to the year 1641. During Dr. Whitsitt's many years as Professor of Church History in the Seminary no public words of criticism had been spoken against him, prior to this.1

      To determine the occasion of the controversy that arose over Dr. Whitsitt, it is necessary to go back to the year 1880, during which he made a "careful investigation" of English Baptist History, chiefly in the British Museum, and Bodleian Library. Dr. Whitsitt decided to set forth the results of his research in a widely read journal among scholars, the Independent of New York, whose editor, Dr. William Hayes Ward, was much interested in Church History. Dr. Whitsitt chose the method of having his discoveries published in this weekly in the form of editorials, thus concealing his identity as author. This method proved to be a mistake which Professor Whitsitt admitted years after. The first editorial appeared in a very brief paragraph in the Independent June 24, 1880, which is self explanatory of the author's position.2

      This editorial is as follows: "Studies in the History of Baptism have become very popular of late among the Baptists. An excellent work on the subject has been published by Mr. (Henry S.) Burrage of Maine. Dr. (William) Cathcart, of Philadelphia, has likewise given us a volume entitled, 'Baptism of the Ages of Nations.' And now comes the Rev. Daniel C. Potter, with an illustrated lecture before the delegates at the recent Baptist Anniversaries in Saratoga, on 'The Verdict of Antiquity in Favor of Immersion as the True Mode of Baptism.' It is singular that these gentlemen all alike ignore the circumstance that the verdict of antiquity among the Baptists is in favor of sprinkling or pouring as the true mode of baptism. "It is strange if they are not all aware of the fact, which no respectable authority has yet the temerity to call in question, that prior to the comparatively recent date of 1641 none of the people, who are known as Baptists, were immersed. John Smyth was baptized by sprinkling; as also were John Spillsbury, William Kiffin, Roger Williams and the First Baptist Church of Providence and John Clarke and his church at Newport. The English Baptists never dreamed of the possibility of immersing an adult person as a religious ceremony before the year 1641, and there is good ground to conclude that the American Baptists never thought of such a thing before the year 1644."3

      The editorial of September 2, 1880 refers to the "well known immersion of Roger Williams," which is quoted in part as follows: "As we understand it Roger Williams never was a Baptist in the modern sense - that is, never was immersed; and the ceremony referred to was anabaptism, re-baptism by sprinkling, and not 'catabaptism,' or baptism by immersion . . . Up to the year 1641 all Baptists employed sprinkling and pouring as the mode of baptism. . . . We admit there are no positive historical statements . . . concerning the mode of Mr. Williams's baptism; but as it took place in the year 1639, we assume, as a matter of course, that sprinkling or pouring was the method, since no other was at that time in use among the Baptists. The burden of proof rests entirely upon those who assert that Williams was immersed. . . . We are inclined to believe that no case of immersion took place among the American Baptists before the year 1644."4

      The editorial, appearing in the Independent, September 9, 1880 was in reply to the Zion's Advocate, a Baptist paper, edited by Dr. H. S. Burrage, and published in Portland, Maine. The editorial begins as follows: "The proofs which are demanded by Zion's Advocate of our recent assertion that immersion was not practiced in England before a period as late as 1641 are so abundant that one is embarrassed to know where to begin. We shall mention in the first instance, the silence of history. This is absolute and unbroken. Though a number of works were written by Smyth, Helwys, Murton, and other Baptists prior to 1641, and though these were replied to by opponents - such as Clifton, Robinson, Ainsworth, and Johnson - it is nowhere intimated that the Baptists were then in the practice of immersion. Nay, more, the earliest Baptist Confessions of Faith all contemplate sprinkling or pouring as the act of baptism. We refer, in proof of this, to the Confession of Faith, in twenty articles, which is subscribed by John Smyth, and may be found in the Appendix to volume I of Evans's 'Early English Baptists.' We refer also to the Helwys Confession, entitled 'A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam, Holland,' printed 1611. We also refer to the 'Propositions and Conclusions Concerning the Christian Religion' which were published after his death, by 'the remainders of Mr. Smyth's company'." Then the editorial states that "It was not until the year 1644, three years after the invention of immersion, that any Baptist Confession prescribes 'dipping or plunging the body in water as the way and manner of dispensing this ordinance'." The London Confession of 1644 article 40, is referred to as the first confession that refers to baptism as immersion.5

      While these editorials were discussed among Baptists, as in the Zion's Advocate, yet they were generally regarded as written by some Pedobaptists. Fifteen years or more passed before the Author of the Editorials was known to the public. Dr. E. B. Pollard says: "In the year 1895, Dr. Whitsitt prepared for Johnson's Cyclopaedia, of whose staff he was a member, the article on the Baptists. Here, over his own signature, Dr. Whitsitt presented the same views of English Baptist history, and of the Baptism of Roger Williams, he had earlier expressed (though not over his own signature) in The Independent."6

      The controversy over the Cyclopaedia article began in the North, when Dr. Henry M. King, pastor of the First Baptist Church at Providence, Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams, replied to Dr. Whitsitt's theory of the baptism of Mr. Williams. Dr. King's first reply was published in the Examiner, New York, March 26, 1896; but he later replied in a "Brief Account of the Origin and Early History of the First Baptist Church in Providence." It was during this discussion with Dr. King that Dr. Whitsitt, "in justice to himself, acknowledged the authorship of the Independent editorials; in this way establishing priority to Henry M. Dexter, or to any other, in presenting the new discoveries in English and American Baptist History."7

      Dr. John R. Sampey refers to the influence of the article in Johnson's Cyclopaedia in Kentucky, as follows: "The article . . . was read by persons of all denominations, and the Central Methodist, published at Catlettsburg, Ky., asserted that Dr. Whitsitt's discovery that the practice of immersion was first introduced among the Baptists of England in 1641, had knocked the bottom out of the Baptist position and claims. A correspondent who sent the extract from the Central Methodist to the Western Recorder, asked: 'Is this true? What did Dr. Whitsitt mean by writing that and publishing it in an Encyclopaedia?. .. Does the Recorder agree with him?' " Though Dr. T. T. Eaton, the editor of the Western Recorder was in Europe at this time, the questions of the correspondent received prompt attention.8

      The controversy began in earnest in Kentucky and in other states when Dr. J. H. Spencer attacked Dr. Whitsitt's position in an article published in the Western Recorder, April 23, 1896. He said: "I am physically too feeble to write an extended article, but I desire to . . . call attention . . . to some things . . . being taught by the President and Professor of Church History in the great Theological Seminary." Dr. Spencer declared his alarm over the article in the Cyclopaedia and regarded the theory that the Baptists of England had not adopted Immersion until 1641 was "puerile". He said: "Professor Whitsitt's errors are not so vital as were those of Professor Toy, but according to the views of his constituency, the teachings of the former are just as heretical in his department as were those of the latter in his." Dr. Spencer stood high in the estimate of Kentucky Baptists, and his article spread like "wild fire."9

      An editorial appeared in the Western Recorder June 4 by Dr. T. T. Eaton, the editor, which says: "It was a startling piece of information that came to us abroad that Dr. Whitsitt had made the 'discovery' 'that prior to 1641 the English Baptists were in the practice of sprinkling and pouring for baptism' and then they 'adopted immersion' . . . On reaching London we found that the article of Dr. (J. H.) Spencer in the Recorder had made quite a stir among our English brethren, and that the Rev. Dr. W. H. King, of London, had already begun the herculean task of going carefully over the thousands of books, known as King George's pamphlets. . . . We devoted several hours a day to these pamphlets . . . and with constantly increasing surprise at Dr. Whitsitt's statement. . . . All the evidence we got hold of contradicts Dr. Whitsitt's theory." From this time forward Dr. T. T. Eaton as editor of the Western Recorder led the opposing forces against Dr. Whitsitt.10

      The continued discussions of the issues involved during the summer and fall of 1896 prepared the way for the district associations over Kentucky and in other states to pass all kinds of resolutions in their annual meetings, condemning Dr. Whitsitt's position and in many instances calling for his removal from the Seminary.

      The proceeding of the memorable session of the Long Run Association, held at the Walnut Street Baptist Church, in the first week in September, well illustrates the exciting times that prevailed in many of the district associations during the controversy. The attendance was very large because of "the expected contest over the Whitsitt matter." The Seminary was well represented by both students and members of the faculty. The many supporters of Dr. Whitsitt hoped to secure his endorsement in his home association.

      As soon as the preliminary business was out of the way, M. Carey Peter offered a lengthy resolution, which stated briefly is as follows: "That we desire to convey to Dr. Whitsitt an expression of our confidence in him and strong conviction that he is preeminently suited for the high position that he occupies as the President of our great Theological Seminary, and that we pledge to him and to his associates our hearty co-operation"; and also that "the Baptists owe it to themselves to deal fairly with the facts and with Dr. Whitsitt, in order that his position may be well understood before he is judged." It was stated that Dr. Whitsitt would have a complete discussion of the question under consideration in his book soon to appear. Mr. Peter urged that the resolutions should be passed since a "great injustice had been done Dr. Whitsitt."

      Mr. H. A. Vaughan promptly expressed great regret that the subject had been introduced, that the Association was "standing over a dynamite bomb" when the speeches now in the pockets of the brethren are made. He then introduced the following resolution, which he hoped "everybody could vote for": "Resolved, That we believe the Bible is the only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. We believe that the immersion of believers for baptism began about the year 30 A. D., and that wherever they have been Baptists, this has been their practice."

      Dr. J. M. Weaver, pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, said that he thought it unwise that any action be taken now in the Association, but wait for the forthcoming book of Dr. Whitsitt. He then moved that the whole subject be laid on the table, which was done by a vote of 62 to 47. Dr. Weaver then made a motion to expunge from the records all reference to the subject. This motion duly seconded was debatable.

      Dr. John R. Sampey of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary "spoke . . . at great length." Another record says he made "a very vigorous speech about two hours long." He thus speaks of the proceedings: "The effort to shut off debate, and prevent the friends of Dr. Whitsitt from testifying as to his high character, and his ability to interpret history, had made me indignant, and I paid my respects in no uncertain terms to the political tricks of his critics. In order to have a good view of the audience, I climbed into the pulpit and soon had the attackers on the defensive."

      On the following morning, the Whitsitt matter was again taken up in the Association. Dr. F. H. Kerfoot, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took the floor "to pour oil on the troubled waters;" and introduced the following resolutions: I. "That we are not in a position to approve nor reject Dr. Whitsitt's views as expressed in his Articles in the Independent, and in Johnson's Cyclopaedia. II. That we commend Dr. Whitsitt as a brother of high character, of remarkable piety and charity. And we believe him to be a sound and Scriptural Baptist. III. We testify, with gratitude to God, to the prosperity of our beloved Seminary under the administration of Dr. Whitsitt, and we promise our loyal support to the Seminary, and pray the continued blessings upon it." "If there is one place on the face of the earth where Dr. Whitsitt has friends it is in the Long Run Association. If there is any Association . . . that ought to say a kind word in the troubles through which he has been passing, it is this association, of which he has been so long a member, and where he is so well known."

      On motion by Dr. John T. Christian the resolutions were taken from the table, and Mr. H. A. Vaughan withdrew his substitute, and M. Carey Peter withdrew his resolution, and Dr. F. H. Kerfoot then moved the adoption of his resolutions. Dr. J. M. Weaver seconded the motion saying, "There is not a member of the Long Run Association, but has the highest appreciation of the Christian character of our beloved brother, Dr. Whitsitt. So I said yesterday so I will stand up and say anywhere."

      Dr. J. T. Christian rose and said: "Brother Moderator, had these resolutions been presented yesterday, or any other time, personally I was ready to vote for them. . . . I haven't now, and never had, a personal consideration against Dr. Whitsitt - today or any other time. I have simply disagreed with him on his historical statements. I disagree with him now as to that matter; . . . but when it comes to endorsing the Christian character and brotherhood of that brother, I am perfectly willing to do it here or anywhere else."

      After the adoption of the resolutions, Dr. John R. Sampey took the floor to shake hands with the Moderator and say four things: "I do not believe I will ever inflict a speech on Long Run Association as long as that one I dumped on you yesterday. In the second place, I do not believe I will ever make any such wild gestures, and jump over the pulpit as I did yesterday. Thirdly, Brother Moderator, I do not believe I will ever get half as mad, as I was yesterday. And in the fourth place, I hope, in the goodness of God, nobody will ever stir me up to get as mad as I was yesterday." This closed the episode.11

      Soon after the adjournment of the Long Run Association Dr. Whitsitt published his book "A Question in Baptist History" in which he presented his "arguments for his thesis that immersion was introduced in 1641 among a group of people in England who presently became known as baptized Christians or Baptists." Dr. Whitsitt said: "This is purely a question of modern historical research. It does not affect any items of Baptist principle or practice. These are all established upon the Bible."12

      In February 1897 appeared the volume, "Did They Dip?, an examination of the act of baptism as practiced by the English and American Baptists prior to the year 1641," by J. T. Christian, M. A., D. D., pastor of the East Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. This book intensified the controversy. Dr. John R. Sampey says: "Dr. J. T. Christian was almost the only opponent of Dr. Whitsitt, who took seriously the matter of historical investigation to ascertain whether the thesis of Dr. Whitsitt had been established."13

      The Whitsitt controversy had developed into a "vast conflagration," when the Southern Baptist Convention met in Wilmington, North Carolina, May 1897. Judge Jonathan Haralson, of Alabama, President of the Convention, being well aware of the storm that was brewing, wrote Dr. W. E. Hatcher, Richmond, Virginia, who was in a measure in charge of the Whitsitt side of the controversy. Judge Haralson wrote in part: "Those opposed to our uncle ('Uncle Billy', being the affectionate title given Dr. Whitsitt by the students) are numerous. A majority west of the Mississippi, in Mississippi, Kentucky, Tenessee, a smart sprinkle in Alabama, and elsewhere may be counted as dissatisfied. It is doubtful which side will be in the majority, if the test should be made. The Seminary should have the support and confidence of all. We must rescue it from distraction if possible. . . . Both bodies (the Convention and the Seminary) are in danger, and both need cautious handling."14

      Dr. W. E. Hatcher felt that it would be a "disaster for the Seminary for Dr. Whitsitt to be forced to resign under such conditions and he hoped that something could be done by the Board to preserve the integrity of the Seminary Faculty and also the unity of the Convention." The trustees met on the day before the opening of the Convention and gave careful consideration to the complaints against Dr. Whitsitt. The plan of his friends among the trustees was for him to make a statement to the Board defining "his position, but admitting that he had made a mistake in writing the articles in the Independent."

      The following morning Dr. Whitsitt appeared before the Board and read his statement as follows: "After consulting with the Committee I have the following to say: 1. That in regard to the articles written as editorials for the Independent, I have long felt it was a mistake, and the generous action of the Board of Trustees renders it easy for me to make this statement. What I wrote was from a Pedobaptist standpoint, with a view to stimulating historical research, with no thought that it would injure the Baptists, and with no intention to disparage Baptist doctrines and practices. 2. That the article in Johnson's Encyclopaedia has probably passed beyond my control; but it will be very pleasing to me if I can honorably procure the elimination from it of whatsoever is offensive to any of my brethren. 3. (This paragraph 3 does not bear directly on the historical question, but does contain Dr. Whitsitt's denial that he advised a wife who was a member of a Baptist Church to unite with a pedobaptist church to be with her husband in church relation.) 4. That on the historical questions involved in the discussion, I find myself out of agreement with some honored historians; but what I have written is the outcome of patient and honest research, and I can do no otherwise than to re-affirm my convictions and maintain my position. But if in the future it shall ever be made to appear that I have erred in my conclusions, I would promptly and cheerfully say so. I am a searcher after truth. . . . 5. That I cannot more strongly assure the brethren that I am a Baptist than by what I have recently declared with regard to the abstract of principles . . . in the Fundamental Laws of the Seminary. I am heartily in accord with my Baptist brethren in every distinctive principle that they hold. My heart and life are bound up with the Baptists . . ." The above was respectfully submitted to the Trustees, and signed by W. H. Whitsitt.

      "At the conclusion of the reading of the foregoing paper the trustees joined in singing 'How Firm a Foundation . . .' during which, amid flowing tears, and many expressions of satisfaction and joy, the members of the Board pressed forward and gave Dr. Whitsitt the hand of fellowship and confidence. The Trustees then instructed B. H. Carroll of Texas and W. E. Hatcher of Virginia to communicate to the Southern Baptist Convention this action and also to give it to the public press . . . This is made to the Convention for information and not for action."15

      When this report from the Board of Trustees was read before the Convention, a writer says: "The delegates moved like a tide towards the front to shake hands with Dr. Whitsitt. Old and young came and many of the older friends of the good president embraced him . . . Dr. Whitsitt was visibly affected."16

      On Dr. Whitsitt's return to the Seminary from the Convention, he delivered a memorable address to the student body, giving his estimate of the Baptists in connection with their action in his behalf. He spoke in part: "I desire to embrace the earliest opportunity after my return to speak to you concerning the action of the Board of Trustees of our Theological Seminary and also of the Southern Baptist Convention at the late session in Wilmington, North Carolina. That action was in every respect satisfactory; indeed, it was highly gratifying . . . The action of the Board of Trustees was what I had hoped for, but the scene in the Convention, on Friday afternoon was beyond all my dreams. It constituted the most memorable incident in my life. I need not say to you that I am filled with admiration for our Southern Baptists. I honor them for their broad sense and sound wisdom . . . . I was never so proud of the Southern Baptist Convention." He continued by exhorting the students "to be humble men," to be "prudent men," to be "considerate men," and to be "devout and prayerful men."17

      An editorial appeared in the Western Recorder following the Convention at Wilmington concerning Dr. Whitsitt: "We take Dr. Whitsitt's statement at its full value. We are heartily glad that he confesses his error in writing in the Independent from a Pedobaptist standpoint, that he is willing to eliminate from his encyclopaedia article, whatever is offensive to any of the brethren. . . . Let him have full credit for all of this; and while we regret that he did not say it a year ago, we are none the less glad that he says it now. He proposes still to maintain his historical position, that the immersion of believers was introduced into England in 1641, and of course he expects those who differ with him still to maintain their position as well."18

      In a short time after the adjournment of the Southern Baptist Convention at Wilmington, North Carolina, the Whitsitt controversy broke out in greater fury than ever. Dr. J. R. Sampey says "The opponents of Dr. Whitsitt seized on the expression 'What I wrote was from a Pedobaptist standpoint', and boldly affirmed that no true Baptist could ever write from a Pedobaptist standpoint. This unfortunate statement could not be satisfactorily explained, and became a club with which the opponents . . . belabored him and his friends. He could not reply that he was not the author of the expression; for his signature was at the bottom of the statement."19


      On June 19, the General Association composed of 252 messengers met with the Church at Georgetown, where Rev. Z. T. Cody was pastor, and Dr. A. C. Davidson, president of Georgetown College. A large number of visitors was recognized and seated.

      The relation of the schools and colleges to the General Association was one of the main issues before the body. The committee, appointed at the last session with T. T. Eaton, chairman, reported that they found a growing conviction in the minds of the Baptists generally that denominational institutions should be under denominational control. Such control will give the best possible guarantee that the institutions will be true to the faith of their founders, and will continue to fullflll the purpose of their establishment. Also this relation will greatly deepen and extend the interest of the churches in the schools, and strengthen their hold on our people.

      The committee reported that the Kentucky Baptist Education Society, composed of those who have contributed to the funds of Georgetown College, adopted unanimously the following: "That it is the sense of this Society that the relations of Georgetown College to the General Association of Baptists of Kentucky be as close as practicable, in view of the legal obligations of the college, and that we recognize the principle of denominational control of denominational institutions." The committee, furthermore, recommended that all the institutions of learning of the state take such steps "towards having their trustees chosen by the General Association." The Committee stated: "Observation shows that Baptists take far too little interest in their institutions, and are too slow either to patronize them or to contribute money for their endowment and support."

      On Sunday of the Association the pulpits of Georgetown and surrounding country were filled by the ministers attending the Association. A great missionary mass meeting was held in the afternoon in the Georgetowm College Chapel. Addresses were made by Rev. J. H. Eager, missionary to Italy, by Dr. R. J. Willingham, Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, and by Rev. M. P. Hunt, pastor in Louisville.

      Early in the session Monday morning Rev. J. A. Booth, pastor at Taylorsville, Kentucky, offered a resolution concerning Dr. W. H. Whitsitt which was made a special order for 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The resolution was read as follows: "Whereas Dr. W. H. Whitsitt, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reaffirms his belief in his discovery and will continue to teach it; and, whereas, his course has been such as to place him out of touch and harmony with the denomination;

      "Resolved, that the Trustees of the Seminary from Kentucky be requested, and they are hereby requested, to urge, insist upon and vote for the retirement of Dr. Whitsitt from the presidency of the institution and from the chair of Church History." The resolution was voted by yeas and nays, which resulted in 105 yeas, and 78 nays, the names of which are recorded in the minutes.

      The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reported 290 students enrolled, which was 28 less than in the session of 1895-96, and Kentucky had sent 48 of this number. Professor J. R. Sampey had left the Seminary, February 1, to make a journey through Palestine and the East and would return to his post in September. The death of Professor H. H. Harris on February 5 was a great loss to the Seminary and cast gloom over the Southland. He was born in Virginia, December 17, 1837 and died at the age of sixty years. His biographer says "While H. H. Harris was a preacher of splendid gifts, it was as an educator and as President of our Foreign Mission Board that he ... wrought most efficiently." Dr. E. C. Dargan, who was in charge of the Student Aid Fund, took a collection and received $1,110 in subscriptions for that object.

      The Kentucky Baptist Ministers' Meeting enjoyed a very helpful session at Georgetown, held previous to the meeting of the General Association. Many great, and practical themes were discussed. Much time was devoted to the discussion of sanctification. Dr. T. T. Eaton was requested to have his paper on that subject put into tract form. The officers of the conference were J. M. Weaver, Moderator, and J. N. Prestridge, secretary.20

      A new Baptist paper began to be published in Louisville - The Baptist Argus on October 28, 1897. Dr. J. N. Prestridge, who had closed his work as President of the Williamsburg Institute, was Editor, and Dr. M. P. Hunt was Associate Editor. The purpose of the periodical was given in the first issue as follows: "Our paper is to be an organ for all departments of our State Work, and for all enterprises of our Southern Baptist Convention. All these things are ours, and we love them, and will stand by them. The Baptist Argus will be constructive. . . . It gives us pleasure to announce that Thomas D. Osborne, chairman of the deacons of the Broadway Baptist Church, is our news Editor. For twenty years, he has been in the news department of one of our largest daily papers and has a reputation in that work second to no one. Under his direction we expect to perfect plans for putting before our readers weekly the religious news of Kentucky and the world."21

      At the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Norfolk, Virginia, May 1898, the Whitsitt matter was at the forefront. One writer says: "The Convention arrived. Warmly waxed the contest in the Board. The pressure against the Whitsitt lines was enormous, but in the Board his friends held their ground and when the Convention closed no unfavorable action had been taken by the Convention or the Board against Dr. Whitsitt. The encounter in the Board was . . . maintained on the high ground of Christian courtesy and mutual respect, each side contending for what they believed to be right."22

      Dr. John E. Sampey speaks thus of the meeting of the Trustees of the Seminary and the Convention at Norfolk: "About sixty communications on the Whitsitt matter had been received by the Board, most of them clamoring for the removal of Dr. Whitsitt from the Seminary. The venerable Dr. Arthur Peter of Louisville introduced resolutions reaffirming the action of the Board of Trustees at the previous annual meeting (of the Board) in Wilmington, N. C., in 1897."23

      The notice was given in the Convention by B. H. Carroll of Texas, that he would next year make a motion to dissolve all relations between the Convention and the Seminary, making each independent of the other. A committee was then appointed, one from each state, to consider the whole subject of the relation of the Seminary to the Convention. Dr. J. S. Coleman was the member of the committee from Kentucky.24


      The Sixty-first session of the General Association was held with the First Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, June 18-23. Two hundred and thirty-six messengers were enrolled. A motion prevailed made by J. S. Coleman that all brethren, who became life members of this body previous to the change of the Constitution be entitled to seats as messengers. Dr. W. H. Felix was re-elected Moderator, and Drs. F. H. Kerfoot and J. S. Coleman, Assistant Moderators.

      The question of the denominational control of the Baptist Educational Institutions of the state was prominent before the body. The report of the Committee read by Dr. T. T. Eaton presented many difficulties in the way of bringing the schools and colleges under the control of the General Association. They reported that the Trustees of Bethel College at Russellville "are a self-perpetuating body, and they do not wish any change." They found the Trustees of Georgetown College were elected by the Kentucky Baptist Educational Society, membership in which is secured by a contribution of one hundred dollars, or in case the contributor is an alumnus of the College, twenty dollars. "They would be in jeopardy if the election of Trustees should pass from this Society to the General Association."

      The Trustees of Bethel Female College at Hopkinsville were elected by Bethel Association, which has absolute control over the College, and whatever is done toward making any change, "must be done by that Association." Liberty College at Glasgow, was under the control of Liberty Association; and Blandville College, Blandville, was under the West Union Association. The Ohio Valley College at Sturgis, opened in September 1896, was controlled by the Ohio Valley Association; while Bardstown Male and Female College was controlled by the Bardstown Baptist Church. There was no report from Williamsburg Institute, Clinton College, Kentucky College, at Pewee Valley, Lynnland Male and Female Institute at Glendale, nor Shelbyville College, Shelbyville, Kentucky, as to their attitude to denominational control.

      The report of the committee also recommended "that a standing committee be appointed to be known as the Baptist Educational Committee of cky, who shall take the place of the Committee on Schools and and shall report annually to this body." This commission shall of nine members, three of whom shall go out of office eacW year; they arrange to visit, through one or more of their members, least once a year, all of our Kentucky Baptist institutions and personally inspect their methods of work as well as their needs; that they shall consider how far it may be practicable and wise to go toward bringing these institutions under the control of this body; and they shall make recommendations in their annual reports . . . how this Association can help or guide these institutions in the successful prosecution of their work." There was prolonged discussion of this report, as indicated by the number spoke to the motion.

      Among those who passed away during the year were Rev. J. H. Spencer, D.D. and Rev. William M. Pratt. J. H. Spencer was born in Allen Conty, Kentucky, September 9, 1826 and died in his home at Eminence, Kentucky, December 21, 1897 at the age of seventy-one years. He served in many positions among Baptists of the state. In 1885 he completed and published two volumes of the History of Kentucky Baptists which was the crowning work of his life. Not long before the end of his eventful life, he made a gift of $6,000 to Bethel College at Russellville, his alma mater. In his last days he was confined to his home, and later to his chair, but he continued to write for the Baptist papers.

      Rev. William M. Pratt was born in Madison County, New York, January 13, 1817, and died in Louisville, December 23, 1897 at the age of eighty. He graduated at Hamilton, New York, in the full course in 1839, leluding theology. After the death of his first wife, Brother Pratt was married to a daughter of Dr. R. T. Dillard. In 1845 he came to Lexington, Kentucky, as Pastor of the First Baptist Church, and served seventeen years. He located in Louisville about 1841, in a book business, and during as time supplied at intervals both the Walnut Street and Broadway churches. In 1871, he became pastor of the church at Shelbyville. For many years he was President of the Board of Trustees of Georgetown College, and assisted that institution in raising $100,000 on the endowment, making a liberal contribution himself. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time of his death. Dr. Pratt was a useful servant of the Lord, and a Baptist from conviction, and preached the great doctrines of the Bible.25

      The session of the General Association at Hopkinsville was the first State Baptist body to meet following the Southern Baptist Convention at Norfolk, Virginia and thus the first to take action against Dr. W. H. Whitsitt. Early in the session of the first day Dr. J. S. Coleman read the following preamble, and resolutions: "Whereas, the Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at their . . . session in Norfolk, Va,, adopted a resolution, by which they decided to retain Dr. William H. Whitsitt as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Professor of Church History therein; and, Whereas, by their said resolution the Trustees waived aside the known, and officially expressed convictions, and wishes of a great number of Baptist bodies, among these bodies, being the General Association of Baptists of Kentucky; and, by reaffiming that former action, which produced the expression of these convictions, and wishes, declined to give them due consideration; and Whereas, Our conviction that Dr. Whitsitt is unfit for his present position has been strengthened by the events of last year. Now, therefore, Resolved, (1) That the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shall not be allowed to make any report nor present any appeals of any sort whatever to this body so long as Dr. Whitsitt shall be in any manner connected with the institution. (2) That if Dr. Whitsitt's connection with the Seminary has not ceased at the time of the next session of the Southern Baptist Convention, we urge that body to adopt, as the only means of preserving its unity, the resolutions proposed by Dr. B. H. Carroll, of Texas, whereby the Convention shall dissolve the bond of connection between that body and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. (3) That the Clerk of this Association be instructed to forward a copy of these resolutions, duly signed and certified by himself and Moderator, to the Hon. Joshua Levering, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with the request that they be laid before the Trustees at their next meeting. (4) That a committee of five be appointed by the Moderator to present these resolutions to the Southern Baptist Convention at its next session."

      After the reading of the resolution the following motion prevailed: "That the above resolution be made the special order for 2 o'clock; that the vote be taken not later than 5 o'clock, and that the time be divided as follows: Those favoring the resolution to open with one hour, those oppos-ing the resolution then to have an hour and a half, and those favoring to close with half an hour." The resolutions were discussed by C. G. Jones, W. K. Penrod, W. H. Felix, J. T. Christian, F. H. Kerfoot, A. T. Robertson, Carter Helm Jones, J. O. Rust, W. O. Carver, Z. T. Cody, and T. T. Eaton. The resolution was voted on by yeas and nays. The yeas were 198 and the nays 26, both of which are recorded in the minutes.26

      Dr. John R. Sampey thus writes concerning the action of the General Association at Hopkinsville: "The resolution revealed the purpose of the opponents of Dr. Whitsitt to keep up the agitation until he should be eliminated from the Seminary. The men, who had supported Dr. Whitsitt became alarmed over the threat to withdraw all support from the Seminary, so long as he was . . . connected with the institution. The question was whether it would not be better for Dr. Whitsitt to resign, sacrificing himself in the interest of the institution he loved. After a conference with one or more of his ardent supporters" on July 13, 1898 he sent from Louisville the following telegram to Hon. Joshua Levering, the President of the Board of Trustees: "I hereby resign my office as President of the Southern Bap-tist Theological Seminary and Professor of Church History to take effect at the close of the session of 1898-9." After the publication of this telegram, "the agitation subsided . . . both friend and foe accepted the resignation as made in good faith. He was urged to resign by some of his former supporters."27


      After sixteen years the General Association met the second time with the Baptist Church at Mt. Sterling, and the body was called to order by Dr. W. H. Felix, the Moderator of the last session. Rev. Edward Stublefield, pastor at Sharpsburg, conducted the devotional service. Rev. W. J. Bowling, pastor of the Mt. Sterling church, delivered a welcome address and Rev. P. E. Burroughs, pastor of New Liberty Church, made the reasponse. Dr. F. H. Kerfoot of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was nominated and elected Moderator by the Secretary casting one vote. Ex-Governor J. P. Eagle of Arkansas, Dr. R. J. Willingham, Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, Richmond, Virginia, and Dr. J. M. Frost, Corresponding Secretary of the Sunday School Board, Nashville, Tennessee, were recognized and seated as visitors.

      Considerable time was given toward making preparation for observing the year 1900 as a Memorial Year by the Baptist Churches in which special effort should be made to inform more fully the churches "of the glorious fullness of the Divine blessing received during the past century, and to better organize and equip them for the mighty work which lies before them in the century to come." The motion prevailed "that one day be specially set apart at the next session of this body for memorial exercises adapted to the special work of the year." The Southern Baptist Convention, at its session at Norfolk, Virginia, May 1, 1898, appointed a committee with Dr. F. H. Kerfoot, Chairman "to arrange for a suitable celebration of the year 1900, the last year of the 19th century." This committee reported to the recent session of the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville. Pursuant to this action, the General Association appointed a committee of five to cooperate with the Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and also requested the state committee "to appoint a committee of five in each District Association, who shall in turn provide for a committee of three in each church within their bounds, all of said committees to cooperate with the committee of this Association, and the general committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in the work herein suggested."

      J. W. Warder, who had served nineteen years as Corresponding Secretary, notified the General Association in his report his purpose to resign his position at the expiration of the next Associational year. The Executive Board was requested by the Association "to continue the present arrange-ments during the next year, and that all the work of the Board be arranged and conducted with a view to a new secretary at the expiration of the ensuing year." The very earnest suggestion was made that the brethren be on the lookout for a suitable man for the position, accompanied with "earnest prayer to God to show us the right man for this very important work." Dr. Warder reported that sixteen county seats, in the vast Missionary territory in Eastern Kentucky still remained without Baptist churches.28

      The last session with Dr. W. H. Whitsitt as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary closed in May 1899. The report of the Seminary to the General Association stated: "During the year 262 students were in attendance from all parts of the land and from Foreign lands." In this last session many students entered the class in Church History in advance of the regular schedule in order to be under Dr. Whitsitt's instruction. Early in the year Professor S. C. Mitchell of Richmond College, Virginia, addressed an open letter to the Trustees of the Seminary entitled, "After Whitsitt, What?" making a "vigorous argument" against accepting Dr. Whitsitt's resignation. The Trustees were urged to "stand for freedom of research, and not sacrifice a brave man in the supposed interest of an institution." This appeal "made many of them hesitate to vote for the acceptance of the resignation."29

      The Board of Trustees of the Seminary met in Louisville on May 11, 1899 to consider the resignation of Dr. Whitsitt, with forty-five present. Dr. J. R. Sampey says, "The motion to accept Dr. Whitsitt's resignation was earnestly discussed and at 11 P.M. the vote was taken." The question was divided and "the vote to accept the resignation as President was carried without division," but "on the question of accepting the resignation as Professor of Church History, the vote was 22 in favor and 20 against." Dr. W. E. Hatcher says, "So intense was the public interest in the meeting to accept the resignation that the reporters were clamoring for admission, and the doors had to be locked against them." After leaving the Seminary, Dr. Whitsitt enjoyed a year's rest, and then accepted the chair of philosophy in Richmond College, where he taught until the Spring of 1910. He died January 20, 1911, at the age of seventy years.

      After the resignation of Dr. Whitsitt was accepted the Board of Trustees turned their attention to find his successor. The position was first offered to Dr. J. P. Greene, President of William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri, but on June 2, he declined the call. About ten days after the adjournment of the General Association at Mt. Sterling, the trustees were called to meet in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 29, 1899 for the purpose of choosing a president to succeed Dr. Whitsitt. Hon. W. J. Northen, former Governor of Georgia, introduced a resolution that the Board proceed to elect a president of the Seminary. There were thirty-six trustees present for this important meeting. Dr. Henry McDonald, pastor in Atlanta, put in nomination Dr. F. H. Kerfoot, a member of the faculty in the Seminary, as Chairman of the Faculty. Rev. M. D. Jefferies, Secretary of the Board thus describes the scene: "All seemed uncertain; there was a division of sentiment. . . . W. E. Hatcher (pastor of the Grace Street Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia), arose in a somewhat hesitating way, yet with force in his words, and said that he had the name of a young man to present; be didn't know that he was the man but he believed in him. In a few such mild words, telling why he thought as he did, he presented the name of E. Y. Mullins."30 Dr. Kerfoot's name was withdrawn, the vote was taken and Dr. E. Y. Mullins was unanimously elected. Prior to this meeting of the Board of Trustees in Atlanta, the name of E. Y. Mullins had been presented by Dr. J. S. Dill to a Club of leading Baptists in Richmond, Virginia, when the "whole hour was given to the discussion of Dr. Mullins as the man for the emergency among Southern Baptists." Dr. W. E. Hatcher, a member of the Board of Trustees, was present and took part in the discussion. Dr. H. W. Battle, pastor in Petersburg, was the first man to suggest the name of Dr. Mullins for President of the Seminary.31

      Dr. F. H. Kerfoot had sent a communication to the Trustees in which he requested "that his name should not be considered for the presidency or for the chairmanship of the Faculty. He recounted some of his services to the Seminary and how he had suffered almost as much as Dr. Whitsitt from misunderstanding and criticism." He also stated that "he was unwilling to be the occasion of further strife." In July following Dr. Kerfoot accepted the position of Corresponding Secretary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, succeeding Dr. I. T. Tichenor, and resigned his position in the Seminary after fourteen years of service.32 At the opening of the Seminary in the fall of 1899, Dr. E. Y. Mullins was at the helm, and continued twenty-nine years. Kentucky Baptists entered the new century with renewed energy.



1. Minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1896, p. 11-15; Sampey, John R., Memoirs of John R. Sampey, p. 80.
2. Pollard, E. B., "The Life and Work of Wm. Heth Whitsitt," The Review and Expositor, April, 1912, p. 172.
3. "Editorial Notes," The Independent, N. Y., June 24, 1880, p. 15, col. 2.
4. "Editorial Notes," The Independent, N. Y., Sept. 2, 1880, p. 17, col. 3.
5. "The Proof Supplied," The Independent, N. Y., Sept. 9, 1880, p. 16, col. 3.
6. Pollard, E. B., op. cit., p. 173; Johnson's Universal Cyclopaedia, 1896, Vol. 1, p. 489-493.
7. Pollard, E. B., op. cit., p. 174; King, Henry M., "Astonishing Baptist History," The Examiner, NY., Mar. 26, 1896, p. 6, cols. 1, 2.
8. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 81.
9. Spencer, John H., "Dr. Whitsitt on Baptist History," The Western Recorder, April 23, 1896, p. 2, cols. 1, 2.
10. "Dr. Whitsitt's Theory," The Western Recorder, June 4, 1896, p. 8, col. 1.
11. Minutes of Long Run Association of Baptists, 1896, p. 8, 9, 13; "Long Run Association. Lively Meeting," Western Recorder, Sept. 10, 1896, p. 4, col. 4, 5; p. 5, cols. 1-4; Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 83-85.
12. Whitsitt, Wm. H., A Question in Baptist History, p. 5; Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 85.
13. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 82.
14. Hatcher, Eldridge B., William E. Hatcher, p. 419.
15. Ibid., p. 420, 421; Minutes of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1897, p. 14-16.
16. Hatcher, Eldridge B., op. cit., p. 420-421.
17. "Dr. Whitsitt's Address to the Students," Seminary Magazine, May, 1897, p. 395, 396.
18. The Western Recorder, May 20, 1897, p. 8, cols. 1-3.
19. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 86.
20. Minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1897, p. 6, 12-15, 29, 30, 35, 38, 59, 60, 61, 63, 65.
21. "Our Purpose" Baptist Argus, Oct. 28, 1897, p. 8, col. 1.
22 Hatcher, Eldridge B., op. cit., p. 423.
23. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 87, 88.
24. Minutes of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1898, p. 23, 30.
25. Minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1898, p. 9-11, 34, 35, 47.
26. Ibid., 1898, p. 9-12.
27. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 87, 88.
28. Minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1899, p. 8-10, 20, 36, 40, 41.
29. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 88, 89; Minutes of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1899, p. 14.
30. Sampey, John R., op. cit., p. 89; Hatcher, Eldridge B., op. cit., 423, 426.
31. "The Nomination of Dr. Mullins for the Seminary President," The Review and Expositor, July, 1929, p. 301, 302.
32. Sampey, John R. op. cit., p. 9-92.


[From A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 404-419. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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