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The Early Baptist Churches in Kentucky
1781 - 1785
By Frank M. Masters
      At the close of the year 1780 there were many Baptists in the scattered settlements in the territory of Kentucky and at least six Baptist ministers, but no church had been constituted. But as the War of the American Revolution came to a close, there was a new influx of emigrants into Kentucky, especially from Virginia, among whom were Baptists, who desired the fellowship of a church home in the new country, which resulted in the gathering of three churches during 1781, namely, Severn's Valley, Cedar Creek and Gilbert's Creek.

Severn's Valley

      The Severn's Valley Baptist Church, now located in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was evidently the first church planted in the great valley between the Alleghany and Rocky Mountains. The letter of the Severn's Valley Church to the Salem Association at its organization at the Cox's Creek Church, October 29. 1785. says: "Severn's Valley constituted. June 18, 1781, no Pastor". During the year 1779 or 1780 Captain Thomas Helm, Colonel Andrew Hynes and Hon. Samuel Haycraft came from Virginia to Kentucky with their families and other emigrants and settled near where Elizabethtown now stands. They built three rude stockades in the dense unexplored forests of the Severn's Valley. Here on June 18, 1781, under the shade of a large sugar tree the first church in the territory of Kentucky was constituted and took its name from the valley where it was located.

      Some of the original members of the church were Jacob Vanmeter and wife, Jacob Vanmeter, their son, Bennam Shaw, Jacob Dye and wife, and three colored person, servants of Jacob Vanmeter. Thomas Helm and Elder John Gerrard should probably be numbered with the original eighteen members. The records show that Judge Samuel Haycraft was a member in 1787. John LaRue, and his brother-in-law, Robert Hodgen, were both early members after whom LaRue County and the town of Hodgenville were respectively named. At the organization of the church, John Gerrard was set apart as pastor. He came from Virginia with the colony of Samuel Haycraft, whose daughter he had married. After a short pastorate of eleven months, he was captured by the Indians and was never heard of afterwards.

      Honorable Samuel Haycraft, the son of the pioneer Samuel Haycraft, gives a history of the work and worship of the Severn's Valley Church during its early history, which appears in the Minutes of the Salem Association in 1871, as follows:

      "When the present wide spread and favored country was but a wilderness, when not a human habitation was to be found between Louisville, then

called the Falls of the Ohio, and Green River, save a few families who had ventured here, a dense forest, and unexplored, and commenced a rude settlement, then the lamented John Gerrard, a minister of God, came like John the Baptist, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness,' and finding a few of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ like sheep without a shepherd, on the eighteenth day of June, 1781, they were collected together, under a green sugar tree, and in church covenant they gave themselves to the Lord, and to one another, and were constituted a Baptist church.

      "Then, they did not occupy a house of worship, as at present; then, there were no waving harvests, or burdened fields of corn, or hospitable mansions to receive, shelter, and cheer the man of God, after delivering his message of peace, but in some humble log cabin, or rude, half-faced camp, or, perchance, under the shade of some spreading tree, the humble disciples met like brothers, surrounded by dangers, in a forest of unknown boundary, not knowing at what moment the savages would break in upon them. They had fears without, and fightings within. Could we, of the present day, look upon a group giving a correct representation of one of those religious assemblies, it might strike us as somewhat grotesque, if not ludicrous. Imagine the male members, partly in Indian costume, leather leggins, breech cloths, and moccasins, with hats made of buffalo wool rolled around white oak splints, and sewed together, and the females in the simple costume of bed gown and petticoat, all of buffalo wool, underwear of dressed deer skin, for as yet no flax, cotton, or sheep's wool was to be found in their wilderness home. The males sat with rifles in hand, and tomahawks at their sides, with sentry at the door; yet they feared God, and considered themselves highly favored, for they had the word of life dispensed, and sanctuary privileges.

      ". . . . The church, thus formed, was happy; they met as often as they could, and how sweet and refreshing the solemn words which fell from the lips of the man of God.

      "But, alas! how inscrutable the ways of Providence. This infant church was soon called to bear a dreadful blow. In eleven short months the savage tribes who claimed the bloody ground, searched out the abode of civilized man, and in May, 1782, made an inroad, and the minister, Elder Gerrard, was taken captive, and he was never again heard of. Whether he was slain in the retreat, burned at the stake, or lingered in captivity, none now can tell. And, like Moses, the place of his sepulchre no one knows to this day. His ministry on earth was short, but the memory thereof was embalmed in the hearts of his surviving brethren".1

      The pastors who served the church to 1871 are given. "The church has enjoyed the preaching of Elders John Gerrard, William Taylor, Joseph Barnett, Joshua Carman, Joshiah Dodge, Alexander McDougal, David Thurman, Colmore Lovelace, Russell Hollman, Robert L. Thurman, George H. Hicks, Jacob Rogers, Thos. J. Fisher, William Vaughan, John H. Yeaman, William L. Morris, J. Lansing Burrows, Preston B. Samuels, J. Tol Miller, William C. Jones, James C. Rush, and John LaRue Gutton, our

present pastor (1871), together with the occasional preaching of visiting preachers, including some of the most distinguished in the State, also from distant states."

      Out of the membership of the church have come the following preachers: "Josiah Dodge, James Haycraft, Isaac Hodgen, Colmore Lovelace, Jacob Rogers, Squire L. Helm, William L. Morris, Alexander W. LaRue, and J. H. Yeaman; the four last named, together with Isaac Hodgen, were descendants of the old fathers of the church."

      A great revival broke out in the church in 1802 led by the venerable Joshua Morris, and 146 members were added to the church. Among those baptized were Isaac Hodgen, James Haycraft, John Holden and Josiah Dodge, "all of whom became preachers." In July, 1835 a protracted meeting commenced, led by "that eloquent divine and successful evangelist, Elder Thomas J. Fisher." The meeting lasted six weeks, resulting in seventy-one baptized, and ninety-two additions, which made the total enrollment 248 members.2

      The church was represented at the constitution of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, October 20, 1837, by the pastor, J. Lansing Burrows, who had the honor of rehearsing his recollections of that first session, in a great Semi-Centennial Address fifty years later. This old historic church still retains its ancient name, Severn's Valley, though now the great church at Elizabethtown with fourteen hundred members. Over 167 years have intervened since John Gerrard first tended the little flock in the wilderness and that of Dr. L. E. Martin, the present pastor (1948).

Cedar Creek

      Cedar Creek Baptist Church, located in Nelson County about five miles southwest of Bardstown, was the second church gathered in Kentucky. Probably for patriotic reasons the church was organized on July 4, 1781, five years after the adoption of the. Declaration of Independence. Joseph Barnett led in the organization, assisted by John Gerrard, pastor at Severn's Valley, formed sixteen days before.

      Two prominent men are known to have been members of the Cedar Creek Church - James Rogers and Judge James Slaughters. James Rogers was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, who came to Kentucky in 1780, and led in building Rogers' Fort, four miles west of Bardstown in Nelson County. He served in two of the Conventions at Danville, which were held to devise plans for a government of Kentucky, separate from Virginia. He also wrote a pamphlet defending Restricted Communion, claiming that the ordinance is preceded by repentance, faith and baptism. He seems never to have been pastor of any church in Kentucky. Judge James Slaughters was a member of the Kentucky Legislature after Statehood in 1792.

      Joseph Barnett was the first pastor of the church and served four years. On October 31, 1785, he preached the opening sermon before the Convention, which preceded the forming of the Salem Association, after which nothing is known of him.

      Joshua Morris was probably the second pastor of the church, and served for many years. He was also pastor of the Mill Creek Church in Nelson, and of Severn's Valley in Hardin County. He died at thhe age of 87 years in 1837 in Nelson County after a long and fruitful ministry in both Virginia and Kentucky. After the death of this beloved pastor the Cedar Creek Church had many changes of pastors, and many struggles for existence. Yet this old church has lived through 167 years and is now (1948) a member of the Nelson Association, having 320 members, with full time preaching by Glen Waldrop, pastor.

Gilbert's Creek Baptist Church

      The Gilbert's Creek Church, the third planted on Kentucky soil, was organized in Virginia. The membership was composed of most of the members of the Upper Spotsylvania Church, who moved to Kentucky in the fall of 1781, under the leadership of their pastor, Lewis Craig.3 It must have been a solemn and impresive service, when the church and pastor assembled for the last time in their Virginia house of worship, before starting on their long and perilous journey of six hundred miles through the wilderness to the place where the church was to be located in Kentucky. The church and pastor stopped for a time at an extreme western settlement in Virginia to aid in constituting another traveling church on September 28th. Being an organized body, and having in their possession the church records, they could gather in church meetings on the way, and transact business.4

      After this delay, the company moved forward through Cumberland Gap, probably crossing the Cumberland River at a point where Pineville is now located. They journeyed northward exposed to the cold and rain of the winter, and arrived in December in what is now Garrard County and settled on the south side of the Kentucky River. On the Second Lord's day in December 1781, after their arrival, they met La the first service as a Baptist Church of Christ on Gilbert's Creek about two and a half miles from the present town of Lancaster. There were about two hundred members, including four preachers. Lewis Craig remained pastor until 1783, when some marked changes occured in the church.5

      During 1782 only two churches were gathered - South Fork and Forks of Dix River.

South Fork Baptist Church

      The South Fork Church, originally called No-Lynn, according to tradition was constituted in, what is now, LaRue County in the summer of 1782 by Benjamin Lynn and James Skaggs. Dr. J. H. Spencer obtained the information concerning the origin of this church from the venerable Elder John Duncan, who had conferred with at least two men, who claimed to be present when the church was organized. This information received from Elder Duncan is that Benjamin Lynn had been preaching for a considerable time in the neighborhood and several persons professed conversion. As the result of Elder Lynn's ministry, a church was constituted under the boughs of a large oak tree, where the congregation continued to meet the remaining part of the summer.


Immediately after the organization of the church seven persons were approved for baptism. As the Indians were now lurking in the surrounding forests, it was necessary for armed citizens to guard the candidates to the water of the Nolin River, and provide protection while Elder Benjamin Lynn baptized them. If this account is true, this was probably the first baptizing in Kentucky. This church was later divided over the question of slavery, but under the ministry of M. M. Brown, a reconciliation was effected and the church again prospered. Among the few preachers sent out by this church was John Hodgen, who became pastor of the church. He was a brother of the famous Isaac Hodgen. South Fork, a member of the Lynn Association, reported in 1947, over three hundred members with L. C. Allen, pastor.

The Forks of Dix River Baptist Church

      The Forks of Dix River Church, located in Garrard County, was constituted by Lewis Craig in 1782. This was the fifth church to be planted in Kentucky, but very little is known about its early history, as the first book of records was lost.

      Elder Randolph Hall was the first pastor. A manuscript biography of Hall's life written by John S. Higgins, his successor in the pastorate, says that Elder Hall "took the care of the church (Forks of Dix River), shortly after its constitution, which was in 1782." Elder Hall was a Virginian, and served through the War of the Revolution, but in what capacity is not known. He probably came to Kentucky with the flood of emigrants that poured into the new country, following the closing of the war. In 1801 he led in the gathering of the Sugar Creek Church in Garrard County, and became its pastor and at the same time was in charge of the Stony Point Church, in Mercer County. The pioneer Presbyterian preacher, David Rice, who came to Kentucky in 1783, had a preaching place at the Forks of Dix River, the following year, and it is believed that the Presbyterians and Baptists occupied the same place of worship for several years.

      Elder Hall had an extensive good influence in the bounds of the South District Association which he served as moderator for a number of years. He was pastor of the Forks (Dix River) Church from 1782 to 1820, a period of thirty-eight years. He died in 1821 at the age of seventy years, after a long service as a soldier in the War of the Revolution, and as "a soldier of the cross."

      Elder John S. Higgins was the second pastor of the church, succeeding the venerable Randolph Hall in 1820, and continuing about nineteen years. He was born in New Jersey, December 29, 1789, moved to Woodfrod County, and became an exhorter soon after his baptism in 1813. He was ordained to the ministry in Lincoln County in 1815. Elder Higgins preached extensively in the surrounding country in addition to his pastoral work. He gathered the church at Danville in 1823, and preached there until a pastor was secured. He lived on a farm in Lincoln County, where he died in 1872 at the age of four score years.

      Burdette Kemper, the third pastor of this church, was born in Garrard County on a farm, February 24, 1788. At the age of thirty years, he married a

daughter of Judge James Thompson of his county. He and his wife were converted and baptized in the Forks of Dix River Church, March, 1830 by the pastor, J. S. Higgins, and he was ordained to the ministry by the order of the same church in 1833. When Elder Higgins resigned in 1839, Brother Kemper became pastor and continued until his death in 1786. He served many churches and served as moderator of the South District Association for twenty-five years.

      The Forks of Dix River Church entered into the organization of the South Kentucky Association in 1787, and also aided in forming the Tate's Creek Association in 1793. The church joined the South District Association after it was constituted in 1802, and has remained a member of that body until this time (1946), a period of one hundred forty-four years. At the time of the death of Elder Burdette Kemper in 1876, the church numbered 319 members. Dr. J. H. Spencer says "It is still (1885) one of the largest century-old churches in the state. The church at present is under the pastoral care of that excellent minister, Thomas M. Vaughan." In 1947 this old church has full time preaching, Elder W. H. Setzer, pastor, and a membership of one hundred and three.

      At the beginning of 1783 there were at least 12,000 people in the territory of Kentucky and only five weak churches, and eight preachers to minister to their spiritual needs. During the year three other churches were added to that number - Gilbert Creek, South Elkhorn and Providence.

Gilbert's Creek Baptist Church

      This church is not the same, as the Gilbert's Creek, constituted out of the Traveling Church from Virginia, by Lewis Craig in 1781, but is a Separate Baptist Church, gathered by Joseph Bledsoe in 1783 in the same location on Gilbert's Creek in Garrard County.

      John Taylor, who was a member of the Regular Baptist Church of Gilbert's Creek during the winter of 1783-1784, gives the difference between the two organizations. He says, "Just before I got to Kentucky, Craig with a number of others, had left Gilbert's Creek, and moved to South Elkhorn and set up a Church there. The remnant left of Gilbert's Creek, kept up Church order; it was this remnant I united with, among them was George Smith, commonly called Stokes Smith, a valuable preacher; Richard Cave, then an ordained minister; William Cave, who afterwards became a very good preacher, and many other valuable members. . .

      ". . .Soon after, George Stokes Smith, and chief of the members at Gilbert's Creek, also moved to the north side of Kentucky (River); and a separate Baptist Church being set up at Gilbert's Creek, by Joseph Bledsoe, the old Church became dissolved and the separate Baptists chiefly took possession of the south side of the Kentucky River."

      J. H. Spencer records that "In another place, Mr. Taylor says: 'The church I have been writing of, at Gilbert's Creek, was swallowed up, partly by Craig's members moving away, and partly by a Separate church settling there under the care of old Mr. Joseph Bledsoe, and, though the old gentleman is dead, it seems the church yet exists.'"6

      The Gilbert's Creek Church went into the organization of the South Kentucky Separate Baptist Association in 1787, and also went into the General Union of Separate and Regular Baptists in 1801, afterwards to be known as United Baptists. Soon after this union the church went off with a faction headed by two preachers, John Bailey and Thomas J. Chilton, and again assumed the name of Separate Baptists, but returned to the United Baptists in 1845. The church had a number of pastors and at intervals enjoyed spiritual prosperity. During the year 1828, in a revival season 101 members were added to the membership and in 1831 thirty-seven were added. Dr. Spencer says at the time of his writing that the church "was long a prosperous body, but for a number of years past, it has been declining. It is now (1885) without a house of worship and only has a name to live."

South Elkhorn Baptist Church

      The South Elkhorn Church was gathered by Lewis Craig, and was composed principally of members, who were affiliated with the Upper Spotsylvania Church in Virginia which emigrated with Craig as a church to Kentucky in 1781 and settled as a church on Gilbert's Creek, and followed him from there to South Elkhorn in Fayette County. John Taylor says "South Elkhorn, not far from Lexington, was the fourth Church in which I had my membership. This was the first worshiping congregation of any kind organized on the north side of the Kentucky River, and early in the fall of 1783."7

      In the summer of 1785, the preachers in the Gilbert's Creek Church and most of the other members moved to the north side of the Kentucky River and united with the South Elkhorn Church. In the summer of 1784, John Taylor moved into what is now Woodford County and took membership in the same church. William Hickman, John Dupuy and James Rucker, having come to Kentucky, united with this church in 1785. Lewis Craig was chosen pastor of the South Elkhorn Church at the time of its constitution in 1783, and the church prospered under his ministry until 1793, when he resigned to move to Bracken Association. John Shackleford was immediately called as his successor, and continued for about thirty-seven years. During Elder Shackleford's ministry many extensive revivals were experienced in the church. In the great spiritual awakening in 1801, there were 309 converts baptized into the fellowship of the church. In the winter of 1817, about 200 members were received in another revival, but the pastor and church passed through many trying experiences.

      There arose a serious personal difficulty between Elijah Craig and Jacob Creath, Sr., two prominent preachers, which divided the church, and caused great disturbance in the Elkhorn Association. Later the church was wrecked by Campbellism, leaving only a small minority, until the church became extinct, but a new organization was formed out of some of the remaining material, which is still carrying on the work of the Lord under the same venerated name. The church of South Elkhorn in 1947 was a member of the Elkhorn Association, with full time preaching, and reported a membership of 624 members.


Providence Baptist Church

      The Providence Church, like the first Gilbert's Creek, was organized in Virginia, and moved to Kentucky in a church capacity. The person prominently connected with the origin of the Providence Church was Captain William Bush, who was associated with Daniel Boone in his second exploring trip to Kentucky. The following inscription appears on the tomb-stone of Captain William Bush, in the old Bush burying ground about a mile north of Boonesborough: "He was the friend and companion of Daniel Boone and others in the early settlement of Kentucky." Captain Bush assisted Daniel Boone "in blazing the trail to Boonesborough in 1775." He was so pleased with the new country, that when he returned to his home in Virginia, he began at once to organize a colony. Captain Bush succeeded in gathering about forty families from among his kinsmen, neighbors and friends in Orange and Culpeper Counties, most of them being Baptists. No doubt this distinguished leader portrayed the new country as beautiful with fertile soil, its rivers filled with fish, and the huge forests alive with wild game. Accordingly, early in the year 1780, preparations began to be made for the exodus to "Kaintuckee" in the coming fall.

      Some months before the time for the colony to start on the long journey, Captain Bush returned to Boonesborough in Kentucky "to select and locate farms" for the different families. He located the land on the north side of Kentucky River in what was to be Clark County, but he found that the Indians had become much more dangerous, since his first visit to Kentucky. They had allied themselves with the British in the War of the Revolution against the settlers. In the meantime, the Bush Colony had been formed and had reached the Holston River, December 1780, when their leader returned and advised them of the danger of going into Kentucky at that time. The colony was compelled to remain for three years, and during the time "raised three crops of corn." This patriotic colony made the hills ring with the firing of rifles, when the news of the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781, reached them.

      When were the Baptists of this Colony constituted into a church is the main question. Had the organization already been formed when they reached the Holston River, December, 1780, or was the church constituted later? The following is taken from the records of the Providence Church: "December 1780: Moved to the Holston, Brother Robert Elkin, minister and John Vivion. elder, and in January, 1781 they with other Baptists formed. themselves into a body in order to carry on church discinline, and on September 28, 1781, was constituted by Lewis Craig, and John Vivion with the members to wit:- William Bush, Sr., Franky Bush, William Bush, Jr., Ambrose Bush, Lucy Bush, Phillip Bush, Franky Bush, John Bush, Sarah Bush . . . and continued there a constitution till the first day of September, 1783, then a principal part of the members with their minister, being about to move to Kentucky, it was agreed they should carry the constitution with them. This is an abridgement of the business on the Holston."8

      This old record continues as follows: "Now having arrived in Kentucky and settled on the South side of the Kentucky River near Craigs Station: but through the badness of the weather and scattered situation, nothing of

importance was done till April the 3, 1784. Then having met a Brother Elkins, appointed Brother Phillip Bush, Clerk, also received by letter Joseph and Milly Embry, and appointed church meetings on the fourth Saturday in each month." The church continued to meet in regular services every month "at or near Craig's Station until November 27, 1784." We find this re-cord: "Through a turn of God's providence the church chiefly moving to the north side of Kentucky (River) and for the health and prosperity of Zion, we have appointed a church meeting at Brother William Bush's, No-vember 27, 1874, the former Clerk not yet having moved to the north side, the church appointed Daniel Ramey, Clerk, also received John Johnson by letter."

      Thus the Providence Church was the seventh Baptist organization to begin worship on Kentucky soil, though constituted in Virginia, January 1781, and the organization confirmed by Lewis Craig and his Traveling-Church, September 1, following. On April 16, 1785, James Quisenberry, a Baptist preacher from Virginia, was received by recommendation, and January 14, 1786, Andrew Tribble, a preacher from the same state was received by letter. In June 1786, Squire Boone, Jr., was received by experience and baptism, and one month later Samuel and Mary Boone were also received by baptism.

      In 1787, these pioneer Baptists erected their meeting house, which was built "of logs and had port holes for use in defending the worshippers from attacks by the Indians." Traditional records say, "that while one part of the congregation watched the port holes from the gallery, the other part worshipped." Before this log house was built, the church met from house to house for worship. This first house was built on Howard's Creek, and was known as Howard's Creek Church. Brother Elkin, the pastor, built his little house "in sight of the church building". The church increased in numbers by revivals.9

      In 1790 a difficulty arose between Robert Elkin, the pastor, and Elder Andrew Tribble, which resulted in a division in the membership. The Elkin party retained the church constitution and changed the name of the church, from Howard's Creek to Providence. Elder Andrew Tribble took his followers and constituted the Unity Church in the same settlement. Robert Elkin continued pastor of the Providence Church until 1822, a period of forty-two years. The following appears in the Minutes of the North District Association, 1822: "Our venerable, well beloved and extensively useful brother in the Lord, Elder Robert Elkin, in the 77th year of his age, and the 51st of his ministry, rested from his labors in March (1822) last."

      After the death of the beloved Elkin, the second pastor of the Providence Church was Elder Richard Morton, who accepted the pastorate, May, 1822, but on account of ill health, he was compelled to resign after a few months and was succeeded by Elder William Morton the following September. He served one year. Elder Richard Morton again became pastor, October, 1823, and continued until March 1872. Elder George G. Boone, the next pastor, was called March, 1828, and continued three years. During the Civil War period two well known ministers in Kentucky, R. T. Dillard, and C. E. W. Dobbs, served as pastors. Rev. T. C. Ecton, a young preacher, was pastor,

1904-1906. Ambrose G. Bush was elected clerk of the church in 1845, and served until 1895, a period of fifty years.

      On August 7, 1830, sixty-five members, fifty-one whites and fourteen colored, having become displeased with the rules and regulations of the church, withdrew and formed themselves into a body known as Reformers. On October 2, 1830, a motion was made "to know whether the Providence Church will or will not commune with members of Baptist churches that call themselves Reformers." In 1859 the church at Winchester was constituted mainly of members from the Providence Church.

      In 1787, the church entered into the formation of the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists, and continued a Separate Baptist church, until the terms of the General Union between the Regulars and Separates, were ratified by a general Convention, "which met in the Old Providence meeting house in Clark County, on the Second Sunday in October 1801." Following this union, this old church united with the North District Association, and years later united with Boone's Creek Association. To this body, the church reported in 1946, 187 members, full time preaching, and Elder Jack Curtis, pastor. In 1947, E. D. Houghton, Georgetown, was pastor of the church, which reported 153 members.

Bear Grass Baptist Church

      The Bear Grass Church was the only one constituted during the year 1784, but it was planted in a wide field of destitution, where the population was rapidly increasing. A number of settlements had already been made on the Bear Grass Creek, and in other parts of what was then Jefferson County. Louisville was a rapidly growing town in 1784, in which were sixty-three houses finished and more than one hundred cabins. The census of 1790 gave Louisville 350 inhabitants. John Whitaker was the only preacher located in all that part of Kentucky. One of his preaching points was on Bear Grass Creek about six miles from Louisville. He gathered the scattered Baptists from the surrounding settlements and in January, 1784, with the aid of James Smith, constituted the Bear Grass Church. This was the first church constituted in Jefferson County, and for a period of eight years was the only church within thirty miles of Louisville. John Whitaker was the first pastor, but how long he served is not known. There were nineteen members when the church went into the organization of Salem Association in 1785, and sixty-seven members when the Long Run Association was formed in 1803. In 1820 a revival occured in the church, which increased the membership to one hundred and forty-six, but all was utterly destroyed by Campbellism and ceased to exist.

Clear Creek Baptist Church

      The Clear Creek Church in Woodford County was constituted by John Taylor, as a result of the first revival in Kentucky, led by this noted pioneer preacher. Many of the members of the South Elkhorn Church were living on Clear Creek, and among them the revival fires were kindled. During the Summer of 1784, John Taylor settled in Woodford County. He says: in a "little cabin (sixteen feet square, with no floor but the natural

earth, without table, bedstead or stool)." He says, "On my settlement at home, I had nothing before me but hard labour, being entirely in the woods. . . After getting another little cabin up and fixed for winter; our first work was to make fence rails, and enclose all the land we intended to clear through the winter."

      He then tells how the revival began. In the winter of 1784-5, they began to hold night meetings in their little cabins in the woods. "There seemed to be some heart melting move among the people. The first, I recollect, was at a night meeting at my little cabin; though the night was wet and dark, and scarcely a trace to get to my house, the little cabin was pretty well filled with people, and what was best of all, I have no doubt the Lord was there; a Mrs. Cash, the wife of Warren Cash, was much affected, and soon after was hopefully converted. Others were also touched to the heart, who afterwards obtained relief in the Lord."10

      Mrs. Cash as far as known was the first fruit of the Lord "in the far famed Blue Grass Region of Kentucky." She was born in Virginia, the daughter of Elder William Basket, being one of thirteen children. Her father being a prosperous man in Goochland County, Virginia, she received a fair education for the times. In November 1783, she was married to a soldier, who had served in the war for Independence, by the name of Warren Cash. He was wild and reckless, and was illiterate, not able to read. After their marriage, they moved to Kentucky and settled in Woodford County. Soon after Mrs. Cash's conversion in the cabin, she won her husband to Christ and began to teach him with good results. He later became a useful preacher, due largely to the tutoring of his faithful wife.

      As a result of this work of grace, the members of the South Elkhorn Church, who lived in the Clear Creek vicinity, agreed to go into the organization of a church nearer their homes. Accordingly, the Regular Baptist Church on Clear Creek was constituted. This was the tenth church gathered in Kentucky, and the second located on the north side of the Kentucky River. There were about thirty members in the constitution of the church, and among them were four ordained preachers - John Taylor, William Cave, James Rucker, and John Dupuy. The persons, who had been converted during the previous winter, had not been baptized, but as the revival continued on through the year about twenty were baptized into the Clear Creek Church.

      During the winter of 1785 after the constitution of the church, the question of calling a pastor began to be agitated. John Taylor says: ". . .when this talk came to my ears, it gave me alarm, thinking the peace of the church might be broken on this question, for I had seen much trouble at times in Virginia, in choosing a pastor, where there was a number of preachers. . . . Two of the preachers that were with us, Dupuy and Rucker, had been pastors in Virginia, and a number of their old flocks, then members of Clear Creek church, my own fears were, that we should have a heavy church contest, which of them should be the pastor; but the question was brought into the church, and the day fixed on to choose a pastor, help's sent for to Elkhorn and the Great Crossings to install (as they called it,) a pastor in the church. I think it was at our

March monthly meeting, the help's came, perhaps six or eight. Lewis Craig acted as the moderator. His mode was to ask every member of the church, male or female, bond or free, who do you choose for your pastor. I think the church was now about sixty in number. I must confess it filled me with surprise, when the first man that was asked answered that he chose me; and my astonishment continued to increase, until the question went all round, only one man objected, but Lewis Craig soon worked him out of his objection, for it lay in thinking my coat was too fine."

      It is interesting to hear John Taylor describe how he was installed as pastor of the Clear Creek Church. They met the next day and proceeded with the ceremonies. "After preaching had ended, the moderator, Lewis Craig, called the Church together, informing them, if they were of the same mind, they were the day before, I had agreed to serve them. The voice of the church being unanimous, those helps proceeded to install me, as they called it, into the pastoral care of Clear Creek Church. Their mode was three of them to kneel down with me, while they all laid their right hands on my head. Two of them prayed, after which the moderator took my right hand into his, and gave me the solemn charge to fulfill the duty of a pastor to the church. After which he called forward the church, each to give me the right hand of fellowship, as their pastor. This soon produced more heart-melting effect than we had ever before seen at Clear Creek; what wrought most on my feelings was, almost every sinner in the crowded house, pushed forward, either looking solemn as death, or in flood of tears, to give me their trembling hands. From that day's meeting, an instantaneous revival took place in the settlement of Clear Creek. That summer I baptized about sixty of my neighbours, and a number of them among the most respectable."11

      The same year a house nf worship was built, and the pastor's salary fixed at seventy dollars, and the next year one hundred dollars was added, all to be paid in produce. The pastor kept the list, and gave credit to the members when the commodities were delivered. "Of the one hundred dollars, only forty was paid."

      Elder Taylor remained as regular pastor for three years, and resigned because of some contention in the church. However, he continued to minister to the church until the Spring of 1795. In the great revival of 1800-02, the Clear Creek Church partook of the blessing and grew to about 500 members. During the twenty years following this great revival; the church had a number of pastors among whom were Jacob Great, Henry Toler, and others at different times, but during the period the old church steadily declined. Under these discouraging conditions, some of the older members, began to turn to the founder and first pastor of the church; John Taylor, who then living in Franklin County, twenty miles away.

      On the third Saturday in January, 1822, the church extended a unanimous call to their dear former pastor, though he was now in his seventieth year. He did not agree to become pastor, but promised to visit them as often as he could, until they could secure a pastor. The church owned a commodious brick meeting house, but John Taylor perferred to hold services in the homes of the brethren, as in the old days. A revival began almost immediately, and continued through the year. More than 160 were baptized.

      The Clear Creek Church has remained a member of the Elkhorn Association and in 1947 reported a membership of nearly three hundred and full timejieachiJlg. with. Raymond Sanderson, pastor.

Limestone Baptist Church

      The Limestone Church, the eleventh planted in Kentucky, was located in what is now Mason County, near the mouth of Limestone Creek. When Mason County was established in 1788 by the Virginia Legislature, and Washington became the County seat, the church was moved to that place, and in August 1792 the name was changed from Limestone to Washington Church. The town contained 462 inhabitants in 1790 according to the United States census.

      The Limestone Church was gathered in 1785 by Rev. William Wood, who became the first pastor. He bought a thousand acres of land where Washington stands, and helped to lay off the town in 1785. The first members of the Limestone Church were: Rev. William Wood, Sarah Wood, James Turner, John Smith, Luther Calvin, Priscilla Calvin, Sarah Starks, Charles Tuel and Sarah Tuel. The first ordinance of baptism witnessed in all that part of Kentucky was administered by the authority of this church in August, 1788, in the Ohio River in, front of the place where Maysville now stands. A large assemblage of people came to witness the baptism. While the ordinance was being administered, a band of Indians assembled on the opposite shore of the river, and watched the procedure, with great interest, and heard the singing sounding across the waters. Those baptized were Elizabeth Wood, John Wilcox, Ann Turner, Mary Rose and Elizabeth Washburne.12

      After the Limestone Church was located in Washington, they determined to build a house of worship though the country was still but thinly settled. While one party of the men was engaged in hewing the logs and putting them in place, others acted as guards and scouts to protect them from the savage tribes of Indians. The rifle was as important as the broad-axe in the erection of the building. It was planned to hold the memorable debate between Alexander Campbell and Rev. William L. McCalla of 1823 in this meeting house in Washington, "but the crowds were so immense and the weather favorable that the debate was held in a nearby Methodist Camp Meeting ground."

      Elder William Wood continued as pastor of the Washington Church until 1798, when a difficulty arose between him and one of the brethren, and the pastor, refusing to make satisfactory concessions, was declared "not one of us." Nothing further is known of him. "The Washington Church has held a continuous existence from its constitution to the present time. It is now quite weak (1885). In 1875, it reported a total membership of only 21."13

      The One Hundredth Anniversary of the constitution of this old church was held in February, 1885. Elder A. M. Vardeman was pastor at the time. Dr. J. H. Spencer, the author of the History of Kentucky Baptists then in press, was one of the principal speakers. He spoke at length of "One

Hundred Years of Baptist History." Elder R. B. Garrett, then well known in the State, preached on "Who are the Baptists and What have they done for the World." Elder Cleon Keyes, a pioneer preacher in the Bracken Association, gave a "Reminiscence" of the old pastors and members of the church. Elder W. P. Harvey, then one of the young preachers in Kentucky, took an offering of $170.00 to aid in repairing the old meeting house, which building burned in 1889, four years following Centennial, after which the church dissolved.

Pottenger's Creek Baptist Church

      Little is known about this church. It was located in the southern part of Nelson County, and gathered in 1785 by Benjamin Lynn, who became the first pastor. According to Asplund's Register, the church had thirty-eight members in 1790. This was one of the churches out of which the South Kentucky Association was constituted in 1788. The church passed out of existence sometime in 1804.

Cox's Creek Baptist Church

      Sometime during the year 1784, William Taylor, born in New Jersey, came to Kentucky from Virginia and settled in Nelson County on Cox's Creek. He began preaching in the cabins of the settlers and in a few months succeeded in finding a sufficient number of Baptists who were willing to enter into the forming of a church. On April 17, 1785, Elder John Whitaker and Joseph Barnett constituted the Cox's Creek Church with sixteen members. This church is located six miles north of Bardstown, in Nelson County, and is the thirteenth planted in Kentucky. Elder William Taylor was the first pastor of the new organization, and remained in that position until his death in 1809, a period of nearly twenty-five years. He spent much of his time traveling and preaching among the settlers in a large area of the country, often exposed to the treacherous Indians, hidden in the forests.

      Moses Pierson, the second pastor of Cox's Creek Church was born in New Jersey in 1765, of strict Presbyterian parents. He followed William Taylor to Kentucky in 1784, and soon after married his daughter. Mr. Pierson was among the first converts, baptized into the church. He was ordained to the ministry in January, 1804, and on the death of William Taylor in 1809, was chosen pastor of the church, where he served until 1825. Elder Pierson was a very peculiar man and had little education. He was nick-named "Old Peradventure" because he used that word so often, but always mispronouncing it. His voice was harsh and unmusical, and yet regardless of all these disadvantages, this pioneer preacher labored twenty years, led in gathering several churches, and baptized many happy converts.

      One of the most beloved pastors Cox's Creek ever had was Isaac Taylor. He was baptized by his venerable father, William Taylor, July 4, 1801, and was ordained to the ministry June 5, 1813. On the resignation of his brother-in-law, Moses Pierson, he became pastor of the church, on April 7, 1825, and labored in that capacity without stipulated salary until his death in 1842. This beloved brother was called to more churches than he was able to serve. He maintained a spotless reputation, and never betrayed the confidence the masses of the people had in him.

      Under the ministry of Elder V. E. Kirtley, the fourth pastor, the policies of the Cox's Creek Church seems to have changed. This brother was called to the pastorate by private ballot vote, and began his duties as pastor, January, 1844. He was paid $100.00 for the year, preaching one Sunday in each month, but the second year he was employed to preach two sermons a month at a salary of $150.00 a year. He was an energetic supporter of Baptist principles, and an enthusiast in evangelism. He stirred up the church on missions, but his zeal was misunderstood, and he was called the "monied preacher." He resigned, February, 1849, after a pastorate of five years.

      The church was without a 'house of worship, the first nine years of its history. According to the records, a committee was appointed on February 17, 1792, to have the meeting house finished, which had been previously begun. This was a log house and was paid for by the contribution of property and produce, which could be used in completing the building. This log house was used for twenty-five years, when a brick house, seventy by forty-five feet, was erected on the same lot, and was ready to be occupied at the close of 1818. The pulpit at the side of the building was seven feet high, and was approached by steps. This second house of worship was used until January 1, 1871, when a more commodious building was dedicated. At the close of the dedication sermon preached by the pastor, Rev. P. B. Samuels and J. H. Spencer, then preparing the great History of Kentucky Baptists, gave a sketch of the first four Baptist churches in Kentucky.

      On Thanksgiving Day, November, 1929, the Sunday school rooms which had been added to this same building, under the pastorate of A. H. Knight, were dedicated. The dedication sermon was preached by Dr. A. K. Wright, a former member of the church, and then pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle in Louisville. The service of song was led by Professor R. Inman Johnson, the head of the Music Department of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a son of a former pastor of the church.14

      The Cox's Creek Church went into the organization of the Salem Association, October 29, 1785, and remained a member until dismissed, August 15, 1849 to enter into the formation of the Nelson Association. The church had only half-time preaching until 1879 when Elder J. M. Sallee was called for full time and occupied the new pastor's home. In 1947 the church reported to the Nelson Association 242 members and full time preaching with E. R. Cooper, pastor.

Brashear's Creek Baptist Church

      The Brashear's Creek Church was constituted in 1785 with eight members in Owen's Fort near the present town of Shelbyville. This was the first church located in what is now Shelby County and the fourteenth planted in Kentucky. The names of seven members out of eight are recorded.

      Soon after the church was constituted, the Indian raids became so frequent, that no services were held for two years. During the winter of 1788-89 William Hickman visited Owen's Fort, from the Forks of Elkhorn, and preached to them on Saturday night and Sunday. He says "They insisted very hard for me to leave them another appointment, before I left."

Elder Hickman visited them again in March, beginning on Friday and continuing until Wednesday, preaching day and night, at three or four different stations. They urged this man of God to continue to visit them. He says: "They promised, if I would, they would send me several loads of grain, and would, every time, send a guard to the river to meet me, and guard me back." As a result of the continued visits of Elder Hickman, a number was baptized, and the church grew.15

      Joshua Morris settled among them as pastor, continuing the work of Hickman, and continued till sometime during the year 1800. At the meeting of the Long Run Association in its first session the Brashear's Creek Church reported 101 members. During a revival in 1810, the membership increased to 112, but as other churches began tlo be formed in Shelby County, there was a continued decrease. The last report of this body to Long Run Association as Brashear's Creek Church was in 1841; in 1842 its name had been changed to Clear Creek Church, and it reported as such through 1858 after which no further report appears. Probably the church at Shelby-ville absorbed most of the members. The Brashear's Creek Church was "the mother church in this region of the State, and from it sprang all the early churches of Shelby County."16

Rush Branch Baptist Church

      The Rush Branch Church was the first gathered in what is now Lincoln County, and the fifteenth formed in the State. Very little is known about this church, except that it was organized in 1785 and located about two and a half miles from the present location of Stanford. It united to form South Kentucky Association in 1787. The church was gathered by John Bailey, who became the first pastor. The church went into the union of the Separate and Regular Baptists in 1801, and later became a member of the South District Association, which was divided on account of some doctrinal errors propagated by John Bailey, the pastor. The church went with Bailey's faction, and nothing more is known of its subsequent history.17

Head of Boone's Creek Baptist Church

      This church was constituted in 1785, and was located in Fayette County. It is thought to have been gathered by Joseph Craig. The church united with the South Kentucky Association, either at its constitution in 1787, or the following year. It is known that the church had a membership of 74 in 1790, after which nothing more is known of it.18

Great Crossings Baptist Church

      This church was constituted May 28, 1785, by Lewis Craig and John Taylor. This is the third church formed on the north side of the Kentucky River and the seventeenth planted in the new country. It was located in what is now Scott County, near the present site of Georgetown. The following were the original members, who entered into the constitution of the church: William Cave, James Suggett, Sr., Robert Johnson, Thomas Ficklin, John Suggett, Julius Gibbs, Robert Bradley, Bartlett Collins, Jemina Johnson, Susanna Cave, Sarah Shipp, Caty Herndon, Jane Herndon, Hannah Bradley. Betsy Leeman and Betsy Collins.

      The next year after the organization of the church, Elijah Craig came from Virginia and settled on the land, now occupied by Georgetown, and became very prosperous. He was immediately called to the pastoral care of the new church, which he served for five years, when a difficulty arose between him and Joseph Redding, a very popular preacher who had recently come from Virginia and settled near Great Crossings. The difficulty was finally adjusted and Elijah Craig was restored to the fellowship of the church. In 1795, he entered into the constitution of a new church called McConnell's Run, but since known as Stamping Ground.

      Joseph Redding was the second pastor of the Great Crossings Church, who entered upon his duties as pastor in 1793, and continued until 1810. During the great revival in the church in 1801-03, he baptized 361 converts. James Suggett became pastor in 1810, and served fifteen years. The church continued to prosper under his ministry and enjoyed several precious revivals. Jacob Creath succeeded him in the pastorate, but served only one year. Silas M. Noel took charge of the Church as pastor on the first Sunday in January, 1827. During his first year, twenty-seven were added by baptism. During the year 1828 a very remarkable revival broke out under the preaching of Pastor Noel, Ryland T. Dillard and others, which resulted in three hundred and fifty-nine baptized. After this revival the church numbered five hundred and eighty-eight members.19

      The Great Crossings Church, through the early years of its history, was served by many able ministers, among whom may be named Wm. C. Buck, John L. Waller, Wm. F. Broaddus, James D. Black, Howard Malcom, Duncan R. Campbell and Basil Manly, Jr. Ellis M. Ham was the pastor in 1946 and was succeeded by Ralph R. Hensley. This old church was one of the number that entered into the constitution of the Elkhorn Association and is still a member of that historic fraternity, to which Association the church reported 445 members in 1948.

Tate's Creek Baptist Church

      The Tate's Creek Church of Regular Baptists was constituted in 1785, probably by John Tanner, and is located in Madison County, between Boonesboro, and the present town of Richmond. It was a very small body, and of slow grow'tlh. It was one of the six churches that formed the Elkhorn Association. The church was split in two factions when the Licking Association was formed in 1810, one faction going with that fraternity.

      From these eighteen churches the first two associations in Kentucky were formed in the fall of 1785.


1. Pages 14, 15.
2. Haycraft, Samuel, "History of Severn's Valley Church," Minutes of the Salem Association of United Baptists, 1871, p. 13; "History of Salem Assoiciation," The Christian Repository, April, 1857, p. 225.
3. Semple, Robert B., A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, 1810 Edition, p. 153.
4. Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 30; Taylor, John, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, Second Edition, p. 42.
5. Ford, Samuel Howard, "History of Kentucky Baptists," The Christian Repository, March, 1856, p. 137.
6. Taylor, John op. cit., p. 42; Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 40,
7. Taylor, John, op. cit. p. 50.
8. Conkwright, S. J., History of the Churches of Boone's Creek Baptist Association of Kentucky, p. 28.
9. Ibid., p. 27, 32.
10. Taylor, John, op. cit., p. 44-47.
11. Ibid., p. 55-58.
12. Smith, Martin H., History of the Maysville Baptist Church, p. 3, 4; Best, Edna Hunter, The Historic Past of Washington, Mason County, Kentucky, p. 49, 50.
13. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 67, 68.
14. Wright, Ray H., History of Cox's Creek Baptist Church, p. 1-17.
15. Hickman, William, Life and Travels of William Hickman (Typed Copy).
16. Spencer, John H., op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 78, 79.
17. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 79.
18. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 81.
19. Bradley, J. N., History of Great Crossings Baptist Church, by J. N. Bradley and Ellis M. Ham, p. 8-23.


[From A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 24-40. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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