Baptist History Homepage

Denominational Results Of The Great Revival in Kentucky
1801 - 1810
By Frank M. Masters
      That the great revival of 1800 produced far reaching spiritual results in the salvation of thousands of people of all classes and caused a marked change in the social orders of the day cannot be denied. But on the other hand, great evils resulted in the division of some of the denominations, and in the forming of other religious sects in Kentucky, which intensified sectarian strife, and engendered continued religious controversy for years to come. This denominational situation was due largely to the fact that multitudes of the real converts in the revival were ignorant of Bible teaching, and untaught in the vital doctrines essential to the Christian life. Thus they were easily led away by any new religious movement. The three then existing denominations effected by the revival were the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, which will be considered in order.


      The climax of the fruit of the revival on the Baptists of Kentucky was the healing of the unhappy division between the Regular and Separate Baptists, as had occurred in the uniting of these two classes of Baptists sixteen years before in North Carolina and Virginia. Several efforts had been made to unite these two forces in Kentucky, which had resulted in failure. But under the more favorable conditions in 1801, while the revival fires were burning in the churches, a final effort was made which succeeded. Articles of agreement were drawn up and accepted by all the associations involved.

      Looking to this end, the Elkhorn Association, which was composed of Regular Baptist churches, appointed a committee in the session of 1800, to visit the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists and to join with that body in calling a convention for the purpose of effecting a union. The South Kentucky Association responded by appointing a committee to confer with the similar committee from Elkhorn. After considerable discussion this joint committee agreed on terms which, it was hoped, would be satisfactory to the churches of both associations.

      The terms were ratified by the South Kentucky Association and a convention was called to be composed of two messengers from each church in both associations. This proposed convention was held in the Old Providence meeting house on Howard's Creek, in Clark County on the second Saturday in October, 1801. The terms of the union were unanimously approved by the convention and referred back to the churches for their final adoption. According to the records available, the proposition for union met with no opposition from any quarter. It will be observed, however, that the agreement was entered into only between the Elkhorn and South Kentucky associations; but under the terms of the General Union, the agreement was speedily accepted by all the Baptists of the State.

      The following are the exact terms of the Union:

      "We the committees of Elkhorn and South Kentucky Associations, do agree to unite on the following plan:

      1. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the infallible Word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice.

      2. That there is one only true God, and in the Godhead, or divine essence, there are Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

      3. That by nature we are fallen and depraved creatures.

      4. That salvation, regeneration, sanctification and justification are by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

      5. That the saints will finally persevere through grace to glory.

      6. That believers' baptism by immersion is necessary to receiving the Lord's Supper.

      7. That the salvation of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.

      8. That it is our duty to be tender and affectionate to each other, and study the happiness of the children of God in general; to be engaged singly to promote the honor of God.

      9. And that the preaching (that) Christ tasted death for every man, shall be no bar to communion.

      10. And that each may keep their associational and church government as to them may seem best.

      11. That a free correspondence and communion be kept between the churches thus united.

      Unanimously agreed to by the joint committee:

      Universal harmony prevailed among the churches, as they were, at that time, experiencing the most powerful and extensive revival that had ever been witnessed by them or their fathers. The large territory of South Kentucky Association was divided into two associations, which took the name of North District and South District. By this means the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists was buried. The distinguishing names "Regular" and "Separate" were dropped and all the Baptists of Kentucky took the name of "United Baptists." In 1802 and 1803, all the churches and associations in the State were in full correspondence, and the terms Regular and Separate Baptists were no more in name and all Baptists for a period of years were known as United Baptists; finally the term "United" was dropped and the name Baptist remained to designate a great denomination. Thus the revival proved a great blessing to the Baptists of Kentucky, though they did not join as a denomination with others in promoting it.1


      The Methodists greatly prospered as a result of the revival of 1800; however one of their historians claims they did not apparently increase in number as rapidly as other denominations, due "to the six months' probation

required before receiving persons into membership." The Camp Meetings, which originated in the revival party of the Presbyterians, were taken up by the Methodists, and became one of their greatest agencies in reaching the multitudes, who attended these immense gatherings, where there were acres of campers. Singing was a very prominent feature of these meetings. They would often mingle "rude ditties" along with Wesley's hymns such as "The Devil Hates the Methodists."

      All the shouting and "the bodily exercises" which characterized the Methodist revivals, were regarded as a token of divine powers, which drew the multitudes to these meetings. Also their prayers were uttered in the loudest voice of the petitioners and with an intonation peculiar to themselves, while loud responses of "Amen," "Glory to God" would be heard all through the congregation. Also the Methodists' claim to a "Broad Catholicity" made them very popular with the masses of the people. The preachers would exhort sinners "to get religion, and then join any branch of the church they pleased"; "One church is just as good as another"; "We are all aiming to get to the same place;" "Join wherever you think you can live happiest." In times of great rejoicing in their revivals, the private members could be heard to say that they "loved Baptists and Presbyterians just as much as they did Methodists." This claim to liberalism and broadness gave them great influence over the people.2

      The Methodists were very weak numerically at the beginning of the revival in 1800, when they reported only 1,742 members, but at the close of this period in 1810, they had increased to 7,057 members. At the close of the Alexander Campbell controversy when the Baptists had been reduced to 39,957 members, the Methodists reported 28,189 members.


      The great revival produced adverse results among the Presbyterians, though it originated in that denomination. There soon arose a marked division in the Presbyterian ministry over its means and methods of conducting the revival services, as led by James McGready in South Kentucky, and in the northern part by Barton W. Stone. Those ministers who favored the revival and led in promoting it, were known as the revival party; while those who opposed the revival movement, were designated anti-revivalists. The anti-revivalists continually made their protests against the methods and results of the meetings being held. They condemned what they regard as some of these disorders: ". . . undue excitement of animal feeling; disorderly proceedings in public worship; too free communication of the sexes; the promulgation of doctrinal errors; and the engendering of spiritual pride. . . ." The strict Calvinists among the Presbyterians were greatly disturbed about the tendencies of the revival party "to accept 'the doctrine of grace as held by the Methodists,' and otherwise dilute the 'excellent standards' of the Confession."3

      The development of affairs, as a result of the revivals in Logan County and the surrounding country gave the strict Presbyterian leaders no little concern. One of the main results of the revival in that section was the formation of so many new churches calling for a larger increase of ministers than could be supplied out of so small a number, who could meet

the educational requirements of the Presbyterian Church. In view of this situation the Kentucky Synod, in its session at Lexington, October, 1802, formed the Cumberland Presbytery, to include the revival section to deal with the conditions there. This new Presbytery consisted of ten ministers of whom Thomas B. Craighead, Terah Templin, John Bowman, Samuel Domnell, and James Balch were anti-revivalists. The other five, James McGready, William Hodge, William McGee, John Rankin, and Samuel McAdow, were the promoters of the revival. This revival party soon attained a majority in the Presbytery and began to supply preachers and exhorters according to the demand. This policy of licensing candidates for the ministry, who were deficient in educational requirements, was bitterly opposed by the anti-revival men in the Presbytery.

      Dr. Davidson thus speaks of the situation: "Illiterate exhorters, with Arminian sentiments were multiplied, till they numbered seventeen. . . . These exhorters, burning with zeal, traveled incessently through the vacant congregations upon their 'circuits,' (a device borrowed from the Methodists two years before) exhorting without the formality of a text." Furthermore, candidates for the ministry were examined on their religious experience and on their motive for entering the ministry, while but little attention was given to their educational qualifications. There was danger that these lesser exhorters would soon dominate the Kentucky Synod.4

      It was evident that the anti-revival party and other strict Presbyterians would do something about the conditions, which had developed in the Cumberland Presbytery. The first action was taken at the meeting of the Kentucky Synod in October, 1804 when a committee was appointed to attend the earliest meeting of the Cumberland Presbytery to investigate the conditions and report back to the next meeting of the Synod. Only one member of the committee attended and he was discarded by the Presbytery as a spy. The next meeting of the Synod was held at Danville in October, 1805 where many irregularities of the Cumberland Presbytery were reported. A commission was appointed, composed of ten ministers, and six elders, with full synodical power to deal with the situation.

      This commission met on December 3, 1805 in the Gasper River meeting house, and was in session nine days. One writer says, "This commission was composed of all the men in the anti-revival party of the Synod, who had rendered themselves most obnoxious to the other party." The charges against the Presbytery were: "They did license a number of young men to preach the gospel, and some of them they ordained to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances of the Church, contrary to the rules and regulations of the Presbyterian Church in such cases made and provided for; and, whereas, these men have been required by said Presbytery to adopt said Confession of Faith and Discipline of said Church, no further than they believe to be agreeable to the Word of God."

      The Commission called the men, who had been licensed or ordained by the Cumberland Presbytery to appear and be examined as to their fitness to preach; but they refused to submit to the examination by this commission. They were, then, prohibited from exhorting, preaching or administering the ordinances. The Commission also called the older ministers, who had supported

this irregular licensing and ordaining the young men to the ministry, and cited them to appear before the next meeting of the Synod.

      After the Commission had delivered its verdict, the revival party organized themselves into a Council and adopted the following: "That they would not cease preaching on the account of any interdict of this commission; that they would refrain from any official action; that they would continue to foster the revival, and keep the revival churches alive; and that they would labor for a reconciliation with the Synod and the Presbyterian Church."5


      At the meeting of the Synod in October, 1806 the Cumberland Presbytery was dissolved, because of its irregularities and its members were added to the Transylvania Presbytery. The Council now became the medium of communication with the Synod, and the General Assembly. During a period of four years repeated attempts were made to reconcile the differences between the Council and Synod without success.

      The Council made a final effort toward reconciliation in 1809, by submitting to the Synod the final ultimatum, the chief point of which was that those who chose might be allowed reservation from the Fatalistic Teachings of the Confession of Faith, but the Synod would not agree to this demand. At this time James McGready, under whose ministry the great revival began, and William Hodge, one of his associates, being genuine Calvinists, withdrew from the Council, made terms with the Synod and remained in the Presbyterian Church. This left the Council with only four ordained ministers. Those who remained in charge of the affairs of the excluded Presbytery felt the need of providing for themselves and for the people, whom they had been instrumental in leading into the way of salvation. Accordingly, on February 4, 1810, Samuel King, Finis Ewing, and Samuel McAdow met in Dixon, Tennessee, and organized, or rather reorganized the Cumberland Presbytery, independent of the Presbyterian Church, and ordained Ephraim McLean to the ministry. Thus did the Cumberland Presbyterian Church come into existence to take a position among what are termed orthodox denominations of Christians.6 In the meeting of the first Synod of the new Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1813, it dissented from the Westminster Confession of Faith as to Reprobation, Limited Atonement, and the Calling of the Elect only. In polity, it was distinctly Presbyterian; but in theology, it claimed to mediate between Calvinism and Arminianism.7

      The new denomination had a rapid growth from the very beginning. At the first meeting of the Cumberland Presbytery in 1810, there were four ordained ministers, six licensed preachers, and seven candidates for the ministry. In 1813 there were three Presbyteries, which met in Sumner County, Tennessee, and created the Cumberland Synod. In 1820, the Cumberlands were not only numerous in Western Kentucky and Tennessee, but had many flourishing congregations in Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas. In 1826, there were eighty ordained ministers, who reported over three thousand conversions. In 1829, the General Assembly was

created with six Synods and thirty Presbyteries. In 1834, available statistics showed nine Synods, thirty-five Presbyteries, over three hundred ordained preachers, more than ten thousand professions during that year, and a membership of above 50,000.

      In 1825, a college was located in Princeton, Kentucky, which opened, March, 1826 in a large "hewn log house" with six students. The school was styled Cumberland College and chartered as an Industrial School, which provided employment for the students to assist them in paying their expenses. The college flourished under the control of the Cumberland Church until 1842, when it was abandoned and opened as Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee, which is now Cumberland University. The school at Princeton was operated by the citizens of the town in a discouraging manner until about 1856, when the institution became extinct.8

      While the Cumberland controversy was under way among the Presbyterians in South Kentucky, and North Central Tennessee, a similar agitation was raging in the northern part of the State, caused by the revivals conducted by Barton W. Stone and his Presbyterian helpers. The anti-revival party could not permit what they regarded as disorderly and unscriptural methods of conducting revivals to continue. They also charged that the preaching of Stone and his associates was anti-Calvinistic. Accordingly, when the Synod of Kentucky was in session in Lexington, September, 1803, a committee was appointed to labor to bring them "seriously and affectionately to converse" with the revival men "to labor to bring them back to the standards and doctrines" of the church. The ministers visited by this Committee were Barton W. Stone, Robert Marshall, John Thompson, Richard McNemar and John Dunlavy.9

      These five men, perceiving that the decision of the Synod would be adverse to them, withdrew from the authority of that body and entered their protest. The Synod at once suspended them a.nd declared their churches vacant. Mr. Stone informed his two congregations, Cane Ridge and Concord, that he could no longer serve them as a Presbyterian preacher, and that, if he continued to preach to them, it would be to build up the Redeemer's Kingdom, not to preach Presbyterianism. Mr. Stone and his ministerial associates formed at once, what was known as the Springfield Presbytery. Under the authority of this new independent body, Stone and his associates went forward preaching and forming churches. By 1804, fifteen churches composed the Presbytery, seven of these being in Ohio and eight in Kentucky. Cane Ridge and Concord Churches left the Presbyterians and went with Pastor Stone. They were strengthened by several promising ministerial recruits.10


      Finally Stone regarded the Springfield Presbytery a handicap, and to this all his leaders agreed. On June 28, 1804, the Presbytery met at Cane Ridge, only nine months after its organization. Here in a document, entitled the "Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" they announced to the world the "dissolution of the body." This was a ludicrous way of throwing the Presbytery overboard. Six ministers, including Mr. Stone, signed the document. The Presbyterian leaders condemned this action of Stone as "profane."

      Stone and his followers adopted the name "Christian" as the Bible term to designate God's people. He says in his memoirs by Rogers: "Having divested ourselves of all party creed and names and trusting alone in God in the word of His grace, we became the laughing stock of all the sects around us." After the Springfield Presbytery dissolved, each local organization that formed that body became independent of all denominational control; each particular church having the right to choose its own pastor and admit members. They determined henceforth never to delegate the right of government to any set of men whatever and to take the "Bible alone for their creed." The name "Christian" and the substitution of "the Bible for all human creeds" became very popular. The pastor of the Silver Creek and Paint Lick Presbyterian Churches joined the new Christian band. Malcolm Worly of the Turtle Creek Church, Ohio, was set apart to the gospel ministry among them. They were greatly encouraged in the progress of the "Christian Church" which was "founded on the New Testament alone."11

      Mr. Stone had not gone very far in promoting the new organization until the question of baptism began to claim the attention. Robert Marshall, one of the strongest of Stone's associates, had become satisfied that the Baptists were right on baptism. Stone tried to convince Marshall ef his error, but as the discussion continued, Stone began to doubt the Scriptural validity of the baptism as practiced by the Pedo-baptists. A meeting was held to consider the subject, and as a result, they became so convinced that they could no longer forbear, and decided that immersion should be observed. They agreed, however, that those who chose to be immersed, should not despise those who held to sprinkling and vice versa.12

      The question then arose, who will baptize us? The Baptists would not baptize them, unless they should become Baptists. There could be found no one among their number, who had been baptized, and thus qualified to administer the ordinance. Robert Marshall, who was such an advocate of immersion at first, and who had convinced Stone that he should be immersed, went back to Pedo-baptism. Then Stone endeavored to win him back but failed.13

      Mr, Ware, Stone's biographer, gives an interesting account of the first baptizing by the "Christian Church" so recently formed. A young lady requested baptism at the hands of Mr. Stone in June, 1807. Mr. Stone announced the baptizing at Paris, Kentucky, seven miles from Cane Ridge Church on Stony Creek. The young woman desired to be baptized first. There could be no Baptist preacher found, who would do the baptizing under the circumstances. A curious crowd had gathered to see what the new order was going to do. The decision was reached, that a command to teach is a command to baptize. Then Stone baptized Elder David Purviance; then David Purviance baptized Elder Reuben Dooly. Stone was the last baptized.14

      The subject of Baptism continued to engage the attention of the new order. Stone and others began to conclude that Baptism was ordained "for the remission of sins," and ought to be administered in the name of

Jesus Christ to all believing penitents. Stone says "that at the Concord Church a great meeting was in progress, and many came forward as was the custom, and the usual prayers and instructions were observed, but none seemed to be comforted. The words of Peter rolled through my mind, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' I quickly arose and addressed them in that language to comply with Peter's command. I was never fully led into this teaching, until it was fully revived by Brother Alexander Campbell some years after."


      No sooner had Barton W. Stone begun to get his new Christian Church well established in 1805, than all was disturbed by the appearing of a strange religious cult among his followers, known as Shakers. Mr. Stone says, "The churches and preachers so grew and were multiplied, that we began to be puffed up at our prosperity. But our pride was soon humbled by a very extraordinary incident - the coming of three missionaries from the Shakers in New England."

      The Shaker Sect originated with a woman, Ann Lee, born in England in 1736. She married Abraham Standly, who died a few years later. In 1770 she began to profess to have direct revelations from heaven, and became the founder of a new faith. Her disciples soon gave her the name of "Mother Lee." With nine members of her Society she emigrated to America in 1774 and settled seven miles from Albany, New York. A revival having broken out at New Lebanon, New York, attended by physical manifestations, many of the converts were added to the new Cult.15

      Ann Lee represented in her person the Second Coming of Christ to the Earth. That is, Christ had his first appearance in the man Jesus, but he had now appeared the Second time in a woman, Ann Lee. This two-fold appearance of Christ completes the Sex-Cycle, which is the reason why there should be no more marriages, since this re-incarnation of Christ in Ann Lee was the Resurrection, hence the marriage relation ceased.

      The name Shaker was given to this Sect, because of the bodily exercises in their worship, as dancing and other physical movements. However, their official name is "The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing." Some of the main points emphasized in their system were: divine healing, spiritualism, visions, dreams, prophecies, revelations from heaven, speaking in tongues, sanctification, testimonies, etc.

      In 1784, Mother Ann Lee died, but left full directions as to the future policy of the Society. In 1787, Joseph Meacham, formerly a Baptist preacher, became the leader, and established a settlement of Shakers at New Lebanon, New York, which became their headquarters. Meacham was one of the three missionaries who visited Kentucky, the other two being Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar Bates. When the news finally reached the Shakers' headquarters in New York that similar bodily performances, common among them, were practiced in the great camp meeting at Cane Ridge, three years before, they arranged to send the three above named

missionaries to Kentucky to look into the conditions there. They left New York on the morning of January 1, 1805, on foot with one horse to carry their baggage and arrived at Paint Lick, Madison County, Kentucky, after having been on the road sixty days, and having travelled over twelve hundred miles.

      These missionaries began their mission work with great zeal. They visited Cane Ridge and Stone permitted them to preach to his congregation. They presented a letter from their headquarters as follows: "We testify to the people that Christ had made His Second appearance here on earth and the poor lost children knew it not." The missionaries approved of the revival as good as far as it went, but insisted that it did not go far enough, and that they had come to teach the "way" more perfectly. They made great inroads on the members of the new "Christian Church" headed by Barton W. Stone. These three men crossed the Ohio from Kentucky and visited Malcolm Worley, pastor at Turtle Creek above Cincinnati, one of Stone's popular preachers. Worley accepted the new faith with many of his people and deeded his valuable land holdings of 4500 acres on which to build a Shakertown Colony in that State.

      In less than a month, Richard McNemar and family united with the sect. On the following July 29 John Dunlavy fell in with them. In February, 1806, Matthew Houston became a Shaker. Many members of the churches, where these ministers were pastors, followed them into the new order.

      Barton W. Stone was enraged over the loss of so many of his leaders to the Shakers. He speaks of them as "Wolves in Sheep's clothing." He said, "They are a set of worldly minded, cunning deceivers whose religion is earthly, sensual and devilish."16 But another writer says, "that the Shaker propagandists drained off the fanatical element from Stone's movement."

      The missionaries hastened down to Gasper River in Logan County and found a fruitful field. Here the Rev. John Rankin, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, along with his congregation, embraced this strange religion. As a result of the great revival in that section, there was a large number of converts, untaught, who were waiting for religious leadership. The Shakers found the harvest ripe and "the laborers few." A Shakertown was located in Logan County as a result of this missionary tour.

      Mercer County was next visited, where three missionaries had such success that a Shakertown Colony was established on the Kentucky River in that county. Many prominent names appeared on their rolls. Their converts were not confined to the common people. Their main message was to urge all to confess their sins to the Shaker leaders, and forsake such sins immediately. The sin of marriage was especially emphasized. Husbands must forsake their wives and wives must give up their husbands. Many did forsake the marriage state. Space will not permit giving an account of lives and homes wrecked by this Shaker movement in Kentucky. Their treatment of those who endeavored to break away from the colonies is a story of horror. They are now practically extinct.17

      In 1810 after the Presbyterians had eliminated all the revival element in their ranks, they reported only 1348 members, while the Baptists reported 16,555 members and the Methodists 7,057.


1. Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 541-547.
2. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 563, 564.
3. Sweet, W. W., Religion on the American Frontier, The Presbyterians, 1783-1840, p. 88, 89.
4. Davidson, Robert, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky, p. 228, 22.
5. McDonnold, B. W., History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, p. 78, 79.
6. Ibid., p. 83, 84.
7. Carroll, H. K., The Religious Forces of the United States, p. 289, 290.
8. McDonnold, B. W., op. cit., p. 214.
9. Ware, Charles C., Barton Warren Stone; Pathfinder of Christian Union, p 134; Rogers, John, The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone, p. 44.
10. Rogers, John, op. cit., p. 48, 49.
11. Ibid., p. 72.
12. Ibid., p. 60.
13. Ware, Charles C., op. cit., p. 173-175; Rogers, John, op. cit., p. 60, 61.
14. Ware, Charles C., op. cit., p. 174.
15. Gibson, Marywebb, Shakerism in Kentucky, Founded in America by Ann Lee, p. 6-13.
16. Ware, Charles C., op. cit., p. 168.
17. Gibson, Marywebb, op. cit., p. 99-107; Button, Daniel Mac-Hir, Old Shakertown and the Shakers, p. 111, 112.


[From Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 158-166. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Kentucky Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage