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The Founding of Georgetown College
1829 - 1840
By Frank M. Masters
      The year 1829, when Georgetown College was founded, was one of "trouble, turmoil, and confusion." The Reformed movement under Alexander Campbell was the all-absorbing topic of controversy in the churches. It reached the climax of bitterness and strife, in the division of the two opposing forces two years later. In addition to the Campbell disturbances the anti-mission forces, who had received encouragement from Mr. Campbell, were hostile to all educational and missionary effort and sought to counteract the progress already made in these enterprises. They did not regard schools and missionary organizations at all essential to make effective God's program in the world. The Baptists, who were earnestly endeavoring to promote the entire commission given by the Lord Jesus, were in the minority as we shall see.

      The question raised by some of the faithful leaders under the prevailing, perilous conditions was "What are the greatest needs? What institution should be established first, to provide the surest way out?" After taking the situation under consideration, a number of enterprising Baptists, in different sections of the state, felt that providing for the education and training of young ministers to preach the gospel and lead the churches was no doubt the greatest need of the hour. A generation of preachers had appeared inferior, in training and experience, to their pioneer fathers; and what could be expected of the future Baptist ministry unless provision should be made for their education? In view of these facts, a few men purposed to establish a college under the control of the General Union of Baptists, though there was no state organization to unite the churches in supporting such an institution.

      The two men, who led in the movement to establish a college in Kentucky, were Rev. Silas M. Noel and Mr. Issachar Pawling. Elder Noel was pastor of the church at Frankfort and had received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Transylvania University at Lexington, in 1824. He was born in Henderson County, Virginia, August 13, 1783, and was converted in 1810 and baptized by William Hickman into the Forks of Elkhorn Church. Mr. Issachar Pawling was born in New Jersey, October 19, 1757, and came to Kentucky in early life and settled in the Blue Grass region. Here he acquired a considerable fortune and was "desirous to set apart a fund for the education of Baptist ministers, and candidates for the Baptist ministry."1

      Soon several Baptist ministers and laymen were enlisted to support the college. An application was made to the State Legislature for an Act of incorporation which was granted in January, 1829, to incorporate the Trustees of the Kentucky Baptist Education Society as follows: "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, that Alva Wood, Silas M. Noel, W. H. Richardson, Jeremiah Vardeman, John Bryce, David Thurman, Gabriel Staughton, Joel Scott, Peter Mason, Thomas P. Dudley, Peter C. Buck, Jepthah Dudley, Benjamin Taylor,

George W. Nuckols, George Waller, Guerdon Gates, Ryland T. Dillard, Benjamin Davis, William Johnson, Samuel McKay, Thomas Smith, C. Van Buskirk, James Ford and Cyrus Wingate, shall be and are hereby constituted, a body politic and corporate, to be known and designated by the name and style of 'The Trustees of the Kentucky Baptist Education Society', and by that name shall have perpetual succession and a common seal . . . Be it further enacted that . . . they are hereby invested with full power and authority, in their corporate capacity, to purchase, or receive by donation, demise or bequest, any lands, tenaments, hereditaments, moneys and to hold same . . . ." The following month after the above charter was obtained, Issacher Pawling made his will.2

      The Trustees of the Kentucky Baptist Education Society held a meeting in the Baptist meeting house in Lexington, on Wednesday, February 11, 1829. Among the members of the Board present, were Alva Wood, Thomas P. Dudley, James Ford, Silas M. Noel and others. Silas M. Noel was Chairman, and Thomas P. Dudley was Secretary. The object of this meeting was stated in the following Resolution: "Resolved, 'That we will use of our best efforts for the promotion of general literature, under the patronage of the Baptist denomination, and to obtain adequate funds and buildings for education purposes'." In the afternoon session, a committee was appointed, composed of iSilas M. Noel, Thomas P. Dudley, Alva Wood, John Bryce and Gabriel Staughton "to draw up and present to Brother Pawling an expression of our grateful acknowledgements for his liberality as manifested in the donation already made to the 'Kentucky Baptist Education Society', and his zeal in the cause of God and truth."

      It is stated "that the amount of donation from the first patron, now in the hands of the Trustees, in money, property, and notes on individuals is estimated at Seventeen Thousand Dollars". In addition to this, Mr. Pawling had given assurance of eight or ten thousand more, which would make a perpetual fund of twenty-five thousand dollars. It was agreed that the gift was "to be a perpetual fund; no part of the principal is to foe expended, and the interest is to be applied exclusively to the education of such Baptist preachers, or candidates for the Baptist ministry, as adhere to the articles of the General Union of Baptists in Kentucky, no part of it to be applied to the benefit either of teachers or scholars of any other description."

      Dr. Silas M. Noel, acting as Agent for the Kentucky Baptist Education Society located at Georgetown, went East "for the purpose of procuring a President for the College and apparatus necessary for its equipment." The trustees in a meeting at Versailles June 9, 1829, took up the difficult question of locating the college. For six months there had been deep interest on the part of trustees on this subject of location. Notices had been given out in the press that the trustees were ready to receive bids from different counties, which might desire the proposed college to be located in their midst. Harrodsburg, Mercer County, offered $20,000 for the location of the college there, and Georgetown, about $25,000 in money and property. The Board of Trustees submitted a proposition to Georgetown: "That upon condition they secure to the Board $20,000, with interest payable semi-annually - the principal payable in five years, and the Rittenhouse

Academy with its appurtenances (estimated at about 6,000 dollars,) then the said institution shall be fixed permanently at Georgetown." The Board of the Kentucky Baptist Education Society, in session at Frankfort, July 8, 1829, decided to locate the college permanently at Georgetown. The Rittenhouse Academy, referred to above, was founded in 1798 by an Act of the State Legislature and the Trustees were authorized "to raise by lottery and subscription sufficient sums for the erection of buildings, and the purchase of books and necessary apparatus." The Act also provided that 6000 acres of land be given to the Academy. The trustees were given the power to decide all courses of study. Colonel Robert Johnson was one of the trustees, who was active in the Great Crossings Church, and prominent in the affairs of state, as a member of the Legislature. This academy had ceased to exist, at the time of locating of the college at Georgetown, hence the property was available for the use of the new institution.3

      In the meantime Dr. S. M. Noel reported from the East that Dr. William Staughton would accept the Presidency of the new college. This distinguished man was born in England, January 4, 1770. He was the first Corresponding Secretary of the American Baptist Board of Foreign Missions; and also was one of the founders of Columbian College, along with Luther Rice, and was chosen its first President in 1821. Accordingly, the trustees met, September 2, 1829, and elected Dr. Staughton as the first President, and decided to open the college at once. Dr. Noel received his letter of acceptance from Philadelphia dated September 19, 1829, which reads:

"Dear Sir: Your favor of the 4th inst., announcing my election to the Presidency of the college about to be established at Georgetown, Kentucky, I have received. In the fear of the Lord and humbly imploring his gracious assistance, I solemnly accept it."

      On November 2, 1829, Dr. Staughton wrote Dr. Noel from Washington: "I have tried, but found it beyond my power, to reach Georgetown by the time of the meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Education Society. I have sent on, by wagons, my books and some other articles, which I have directed to Georgetown. . . . In expectation of shortly seeing yourself and the managers, face to face, and uniting our counsels for the advancement of sound learning, and the cause of our Redeemer, I am respectfully yours, William Staughton." While on the way to Georgetown, Dr. Staughton was taken ill at Baltimore, and died ten days later at Washington, D. C., on December 12, 1829, at the home of his son. The report of his death cast a gloom of sadness and disappointment over the citizens of Georgetown and Scott County.4

      The Board of Trustees met in Frankfort on January 8, 1830, and passed the following resolution: "Resolved that the Professor of Mathematics, and the Teacher in the Preparatory Department, commence the operations of the College on Monday, the llth. instant, under the direction of the committee of Visitors until the arrival of the President and other Professor." The death of Staughton evidently had not reached Georgetown at that time. Leland W. Meyer says: "It was in this simple and unostentatious manner, that the first Baptist college in the United States west of the Alleghaney Mountains opened its door to prospective students at Georgetown." This first

session was housed in the Rittenhouse Academy buildings, and closed on June 11, 1930. The announcement was made that the second session would begin on Monday, July 26, following.

      The trustees made repeated efforts to secure a President of the college by the opening of the second session. The announcement was made on June 15, the Dr. Irah Chase, of Newton, Massachusetts, would consider the Presidency of the college and that he was on the way to Georgetown in company with Dr. Joel S. Bacon.

      At the meeting of the Board of Trustees, June 21, 1830, Dr. Chase stated that it was not possible for him to accept the position. Dr. Bacon was then unanimously elected and accepted and became the first regularly installed President of Georgetown College. Dr. Bacon was a graduate of Hamilton College, and was in charge of a classical school in Princeton, New Jersey. The new President delivered an inaugural address on the morning of the opening of the session, July 26, as had been announced. The faculty was composed of the President, two professors and two tutors, and other vacancies were to Ibe filled during the session. On April 18, 1831, the following members of the faculty for the second year were elected: Rev. Joel Smith Bacon, A. M., President; Rev. George W. Eaton, A. M., Professor of Languages; Thornton F. Johnson, Professor of Mathematics; Samuel Hatch, M. D., Professor of Chemistry; William Craig, A. M., Tutor; William F. Nelson, A. B., Preparatory Department; and F. E. Treruchet, French Language.5

      When Dr. Bacon entered upon his duties as President of Georgetown College, July 26, 1830, the disciples of Alexander Campbell were being separated from the Baptists in Kentucky. "The lines began to be drawn" which resulted in the cutting off the Reformers from the Baptist churches and associations. One writer says, "The war waxed hotter and hotter," which caused a division in the Board of Trustees of Georgetown College. Professor J. E. Farnam thus describes the situation: "There was a lack of confidence on the part of the Baptists generally in certain members of the Board. Several of these, though Baptists when elected, had become 'Reformers,' between whom as the followers of Alexander Campbell and the Baptists, a 'religious war' had sprung up and was producing in the Board and out of it, legitimate fruits of jealousy and distrust. There were also in the Board representatives of the Anti-mission Baptists, headed by Thomas P. Dudley, who was subsequently made its presiding officer." Professor Farnam continues: "There were also of the Scott County subscribers, some who refused to pay their bonds to the college on the ground that if they should pay them, the Board of Trustees would (as it was charged had already been done) make use of the principal of the endowment fund which it was claimed was to be kept intact."

      "Among this class of recusant subscribers was Uriel B. Chambers, editor of the Baptist Chronicle and Literary Register, then published in Georgetown, and the only Baptist paper in the state. He refused to pay his note to the college on the pretext that the trustees were misapplying the funds, entrusted to them; and as he applied to the circuit court for an injunction inhibiting the further use by the said Board of the principal of the

Scott fund and the Pawling fund. The injunction was issued, continued in force in relation to the Pawling fund till 1836, when the injunction was dissolved. It was also charged by Mr. Chambers that the location of the college at Georgetown was secured by fraud, by procuring bonds in considerable sums from men known to be bankrupt in order to make up the $20,000, thus defeating Woodford County by false showing.

      "These charges, whether true or false, had the effect to impair the confidence of the Kentucky Baptists in the Board of Trustees as then constituted."6

      At the close of the session of 1832, Dr. Bacon, harrassed for two-years with law suits, annoyed by the division in the Board of Trustees, and discouraged by the lack of Baptist support, resigned and left the State, and spent a long life in many high and important positions in the work of his Lord and Saviour. The Presidency of the College was at once offered to Luther Rice, but he refused to turn away from his connection with Columbian College. The position was offered to Dr. Silas M. Noel, but he had severed his relations with the College and was interested in the Western Baptist Convention, which founded the Western Baptist Theological Institute in Covington, Kentucky, years hence.

      The Presidency of the College was vacant, but the faculty seemed to remain complete, except Professor Thornton F. Johnson, who left Georgetown for a position in another state; but he was invited to resume his position in Georgetown and was "assured that they who wrought to revive it were honest and earnest in their endeavor to make it useful." He entered upon his task the first Monday in May, 1834. Professor Leland W. Meyer thus describes Professor Johnson's administration: "Only nine students entered; the week, however, closed with eleven. Seven of these were the sons or wards of Reformers, and but one or two Baptists." The "Baptists were beginning to feel that the College no longer represented their fundamental doctrines and ideals, and were withholding their support from it. The first year averaged some twenty-five students; the second, about sixty. Two additional Professors were employed, and the school became extensively popular. Professor Johnson entered upon a third year, 1836. The first session of this year closed with one hundred and four students. During this year, the trustees and Baptists considered it expedient to appoint a Baptist President. In this, T. F. Johnson, who was the soul of the school, and had made it what it was, concurred."

      The college was without a President from 1832 to 1836, which were years of great discouragements. The Baptist Banner spoke of Professor Johnson as "a Campbellite" and referred to the college as "a Campbellite Theological School" and added, "They have hitherto been an incumbus upon the College." In September, 1836, the announcement was made that Rev. Benjamin F. Farnsworth, A. M., formerly Principal of the New Hampton Institution, Massachusetts, an "Old Baptist" of the right stamp had been, elected President of the college, and had accepted the appointment. It was also stated that, "It is believed that the College will now be redeemed from the Gospel-in-the-Water disease." The Baptist Banner was of the opinion that "President Farnsworth is just such a man as the Baptists have ever

wanted at the head of the institution." Another periodical said: "We are in no small degree gratified to learn that this institution, gotten up by the Baptists - but afterwards usurped by the Campbellites - has been recovered to the denomination, whom we hope will now gather around it, aid it liberally with their prayers - their influence - and their money." The Boston Christian Review announced: "This institution is said to be rising from its recent difficulties. It is now under the control of the Regular Baptists, and there is an efficient Faculty of which Rev. B. F. Farnsworth is the head." The new President "made it a point to place Baptists on his faculty."7

      The bright prospect for Georgetown College under the administration of the new President was not to be realized. Professor Thornton F. Johnson claimed that since he had done so much for the college he should have greater liberties in its management, but soon he found that the Baptist President would assert his authority in the coming session. Professor Johnson's first inclination was to open a Female School in Georgetown, but he abandoned that project. He, being encouraged by the number of prospective students, resolved to start a school distinct and apart from Georgetown College. Under the influence of Johnson and others, the new college was chartered to be known as Bacon College, in honor of Sir Francis Bacon, to he under the control of the Reformers. Preparations were made to open the college to students on the very day that Georgetown College was to open its first session under the new President. Professor J. E. Farnam says, "On the morning of the day on which the college was to open, placards were to be posted through the town, setting forth that 'Bacon College' would commence its first session in Georgetown on that day with a full faculty headed by Rev. Walter Scott as President, and T. F. Johnson as 'Professor of Mathematics and Civil Engineering.' Among those named as its Trustees were several, who were Trustees of Georgetown College The truth was 'Bacon College' was but another attempt to supplant Georgetown College by an institution controlled by the disciples of Alexander Campbell."

      "The immediate consequence was that the Georgetown College, opening with President Farnsworth and one assistant as its faculty, matriculated some 20 pupils whilst the Bacon College with its six professors, ample buildings, and a host of local, active and jubilant friends, 'entered upon its roll-call the first day of its session more than one hundred names.' President Farnsworth, stunned by this 'act of treachery,' as he termed it, 'on the part of Professor Johnson,' and disheartened by the seeming indifference of the Baptists generally to the success of their college, after a few weeks of unsuccessful effort to induce them to come to his succor, tendered his resignation to the Board," October, 1838.

      It was evident early in 1837 that the condition of Georgetown College was precarious. The following appeared in the Christian Review in June: "Our hopes, respecting the resusitation of Georgetown College, Ky., have been disappointed. The Legislature of Kentucky have seen fit to incorporate another institution, called Bacon College, to be erected in the same town, and to be under the control of the Campbellites. This measure appears to

have sprung from sectarian motives and local influence. The result will probably be that one or both institutions will be ruined."8

      When Dr. Farnsworth resigned the Presidency of that institution in October, 1838, it was "left to work out its own destiny under the shadow of a flourishing rival institution." In view of this discouraging situation, a convention of friends of the college was held in Lexington in the spring of 1838, with the view to secure if possible an adequate endowment. This Convention was called at the suggestion of John L. Waller, editor of the Baptist Banner, which had succeeded the Baptist Chronicle as the organ of the General Union of United Baptists of Kentucky. The conclusion arrived at 'Twas that the trustees of the college be advised to put an agent into the field at once to collect funds and procure students for the college at Georgetown, and as soon as practicable to reorganize its faculty by the appointment of a president and the necessary professors; and the name of Rev. Rockwood Giddings, pastor of the Baptist church at Shelbyville, was presented by John L. Waller as a candidate for the Presidency."

      At a meeting of the Board of Trustees held on October 13, 1838, the month in which President Farnsworth had resigned, Rev. Rockwood Giddings was elected President of the College "with the understanding that he employ as much time as he may deem necessary in traveling through the State for the purpose of procuring donations to an endowment fund for the college, and in presenting to the Baptists the importance of an educated ministry, and as essential to this, the endowment of their literary institution at Georgetown. After some weeks of consultation with the leading Baptist ministers of the State, by correspondence and by personal interview, and being assured by several members of the Board not in sympathy with the Missionary Baptists, that they would resign, and give place to others acceptable to the friends of the college, Mr. Giddings accepted the Presidency, and entered at once upon the work set before him - leaving the administration of affairs at Georgetown in the hands of three professors and a tutor."9

      This distinguished young minister was born in New Hampshire in 1812, and graduated at Waterville College, Maine, at the age of twenty-one years of age, and was ordained to the ministry in 1835. He came to Kentucky and became pastor of the Shelbyville Church early in 1838. Professor J. E. Farnam, who graduated with him from Waterville College, and came with him to Georgetown says: "Mr Giddings was a man of uncommonly prepossessing personal appearance. He was about six feet in height, finely proportioned, with dark hair and eyes, a countenance beaming with benevolence and frankness, and at the same time indicative of great firmness of purpose. He was beloved by all who knew him."10

      Up to the time of the coming of President Giddings to Georgetown, the college occupied the Rittenhouse Academy buildings and some rented quarters. We are indebted to Professor Leland W. Meyer for the account of President Giddings' administration. "His term was limited to one year, but 'it was long enough to demonstrate that he was the most successful administrator that had yet presided over the affairs of the College . . . . He performed . . . important service to the College in securing harmony

among the trustees in the management of the institution. He also made a strenuous and successful effort to increase the endowment fund, and secured subscriptions amounting to about $100,000, a large portion of which, however, was not paid in owing to the subsequent financial distress which affected the whole country.' Yet, a large portion of the subscription was paid in and out of this fund for endowment was taken enough to complete the central building on the campus, called 'Giddings Hall,' in his honor. He it is said, with Dr. J. E. Farnam who was his classmate at Waterville College, Maine, and who came with him to Georgetown 'drew the plans for this noble old edifice, so simple and sincere in its architecture - so pure and classical in outline' .... Giddings Hall was the first building erected by the College."

      Rockwood Giddings "was not to live to see this noble structure completed; 'consuming labor destroyed the frail body of the eager young President. . . . He had been known to preach five times in twenty-four hours, besides baptizing a number of candidates and attending to the other religious duties of the Sabbath; and one of his sermons was more than two hours long." His death cast a gloom over the community.11

      Giddings sank in the pulpit and was carried to his home in Shelbyville, where he died on October 29, 1839, at the age of twenty-seven. Dr. J. M. Pendleton said, "He was a young man full of promise . . . . His presidency infused new life into the friends of the College, and they looked for a long and prosperous administration of its affairs. But his career was a short one. It was in October, 1839, that I stood by his sick-bed and on the 29th day of the month he breathed his last. From then till now, his death has been to me one of the unsolved problems of Providence."12

      In the midst of President Giddings' one year of arduous labor, Georgetown College was relieved of the rival college, Bacon. The announcement was made on May 2, 1839, that the Trustees had located that college in Harrodsburg, which was approved by Alexander Campbell. Liberated from this rival institution, "Georgetown College grew and prospered." Bacon College went out of existence in 1850 for lack of sufficient endowment. Dr. Howard Malcom was elected in 1840 to succeed President Giddings, and was also called to the pastorate of the Baptist church at Georgetown. He was qualified to carry on the good work of Rockwood Giddings, and remained in office ten years, during which time Georgetown College was firmly established and entered upon its long useful history.


1. Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, p. 599-605.
2. Meyer, Leland W., Georgetown College; its background . . . , p. 35, 36.
3. Ibid., p. 37-39.
4. Farnam, J. E., "Georgetown College ... Its First Decade," The Western Recorder, September 11, 1875, p. 2-3.
5. The Baptist Herald and Georgetown Literary Register, January, 1830, p. 11; Meyer, Leland, W., op. cit., p. 47; Farnam, J. E., op. cit., p. 3.
6. Farnam, J. E., op. cit., p. 3.
7. Meyer, Leland W., op. cit., p. 49-55.
8. June, 1837, p. 317.
9. Farnam, J. E., op. cit., p. 3.
10. Burrows, J. L., "Recollections of the First General Association in Kentucky," Memorial Volume containing the Papers and Addresses that were delivered at the Jubilee of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, 1887, p. 87.
11. Op. cit., p. 59, 60.
12. Pendleton, J. M., "The Condition of the Baptist Cause in Kentucky in 1837," Memorial Volume containing the Papers and Addresses, etc. p. 9.


[From Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 223-230. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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