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Elder John Underhill
Early Boone County (KY) Minister
[Predestinarian Baptist]
By Jim Duvall

     John Underhill was born November 18, 1798, the first white child born after Boone became a separate county. His parent came from Pennsylvania and settled near Taylorsport. They later settled in the Gunpowder Creek area. [See "The William Underhill Family" at the bottom of this essay.] We know little of his early life. An entry in the Gunpowder Churchbook: "3rd Sat. 1825 / John Underhill / by experience & baptism" indicates when he was converted and united with the church. [Members of Forks of Gunpowder Baptist Church, 1825-1897 - transcribed in 1998 by Stephen W. Worrel.]

     The Forks of Gunpowder Baptist Church requested "helps" from other churches in the county to ordain Underhill as a deacon in 1833.

"At a Middle creek church Meeting the 2nd Satyrday in March 1833
A Request from our sister church gunpowder by Brother Carter for helps to attend Them the 3rd Satyrday in this Month to assist in the ordination of Brother John Underhill to the office of Deacon agreed we send 4 to wit E Hogan Wm Garnett Wm Huey John Brady [The Middle Creek Baptist Churchbook - Vol. 2 of Michael Capek's transcription.]
     The Northbend Association Minutes indicate he was licensed to preach the gospel by Forks of Gunpowder Baptist Church in 1834.

     He was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1836. Again, the records from Middle Creek Baptist Church give us the information:

At a Middle creek church Meeting the 2nd Satyrday in September 1836
By a Request from our sister church Gunpowder for Helps to assist in the ordination of Brother Jno. Underhill to the Ministry a greed we send Brother James Ryle W Garnett Wm Brady B Cave L Ryle Wm Huey D Merrick
     Underhill probably became the pastor of Forks of Gunpowder after the death of its previous pastor, Lewis Conner, in 1858, but we don't have definite records. If that is the case, he was nearly 60 when he became pastor and preached to the church for about twenty-four years. Underhill was 83 years old when he died.

      The 1840 Boone County Census shows John Underhill and his wife with 3 sons and 7 daughters. He also owned one slave. [Census Book, p. 59]

      "February 1880 - Bro. Underhill's wife died on church meeting day - there was no meeting." [Taken from F of G BC Minutes]

     In July, 1882 The church reported "the death of our moderator." Elder Underhill had led the church "in prais prayer and a discorse" until May of that year and moderated their business session. The church had not met in June because of bad weather.

     The Licking Association of Particular Baptists met a Sardis Baptist Church, Union, KY in September, 1882. A committee was appointed to draw up a "resolution of respect to the memory" of Elder John Underhill [and Elder J. F. Johnson who had also died]. [Minutes, p. 3.]

     The 'Memorial' read:

"WHEREAS, It has pleased God, in working all things after the counsel of his own will, to remove from our midst our dearly beloved and much esteemed brethren Elder JOHN UNDERHILL, and, Elder J. F. JOHNSON, and,

WHEREAS, This association, in recognition of their faithful and devoted labors in the service of our dear Redeemer, would give some expression of our love and esteem for them; therefore, That in the death of these valiant soldiers of the cross, this association, and the churches of their charge, have sustained a severe affliction, and the cause of Christ the loss of two faithful defenders.

Resolved, That in testimony of our veneration of their memory, these tokens of our regret be spread upon our Minutes, and published in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, p. 4. [A Primitive Baptist bi-monthly newspaper published in Middletown, NY.]

     John Uri Lloyd, a northern Kentucky novelist/historian, in his Warwick of the Knobs, depicted Simeon Warwick as the pastor of Gunpowder Baptist Church in 1862 during the Civil War. Warwick was a widower and the father of four children, three sons and a daughter, who is the youngest. The two oldest sons were enlisted with John Hunt Morgan's Raiders in the Confederate effort. Warwick had two old slaves at his home and two of his former slaves are brought into the story.

     Warwick is portrayed as harsh, uncaring and so set in his presdestinarianism that he ultimately destroys his own family. This pastor was so out-of-touch with the world and his family and so unwilling to acknowledge his own shortcomings that he was nearly impossible to reason with.

     Many believe Lloyd was using Simeon Warwick to depict John Underhill, who was the pastor of Forks of Gunpowder during the Civil War. This is said in an article in The Boone County Recorder: "He is said to be 'Warwick' in John Uri Lloyd's Warwick of the Knobs." - "Early Historic Spots in Boone County," Boone County Recorder, August 31, 1978, p. 10. This article is cited in Jennifer Warner's, Boone County: From Mastodons to the Millennium, p. 32.

     John Hunt Morgan, when he escaped from the Columbus, Ohio prison camp was depicted as hiding on Warwick's property to evade Federal troops searching for him.

     Many historians look at Lloyd's work as more fictional rather than having historical accuracy. But what of Lloyd's theological accuracy. Lloyd makes two references to statements by Gilbert Bebee, the editor of Signs of the Times, a Predestinarian Baptist newspaper published in New York, that was popular among the Predestinarian Baptists in Boone County at that time. Lloyd refers to the separation of Warwick's people with the "Free-Will or Missionary Baptists." [p. x.] The Baptists in Boone County of that day referred to themselves as Regular Baptists. They were mission-minded but did not think of themselves as "free-will," as that denoted an Arminian view of theology [That salvation is initiated by man and not God.] which they did not believe. The new group or "Old-School" - Warwick's people - go back to 1832 and a meeting held in Black Rock, Maryland, where they divided from the Regular Baptists of the nation.

     Some of the information about John Underhill heretofore published, seems to be "misinformation." His doctrine was not agreeable to many of the Baptists of Boone County, but he was faithful as pastor of the Forks of Gunpowder Baptist Church until his death in 1882.


Additional information
     Transportation was a difficult problem for all people on the frontier to travel to church or other places; there were no good roads then.

     The Boone County Court Orders, 3rd of July, 1820, indicate there was a road near the Forks of Gunpowder Baptist Church and John Underhill, as well as other men from the area were responsible to maintain the road. William Underhill is also listed in the document. William may have been John's father, if not, possibly a brother.

"Billings Roberts is appointed surveyor of the road from the road near the forks of Gunpowder to the turning off of Cherrys old waggon road in the room of Jn'o Love & to be assisted By W'm Underhill, Tho Cushman, Matthew Floyd, [illeg name] Love, Geo Corn & son, Jn'o Carter, Jn'o Underhill, Jo's Rollings, Lewis Crisler, W'm Calvert & hands, J. Akerson, Wm Conner, & all others living in their Bounds in keeping said road in repair." (CO/ B-146-147)


The William Underhill Family
by A. M. Yealey, 1960

     [While living near Taylorsport a son, John, was born November 18, 1798 (the first white child born in the county after it was organized). In later life this boy studied for the ministry and preached at the Gunpowder church for more than fifty years.]

     During the year 1790 William Underhill and wife left Pennsylvania, passing down the Ohio river in a house boat and made a landing near Taylorsport. A family by the name of Craig had previously located here and in a conversation with Mr. Underhill, Mr. Craig learned that he was a shoe maker and insisted that he remain and make shoes for his family and some 20 slaves which he owned, other settlers hearing of a shoe maker being here gave Mr. Underhill all the work he could do and he decided to build himself a cabin and make Boone County his future home, which he did. While here a son John was bom November 18, 1798 (the first white child born in the county after it was organized). In later life this boy studied for the ministry and preached at the Gunpowder church for more than fifty years.

     While living near Taylorsport William Underhill had considerable experience in Indian warfare, as the Indians molested the whites along the river during the period of 1791 and 1792, and on one occasion a band of them crossed the river on the Boone county side and Mr. Underhill aroused the settlers to arms and the Indians were forced to recross the river in their canoes, and thinking that the white man's rifle could not reach them, gave a war-whoop and howled vile epithets at the white men when one Lewis Fitzgerald (nephew of Mrs. Underhill) called to them and said he would accommodate them and laying his gun on one of his shoulders took a steady aim and when the gun cracked the Indian fell. The Indians then gathered their comrade up and retreated back in the forest. To stop these raids the settlers formed a company and called it the Squirrel Hunter's Brigade and chose Mr. Underhill their leader and marched to Chillicothe, Ohio, where the Indians had their village, but the Indians had left on their approach, but the whites set fire to their wigwams and cut down their corn, after that they were not molested by the Indian raids.

     William Underhill moved his family from Taylorsport about the year 1894 to the forks of Gunpowder and settled on what is now know as the Onnie Rouse farm, but was ousted by an older claimant He then moved to what is known as the Weaver farm but was again ousted. He then moved to the farm west of this and while living here another son Thomas was born March 6, 1811. He got a good title to the last farm and at his death his son John got possession of it and it is still known as the Underhill farm.

A. M. Yealey, History of Boone County, Kentucky, 1960, p. 37. This document is here.


[This essay is from various sources, modified July, 2009. - Jim Duvall]

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