The First Baptist Church, or the New Providence Church, as it was then. called, was organized June 6, 1818, in the house of John Pursley, about one mile west of Hopkinsville. Elders Jesse Brooks and William Tandy, of Red River Association, were present, the former acting as moderator. The members were James Payne, Charles Thrift, John Pursley, Henry Rowland, Robert Slaughter, Grace Pursley, Lucy Slaughter, Sallie Tally, Keziah Thrift and Winnie, a slave of James Payne. James Payne was chosen pastor, the usual covenant was adopted, and the church entered upon a career that has been uninterrupted for more than a hundred and eleven years. Another meeting was held the next day, and three other members were admitted and sixteen slaves of W. T. Buckner came in on "recommendation," and six other slaves were admitted for baptism. One of them, Phil, the property of Major Long, was the first baptized. At the next meeting it was designated as New Providence. In August, 1818, Dr. A. Webber came in by letter and the church agreed to build a house of worship, which was soon erected on the river bank, at the foot of what is now Thirteenth Street.
The first trustees were Wm. H. Coleman, Robert Slaughter and Dr. A. Webber. The first prayer-meeting was held June 6, 1821. Dr. Webber was ordained a deacon July 13, 1822. The first Sunday school was held July 6, 1851, with H. Ashford superintendent. Rev. Wm. Tandy was chosen pastor December 7, 1820.
At this time other neighboring churches were Bethel, Barren Springs, Ebenezer and Little West Fork.
Rev. William Tandy was succeeded as pastor by Rev. Wm. C. Warfield, November 8, 1823, who died in 1827 before he was forty years old. Rev. Robert Rutherford came next, from 1827 to 1833. Then Dr. James M. Pendleton was pastor from 1833 to 1836. Next Rev. Robert Anderson served from 1839 to 1841, after an interregnum not explained. Dr. T. G. Keen served from 1841 to 1845; Dr. Samuel Baker from 1845 to 1850; Dr. A. D. Sears from 1850 to 1864, and Dr. T. G. Keen again from 1864 to 1884. Following him, Dr. J. N. Prestridge was pastor from 1884 to 1889, and that summer Rev. John O. Rust was ordained and served as pastor several months. He was succeeded in 1890 by Rev. Chas. H. Nash until 1906. Dr. Millard A. Jenkens, an exceptionally brilliant young minister, was pastor from 1906 to 1908, when he resigned and moved to Abilene, Texas. Dr. Calvin M. Thompson was called in 1909, and remained until 1918. He was succeeded by Rev. Leonard W. Doolan in 1919, who remained till 1925, when he was succeeded by Dr. P. C. Walker, the present pastor.
The following sketch of early members of the First Baptist Church was written by Prof. J. W. Rust for Perrin's History of 1884:
We feel that the history of our church viewed alone in the line of its pastorates and usages would be incomplete without some reference to those good and pious brethren who have long since gone to their reward. Among those who have held membership in this church and worshiped with this people may be mentioned Dr. Augustine Webber, perhaps one of the most thorough scholars in all that relates to our faith and practice that has ever adorned our common membership. To him the Bible was the inspired oracle of a living God. He walked by faith and not by sight. He feared God and eschewed evil. His zeal never abated. With heavy professional obligations pressing upon him as a physician, he seldom failed to be in his place as a church member, ever ready to help in any good work; while his pious wife, rivaling if possible his Christian enthusiasm, stood by his side in full sympathy with every move that looked to the spiritual life and growth of the church. Her gentle, loving, earnest and intelligent work in the Sunday school will never be forgotten. The names of these two humble, loving Christians will ever be linked together in the memories of all who knew them - who have drawn inspiration and encouragement from their noble, consecrated lives.
John P. Campbell, Sr., possessed force of mind, dignity of character, general intelligence and liberality in support of the Gospel rarely equaled and never surpassed by any of his contemporaries. In his life, benevolence was conspicuous. Under what he conceived to be demands of necessity his liberality knew no bounds. He was always ready, with or without others, to meet the balance of every church obligation. It was by his munificence more than that of any one else that Bethel Female College was founded. His donations amounted to fully one-third of its cost, and it may today be justly recognized as. a living monument to his memory. Just before the war, sitting on his horse at the college gate one morning, he remarked to the writer, pointing to the building, "That is only the center, two wings must be added." The beautiful Christian life of his devoted wife added luster to his own, and in both church and home these two grand and good people exemplified a liberality and hospitality which honored the profession they had made.
E. J. Roberts was one of the most devoted men the church ever had in its membership. His humility, firmness, kindness, liberality and moderation were happily blended, controlled by a strong, abiding faith and great decision of character.
John Buckner's long, consistent life as a Christian is well remembered by those who often bowed with him around the altar of prayer. Kind and faithful, he was ever ready to lend the helping hand in time of need.
Armistead G. Slaughter united with this church in its early history. Some years after he removed to Bethel Church near Pembroke. He was a man of strong convictions and genuine Christian integrity; devoted to all the services of the church, and liberal in the support of its enterprises. He was unusually well read in the affairs of the denomination, in which he took abiding interest.
Jacob Torian was one of the pillars of the church. With an impulsive, impressible nature, he was admirably fitted by grace to attend to the general interest of the church, and in the pastor's absence his services were justly recognized as of the highest value.
William H. Pendleton's name will bring to the memory of those who knew him best one of the most active, earnest and faithful members of this church. A close Bible student, gifted in prayer and exhortation, and whether in Sunday school, in the prayer-meeting, or in the financial interests of the church, he was alike not only efficient but enthusiastic in his work. With many positive elements of character, he was aggressive in his nature, and his heart was ever enlisted in the work of the Lord. A life of great usefulness was spread out before him, but the summons came, and he exchanged the toils of earth for a crown in heaven.
Joseph M. Cheaney is another remembered for his good works. A more spiritually-minded Christian may not be found among our membership. Earnest in exhortation and in song, the interests of the church seemed uppermost in his mind. He showed his religion by his daily walk. He was always "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
Of James Clark, John Hawkins, Thomas P. Clark, Zach Glass, Thomas M. Buck, E. B. Richardson, Alpheus Palmer and others equally worthy of mention, we would be glad to speak, but the limits of this sketch will not permit.
We beg to close these hasty and imperfect personal references with a brief allusion to one of the most remarkable men ever connected with our church.
John Hubbard removed from Virginia to Kentucky in 1836 and connected himself with the church. Although solicited to preach, he generally refused, feeling that his mission was to exhort. So remarkably gifted was he in this kind of service, that he was often invited to assist pastors in protracted meetings. His exhortations after sermons were powerful and effective. Competent persons, who have heard him, say that when making an appeal before an audience with his emotional nature aroused, the "expressiveness of his eye, the clear and solemn tones of his voice, his whole manner indicating the deep earnestness and solicitude of his soul for the salvation of sinners, were such as often to carry conviction to the sinner's heart that had remained unmoved under the sermon. Indeed, so powerful were his exhortations that he is said to have reached the hearts of men of all classes as few preachers could. This desire to be instrumental in the salvation of sinners was not the result of a momentary impulse with Mr. Hubbard, but seemed to be the abiding burden of his heart, and the uppermost thought of his mind." The name of John Hubbard will be held in remembrance by thousands who have listened to his unaffected and impressive exhortations, many of whom he effectually led to the Saviour. His death, like his life, was a grand triumph of faith. During his last illness, his devoted wife seeing that his end was nigh, labored with him and prayed that he might have "dying grace." Seeing the deep grief that awaited her terrible bereavement, he earnestly prayed that she might have "living grace," and thus they strove to comfort each other to the very doors of death.
The present officers of the First Baptist Church are:
Deacons - W. A. Long, Chairman; C. L. Aibritton, Dr. Austin Bell, T. M. Dalton, M. C. Forbes, C. F. Jackson, G. A. Payne, J. E. Pyle, W. H. Southall, John X. Taylor, Bailey Waller, S. P. White, H. M. Anderson, S. L. Cowherd, Dr. Oscar Flener, W. W. Henderson, F. H. Mason, Gilmer B. Pursley, E. C. Radford, W. T. Tandy, J. B. Todd, John T. Wailer, W. M. Wood, C E. Woodruff.
Trustees - J. W. Downer, Chairman; L. H. Petrie, W. T. Tandy, S. P. White.
Pastor - Dr. P. C. Walker.
Educational Director - Gilmer B. Pursley.
Office Secretary - Miss Lilly Gary.
Choir Director - Mrs. F. H. Mason.
Organist - Mrs. Oglesby Soyars.
Church Clerk - T. M. Parrish.
[Charles M. Meacham, History of Christian County, Kentucky, 1930, chapter 38. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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