This Association is the oldest in the West. It was organized at South Elkhorn meeting house, three miles south of Lexington, June 25, 1785, with six churches. The church with which it met was organized as a traveling church in Spottsylvania county, Virginia, two years before. Its pastor was Lewis Craig, who had been, more than any other, persecuted and imprisoned for preaching Christ, in Virginia. After passing through Cumberland Gap, and pausing a while near what is now known as Barboursville, the church settled on Gilbert's creek, but soon moved again and settled permanently on South Elkhorn. Nearly two hundred members composed this traveling church, while children and servants swelled the company to twice that number. It was a church, "the church" in the true and primitive meaning of that word, or rather of ecclesia, the word used by the Holy Spirit. It was a true type of an independent, sovereign, gospel church - unassociated, cut off from intercourse with all other churches, acting in all matters for itself, under the direction of the gospel and God's Spirit - it was "the church" in the only proper sense in which that term can be used when applied to an organization on earth. Let the writer here say that every one that has written in regard to the history of the Kentucky Baptists has fallen into the error or of making this the Gilbert's Creek Church, before it moved to Elkhorn, and hence the present Gilbert's Creek Church, the oldest west of the Alleghany, or Cumberland mountains. This is not the fact, as the writer may hereafter fully show. A church, organized in Virginia during the Revolution, passed the Blue Ridge and renamed for two years on the Holsten [sic] before Craig's church had been constituted. That church moved to Kentucky. That church has maintained its separate existence ever since in Kentucky, and its church records show the facts above stated. But this must not be indulged in by one whose love of local Baptist church history makes him, when once it is touched upon, forget everything else.
It will be seen that the Elkhorn Association has been in existence eighty-two years. From six churches, it has grown to twenty-nine, and during one year of its existence - 1801 - it received by baptism into its churches, 3,011 persons. Many have been its conflicts. First, a division occurred on emancipation - a party leaving under the lead of David Barrow; next, the antinomian conflict, raising splits in most of the churches, and questions of difficulty, and legal action between magistrates and ministers, then, severest of all, the Campbellite difficulty that embroiled every church in the Association, and leaving heart burnings and animosities of the deepest character.
Amid it all, the Association nobly held its own - sound, active and aggressive and steadily growing in strength and influence. In its midst Georgetown College was established and endowed and a female seminary of the most commanding character sustained. Returning to this Association after six years' absence - for the writer seldom, for a series missed one of its meetings - how changed was all, or nearly all. It met at the Great Crossing, an old and venerated locality. It is the spot where the buffalo herds crossed in passing from the rich grazing region to the salt licks. It was the church of the Crags - Reddin, Suchett, Malcolme, Pitts, D. R. Campbell. It is known to thousands scattered over the West and South. Well, the old mill is there still. The little nooks in the creek where the wild flowers grew. Some of the old house with their old rustic porches, and the same old meeting house - but all else have changed. The old patriarchs sleep, the men who gathered under these same old oaks, and listened to simple-hearted yet powerful ministers of Christ, rest in their quiet beds, "life's labor done." All but the name and the material surroundings is changed.
A stand was erect in the midst of a large wood lawn. Thousands, we can say without exaggeration, were gathered. We entered the grounds unobserved, and by most unknown, anxious for the luxury of observing and also for sadning [sic] meditations. On the stand were some familiar faces, among them the noble old patriarch, Ryland T. Dillard, D.D. What a venerable, commanding figure. He is now past seventy years of age. His hair is white, and his long beard like snowy drapery from his full and benevolent face. The neighbor and associate of Henry Clay, the co-laborer of Vardeman and Noel, and the elder Wallers, a lawyer by profession, a man of large wealth and high social position, he has through years consecrated all to the cause of God. And now in his age he preaches regularly, having the past year traveled over five hundred miles in preaching, while great good has crowned his work. Yet no display, no newspaper reports, no assumption of dignity - glorious and venerable man of God, well done! May thy setting day be calm and cloudless as thy life has been active and earnest. S. L. Helm, brother to the Governor elect, robust as ever, in the full strength of his manhood was there, one of the most powerful of preachers; and N. M. Crawford, President of Georgetown College, with his firmness and mental powers speaking in his face, and Lyman Seeley, formerly of Richmond, recovering from his long affliction, with all with all his storied lore, and independence of thought, and eloquence of utterance, and others most as well known, both tried and true. Elder Woolfolk - I had never seen him before - preached the introductory sermon. It was clear and forcible, though the point in the text, - "who had begotten us to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ to an inheritance," etc. - that the hope of the disciples and of the world, buried with Christ in the tomb, was by the resurrection renewed, and by it they were redeemed, begotten again by that glorious event - was overlooked by the preacher. Heaven was described in glowing language and imagery with pleasing effect to the audience.
E. D. Black, M. D. and Wm. M. Pratt, D. D., were elected Moderator and Clerk, the latter not at the time a member of the Association. Then came up a very delicate question.
Second Baptist Church at Lexington
The history of the Baptist cause in the city of Lexington, for half a century of years back, is a very sad one. Familiar to the writer, he has always thought it had better be forgotten. But during the past fifteen years amid constant drawbacks, it has steadily progressed. A fine and costly house of worship had not been completed before it was consumed by fire. Another still more commodious was erected, and that was recently almost entirely destroyed by the same element. Still the church grew. Bro. Felix, a young man of fine talent, a graduate of Georgetown, devoted, earnest, and in the highest social esteem, has been for four or five years pastor of the church, and some one hundred and fifty or sixty have been received by baptism by him during that period. But some local causes, partly it is thought of a political nature remotely, if not directly, have led to the formation of another church. Sixteen members having withdrawn, formed a church, with Dr. Pratt, the former pastor of the First church, among the number. Dr. Pratt is a man of decision, and his life has been marked by honesty of purpose. He has always been opposed to the institution of slavery. He took the strongest grounds for Union, during past difficulties. He is now, evidently, without any desire to hide it, what is termed a Radical. But it is justice to say that in the covenant of the new church, which the writer carefully read, everything of a political or sectional character is disclaimed. One article reads, wishing to form a church which shall "rise above all political and social organizations" etc., social, of course, not intended to mean the inter-mixture of races in social equality, though it is susceptible of such construction. Benevolent institutions, such as Masonry and like, it is presumed to mean. But, inasmuch as the preamble which had been published in a secular paper, gives as reasons for the new organization the desire to organize a church after the model of its divine founder, that shall enforce discipline, etc., it was naturally thought that there was no such church in the city, thereby reflecting on the First Church. The question was raised, and after speeches kindly and Christian-like had been made by Felix, Pratt, Crawford and others. It was agreed that the Second Church should pass a resolution disclaiming any reflection by its preamble on the First Church, and she was then admitted as a member of the Association.
Preaching at the Stand
This Association has a venerable custom of electing its preachers for the principal day by the ballot. It is singular, there is no other association that does it. But it is found to work well. It relieves committees of all responsibility, and the delegates decide who shall preach to them. The body meets on Tuesday, and Wednesday is the preaching day - the Sunday. The writer may be indulged in what may appear to savor of vanity in expressing his gratification when he learned that every vote named him as one of the three preachers to fill the stand. In a district where so much division of sentiment in national matters existed and still exists - just after an exciting election - and where all knew his very decided views and course it was a welcome and endorsement by all parties, gratifying us and proving that such outside issues had not yet entered the domain of Christian labor and confidence. Dr. Pratt, equally decided on the other side of the question referred to, was also elected to preach, together with Dr. Seeley, formerly of Richmond.
But right now I must close, leaving for another letter an account of the preaching, and especially of the questions, which year after year are bound to be agitated all along the border - that of receiving agents from the North. These and some historic matters are bearing on the prosperity of the denomination in Kentucky.
The progress of Campbellism, and the wants of the State, earnest, aggressive places will form matter for another letter.
S. H. Ford.
[From J. R. Graves, editor, Memphis, The Baptist, August 31, 1867, p. 5. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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