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A Local Church Issue That Became A Nightmare
By James R. Duvall

      The custom of involuntary slavery was an issue of early frontier Baptists. Many church members of different denominations owned slaves. It often caused problems; and central Kentucky Baptists had a special problem with the custom.

      In the early 1800s, not many would have thought that the sale of two young black slave girls would cause a rift in many of the Baptist churches in central Kentucky. But it did; not because of the sale of the slaves, but because one of the girls died shortly after the sale. The pastor, Jacob Creath, of Town Fork Baptist Church, Lexington, bought the girls on a promissory note from a prominent deacon in the church. After the girl's death he accused his deacon of selling a sick slave to him and refused to pay the promissory note he had made.

      But pastor Creath did not stop at that. He came to a scheduled meeting of the various churches and pastors in the central Kentucky area and presented the case to them and encouraged them to decide whether he was sold a sick girl. A great many of the Baptist church members as well as their pastors at that time owned involuntary slaves. Ambrose Dudley, who had been pastor of the Bryan Station Baptist Church since the late 1780s sided with the insistent Jacob Creath, and led a majority of his church to follow him in his decision. However a strong minority did not want to get involved in this problem in another autonomous Baptist church; many of those wishing to stay out of the Town Fork issue were some of the leading men of the Bryan Station Baptist Church. Consequently a split in the church occurred and there were two Bryan Station Baptist churches.

      Some other Baptist churches in the central Kentucky area followed the lead of Ambrose Dudley and became involved in this matter; many of their churches had very divisive "splits" as well. The Dudley faction claimed to be "the" Bryan Station Baptist Church by virtue of their having the majority of the members. The large minority also claimed to be "the" Bryan Station Baptist Church. The minority group petitioned the local association and was recognized by them as "the" true church.

      These were unintended consequences of the intervention of another Baptist church into another independent, local Baptist church's issues. Bryan Station's two Baptist church factions reportedly shared the building; one meeting the 1st and 3rd Sundays and sitting on one side of the building; the other meeting on the 2nd and 4th Sunday and using the other side of the building. This continued for decades and both factions greatly suffered.

      Ambrose Dudley was considered a good preacher and a good man. However, he used poor judgment (as did other pastors and churches in the area) when Jacob Creath insisted other churches get involved in the slave-sale issue of Town Fork Baptist Church. The unintended consequences of this catastrophe of early Kentucky Baptist history should be a lesson to all pastors and independent Baptist churches to take care of their own churches and not interfere with other churches, unless there is a difficult doctrinal or moral issue; then they may be called in to help a church when requested.
      January 19, 2015


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