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Pioneer Lexington - Town Fork Baptist Church
By Charles R. Staples
      The Baptist Church probably exceeded all other denominations in numbers for many years after the first settlements. A large increase was secured when Elder Lewis Craig left Spottsylvania county, Virginia, in 1781, with his entire congregation, in a caravan that since has been known as "The Traveling Church." Some of these members stopped near Gilbert's creek in what is now Garrard county, but in the following year many of the families removed to South Elkhorn where they erected a church and employed Mr. Lewis Craig as their pastor. Tradition mentions that a large number of Lexington Baptists attended this church, which was the scene of frequent revivals. One letter written from Lexington August 10, 1801, says: "Last Sunday the Association was held at Higbee's six miles from Lexington, where it is said there were 8 to 10,000 persons."
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      Services had been held probably in the cabins of the pioneers in the Town of Lexington, but no records have been found to show this until the arrival in 1787 of Elder John Gano, who had been a Chaplain in the Continental Army throughout the entire war and had endured the hardships of the Valley Forge Winter.1 He migrated to the Blue Grass and with the assistance of Edward Payne began a movement to erect a home for the Baptists in Lexington.

      A small building was constructed on the graveyard lot, and services seem to have been held for a few years but R. H. Bishop says, in his "Outline History of the Church in Kentucky," 1808 - "the lot is now occupied as a common burying ground upon which they (the Baptists) have a frame building, which was used for several years as a place of worship. The church, however, appears to have been extinct in 1804-5 and the building allowed to go to decay." The Kentucky Gazette on November 6, 1810, refers to the Burying ground "and the venerable meeting house and demolished walls."

      This lot had been deeded to the Baptist congregation by the town trustees September 29, 1789,2 mentioning the trustees of the Church as Reverend John Gano, Edward Payne, Thomas Lewis, William Payne, William Stone, Jr., and Elisha Winter, "in trust for the sole use of the Baptist Church holding the doctrines and maintaining the disciplin set forth in the Baptist confession of Faith." This deed was filed in April court, 1790. On March 19, 1806, "the surviving trustees hereby appoint James Beatty in the room of Elder John Gano, deceased: Henry Payne in the room of Elder William Payne, who has removed to Mason County, and Lewis E. Turner, in the room of Elisha Winter, who has removed out of the State." In the latter part of 1815 the trustees then remaining met and organized the First Baptist Church with Richard Grey,
1 Autobiography of Rev. John Gano, published by Southwick and Hardcastle, New York City, 1806.
2 Fayette County Deed Book "R", page 252.

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James Fishback, William Stone, Henry Payne and Lewis E. Turner as trustees and they conveyed the property on April 11, 1818 - "the lot for the Baptist Church, the Town Fork Church having relinquished her right, do hereby vest the First Baptist Church of Lexington with the right to use it for the purpose designated."

      The Town Fork Baptist Church was located four miles west of Lexington on the Frankfort Pike. It had been organized with ten members in July 1786, with Lewis Craig, John Taylor, Ambrose Dudley and Augustine Eastin as organizers. In 1802, it reported a membership of 120. The Town Fork Church sent messengers each summer to the Elkhorn Baptist Association until the War of 1812, most of them being residents of Lexington, and as the Lexington Church did not appear on the minutes of this association until the year 1818, it seems to confirm the tradition that the Lexington church was inoperative and the Baptists of Lexington attended the Town Fork Church.

      This church was upset by a serious dissension caused by "the Emancipators," who claimed no fellowship should be held with slave owners, and, this contention caused a number to secede from the parent church and establish one of their own. This body erected a small building on Mill street, opposite Transylvania,3 under the leadership of James Fishback, but the effort lasted only a few years and the congregation gradually drifted back to the First Church, while the Reverend James Fishback became a follower of Barton Stone, taking some of his former members with him. In 1817, conciliatory efforts united the members and placed the church upon a more solid foundation, leaving the cause of their separation to be settled by the War between the States.

      After the death of the Reverend John Gano in 1804, the services of the Reverend Jacob Creath, Sen., were secured but he soon became involved in a difficulty
3 Then in Gratz Park.

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with Thomas Lewis, one of his trustees, on account of some slave transaction. "The breach widened, parties were formed and finally the whole Baptist Association became involved in the quarrel. The Church faded under the blight of this fierce contention," but the denomination survived the struggle and continued to grow.

      After these two bodies had re-united in 1817, a move was started to erect a new church, and the Kentucky Gazette in issue dated August 27, 1819, says: "The new meeting house of the First Baptist Church will be opened at 11 A. M. next sabbath."

      A description of the Town Fork property can be found in District Court Book "C", page 148 - January 29, 1800 - "a parcel of land included by a post and rail fence around the meeting house and horse yard on the Frankfort road about four miles from Lexington."


[From Charles R. Staples, A History of Pioneer Lexington, Kentucky - 1779-1806, 1959, pp. 278-282. This document is from the Kenton County Public Library, Covington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]


Town Fork Baptist Church
By S. H. Ford, 1856

     The city of Lexington is situated on a branch of the Elkhorn, called Town Fork. The early settlements stretch along this stream, and some two miles from the present site of the city, ten Baptists, in July, 1786, were constituted into a Church. Present, Lewis Craig, John Taylor, Ambrose Dudley, and Augustus Easten. Among the members were Edward Payne, William Payne, William Stone, and Thomas Lewis. It grew more slowly than most of the Churches around it. It was soon blessed with the labors of the great and good John Gano, and afterwards equally cursed with division and strife, terminating in the division of the Elkhorn Association. It has long since ceased to have a name.

[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Respository, "History of the Kentucky Baptists", July, 1856.

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