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First Baptist Church
Lexington, Kentucky
By Frank M. Masters
      The first Baptist church constituted near the town of Lexington was Town Fork. The church derived its name from a branch of Elkhorn Creek, which flowed through the town of Lexington, and along this stream were early settlements. The Town Fork church was organized with ten members, in July, 1786 located about two miles from the town, and it united with the Elkhorn Association the following August. Among the original members were Edward Payne, William Payne, William Stone, and Thomas Lewis. The preachers present were Lewis Craig, John Taylor, Ambrose Dudley and Augustine Eastin. The "great and good" John Gano was the first pastor, and served from 1786 to 1803.1

      Elder Jacob Creath was the second pastor of the Town Fork church, having entered upon his duties in 1804. The church reported 91 members in 1813. During these years the church was cursed with division and strife, which terminated in the division of the Elkhorn Association and the wrecking of the Town Fork Church. In 1817, there was a church on Mill Street called the First Baptist Church of Lexington of which Dr. James Fishback became pastor and continued until 1827. This church was a member of the Elkhorn Association. Dr. Fishback "was very liberal both in doctrine and practice." Later he "gave considerable help and encouragement to the Reform movement," led by Alexander Campbell, "often meeting with them and advocating sentiments of union of believers."2 It was stated in another connection that Alexander Campbell preached in the First Baptist Church, Lexington, October, 1823, on his first visit to Kentucky, and Dr. Fishback the pastor, was greatly impressed with the man and message. In 1827, the First Baptist Church of Lexington began to call itself "The Church of Christ on Mill Street."

      The church under the changed name sent messengers to the Elkhorn Association in 1827 in session at David's Fork. The following resolution was adopted: "It is with deep and sincere regret that this Association learned that an unhappy difference has taken place in the First Baptist Church at Lexington, so as to rend that Church as it were assunder, on account of an attempt made by part of the Church, lead on by Dr. James Fishback, to change her denominative name. The difficulty has run so high that both parties claim to be the chuich - and have exercised in distinct and separate bodies the privileges and business of Churches; so that Dr. Fishback and his party have excluded 7 of the most prominent members opposed to them; and those opposed to Fishback and his party proceeded to exclude Dr. Fishback and his party to the number of 42 members;. . . . This association . . . being satisfied, that the first Baptist Church of Lexington, is the regular church at that place, received her letter to the exclusion of that presented by Dr. Fishback and his party; and they would earnestly advise the first Baptist Church at Lexington to vise her best exertion, in charity, to restore the fellowship and harmony in the Church; and the Association would also most solemnly warn that part of the Church attached to Dr. Fishback, of the awful danger and alarming tendency of causing division in society by the introduction of a system of things by which the name and character of the Baptist denomination would be essentially changed, and we adjure them in love to return to the Church from which they have rent themselves."

      The records of the Association thus describe the procedure: "Two letters were presented to the Association purporting to be from the 'First Baptist Church at Lexington.' One under the original name of the First Baptist Church at Lexington, and the other under the name of 'The Church of Christ on Mill Street.' A motion was made to read both letters, which was overruled; the causes of division of that church being set forth in discussion. And on motion the letter, with the original name and style of the Church, was read by a unanimous vote, and the Messengers therein named took their seats."

      Dr. Fishback continued as pastor of around 40 members under the name of Church of Christ for about nine years, but the church did not prosper, and the pastor and little band returned to the First Baptist Church, Lexington, from which they had seceded, and a happy union was effected in 1836, when Dr. Fishback was a messenger to the Elkhorn Association for the last time as he died the following year. His biographer says, "Dr. Fishback was a fine scholar, and excellent speaker, and an easy fluent writer. But he was unstable in all his ways."3

      Elder Jeremiah Vardeman became pastor of the First Baptist Church, Lexington, in 1827 following the division and continued until 1830. He became firmly established in the Baptist position and stayed the forces toward Campbellism in the church. Elder J. B. Smith was pastor in 1831 and stood firm for the Baptist position. Dr. R. T. Dillard, a very able man who had come to Kentucky from Virginia in 1817, was pastor, 1832-1835; and restored peace and harmony in the church. Dr. Silas M. Noel became pastor in 1835 and continued until his death, May 5, 1839. William F. Broaddus was pastor, 1840-1845; when the church reached three hundred members; William M. Pratt, 1845-1863; W. H. Felix, 1863-1869; George Hunt, 1869-1873; L. B. Woolfolk, 1873-1878; Lansing Burrows, 1879-1884; J. C. Hiden, 1884-1887; W. H. Felix, 1887-1898, and Preston Blake, 1898-1908.

      J. W. Porter was pastor, 1908-1922, and led in a great church building-program. Dr. George Ragland was ordained to the ministry by order of the church in 1922, and became pastor and is now in the 27th year of service (1949). The church numbered 1082 members in 1948.4


1. Ford, S. H., "History of Kentucky Baptists", The Christian Repository, July, 1856, p. 392.
2. Russell, Ward, Life in the Blue Grass, 1783-1933, p. 78, 79, 153.
3. Minutes of Elkhorn Baptist Association, 1827, p. 2, 6; Spencer, John H., A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume 2, p. 28-30.
4. Historical material furnished by Dr. George Ragland, pastor.


[From Frank Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 123-125. The numbers of the endnotes are changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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