First Baptist Church Frankfort
A Historical Sketch
By Rev. Herman Bowers
(Read at The Kentucky Baptist Historical Society meeting at Frankfort on August 1, 1975)
Thank you for allowing me to share this material on the history of First Baptist Church with you in this manner. The sources of the material I am to share with you are: A History of Baptists In Kentucky by Frank Masters; History of the Franklin Baptist Association 1815-1912, by U. V. Williard and F. W. Eberhart; Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Johnson's History of Franklin County; William Hickman's account of his life and travels which is to be found in the Kentucky Historical Society Library; three pamphlets by Dr. Williard Rouse Jilson entitled "Paul Sawyier - American Artist," "Paul Sawyier and his Paintings," and "Early Frankfort;" and minutes of First Baptist Church. I am also indebted to Mrs. Adna Garrett and Miss Ray Robinson for materials collected in preparation for our Sesquicentennial celebration in 1966.
It is interesting to note that through William Hickman, First Baptist Church can trace its heritage to George Whitefield and through John Taylor to James Ireland. Both Hickman and Taylor were men of outstanding influence in the development of this area. William Hickman first saw and heard Baptist preachers in 1770 and in April, 1773, he was baptized by Reuben Ford. Reuben Ford was converted at the age of 20 in a meeting led by Whitefield. John Taylor at 17 years of age heard the gospel preached by William Marshall who later settled permanently in Kentucky. Taylor began to read the Bible and pray. Under the preaching of Joseph and Issac Redding, Taylor was under great remorse and agony. At the age of 20, he at last found peace and was baptized by James Ireland. Taylor first visited Kentucky in 1780. He soon returned to Virginia and engaged in ministerial labors there until 1783 when he decided to move to Kentuckyo A little before Christmas, 1783, he and his party arrived in Craig Station and began a long ministry in Kentucky. In 1784 John Taylor settled in Woodford County and after preparing for winter, he began to hold meetings in little cabins in the woods around Clear Creek. A revival resulted, and the Clear Creek church was organized. Taylor was called as pastoro The only objection was by one member who thought his coat was too fine. His salary was fixed at $70. The next year it was raised to $170. Of the $170, $40 was paid. He continued to minist er to the church until the spring of 1795. After this he moved some 20 miles to a farm in Franklin County, which is now owned by A. W. Macklin. Some of you visited the farm this afternoon From this location, he became very active in establishiµg new churches in Franklin County. William Hickman says, "About this time, Brother Taylor moved among us being an entreprising good servant of Christ and famous for planning new churches. A church was planned in Frankfort. We dismissed about a dozen for that."
William Hickman had accepted the invitation of a small settlement and established the Forks of Elkhorn church in 1188. It was f r om this church that the majority of those who organized First Baptist Church cameo It was at a meeting of a number of Baptists in the home of Simon Beckham here in Frankfort that the propriety of establishing a church in Frankfort was discussed. Silas M. Noel acted as Moderator of the meeting and J. Dudley as clerk. It was decided that it was expedient to prepare without delay that the suitable arrangements for the constitution of a Baptist church in Fr.ankfort. The group agreed to meet again on the 28th of January in 1816. At the January meeting, again at the home of Simon Beckham, the committee reported on the church covenant which was unanimously adopted. It was agreed that Sunday, the 25th of February, would be fixed as the date for the constitution of the church. Invitations were extended to the churches at Big Spring, Mt. Pleasant, Forks of Elkhorn, South
Benson, and Great Crossing to participate in the constitution. The charter members were: John Taylor, Benjamin Edrington, John Epperson, Elijah Stapp, Simon Beckham Jeptha Dudley, Elizabeth Loufboro, Polly Hickman, Elizabeth Taylor, Sally Cunningham, Patsy Ransdale, Sally Bacon, and Jane Daniel. Silas M. Noel, a member of the Big Spring church was Moderator of the organizational meeting, and Jeptha Dudley was the first church clerk. The church covenant was read and unanimously adopted. John Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth, were among the charter members. The church invited him to "exercise his privilege as a gospel minister among us." This he did until February, 1817, when Henry Toller became pastor from 1821-23. Jacob Creath, Sr. and Phillip S. Fall preached alternately. Fall, while pastor at Walnut Street church in Louisville, led many in the Campbellite movement. From 1823-25, Silas Noel served as pastor. Silas Noel was a great leader among Kentucky Baptists Under his splendid leadership, Campbellism was met and overcome in the Franklin Association. Noel had been converted about 1810 and was baptized by William Hickman. Largely under the influence of the Franklin Association led by Silas Noel, the Kentucky Baptist of the Convention was organized at Bardstown. This was a mission organization and was bitterly opposed by some. The last meeting was held in Frankfort in 1835. The brief existence of this society helped to unite those who opposed missions and led to separation. The separation culminated in the organization of the General Association. Silas M. Noel was a leader in the organization of First Baptist Church, Franklin Baptist Association, the organization of Kentucky Baptists, and the founding of Georgetown College. There are still many descendants of Silas Noel in the congregation of our church. Silas Noel served again as pastor in 1835, followed by Porter Clay, brother of Henry Clay, as pastor.
George Blackburn served as pastor from January through November, 1836, at a salary of $400, and George Sedgewick from 1837-38 at a salary of $500 per year. William Hurley was pastor from March to July, 1839.
J. M. Frost served as pastor from December 1839 to March, 1841.
Due to the absence of church records, there are no dates for the following pastors: Abner Goodell, J. Chadburn, John W. Goodman , Cadwalider Lewis , S. W. Seeley, Joseph W. Warder, Andrew Broadus, Joseph Butler Tharp, and T. C. McKee, J. W. Porter served from October, 1863 to December, 1864. W. S. Germaine served from December, 1864 to July, 1867 and was followed by Lyman W. Seely.
Green Clay Smith was called as pastor July 3, 1872. He graduated from Transylvania University in 1850 and represented his county in the Kentucky Legislature and his district for two terms in Congress. He volunteered as a private in the 4th Kentucky Federal Cavalry and was promoted to Major-General for meritorious conduct in the engagement with General Morgan at Lebanon, Tennessee, May 5, 1862. He was Governor of Montana and nominated for President of the United States on the Prohibition ticket. He practiced law for several years before entering the ministry. He was followed as pastor by J. M. Lewis. George Franklin Bagby was pastor from t886-1890. Will Carson Taylor from 1890-1897. M. B. Adams from 1898-1910. Frederick W. Eberhardt from 1910-1914.
Fred F. Brown from 1915-1916. He went to the First Baptist Church, Knoxville and later served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
James T. McGlothlin from 1916-1921. Chesterfield Turner from 1922-1932. Ross E. Dillion from 1933-37. Fred T. Moffatt 1937-1961 and Herman M. Bowers from 1961 to the present.
The church records reveal the following men who have been ordained: Porter Clay, a person identified only as Brother Kirtley, Henry Western, A, R. Macey, Brother Perry, John W. Warder, Nevil M. Garrett, Jr., Elroy Lamb, Herman Marx, Elmer Lee, Orville Threlkeld, Ted Wigglesworth, Charles Updike, and Frank Farley.
When the church was organized, there was in Frankfort a house of public worship which had been built on the old Capitol grounds under an act of the legislature in January, 1810. Funds for the building
were raised through public lottery. At first the Baptists met in the homes of members. Later they met on the fourth Saturdays in the house of public worship. When the building burned, the Baptists erected a building on Lewis Street just behind the present Hudson's store. The first service in that building was in November, 1827. That building burned in 1867. In 1868 another house of worship was erected on this present site. That building composed the main part of our sanctuary. Later Miss Penelope Wingate built a chapel just behind the main sanctuary on the site now occupied by the east wing of our educational facilities. Also on that site was located the church pastorium. In 1903 the church undertook to renovate and enlarge the sanctuary adding the balcony and area under the balcony which was called Wingate Chapel to commemorate the contribution of Penelope Wingate to the church. Also added at this time were the baptistry and the rooms to either side of the baptistry. In 1958 the North Wing of the Education Building was completed and dedicated. Under the pastorate of Dr. Fred T. Moffatt in 1966, the sanctuary was renovated and the pulpit and choir loft redesigned.