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A Short History of the Graves County (KY) Baptist Association
By Wendell Rone, Sr.

From Middle Tennessee Into South-western Kentucky

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     The antecedents of Western Kentucky life begin in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and later in eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, for the earliest settlers came from those areas. The peoples of those areas participated in the settlement of America's first west, the trans-mountain areas of what are now known as Kentucky and Tennessee. As the early settlements prior to 1780 took place in Eastern Tennessee and in the beautiful Blue Grass section of Kentucky, it was not until on and after that date that middle Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky were settled.

     In the year 1780 General James Robertson led a party of about 4O families, emigrants from Virginia and North Carolina, from eastern Tennessee through a wilderness of 300 miles across the Cumberland mountains to the Frenck Lick, and there established Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River.

     It is probable that there were many Baptists in this group. Robertson had been closely associated with his cousin Charles Robertson, in whose home was held the first Baptist revival in the Watauga settlement in east Tennessee.

     Of interest also is the fact that the Baptist Church known as the Sulphur Fork of Red River (located near the present Springfield, Tennessee) was established by Elder John Grammar in 1786. For years, at least from 1788 through 1792, this church existed in isolation in the area as a Separate Baptist congregation and a member of the south Kentucky Separate Baptist Association (1787) in Kentucky. Grammar moved away after the last-mentioned date and the work dissolved.

     A most significant event which was to influence Baptist life in what later became the Jackson-Shelby Purchase in 1818 took place on July 25, 1791, when the pioneer Kentucky Baptist preachers, John Taylor and Ambrose Dudley, went 200 miles through the wilderness from Elkhom Association (Lexington area) to the Mouth of the Sulphur Fork of Red River and founded a Regular Baptist Church of 12 members, including the Revolutionary War officer, William Prince, and his wife Elizabeth, who later moved to the area now known as Caldwell County, and for whom Princeton, the county seat, is named. The church's name was originally known as the MOUTH OF SULPHUR FORK OF RED RIVER. It is also given in records as Tennessee and Red River (its present name). It was located at first near Port Royal, but moved to Adams, yenaessee, in 1870, where it is still located, the oldest Baptist Church in the whole of the western two-thirds of Tennessee.

      RED RIVER BAPTIST CHURCH became a strong and prolific "mother" of many other Baptist congregations. As early as April, 1798, the church established an "arm" or mission near the present site of Princeton, Kentucky. This "arm" became the Eddy Grove Baptist Church in July, 1799, the first Baptist Church to be established in Southwestern Kentucky, west of the Logan and Muhlenberg County lines. Elder Daniel Brown, former pastor of the Red River Church, was one of the founders of the Eddy Grove Church. William Prince and Ms wife were charter members,also.

      The Eddy Grove Church formed an "arm" on the Muddy Fork of Little River (near Cerulean in Trigg County) in 1804. It became a fully-organized church in 1806. Elder Fielding Wolf was its pioneer pastor for years.

     After the settlement of what later became Calloway County (1823) and Marshall County (1842) the first Baptist Church to be organized in the Jackson-Shelby Purchase took place on May 13, 1820, when the Clark's River Baptist Church (became Soldier Creek in 1838) was organized by Elders Fielding Wolf and James Payne in the home of William "Bill" Owen, on twelve members, as follows:

Elder Henry Darnall  Leonard Kaler
William Baker        Selah Baker
Absolom Copeland *   Sally Copeland
Mary Smith	     Anna Boland
Parker Harrell       Deliah Harrell 
Gabriel Washburn     Martha Henson

* A licensed minister.

      Elder Darnall had come from Drake's Creek of Big Barren Baptist Church to the Red River Church in February, 1806. He moved his membership to the Dry Fork of Eddy Creek Church, in October, 1808, where he pastored as late as 1812. He continued his membership in the Dry Fork Church, Caldwell County, until he moved as a very early settler into the Purchase area in 1819. Absolom Copeland was ordained in the year 1821 by the Clark's River (Soldier Creek) Church, by Elders Henry Darnall and Fielding Wolf. Elder Lewis Goad, from Muhlenberg County, became a member of Clark's River in 1823.

      On October 2, l824, Elders Absolom Copeland and Lewis Q. Goad organized the Trace Creek Baptist Church in Graves County on 9 members. This was the second Baptist Church to be organized in the county, being preceded by the Bethel Baptist Church, near the state line in southwestern Graves County; July 17. 1824, being its organization date. Trace Creek's members came from the Clark's River and other churches.

     The Trace Creek Church became the "mother" of several churches in Graves County, including the First Baptist Church, Mayfield, in 1844.

     Thus Graves County Baptists are in direct lineal descent from the Red River Baptist Church (1791) of Adams, Tennessee.

      With the organization of more Baptist Churches in Middle Tennessee in the period 1791-1796 it became necessary to organize associations for fellowship and the promotion of the organization of other churches in the westward movement. Accordingly, five Tennessee churches organized the Mero (Miro) District Association in November, 1796. It grew rapidly and eventually in the period 1798-1803 included all the Baptist Churches

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in Southwestern Kentucky, including the Eddy Grove (1799) Church, in Livingston (1799) County (later Caldwell County). Internal strife led to the organization of the Cumberland Association #1 on May 2, 1803, at White's Creek Church, Davidson County, Tennessee. The Western Kentucky Churches became members of this new body, including Eddy Grove (1799), Livingston County. In the period 1803-1807 the association grew to such proportions in the area west in Kentucky and Tennessee to the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers that it became necessary to divide it. In consequence the churches north of the Red River ridge and west into Kentucky and Tennessee organized the Red River Association on April 15, 1807, at Red River Baptist Church, Robertson County, Tennessee. This body included in the period 1807-1813 most of the churches in Simpson, Logan, Christian, Todd, Trigg, Livingston, Crittenden, Lyon, Caldwell, Hopkins, Webster, Union, Henderson, southern Mclean, and Western Muhlenberg Counties in Kentucky; as well as those in Robertson, Montgomery, and Stewart Counties in Tennessee.

     Increasing from its original 12 churches, with 8 of them being in Kentucky, the Red River body grew to 43 churches in 1813, with 28 of them being in Kentucky, 12 in Tennessee, 2 in Missouri, and 1 in Illinois. At this point it became necessary to organize another association.

     On October 2, 1813, 15 churches in Kentucky, 3 in Tennessee, and 1 in Illinois formed the Little River Baptist Association at the Eddy Grove Church, Caldwell County, Kentucky. It reported in 1818, the year of the Jackson-Shelby Purchase, 23 churches in Kentucky in Christian, Hopkins, Henderson, Livingston, and Caldwell Counties; 5 in Montgomery and Stewart County, Tennessee, and 1 in Illinois. This association enjoyed such a phenomenal growth that in 1820 it had 33 churches with a membership of 1,345. Therefore, on October 6, 1820, 13 churches were dismissed to form the Highland Baptist Association, meeting at Highland Church, Union County, Kentucky. All these churches were in the Tradewater, Pond, Green and Ohio River quadrangle in Kentucky, and located in western Muhlenberg, Hopkins, Union, and Henderson Counties. At the same time 2 churches were dismissed to form the Muddy River Association, near Golconda, Illinois.

     The remaining churches, in 1821, were located in Livingston, Caldwell, Trigg, and western Christian Counties in Kentucky; in Montgomery, Stewart, and Henry Counties in Tennessee. One church, Clark's River, was in the Kentucky part of the Purchase, still a part of Livingston-Caldwell Counties at the time. Two Churches, Walnut Fork of Obion (1820)and Bird's Creek (1820), were in Henry County, a part of the Tennessee Purchase.


1. Livingston-Caldwell Jurisdiction 1819-1822.
      Prior to the formation of Hickman County, on January 15, 1822, the Kentucky part of the Purchase was under the combined jurisdiction of Livingston and Caldwell Counties, as both bordered the eastern side of the Tennessee River in 1818-1830. Part of the Caldwell area became Trigg County in 1820, which also bordered the same river.

      Clark's River Church, organized on May 13, 1820, and the first church to be organized in the Kentucky part of the purchase, united with the Little River Association of Baptists on August 16, 1820, meeting with the Muddy Fork of Little River Church, being represented by Elder Henry Darnall and Licentiate Absolom Copeland, and reporting 13 members. The church continued to represent herself in this association through the 1823 session. Her total membership had climbed to 40 by that time.

      A second church, New Salem, located about two miles west of Murray, Kentucky, in Calloway County (after 1823), was organized in the year 1822, but it did not unite with any association until 1823.

      In July, 1823, Union Baptist Church (Wadesboro in 1828) was organized in Calloway County's seat of justice; becoming the third Baptist Church to be formed in the Kentucky Purchase. It, too, did not unite with an association until 1823.

2. Hickman County 1822-1835.
      The first two churches noted above were in Hickman County from January 15, 1822, to January, 1823, when Calloway County was formed. Hickman County consisted of the remaining area of the Kentucky Purchase west of Calloway County from January 15, 1823 until January 15, 1824, when Graves County was formed. No Baptist Churches were formed in the county in that period. With the loss of Graves County, and also of McCracken County (now both Ballard and McCracken Counties) on January 15, 1825, the county was reduced to what is now known as Fulton, Hickman, and Carlisle Counties. No Baptist Church existed in this area from January, 1822, until on December 10th, 1825, when the Mayfield Creek congregation was founded. Including the above church, the following churches were founded in the period 1822- 1835:

Mayfield Creek 	December 10, 1825
Mud Creek*		     1827
Bayou Desha*	             1830
Emmaus 		     August, 1832
Clinton	        December 12, 1833
Hopewell           November, 1835

* Turned anti-missionary after 1830.

      Only the Clinton and Hopewell churches are now found in the present Hickman County.

3. Galloway County 1823-1835.
     Besides the Clark's River (1820) and the New Salem (1822) Churches the following additional churches were founded in Calloway County (including Marshall) in the period 1823-1835:
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Clark's River*      May 13,  1820
New Salem*   	             1822
Wadesboro (Union)     July,  1823
East Fk. Clark's R.*	     1824
Blood River #1    	     1825+
New Hope* 		     1830
Rough Creek*		     1831
Shiloh* 		             1831
Sinking Spring   August  15, 1831
West Fk. Clark's R. Novembr, 1833++

* Turned anti-missionary after 1830.
+ Became extinct in 1830.
++ Became extinct in 1844.

4. Graves County 1824-1835.
      Beginning with the formation of the county, on January 15, 1824, the following Baptist Churches were organized in Graves County through 1835:

Bethel* 	          July 17, 1824
Trace Creek 	October 2, 1824
Graves(El Bethel)	   1831
Little Obion 	 April 16, 1831
Panther Creek*     August, 1833
Mt. Pleasant* 	           1834
West Mayfield*+   Nov. 29, 1834
Brush Creek*		   1835
Liberty* 		   1835

* Turned anti-missionary after 1830.
*+ Became Mount Zion (North) in 1843.
Not to be confused with Mt. Zion (South)

5. McCracken County 1825-1835.
     The first Baptist Church to be formed in McCracken County (both McCracken and Ballard) was in July, 1829, when the New Bethel body was organized about four miles west by south of the present Paducah. In the period 1825-1835 the following churches were established in the county:

New Bethel   July, 1829
Ohio     Decem. 6, 1833

a. Little River (1820-1823).

     We have already noted that this body of Baptists was organized on October 2, 1813, at Eddy Grove Church, Caldwell County, Kentucky. No churches having been formed in the Purchase prior to 1820, this body's boundary on the west stopped at the Tennessee River. The Clark's River Church (1820) held membership with the Little River group from 1820 through the session of 1823. By the latter date enough churches had been formed in the northwestern part of the Tennessee purchase as well as the Kentucky part to warrant the organization of the first Baptist Association in the area.

b. Western District (1823-1828).
     The Purchase area of Kentucky and Tennessee was often called the Western Districts in early days. Being sparsely settled in 1823, and having no Baptist Association, the Baptist churches of the Tennessee section held a preliminary meeting in July of that year to plan for an associational organization. All the churches at the initial meeting were located in Tennessee.

     Having agreed to form a new association, 8 Tennessee and 2 Kentucky churches met at the Bird's Creek Meeting House, Henry County, Tennessee, on September 26-27, 1823, and formed the Western District Baptist Association. The churches, messengers, and memberships were as follows:

Walnut Fork     K. Killebrew	       37
  of Obion
Bird's Creek    Elder Samuel McGowen,  40
                C. Simmons, A. Rogers
Spring Creek    A.Bailey, C.Dollyhite, 30
  West Sandy    L. Yarbrough
Providence      Elder James Conyers,   13
                W.Rogers, S.Talkington	
Beaver Dam      John Marberry	       35
Morgan's Ck     E. Gay, E. Bowden      40
Cypress Ck      C. Cane	              102
Ramble Creek    Elder Jacob Browning,  21
                T. Browning, W. Rushing
Clark's River   Elder Absolom Copeland 40+
New Salem       B. Bowling, L. French, 12+
                J. Landers		
+The Kentucky Churches TOTAL 370

     Elders Samuel McGowen and Jacob Browning were chosen as Moderator and Clerk respectively. The Constitution and Articles of Faith were also adopted.

     After its organization the association rapidly grew by 1528 to number 30 churches with 1,002 members. Eight (8) of the churches were in the Kentucky Purchase. They were:

Clark's River.  May 13, 1820	1823	86
New Salem		1822	1823	19
Union	        July	1823	1824	28
East Fork of
  Clark's Riv.	        1824	1824	11
Bethel          July 17,1824	1824	25
Trace Creek     Oct. 2, 1824	1825	17
Blood River	        1825	1825	10
Mud Creek       	1827	1828	12
           TOTAL	               208

     At the 1828 meeting of the Western District Association it was decided that the Association would be divided by a line running east and west from the Tennessee to the Mississippi through Paris, Tennessee. All the churches north of that line would form the new association, while those south of it would retain the old name. Churches near the line were given option of being in either body.

c. Obion (1828-1835)
     Pursuant to previous arrangements, the

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following churches met at the Walnut Pork of Obion Meeting House, Henry County, Tennessee on November 8, 1828, and organized the Obion Baptist Association:

CHURCHES        MESSENGERS             MBRS.
Walnut Fork     Elias Bowden,           56
  of Obion       John Olive
Middle Fork     Elder Thomas Ross,      51
  of Obion       T.L. Daniel
Beaver Dam      Thomas Staton,          64
                 Eld. James Haynes
Providence      Elder James Conyers,    50
                 M. Dunlay
Dresden 	Thomas Dunn, P.Vinson   28
Bailey's Fk.    Stephen Nance,          44
  W. Sandy       J. Mabra
Hepzibah        Elder J. Morphis,       29
                 W.D. Whitsitt
Bethlehem	M.A. Slaton, Gova Cox   35
Clark's Riv.    Hugh Gilbert,           86+
                 James Jones
New Salem       John Allen	        20+
Wadesboro       James Bell              27+
East Fork of    Elder A.B. Gilbert,      9+
  Clark's Riv.  B. Roach 
Bethel	        John P. Dunn            25+
Blood River     E. Taylor,              10+
                 Josiah Pridgen         
Trace Creek     (Not Present)

+ Kentucky Churches. TOTAL 534

     The association adopted its Constitution, Rules of Decorum, and Articles of Faith; and chose Elder James Conyers as Moderator and Brother W. D. Whitsitt as Clerk.

     Although the division was supposed to have been occasioned for convenience, it was soon evident that some differences had arisen over the extent of the Atonement of Jesus Christ among the churches of the two bodies, especially in Bird's Creek Church over the preaching of Elder Samuel McGowen. That church divided over the issue in 1828, and a portion was lettered off to be organized on a strict predestinarian line. The remainder chose to stay in the Western District body. Neither association ever opened correspondent with the other. Fuller details over the division will be given later.

     Besides the ones given in the list above the following churches in Kentucky united with the Obion Association in the period after 1828 and through 1835:


Mayfield Crk. Dec. 10,1825 1829 41+ Mud Creek 1827 1829 29 Bayou Desha 1830 1830 25 Little Obion Apr.16, 1831 1831 27+ Rough Creek 1831 1831 40 Shiloh 1831 1831 10+ Panther Crk. Aug. 1833 1833 12 Mt. Pleasant 1834 1834 13 West Mayfield Nov.29 1834 1835 13 Brush Creek 1835 1835 13 Liberty 1835 1835 9

+ To Union in 1833. TOTAL 232

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