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Circular Letter
Salem Baptist Association, 1871
Meeting at Big Springs Meeting House
LaRue County, Kentucky
To the Churches Comprising the Salem Association of United Baptists.
Having been appointed by the Association to write the circular letter, and the subject assigned being the "History of Severns Valley Baptist Church", the same now located at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, I had recourse to a document prepared by myself in the year 1845, in preparing which I read the church minutes through a series of 56 years, and found matter of such interest, that I concluded to delvier an abridgement of the document to the church, in the way of an historical lecture. After I delivered the address to the church, they manifested much interest in the matter, and by unanimous vote requested me to prepare it for publication; but on re-examination of the history, I found, as I now do, that it would be impossible to do justice to the historical facts and the progress of the church, in a communication short enough for publication in our minutes, as it would of itself form a volume of interesting matter.

The record was a faithful history of the time; it was set down in homely home phrase, and showed man as he really was, without floss or drapery. It showsthe honest dealings of man with his brother man, observing the maxim "Naught to extenuate nor aught set down in malice," but always exhibiting the steady purpose of those who labored for the weal of their brethren and the glory of God.

The record of this Church, from its constitution on the 18th day of June, 1781, to the 27th day of January, 1787, is gone, perhaps destroyed by fire. The proceedings, from 1787 to 1803, are in unbounded sheets, much defaced, and in various hand-writings; and is, in fact, but barely preserved from the flames, being partly burned by accident while in the hands of Bro. Samuel Abell, formerly the Clerk, an esteemed and valuable members and deacon, now dead.

In the year 1844, I obtained from the venerable Jacob Vanmeter (since dead, then the only surviving member of the original constitution), a traditionary account of the first six years.

The Church was constituted by Elders William Taylor and Joseph Barnet, on the 18th day of June, 1781, under a green sugar tree between Haynes' station on the present site of Elizabethtown, about the present town line. There were eighteen members in the original constitution among whom were Jacob Vanmetre, the elder, and Letty Vanmetre, his wife, Jacob Vanmetrer, Jr., Bennam Shaw, three colored persons, Mark, Bambo and Daniel, belonging to Jacob Vammetre, Isaac Dye, and Hannah Dye, and nine others, whose names are not recollected. Elder John Gerrard was constituted with the Church, and set apart as their pastor, and perhaps made one of the eighteen members.

The Church had numbered seventy-five years in June last, and the oldest record left is in the hand-writing of Samuel Haycraft, senior (my father), dated January 27, 1787, more than sixty-nine years ago.

In May, 1782, Elder Gerrard was captured by the Indians, and never heard of again.
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From that period up to 1787, the Church had occasional preaching, supplied by Elders Taylor and Barnett. In February, 1787, Elder Joshua Carman was called as a supply. When the Church first represented herself in the Salem Association, she had thirty-seven members, and was the oldest in the Association. Cedar Creek Church, in the now county of Nelson, was constituted in the same year. Cedar Creek, Cox's Creek, Severn's Valley, and Bear Grass churches, were the four churches that made and formed the Association. Of the thirty-seven members in the Church at that time, not one remains alive.

In the course of a few years the population extended, and persons connected themselves with the church, residing at distant points, and the church meetings were alternately held at Nolin and Severn's Valley. The records generally, show a rigid discipline, and required a punctual attendance of members, and kept watch over the conduct of members. A few short extracts from the early minutes may be admissible, to show the order of the church:
1787. February 23d. - Brethren Kirkpatrick and John Vertrees appointed to act with a convention at the forks of Dick's river.
September 22d, - Brethren Carman and Watkins to write a letter to the Association, and Isaac Dye, Christopher Miller, Jacob Vanmetre, Sen., and Joseph Kirkpatrick to carry it to Coxes' Creek.

1788. September 27. - John Vertrees and Larue appointed messengers to Association.
December 5th, John Larue appointed ruling elder, Robert Hodgen appointed deacon.

1789. February 4th. - Philip Philips received on experience; also his wife.
February 21st. - Philip Philips appointed Clerk for the Church.
September 25th. - The Church, then consisting of forty-five members, met at Nolin. Jonah Dodge, JOhn Larue and Robert Hogdens appointed messengers to the Association at Coxes' creek.
November 20th. - A resolution was adopted that it was the duty of all heads of families of this church, to keep that portion of their families under their care, under the same order and discipline, as they themselves are bound to observe, both in their walk and conversation, as far as their age, capacity, &c., will admit. (The resolution went on some further, but a portion is burned. It concludes by recommending a catechism that was at present received by the church.)
December 26. - A resolution passed, that when any member contributed any necessary supply to those who labored in the gospel, that such a member should give an account of it to the deacons, who should put down the name and contributions, so that the Church might from time to time, have information on the subject.

1790. October 23 - A motion was made and a decision passed, that it was the duty of members to contribute to the supply of traveling ministers; and the deacons to receive all contributions to dispose of as might be thought necessary, and accounts to be kept of what each brother lay in, and report the same to the Church.

In November, 1790, the Church agreed to take into consideration the propriety of calling Josiah Dodge to ordination; and in October, 1791, he was ordained as a minister, and was called to the care of the Church, one half of his time, at a salary of 30, in convenient trades, to be paid by brethren John Larue, Robert Hodgen, Joseph Kirkpatrick, and Philip Philips. The care accepted, and in disposing of the services, Elder Dodge was to attend one-third of the time at the Valley, and two-thirds at Nolin. In November, 1792, he was again called, and his time divided so as to preach in different parts of the church boundary in each month. One point was the Knoll, a mound from which the river Nolin takes its name.
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Up to this time, and after the Church had enacted strict discipline, and great attention paid to reconcile differences in the church, and to redress grievances, disorderly conduct or dishonesty was closely dealt with, and punctual attendance of the members required, the afflicted visited, desponding members encouraged, and the poor assisted.

Soon after, and, indeed, from 1789 to 1794, land speculators had created a great deal of trouble, which resulted at last in the exclusion of the land speculators.

In April, 1794, a charge was entered against a member of influence, active in the Church from the year 1789, for allowing what was then called "frolicking" about his house, and suffering his children to attend "frolics," and being repeatedly cited, he attended in June, but had grown rich, would not give satisfaction, and was excluded.

In 1796 a member was excluded for intoxication, and the minister, Elder Dodge was instructed to publish it next day.

In 1802 it was decided by the Church that dealing with members for private offences should be done in private.

The list of members in 1807 was forty-seven. The Church had, in 1802, joined the Green River Association. Shortly after, the venerable Joshua Morris commenced preaching to the Church. In September 1801, prayed at opening, and received seven members by experience. In October met praying; had no business to do but to praise God, and receive twenty members on November 11th. In December nine members.

In January, 1802, received twenty-two members. At this meeting the state of feeling towards the man of God, who was used as an instrument in the revival, was manifested by the clerk, for in recording the names of those received, he wrote the name of Joshua Morris, and then slightly blotted it out. The writer remembers the day, sixty-nine years now past. The weather was mild for the season, and the baptismal scene in the Valley Creek was a solemn and pleasant occasion. A vast crowd stood upon its banks, and one after another stepped into the stream and were buried with Christ in baptism. At the slight intervals, hymns of praise, and shouts of rejoicing rent the air. I never can forget it. The venerable Morris was so filled, that he seemed as one snatched up into the heavens. Although but a child, I was filled with solemn awe. In February, thirteen more members were received. At this point a leaf is lost from the book, and no meeting recorded until July, when ten members were received. Several minutes are here taken on a page without date, which show the Church in a living state, and no doubt a prayer meeting was established, and kept up, for it was reported that a member had utterly refused to attend Church meetings, or "society meetings." Two members were afterwards appointed to labor with him, and even in time of revival the members were zealous of order, and wrote a letter to a sister Phillips for leaving the bounds of the church without a letter.

August 28, 1802. The member who had refused to attend the meetings returned repenting, and made satisfaction.

This revival came to a close with the addition of 101 members, among them were Isaac Hodgen, John Hodgen, James Haycraft, and Joshua Dodge, all of whom became preachers. A sheet of the proceedings during this revival is lost, which, according to a list afterwards made out, lost 45 names, which shows the real number added to the Church to be 146.
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During the remainder of the year, the church had much distress, in consequence of some of the young members falling back to the world. The prevailing vices which infest the church, or rather that disorderly portion, were drinking, swearing, attending horse races, fighting, &c. But amidst those discouraging scenes, there was a band that stood faithfully to their posts, and up to March, 1803, they were closely attended to; the most refractory were excluded, and some almost desperate cases were reclaimed, and the church of Christ stood firm and unshaken.

On the twelfth day of March, 1803, the church being strong in numbers for that period, it was concluded to form a new church at Nolin, and all those who chose to join the new constitution (105 members), left for that purpose, thus reducing the old Valley church to forty-seven members.

March 25. It appears that a serious difficulty was about to arise in the little band, between several influential brethren, and a special meeting was called, and some old tried brethren were appointed a committed, who met, called the brethren before them, labored with them, and reported the matter well settled and all in fellowship again.

In May, 1803, the church obtained a letter of dismission from the Green River Association, and again joined Salem. At this time the church called Alexander McDougal to preach to them. He was the grandfather of the late Elder Alexander W. Larue, one of our most useful preachers. That devoted and highly gifted brother was called home some years since.

From 1803 to 1812, the church seemed to move on with little deviation. Some members were refractory and were excluded; some additions were occasionally made, during this time strict discipline was observed, and some members were excluded and restored more than once.

In April, 1812, the record shows the commencement of better times. Ten members were received by experience.

In July, 1812, Duff Green was appointed Clerk. (General Duff Green late of Washington City)

In June 1814, James Haycraft licensed to preach in the bounds of the church, and in March, 1815, extended to sister Churches.

Up to March, 1819, the Church moved on in the usual way, with occasionally an addition by baptism or letter, which was about balanced by exclusions and dismissions.

At this meeting it was discovered that the church had lost her constitution, or Articles of Faith, and brethren Anthony Vernon, William Quinn, Asahel Phillips, and Samuel Abell were appointed to prepare articles; and the present articles of faith were reported and adopted in June, 1819.

Long since that period the then venerable Jacob Vanmetre (the younger), informed me that the Church was mistaken about losing its articles, as the church was constituted upon that veritable old and strong document, - the Philadelphia Confession.

In November, 1820, Elder David Thurman was called as pastor, and accepted the call for the third Sabbath. He is now dead, and has been for many years. He was a man mighty in the gospel, the best diciplinarian in the Association, of which he was moderator at his death, a zealous, faithful, and fervent preacher, and deserves a volume to his memory. It was to him, in the year 1831, that I first related my experience, at my own house, and to him I indebted for counsel, and encouragement, and ardent friendship. He was the father to Elder Robert L. Thurman, now one of the most useful and persevering servants of God.
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On April 6th 1822, Brother Coleman Lovelace was licensed to preach in the bounds of the church, and in July following his liberty extended to sister churches, and on the second day of August, 1823, he was ordained by Elders Alexander McDougal, Daniel Walker, and Simeon Buchanan.

The Church, on many occasions set apart days for humiliation, fasting, and prayer for a general revival of religion. From May, 1825, to December, 1826, there was a gradual increase in the church and it may be said to have enjoyed a gracious season of revival all the time, for, notwithstanding the reins of discipline were held firmly by the church, and disorderly conduct promptly corrected, yet there were twenty received by baptism, and fourteen by letter and relation.

In 1827 a revival of religion commenced under the preaching of Elder Lovelace, which extended to the head of Younger's Creek, and continued until January, 1829. The total addition by baptism, letter, relation, and restoration, were sixty-six.

On the twenty-eighth day of November, 1828, Br. Jacob Rogers was licensed. In 1829 his liberty was extended to the bounds of the association, and on the ninth day of August, 1831, he was ordained by Elders Warren Card, Benjamin Kall, and Herbert G. Waggoner.

1829, February 7. Twenty-two members dismissed to form a new constitution on Younger's Creek.

In 1832 a prayer meeting was commenced by the brethren in a school house, about two and one-half miles east of town, near Thomas Swan's, which became interesting, and were continued Sabbath to Sabbath. Elders Lovelace and Rogers were called, a considerable revival commenced, and extended to town, and west several miles, and at last closed with the addition of seventy-six members. Shortly after, the members of the church commenced prayer meetings on Thursday nights and Sabbath mornings, which have been kept up ever since, with but few interruptions.

In February 1833, the church resolved that members in good standing in the separate Baptist churches, suing for membership in the church, on the terms of the general union, might be received.

It is within the recollection of the writer that some, and particularly Horace Buckner, was of the opinion that such should be re-baptized, but Elder David Thurman, being with the church on that day, gave such reasons as quieted all objections, and a member was on the same day received under the resolution.

In June, 1833 some brethren reported that they had raised a subscription for building a new church edifice, and contracted for the building, and &c., all of which the church approved of, and the present commodious house was erected and completed, near the center of Elizabethtown. It may be proper here to remark, that the church occupied a large, open log house, on the north side of town from 1804 to 1807. The house was never completed, but a substantial hewed log house was erected and completed on the same spot, but after the new house was completed, the old log was removed, and the site is now filled with graves.
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There are some old brethren, who now look back upon the days of peace, harmony, and prosperity that they once enjoyed in that venerable house now gone, and its site, marked by the silent mansions of the dead, where sleeps the dust of many brethren and sisters dear to the memory of us all.

September 1834. At this meeting Squire L. Helm was received by experience and baptism. He was grandson of Thomas Helm, who, I believe, was an original member in 1781; was the son of George Helm, Esq., who, at his death, was a member of this Church, and filled many stations in the county and was a member of the legislature of Kentucky. His mother, Mrs. Rebecca Helm, now dead, was then a member of the Church. She was the daughter of John Larue, a ruling elder - so that our beloved Squire is a baptist of Baptists, in both descending lins. He was licensed by the church to preach in November 1836, and afterwards ordained at Brandenburg, Ky., and since that period has occupied so wide a field of usefulness in various parts of the State, having filled the place of pastor of Brandenburg, Owensboro, Louisville, May's Lick, and Covington, and is so well known as an eloquent and forcible preacher, and such success has attended his meetings, and he occupies such a high place in the affections of the denomination, that it is useless to speak farther of him.

In July, 1835, a protracted meeting was commenced by that eloquent divine and successful revivalist, Elder Thomas J. Fisher, which resulted in an overwhelming revival. Elder Fisher baptized seventy-one. The whole addition to the church, as the fruits of that meeting was ninety-two. The meeting lasted six weeks. During about ten days of the close, he was assisted by the lamented Elder John S. Wilson, who preached his last sermon on earth in our pulpit, and although by removals, new churches, yet some of our most efficient members are the fruits of that revival.

From the close of the revival in 1835, up to April, 1837, the records show a terribly rigid discipline, and much dealing with members, there being many young persons in the church.

In 1834 the Church numbered 172; in 1835, 248; in 1836, 224; in 1837, 230.

Without going into further details, the church has, since that period experienced many vicissitudes, and changes, had her declensions and revivals; she has furnished members to aid in forming Nolin, Middle Creek, Rudy Creek, Younger Creek, Mill Creek, Mount Zion, and other churches, and although the church has, from first to last, had upwards of fifteen hundred in her membership, yet at the present time, she is in a feeble condition, and now nubers one hundred and eleven members. Yet a good Sabbath school is kept up, preaching three times in the month, and prayer meetings every Thursday night and Sunday evenings for thirty-nine years past.

The Church has enjoyed the preaching of Elder John Gerrard, William Taylor, Joseph Barnett, Joshua Carman, Josiah Dodge, Alexander McDougal, David Thurman, Coleman Lovelace, Russell Hollman, Robert L. Thurman, George H. Hick, Jacob Rogers, Thomas J. Fisher, William Vaughan, John H. Yeaman, William L. Morris, J. Lansing Burrows (now of Richmond, Va.), Preston Samuels, J. Tell Miller, William C. Jones, James C. Rush, and John Larue Gutton, our present pastor, together with the occasional preaching of visiting preachers, including some of the most disitnguished in the State, also from distant states.

Out of her membership have sprung the following preachers: Josiah Dodge, James Haycraft, Isaac Hogden, Coleman Lovelace, Jacob Rogers, Squire L. Helm, and William L. Morris, Alexander W. Larue, J. H. Yeaman; the four last named, together with Isaac Hodgen, were descendants of the old fathers of the church.
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There are facts and circumstances connected with the early history of this church, with which the present generation is little acquainted. When the present wide spread and favored country was but a wilderness, when not a human habitation was to be found between Louisville, then called the Falls of the Ohio, and Green River save a few families, who had ventured here, a dense forest and unexplored, and commenced a rude settlement, then the lamented John Gerrard, a minister of God, came like John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," and finding a few of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ like sheep without a shepherd, on the 18th of June, 1781, they were collected together under a sugar tree, in church covenant gave themselves to the Lord and to one another, and were constituted a Baptist Church.

[This document is from the Kentucky Historical Society Library, Frankfort, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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