Baptist History Homepage

First Baptist Church
Henderson, Kentucky
By Edmund L. Starling, 1887
      The history of this church dates back to the year 1839. It originated in a remarkably successful revival meeting conducted by Rev. J. L. Burroughs, D. D., now of Norfolk, Va., in the old Union Meeting House, which was located in what is now the City Park. Before this meeting there were only three or four persons of the Baptist faith living in the town, one of whom, the wife of Mr. Jas. W. Clay, afterwards became a pillar of the church. She lived to an extremely advanced age and was the last of the group of constituent members in the organization of the body that passed away. Soon after the meeting referred to, the old house was condemned as unsafe and the organization was effected in the home of Mr. Fountain Cunningham. W. H. Cunningham and John C. Cheaney were the first deacons of the new organization and Elder N. B. Wiggins was its first pastor.

      Of the original members thirty-five in number, none are living except Mr. John O. Cheaney, who for a number of years has lived with a son in the State of Arkansas.

      Immediately after the organization, an effort was made to build a house of worship which resulted in the erection of the first structure, located on the corner of Elm and Center Streets. For the first decade of its history, the church grew rapidly in numbers and influence, and soon became the strongest and most influential body of the town.

      Yearly several meetings were held, during which large numbers were converted and brought into the fellowship of the church. Elder Wiggins' pastorate terminated at the end of three years. The records of the church fail to show who his successor was. In the year 1851, Rev. John Bryce, of Virginia, was called to the pastorate care of the church, and entered on the work. He was a man of distinguished piety, eminent ability and varied attainments. He was, when converted, a lawyer, and had been Master in Chancery for several years under Chief Justice Marshall. After entering the ministry he served as chaplain in the U. S. army during the war of 1812. He was appointed by President Tyler surveyor of Shreveport, La., and Confidential Agent of the Government during pending negotiations for the annexation of Texas. During his stay in Louisiana, he organized the Baptist Church at Shreveport and succeeded in placing it on a foundation of enduring prosperity. His pastorate in Henderson extended through a period of eleven years, during which time the church was united, peaceful and prosperous. He died July 26th, 1864, loved and honored by all, at the advanced age of ninety years.

      During the war period Elder J. H. Spencer, A. J. Miller, D. D., and K. S. Callahan each served the church in the pastoral relation for brief periods. Elder B. T. Taylor followed in the pastorate for two years and was succeeded by Rev. Henry Talbird, D. D., who continued until March the first, 1872. His ministry was marked by that deep devotion to the interests of religion that endears a pastor to his people, and the church was greatly strengthened.

      Rev. H. H. D. Straton was called to the pastorate in June, 1872, and served the church with great acceptance for two years and a half. Elder R. D. Peay was called to the pastoral care of the church April 14th, 1875, and entered on the work the 25th of that month. His administration, though characterized with great pulpit ability and much fervency, faithfulness and zeal in pastoral work, was not marked by church growth and power, owing to losses occasioned by removals and deaths. The church was weaker at the close of his pastoral work (May 1st, 1879), than at its beginning, four years previous. From this time until June the first, 1882, the church had no regular pastoral ministrations. Its pulpit was supplied occasionally by Elder R. D. Peay, who continued to reside in the city, and visiting ministers to the city. As a result, there was no growth, but rapid decline in power and life.

      Elder R. S. Flemming was called to the pastorate June 1st, 1882. He continued in this relation for about one year and resigned. During the year 18S3, the church was without a pastor and its services were irregular and poorly maintained. It steadily declined in numbers and ability until it was thought to be unable to sustain a pastor. In the early Spring of 1884, the Board of State Missions proffered to assist the church, and at the suggestion of the brethren of that Board, Rev. J. M. Phillips, D. D., its present efficient pastor, was called to its pastoral care. At the time Dr. Phillips assumed charge of this church, it had well nigh ceased to exist as a church organization. It was seldom opened for worship and the old building was lamentably out of repair. It had fallen from the once strongest denomination in the town to the weakest in the city, with only a few faithful members left to bear testimony to its once great strength. It had become now a Mission Church, supported in great part by the State Board of Missions. Of course, then, when Dr. Phillips came to its rescue as pastor, he recognized at a glance the great work and responsibility before him in reorganizing the congregation and bringing it from a confused and demoralized state to a church of strength and self-supporting. He applied himself with a confiding faith and diligence of purpose, few men have ever exhibited either in the ecclesiastical or secular world. His strong preaching and earnest work soon began to speak for itself, and in a short time new life was supplied, and where but a short time before all was lifelessness, now there was an activity of Christian purpose making itself felt throughout the city. How well Dr. Phillips has succeeded can be narrated in a few words. Since his arrival, three years ago, there has been raised and expended in the improvement of church property over four thousand dollars, and about two hundred and fifty persons have been received into the church. The total number of members at this time aggregates about three hundred and twenty-five, the church building one of the handsomest in the city, the Sunday school a very large one. The church is once again self-supporting. During the early Spring of 1887, the largest religious revival ever held in Henderson was conducted in this church by Revs. Weaver and Hale, of Louisville, assisted by Dr. Phillips. For weeks and weeks the building was filled to its utmost capacity at night service and over two hundred attached themselves to the congregation.

      Among the member of ministers now preaching, who were ordained by this church, are: Rev. George F. Pentecost, a preacher of world-wide fame, having filled some of the most important pulpits in this country and now in charge of one of the largest churches in Brooklyn, New York; the Rev. Wm. Harris, who preaches with great acceptance to a large church in St. Louis, Mo., and the Rev. J. H. Butler, who is pastor of a very large and important church in Covington. Ky.


[From Edmund L. Starling, History of Henderson County, Kentucky, 1887, pp. 429-432. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Henderson County Baptists
Baptist History Homepage