There were Baptists among the earliest pioneer settlers of Kentucky. As early as 1776 William Hickman, Sr., was laboring in Kentucky as a minister. He was on a tour of observation at the time, and after a stay of only a few months returned to Virginia. After remaining there for eight years he came back to Kentucky and made it his permanent home, laboring faithfully in the field for more than fifty years. He traveled extensively, often in the most distant and exposed settlements, frequently at the peril of his life. He was about six feet high, of slender form, and, in the language of Elder John Taylor, "walked as straight as a palm tree," even in the most advanced years of his life. His deportment was stern and grave. His style of preaching was plain and solemn, and operated with great force on the consciences of his hearers. He was for a great number of years pastor of the church of Elkhorn. It is believed that he baptized as many, perhaps more persons, than any other minister who ever labored in the State.
In 1779 John Taylor, Joseph Reding, Lewis Lunsford, and several other ministers visited Kentucky, but owing to the constant alarms from Indian depredations there seemed to be but little interest manifested for religion, and but few opportunities for preaching. Their principal object was, however, to see the country, with a view to future settlement. These ministers all soon returned to Virginia, except Reding, but at a later period some of them returned and took up their permanent residence in Kentucky.
In 1780 a great number of Baptists removed to Kentucky from Virginia, but it was not until 1781 that the first church was organized, which was called Gilbert's Creek Church. When Lewis Craig came from Virginia, most of his very large church there came with him. They were constituted when they started, and were an organized church on the road and transacted business as such. They settled at Craig's Station,
on Gilbert's Creek, a few miles from where Lancaster (Garrard County) now stands.
In 1782 other churches were constituted, one in Severn's Valley, where Elizabethtown (Hardin County) is situated; another on Nolin, in what is now Larue County; and another at Cedar Creek, in Nelson County.
In 1783 the church at South Elkhorn, five miles from Lexington, was organized, and was for forty years one of the most prosperous in the State.
After the close of the Revolutionary War a flood of Baptists poured into Kentucky from Virginia, and churches began to spring up everywhere in the State, even yet while savage depredations were frequent and the times perilous. It was no uncommon thing for men to go to church with their guns in hand to guard against surprise from the Indians.
In 1785 three associations were organized, viz: Elkhorn, Salem, and South Kentucky. These embraced the entire State. These associations, which embraced at first only three or four churches each, increased rapidly; so that in 1790 there were forty-two churches, three thousand one hundred and five members, forty-two ordained ministers, and twenty-one licentiates. Among the ministers of that day were John Gano, Ambrose Dudley, John Taylor, Lewis Craig, William Hickman, Joseph Eeding, William E. Waller, Augustine Eastin, Moses Bledsoe, John Rice, Elijah Craig, and William Marshall, all acknowledged to be men of piety, great energy of character, and well-balanced intellects. A fourth association was constituted in 1798 out of Elkhorn Association, called Bracken.
In 1799, what is known as the great revival in Kentucky commenced, and continued through several years. Accessions to all the churches in the State at that period were very great, and especially so to the Baptist Church.
In 1802 North Bend Association was organized. The same year South Kentucky Association was divided, making two associations instead of one, calling one the North District and the other the South District Association.
Long Run Association was organized in 1803. The Green
River Association, lying in what is now Warren, Barren, Green, and Adair counties was organized in 1800, about the beginning of the great revival in that quarter of the State. The first year of its existence there were added to the church more than one thousand members. In 1804 it contained thirty-eight churches, and, the territory being large, it was thought good policy to divide it into three bodies. The middle portion of the churches retained the old name; the northern portion was organized under the name of Russell's Creek Association; and the southern portion, Stockton's Valley Association.
In 1801 the Regular and Separate Baptists united upon terms previously agreed upon, since which time they have been called United Baptists.
From 1802 to 1812, there were several schisms and divisions in the Baptist Church. One party was led off by James Garrard, a Baptist minister of great influence, who had been elected Governor of Kentucky in 1796, and Augustine Eastin, another gentleman of talents and influence; but that party soon died away. About the same time another popular minister by the name of John Bailey led off a small party from the South District Association, and, obtaining no countenance from the General Union Association, they assumed the name of the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists. In 1804 a number of ministers went off on the subject of slavery. They are known in the records by the name of Emancipators. They withdrew from the General Union of Baptists in 1807, formed an association of their own, and were quite numerous at first, but they soon dwindled away, and no vestige of them remains. In 1809 there was a great schism in the Elkhorn Association, which originated in a difficulty between Jacob Creath and a member of his church about a negro trade. The result was that several ministers and churches withdrew from Elkhorn Association, and organized the Licking Association of Separate Baptists.
There were no more schisms in the Baptist Church worth recording until about the year 1829, when one was begun and carried on by Alexander Campbell. This was by far the greatest schism that ever occurred in the church; but still the
Baptists retained their usual ratio to the population of the State, which was about one to twenty of its inhabitants. In 1832, when the storm of this schism had spent its fury, they had thirty-three associations in Kentucky, four hundred and eighty-four churches, two hundred and thirty-six ordained ministers, and thirty-four thousand one hundred and twenty-four members. Their increase since then has been unprecedented; in the succeeding ten years they had doubled their numbers.
We have spoken of William Hickman as the first preacher in Kentucky, but Lewis Craig was the founder of the first worshiping assembly. He distinguished himself greatly in Virginia before he came to Kentucky. He was several times imprisoned in that State for preaching the gospel. As he, with others arrested at the same time, passed through the streets of Fredericksburg, on their way to prison, they struck up and sung those familiar lines, "Broad is the road that leads to death," &c. While in prison Mr. Craig preached through the grates to large crowds, and was the means of doing much good. He was in the gospel ministry about sixty years, and died at the age of eighty-seven years.
John Taylor was also a very efficient preacher, and made himself very useful. He itinerated for ten years after be first came to Kentucky, with great profit to the cause in which he was so zealously engaged. It was his custom to visit six or eight associations every year. He died in the eighty-second year of his age.
John Gano, a native of New Jersey, settled in Kentucky in 1787, and was one of the most eminent ministers of his day. He spent many years as an itinerant, traveling from New England to Georgia. He was a pastor in the city of New York for twenty-five years. During the Revolutionary War he was chaplain to the army, and greatly encouraged the soldiers in those perilous times.
I have mentioned these few names as examples of the high moral worth and talents of the pioneer Baptist ministry of Kentucky. The same could be said of many of their compeers, a sketch of whom the limits of our work will not conveniently
allow. I now add, in conclusion, that there is at this time in Kentucky (1870) one General Association of Baptists and forty-four District Associations; three hundred ministers, five hundred churches, and a membership of about one hundred thousand. They have two large colleges of high reputation, one at Georgetown, the other at Bethel; also twelve female high schools. They have now but little if any division in their church, and are nearly all known as United or Missionary Baptists.
The Baptist denomination in this country, embracing all its shades and forms of opinion, numbers 1,503,630 communicants, over whom are placed 9,553 ministers, connected with 783 associations. The number of Baptist churches is 18,605, nearly twice the number of the Baptist ministry.
[From William N. Allen, A History of Kentucky, 1872, pp. 176-180. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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