Before taking up the history of the Muhlenberg County Baptist Association, it may be well to recall a few facts about the history of Kentucky and of Muhlenberg County.
Before the coming of the white man, Kentucky had at various times been the home of different Indian tribes including the Mound Builders. The abundance of fish, fowl, and animals made it an ideal hunting ground. Fierce struggles among warlike tribes to the North and to the South for its possession resulted in its being called "The Dark and Bloody Ground." So during the last quarter of the eighteen century, when white hunters and settlers began to come into Kentucky, none of the tribes actually made their homes there.
Doctor Thomas Walker, in 1750, passed through Cumberland Gap, and was probably the first white man to come within the present borders of the state. The next year Colonel Christopher Gist hunted in the eastern part of the state. Eighteen years later, 1769, our best known pioneer, Daniel Boone, made his first trip into the region. By 1775 he was working with the Transylvania Company to establish settlements in the territory.
Harrodsburg, 1774, and Boonesborough, 1775, were the first two settlements. By 1785 the homeseekers from the old colonies emigrated to Kentucky in larger numbers, and many permanent settlements were made.
Local traditions and records show that among the newcomers were some German-Virginians who, as early as 1784, located in what is now North Muhlenburg. Other Virginians, after building temporary homes at Caney Station about the year 1795, started the town of Greenville in the spring of 1799. Many of the settlers in the southern and western parts of the county came from North Carolina.
Mr. Otto A. Rother says (History of Muhlenberg County), "The great increase in population throughout Kentucky resulted in creating of many new counties out of parts of the older ones. Kentucky was originally a part of Fincastle County, Virginia. In 1776 Fincastle was divided and the County of Kentucky was established. . . . In 1780 the territory now included in Muhlenberg County was then a part of Lincoln County.
Quoting Mr. Rothert further,"In 1792, the year Kentucky was admitted into the Union, seven new counties were established, among them being Logan, which was formed from part of Lincoln. Logan was the thirteenth county organized in the State. It was then the most westerly county, and embraced practically all that part of Kentucky west of Green and Barren Rivers. During the next two years three more counties were laid off in various parts of the state. In 1796, six new ones were started, including Christian, which was formed from part of Logan. In 1798, thirteen sprang into existence among them being Muhlenberg, the thirty-fourth, which was formed from parts of Christian and Logan." Muhlenberg County was named in honor of General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg. General Muhlenberg's father, Reverend Henry
Melchior Muhlenberg, came from Hanover, Germany, in 1742. He was the founder of the Lutheran Church in America. General Muhlenberg was also a Lutheran minister although he was ordained by a bishop of the English Church so that he could preach in Virginia where the Church of England was established by law. At the close of a worship service in Woodsttock, Virginia, in 1776, he took off his ministerial gown and called for volunteers to fight the English in the Revolutionary War. He organized a regiment of soldiers, the Eighth Virginia, know as the "German Regiment." He became an officer of high distinction. He had attained the rank of major-general by the close of the War.
General Muhlenberg made many trips to Kentucky after the Revolution, but so far as is known, never to the county that was named in his honor. Mr. Rothert says, "As already stated, General Muhlenberg probably never visited any part of the county that now helps perpetuate his name, nor even saw any part of the Green River country. Nevertheless, pioneer Henry Rhoads, in 1798, very fittingly procured for the entitlement of the county the name of the man who was a friend, pastor, and general to many of its earliest settlers."
Early Baptist Activity in Kentucky Dr. William Dudley Nowlin, at one time the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Greenville, Kentucky, wrote an intensely interesting and revealing KENTUCKY BAPTIST HISTORY, 1770-1922. In this book he faithfully contends for the Baptist doctrine and for the outstanding contribution that Baptists have made to the Lord's work in Kentucky. Some quotations from Chapter I, "Period of Preparation" and from Chapter II, "The First Preaching in Kentucky" follow:"In the year 1770 we find Squire Boone, a Baptist preacher, on Kentucky soil; and so far as records show the only Baptist in that, then vast wilderness, now know as Kentucky. The first settlers beheld at the base of the great forests and rich herbage a soil as fertile as that of the Nile Valley of Egypt, and in marked contrast with the sterile country of the settlements in the East from which they had come. Amid these scenes of natural beauty roamed the fleet footed deer, the stately elk, the surly bear, the cunning wolf, the sly fox, the crafty panther, the majestic buffalo, the graceful swan, the shy turkey, the timid goose, the clumsy duck, and other game without number. The flowing springs, cool and refreshing, sprang out of the ground, and coursed their way amid banks of grass and flowers, or under hanging vines, to the creeks and rivers. No wonder that Daniel Boone said that he had found a paradise in the great wilds beyond the Mountains." (p. 17)
The people who came West were inclined to be religious. Theodore Roosevelt (WINNING OF THE WEST, Vol. I, p. 69) says in speaking of the character of these pioneers, 'At bottom they were deeply religlious in their tendencies: and -although ministers and meeting houses were rare, yet the backwoods cabins often contained Bibles and the mothers used to instill into the minds of their children reverence for Sunday.' " (p. 20.)
Some historians state that the Rev. John Lythe of the Episcopal Church of England conducted the first divine service in Kentucky in
1775. Dr. Nowlin disputes this. He says,"It is quite clear that the Rev. Squire Boone was the first preacher in Kentucky, and as he was here several years prior to Henderson's Convention [where the Rev. John Lythe held the divine service in 1775] active as a minister, we think Dr. James is eminently correct in saying he 'was the first to preach the gospel in Kentucky.' This is peculiarly true since Baptists have always been a preaching people." (p. 25.)
"John Filson in his history of Kentucky, the date of which is 1784, says on page 301 in speaking of the 'manners and customs' of the people of Kentucky, 'they have a diversity of manners, customs, and religions, which may in time be modified to one uniform.' He then adds 'The Anabaptaists were the first to promote public worship in Kentucky.' It is worth noticing that the Baptists as late as 1784 were called 'Anabaptists' by this historian. This shows that people now called Baptists were once called Anabaptists." Dr. Nowlin adds, "Here is a statement by the earliest historian in Kentucky that the Baptists first promoted public worship in Kentucky." (p. 25).)
Davidson in his history of THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN KENTUCKY, page 86, referring to the pioneer Baptists of Kentucky says: "To them belongs the credit of having been the first inaugurate the regular public worship of God and the organization of churches."
The following observation made your editor think much more of Dr. Nowlin as a historian and as a Christian:"It is a great error, however, to suppose that representatives of other Christian faiths were not found among the great numbers that now poured into the Middle West. There were many of all denominations, especially Presbyterians, who were second to the Baptists in establishing churches in Kentucky, and quite valiantly did they bear themselves in the struggle to improve not only their material, but also the moral conditions in their new homes. It is not our purpose nor desire to derogate a tithe from the praise due to other denominations for their contribution to the moral enlightenment of the new territory." (p. 20.) First Churches The first church of any denomination constituted on Kentucky soil, so far as history shows, was the Severn's Valley Baptist Church which was constituted June 18, 1781. We learn from Spencer's HISTORY OF KENTUCKY BAPTISTS (Vol. 1, p. 21):"There are facts and circumstances connected with the early history of the Church with which the present generation is little acquainted. When this present widespread and favored country was but a wilderness; when not a human habitation was to be found between Louisvlle (then called the Falls of the Ohio) and Green River, save a few families, who had ventured to Severn's Valley - a dense forest, and unexplored - and commenced a rude settlement far from the haunts of civilized man; there 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 day of June, 1781, they in the fear of God, in church covenant gave themselves to the Lord and to one another, and were constituted a Baptist Church, named after Severn's Valley and the creek which flows through it. It has ever borne the same name, none having dared, and it is hoped never may, to lay
[p. 13impious hands upon it by changing its venerable and venerated name - 'Severn's Valley Church.'"
From Haycraft's HISTORY OF ELIZABETHTOWN, KENTUCKY, AND ITS SURROUNDINGS, which was written by Samuel Haycraft and published in Elizabethtown News in 1869, and published in book form in 1921, we gather the following fact[s] concerning the Severn's Valley Baptist Church which is now located in Elizabethtown: -"On the 17th day of June, 1781, under the shadow of a green sugar tree, near Haynes Station, a Baptist Church was constituted with eighteen members, by Elders William Taylor and Joseph Barnett, preachers, with Elder John Gerrard, who was ordained first pastor. The church was called the Regular Baptist Church of Severn's Valley. The same church still exists in Elizabethtown and is known by the name of the United Bapist Church of Christ, called Severn's Valley, and is now the oldest Baptist Church that maintains an existence in Kentucky. All of the members and the preacher emigrated from Virginia, and Elder Gerrard might have been emphatically styled 'the voice of one crying in the wilderness.' This man of God was only permitted to exercise the functions of his office for nine months." It is supposed that Elder Gerrard was killed by the Indians. He went out hunting one day and never returned. This was hostile Indian country at that time. Mr. Haycraft (ibid. p. 15) describes the manners and customs in the Severn's Valley Church: -"Church going people of the present day who make it a point to appear in their best attire at the public religious services might feel some curiosity to know how our ancestors appeared on such occasions. . . . I received my impression from Jacob Vanmeter, who was the youngest Jacob Vanmeter in the original constitution of the church. He died a few years since at the advanced age of about ninety-five, having been a Baptist about eighty-four years.
"They then had no house of worship. In the summer time they worshipped in the open air, in the winter time they met in the round-log cabins with dirt floors, as there was no mills and plank to make a floor. A few who had aspired to be a little aristocratic split timber and made puncheon floors.
"The men dressed as Indians; leather leggins and moccasins adorned their feet and legs. Hats made of splinters rolled in buffalo wood and sewed together with deer sinews of buckskin whang; shirts of buckskin and hunting shirts of the same; some went to whole Indian costume and wore breech-clouts. The females wore a coarse cloth made of buffalo wool, underwear of dressed doe skin, sun bonnets, sometimes after the fashion of men's hats, and the never-failing moccasin for the feet in winter, in summertime all went barefooted. When they met for preaching or prayer, the men with their trusty rifles at their sides, and as they had to watch as well as pray, a faithful sentinel keeping a lookout for the lurking Indian. But it so happend that their services were never seriously interrupted, except on one occasion. One of the watches came to the door-hole during a sermon and endeavored by signs and winks to apprise the people that something was wrong - not exactly understood, a person winked at the messenger as much as to say, 'Don't interrupt us.' But
the case being urgent, the outside man exclaimed, 'None of your winking and blinking - I tell you the Indians are about.' That was understood, the meeting was closed and military defense organized. Now gentle and fair reader, I beseech you not to blush or be ashamed of your forerunners; they were the chosen of God and nature's nobility."
Another account of early Baptist services, this one in or near territory now embraced by Muhlenberg County, is given by H. Austin Cooper in his book TWO CENTURIES OF BROTHERS VALLEY CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN. He tells how Captain Henry Rhoads led a group of over a hundred people into Kentucky in 1785. Many of these Pennsylvania Dutch settlers made homes in what is now Muhlenberg County and have hundreds of descendants in the county.
Henry Rhoads had been an "exhorting deacon" in the Church of the Brethren or the Dunker congregation in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Mr. Cooper says of him (p. 192),"Henry Rhoads [called the Godfather of Muhlenburg County" by Otto a Rother] found time on the Lord's Day to stand before the congregation gathered from the sparsely settled neighborhood and read from his German Bible and would translate it into the English language as he read. . . . The congregation here mentioned in Mublenburg County was the Baptist Church."
"The first church organized at Pond Station (Pond Station was in Muhlenberg County before McLean County was established) was a Baptist Church. Apparently most of the settlers were Baptist. The area around Sacremento and Bremen was commonly called the "Dutch Settlement" on account of the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers most of whom came from Bedford and Somerset, Pennsylvania. Henry Rhoads left the Church of the Brethren and became a member of the Baptist Church."
In his will Henry Rhoads left his Bible to his "beloved wife Barbary Rhoads." The first two paragraphs at his will shows his deep Christian conviction:"In the name of God, amen. I, Henry Rhoads, of the county of Muhlenberg and State of Kentucky, being weak in body but of perfect mind and memory, do make and ordain this my last will and testament.
"First, I recommend my soul to the Almighty God, and as touching my worldy effects wherein He has helped me, I give and dispose of them in the following manner."
First Muhlenberg Baptist Churches The second Baptist church west of Louisville, Hazel Creek, was constituted on December 3, 1797 - the year before Muhlenburg County was established. The Beaver Dam Baptist Church was constituted on March 5, 1798. The Rev Wendell H. Rone in his A HISTORY OF THE DAVIESS-McLEAN BAPTIST ASSOCIATION (p. 10.) says, "From these two Churches all the Associations and Churches .in this populous territory have descended."
Hazel Creek is in the southern part of the county; Nelson Creek, constituted in 1803, in the eastern. Bethel (usually known as Old Bethel to distinguish it from the many Bethel churches in Kentucky), constituted dn 1811, was the first Baptist church in the north-central part of the county.
One of the earliest settlements in what later became Muhlenberg County was made at Pond Station (now in McLean County). As there were several Baptists living in this immediate territory belonging in Old Bethel, an arm of that church was organized here as early as 1811. This "arm" did business as the arm of Bethel Church in the name of that church.
Unity Church in the western part of the county was constituted in the year 1812. The membership rolls of these four early churches contain the names of many prominent pioneer families of the county.
Thirty-two Baptist churches were constituted in Muhlenberg County before the constitution of the Muhlenberg County Baptist Association in 1907. They were Hazel Creek, 1797; Nelson Creek, 1803; Bethel, 1811; Unity, 1812; Cave Spring, 1833; New Hope, 1838; Mt. Carmel, 1839; Friendship and New Hebron, 1840; Oak Grove, 1846; South Carrollton, 1851; East Union, 1852; Ebenezer and Bethlehem, 1853; Macedonia, 1856; Greenville First and Mr. Pisgah, 1869; Pleasant Hill, 1873; Central City, 1878; New Prospect, 1881; Cleaton (Belleview), 1884; Carter Creek and Cherry Hill, 1887; Drakesboro, 1889; Dunmor, 1890; Cedar Grove, 1893; Vernal Grove, Riverside, Paradise, and Forest Grove in 1900; Penrod, 1904; and Graham, 1906.
Associations Because of the desire of the closer fellowship among the churches of like faith and order, the Association became a medium of contact among Baptists. When it was possible a given number of churches in a territory would come together and form a body. Within four years and four months from the time the first church was constituted in Kentucky, we find two associations constituted. The first of these was the Elkhorn which was constituted, October 1, 1785, and the second was the Salem, constituted October 29, 1785.
These associations, and others that followed them, were composed of messengers who had been elected by their respective churches to serve in that capacity. These messengers possessed no delegated authority as the churches could not delegate their authority to anyone. When these messengers met in an associational capacity they could not exercise any ecclesiastical authority over any of the churches. In all things their action in respect to the churches was purely advisory.
The purposes of associations have been enlarged since their beginning. Now they are not only a bond of fellowship among the churches, but are also an agency for the furtherance of the cause of Christ by a united effort. Therefore at an early date the associations began to enlarge upon the benevolent work of the churches by combining their labors and also by encouraging the churches to greater effort in the world-wide missionary enterprise.
On many occasions doctrinal and practical questions that disturbed the churches were brought to the attention of the Association. The usual procedure in dealing with such questions was that the Association would appoint a committee to study the question and then give the Church advice as to what to do. In no way was this advice binding upon the Church. (The author found more than one instance of this in reading the minutes of the Unity Baptist Church which covered a period of one hundred and fifty
years. Usually the Church would follow the advice of the associational committee. In a few instances, after due deliberation and prayful consideration, the Church maintained its right to differ.)
Examples of questions that have been raised and their effect on the churches or associations concerned as given by Frank M. Masters in his HISTORY OF BAPTISTS IN KENTUCKY are
A query was sent from the Beaver Creek Church to the Green River Association, "Is it agreeable to scripture for a man, having had a wife, who left him and married another man,and he, in her lifetime, married another woman, to be received into church membership under circumstance?" Answer "no", (p. 70.)
Query from Severns Valley Church to Green River Association: "What duty to do with a member or church, that holds Redemption from Hell?" "We think a church holding that doctrine, ought to be excluded from the Association; and a member, who holds it, ought to be excluded from the church of which he is a member." (P. 70.)
The Elkhorn Association in session on August 10, 1805, passed the following resolution: "This Association judges it improper for ministers, churches, or associations, to meddle with emancipation from slavery, or any other political subject; and as such we advise ministers and churches to have nothing to do therewith in their religious capacities." (p. 168)
Two churches of the North District Association presented this question: "How shall a church deal with a minister who propagates doctrines that are unsound or pernicious to peace and good order?" Answer. "The Association advises that a church, in such a case, withdraw all the power they gave such a preacher; and that two preachers may suspend or stop a preacher from preaching, until he can be tried by a council of five ministers, whose decisions, in such a case, ought to be obeyed until, reversed by the Association." (p. 168)
Liberty Church in the Little Bethel Association asked the Association about alien baptism. Answer. "We advise the churches in our Association, not to receive any into their communion, who shall not have been baptized by a regularly ordained Baptist minister." (p. 255)
Thirty-two Baptist churches have been listed as having been constituted in. Muhlenberg County before they united into an Association of their own. Prior to that time they had been members of associations in neighboring counties or areas. These associations were:
The Mero District Association was constituted in 1796. It was located on the northern border of Tennessee. Several churches in Kentucky belonged to this Association - among them Hazel Creek and Beaver Dam.
The Cumberland Association replaced the Mero District Association in 1803. Hazel Creek was a member from 1803 to 1806.
The Union Association, a small Association formed in southwestern Kentucky in 1806, had Hazel Creek, Nelson Creek, and Beaver Dam in its fraternity for a time. Masters says that this body was never in harmony with the neighboring associations. This body dissolved in 1810 or 1811.
The Red River Association was constituted in 1807 in Robertson County, Tennessee. Hazel Creek joined this fraternity in 1810, but remained in it only one year.
The sixth association formed in Kentucky was the Green River - constituted in 1799. By 1804 its territory had become so extended that it was divided into three associations. Hazel Creek was a member of the western division - still called Green River - during 1811 and 1812.
The Little River Association was constituted in Caldwell County in 1813. Unity Church was a constituent member and remained in this fraternity until 1820.
The Highland Association was constituted in Union County in 1820. Bethel, Unity, and New Hope were constituent members. This Association became very anti-missionary resulting in the pro-mission forces withdrawing and constituting the Little Bethel Association in 1835. Unity, Bethel, and New Hope joined the new organization. By 1907, Little Bethel contained twelve Muhlenburg County churches.
Of the Little Bethel Association Masters says (p. 254 and 256),"Small and weak as was this young fraternity, it was imbued by the spirit of missions. . . . Resolutions were passed recommending Sunday Schools and benevolent work, and a committee was appointed to raise funds to support a missionary within its bounds. The following year Wm. Morrison was appointed missionary at a salary of $300 a year. The Association increased from seven churches with 163 members in 1837 to fifteen churches with 812 members in 1840. . . . Little Bethel continued to support missions in its territory, to foster a Bible society in its midst, and to contribute to Indian Missions, and so enjoyed a high degree of prosperity . . . . In 1850 the Association reported twenty-seven churches with 1,837 members, and in 1860, thirty-two churches with 2,389 members. At the session of 1868, thirty-six churches were reported with 2,952 members."The Author-Editor has a copy of "Minutes of the 55th Anniversary of Little Bethel Association of United Baptists" for 1890. From it we get these facts about Muhlenberg County churches then belonging to that fraternity: -Bethel: 282 members; W. H. Woodson, pastor; W. P. Henry, and Samuel Brown, messengers. Cave Spring: 56 members; C. M. Pendley, pastor; J. D. Dukes, messenger. Cherry Hill: 48 members; W. H. Woodson, pastor; J. B. Millard, messenger. East Union: 150 members; W. H. Woodson, pastor; James Gill, L. D. Ragon, and J. E. Hite, messengers. Friendship: 169 members; J. Casebier, pastor; J. E. Smith and J. W. Johnson, messengers. Mount Pisgah: 198 members; L. J. Stirsman, pastor; J. L. Wilkins, L. J. Stirsman, and T. B. Wilkins, messengers. New Prospect: 98 members; R. O. G. Walker, pastor; R. Ford Hocker and George Sieber, messengers.
Oak Grove: 129 members; C. M. Pendley, pastor; R. W. Eads. P. E. Hancock, and J. E. Beard, messengers. Pleasant Hill: 47 members; R. O. G. Walker, pastor; no messenger. Unity: 107 members;fL. J. Stirman, pastor; M. R. Mercer, C. M. Dates, and W. W. Gates, messengers.
The Gasper River Association was constituted in Warren County in 1812. Hazel Creek was a constituent member. The Association at first had churches from many counties in its membership, but as new associations were formed the territory was reduced until, at present, it is confined to Butler County.
In speaking of this Association, Masters says,"In 1833, after the elimination of the Campbellite forces, a new spirit began to be manifest in the Association. There were frequent visits to the churches by such men as William Warder, John Q. Wilson, J. D. Kelly and others, who infused new life into them. In 1835, protracted meetings were recommended by the Association and appointments were made for such meetings at Hazel Creek and Beaver Dam churches. In 1837 three protacted meeting were appointed to be held at Walton Creek, Stony Point and Cave Spring churches . . . The opposition to these revivals was intense, especially among the older preachers." Muhlenburg County had thirteen churches in the Gasper River Association in 1907.
The Daviess County Association of Unitel Baptists (renamed Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in 1926) was constituted November 1, 1844. This body was missionary from the beginning and supported the various benevolent objects of the General Association.
The subject of alien baptism came before the Association at several of its sessions. In 1871 this resolution was adopted, "Resolved, that thlis Association does not consider any person baptised, unless he has been immered in water in the name of the Trinity by the authority of a regularly organized Baptist Church." In 1876 it made its position still clearer by passing this resolution, "Resolved, That immersion in water, under the authority of a gospel church, is essential to Christian baptism, and prerequisite to membership in a gospel church; that no one has the right to recognize any organization or body, as a gospel church, the members of which have not these qualifications"; and "that membership and fellowship in a gospel church are essential prerequisites to a seat at the Lord's table."
The growth of the Association has been even and rapid. The membership almost doubled during the first ten years of its existence. Six churches from Muhlenberg County once belonged to the Daviess County Association: Bethlehem, Central City, Greenville, New Hope, South Carrollton, and Drakesboro. All of these churches except Drakesboro withdrew from that Association in 1907 to become constituent members of the newly organized Muhlenberg County Baptist Association. Drakesboro became a member in 1895 but remained only until 1897 when she returned to Gasper River.
Welborn in his GASPER RIVER ASSOCIATION RECORD has a table showing the Annual Meetings of the Association from 1812 to 1876. The following table taken from this longer one lists only the meetings that were held in churches now in Muhlenburg County.Year Place Sermon Moderator 1822 Hazel Creek Wm. Tatum Phil. Warden 1825 Nelson Creek Ben Tolbert Ben Tolbert 1831 Hazel Creek Wm. Tatum Wm. Tatum 1838 Nelson Creek O. H. Morrow J. B. Dunn 1841 Hazel Creek H. B. Wiggin Robert Render 1845 Mt. Carmel A. Taylor Robert Render 1851 Hazel Creek J. M. Pendleton A. Taylor 1854 Ebenezer J. B. Dunn A. Taylor 1860 Mt. Carmel J. F. Austin H. B. Wiggin 1863 Hazel Creek J. S. Coleman A. Taylor 1869 Nelson Creek J. S. Taylor J. F. Austin 1870 Hazel Creek J. F. Austin J. F. Austin 1871 Paradise J. F. Austin J. F. Austin 1875 Mt. Carmel Omitted J. F. Austin
Clerk Churches Wm. Rogers 12 Jared Tichenor 13 B. S. Young 12 B. S. Young 17 B. S. Young 22 Jac. Bodine 23 H. B. Wiggin 22 H. B. Wiggin 24 J. F. Austin 25 J. S. Taylor 25 A. P. Montague 26 A. P. Montague 27 A. P. Montague 25 A. P. Montague 28
Messengers Members 32 759 35 916 31 731 38 1,498 52 1,727 60 1,835 53 1,994 56 2,331 61 2,142 57 1,990 57 1,827 64 2,525 64 2,624 63 2,754
[Note: The manner in which the charts are shown in the document made it difficult to scan. - jrd]
The following table taken from UNITY BAPTIST CHURCH by Otto A. Rothert shows the years that Muhlenburg County Baptist churches entertained their associations prior to the constitution of the Muhlenberg County Baptist Association. Churches are listed in the order of their organization as Mr. Rothert had these dates, some of which differ from the dates listed in other tables in this book. The association to which church belonged is given.
Churches Former Association Entertained Association
Hazel Creek Gasper River 1822, 1831, 1841, 1851, 1863 1870, 1882, 1897 Nelson Creek Gasper River 1825, 1838, 1869, 1891, 1903 Bethel Little Bethel 1837, 1849, 1857, 1879, 1889 Unity Little Bethel 1839, 1886 Cave Spring Little Bethel Mt. Carmel Gasper River 1845, 1860, 1875, 1906 Friendship Little Bethel 1843, 1861, 1870, 1898 New Hebron Gasper River Oak Grove Little Bethel 1853, 1866, 1875, 1895 Ebenezer Gasper River 1854, 1878, 1894 East Union Little Bethel 1883, 1892 Bethlehem Daviess County 1860, 1904 South Carrollton Daviess County 1871,1892 New Hope Daviess County 1848 Macedonia Gasper River Greenville Daviess County 1877, 1890, 1902 Mt. Pisgah Little Bethel Pleasant Hill Little Bethel Central City Daviess County 1889 New Prospect Little Bethel 1904 Bellview (Now Gasper River Cleaton) Carter's Creek Gasper River 1904 Cherry Hill Little Bethel 1901 Dunmor Gasper River 1900 Riverside Gasper River Cedar Grove Little Bethel 1907 Drakesboro Gasper River Paradise Gasper River Vernal Grove Little Bethel Penrod Gasper River
Early Customs and Practices Many of the customs and practices of early Baptists are interesting, some are puzzling to moderns. Rone gives this enlightening explanation:
A Baptist is a person who takes the Bible for what it says and for what it means and tries to pattern his whole life after its teachings. For that reason Baptists have always tried to establish the customs and practices they followed upon the teaching of the Scriptures. They have always tried to settle all things by a "Thus saith the Lord." For that reason many things were not taken up
as a custom or practice until after much time had elapsed. This may account for many things useful in the cause of Christ only slowly becoming a part of Baptist life. On the other hand it, too, may account for many things that were once a part of Baptist life being dropped or mofified to some extent.
Baptists, as you probably know, are a people who hold divergent views on many subjects. Nevertheless where no principles are involved you will always find the utmost charity prevailing among them. Brethern differ but are still brethren.
The Early Preacher The preachers of early Muhlenberg were men with little or no salary and were forced to work on their farms, teach school, or follow some other gainful occupation. However, as Rone says, "Numberous instances of neighborliness are noted in the lives of many of the early preachers when the men in the neighborhood would come in and assist in planting or harvesting the crops of their preacher, or when the women would come in and help in preparing food for the winter."
Many of the churches in the early days paid their preachers in produce. Nolin gives a subscription list wherein fourteen church members agreed to give their preacher for a year's service (This was not in Muhlenberg County.):53 shillings (about $5.00) cash
12 1/2 pounds salt
363 pounds pork
100 pounds flour
100 pounds beef
36 gallons whiskey
Dr. Nolin follows the foregoing subscription, which lists whiskey, by this observation:
"In contrast with the above subscription list we give the following adopted by the South Kentucky Association No. 3 at its organization in 1845. Says Spencer (Vol. II, 580): No church shall be considered in good standing in this union, that will encourage, by laxity of discipline, or otherwise, the making and vending of ardent spirits as a beverage, etc."
This shows the change of sentiment on the whiskey traffic in forty-seven years among the early Kentucky Baptists. And as compared with the present, it strikingly illustrates the great progress made in temperance reform.
What was true of the early Baptist churches in this country was true of churches of other denominations touching the whiskey traffic. Baptist were no worse and no better in this particular than those of other religious bodies of that time.
Church services were usually held once a month, but much irregularity prevailed. So far as the ministry itself was concerned, Early Saturday or Sunday morning found the reacher on horse-back on his way to the church where he preached from one to three sermons. By late bedtime Sunday night he was back home, having ridden many miles, ready for farm labor or any other service. In the meantime he somehow managed to attend to marriages,
to visit the sick, and to bury the dead. His was truly a hard life, but it appears that he enjoyed it. He sought his reward not in dollars and cents, but in a job well done for his Master. It was the Master's will that mattered, not salary.
The early minister was not an educated man, judged by present-day standards. He was, however, often the most learned man in the community. His church members often sought his advice on business matters as well as religious problems. Wendell Rone, in speaking of the education of the early preacher, says:The early days afforded very little opportunity for the preachers to obtain an education. This does not mean that the preachers were illiterate. They were far from that. They were men of one book, and that book was the Bible. Their intimate knowledge of the Scriptures puts the average preacher today to open shame. When opportunity afforded, the preachers, to secure information either from persons or books pertaining to theological study were more than ready and anxious to grasp the same. Many of the young preachers went to the study of D. L. Mansfield, Alfred Taylor, J. S. Coleman, and others in the early days of the Baptists in this territory, to learn the rudiments of preaching and Bible study. Their efficiency in pastoral leadership and theological learning was well known, and as a result they moulded the leadership of the denomination in their day. The annual meeting of the associations was another source of inspiration, information, and encouragement for the early preacher. The many denominational programs that now occupy much of the attention of these meetings had not then been initiated. The preaching of the gospel was the most important feature of the meetings. Also in these early associational meetings, it was customary to prepare a Circular Letter to send to all the churches. Welborn includes this example of a letter in his history. It was written in 1815 - 150 years ago - by Elder William Tatum, a leader in the Gasper River Association and a man who pastored and preached in Muhlenberg County. The second paragraph of the letter refers to our second war with Great Britain - The War of 1812 - which we had just won. Dear Brethren - It has been customary to send you an annual letter not to impose our opinion on you, but to impart some spiritual advice to the churches we represent.
You will permit us to address you in the most serious and affectionate manner. Let us recollect the care of Providence in casting our lots in a land of light and liberty. It has exceeded not only our deserts but our sanguine expressions. Last year we were involved in a bloody war. Our rulers proclaimed a fast, and in our distress, we cried to the Lord. The Most High inspired our armies with martial courage over our enemies and sent us peace. Now, this is the Lord's doings, and when we think of our unworthiness, it is marvelous in our eyes. God grant that these things may have their due weight in our nation, that we may humble ourselves before our God.
Brethren, while we adore God in His Providence, let us thankfully remember His Grace. Once we were dead in sin; now we are made alive from the dead and risen with Christ - we are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God. Now, brethren, as you wish
[p. 23]well to the interests of Zion, we beseech you in the bowels of mercy that you fill your seats in a regular manner in the churches to which you belong. Do not suffer every light and trifling matter to prevent you from being found in the house of God. Also, how many there are who were constant and zealous when they professed religion, and now on church meeting days their seats are often found empty, to the mourning of the hearts of their brethren and to the weakening of the hands of their ministers. We would exhort such to remember from whence they have fallen, repent, and do their first, works . . . How does our Lord hate lukewarmness, and we should hate it too. He tells us, "The way of the Lord is strength to the upright. They that run therein shall not be weary, and he that walks therein shall not faint." . . . Counterfeit zeal is only against some particular sin. Thus, some will seem very zealous against profaneness, and yet themselves notorious for covetousness. Let us follow the Lord as dear children and walk in love. In your church connections avoid whatever has the least tendency to gender strife. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Be every one of you clothed in humility, then all bitterness, wrath and clamor will be put away."
Now, dear brethren, that ye may be able to honor God in your lives, triumph in death and be forever happy with Him, is our prayer for Jesus' sake. Amen.
It is interesting to find how many of our Baptist preachers obtained the right to preach the gospel. When a brother felt he was called to preach, he made it known to the church of which he was a member. The church usually granted him the priviledge to "exercise his gift" - that is, to preach by way of trial. If she approved of his "gifts", she granted him a "license" to preach in a small territory. After further trial, if his "gifts proved real and he gave further evidence of usefulness as a preacher, his territory would be increased. Usually some church would call him as pastor and ask the mother church to ordain him as their pastor.
Rothert in his HISTORY OF UNITY BAPTIST CHURCH gives several instances of such procedure in the Unity Church:The first two men thus privileged were Duren Allock and Lewis Goad, each of whom, as recorded in 1815, was permitted to "exercise his gift at any time and place agreeable to the impressions of his own feelings, Brother Clark to write the license." An entry made one year later reads:
"The 28th September, 1816 . . . The church took under consideration the gifts of our beloved Brethren Lewis Goad and Duren Allcock and think it duty to call them to ordination and also agree to send to three different churches, that is to say, to Brother Shelton's church, Brother Brohse's church and Brother Ford's church for help, to meet the Saturday before the fourth Lord's day in October." They were both ordained at the appointed time, and both were long identified with Unity.
Another well known man in Western Kentucky, Esias W. Earle, began his long career as a preacher at Unity. An entry dated July, 1826, shows that it was "Moved and seconded by the church that Brother Esias W. Earle be set forward in the ministry by ordination. That we petition the following churches lor help and the following brethren to bear the petitions: Brother Duren Allcock to Hazel Creek, Brother John Bourland to Elk Creek, Brother
Barfield to Rock Springs, Brother Thomas to Bethlehem, and Brother Moore to Flat Creek.
Jesse Oates, the church clerk, son of Major Jesse Dates made this entry on Saturday before the first Lord's day in September, 1839: "On the Lord's dep, after preaching by Elders Taylor, Mansfield and Rondeau, a door was opened for the reception of members, when the two following persons were received by experience, namely Jacinth Mercer and Sarah Mercer . . . On Tuesday the third of September the church met and a Presbytery was called for by the church in order to ordain Brother Kinchen G. Hay to the ministry, and the Brethren Eades and Haris as deacons . . . The Presbytery then adjourned to the meeting house and and prayerby Elder William Rondeau, Brother Bourland having been chosen moderator, the Presbytery examined Brother Hay as to his call to the ministry and as to his faith in the Gospel. The Presbytery having also examined the Brethren Eades and Harris as to their faith and qualifications and the Presbytery being satisfied as to all of them, mutually agreed and concluded to attend forthwith to the ordination. The Presbytery then adjourned to the stand where after prayer by Elder Richard Jones 1ihe ordination sermon was preached by Elder Rondeau . . . Prayer was then made by Elder Jones and a short charge by Elder Morrison to the Brother Hay, with the laying on of his hands of all the elders forming the Presbytery."
This rather long quotation is included because it contains a number of practices commonly used in ordaining pastors and deacons.
Sometimes if the church was not favorably impressed by a brother's "gifts", a license would not be granted; sometimes if a licensed preacher did not improve his "gifts" his license would be revoked. One story of such an incident relates that a brother appeared before the church and claimed he had had a vision which called him to preach the gospel. The symbols of the vision were G. P. C. written across the sky, which he interpreted to mean "Go Preach Christ." The church rules that the brother was mistaken about the meaning of G. P. C. and decided instead that the letters meant "Go Plow Corn." License to preach was not granted to the brother by the church.
Early Houses of Worship Muhlenberg County contains a number of very old churches. When many of these older churches were constituted, there were only a few members, and the worship services were held in the homes of the members. Some of the church histories state that this was true for several years. During the summer, services were held in a shaded area or in brush arbors. Even in later years a number of Baptist churches were constituted as a result of a brush arbor meeting.
Soon, however, the desire for a house of worship lead the members to build a church house. This quotation form the East Union Church history would probably apply to most very early church houses:
"A one-room log house, one door, probably no floor, roof weighted down, seats of split logs with holes bored in them to place the legs." (Most of these early log churches had a large, open fire-place in one end with a stick and mud chimney.) This house burned down and a larger, more modern building was constructed:"The building was a one-room log house approximately 20 by 30 feet, a door in each end, two windows on each side. Each sill was a complete log, no splices. The logs from the windows up were complete logs with no splices. The logs averaged approximately 14 inches in width, hewed on each side. One log extended down the center of the building and was supported by sassafras posts. The ceiling of the church was level with the top of the center log, leaving the log exposed inside the church; but soon they cased this log and the posts down the center with poplar boards. The space between each log was chinked with short blocks of wood placed between the logs, and daubed with mortar made from lime . . . Boards were used for the roof."
After public schools had been built, many congregations worshipped in them until they could construct their building. A few churches met in vacant store buildings until their church building could be completed.
Some of our churches are in their fourth or fifth house of worship. The beautiful, air-conditioned, carpeted, tastefully decorated, many roomed structures of the present are indeed a contrast to the earlier buildings.
Protracted Meetings Welborn says:"Protracted Meetings were not advocated or promoted by the Association (Gasper River) until 1835. Bever Dam and Hazel Creek were selected as inviting churches for such labors. The 1838 Annual Meeting reported, "Most every church was built up, while other denominations shared largely of the feast." Hazel Creek had 80 additions; Nelson Creek, 45; and Cave Spring 24." Rothert indicates that, according to tradition, revivals took place at Unity every year from time the church was organized (1812), but no mention is made of any protracted meeting until 1839. That was the year that the Little Bethel Association met with Unity and that Brother Hay was ordained. An item in the June minutes reads, "Agreed to commune on the Lord's day and wash feet," Probably the greatest revival in this church took place during a protracted meeting in 1889. Rothert quotes one of the members as saying:It was a meeting I'll never forget, and I feel that Brother Stirsman, the pastor, and the preachers who assisted him, look upon it as one of their greatest experiences in church work. Many of the people came to church singing or shouting or talking to sinners. Often as many as thirty mourners were at the bench at one time. Frequently the mourners walked up to the bench before the meeting opened, and preaching had to be dispensed with on account of the great enthusiasm of the mourners and some others present. On one occasion, at an afternoon service, there was present a young man who was leading a life that reflected no credit on him and who tried to make sport of the meeting. He was standing in the rear of the church, and his mother, seeing him, started back to talk to him. He immediately rushed out the front door and ran into the woods. One of the preachers and a number of other men quickly followed and soon caught the young man. They told him he certainly must be a big coward to run away from his mother. After a little persuasion, he walked into the church like a man. He not only listened to the sermon with great interest, but came back to the church after supper. That night he returned home with his mother and at midnight, before retiring, made a profession of religion. He has ever since been a man of whom any community could proud. The Beech Creek Baptist Church reports a similar meeting in 1928.
Brother Rone says of this established practice among Baptists:In the latter 1830's special revival services came into vogue among the churches. These have continued to the present day, as the way most often used by Baptists to enlarge their sphere of influence in making Christ known in a community. The annual meeting is an event in every Baptist church, and is always looked forward to with great anticipation and prayer. Revival meetings generally lasted from one to as many as ten weeks. Multitudes have been reached with the Gospel through this means. This may account for the rapid growth in numbers of the Baptists until they far outnumber any other denomination in this State and the whole South.
Song Services In the early churches there were few or no hymn books. In his "History of Bethlehem Baptist Church" Brother John W. T.
Givens says, "On October 9, 1858, Bethlehem Church voted to have a pulpit Bible and hymn book. Before this, and doubtless afterward, Pastor Welch 'lined out the hymns' for the congregation to sing, inasmuch as he possibly still had the only hymn book in the congregation."
The author-editor of this book heard a cousin of his in North Carolina relate this incident which illustrates the difficulties that our early preachers had in "lining out" the hymns for their congregations. At that time the same tune was used for many songs.
At the church service the preachers had a habit or reading or scanning a line of a hymn to the congregation. The congregation then sang the line of the hymn previously repeated by the preacher, and thus the whole song, line by line, was repeated by the preacher and in turn sung by the congregation. Occasionally amusing incidents occurred from this practice. One such awkward and embarrassing situation occurred when the pastor arose and said, "My specks are bad and my eyes are dim: I can hardly see to read this hymn." The congregation mistook the preacher's apology for poor vision and sang the apology as though it were a line of the hymn. The preacher announced again, "I didn't mean that was a hymn - I merely meant my eyes are dim." The congregation sang again. By this time the preacher was somewhat disgusted and said, "If that's all you brethren know, I will take my hat and go." The congregation sang this statement back to the preacher, still believing it was a part of the hymn.
Note that in the quotation from Brother Givens, he says that in 1858 the church voted to have a hymn book. The first books were Psalters which gave portions of the Psalms and also other portions of Scripture. Poems were later added. The modern hymnal with a distinct tune for every hymn is a comparatively recent addition to our worship services.
Negro Members Many pre-Civil War church members in Muhlenberg County owned Negro slaves. These Negroes, when converted, joined the same church that their masters belonged to. Unity in 1815 listed seven Negro members by first name only: Ben, Charity, Ester, Plato, Pompey, etc. In 1840, there were eleven listed by full name: Fillis Eades, Caroline Moore, Henry Oates, Rebecca Oates, etc. Johnson in his history of Hazel Creek lists 39 colored people who had been on that church roll. Other early churches also mention them - some of them in the list of charter members.
The Negroes were given all the privileges of church membership but that of voting in the business meetings. That was to prevent masters from voting their slaves. They usually had a special section of the church reserved for them.
After the Civil War freed the slaves, the white brethren assisted colored members to organize churches of their own.
"Arms" of the Church Churches were widely separated and travel was difficult in the early days of Muhlenberg history. Many people felt that they were too far away to attend services in the established churches under these conditions. Several churches, therefore, organized branches or "arms" in other neighborhoods in order that members living in those localities might meet more conveniently and better promote religion
among themselves and their neighbors. Hazel Creek extended several "arms." New Hope was originally an "arm" of Old Bethel. Oak Grove, East Union, and Pleasant Hill were organized as "arms" of Unity. Other examples will be found by reading the histories of other churches in this Association.
These "arms" could meet for worship, conduct revivals, baptize members, transact some purely local business, but they could not act in place of the mother church in regard to most business matters Just as with mission churches of today, the "arm" was watched over by the pastor of the mother church or by a committee of the brethren until she gave evidence of having sufficient strength to become self-sustaining. Then she would be consituted as an independent church.
Discipline Records of early Muhlenberg Baptist churches deal extensively with cases of discipline. The first order of business in their business meetings was to call for the "peace (fellowship) of the church." If the church was at peace, the regular order of business proceeded; if there were grievances or evidence of broken fellowship, these matters were attended to before further business was transacted.
Brother Rone gives a clear description of this "custom and practice." We quote him before giving examples from Muhlenberg church histories:If the fellowship of a church was out of harmony a brother would generally "lay in a complaint" against the offending brother or sister. The church would then take the matter up, and if the offending brother "gave satisfaction," that is made his acknowledgements to the church, he was forgiven and the church was at peace again. On many occasions we have seen records where an individual would "lay in a complaint" against himself and then "give satisfaction" and be forgiven by the church. If the offending brother or brethren were not in attendance a committee of two or three of the brethren was appointed to see the individual and "cite" him to attend the next business meeting and answer to the "complaint". On many occasions the offending brother would refuse to attend and at the next meeting the committee would report and give his answer, and in consequence of the refusal the church would exclude the individual for "contempnt of the church." In the maioritv of cases the individual would come before the church and give "satisfaction" and be forgiven and restored to the fellowship of the church.
In the matters of discipline the churches followed the instructions given in Matthew 18:15-17 and the offended brethren were first to meet each other; if that failed to effect a reconciliation, two or three witnesses were taken along; if that failed then the "helps" were called in from neighboring churches. This was seldom a necessity, but records are abundant to show that sister churches were invited to send help and aid to settle a difficulty. The brethren invited would sit as a court but with no authority other than the right to advise the church as to what to do. Sisters were, on many occasions, appointed on committees to visit other "sisters" who had offended against church regulations.
Cases of discipline for drunkenness or "drinking too much" were very frequent. The Baptists, like the most of the other people, seemed to have no objection to liquor when used in moderation. Practically everyone in the early days drank liquor. The "Jug" came to be as much a part of the home necessities as the meal bin. In early days dram drinking, in family and social circles, was considered harmless and a thing socially allowed. Even the preachers, on many
occasions, woud take a dram; and if a man would not have it in his family, his harvest, his house raising, log-rollings, weddings, and so on, he was considered parsimonious and unsociable, and many, even professing Christians, would not help a man if he did not have spirits and treat the company. The above is the testimony of Peter Cartwright and a host of others who have written of the early days of Baptists in Kentucky and the great Northwest. Gradually the public and private opinion of Christians was molded against the use of liquor because of its harmful results and the fact that it was not "conducive to piety."
These are actual cases on record in minutes of various churches in Muhlenberg County. Names of individuals and of churches are not given for obvious reasons:
Took up the case of Brother ______. After examination of the Brethren appointed to labor with Brother ______, our once Brother, is declared to be none of us. The church took up the case of black Brother _____ and from the evidence he is declared no more of us. The church took up the case of _____, a black Brother, and from his humble acknowledgement gave satisfaction. The church agreed to send Brother_____ to invite a black sister to fill her seat next meeting. Brother _____ laid a complaint against himself and from his humble acknowledgement gave satisfaction. Brother _____ laid a complaint against Brother for practicing a fraud in an unsound horse. Elder _____ laid a complaint against himself for getting out of temper and from his humble acknowledgement gave satsifaction. A certain sister charged her husband with "drinking too much and swearing profanely and stinginess in debarring her from the use of the necessities of life for the accommodation of those who visit the house." He gave satisfaction by "agreeing to give up to his wife the whole control of the house that belongs to a woman." Three brethren appointed to go to _____ Church to assist in settling a difficulty among them. Agreed that we exclude Sister _____ from our body for gross immoral conduct. Brother _____ arose and stated that he had been guilty of inpearce.satoxication and wished the church to bear with him and promised not to be guilty any more. The church thereupon agreed to bear with him.
Upon motion adopted the following: "No allegation shall be received against any member except it be in writing." A charge was brought against Brother for dancing. Brother _____ was excluded from the church for drinking and swearing. Excluded Brother _____ on a charge of non-attendance. Excluded _____ on a charge of stealing and playing cards.
The author-editor was given this case by _____, pastor of a prominent Muhlenburg County Baptist church:
The deacons of the church brought a charge of attending a dance against some ladies of the church. Before the church took action on the case, these deacons while returning home from a church meeting stopped at the home of another church member. Hard cider was served and too freely imbibed. The ladies against whom the dancing charge had been placed heard of the incident and made it known that a case against the deacons would be filed in the next business meeting. Neither case was ever brought up for action. ==============
[From William L. Winebarger, A History Of The Muhlenberg County Baptist Association, 1966, Chapter 1. Document provided by Joe Williamson, Philpot, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
The histories of the churches of the association are here.
Kentucky Baptist Church Histories
Baptist History Homepage