Negroes played an important part in the Stamping Ground Baptist Church from the time of its ancestor, the famous "Travelling Church," to the time when they withdrew to form their own church shortly before the Civil War.
When the Travelling Church set out from Virginia in 1781 many of the members brought along their Negro slaves, who helped carry the household goods, clear obstructions from the woodland roads, and lead the packhorses. They cheered their masters along the lonely and dangerous road by their old plantation songs.
In the company was "Uncle Peter," otherwise known as the "Old Captain," and he set the example of singing by a "mighty lifting up of voices" among the negroes in spiritual songs. Uncle Peter's wife had been owned by a member of the church, while Peter himself belonged to another person. The wife's owner traded another slave for Uncle Peter so that Peter and his wife might go to the new land of Kentucky together. Uncle Peter became the first Negro preacher in Kentucky, and was pastor of the state's first Negro church, in Lexington.
When the new church was organized on McConnell's Run, Negroes were among the very first additions to the membership, and when the membership was enumerated in 1807 there were 75 black members in the church out of a total membership of 305. Later the proportion of black members grew larger.
Some of the Negro members were allowed to preach in the church at certain times, and there were rules concerning when they might have their separate meetings. Their members were subject to the same strict rules of church discipline as the white members.
In addition to the rules of sobriety and morality which bound all members of the church, black members also had to observe such rules as not to absent themselves from their master's service. One Negro girl was excluded for stealing her mistress' stockings, and another for concealing a piece of muslin belonging to a peddler and for having in her possession a flower which had been stolen by a black man.
The first Negroes whose addition to the church membership we have on record were Tadillo, property of John Scott, Oct. 1795, followed by Judy and Dinah, property of Robert Smith, Tony, property of Wm. Johnson, and Patty, property of Andrew Branham, all in November, 1795.
At the second business meeting of the church, in October, 1795, Bro. Duke, the property of Thomas Landrum, asked the church for permission to take a wife. The church deferred a decision on this matter until the next meeting, when, after due consideration, she unanimously agreed not to prohibit Bro. Duke from acting as he pleased in this respect.
In August, 1797, on a complaint offered by Bro. Smith and one by Bro. Brock against Peter, a slave of Bro. John Scott's, after hearing the different points of view contained in said charges, Peter is continued in a State of Suspension. Let us hasten to add that the colored Brother was not hanged! At a later meeting the question was raised as to just what was meant by this "state of suspension." It was decided that the member is Suspended when an accusation is brought against him, and Restored when the church acquits him of the charge.
In the case of the above Peter, at a later date the church took into consideration his conduct since the complaint had been brought against him, together with his refusal to attend the church meeting when required to do so, and when the question was put to the church the vote was unanimous that he be excluded from their fellowship.
At the church meeting of February, 1798, a "quere" was brought up as to "wheather Bound Slaves is fit members in the Church or not. Taken up and refer'd." At the April meeting, "After taking up the Quere Respecting Slaves as stands related to church fellowship, answered, any orderly Christian, though in a state of slavery, has a right to the privileges of a gospel church."
In February, 1808, Bro. Thomas Herndon was appointed to request of Captain Burbridge that he give liberty for his black woman named Aimy.
Bro. Tony, boy of Mrs. Johnson's, was requested (Feb. 1804) to refrain from appointing meetings and going forward at any time as a publick Teacher.
Bro. Daniel, boy of Bro. Herndon's, had better success in Feb., 1818, when he "wishes to exercise a publick gift. The church therefore resolves the said Daniel exercise his gift in his, own way in the bounds of the church at such place and time of the day as will enable the white male members to hear him and at our August meeting the church determine on his gifts." At the August meeting the decision of Daniel's gift was deferred until the November meeting, and in the interim Bro. Daniel might preach in the meeting house on the first and third Sundays in each month except when there may be a white preacher present who might wish to preach."
At last, in November, it was decided that Bro. Daniel might exhort among the people of his own color at any time in the bounds of the church when there was no white person to preach in the neighborhood, and in no instance to have his meetings in the night. And when in the day to break up on or before one hour's sun in the evening, and the Brother Clerk to give said Daniel a copy of this record.
Bro. Daniel, in spite of his preaching zeal, had a weakness for the girls, and was excluded no less than three times from the fellowship of the church, twice before joining the ministry and once after, for his illicit love affairs.
In May, 1819, "Bro. James Suggett is requested to inform the black people that unlefs they keep better order in times of preaching this church is determined to have the law put in force against them in futur, and to give them such further reasoning on the subject as he may think proper."
Martin, Nimrod and Tony, Brethren of colour, were requested in April of 1821 to use their influence in keeping the black people in order at all times of preaching in the meetinghouse and Bro. Craig was to inform the blacks of the same. Seven years later the church ordered the colored members to relinquish their practice of holding night meetings.
What was destined to be the beginning of a separate Negro congregation came in October of 1840, when "Black brethren is appointed to attend to any disorder or difficulties that may occur among the black Brethren and report any such to the church." These black brethren were Milton, property of Sister Lindsay, Jack, of Sister Scruggs, Jacob, of Bennett Osbourne, Cupit, of the Burbridge heirs, Bias, of R. Smith, Lewis, of M. Glass, Peter, of George Beaty, Humphrey, of Wm. McCalla, and Simon, of M. Glass.
Following this beginning, the Negro members of the church held their own meetings, at which they received members of their own color and exercised discipline, on occasion excluding members from their fellowship. Cupit and Bias were leaders who prayed, preached and exhorted at these meetings. At first they were presided over by the white Moderator and Clerk of the Church.
Sept., 1850. "Voted that Bros. Isaac Adams, R. Thomason, M. B. Mothershead, W. H. Stiffler and C. Bond be a committee to cooperate with a building committee and to receive the money contributed by the colored portion of the church for the purpose of building a house of worship for the colored portion of the church."
In January, 1854, "Brethren Sandford Branham, Eldridge Branham, and John Graves were added to the committee whose duty it was to attend the meetings of the colored members of this church, which are held on the third Sabbath in each month. Said committee is authorized to suspend - night meetings if they think it advisable."
On January 28, 1855, the church passed the following resolution; "Whereas the colored portion of the membership of this church now has a comfortable house in which they meet to worship; Resolved that a committee consisting of Brethren Isaac Adams, J. D. Black, Moses Threlkeld, J. R. Ferguson, Daniel Branham and Joseph Yates be appointed to take into consideration the importance and propriety of separating the entire colored membership of this church from us and organizing them into an African church under the care of this church and report next meeting."
This committee made the following report:"The undersigned your committee to whom was referred the propriety and importance as well as the legality of separating the colored membership of this church from us and organizing them into a church under the watchcare of this church, beg leave to report as follows;
"That as to the legality of such an arrangement they received the following information from Mr. Robinson. That in the event that the said organization has a comfortable house of worship legally set apart for their benefit and are kept under the care of this church with a standing committee from this body to watch over them there would be nothing illegal in such an arrangement, all of which has existed for years as this church is aware.
"Your committee confesses that there are objections, not only in the minds of a number of our brethren, but in our own minds also, against such an organization. Your committee has endeavoured prayerfully to look at this subject in all its varied aspects, and find that there are strong objections that present themselves against matters as they now exist.
"First, it is a fact that cannot be contradicted that there is a growing disinclination upon our colored membership to attend our meetings. This we have beheld with feelings of mortification and solicitude. Charity would induce us to hope that this grows out of the fact that they have a comfortable house in which they meet with those of their own color, which no doubt is more desirable to them; be this as it may something ought to be done so the present state of things should not exist. And again it is known to all that the colored part of our church cannot enter a complaint or bear testimony against the white portion of the church... There seems then to be such a glaring inconsistency in holding members in church fellowship who are denied these privileges of church membership, that the objections brought against such an organization do not weigh equal to the arguments in favor of it. We have inquired of the committee of attendance and they inform us that they are sufficiently strict in discipline, that they would compare well with white churches on that subject. We also learn from said committee that they have their moderator and clerk and that their book in which they record the acts and doings of their meetings do credit to them, and would compare well with the books of many white churches.
"Therefore, with all of our doubts and misgivings on the subject, we cannot do more nor less on the present occasion than to recommend to the church that the entire colored membership of this church be separated from our body and formed into an organization of their own under the care of this church, and that there be a committee formed whose duty it shall be to obtain from our clerk a list of the names of the entire colored membership, to organize them into a church with their minister, deacons, and so forth, and to furnish them with a copy of our constitution and rules of decorum, and in the name of this church do all and everything that is necessary to said organization in behalf of this church, and to report to this church; all of which we would respectfully and prayerfully submit to your earnest and prayerful consideration. In the name of our dear Saviour Jesus Christ the great Heart of this Church. Signed by your committee the fourtl Saturday in January, 1855.
J. D. Black
J. R. Ferguson
"Said report adopted and committee discharged. Voted that Brethren J. D. Black, W. H. Stiffler, Moses Threlkeld, Isaac Adams, E. H. Black, J. R. Ferguson, Joseph Yates and W. B. Galloway be a committee to carry into effect the above report."
Feb. 24, 1855. "The committee appointed to make the following report; 'To organize the colored membership of this church into a separate church with their preacher, deacons, etc., beg leave to report a follows; Your committee met at the house occupied by the colored members on Sunday, February 18, 1855 called the names of all the colored members on our church book and finding a majority present, the vote was taken and unanimously agreed that they separate from the white portion of the church
"They unanimously adopted the covenant, creed and rules of decorum that are recorded upon our church book. They then proceeded to elect their officers; Jerry Takecare was elected moderator, Daingerfield clerk. After explaining to them the duties of deacons, their qualities, and reading the third chapter of Paul to Timothy, they elected Isaac Scruggs, Washington Blackburn, Richmond Wood and Humphrey Taylor deacons. They then elected Bias their preacher, and for ordination at such time as this church shall designate. All of which your committee most respectfully reports.
W. H. Stiffler
E. H. Black
Feb. 24, 1855. "Voted that the church ordain Bro. Bias on the fourth Saturday in April, 1855, and if a presbytery cannot be got the deacons of the church will act, with Elder J. D. Black. By order of the church."
March 24, 1855. "Voted that the committee to superintend the meeting of the colored portion of this church are authorized by this church not to permit them to have meetings but twice every month."
July 28, 1855. Portion of a letter to the Elkhorn Association; "Our colored brethren having been organized into a separate church will hereafter be known as the African Baptist Church at Stamping Ground, under the care of the Stamping Ground Church."
Thus was the Negro Baptist Church separated from the Stamping Ground Baptist Church in a friendly and cooperative manner, and it became one of the first Negro Baptist churches in Kentucky.
For some years the Negro church continued under the care of its Mother Church, as in Jan. 1857 it is noted "Brethren Sandford Branham, Eldridge Branham, E. H. Black, Dudley Gatewood, William Newman and Wesley Sebra were appointed a committee to attend the meetings held at the African church during the year. Said committee has the power of granting additional meetings in the African Church if advisable."
The continued good feeling and cooperation between the two churches is attested by the fact that in 1858, when the white meetinghouse had been condemned as unsafe for use, and while the present building was being erected, the white church "voted that the meeting in future be held in the African Church and shade around the Church."
July, 1856. "Committee reported that colored church since membership was last examined has dismissed 14, excluded 8, 8 died and unknown 12. Present membership 225.
July, 1859, from letter to the Association;
"The African church under our watch care is in a flourishing condition. They have the ministerial labors of Robert Martin and Bias Smith.They have received by exp. and baptism 90 by letter 1 dis., by letter - dead 5 excluded 4 whole number 335 They have contributed for foreign missions $3.78
June, 1860. Voted that Brethren Isaac Adams, Moses Threlkeld and Jno. R. Ferguson, Samuel Poindexter, Elijah Perry and E. H. Black be a committee to visit the African church for the purpose of learning the spiritual condition of that body and ascertain what is necessary, if anything, to afford her membership every facility for promoting the prosperity of the church, the conversion of sinners and a healthy discipline among her members, and report at our next meeting...."
July, 1860. Letter to Association reported membership of 333. African church as 334, with Robert Martin as pastor...
Oct. 1860. Committee reports that African church is not large enough to hold her membership... committee appointed to consult about rebuilding or enlarging African meeting house...
Dec. 1862. "Voted that Moses Threlkeld, Thomas Wilkerson and John R. Ferguson be a committee to visit the African church and settle any difficulties in the same and to have unlimited control over the proceedings of the church until further instructed by the church..."
May 1863. "Voted that the Affrican [sic] church be allowed to have prayer meetings as usual, and the committee to visit said church have the power to stop the same when they think proper..."
Jan. 1866. The committee to visit the African Church relieved from all attention to said church and if the trustees hold any papers belonging to said church to hand them to their trustees.
[From J. W. Stinger, A History of the Baptist Church at Stamping Ground, Kentucky, 1795-, pp. 41-48, 1970. CD edition from M/F. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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