The Severn's Valley Baptist Church, now located in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was evidently the first church planted in the great valley between the Alleghany and Rocky Mountains. The letter of the Severn's Valley Church to the Salem Association at its organization at the Cox's Creek Church, October 29, 1785, says: "Severn's Valley, constituted, June 18, 1781, no Pastor". During the year 1779 or 1780 Captain Thomas Helm, Colonel Andrew Hynes and Hon. Samuel Haycraft came from Virginia to Kentucky with their families and other emigrants and settled near where Elizabethtown now stands. They built three rude stockades in the dense unexplored forests of the .Severn's Valley. Here on June 18, 1781, under the shade of a large sugar tree the first church in the territory of Kentucky was constituted and took its name from the valley where it was located.
Some of the original members of the church were Jacob Vanmeter and wife, Jacob Vanmeter, their son, Bennam Shaw, Jacob Dye and wife, and three colored persons, servants of Jacob Vanmeter. Thomas Helm and Elder John Gerrard should probably be numbered with the original eighteen members. The records show that Judge Samuel Haycraft was a member in 1787. John LaRue, and his brother-in-law, Robert Hodgen, were both early members after whom LaRue County and the town of Hodgenville were respectively named. At the organization of the church, John Gerrard was set apart as pastor. He came from Virginia with the colony of Samuel Haycraft, whose daughter he had married. After a short pastorate of eleven months, he was captured by the Indians and was never heard of afterwards.
Honorable Samuel Haycraft, the son of the pioneer Samuel Haycraft, gives a history of the work and worship of the Severn's Valley Church during its early history, which appears in the Minutes of the Salem Association in 1871, as follows:"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 eighteenth day of June, 1781, they were collected together, under a green sugar tree, and in church covenant they gave themselves to the Lord, and to one another, and were constituted a Baptist Church.The pastors who served the church to 1871 are given. "The church has enjoyed the preaching of Elders John Gerrard, William Taylor, Joseph Barnett, Joshua Carman, Joshiah Dodge, Alexander McDougal, David Thurman, Colmore Lovelace, Russell Hollman, Robert L. Thurman, George H. Hicks, Jacob Rogers, Thos. J. Fisher, William Vaughan, John H. Yea-man, William L. Morris, J. Lansing Burrows, Preston B. Samuels, J. Tol Miller, William C. Jones, James C. Rush, and John LaRue Gutton, our present pastor (1871), together with the occasional preaching of visiting preachers, including some of the most distinguished in the State, also from distant states."
"Then, they did not occupy a house of worship, as at present; then, there were no waving harvests, or burdened fields of corn, or hospitable mansions to receive, shelter, and cheer the man of God, after delivering his message of peace, but in some humble log cabin, or rude, half-faced camp, or, perchance, under the shade of some spreading tree, the humble disciples met like brothers, surrounded by dangers, in a forest of unknown boundary, not knowing at what moment the savages would break in upon them. They had fears without, and fightings within. Could we, of the present day, look upon a group giving a correct representation of one of those religious assemblies, it might strike us as somewhat grotesque, if not ludicrous. Imagine the male members, partly in Indian costume, leather leggins, breech cloths, and moccasins, with hats made of buffalo wool rolled around white oak splints, and sewed together, and the females in the simple costume of bed gown and petticoat, all of buffalo wool, underwear of dressed deer skin, for as yet no flax, cotton, or sheep's wool was to be found in their wilderness home. The males sat with rifles in hand, and tomahawks at their sides, with sentry at the door; yet they feared God, and considered themselves highly favored, for they had the word of life dispensed, and sanctuary privileges.
". . . . The church, thus formed, was happy; they met as often as they could, and how sweet and refreshing the solemn words which fell from the lips of the man of God.
"But, alas! how inscrutable the ways of Providence. This infant church was soon called to bear a dreadful blow. In eleven short months the savage tribes who claimed the bloody ground, searched out the abode of civilized man, and in May, 1782, made an inroad, and the minister, Elder Gerrard, was taken captive, and he was never again heard of. Whether he was slain in the retreat, burned at the stake, or lingered in captivity, none now can tell. And, like Moses, the place of his sepulchre no one knows to this day. His ministry on earth was short, but the memory thereof was embalmed in the hearts of his surviving brethren".1
Out of the membership of the church have come the following preachers: "Josiah Dodge, James Haycraft, Isaac Hodgen, Colmore Lovelace, Jacob Rogers, Squire L. Helm, William L. Morris, Alexander W. LaRue, and J. H. Yeaman; the four last named, together with Isaac Hodgen, were descendants of the old fathers of the church."
A great revival broke out in the church in 1802 led by the venerable Joshua Morris, and 146 members were added to the church. Among those baptized were Isaac Hodgen, James Haycraft, John Holden and Josiah Dodge, "all of whom became preachers." In July, 1835 a protracted meeting commenced, led by "that eloquent divine and successful evangelist, Elder Thomas J. Fisher." The meeting lasted six weeks, resulting in seventy-one baptized, and ninety-two additions, which made the total enrollment 248 members."2
The church was represented at the constitution of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, October 20, 1837, by the pastor, J. Lansing Burrows, who had the honor of rehearsing his recollections of that first session, in a great Semi-Centennial Address fifty years later. This old historic church still retains its ancient name, Severn's Valley, though now the great church at Elizabethtown with fourteen hundred members. Over 167 years have intervened since John Gerrard first tended the little flock in the wilderness and that of Dr. L. E. Martin, the present pastor (1948).
1 Pages 14-15.
2 Haycraft, Samuel, "History of Severn's Valley Church," Minutes of the Salem Association of United Baptists, 1871, p. 13; "History of Salem Association," The Christian Repository, April, 1857, p. 225.
[Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, 1953, pp. 24-26. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]