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A History of Baptists in Trigg County, Kentucky
By Ben Stratton

I. The Roots of Trigg County Baptists.

      A. In July 1791, Elders John Taylor and Ambrose Dudley traveled through 200 miles of wilderness to organize the Red River Baptist Church in Adams, Tennessee.
            1. Both men were pastors in the Elkhorn Baptist Association, the oldest in Kentucky (1785).
            2. Red River is still an active Missionary Baptist Church today.
            3. The church is famous for George Washington’s relatives and the Bell Witch legend.

      B. In 1798 the Red River Baptist Church established the Eddy Grove Baptist Church outside of Princeton.
            1. This was the first Baptist church in Kentucky established west of Logan and Muhlenberg Counties.
            2. Elder Daniel Brown was one of the founders and had been a pastor at Red River.
            3. The Eddy Grove Baptist Church disbanded completely in 1850.

      C. In 1806 the Eddy Grove Baptist Church established the Muddy Fork Baptist Church in Cerulean.
            1. Muddy Fork would in turn start many other congregations, including the Clark’s River Baptist Church in 1820. This congregation was later renamed Soldier Creek and was the first Baptist church started in Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase. It is still in existence today.
            2. Elder Fielding Wolf was pastor at Muddy Fork and helped found Soldier Creek.
            3. Muddy Fork Baptist Church disbanded in 1953.

      D. Other Baptist churches were soon planted in the area including:
            1. Dry Creek Baptist Church in 1805 in Trigg County.
            2. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in 1807 in Trigg County.
            3. Dry Fork Baptist Church in 1808 in Caldwell County.
            4. Sinking Fork of Little River Baptist Church in 1808 in Trigg County.
            5. Little River Baptist Church in 1811 in Christian County.
            6. New Bethel Baptist Church in 1812 in Caldwell County.
            7. Donaldson Creek Baptist Church in 1814 in Trigg County.

II. Trigg County Baptists Organize

      A. In 1807 twelve Baptist churches in western Kentucky (including those in Trigg County) and those in west Tennessee north of the Red River organized the Red River Baptist Association.
            1. By 1813 this association had grown to include 40 Baptist churches.

      B. Therefore, in August 1813 the Red River Baptist Association divided and the Little River Baptist Association (LRBA) was formed with 19 original churches.
            1. The dividing line was from six miles west of Clarksville, Tennessee, then running north to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, on to the Ohio River near Henderson, Kentucky.
            2. In LRBA paid $172 to erect a large monument commemorating the founding of the association. It is located on the right side of Highway 293, a few miles south of Princeton.
            a. In 1820 twelve churches north of the Tradewater River were dismissed to form the Highlands Baptist Association. This association split in 1835 with Little Bethel Association forming.
            b. In 1823 several churches in Tennessee left to form the current Western Distinct Association.

      C. The LRBA continues to exist in 2023 with 23 member churches.
            1. In 1880 Kentucky Baptist historian J.H. Spencer said this association was the “largest fraternity of white Baptists in Kentucky” with 57 member churches and 4,944 church members.
            2. In 1883 fifteen churches withdrew from Little River to form Ohio River Baptist Association
            3. In 1924 eighteen churches withdrew to form Caldwell County Baptist Association.
            4. Churches have also left to join Blood River, Christian Co. and Stewart Co. Baptist Associations.

III. Key Events in the Life of Trigg County Baptists

      A. The Primitive Baptist Division
            1. In 1833-1834, the LRBA divided. Eight churches left to form the “Original LRBA.” This group changed its name to “Equality Baptist Association” 1837 and eventually dissolved.
            a. Many of the oldest churches in LRBA left (Eddy Grove, Muddy Fork, Dry Creek, etc.)
            b. Some of the issues were the extent of the atonement, “two-seed in the spirit” views, the use of mission boards and benevolence societies, and whether to pay the preacher.
            • Prior to 1833, LRBA churches had supported missions, even hearing Isaac McCoy in 1818.
            c. A lack of evangelism caused these Primitive Baptist churches to slowly die out.
            2. The last Primitive Baptist church in Trigg County was Dry Creek. It closed in 2007.

      B. Landmarkism
            1. The Baptist churches of Trigg County have historically been very conservative in their understanding of ecclesiology and Baptist distinctives. This is sometimes called Landmarkism.
            a. However these beliefs existed in Trigg County long before J.R. Graves and the 1850s.
            b. Example: In 1836, the LRBA received the following query from (Gracey) West Union Baptist church, with the answer, was recorded: ‘‘Shall we receive a member in full membership, who has been immersed by a Pedobaptist? Ans: We think not.”
            c. The regular teaching of such strong Baptist doctrine convinced many from other denominations to join the Baptists: (Examples include such LRBA Pastors as William Bigham, A.C. Dorris, D.S. Hanberry, Collin Hodge, Adam Knoth, John F. White, etc.)
            2. These strict Baptist beliefs and practices were later reinforced in Trigg County by:
            a. A.W. Meacham (26x elected moderator of LRBA) was a close friend of J.R. Graves.
            b. Many of the preachers in LRBA were trained at Bethel College (Russellville), or under H. Boyce Taylor at the West Kentucky Bible School (Murray) and later at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College (Clinton, then Mayfield). All these schools originally held to Landmarkism.
      C. African American Baptists Organize
            1. In 1870 Elder R.W. Morehead, pastor of Cadiz Baptist Church, and Elder John F. White, helped to organize the Second Baptist Church of Cadiz, an autonomous African American congregation.
            a. Prior to this around 1,000 African Americans were members of LRBA churches.
            b. Other new congregations were started such as Pleasant Hill (1872) and Rocky Ridge (1874).
            2. On July 19, 1876 fifteen of these newly formed African American Baptist churches formed the Little River and Cumberland Valley District Baptist Association. It still exists today.
            a. It included churches in Caldwell, Calloway, Christian, Henry, Stewart, and Trigg Counties.
            b. In 1884 W.H. McRidley, pastor at Second Baptist Church, started the Cadiz Normal and Theological Institute. The school trained several dozen Baptist preachers in the area.
            3. The Great Migration of the early twentieth century led many African Americans to move north to large cities. As a result, several rural black Baptist churches closed, while others relocated.
      D. The Independent Baptist Movement
            1. After World War 2, Southern Baptist Seminaries openly embraced theological liberalism.
            a. This led many conservative Southern Baptists to leave the SBC and become “independent.”
            b. Other conservative Southern Baptists determined to stay in and fight this new liberalism.
            2. Some churches left the SBC peacefully (Julian, Mount Pleasant), while others split with a new independent Baptist church being formed (Calvary coming out of Liberty Point.)
      E. Land Between the Lakes
            1. The formation of Lake Barkley (1966) forced many Baptist churches in the Land Between the Rivers area to close or relocate.
            2. Bethlehem, Cumberland, Golden Pond, Pleasant Hill, and Turkey Creek Baptist Churches were all members of LRBA, but all closed in the 1960s. Ferguson Springs relocated to Marshall County.

IV. Some Questions Answered:
      A. What is the difference between Primitive, United, Missionary, Free Will and General Baptists?
            1. Primitive - Those Baptists who left LRBA in 1834 claimed to hold to “Primitive” doctrines.
            2. Missionary – Those Baptists who stayed in LRBA in 1834 believed in supporting missionaries.
            • A “Missionary Baptist Church” may be an African-American, independent Baptist, or Southern Baptist congregation. But the origins of the term “Missionary” is still the same.
            3. United – In 1801 the Regular (order) and Separate (ardor) Baptists united in Kentucky and chose the new name “United Baptists.” This name was finally dropped at the end of the 19th century.
            4. Free Will – These Baptists believe in “Arminianism” and the complete freedom of the will.
            5. General – These Baptists also believe in “Arminianism” and a general atonement.
      B. Why did Baptist churches have “elders” in the 19th century?
            1. This Biblical term was used as a synonym for pastor and was often used by Baptists.
            2. It fell out of favor at the turn of the 20th century as Baptists felt Presbyterians and Church of Christ congregations were misusing it with their “ruling elders” in addition to pastors.
      C. What does it mean when churches were “quarter time?”
            1. In the 19th century most churches in Trigg County were “quarter time,” meeting once a month.
            a. An additional service and business meeting was held the Saturday before this Sunday.
            b. Preachers often served 4 churches. On fifth Sundays, multiple Baptist churches in a given area would join together for a fellowship meeting with preaching all day on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. These Fifth Sunday Services strengthened the doctrinal beliefs of Kentucky Baptists.
            2. After WWII, with generally better finances, churches began moving to full time services.
            a. In 1940 LRBA had 1 full time church (Cadiz), 4 half-time and the rest were quarter-time.
            b. By 1950 four were full time and in 1960 all but seven were full time.
      D. Why are there so many Baptist churches in Trigg County?
            1. This was due to a burden for evangelism, a love of the local church, and poor transportation.
            2. With improved roads and automobiles becoming widespread, the planting of new Baptist congregations slowed in the 1950s.

For more information see “A Brief History of LRBA” by R.W. Morehead (1896), “A Brief History of LRBA” by E.R. Noel (1933), “A History of Kentucky Baptists” by J.H. Spencer (1885) and “A History of Baptists in Kentucky” by Frank M. Masters (1953).


[Presented at the Trigg County Historical Society, 9/4/2023. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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