Baptist History Homepage

Baptist Education in Kentucky's Jackson Purchase
By R. Charles Blair

The Jackson-Shelby Purchase, involving the far western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee and the north part of Mississippi, was conducted with the Chickasaw Nation by Andrew Jackson and Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby in 1818. A few white settlers were already (illegally) in the area., but the Kentucky portion was not settled rapidly even after the legal opening. More than a decade went by with few families coming along the rivers (Cumberland, Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi) which bounded the region on three sides. But many of these were Baptists, and churches were soon opened.

While these Baptists made no specific educational requirements for their ministers, many of them wanted men with some formal training, and most wanted their children, especially the girls, to have opportunity for "book-learning" of some sort. But due in large part to their years of conflict with the established religion of Virginia, and to their general approach to life, they wanted local schools, (and churches!) under local control, with as little "outside" interference as possible.

The first Baptist school developed in the Purchase, in what was then West Union Baptist Association (and Hickman County), was an academy for girls, formally called a "Female Seminary." Located in Clinton, this was the first high school of any sort west of the Tennessee River in Kentucky. While it was incorporated in 1850, a building existed as early as 1846, and there are hints in the records of activities in the 1830's. The building burned in 1854, and was not replaced, evidently due to the war clouds on the horizon. However, a brick house which was used to house the girls is still in existence.

The "War Between the States," as it was known in the Purchase, brought about much "destitution" (a common term in Baptist records of the post-war period). Churches were often closed or neglected; financial and social issues plagued even the best people. But by 1870 interest in education led Elder Willis White (often called "Father White" in the newspaper accounts of the period) to lead in building what was intended as another school for girls. White, a county Judge, was pastor of the Clinton Church, Moderator of West Union Association, and at times pastor of other churches, including one of the oldest at Columbus. A well-trained lady from Massachusetts, Miss Amanda Molvina Hicks, was called to be Assistant Principal of the new work, and stayed until 1894, serving as President after 1880.

Before the school opened, in 1874, preachers requested the addition of a ministerial department, and Clinton College became a co-educational four-year institution, with as many as 200 students at times under Miss Hicks' able leadership. During the same period, Methodists in the area operated Marvin College at Clinton, where Alben Barkley (later to become Vice-President of the United States) worked his way through, giving rise to the term "Barkley swept Here." Two buildings of that campus survive. Clinton College was closed in 1915, partly because of international politics (the on-coming war), partly because of doctrinal issues, and partly because of the growing acceptance of public education. The campus was sold to the county and was operated as a high school. Majestic columns from the front of the main building survive as a reminder of the school, and a house which served that school as a girls' dormitory is still occupied.

Also, a bankrupt "college" at Blandville, in what is now Carlisle County, was purchased by West Union Association in 1886 and re-opened as a Baptist school, which struggled to operate until 1910. Trustees for Clinton College and for Blandville were elected by area associations of Baptist churches. One memory of "Blandville College" was that "The students did not progress by grades and forms but by leaps and bounds." Graves County Baptists also attempted to open a "college" at Wingo in 1887, but there is no further record of that effort. These were more like boarding high schools, but served a definite purpose in encouraging literacy and progress as population grew in the Purchase.

Between the two world wars, formal ministerial training in the Purchase was left to H. Boyce Taylor's West Kentucky Bible School at Murray and to the Hall-Moody Institute of Martin, Tennessee. A few men attended Union University at Jackson, Tennessee, or even the Louisville Seminary. Taylor's school, operated after his death by Roy Beaman, was moved to Paducah in 1935. In a personal interview, Dr. Beaman said: "I only had 2 students in 1937, so I just let the flood kill it" (The Ohio River flooding of that year made many changes in all the river area.)

Shortly after World War II, many in western Kentucky began discussing a "preachers' school" like the Taylor work. As men returned from the war, with their G. I. Bill benefits, and felt led of God to the ministry, many recognized the need for more formal training. Men like O. C. Markham, Curry O. Simpson, E. D. Davis, and others with such training agreed to teach. Brother Calvin M. Hudson made a motion to develop such a school in the Annual Meeting of West Kentucky Association on October 6, 1948, becoming one of the first students, and Dr. L. W. Carlin of Paducah's Bellview Church taught the first class. On the snowy night of January 10, 1949, a group of less than a dozen met in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Clinton. From that humble beginning, to a house on Waterfield Drive in Clinton in the fall of 1949, to the North 15th Street Mayfiled location in 1957, to the present campus between Mayfield and Paducah in 1976, "West Kentucky Baptist Bible Institute" has become Mid-Continent University, home of Baptist College of the Bible and Baptist College of Arts and Sciences.

It seems fair to say that two strands of Baptist life have always been interwoven in Kentucky's Jackson Purchase, one of some suspicion of outside influence and even of education itself, the other an appreciation for the need of training to be able to understand God's written revelation.

[From Kentucky Baptist Heritage, May 2, 2006. Used with the permission of the author; document provided by Ben Stratton. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Kentucky Baptist History
Baptist History Homepage