There has been much misunderstanding and difference of opinion as to who did the first preaching in Kentucky. It was maintained for quite a while by the Baptists and some others, that Thomas Tinsley and William Hickman, Baptist ministers, did the first preaching in Kentucky at Harrodsburg in 1776, but this is an error, for Collins in his "History of Kentucky" says (page 501, Vol. 2) "Sunday 28, May, divine service for the first time in Kentucky was performed by the Rev. John Lythe." And again (Vol. I, page 441) Collins says: "The Rev. John Lythe of the Episcopal Church, or the Church of England, came early to Kentucky. When Col. Henderson established his proprietary government in 1775, Mr. Lythe was a delegate from the Harrodsburg station, or settlement, to the legislative assembly. The delegates met on the 23d of May, 1775, and the assembly having organized, divine service was performed by the Rev. Mr. Lythe, one of the delegates from Harrodsburg." Again in this same volume (page 515) "The first clergyman ever in Kentucky was the Rev. John Lythe of the Church of England who came to Harrodsburg April, 1775. This same preacher held the first preaching, or divine service, at Boonesborough on Sunday, May 28, 1775, under the shade of a magnificent elm tree." This was the Sunday following Henderson's convention. Yet on page 416 of this volume (I) in speaking of William Hickman, Sr., Collins says, "He was the first to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ in the valley of the Kentucky." Collins thus contradicts himself. Z. F. Smith in his History of Kentucky (Youth's edition, p. 89) says "Rev. John Lythe, of the Church of England, conducted the first
religious services known to have been held at Boonesborough May 28,1775. He adds, however, "There may have been other religious services, and in other places, even earlier than this of which history does not give account." Now this last clause, I am sure, contains the truth. According to history Squire Boone, a Baptist preacher, was in Kentucky five years before the Rev. John Lythe came. Cathcart in his "Baptist Encyclopedia" says (Vol. I, p. 113) in speaking of Squire Boone, "It is not known at what period he united with the church or when he began to preach, but it was previous to his removal to the West," the date of which he gives as "1770."
According to Collins' History of Kentucky (Vol. II, p. 56) on "the 22d December, 1769 "Daniel Boone and Stuart were captured by the Indians and held by their captors "seven days, after which they escaped and returned to their camp which they found dismantled and deserted." This would put the date of "their return to their camp" probably December 30th or 31st. Collins then adds, "A few days after this, they were joined by Squire Boone, a brother of the great pioneer." This would make the date of the meeting of the brothers some time in January, 1770, which is in perfect accord with other statements concerning Squire Boone's arrival in Kentucky.
Dr. Spencer is in error when he, in his "Preface" to his "History of Kentucky Baptists" (page 9) speaks of giving "the history of the Baptists in Kentucky, from the time that Elder Squire Boone first set his foot on the soil of the unexplored wilderness, in the spring of 1769, down to the year 1885," for Collins' "History of Kentucky" (Vol. II, p. 711) says "Late in the fall of 1769, Squire Boone and another adventurer (name unknown) left the Yadkin in search of his brother Daniel," who "had gone to the wilds of Kentucky on the 1st of May preceding." Squire Boone was probably on Kentucky soil in the winter of 1769, but history does not record the fact.
In Daniel Boone's autobiography, dictated to John Filson in 1784, as quoted by Collins (Vol. II, p. 711), Daniel Boone says "On May 1, 1770, Squire returned home to the settlement by himself -- for a new recruit of horses and ammunition, leaving Daniel by himself, without bread, salt or sugar, without company of his fellow creatures, or even a horse or dog. On July 27, 1770, Squire met him, according to appointment, at the old camp," with the supplies. So there is no question about Squire Boone being in Kentucky in 1770. John Lythe arrived in Kentucky "April, 1775." On page 87 Smith's History in giving an account of the marriage of Sam Henderson and Elizabeth Calloway (one of the girls captured by the Indians and later rescued) says "Squire Boone, then an ordained minister of the Baptist Church, performed the first ceremony in Kentucky." The marriage was one month after the rescue. Collins gives the date of this marriage as 1776 (Vol. I, p. 511) and says it was "performed by Squire Boone a preacher of the Calvinistic Baptist Church." This shows that Squire Boone was an active minister of the gospel.
Now, if Squire Boone was a Baptist "Preacher before his removal to the West, " as Cathcart says, and if he was active as a minister in Kentucky, marrying people, as history shows, and if there were" 309 Baptists in Kentucky in 1774" as Asplund's Register records (quoted by Dr. W. P. Harvey in "Life and Times of William Hickman," p. 3) one year before Henderson's Convention, it stands to reason that there had been some Baptist preaching done in Kentucky before Henderson's Convention of May, 1775. The preaching of Mr. Lithe in May, 1775, is the first of which we have any record, and we would have had no record of this had it not taken place in connection with this convention, of which a record was kept. Dr. W. C. James in his "Western Baptist Theological Institute" of Covington, Kentucky, says "Squire Boone, a Baptist preacher, was the first man to preach the gospel in Kentucky and perhaps in the whole
West." 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 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.
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 perhaps be modified to one uniform." He then adds "The Anabaptists were the first that promoted public worship in Kentucky." It is worth noticing that the Baptists as late as 1784 were called "Anabaptists" by this historian. This shows that the people now called Baptists were once called Anabaptists.
To "promote public worship" evidently meant "held preaching services," as this is the way Baptists promoted public worship. One can hardly reach any other conclusion. Daniel Boone, Levi Todd and James Harrod, according to a signed statement, read and revised Filson's history, and they declare it to be ''as accurate as can possibly be made." (page 271 -- Date, May, 1784). Here is a statement by the earliest historian in Kentucky, that the Baptists first promoted public worship in Kentucky, and this statement has the endorsement of three of the earliest settlers, who were, as they say, "well acquainted with the country from its first settlement." 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 to inaugurate the regular public worship of God ahd the organization of churches." This should settle the question beyond any doubt that the Baptists were the first to conduct public worship in Kentucky, or did the first preaching in the state, and established the first churches.
The first record we have of Baptists preaching in Kentucky is the preaching of the Revs. Thomas Tinsley and William Hickman, which was in April, 1776, at Harrodsburg. In "The Life and Travels of William Hickman" he writes "We got to Harrodsburg the first day of April, 1776. Myself, Brother Thomas Tinsley, my old friend, Mr. Morton, took our lodging at Mr. John Gordon's, four miles from town.
"Mr. Tinsley was a good old preacher, Mr. Morton a good pious Presbyterian and love and friendship abounded among us. We went nearly every Sunday to town to hear Mr. Tinsley preach. I generally concluded his meetings. One Sunday morning sitting at the head of a spring at this place, he laid his Bible on my thigh and said, 'You must preach today.' He said if I did not he would not. It set me in a tremor. I knew he would not draw back. I took the book and turned to the 23d chapter of Numbers and tenth verse: 'Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his.'" The above is from "The life and Tiimes of William Hickman" as quoted in Publication No.1 of the Kentucky Baptist Historical Society (page 6) by W. J. McGlothlin, D.D.
Elder John Taylor in his "History of Ten Churches" (page 48) says of William Hickman: "In '76 he paid a visit to Kentucky and here the same year he first began to preach." From this date we have no trouble finding records of Baptist preaching in the State, though as yet there is no Baptist organization on Kentucky soil.
Benedict in his History of the Baptists, (page 811) says of Kentucky: "Many of the early settlers of this state were Baptists. Some came as early as 1775, and several Baptist ministers, among whom were the late John Taylor, and Lewis Lunsford, (known in Virginia as THE WONDERFUL BOY), made a visit to this land of promise. They returned to Virginia for a period, without constituting any churches. The few brethren they found in the country
were in an unpleasant state, cold and neglectful in religion, constantly exposed to Indian depredations, and destitute of provisions in a great measure, except what the wild game furnished. The soil was luxuriant, and the country enriched with all the beauties of uncultivated nature. The people lived in 'stations' or forts. These ministers preached a few times, and gave the people such advice as suited their circumstances.
"About 1781, several Baptist preachers and many brethren migrated to this new country. At that period, removal from Virginia to Kentucky was a slow and hazardous business. Two modes were adopted, one by land, the other by water. The first was performed on horseback, with a few bare necessaries of life on pack horses, over a vast tract of mountainous wilderness. Exposure to attacks from the Indians compelled them to perform their journeyings in caravans, with sentries stationed round their camps at night. The other mode was to embark on the Ohio river in a flat boat, and float down with the current to Limestone, or to Beagrass Creek, (now Maysville and Louisville) the two principal landings. . . .
"The Baptist emigration into this State was, in a great degree, from Virginia. A few families came from the Red Stone Country in Western Pennsylvania, and a few more from New Jersey. This denomination was not only the earliest in preaching the gospel and forming churches, but for numbers and influence held the ascendency for many years. It is still the most numerous, influential and wealthy denomination in the state."
At the close of the American war a flood of Baptists poured into Kentucky, mostly from Virginia by whom a number of churches were constituted. It seems to be a well established fact that the first preaching in Kentucky was by the Baptists.
Mr. Roosevelt says: "By the time Kentucky was settled the Baptists had begun to make headway on the frontier, at the expense of the Presbyterians. The
rough democracy of the border welcomed a sect which was itself essentially democratic." ("The Winning of the West," Vol. II, p. 113).
We think the facts clearly warrant the statement that the Baptists did the first preaching in Kentucky. =======
[William D. Nowlin, Kentucky Baptist History, 1922, pp. 22-28. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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