By J. H. Spencer
Joseph Redding was the second pastor of Great Crossing church. He came to Kentucky in the prime of life. An orator of no mean ability, possessing great force of character, and inspired with a zeal that never flagged, "he at once," it has been said, "became the most popular preacher in Kentucky."
Joseph Redding was born in Germantown, Fauqier county, Virginia about the year 1750. His father was of Welsh extraction, and his mother a native of Germany. His parents both died when he was young, and left seven children to be raised by their uncle, William Redding. This uncle being poor, could afford them but little opportunity to obtain an education. When Joseph arrived at manhood, he could barely read a little "by spelling the words as he went." He could also write some. He was raised an Episcopalian, and was intensely bigoted. At the age of about eighteen years, he married Anna Weakly, "a prudent, sensible and very industrious woman." Although so young, he weighed about two hundred pounds, and was ready and willing to defend his religion with his fist. Not far from the time of Mr. Redding's marriage, the Baptists, then derisively called Newlights, began to preach in Fauquier. Mr. Redding held them in great contempt, and would by no means go to one of their meetings. "But God had marked the young man for his own," and found means to reach his heart, in an unexpected way. Mr. Redding lived on a public road. On a stormy night, about the time of which we speak, a young wagoner, named Joseph Baker, obtained leave to stay over night at Mr. Redding's. As the young man started out after supper to look after his team, he was heard to groan. Isaac Redding. an older brother of Joseph, remarked that the young wagoner was a Baptist, and that he intended to confute him when he came in. As Isaac was regarded the better scholar of the two, it was arranged that he should conduct the argument, and, as Joseph was much the larger man, he was to do the fighting, if this became necessary. Wholly unconscious of the arrangement, Baker came in, and Isaac began the assault. Baker meekly responded, and the argument continued to a late hour. Isaac was so much worsted in the argument, that Joseph became irritated, and, to avoid insulting his guest, went to bed. Isaac and Baker continued the argument till the former was silenced, and began to weep and tremble; for the [S]pirit of the Lord found way to his heart. The disputants went to bed, but Isaac could not sleep, for the pungency of his conversion. Joseph's anger was so hot that he could not sleep, and he resolved to whip his brother Isaac, in the morning, for not defending his religion better. When the brothers got up in the morning, the
wagoner was gone on his way, and Joseph only assaulted his brother with bitter words, to which the latter gave no response, but continued to weep and tremble. That day the brothers went to a log-rolling. Joseph resolved to have some fun at his brother's expense. He soon told the workmen that a Newlignt wagoner had converted Isaac last night; The men became hilarious, and presently three or four of them, of which Joseph was one, seized Isaac, carried him to a charred log, and blacked his face. Isaac made no resistance, but the tears rolled down his blackened cheeks, and he trembled in all his joints, like Belshazar. The men were struck with awe, and one of them cried out. in alarm. Joseph was pierced to the heart and became alarmed about his soul.
Isaac Redding was soon converted, and at once began to preach. He was eminently a good man. His zeal for the salvation of men never seemed to abate. So watchful was he for the interest of his church, that he seemed to be able to anticipate any revival of religion, with almost unerring certainty. "He came the nearest to possessing the spirit of prophecy," says John Taylor, "of any man I ever was acquainted with." He was well versed in the [S]criptures, and was wise in council; but his capacity for communicating was poor, and he probably never was ordained. He came very early to Kentucky, and aided in building up the first churches. He died a member of Old Clear Creek church in Woodford county, about the year 1805.
Joseph Redding, after the frolic of blacking his brother's face, became so alarmed about his soul, that he sent for William Marshall to come and preach at his house. He was soon afterward converted, and was baptized by Mr. Marshall. This was in the year 1771. He was then twenty-one years old, and had a wife and two children. He at once began to preach with flaming zeal. He and his brother Isaac labored together among their neighbors. The effect was wonderful. The surrounding country was soon ablaze with religious enthusiasm. "How marvelous are the works of God's grace," says John Taylor. "A sigh or a groan from a poor illiterate wagoner produces this dispute with the Reddings, which resulted in their conversion, and, within six months time under their ministry, the
neighborhood is alive with zealous saints."2 It was of this time that the self-righteous John Taylor said "under the preaching of the Reddings, the poor rags of my own righteousnes took fire and soon burned me to death." Mr. Taylor was soon converted, and became a co-laborer with the Reddings [sic]. Of Joseph Redding, Mr. Taylor says: "His gifts at that time were small, but his soul was in the work. He had the spirit of preaching, and would be warning or persuading sinners, in his sleep. Perhaps no man exceeded him in zeal, both in making and filling appointments. He considered an appointment to preach too sacred a thing to neglect. I will give an instance or two. With myself, he had a meeting appointed, about fifteen miles from his house, I went to his house the over night for an early start. He lived in the woods, and had neither stable nor pasture. Of course we belled our horses and turned them in the woods. The night proved rainy and the next morning very wet. We searched for our horses till eight or nine o'clock, and failed to find them. We did not hesitate a moment to go on foot, a rough mountainous road, then raining. And a most heavy day of rain it proved. We had to travel in a half run to reach the place, and met not more than twenty people. At another time we had appointments for a week or ten days. I got to his house the over night. The first meeting was twenty miles distant. The weather was hot. We did not hesitate to go on foot. We set off at sunrise, and got to meeting in time. And a blessed meeting we had; for the Lord seemed to much bless the people. The next day we traveled on foot, over mountainous ground, thirty-eight miles, before and after meeting, and both of us preached to the people. After this our stages were shorter. The whole tour was about a hundred and fifty miles, about the head waters of the Potomac river. I give these instances of zeal as a sample of Mr. Redding's whole life in the ministry, which, from beginning to end, was upwards of forty years 3
In 1772, only about nine months after he began to preach, Mr. Redding moved to South Carolina, a distance of five or six hundred miles. While there he became associated with a Tunker
preacher of the name of David Martin, a man of considerable talent. Under Martin's influence, he became tinctured with Arminianism. Not being satisfied with the religious society of South Carolina, he returned to Virginia the following Spring. With his Arminian views, he soon encountered his pastor, William Marshall, who was an extreme predestinarian. The dispute became unpleasant, and Mr. Redding moved to Hampshire county, which was then the frontier settlement of Virginia. He was the only preacher in this county. But he strove to spread the gospel all over his vast field. While the [R]evolutionary [W]ar was raging, and destroying some of the churches in the older settlements, he built up a number of flourishing new ones on the frontier.
Up to the time of his removal to Hampshire county, he had associated his ministry with that of any preacher he happened to fall in with, and had thought but little about the differences of doctrines. But now, perhaps for the first time, he fell in with the Methodists. Some of them were skillful in dispute. Mr. Redding, who had naturally a strong, discriminating mind, discovered in their teachings and practices, what appeared to him great inconsistency. He then thought of his own inconsistency in laboring with them, in building up these errors. He now became a close student of the Bible, studying systematic theology from its sacred pages. His progress was rapid, notwithstanding his many disadvantages. He soon became a systematic preacher, and ultimately an able theologian.
In the Fall of 1779, with a company of emigrants, principally members of the churches he had built up, he started to move to Kentucky. The company took a boat at Redstone. They had not proceeded far before they wrecked their boat. One of the company cried out; "Mr. Redding, what shall we do?" He replied, "Throw me overboard," by which he meant to intimate that he had erred in leaving his field of labor, to go to a new country. The company had to remain till Spring, when they induced Mr. Redding to continue the journey with them. They arrived at Bear Grass, in March or April, 1780, after remaining out during the hardest winter that had ever been known in the climate. The Indians were unusually troublesome at this time. The people at Bear Grass were all shut up in the forts. Mrs. Redding was probably the first preacher's wife that
pressed the soil of Kentucky with her feet. But she did not long grace the new country. She buried one of her children at Bear Grass, and set out with the rest of her family to return through the great mountain wilderness, to the home they had left the Fall before. In June the broken family entered the same house they had vacated the preceding Autumn. Mr. Redding could find no opportunity to preach in Kentucky, at this time, on account ot the fierceness of the Indian war. For this reason he hurried back to his former field of labor. Hampshire county was probably a hundred miles square, and Mr. Redding the only Baptist preacher in it. There were many Methodists, against whose doctrines he was now a mighty warrior." He was pastor of four or five churches, and missionary for the whole region of destitution around him. He continued to occupy this field, with his usual zeal and diligence, about four years, when again, in the Spring of 1784, he moved to South Carolina. Having become well established in the doctrines of grace, thanks to the Arminian Methodists, he was cordially received by the South Carolina Baptists, and at once entered upon a course of great usefulness. He was one of the several preachers who supplied the pulpit of the Charleston church, till Mr. Furman became its pastor. Here his usefulness continued, till 1789, when once more he set out for the West. He arrived in Kentucky in October of that year; just in time to attend the sitting of Elkhorn Association. "He was appointed to preach on Sunday, with others," says an eye-witness, "and as a new broom sweeps clean, Redding swept all before him. Gano himself was not his equal." Whether Redding became a little puffed up by the extravagant laudations of the people, or whether the manifest preference for his preaching excited some jealousy in the other preachers, it is evident that there was not the most cordial harmony existing between him and his co-laborers in the ministry, for a considerable length of time. Disregarding this, he entered the ample field of labor with the same indefatigable zeal and energy that had characterized his whole ministry, and met with the same success that had followed his labors elsewhere. He was immensely popular with the churches. The unfortunate difficulty between him and Elijah Craig has already been referred to. After this was adjusted, Redding became pastor of Great Crossing
church, in 1793. Here he preached with abundant success, until April, 1810, when he resigned and was succeeded by James Suggett, whom he had baptized, and who, had married his daughter.
On resigning the care of Great Crossing church he took charge of Dry Run, in the same county. Here he continued to labor the remainder of his earthly life. He took an active part in the formation of Licking Association, of which Dry Run church became a constituent member. He continued to labor incessantly, till a third stroke of paralysis terminated his earthly course. He passed away from earth in 1815, aged about 65 years.
"Joseph Redding," says John Taylor, "was a prodigy among men." He was self-raised, self-educated, and self-reliant. Although not unsocial, he seemed not to need the sympathy or advice of his race. He planned and executed for himself, as if he alone was responsible for every care with which he was connected. He formed and advanced his own opinions as if they were incontrovertible. From the hour of his conversion he consecrated his life to one object, and, without regard to the surrounding circumstances, steadily pursued it to the end. His work done, he went to give an account to Him in whose service he had spent his life with, a single heart. ________
1 History of Great Crossing Church.
2 In substance.
3 John Taylor's Life of Joseph Redding, abridged.
[From John H. Spencer, A History of the Kentucky Baptists, 1885; reprint, 1984, pp. 89-95.
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