From the Rev. James E. Welch Hickory Grove, Warren County, Mo. July 1, 1854.
My dear Sir: In compliance with your request, I send you the following sketch of the life and, character of the Rev. John Taylor, an eminent Baptist clergyman, with whom I had the privilege of an acquaintance during the latter years of his life.
JOHN TAYLOR was born in Fauquier county, Va., in the year 1752. He was a great grandson of John Taylor, who, with two brothers, - Argyle and William, emigrated from England to Virginia, in 1550. He was a son of Lazarus and Anna (Bradford) Taylor - his maternal grandfather was a native of Scotland, his maternal grandmother, of France. While he was growing up, he was compelled to labour hard for the support of his father's family, which had been rendered dependant upon him by his father's improvident or dissolute habits. His early education was, of course, much neglected. Before the Revolutionary War, his father removed, with
his young and growing family, to the west of the Blue Ridge, and settled near the Shenandoah River, in Frederick county, Va. When John was about seventeen years of age, the Rev. William Marshall,* an uncle of the late Chief Justice Marshall, came through that fertile country on a preaching tour; and while Marshall, standing on a stump, was discoursing of the awful scenes of the judgment, he uttered this fearful exclamation - "Oh rocks, fall on me; oh mountains, cover me from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" "I felt," said Taylor, "the whole sentence dart through my soul." He, however, soon after, lost the vivid impressions then made upon his mind, and relapsed into his former general habit of indifference; though he had repeated warnings of conscience, and his mind was ill at ease. Under the fervent and solemn addresses of two young preachers, who lived near his father's residence, he was again awakened to a deep sense of his guilt and danger; and, soon afterwards, in a lonely, uninhabited mountain, kneeling beneath an overhanging rock, was enabled to apprehend the fulness and grace of Christ, and to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
He was baptized by James Ireland, and united with the Baptist Church at South River, of which Ireland was then Pastor, in the twentieth year of his age. He soon began to feel a strong desire to communicate what he felt and knew of the Saviour, to his fellow-men; and, when attending the social meetings of the neighbourhood, would aid in conducting the public services, and thus, in a few months, he came to be known as a public speaker in the region in which he lived. He says himself, - "Although I was twenty years old, my lack of information filled me with dismay. My boyhood was such, even in stature, that, in a strange place, I was taken to be about sixteen years old - in one place it was said that my head came but little above the pulpit." About four years after he had been licensed to preach, he was ordained, as an itinerant, at South River. For a number of years, he, in company with Joseph Redding,+ another Baptist minister, continued to range through the
* WILLIAM MARSHALL was born in the Northern Neck, Va., in the year 1735. In early life, he was remarkable for his devotion to fashionable amusements; but, in 1768, he was awakened, under the ministry of those who were then called New Lights, and, after a season of deep distress, became the subject of a hopeful renovation. This occurred in the county of Fauquier. He soon joined the Baptists, and commenced preaching, to the great surprise of those who had known his previous history and habits. His earnest and impressive appeals gave so much offence that he was actually seized, and an attempt was made to imprison him, but he was released through the interposition of his brother, Col. Thomas Marshall. He continued to prearh for some time, and with great success, in the county of Fauquier, but, afterwards, visited the county of Shenandoah, where his labours were equally successful. At length he became the Pastor of Happy Creek Church, though this connection continued but a short time. In 1780, he removed to Kentucky, and settled in what is now Shelby county, and, shortly after, was interrupted in his labours, for a considerable time, by a fall from a horse. During this period of confinement, he devoted himself to study, and was afterwards more instructive and systematic in hia pulpit efforts. He died in 1808, in the seventy-third year of his age.
+JOSEPH REDDING was born in Fauquier County, Va., in the year 1750. He was left an orphan in early life, and, with six or seven other children, was thrown upon the care of an uncle. In consequence of this bereavement, they received but little education, though they were brought up in strict conformity to the Episcopal Church. Joseph was hopefully converted, under circumstances of peculiar interest, was baptized by immersion in 1771, and, almost immediately after, commenced preaching. Having laboured for two years in his native State, he removed to South Carolina, where he remained, preaching with much success, until 1779, when he finally settled in Kentucky. There he became a prominent man, - at first connected with the Elkhorn District, but afterwards a leader in the Licking Association. He died in December, 1815.
mountains, washed by the waters of the Shenandoah, Potomac, Monongahela, and Green Brier Rivers, and even into the wilds of Kentucky, preaching the Gospel and organizing churches, where no messenger of salvation had ever penetrated before. Their lives were often in danger from the mountain snows, and still more, perhaps, from the ruthless tomahawk. In this hazardous work they laboured with pleasure, and were greatly blessed in their labours; and, as they passed from mountain to valley, they would sing
"On these mountains let me labour,"
In these vailles let me tell"
How he died, the blessed Saviour,"
To redeem a world from hell."
In 1782, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Philemon and Nanny (Cave) Kavanaugh, - a young lady of a respectable family, and a member of the Baptist Church. About the same time, an uncle of his died, who left him sole heir to his property, which was valued at about three thousand dollars. This was altogether unexpected to him, and was the more welcome because it came at a time when he needed it most. Soon after this, he considered it his duty to remove to Kentucky ; and, accordingly, he took passage at Redstone, (now Brownsville,) for a place then called Beargrass, (now Louisville;) the whole country on the Ohio River between Wheeling and Louisville being entirely unsettled, and travelling being attended with great jeopardy. This was about the close of the year 1783. Within a few days after his arrival, he left Louisville for Craig's Station, in Lincoln County, Ky, - a distance of eighty miles; though it was now mid-winter. This was a most perilous journey; and it required, on the part of both himself and his wife, an indomitable strength of purpose. Accustomed, from early childhood, to range over and around the spurs of the Alleghany Mountains, he was prepared, by habit, to meet and brave the dangers of the river and the wilderness, while his piety taught him to trust for protection to that God who holds the waters as in the hollow of his hand, and can bid the wild beasts, and more savage men, to touch not his anointed, and do his servant no harm.
There was a Baptist Church at Craig's Station, in Lincoln County, called Gilbert's Creek, the members of which had emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky, with Lewis Craig, their Pastor. Just before Taylor arrived in Kentucky, Craig, with a number of others, had left Gilbert's Creek, and settled on the North side of the Kentucky River, and established a church at South Elkhorn, six miles South of Lexington. This church was favoured, in no small degree, with the labours of William Hickman, Senior,*
* WILLIAM HICKMAN, Senior, was born about the year 1746, in one of the counties South of James River, Va. He was hopefully converted in consequence of listening to sermons delivered by certain Baptist ministers from the windows of the jail, in the County of Chesterfield. Soon after making a profession of religion, he visited Kentucky, and there, in 1776, commenced preaching. On his return to Virginia, he preached with great effect, especially in the Southern part of Chesterfield County, where, in 1778, he was instrumental in founding the Skinquarter Church. In 1781, the church called Tomahawk also secured his services, and he laboured among them for three years. In 1784. he became a permanent resident of Kentucky. Here he submitted to great sacrifices and perils for the sake of carrying the Gospel to the scattered population in those frontier settlements. He was, for many years, Pastor of the church known by the name of the "Forks of Elkhorn,'' and in this church alone baptized more than five hundred persons. He was twice married, had a number of children, one of whom, William, became a respectable Baptist minister in Kentucky. He (the father) lived to an advanced age, and at fourscore years had almost his full vigour. Elder Taylor writes thus concerning him: -
"His preaching is in a plain and solemn style, and the sound of it like that of thunder at a distance; but, when in his best years, his sound is like thunder at home, and operates with prodicious force on the consciences of his hearers - his mode of speaking is so slow that the hearer at times gets ahead of him in the subject."
who lived in this neighbourhood. After a residence of seven months in Lincoln County, Taylor followed Craig to the North side of the River, and settled in what is now Woodford County, and, in August, 1784, united in membership with the South Elkhorn Baptist Church, then under the pastoral charge of Lewis Craig, who had aided in his ordination in Virginia.
In 1785, a church was formed at Clear Creek, of which Mr. Taylor, and three other preachers, who had moved into that neighbourhood, became members. Some time the next winter, Mr. T., much to his surprise, was chosen Pastor of the Church; and though, at first, he declined the call, on the ground that there were three ministering brethren in the church older than himself, two of whom had already sustained the pastoral relation, yet, when it came to be urged upon him, as a matter of unquestionable duty, he finally consented to accept the place, and was installed after the usual mode. His introduction to the pastoral office marked the commencement of a powerful revival of religion, and proved auspicious of the greatly increased prosperity of the church. In consequence, however, of different views of the subject of Church Discipline, the harmony of the church began at length to be disturbed, and Mr. T., after a ministry of about three years, - during which he baptized an hundred persons, - was led to resign his pastoral charge. Though this measure was at first strongly objected to by a portion of the church, they became reconciled to it, upon his giving them the assurance that though, sustaining no longer the pastoral relation, he should continue to serve them with as much alacrity and fidelity as ever. This he actually did; and, not long after, a revival of great power commenced, which brought large numbers into the church, and was marked by many very signal instances of conversion.
But scarcely had this revival passed away, before evil surmisings and jealousies arose among the members of the church, which presented a sad contrast to the scenes which had then lately been witnessed. This, in connection with some other circumstances, suggested to Mr. Taylor the idea of seeking another residence. Though he had originally possessed fifteen hundred acres of land in that neighbourhood, he had disposed of it to one friend after another, till only about four hundred remained to him; and he felt the importance of making some better provision for his increasing family. As there was an eligible opening on the Ohio River, near the mouth of the Great Miami, in Boone County, he purchased nearly three thousand acres, in different tracts, in that region, and removed thither, with his family, in April, 1795, nearly eleven years after he had settled on Clear Creek.
The summer before his removal to the Ohio River, while on a visit there, he was present at the constitution of a small church, called "The Baptist Church of Christ at Bullittsburg." To this church he transferred his membership; and though he was immediately requested to take the pastoral charge of it, he peremptorily declined the proposal, while yet he cordially proffered them any ministerial service which he might be able to perform. At this period he seems to have had little enjoyment in his
ministry, partly because there were so few people around him for his influence to act upon, and partly because the prospect was at best a very distant one, of his condition in this respect being materially improved. He, however, addressed himself, with characteristic enterprise, to the work of felling the forest and cultivating the earth; and, after a few months, the settlement was enlarged by very considerable emigrations from Virginia, as well as from different parts of Kentucky. The church soon numbered not less than sixty members; and, though it received few or no additions from the world, and there seemed a suspension of the converting influences of the Holy Spirit, in respect to the surrounding population, the utmost harmony and good-will prevailed among the members. This state of things continued, without interruption, for several years.
In the Spring of 1800, Mr. Taylor, having heard from a friend of an extensive revival of religion at the mouth of the Kentucky River, made a journey thither, intending not only to mingle in the scenes of the revival, but to settle the boundaries of a tract of land in Gallatin County, which he had purchased some time before. He attended a meeting at the house of his friend, and preached, but he had little comfort in the exercise, and went on his way, to meet his secular engagement, with a heavy heart. The land which he went to survey had been surveyed about forty years before for a Colonel Byrd, and, being one of the highest bluffs on the river, it was called Mount Byrd. From this place, he went to visit the Clear Creek Church, and spent a Sabbath with them, and preached a sermon, suited not less to his own gloomy feelings, than to their depressed condition. On his return to Bullittsburg, he was not a little distressed to find that professing Christians there were becoming lamentably conformed to the world, and that some of them were indulging freely in scenes of mirth and frivolity, to the great dishonour and injury of religion. This state of things, however, was quickly succeeded by a revival that continued about a year, and resulted in an addition to the church of an hundred and twelve new members. The whole number of communicants, at this time, was about two hundred.
As the church at Bullittsburg had now several preachers connected with it, and as the climate had proved unfavourable to the health of his family, Mr. Taylor, after a residence there of seven years, moved, in the spring of 1802, to Mount Byrd, some sixty or seventy miles distant, - where, as I have already stated, he had a considerable tract of land. He now, with his family, became connected with the Corn Creek Church, which was about four miles from his residence, and, as he was already well known to most of the members, was almost immediately called to take the pastoral charge of it. This, however, he declined to do, while yet, as on former occasions, he expressed his willingness to serve them, in the general capacity of a minister, to the extent of his ability.
Mr. Taylor now entered afresh on the work of cutting down trees, and enclosing lots, and doing whatever else was needful for a comfortable settlement; and his wife and children co-operated with him most vigorously in the new enterprise. Providence smiled on their industry, the change of climate proved favourable to their health, and they were soon in possession of a pleasant and commodious home. Though the church was well
satisfied with his ministrations, its numbers were very small, and its growth, by no means, rapid, as there were not more than fifty families in the entire settlement. But, before he had been long there, several circumstances occurred, to disappoint his hopes and mar his enjoyment. A fine barn which he had just built, and filled with choice grain, was struck with lightning and burnt, occasioning him a loss of at least a thousand dollars. Two of his children were taken from him by death. And, to crown all, a powerful prejudice had sprung up against him in the church, and the surrounding community, on account of his endeavouring to bring the discipline of the church to bear upon a member for having become a Freemason. These and other circumstances connected with them, he interpreted as a providential intimation that it was his duty to seek yet another home; and, accordingly, in March, 1815, after living at Mount Byrd thirteen years, and labouring with the Corn Creek Church, during that period, (though without any marked success,) he left the place, and went to live at the Forks of Elkhorn.
Here he became connected with the Big Spring Church, in Woodford County, about five miles distant from his residence, and then under the pastoral care of the Rev. Silas M. Noel. Just before this, Judge Davidge, an influential member of this church, had published a pamphlet, containing a vigorous defence of Arminianism. Mr. Taylor, while entertaining great respect for the author of the pamphlet, felt constrained to secure some public expression of disapprobation in respect to it; and, though his movements on the subject were embarrassed, and to a great extent resisted, in the church, yet no less than three Baptist Associations ultimately passed judgment against it.
As a church was now about to be constituted at Frankfort, Mr. Taylor, partly from its being more convenient to him, and partly from the want of sympathy with him, on the part of the Big Spring Church, in regard to the offensive pamphlet, resolved to identify himself with the new enterprise; and, accordingly, he took his letter of dismission from Big Spring in January, 1816, after being a member there about ten months. He seems, however, to have felt little at home in the Frankfort Church; and, after about two years, he joined with a number of his brethren in forming yet another church within the Forks of Elkhorn - this church was called "the Baptist Church of Christ on Black [Buck] Run," and was constituted in January, 1816 [1818 - jrd].
Mr. Taylor was immediately called to the pastoral charge of the Black [sic] Run Church, but, on stating to them his objections to serving them in that relation, and his willingness to preach to them, as a stated supply, once a month, and administer ordinances, they readily yielded to his proposal. His labours proved highly acceptable, and the church increased, from year to year, under his ministry. His strength gradually declined during his last years, though he continued to labour up to the full measure of his ability. He died in the year 1833, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. He had several children, one of whom entered the ministry, and, after labouring some years in Kentucky, removed to Illinois, and died on Apple Creek, several years ago.
John Taylor was one of the most industrious of men, in both his secular and sacred callings. He could not tolerate idleness under any circumstances; and hence, in his seventy-fifth year, when unable to ride much on horseback, (his usual mode of travel,) he prepared for the press a work, forming a duodecimo volume of almost three hundred pages, entitled, "A History of Ten Baptist Churches, of which the Author has been successively a member; in which will be seen something of a Journal of the Author's Life for more than fifty years. Also a Comment on some parts of Scripture, in which the Author takes the liberty to differ from other Expositors." I have witnessed his persevering industry, when travelling with him to and from Associations in Kentucky, - six or eight of which, lying between the Kentucky and Ohio Rivers, he usually visited every year.
Another prominent trait of his character was punctuality, especially in his ministerial engagements. He said himself, - "I have been in the ministry just about fifty-four years; and, of the many thousands of meetings I have appointed, I do not recollect that worldly business ever detained me from one of them; and I have been a man of such uninterrupted health, that I do not think I have disappointed half as many meetings in my life as I have been preaching years." Nor could he be easily diverted from what he considered the path of duty. When once his mind was fully made up, he carried out his convictions with such unyielding tenacity, as to render himself liable, in the estimation of some, to the charge of obstinacy. He was, undoubtedly, a man of strong prejudices. He was once bitterly opposed to the missionary cause, and prepared a pamphlet entitled "Thoughts on Missions," which no persuasion of his friends could induce him to withhold from the press, notwithstanding it contained palpable mistakes. I saw him at, the Long Run Association, in 1830, at New Castle, Ky., when I expressed a desire to have some conversation with him relative to that pamphlet; but he replied, - "Oh, Brother James, I hope you do not doubt that I believed I was telling the truth, when I wrote that thing." I answered, - "How could you?" and he replied, - "Oh, never mind, let it sleep in silence;" and his whole manner showed that he regretted he had ever written it. Wherever he became attached, his friendship was ardent; and, on the other hand, whoever should offend him, might expect to feel the weight of his displeasure; and yet he was famed for his success in reconciling contending parties, and usually so directed his efforts as to be regarded the friend of both. I recollect an instance of this, in 1805, when contention ran high in the Elkhorn Association, for several days, and was terminated by a vote, which induced several of the oldest ministers to withdraw. On Sabbath, John Taylor took for his text, - "Let Reuben live" (Deuteronomy xxxiii. 8); and, from the fact that Reuben was the oldest son of Jacob, he pleaded with the younger ministers of the Association not to rejoice over their elder brethren, because they were in the minority; and, although it did not heal the breach, it acted, for a time, like oil upon the troubled waters. There was, undoubtedly, something of eccentricity about him. He would often arise to preach, without a moment's study, whenever prompted by any unexpected or exciting circumstance. He once met Jacob Creath, Sen., and James Suggett, (if my memory serves me,) at the Forks of Elkhorn, on the Sabbath, when, as was usual on such occasions, they
determined to have two services before dismissing the congregation. Suggett preached, and then he and Taylor urged Creath to preach, which he refusing to do, Taylor arose at once and took for his text, - "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest." With this text, he soon entered the harvest fields of Virginia, and began to describe the kind of "labourers" the Virginia farmers wanted - "not gentlemen, who, when asked to cut a swarth, would plead various excuses - not men to lie about under the shade - such hands always had their wages docked; but they wanted labourers, - men who were willing to bear the burden and heat of the day," &c., &c. As soon as Taylor closed his sermon, Creath arose, and made an apology to the audience for his inactivity.
I saw this aged brother at the meeting of the Elkhorn Association, at the Big Spring Church, near Frankfort, in 1832. He was a member of the Body and yet he took his place on the front seat of the gallery. The Moderator, observing him, said, - "Come down, Brother Taylor, and sit with us;" but he promptly replied, - "I am a free man, Brother Moderator," and kept his seat. He was low of stature, muscular, had broad shoulders and a broad face, high cheek bones and heavy eye brows, overhanging a pair of light and small, but expressive, eyes. He was plain, and by no means particular, in his apparel, and rather reserved in conversation, though, at times, he seemed to enjoy a dry joke upon his brethren.
His death was peaceful and tranquil, and he has left behind him a name worthy of enduring remembrance.
Very sincerely yours, JAMES E. WELCH. ==============
William B. Sprague, D. D., editor, Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, Volume VI, 1860, pp. 152-159. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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