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Editor's note: John Taylor titles his first chapter: "History &c."; the first church is the [Lower] South River Baptist Church. - jrd
South River Church
By John Taylor

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Being in the seventieth year of my age, and according to David's standard, of three score years and ten, as the number of our days on earth - it is probable, this will be the last year of my pilgrimage here below - though in as much health now, as I ever was in my life, age excepted - and though I yet travel a great deal, as well as attend to my own business at home. - Having a few leisure hours while there, which hours I mean to appropriate to a historical statement of ten Baptist Churches, of which I have been in succession a legal member. The first Church of which I was a member, and where I was baptised, was called South River Church, being the southern branch of Shenandoah, and near the forks of said River, famous for the fertility of its soil, and discharging itself into the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry, on the north border of Virginia - said River spreads through and makes a part of the great rich valley, between the south Mountain or Blue Ridge, and north Mountain - said valley is about twenty miles broad and several hundred miles long. The materials or converts of which this South River Church was first composed, was chiefly under the Ministry of William Marshall, whose short biography I have given elsewhere - others also laboured in said bounds, as John Picket, whose sister Marshall had married, Reuben Picket, brother of John, and the famous James Ireland, after being released from Culpepper prison, laboured much and with great success on the waters of Shenandoah River - none of those ministers were ordained for
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several years, so that the first Baptising in South River, the noted Samuel Harris travelled two hundred miles to administer this solemn ordinance - and an awfully solemn thing it was indeed to thousands, who had never witnessed such a scene before. I think fifty-three were baptised on that day, several young ministers came with Harris, as Elijah Craig, John Waller, with a number of others. The rite of laying on of hands, on the newly baptised, was practised by the baptists in those days - this practice was performed as follows: Those upwards of fifty stood up in one solemn line, on the bank of the river, taking up about as many yards as there were individuals - the males first in the line, about four ministers went together, each one laid his right hand on the head of the dedicated person, and one prayed for him, and after praying for three or four of them, another proceeded till they went through. It would appear as if that solemn dedication might be some barrier to future apostacy; for the prayers were with great solemnity and fervour, and for that particular person according to their age and circumstances. On the same day, the church at South river, was constituted under the style of a separate Baptist church, (this was in 1770,) it may be remembered, that the word separate here, did not design a separation from what was called the regular Baptists, for it may be they were not called regulars till afterwards - The word separate came from New England - The Presbyterians there is called the standing order; all who desent from them of whatever denomination are called, and call themselves separates, because they do not adhere to the standing order - Hence Shubel [S]tearn and Daniel Marshall who went from New England to the south, when they began society there, called themselves as they had been called before (separates) thus originated separate Baptists; what was called the regular Baptists had adopted, for their creed, what is now called the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, with the discipline
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annexed thereto. The separates had no public Confession of Faith, but were generally constituted on a Church Covenant, which to the best of my recollection, was truly Calvinistic - their order of discipline, was sum[m]ed up in the eighteenth chapter of Mathew. At the time of this first great baptising at South River, I was there the last two days, (perhaps the whole meeting was near a week.) an ill grown boy about seventeen years old, and though I would not then have been a Baptist for all the world, I was a close and serious observer of all that past [passed] - first to the baptising, which continued perhaps an hour, for they went some distance to a proper depth of water, and took only one at a time - I think the prayers for the newly baptized continued one hour more - I happened to be near when their Church Covenant was read - I remember concluding no man on earth could comply with it. This Church progressed on with rapid growth for several years. For my own part, though I was solemnly affected at the time of the baptising spoken of above, (for some of my companions were in the number) I had such fellowship for sin, that I seldom went to the meetings for a year or two, till Joseph and Isaac Reding obtained hope of conversion, was baptised and began to preach close in the neighborhood of my Fathers, by which I became stir[r]ed up afresh and was baptised, about two years after I had seen the first baptising, and near the same spot, in the twentieth year of my age, and by James Irland, then Pastor of the Church. The first serious distress that took place, in South River Church, as I was told afterwards, arose about who should be the Pastor of the Church - Marshall and Ireland, it seems, were the men about which the contest arose - each man's children in the gospel chose their own Father as the Pastor of Church, but whether from Ireland's uncommon preaching talents or some other source I am not informed, but so it was, he became the Pastor of the Church, though these men were complaisant to
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each other, it is to be doubted whether the same tender affection existed after this Pastoral struggle as before - I think the Church consisted of about two hundred members when I became one among them - It seemed my lot was to come into the Church near the close of the harvest, for though several young gifts rose up, ingethering declined, many were expelled for loose conduct, for to that they had been very much habituated before their religious profession. Mr. Ireland, perhaps through prudence, took leave of the Church as their Pastor, and took the care of one or more Churches; soon after, Mr. Marshall was ordained to the Pastoral care of the Church, Joseph Reding who had been preaching near a twelve month, in the year 1772 moved his little family to South Carolina; while there he became a little dipt into armenianism (see his biography,) he returned the next spring, and soon became ordained an elder of the Church with others also, for in those days some were ordained elders, who were not preachers - Marshall had gotten as much above the common style in divine decrees, as Reding was below it, and a heavy dispute arose between them about doctrines, their grievances at length got into the Church and produced great excitement there, this contest terminated as in the case of Paul and Barnabas; Reading took a letter of dismission and moved to Hampshire county, adjoining the Allegheny Mountains, where he had a great opening for preaching - the struggle in the Church did not subside with Reding's removal, the contest continued till some of the parties got excluded. In a few years Mr. Marshall moved into Culpepper county, and I think from thence to Kentucky in 1779 or 80. To where Reding moved there was so great an opening for preaching, that my time was spent chiefly there, and when a young flourishing Church was raised on Luney's Creek I gave my membership there for several years, and then returned and took my membership in my oid mother Church till I moved to Kentucky -
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After my return to South River Church, Mr. Marshall having moved away, there was no minister in the church but myself - The Revolutionary war having not yet closed, a number of the English prisoners being stationed through our country; those who had trades were permitted to disperse in the settlements, to work for themselves, two of whom, apparently respectable men and of good understanding, Duncan M'Lain and Garsham Robertson applied to our Church for admission, having been baptised at Albemarle Barracks, while there stationed; they having no letters of dismission, came into the Church by experience. M'Lain being of Scotch or Irish extract, or a mixture of both, with fine use of his tongue, was soon invited to preach, which he readily accepted, and soon surprised the most who heard him, for he spoke with great warmth, and a mighty flow of eloquence - Robertson was a man of very deep understanding and of much modesty and sobriety. Among others whom I baptised was one Donald Hombs [Holmes] a Scotchman, who was also a British prisoner, he was a most excellent school-master, a fine scribe, and much of an English schollar; having been raised a strict Presbyterian, he seemed to have studied every subject of religion. - With this European acquisition, the Church seemed much encouraged, for among these three fine brothers, one of them was a nonsuch of a young preacher, for though there were some odd things in him from the beginning, it was construed from charity, only to be a little outlandish, or overheated zeal. Things moved on pretty well, till I moved to Kentucky in the fall 1783 - the Church at this time I think was about one hundred in number. In the fall 1782 I married my present wife, about ten years after I had been a preacher. I lived one year with my little family in South River Church, who took up the subject of supply for me, the proposition was introduced with reasoning, that I had been preaching for them off and on for ten years, and as a Church they had never
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given me any thing. The sum being proposed, they voted to give me a hundred dollars for my past services, in such things as my family needed - this thing seemed to be done with such readiness and pleasure by the Church, it was received with equal pleasure and gratitude. During this last years stay in Virginia, there were many propositions from my oId friends and mother Church, not to leave them; that I was going to a country of strangers, and Savage rage - In a word, the importunities was such, that I was almost prevailed on to stay; for it was a gloomy thing at that time of day, to move to Kentucky - but I had seen the place, and when I found a growing family to provide for, this overweighed all, and without a single friend or acquaintance to accompany me, with my young helpless family, to feel all the horrors that then lay in the way to Kentucky - we took water at Redstone, and from want of a better opening, I paid for a passage, in a lonely ill fixed boat of strangers - the River being low, this lonesome boat, was about seven weeks before she landed at Beargrass; not a soul was then settled on the Ohio between Wheeling and Louisville, a space of five or six hundred miles, and not one hour, day or night, in safety. Though it was now winter, not a soul in all Beargrass settlement was in safety but by being in a fort - I then meditated travelling about eighty miles to Craig's Station on Gilberts' Creek, in Lincoln county; we set out in a few days - nearly all I owned was then at stake, I had three horses, two of them was packed, the other my wife rode, with as much lumber besides as the beast could bear; I had four black people, one man and three smaller ones. The pack horses were led, one by myself, the other by my man - the trace, what there was, being so narrow and bad, we had no chance but to wade through all the mud, rivers, and creeks we came to, Salt River, with a number of its large branches we had to deal with often, those waters being flush, we often must wade to our middle, and though the
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weather was very cold, the ice was not very troublesome, those struggles often made us forget the danger we were in from Indians - we only encamped in the woods one night, where we could only look for protection from the Lord, one Indian might have defeated us, for though I had a rifle, I had very little skill to use it; after six days painful travel of this kind, we arrived at Craig's Station, a little before Christmas and about three months after our start from Virginia, through all this rugged travel, my wife was in a very helpless state, for about one month after our arrival, my son Ben was born.

We will return to South River Church. When I left them the only preacher they had was Duncan M'Lain, he soon became disgusted with the Church, for, after applying to them to ordain him, and they refusing to comply with his request, he went about his business and preached but little for them. But he pretty soon embraced the restoration from hell - publicly preached it - Homes followed his example - Robertson went a little farther than either of them, for he openly professed Deism, and disclaimed all revealed religion; failing to be reclaimed by the Church, she lost her three famous European brethren at one slam, by expulsion - Homes however, in process of time returned to the Church, was restored, moved to Kentucky, joined the church at Clear Creek in Woodford county - by them was invited, and came out pretty much of a preacher; he united with the emancipators, seemed zealous in that cause, and is now no more - I hear that he died a few years past in the Ohio state - M'Lain, regardless of church censure, went on with great zeal through a number of the states, Philadelphia and other great cities, and was considered a great champion to vindicate his hell redemption - but after a while he gave up that point and openly embraced Deism if not Atheism. I need say no more than that it was the same Duncan M'Lain that came to Kentucky, settled near Bardstown, in
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Nelson county, and as I hear, died a few years ago. I know not whether any of these men became immoral in their practice - they all seemed to have esteemed me as a particular friend when I met with them. - Robertson appeared like a man that feared God, and talked as if he was conscious in his belief. The Bible he said was a mere history of the Jewish nation, and no more validity in it than the history of Greece or Rome; many parts of the Bible, he would say, was unworthy to have a Holy God for its author, and that other mediums more fully illustrated the eternal power and God-head; he happened at my house in Kentucky one day when I killed a beef, he replyed in a most serious way - your Bible says he, indulges you in this - but what justice can there be in one animal's shed[d]ing the blood and taking the life of another - he seemed to be a man of great sympathy of feelings, and his conduct perhaps as clear of reproach as when he was in a Baptist Church, he considered prayer to God a duty - hence one night when I was from home he went to prayer in the family. Lord what is poor man - I understand this poor fellow got killed in Harmer's defeat, many years ago. The Church at South River became very much weakened, by many of my Baptist friends moving to Kentucky a few years after I did, alternately; I think brethren John Price and Lewis Corbin attended them - after they came to Kentucky their old [meeting]house needed repairing, or a new one built. They sold their old house to some Presbyterians, who repaired and worshiped in it till they wore off another set of shingles. The Baptists built a new house, about two miles from the old one, at a cross roads, on a water course, called Happy Creek, which changed the style of the Church, and it is since called Happy Creek Church, after which their first Pastor resumed the care of the Church - This renowned man of God, James Ireland, continued this charge till he died, which took place about fifteen years ago, after which a Brother Benjamin Dauson, has taken the
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care of Happy Creek Church, and perhaps continues it to this day.

Thomas Buck, is one of the members of Happy Creek Church, he was one of the fifty three that was first Baptized in South River - perhaps not one of the others are now alive, for it is more than fifty years ago; he was then a lad about fourteen years old - I believe he has never been a member of any other Church - he is wealthy as to this world, and very liberal in the support of religion, his circumstance was such, that when thirty pounds was made up by the Church for my support, before I came to Kentucky, by apportionment among themselves, ten pounds was levied on him, which he paid with the greatest cheerfulness. I was at his house eight or nine years ago, and riding in sight of the old meeting house, now all enclosed, I proposed to ride in and take a look at the old skeleton, which he agreed to; one object with me was to see whether the great White Oak stump, three or four feet over, and its mighty trunk that had always laid there when I resorted to the meeting house - what made this great stump so sacred to me was, the preacher (Mr. Marshall) stood on it when, I hope, spiritual life was preached into my soul, though it seemed like a blow of death to me - The case was this, report said that at these new-light meetings, the people hallowed, cried out, trembled, fell down, and went into strange exercises, my object was to see and amuse myself at all this, as I would at other sport; the people were so numerous, that the preacher went to this stump, about six feet from the end of the meeting house, that all might hear; the vast concourse of people took their stand in the snow, there being no seats to sit on - and while I was amusing and diverting myself, ranging through the company to see the exercise of the people, I had got in near the stump, when this Thomas Buck broke out into a flood of tears and a loud cry for mercy; he being my old playmate, I stared at him for a while with awful
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wonder, and just at that time my eye and ear were caught by the preaching, the Minister was treating on the awful scene of judgment, and while he dropt these words - "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 the whole sentence dart through my whole soul, with as much sensibility as an electric shock could be felt. With my mind instantly opened to understand and love all that the preacher said afterwards, and though every word condemned me, I loved the messenger that brought the awful tidings, I felt as if at the bar of God, and no mercy for me. How willingly would I have cried for mercy, if I could have hoped for any. From that moment, every thing belonging to religion bore an entire new aspect to me. When we got to the old house, it was an entire old waste, the trunk of the oak was quite gone, and the old stump on which the man had preached more than forty years before, but little of it was there; we stood there some time; I placed him where I thought he stood, when he with tears cried for mercy, myself at his elbow where I received the Heaven born stroke I have been speaking of. With grateful hearts we thanked the Lord that we stood there, more than forty years ago - Superstition would have said, take some of this old stump home with you, to look at till you die. The same kind of motive led me soon after, to pay a visit to a lonesome hanging rock, in a rugged mountain; not being able to get to it, with convenience on horseback, I took it a foot; this rock was the place where I first received relief from my guilt, forty years before; with grateful remembrance of the Lord's past kindness to me at that spot, I bowed my knees with thanksgiving to my God, for past favors, and prayer to him for preservation for days to come, and took final leave of that beloved though homely spot of nature - all this may look like a piece of superstitious rant - but perhaps
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those contemplations, are worthy of Heaven itself - For if Abraham would say to the rich man in Hell, Remember son in thy lifetime, there will surely be a calling up into recollection, both in Heaven and in Hell, what transpired in life. While the poor damned man, with horrid recollection, will remember every five alley, every ball room, every gay festive season, with all the excuses he plead when called on to repent of his sins, with his uniform neglect of the great salvation of God, promulgated in the gospel, with all its precious invitations to him, while the queen of the south, and the men of Nineveh rises up in judgment against him, while the torments of the cursed cities of Sodom and Gomorrow, will be more tolerable, in hell fire, than gospel despisers or gospel neglectors; all these will be sad reflections in the world to come, while it will be eternally vibrating through the soul - remember in thy life time thou hadst thy good things, while the righteous will recollect their evil things, with an everlasting reward of grace - even so do righteous Lord. I have said that the Church at South River was first nominated a separate Baptist church, but in August 1783, this with a Church higher up Shanandoah River, joined the Ketocton Association that was called regular Baptists, from the Church above, James Ireland and others, were messengers; from South River, myself and others were messengers to go into this union - both Churches were accordingly received and took seats in the Association. This was done for convenience and not from contrast of doctrine. Thus I have surveyed a Church of more than fifty years standing, and though not blest with many remarkable revivals, yet lives as a Church of Christ - here I had my first standing as to Church privileges.
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[John Taylor, A History of Ten Baptist Churches, 1823; reprint, 1968, pp. 5-15. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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