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The Early Baptists of Tennessee
By Albert H. Newman, 1894
      There were Baptists in Eastern Tennessee soon after 1765, and two churches are said to have been organized. They were driven out by the Indians in 1774. No particulars have been preserved. About 1780 a large number of Baptists, with eight or ten ministers, removed from Virginia and North Carolina to the Holston country in Eastern Tennessee. A colony from the old Sandy Creek church of North Carolina settled on Boone's Creek. Five or six churches having been gathered by 1781, it was arranged that they should meet together twice a year in Conference. They remained members of the Sandy Creek Association until 1786, when it was thought best to organize the Holston Association. Most of these Baptists were of the Separate variety, but there was no doctrinal discord
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and the Philadelphia Confession was adopted. By 1802, as a result of further immigration and especially of the great revival of the preceding two years, the Association had added twenty-nine churches to its original seven, and had a membership of about twenty-five hundred. The Tennessee Association was formed in 1803 by a division of the Holston.

     The Cumberland region (Middle Tennessee) began to be settled in 1780. It is probable that some Baptists were in the first company of three hundred led by General James Robertson. In 1791 Ambrose Dudley and John Taylor, of Kentucky, traveled two hundred miles through the wilderness to aid in organizing the Tennessee church at the mouth of the Sulphur Fork River. It united with the Elkhorn Association. There was no other church within one hundred miles of the Tennessee until the White's Creek church was formed in 1794. A church organized in North Carolina was transplanted to the head of the Sulphur Fork in 1795. Their pastor was Joseph Dorris, who became the cause of much trouble to the church and the Association. Two other churches had been formed by 1796, one of them out of fragments of an older church scattered by the Indians in 1774. The five united in forming the Mero Association in 1797. Early in the present century charges against the character of Dorris were brought before the Association. After many efforts to solve the difficulties involved without a division, the Association was disbanded and those who adhered to Dorris were left out of the new Cumberland Association that took its place (1803). This region seems to have shared largely in the great revival of the early part of the century. By 1806 the Cumberland Association had increased to thirty-nine churches, and its territory had become so extensive that a division was thought advisable.

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The Red River Association was the result. A third Association, the Concord, was formed in 1810 by a further division of the Cumberland. It prospered greatly for a time, nearly nine hundred having been added to its membership in 1812; but serious divisions on doctrine almost wrecked it a few years later. The Elk River Association was formed in 1806 and had grown to be a vigorous body by 1812.

     The economic and social conditions were much the same in Tennessee as in Kentucky. The land was fertile, but had to be laboriously brought into cultivation, and Indians were numerous and ferocious. Educational advantages were of the poorest, and the same causes were operative here as in Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina to create a deep-seated aversion to educated and salaried ministers. The missionary and educational movement of the next period was to find in Tennessee some of its most determined opponents.

     The growth of the denomination in Tennessee during this period may be illustrated by the following statistics: In 1784 there were 6 churches, with less than 400 members; in 1792 there were 21 churches and about 900 members; by 1812 the churches had increased to 156 and the membership to 11,325.

[From Albert H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 1894. The title has been added. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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