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“The History of the Baptists of Tennessee”
Early Baptists in Tennessee
By Lawrence Edwards, 1941
In 1763 King George III of England proclaimed the crest of the Alleghenies as the westernmost limit of the territory in America open to colonization. Beyond this the lands should be the unmolested possession of the savage tribes then occupying them.
But there were those among the restless, freedom-loving pioneers of Virginia and North Carolina who, through ignorance of the King's Proclamation or utter disregard of his authority, but more likely because of their insatiate desire for adventure and their wish to build new homes and secure larger fortunes for themselves in the little valleys of the virginal region beyond the mountains, fled the 'civilization' of the more settled regions of the older colonies to begin the building of settlements in the West. These pioneers, of the ilk of Sevier, Boone, the Campbells and the Shelbys, were destined to prove the vanguard of a vast westward movement which was eventually to claim the whole Southwest for the young nation and more immediately to help materially in saving the entire union of the seaboard colonies from the English yoke. The story of the part played by the over-mountain men at King's Mountain, which has been called the turning point of the Revolution, is too well known to be related here. The frontiersmen played an important part also, under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, in the War of 1812.
It is a matter of general history that long before the King set forth his decree of 1?63 men had been dispatched to view out
the western country and appraise it for future settlement. Dr. Thomas Walker, who kept a journal of his explorations, was commissioned by a Virginia land company to go through Cumberland Gap, take notes on the nature of the new lands, and report in detail to his company of the advisability of securing boundaries of the land explored for purposes of speculation when and if the move to the west got under way.
Already, too, many ‘long hunters’ had returned to the trading posts of the colonies east of the mountains, their pack horses laden with furs and their tongues eager with tales of the fabulous land beyond the mountains, where game was plentiful, virgin forests abounded, and the little mountain rivers dropped down from their sources through fertile little valleys that only awaited the plow and spade of the frontier farmer to bloom into a truly wondrous region. Men no doubt went to bed to dream of rich fields, fresh new homesteads, bounteous crops and, above all, freedom from too much government and too much interference with their individual lives. Beyond the mountains lite would be truly free, except for the Redskins of course, but what pioneer group desisted from the westward march because of them! There they could establish their own little churches and would be tree from taxes to support the established church, which had been imposed upon them especially in Virginia.
Before the Revolutionary war started, the upper tributaries of the Tennessee river were already lined with little settlements of these sturdy pioneers who had ignored the Proclamation of 1763, braved the threat of Indian massacre, with their bare hands and
crude tools carved little homesteads for themselves in this new region, and were of a mind not only to declare their freedom but to defend it against whatever opposition presented.
Such was the ilk of the pioneers who, under Campbell, Sevier and Shelby, and with the blessing of their frontier minister, Samuel Doak, went on their way in grim patriotic and religious fervor, with the 'sword of the Lord and of Gideon,' to fight the British at King's Mountain. After this daring and successful encounter with the King's forces, whose leader had threatened to chastise them by burning their homes, the American forces went on to a succession of victories which culminated in the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington at Yorktown in 1781.
Among the soldiers who helped to chase the Tories out of the country were two sons of Elder Tidence Lane, Tennessee's first Baptist preacher. Isaac and Aquila Lane were members of William Bean's company of militia.1 William Bean, it will be recalled by students of Tennessee history, was the first permanent settler of the state. Mr. Tindell suggests that Elder Lane’s mother may have been a sister of William Bean.2 Whether this is true or not, it is a fact that the Beans and Lanes were neighbors on Boone's Creek. It seems reasonable to believe, therefore, that the first settler of Tennessee, William Bean, was a Baptist.
Although it is generally conceded that the church at Buffalo Ridge, organized 1n 1778 with Tidence Lane as pastor, was the first permanent Baptist church in the state, one writer says
1 S. W. Tindell, The Baptists of Tennessee, Vol. I, p. 11.
there were Baptists in Tennessee as early as 1765. It seems that a church may have been in existence in Powell Valley about 1765, but Indian ravages forced the people to abandon the settlement.3 This Baptist settlement of which Newman speaks could have been in that portion of Powell Valley which lies in what is now the state of Virginia. Whether it was in Virginia or Tennessee, however, could not have been known by the people of that time, for the line separating Virginia and what is now Tennessee was not clearly drawn at that time.
The Baptists on Boone' s Creek were more fortunate than those reported to have been in Powell Valley. They were more closely settled, had neighbors in the Carter's Valley Settlement and in other communities, and so were able to withstand Indian assaults. To them then goes the credit of organizing Tennessee's first permanent Baptist church, at Buffalo Ridge in 1778 or 1779.
Elder Lane seems to have been one of the outstanding preachers among the early Baptista. Some years after organizing the Buffalo Ridge church he assisted Elder William Murphy in organizing the Bent Creek church. In fact Lane and Murphy were the leaders in the organization of Tennessee' s first association of Baptist churchea. Elder Lane was a preacher “of reputation and success” and “was much sought in counsel by the churches. He was not so hard in doctrine as some of his brethren, his doctrinal belief being a modified Calvinism.”4
3 A. B. Newman, American Church Series, Vol.I. "Baptists", p. 336.
4 Tindell, op. cit., p. 13.
William Murphy, who was pastor of the Cherokee Baptist church in Washington county, was the pastor of the family of Governor John Sevier.5
Although the early churches were formed by people who came from the Sandy Creek Association, “mother of churches,” in North Carolina, and kept up correspondence with the mother association as well as the times and circumstances would permit, they early considered the advisability of meeting in their own association. In 1781, five or six churches having been formed in the Tennessee country, it was decided to bring representatives of the various churches into a temporary association. When this body met, it was decided that they should continue as a part of the Sandy Creek Association, that they should report annually to that association, but that they should meet in an associational capacity among themselves.6
The times were so perilous, however, and the danger of travel so imminent, that it was only a matter of a few years until the Tennessee Baptists decided the ties with the Sandy Creek Association, strong as they were from a doctrinal standpoint, must be modified. They decided to form a new association, Tennessee's first association of Baptist churches. Under the leadership of Elders Tidence Lane and William Murphy a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing the new association. At Cherokee Meeting House on October 30, 1786, they met and organized the Holston Association.7
Buffalo Ridge was not among the number constituting the Holston Association at its founding in 1786, but came in the following year, 1787. 8 The original churches constituting the association were Bent Creek, Kindrick's Creek, Beaver Creek, Greasy Cove, Cherokee Creek, North Fork of Holston, and Lower French Broad. Why Buffalo Ridge was not represented when the association was formed seems to be a mystery. Elder Lane was probably no longer the pastor of Buffalo Ridge in 1786, when the Holston Association was formed. He had moved to Bent Creek in August, 1784, and assisted William Murphy in organizing the Bent Creek church in 1785. Although no records are available to show who was pastor of Buffalo Ridge at the time the association was formed, according to the best authority on the history of Buffalo Ridge church the pastor was most probably Jonathan Mulkey.9 At the meeting when the association was formed Elder Mulkey and Anthony Epperson represented Kindrick's Creek, so it is altogether likely Mulkey was at that time pastor of Kindrick's Creek.10 But his name is first on the list of delegates to the association from Buffalo Ridge in 1789. Whether Buffalo Ridge actually had a pastor in 1786 is not known. If they had no pastor at that time, that may explain why they did not send delegates to the Cherokee Meettng House in 1786 to help organize the Holston Association. Perhaps Buffalo Ridge still considered itself a part of the Sandy Creek Association, but if such a sentiment existed there are no records
8 Minutes of Holston Association, 1937, p. 25.
9 Tindell, op. cit., 30.
to substantiate the fact. 11
In the two decades following the organization of Tennessee's first Baptist church, churches of the Baptist faith sprang up thick and fast over the whole area of last Tennessee. Many churches were organized several years before they entered any association. Often churches which did belong to an association found it too much trouble to send delegates long distances to report in person to the association. They started the practice of writing letters to the association, telling of the work of their church--listing additions, dismissals, deaths, etc.--and often declaring the doctrinal principles which they were adhering to. The association then, after receiving delegates from some churches and letters from those too far away to attend, appointed one of their most gifted elders to write a “circular letter” which was usually appended to the minutes of the meeting of the association. This letter usually began somewhat in this manner:To the churches of our association and to the associations of our faith and order with whom we correspond, greetings:Here followed expressions of good will and earnest hope that peace and good fellowship abounded and that all were standing firm on the doctrinal principles whereon they were founded, which principles were usually expounded to considerable extent in the ¬¬¬
Very dear Brethren: We of the churches of the _____ ______ Baptist Association meeting with the church at this third Friday and Saturday and Sunday following of month of August 18 __ , send greetings and, so on.
11 Ibid., 31.
circular letter. Then the letter was signed by the moderator and clerk of the association and appended to the minutes of the association meeting. 12
These minutes and circular letters found their way into the hands of the members of the little churches scattered far and wide and helped to keep them aware of the fact that they belonged with a great body of people who held to the same principles. This served to strengthen them and give them a feeling of solidarity, even though they were constituted as purely democratic bodies owing allegiance or submission to no organization or governing power. Again and again the minutes of their associational meetings express the sentiment that the association is no governing power but acts only in an advisory capacity to the churches that comprise it.13
Seeing then that the churches forming an association were often so far apart and found difficulty in those times of slow and dangerous travel in sending their delegates to the annual associational meetings of the churches, it was only natural that new associations would be formed by churches dismissed from an
12 McMillon Papers. (Elder W. C. McMillon, Star Route, Sevierville, Tenn., has a great collection of letters, minutes, copies of minutes, and bits of historical data which, if edited and published in pamphlet or book. form, would be of great interest and value to people interested in the history of the Baptists of East Tennessee. Referred to hereafter as McMillon Papers.)
13 McMillon Papers, copies of the minutes of the Powell Valley Association, 1827-30.
association already formed. Thus in 1802, sixteen years after its organization, the Holston Association dismissed nineteen churches for the purpose of forming a new association. The delegates of these nineteen churches met at Beaver Creek Meeting House in 1802 and formed the Tennessee Association of Baptist Churches. Elder William Johnson was moderator at this meeting and 1rancis Hamilton was clerk. 14
This Tennessee Association within about a decade after its organization had gathered in churches as far west as Roane and Sequatchie counties. The churches in what today are the counties of Scott, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger and Jefferson belonged to the Tennessee Association at that time.15
This old copy of minutes of the 1813 meeting of the Tennessee Association is so unusual that I set it down here in part:
Holden at Bullock's Pen Meeting House,
Tennessee Valley, Roane County, the
second Saturday in October, 1813.16
At this meeting of the association thirty churches were represented, with a total membership of 2047, of which number 296
14 Minutes of the Holston Association, copy in McMillon Papers.
15 Minutes of the Tennessee Association, 1813, original copy in McMillon Papers.
16 When excerpts or quotations from minutes and other church records have been used, the writer has not changed the spelling or punctuation of the original.
were members received since the last meeting of the association, 146 by experience and 150 by letter. One hundred and twenty-four had been dismissed, which seems to indicate that a reshaping of church ties was in progress. Here we have the picture: within a year's time 150 [had] come to churches of the association by letter and 124 leave the churches by letter. It would be interesting to know if the westward migration caused this interchange of membership, some moving into the settlements and some moving out, or if the letters were simply taken from other churches whose doctrinal principles were undergoing change and put in at churches which were deemed more solid in their principles of doctrine. That the mission movement had already had some effect in East Tennessee is shown by these 1813 minutes of the Tennessee Association, item eighteen of which reads:Query from Richland church, as stated in their letter:It is noted the Richland [church] queried by letter. As before stated, many of the churches were represented only by letter. Therefore, item sixteen of the minutes is significant. It says:
Suppose a church of a hundred members, constituted on certain principles which were approbated, and the church incorporated into the union of the association should ninety of her members depart from the principles, either in faith or practice, on which they were constituted; which would be considered the church, the ninety or the ten, or so as to apply to any member?
Answer: the ten, if essence be found.The petition from County Line Church, to divide the bounds of the Association referred.It seems natural that churches scattered over frontier area two hundred miles long should wish some more convenient arrangement as to their association, should wish, that is, to be divided
into smaller associations so that delegates from every church could attend the annual meetings. But some one or more reasons kept the Tennessee Association from dismissing churches to form a new association until 1818, five years after County Line [Baptist Church] sent its petition to the association. Perhaps they feared that division might lead to doctrinal differences, or that the little association might be the more easily led into the camp of the missionaries, or perhaps they simply did not like to leave off meeting with all their brethren in the annual meetings. Later requests no doubt were made for a division for, as was stated, in 1818 the Tennessee Association dismissed some of her westernmost churches for the purpose of forming a new association. This was the Powell Valley Association of Baptist Churches, composed of twelve churches in what are today Roane, Scott, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger and Jefferson counties. This association was destined to be the one East Tennessee association most troubled by strife and doctrinal schisms. More particular attention to these differences will be given in a later chapter. Today the Powell Valley Association, called the Powell Valley Association of Primitive Baptist Churches, is divided into two groups of churches, each group claiming to be the Powell Valley Association and having identical articles of faith.17 One, composed principally of the older churches of the association, some of which were in the original twelve which withdrew from the Tennessee to form the Powell Valley in
17 Minutes of the Powell Valley Association (hereafter referred to as P.V. Assn.), 1939.
1818, holds no fellowship with members of secret orders, refusing to accept as members of their churches any who belong to secret orders. The other accepts members of secret orders and, in some of their churches at least, resemble the missionary churches to the extent that they conduct Sunday Schools. 18 The latter is sometimes called the Secret Order side.
But to get back to the early associations. In 1828 some of the churches, feeling that the Tennessee Association had again grown too large, received permission to withdraw from the association to form still another new association. This was the Nolachucky Association, composed, as the name indicates, of churches in the region of the Nolachucky River and its tributaries, the churches originally forming the association being principally in Jefferson, Sevier and Cooke counties. At Bent Creek Meeting House in Jefferson (now Hamblen) county in 1828 delegates from fourteen churches met and formed the Nolachucky Association. Elder Thomas Hill was moderator of the meeting and Thomas L. Hale was clerk. The churches represented and their delegates were as follows:1. Robertson’s Creek--Jacob Coffman, William White, and David Manson
2. Slate Creek--Thomas Smith and Simon Smith
3. Prospect--John Cockerham and George Johnson
4. Concord--William Senter, Henry Senter and Nicolas Dunagan
5. Bent Creek--Andrew Coffman, Pleasant A. Witt, Wilkins Kirkpatrick, John Walker, Jacob Taylor, and John Donaldson
6. Warrensburg--Joseph White and Thomas L. Hale
18 See obituary of Dr. Davis in Minutes of the Secret Order side, 1939.
7. Gap Creek--William Jones and John CouchTwo other small associations were formed in the eastern part of the state, but for years they corresponded so infrequently with the three large ones--the Tennessee, Nolachucky and Powell Valley--that they seem to have belonged outside East Tennessee. The little Sequatchie Valley Association was formed in 183320 by six churches which were dismissed for that purpose from the Mud Creek Association, which was composed of churches in South Tennessee and North Alabama. The Hiwassee was formed in 1822 of churches in the region of the Hiwassee and Little Tennessee Rivers. Before the Civil War it was in correspondence with the Powell Valley and the Nolachucky, but after the war only very infrequently with these associations. Today it is not in correspondence with the Original Powell Valley, nor the Tennessee-Nolachucky, but corresponds rather with that side of the Powell Valley which holds in fellowship members of secret orders.21 The
8. Clay Creek--Joseph Manning
9. County Line--William Evans, Mark Hale and James Johnson
10. Big Pigeon--Thomas Hale and Benjamin O’dell
11. Bethel South--Isaac Barton and Hughes O. Taylor
12. Blackwell's Branch--James Kennon and Edward Daniels
13. Kill Spring--James Bruce and Joseph Orr
14. Barton--Joseph Hale and Richard Hale.19
19 McMillon Papers (copy of the proceedings of the association at Bent Creek, 1828.)
20 Minutes of Sequatchie Valley Primitive Baptist Association, 1833; Minutes of Mud Creek Primitive Baptist Association, 1833. (Copies supplied by D. M. Raulston, Chattanooga, Tenn.)
21 Minutes of Hiwassee Primitive Baptist Association, 1939. See also Appendix C.
Sequatchie Valley still corresponds with the Tennessee-Nolachuocky, the Original Powell Valley, the Mud Creek, and other associations which deny fellowship to members of secret orders.22
Having given a brief survey of the organization of the early churches and their associations, we Shall now turn our attention to the one great controversy which rent the Baptist ranks in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The mission movement, which has been so ably treated from the standpoint of the Methodists and Presbyterians, with their itinerants and their great educators respectively, caused just as much controversy, dissension and division among the Baptists. But, as has been suggested before, the Baptists are such poor record keepers and care so little about writing about themselves that little has been recorded of the schism over missions and missionary organizations in the Baptist churches. And though the mission movement totally disregarded state lines and we shall be writing necessarily of Kentucky, Virginia and Carolina Baptists as well as of Tennessee Baptists, enough has been gathered, I believe, to furnish a clear picture of the mission controversy in the Baptist associations of East Tennessee.
22 Minutes of Sequatchie Valley Primitive Baptist Association, 1939.
[From “The History of the Baptists of Tennessee,” University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Masters Thesis, 1941, chapter 2, pp. 15-28, via Internet document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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