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Samuel Trott in Kentucky:
Missionary and Anti-Missionary Baptist

by Larry Douglas Smith

      Though little known now, Samuel Trott was a principal leader of the anti-missionary or, as they preferred to call themselves, Old School Baptists from at least 1830 until his death in 1867. Allied with both missionary and anti-missionary Baptists in Kentucky, he is best known for his opinions presented in the pages of the anti-missionary periodical The Signs of the Times. People from all over the country wrote to ask his opinion on certain verses of Scripture or doctrinal position. Since the Kentucky phase of his life saw the change from missionary to anti-missionary Baptist, this article will focus on that aspect of his life, leaving for a later time the continued development of his thought and ministry.

      Samuel Trott was born in 1783, somewhere in New Hampshire. Spending his boyhood in that state and also in neighboring Vermont, he later moved to Massachusetts. Somewhere he became convinced that God was calling him into the Christian ministry. Desirous of an education in preparation for the Presbyterian Ministry, he moved to New Jersey to attend Princeton. Having already attained some education, he was able to get a job teaching school in one of the little villages outside Morristown, New Jersey. While living in the home of a Presbyterian clergyman in the town where he taught, Trott made a dilligent examination of the Greek Scriptures. He concluded that the Baptist faith and practice concerning the theology and practice of Baptism by immersion was correct.

      Trott received "Baptist" baptism by Elder Parkinson in December, 1810. After becoming a member of the Baptist church at Morristown, the church licensed him and at the end of the year called him to preach. On August 30, 1812, he was ordained. He was later described by a clerk of the church as "a man of very strong reasoning powers; unfleching in his conviction of duty, and irreproachable in conduct." However, he further added that "Trott's 'view' of Scripture doctrines were rigidly Calvinistic, and were presented by him strongly in every sermon, therefore his preaching was not poplar." As he also preached at this same church after his ministry in Kentucky, he probably developed, the strong opinions of Calvinism during his absence from this congregation. He was here part of the denominational leadership, being chosen to write the circular letter of the New York Baptist Association in 1815.

      Trott remained at Morristown until June of 1815, when he moved west. From the time he left Morristown to the date when he joined the McConnell's Run Baptist Church in Kentucky, Trott's life remains hidden from the historian. He mentioned in a letter that he once lived in Ohio, probably around the Cincinnati area, but no other source has been found to throw more light on his actions during this period.

      By April, 1817, Trott and his wife, Elizabeth, were active in the McConnell's Run Church (later known as Stamping Ground). At this time two other men, James Suggett and Thomas Henderson, both of whom were leaders in the missionary movement among Kentucky Baptists, also preached for the church. Trott, however, was the first pastor since 1796 to be a member of the church, a statement on the mobility practiced by the transient, itinerant Baptist preachers. In return for supplying the church's pulpit once a month, it furnished him rent for a farm that he

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could work in order to support his family. In addition he taught at the nearby school. He retained this church connection until February, 1818.

      James Suggett and Thomas Henderson were both leading members of the Kentucky Baptist Mission Society. Founded in the wake of the missionary upsurge created by Luther Rice, although created before he made his 1815 visit to Kentucky in which five other missionary societies were begun, the Kentucky Baptist Mission Society was the strongest and most productive of these early missionary societies. It was centered in the Lexington-Georgetown-Frankfort area and was closely associated in personnel with the Elkhorn Association. For some time the Society had been attempting to begin an Indian school (they called it a seminary). This attempt led to conflict with the general board of the Triennial Convention, which rejected the idea of Kentucky Baptists to educate Indians in Kentucky admidst civilized surrounding.

      Many of the early records of the society are lost, but what we have reports that prior to June, 1818, Trott was its corresponding secretary and the Salem Association Minutes record a letter from Trott. On June 27, 1818, Trott was elected agent for the society and also recommended by the Board as a person well-qualified to take charge of the Indian school.

      Trott's responsibility as agent was to secure funds in the east; his eastern background was probably the factor which led to his selection. Leaving his family in Cincinnati, he began his tour on December 2, 1818, going by way of Pittsburg to New York. He then worked his way down the coast, through Philadelphia and Washington, D. C. to Charleston.

      During this trip the Panic of 1819, as it is called, began. The Second Bank of the United States which had supported the wild land speculation that followed the War of 1812, took steps in late 1818 to curtail credit by tightening loan requirements and repayment procedures. Debts to the bank were counted in the millions, most of which could never be repaid. Economic times were difficult in the West, and this depression lasted until 1824. Some interpreters of anti-missionism point to this economic downturn as the force that led to the origins of Anti-Missionsm. Unfortunately, we have no evidence one way or another as to the impact that this panic had on the origins of Anti-Missionism or Samuel Trott.

      When Trott reached Charleston, he learned of the reconciliation between the Kentucky society and the general board. Although he had intended to go farther, he returned to Kentucky, arriving there in April, 1819. Thereupon he reported to the society and resigned. His opponents would later state that the society "discontinued his agency." In arguing with John Waller and John Mason Peck in the Baptist Banner, Trott indicated that he had joined the Kentucky Mission Society because it was independent of the Triennial Convention. Though admitting he was then "more foolish" than he later was, even in 1818 he "could not . . . countenance the pride, arrogance and pomposity, as well as other things connected with the General Board."

      While worried about what Trott's writings would do to the Baptists in Illinois and Missouri, Waller repeated charges against Trott that the latter had been a paid agent for the Kentucky Mission Society. Peck charged that Trott "was always rather ultra in doctrine, verging towards antinomian fatality, rather narrow in his views, and tinged with a little bigotry." Even given

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Peck's propensity to label all his opponents "antinomian," one can easily see that Peck did not think highly of Trott. Peck continued his attacks on Trott, saying that "his preaching never proved very instructive, interesting, or useful, anywhere." Waller, however, provided the crowning insult, "when we select an opponent, we shall choose one with larger 'calibre' than friend Trott."

      Whether Trott's statements can be taken at face value is of course debateable. Was Trott's hostility manifest only toward the General Board? Or was he vexed because in his absence another was chosen to head the Indian school? Or was he just trying to put his past, foolish actions into the best light possible? Did the Panic of 1819, by reducing contributions to the Indian School, make him rethink his support of the missionary body? One thing is certain; Trott was actively and intensely involved in the Kentucky Baptist Mission Society before he went East. Not so, upon his return. Something happened during this trip which completely turned his missionary support into hospility. Probably other factors, especially soteriological, figured into the decision, but the local society's reconciliation with the national body must have played some part.

      After leaving the society, Trott remained in Kentucky as pastor of the Dry Run Church, Licking Association. The 1819 letter to the association reported 85 members, of whom 22 had been restored that year. A reasonable interpretation of such a large number of restored people would be that a reconciliation occurred within a divided church. Trott's role in this event, if indeed any reconciliation occurred, is not known.

      Nor were matters in the association any better. Ever since its separation from the Elkhorn Association, the Licking had been continually troubled. To this historically troublesome atmosphere, Trott contributed another, when he introduced and led in the passage of a motion to add the word "Particular" to the association's name, making it the Licking Association of Particular Baptists. Prior to this and apparently without Trott's influence, in 1818, the Licking Association's circular letter clearly advocated the doctrine of particular atonement. In truth, therefore, Trott could state that the addition of the word "Particular" to their name clarified their stand on atonement. However, John Taylor, who was both close to the Baptists of Kentucky and held a good opinion of Trott, felt that the term was not understood by most.

      Trott remained at Dry Run until late 1820 or 1821, when he returned East. Trott's three to five years in the state saw a complete turn around on his position on Missionary organizations. He was likely correct in identifying the affiliation with the national body as a major reason for his leaving the ranks of Missionary supporters. He certainly interpreted this move as a stab in his back and as an attempt to discredit him in the East, where he had assured supporters of the independence of the Kentucky Mission Society. But we must not neglect the influence of particular atonement. As this doctrine would be the backbone of his attacks upon the missionary enterprise in later years, a reasonable assumption is that it had some role in his "conversion" from missionary to anti-missionary Baptist.

      After returning East, Trott pastored several churches in New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia: He was active in the Black Rock Convention, one of the Milestones of the Old School Baptists. During the Civil War, he was one of several anti-missionary Baptist preachers imprisoned illegally. Although the conditions of confinement were relatively mild, his health deteriorated and he died shortly after the war.


From the Baptist History and Heritage Journal. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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