Kentucky Baptist Minister
By J. H. Spencer
WILLIAM VAUGHAN was the most eminent minister that has served the church at Bloomfield. He was the strongest and longest link that united the pioneer preachers with those of the present generation, and partook largely of the best qualities of both classes. He labored in the ministry, with Lewis Craig, John Taylor, William Hickman, Ambrose Dudley, Joseph Redding and many other illustrious pioneers of the cross, in Kentucky, and then lived to thrill the hearts of the ministers of the present generation, with his words of encouragement, in the great centennial convention that met at Louisville, in 1876.
William Vaughan was born in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, February 22, 1785. His father, John Vaughan, and his grandfather were born in New Jersey. His great grandfather was born in Wales, and was a Baptist deacon. John Vaughan emigrated to Kentucky, and settled in Scott county, in 1788. He was a Baptist. William was sent to school nine months, in his eighth year. At this school, he made a very unpromising beginning, in preaching. During playtime, one day, Dick Applegate, Dick McClure and Green Roberts, agreed to preach. The gutter of a stick and dirt chimney was their pulpit. Applegate preached first. The full text of his sermon was this: "If all the men in the world were one big man, and all the axes in the world were one big ax, and all the trees in the world were one big tree, and all the rivers in the world were one big river, and that mighty man should take that mighty ax, and cut down that mighty tree into that mighty river, there would be a mighty slish slosh." Roberts followed, and preached the same sermon. McClure preached next. His sermon was: "Oh what a cruel place hell is!" "I thought their preaching very foolish," said Mr. Vaughan, "and I determined to do better." The following is the full text of Vaughan's sermon: "Boys, if you break the Sabbath, or tell stories* or swear; or don't mind your mammy and daddy, or don't mind your books, and be good boys, you will die and go to hell -- a lake of blue blazes, burning with fire and brimstone. And when you ask for water the devil will melt lead in a ladle, and pour it down your throat." The sermon was not a bad one, for a boy under eight years of age. But it was a costly one to the
* Meaning Falsehoods.
young preacher. The ignorant and brutal teacher flogged him so severely for preaching it, that he carried the marks twelve months. He attended this school without shoes or hat. He commenced at the alphabet, and learned to read the Bible, which was his school book, with some facility, at this school. At about the age of ten years, he went to school three months. After this, he attended night writing school, two weeks, and again, at the age of fifteen years, he went to a writing school thirteen nights. He labored with his father, who was a farmer, and a tanner, till his father's death, which occurred in November, 1795. After the death of his father, he labored on the farm three years, aiding his mother in supporting a family of five daughters and four sons. One of the latter was his twin brother.
At the age of eighteen years, young Vaughan apprenticed himself to Lawson McCullough, a tailor, in Lexington, where he remained four years. At the close of his apprenticeship, he married Miss Lydia Wing Allen, a native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and the only daughter of Elisha Allen, then ofLexington, Kentucky. She had been raised in the faith of the Quakers. Soon after his marriage, Mr. Vaughan established himself as a tailor, in Winchester, his wife assisting him in his business. They were very poor, and had to labor very hard to make a living.
This was the period of infidelity, in Kentucky. Tom Paine's Age of Reason was extensively circulated, and was very popular. Deism was the fashionable religion of the day. Most of the professional men, and such others as desired, to make the impression that they were wise, or learned, avowed themselves, infidels. Mr. Vaughan was fond of reading, and had a great thirst for knowledge. He procured the writings of Paine and Volney, and, after reading them, professed infidelity, and joined an infidel club, in Winchester. He ceased going to religious meeting, and became recklessly profane. Like many other towns, at that period, Winchester had no place of worship. Even Louisville had no house of worship, at that time. Mr. Vaughan joined the infidel club, merely for, the pleasure and the social and intellectual advantages he expected to derive from it. "I never expected," said he, "to die in that
faith." Mr. Vaughan relates his experience of that period, as follows:*
"In August, 1810, I and four or five others went to see a sick man of the name of Buchanan. He was a profane, wicked man. When we reached his house, he was breathing loud and hard. I looked at him, and saw that he must die and be lost. Then the thought occurred to me, that, if I did not change my course, I must be lost. I determined, then, to change my course, and become a religious man. I then thought, if I became a Christian, I would be disgraced, and my infidel friends would abandon me. Upon this reflection, I resolved to seek religion, become a Christian, live a religious life, and go to heaven, without anyone's knowing it. The next reflection was, 'What if I am disgraced? I am an obscure individual, and unknown.' Then came the thought, 'I am a deist, and do not believe the Bible.' I determined to read the Bible. Accidentally I opened at the sermon on the mount. I read to the passage; 'Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.' 'This is too beautiful and sublime,' I exclaimed, 'to be of man. It must be divine.' I retired to a secret place to pray. But a thousand vain, sinful, and foolish thoughts rushed into my mind. I sought a more retired place, laid my face on the ground, and again tried to pray, but with no better success. Here, for the first time, I realized the depravity of my heart. I did not resolve to keep the law, for I was too ignorant to know that God had a law. But I felt exceedingly sinful and unworthy, and realized that God was a holy being, and I asinful creature, and that I and he could not dwell together, except I be changed.
"I kept all my troubles to myself. I formed the habit of asking a blessing, mentally, at my table, and continued retiring to secret places to pray, especially after dark. One night, after trying to pray, I sat down on a log, and soliloquized after the following manner: 'I was raised by pious parents. After leaving my mother's home, I was thrown into a religious family, where family worship was kept up. How good has God been
* Taken down from his lips by the author.
to me. How wicked I have been, to sin against 'so good a God.'
"Two weeks after my distress began, I had a remarkable dream. I thought I was on the farm my father died on. I had a vision of hell. I saw the smoke of the torment of the damned, ascending up out of the open crater of a mound. Then I seemed to be at a place in the woods where there was a collection of people, and several ministers preaching. About a week after this, on Sabbath morning, I was sitting in my door, pensive and disconsolate, when I saw a company of people walking by. On inquiring, I learned that they were going to meeting; at an old log Baptist meeting house called Rocky Spring, about three miles distant. I joined the company, and went with them. As we walked along, a very wicked old man remarked to me, that, every six or seven years, a portion of the people went off from the world and became religious. If I ever prayed from my heart, it was as I walked to that meeting. A man by the name of Leathers got up to preach. I had never seen him before. When he rose up I recognized him as the man I had seen in my dream -- even to the minutia of his dress. George Eve followed him, preaching from the text: 'Ye must be born again.' All he said was an incomprehensible mystery to me. James Quisenberry followed him from the text: 'The great day of of his wrath has come and who shall be able to stand ?' He described the various outpourings of God's wrath, frequently repeating the words, 'who shall be able to stand?' each time I would say mentally: 'I shall not be able to stand.' At the close of his sermon, he invited the mourners to come forward and be prayed for. The thought occurred to me, 'I will not go up there and disgrace myself, I will go to the woods and pray, God can hear me there as well as here.' The next thing I knew, I was on my knees, at the feet of the preachers, confessing my sins -- especially my deism -- and asking them to pray for me. They prayed. One woman near me cried out 'Oh my heart is so hard.' I felt that to be just my case. I begged them to pray for me again. They did not do so then. I cried aloud: 'Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.' One of my wicked companions was standing near me, unaffected. I warned him to flee from the wrath to come. My mental agony was so great that I was unable to stand on my
feet. I fell on the ground. My breathing became so hard that I could have been heard fifty yards. Two persons slapped the insides of my hands, and threw water in my face. After awhile I regained my strength and sat up, overwhelmed with a vivid sense of my exposure to the wrath of God. I sat there till the congregation had dispersed. A pious woman came to comfort me, but could give me no relief.
"I continued in this state of guilt and shame a week. I was in constant fear of meeting some of my old companions. At last my fears were realized. As I passed the tavern, the tavern keeper came out and said: 'Vaughan, I understand you are going to be a preacher, I shall lose a good customer. Come in and take a glass of wine and a game of cards.' I continued trying to pray. One dark night, after rising from my knees, I breathed into my hands, mentally exclaiming: 'Nothing but this breath keeps me out of hell.' I went to every meeting I could hear of, and asked every preacher I met, to pray for me. Once I walked six miles to hear Jeremiah Vardeman, and walked back without my dinner. My older brother, who had recently professed faith in Christ, hearing of my condition, came thirty miles to comfort me, but could give me no relief. With my brother, I rode ten miles to hear Vardeman. Going home, I rode with my hands on the pommel of my saddle, choked with grief, and mourning as one who mourns for his first-born. My brother went home. Next day I was sitting in my room alone. It seemed to me that I cried every breath: 'Lord be merciful to me.' This continued a half hour. Suddenly the thought occurred: 'What a great change has come over me: Six weeks ago I could not utter a sentence without an oath; now every breath is a prayer for mercy.' Then this text occurred to me 'Ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby ye cry Abba, Father.' In a moment it seemed to me that the blood of Christ overwhelmed me, and I felt that my burden and distress were gone. I felt such a love for Jesus Christ, that I thought, if he was on earth, and I could get hold of his feet, I would press them to my bosom. Still I did not love him as I wished to. I went out into the fields, and spent the rest of the day in prayer, praise and rejoicing. I felt that God had been merciful to me, but could not tell how. Relief came not as expected. I thought all my exercises should
have been more intense. I prayed for the return of my burden, and continued to have alternate doubts and hopes, till the third Saturday in October -- about two weeks after I obtained hope -- when I went to Friendship church, related the dealings of God with my soul, and was approved for baptism. Next day, the third Sunday in October, 1810, I was baptized by James Quesenberry."
That night Mr. Vaughan set up family worship, and soon afterward began to pray in public and exhort. James Sugget induced him to make an effort to preach, but he made a sad failure, and was so much discouraged, that he felt he would rather "the Lord would kill him, than compel him to preach." Still he felt a great desire to preach, if he had the ability.
On Saturday before the third Sunday in February, 1811, the church at Friendship licensed to preach, James Haggard, Anson Mills, Ninnian Ridgeway and William Vaughan. Mr. Vaughan made many discouraging failures, in his attempts to preach, but persevered in his efforts, until he was deemed worthy of ordination. Meanwhile, he felt the deficiency of his education so sensibly that he determined to apply himself to study. He procured a few books, among which was Walker's dictionary, and devoted as much of his time as he could to the improvement of his education.
On the third Sunday in July, 1812, he was ordained at Lulbegrud church, in Montgomery county, by Jeremiah Vardeman and David Chenault. He had previously accepted a call to the care of a church, called Sycamore, in Montgomery county. To this church he preached a little more than two years. For this service he received ten dollars, one of which he lost by being thrown from his horse, while returning home, one dark night.
In the Fall of 1814, he was sent as a corresponding messenger to Bracken Association, and, for the first time, was appointed to preach on Sunday, at an association. From the Association he sent out a list of appointments, and, in filling them received fifty dollars. With many of the preachers of his day, he had entertained a strong prejudice against receiving money for preaching. But he was now very poor, and the comforts procured for his family for this fifty dollars, healed all
his former prejudices on that subject. It was during this trip to Bracken Association, that he first met that eminent man of God, Walter Warder, between whom and himself grew up a warm and lasting friendship.
Late in the same fall, Mr. Vaughan made a second visit to the churches in Bracken Association, and received a hundred dollars for his services. The next Spring he moved to Mason county, to take the care of Lees Creek church. He preached to this church once a month without a salary, working at his trade for the support of his family. The church gave him about thirty dollars a year. About the year 1817, there grew up some doctrinal differences in the church at Lees Creek. The dissension had been caused by an old preacher named William Grinstead. A part of the church desired to have Mr. Grinstead preach for them once a month. Mr. Vaughan favored their purpose, and he was invited accordingly. He preached what was popularly called Antinomianism to them, but as the church paid him nothing for his services, he soon withdrew. He soon drew off from Bracken Association three churches, Maysville, Stonelick and Richland. He was afterwards excluded from Maysville church for drunkenness.
In the fall of 1816, Mr. Vaughan, with the help of an old preacher of the name of Charles Anderson, constituted a church of seven members at Augusta. The same evening, a woman was approved for baptism. Next morning Mr. Vaughan baptized her, and, on the occasion, delivered a half hour's lecture on baptism. The lecture convinced a family of Presbyterians of the scripturalness of immersion, and they were soon afterward baptized.
In 1818, Mr. Vaughan moved to Augusta, where he taught school, and continued to preach to the church at that place, of which he had been pastor from its constitution. While Mr. Vaughan was preaching in Augusta, the Presbyterians called to the pastorate of their church there, William L. McCalla. He soon displayed his controversial qualities by preaching a sermon on baptism, and challenging Mr. Vaughan to defend his doctrines. Mr. Vaughan preached a sermon on the subject of baptism twoand-three-quarter hours long. Mr. McCalla afterward called on him for the notes of his sermon by which he had "converted all the infidels in town to his views." Mr. McCalla afterwards
preached another sermon on baptism, in which he used some bitter language, which caused some ill feelings between the Baptists and Presbyterians of the town. In the year 1817, an extensive revival visited Augusta, and about fifty persons were added to the Baptist church.
Mr. Vaughan continued to preach to the churches at Augusta and Lees Creek, till the fall of 1828, when he moved to West Liberty, Ohio. At this place, he remained only a year, which he regarded the gloomiest and most unfruitful year of his ministry. In the fall of 1829, he moved back to Mason county, Kentucky. During his absence, an extensive revival had taken place. Walter Warder, who was the principal laborer in this work, had baptized four hundred and eighty persons into the fellowship of Mayslick church, and more than a thousand in the bounds of Bracken Association, in one year.* "Campbellism had become a raging epidemic." The part Mr. Vaughan took in this contest, may be seen in a sketch of the life of Walter Warder, in a preceding chapter.
On the first Saturday in September, 1829, the Bracken Association met at Washington in Mason county. Mr. Vaughan was elected Moderator. Up to this time, there had been no formal division of the Baptists and Campbellites. The association passed a resolution, recommending the withdrawal of fellowship from all who adhered to the peculiar tenets of A. Campbell. This called forth the bitter denunciations of the leading Campbellites, against Mr. Vaughan. Burnett attacked him through his paper; Creath assailed him through thecolumns of the Budget, and Campbell, in the Millennial Harbinger. But "the Bracken Moderator," as Mr. Campbell derisively styled him, was equal to any emergency that arose out of this struggle. Mr. Vaughan was now in his forty-fifth year, and, though not so learned as Mr. Campbell, was his superior in acuteness of discrimination and powers of logic. He dissected Mr. Campbell's system with a masterly hand, drew the line between it and the doctrine of the Baptists, and made open war upon the new theory.
After his return from Ohio, Mr. Vaughan accepted the pastoral care of the churches at Falmouth, Carlisle, and Bethel,
* History of Mayslick Church, p. 15.
the last named of which he and Walter Warder had constituted in Fleming county, about the year 1825. In 1830, he purchased a small farm in Fleming county, to which he soon afterwards moved. Next year he accepted the position of general agent of the American Sunday-school Union for northern Kentucky. He continued in this work about thirty months, in connection with his pastoral labors at Carlisle and Bethel, during which time he organized about one hundred Sunday-schools.
In the fall of 1835, he accepted the general agency of the American and Foreign Bible Society for the State of Kentucky. He had occupied this position only six months when the Baptists drew off from that society, and formed an independent organization. Mr. Vaughan immediately resigned his position. While engaged in the work of the Bible Society, he visited Bloomfield. The church at this place invited him to settle among its members, and preach to them in connection with their aged pastor, Isaac Taylor. This invitation he accepted, and, at once prepared to move to his new field of labor. Mr. Taylor continued to preach to the church once a month, till some time the next year, when he resigned.
Mr. Vaughan moved his family to Bloomfield, in June, 1836. At the time of his removal he says: "I was oppressed with deep melancholy, and dreadful forebodings." Ten days after his arrival, his daughter, Ann, a beautiful and highly accomplished young lady, eighteen years of age, died, a short time before she was to have married. She was not a professor of religion, which added to the distress of her parents.
Mr. Vaughan purchased a small farm near Bloomfield, on which he lived, until he became too old to attend to it comfortably, and then moved into the village. He preached two Sundays in the month at Bloomfield, from June, 1836, till June 1868, when he was disabled by a fall, and resigned his charge. In 1838, Mr. Taylor having resigned, Mr. Vaughan was installed in the pastoral office at Bloomfield. Besides his labors at this place, he preached to other churches within his reach, so as to fill up all his time. In the fall of 1836, he accepted a call to preach once a month to the church at Elizabethtown, for one year. During the year, he baptized twenty-five, among whom was the lamented A. W. LaRue. In the fall of 1837, he preached on Sunday, during the sitting
of Salem Association, at Bethlehem church in Washington county, from the text: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation." The effect on the people was so great, that it was determined to protract the meeting a few days This was done, and forty were added to the church. In the summer of the same year, he went to Harrodsburg, and preached several sermons. In the following fall, he went back, and was aided by John Rice and John S. Higgins, in constituting a church of sixteen members, in that town. To this church he preached, one Sunday in the month, five years from its constitution. About a hundred were added to its membership, and a good house of worship was built, during the time.
Some years before Mr. Vaughan moved to Bloomfield, Thos. J. Fisher and Jordan Walker constituted a church at Lawrenceburg. Mr. Walker became its pastor; but, in 1837, he joined the Anti-missionary Baptists, taking a large number of the members with him. In the confusion, a number of the members joined the Campbellites. To the remnant of this church, Mr. Vaughan commenced preaching once a month, in 1837. He preached about seven years. About sixty were baptized. Among them were Thomas M. Vaughan, Robert R. Lillard, and William Blair, all of whom became Baptist preachers. Mr. Vaughan preached one year to the church at Shepherdsville, about 1840. In 1842, Mrs. Vaughan visited her daughter in Elizaville, Ky. She was in delicate health when she started, and continued to grow feebler till the 10th of September, when she died. Mr. Vaughan was on his way to Elizaville, to bring her home. When he got within ten miles of that village, he learned that she was dead and buried. The good man was overwhelmed with grief. But he sorrowed not as those who have no hope, for he doubted not that she was at rest.
May 30, 1843, Mr. Vaughan, married for his second wife Mrs. Malinda H. Cain, widow of Major James Cain, and daughter of William McKay, of Nelson county. This marriage was a most happy one. This lady was an excellent Christian woman, and by her industry, prudence and economy saved to her husband, who was but a poor financier, a sufficiency of this world's goods to make them comfortable, in their helpless old age.
In 1845 Mr. Vaughan was called to the pastoral care of
Little Union church, in Spencer county. Here he preached once a month, a few years, and then began to preach there two Sundays in the month.
From this time till he was too old and infirm to go in and out before his people, the faithful and beloved old shepherd divided his time equally between Bloomfield and Little Union churches, which were located six miles apart. While he preached to Little Union church only once a month, he preached monthly at Buck Creek, in Shelby county, into the fellowship of which he baptized thirty-six members.
In June, 1868, Mr. Vaughan, then in his eighty-fourth year, fell and crushed his hip. This rendered him unable to attend to pastoral labors, and he resigned his charges. Two years after this, his faithful wife fell and crushed her hip in a very similar manner to that of her husband. In a few weeks afterwards, she went to receive the reward of the righteous.
Mr. Vaughan, now old and feeble, went to live with his son, Elder T. M. Vaughan. He kept up his habit of regular study as long as he was able to sit a portion of the day in an easy chair, and preached when his health would permit. In the Centennial Convention, in May, 1876, he made two or three short speeches. On the 25th of February, 1877, he preached his last sermon, in the Baptist meeting-house at Danville, Kentucky. On the 31st of March following, at 4:30 P.M., he fell asleep in Jesus. His remains were carried to Bloomfield, where they were buried near the pulpit in which he had preached thirtytwo years.
Truly a great prince had fallen in Israel. Of him, J. M. Pendleton says: "I have heard the great preachers, so-called, in the East and West and North and South, but * * * I have heard no man superior to Dr. Vaughan, in his palmiest days." J.M. Weaver says of him: "As a theologian, he had no superior in Kentucky." These testimonies were just. For many years, he was the ablest preacher in the Kentucky pulpit. But far above this shone the more exalted qualities of purity, piety and consecration to the cause of his divine Master. But, at last he rests from his labors and his works do follow him.*
* His son, Elder T. M. Vaughan, has published a neat volume of 336 pages of "Memoirs of William Vaughan."
[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume I, 1885, reprint 1984, pp. 219-229. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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