John Young, Missionary to the Indians
by Larry Douglas Smith
Baptist historians have equated, often by implication, the founding of the General Missionary Convention in 1814 with the beginning of Baptist missions. While the formation of the Convention certainly represents a significant point, it by no means marks the start of Baptist missions. Indeed, missions were, and are, necessary for the continual survival of the denomination. Baptists, and other denomimations
that practice believers' baptism, are "dependent upon the maintenance of the missionary spirit for their continued existence."1 Prior to the Convention, Baptists did not raise their children to be Baptists, since membership required a call experience that came only from God.2 So, if Baptists were to continue as a denomination, missionary activity was necessary. Missions were manifest in three ways before the formation of the Triennial Convention; through individuals preaching on their own, through church related ministries, and more often through associations. While Baptists in America prior to 1814 neglected far away places,3 some efforts were made among the heathen populations at home: white, black, and red.
The beginning of the Baptist witness among the Indians goes back at least as far as Peter Folger, who was employed by the Mayhew family to minister to the Indians on Martha's Vineyard. Folger left the Congregational fold, bringing with him to the Baptist denomination three Indian churches.4 From the late seventeenth century, Baptists have ministered among the Indians through a variety of means and people.
The first missionary sent by any Baptist group west of the Allegheny Mountains was John Young.5 The South Elkhorn Church, of which Young was a member, reported to the Elkhorn Association in 1800 a total membership of 127 with only one baptism in the preceding year. The next year, as a result of the Great Revival, the Church reported a total membership of 438, with 309 baptisms within the year. The remarkable revival that had spread across Kentucky had profoundly touched this church.6
The South Elkhorn Church brought before the Elkhorn Association in 1801 a request that missionaries be sent to the Indians. The Association appointed a committee of five outstanding Kentucky Baptist leaders: David Burrow, Ambrose Dudley, John Price, Augustin Eastin, and George Smith. This group had three purposes. The first was to hear and to determine if any of the ministers of the Association had received a "Call" to preach to the Indians. If so, the committee was to give him credentials in the name of the Association to do missionary work among the Indians. Lastly, the committee was to establish a financial basis for any mission by collection and subscriptions from the churches.7
1 Oliver W. Elsbree, The Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America, 1790-18l5 (Williamsport, Pa.: Williamsport Printing Co., 1918), p 77.
2 For an example, Robert Johnson told his sons that if salvation "was the Lord's work, he would most certainly complete it." Leland Winfield Meyer. Life and Times of Col. Richard M. Johnson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 300-301;
3 Though there were no Baptist foreign mission efforts, many individual Baptist contributed to foreign missions through other agencies, such as the American Board of Commissioners and the British Baptist Missionary Society.
4 Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of Baptist Missions. (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1927), pp. 456-457.
5 The Miami Association of Ohio during the same year started a collection in order to send missionaries among the Indians, but the outcome of that effort is unknown. A.H. Dunlevy, History of the Miami Baptist Association (n.d.), p. 35. Vail. Morning Hour, pp. 189-190. That the Elkhorn Association mission also came to naught is also widely believed. Vail. Morning Hour, p. 189. John M. Peck, "Kentucky Baptists," Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, Vol. 1 (February 1842), p. 45.
6 John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists (Cincinnati: J. R. Baumes, 1885), Vol. 1, p. 543.
7 Minutes, Elkhorn Association, 1801.
=========================[From Leo T. Crismon, editor, Kentucky Baptist Heritage Journal, Volume VII, November 1980, pp. 12-13. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Indian Missions
Baptist History Homepage