committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict

1813
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author

 

TENNESSEE

This State lies west of North-Carolina, to which it formerly belonged, and directly south of Kentucky, from which it is divided by an east and west line; it is naturally divided into two grand sections by the Cumberland Mountains, which are but thinly inhabited; the settlements of course are mostly in the east and west ends of the State. These two divisions are, for the sake of distinction, called, the one East and the other West Tennessee. Knoxville in East, and Nashville in West Tennessee, are considered the capitals or principal towns in their respective divisions. They are two hundred miles apart.

The Baptists were not, as in Kentucky, the first settlers in this State, nor have they been, as they are there, the most numerous denomination of Christians. The Presbyterians took the lead as a religious denomination here, and in 1788, according to Morse?s Geography, when there were but ten Baptist churches in the country, and most of these very small, they had twenty-three large congregations. The Methodists also made an early beginning in this State, especially in its western part, where they have collected many societies, and they are probably now the most numerous of any one denomination in the State. The Presbyterians, however, are considerably numerous; and the Baptists have increased much within a few years, and are now increasing very fast, especially in West-Tennessee. The first settlements in this State were made on the Holston river and its waters, in East-Tennessee, and in the south-east corner of the State of Virginia; and in these settlements the first Baptist churches were established. It is said there were two churches gathered in this part of Tennessee, which was then a dangerous wilderness, some time before any of those arose, whose history we are now about to relate; but they were broken up and scattered, during the time of the Indian war. The circumstances under which they were gathered, I have not been able to learn. They were probably collected some time after the year 1765, and broken up in that Indian war which happened in 1774. One of these churches was on Clinch-River, a few of whose members returned after the war, and the church was re-constituted by the name of Glade Hollows, and now belongs to the Holston Association.

But the beginning of the first churches which have had a permanent standing was in the following manner: About the year 1780, William Murphy, James Keel, Thomas Murrell, Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton, Matthew Talbot, Joshua Kelly, and John Chastain, moved into what was called the Holston country, when it was in a wilderness state, and much exposed to the ravages and depredations of the Indians. These ministers were all Virginians, except Mr. Lane, who was from North-Carolina. They were accompanied by a considerable number of their brethren from the churches which they left, and were followed shortly after by Jonathan Mulky, William Reno, and some other ministers and brethren, and amongst the other emigrants there was a small body which went out in something like a church capacity. They removed from the old church at Sandy-Creek, in North-Carolina, which was planted by Shubael Stearns; and as a branch of the mother church, they emigrated to the wilderness, and settled on Boon?s Creek. The church is now called Buffaloe Ridge, and is under the pastoral care of Jonathan Mulky.

In 1781, one year after the settlement of most of the persons above mentioned, five or six churches having been established by the emigrants, they, for their mutual advantage and edification, concluded to meet together in conference twice in a year; this conference, they, in a short time, organized into a temporary Association, which they chose to place under the patronage and direction of the Sandy-Creek Association in North-Carolina. To this body they made annual returns of their proceedings, which they submitted for their inspection and approbation. But the remoteness of their situation rendered this measure so inconvenient, that by the approbation of their North-Carolina brethren, they, in 1786, erected their body into a distinct and independent Association by the name of Holston. [Mr. Asplung in his Register dates this Association in 1788; but the date which I have given must be correct, as I took it from the records of the Association.] This Association, at this time, consisted of the seven following churches, viz. Kendrick?s Creek, Bent Creek, Beaver Creek, Greasy Cove, Cherokee, North Fork of Holston, and Lower French Broad. The ministers belonging to it at this time, were Jonathan Mulky, Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton, James Keel, William Murphy, John Frost, and Alexander Chambers. A few of these ministers in a short time removed to other parts, but most of them became permanently stationed in the country, and have been diligent and successful laborers in this part of the vineyard. Most of the early Baptists in this region were of the old Separate order: some, however, were Regulars; but the leading sentiments of both were Calvinistic, and there was so little difference in their notions of doctrine and discipline, that these names were soon forgotten, and they went on together with great union and harmony. This Association adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, at the time of its constitution, and still adheres to the doctrinal sentiments contained in that instrument. They held an occasional correspondence, for a number of years, with some of the Kentucky Associations; but the distance being so great, and the inconveniences attending it were found to be so many, that it has for some time been laid aside. There has been considerable debate at different times in this body about laying-on-of-hands; but it is left at present for ministers, churches, and brethren, each one to follow their own light and convictions on the subject. Some refreshing seasons were experienced at different times amongst the churches within the bounds of this Association, and it progressed with a good degree of prosperity until 1802, when, by a mutual agreement, a division, which had some time before been proposed, was effected. The Association at the time of this division contained thirty-six churches, and between two and three thousand members. The line of division was from Powel?s River to the Flat Gap, on the Clinch Mountain, and thence by a crooked route to English?s Mountain. All the churches to the north of this line remained with, and retained the name and constitution of the Holston Association; while those at the south of it were dismissed to form a new one, which they called Tennessee. A number of churches and some of the oldest in this body, are in the State of Virginia. In 1809, the Holston Association contained eighteen churches, 1213 members, and thirteen preachers, eight of whom were ordained, and five were not. The churches in the State of Tennessee are mostly in the counties of Green, Hawkins, Sullivan, Washington, Jefferson, and Carter. Those in Virginia are in the counties of Washington and Russel. [Mr. Scruple, in his history of the Virginia Baptists, makes ten churches of this Association to be in Virginia; but from the Minutes which I took when I visited it in 1810, there were but three. The reason of this disagreement is probably this. I was informed that a number of churches, which had formerly belonged to the Association, had, for some cause which I cannot now relate, withdrawn; these churches are probably the ones in question, and had not withdrawn when Mr. Semple received his information.] In the time of the Great Revival, the bodily exercises of jerking, dancing, etc. were considerably prevalent in many of the churches in this Association and in the Holston settlements generally; an account of which will be given in the history of that remarkable work.

TENNESSEE ASSOCIATION

This Association, as has been related, arose from the division of the Holston, in 1802. It did not, like the mother Association, adopt the Confession of Faith, but professed to hold its substance and spirit, with some modifications of some of the articles which it contains. Many of the churches in this body are in the neighborhood of Knoxville, and most of them are on the Holston, Tennessee, and Clinch Rivers. It received its name from the river, which gives name to the State. This Association has already become considerably large, and it now extends over the Clinch River, to the Cumberland Mountain; and a few churches have lately been gathered in the nooks or vallies of the mountain, on land which was, till within five or six years, inhabited by the aboriginal proprietors of the soil.

[The road from East to West Tennessee leads directly over the stupendous and terrible piles of the Cumberland Mountains. Eighty miles of this road are most rugged and dreary indeed. It leads through land till lately claimed by the Indians, and it was by paying an annual sum for the privilege, that the United States government obtained permission of the native proprietors of the soil, to lay open a road through this desolate region, and establish three or four stands where houses of entertainment were kept for the convenience of travelers. But five or six years ago a very large tract of country, in which this road was included, was purchased of the Indians, and their claim to it forever extinguished. Since that period a few settlements have been made in the inhabitable parts of the mountains, but a considerable part them are wholly unfit for settlement, as they are altogether incapable of cultivation. There are now many inns or ordinaries on the road for the entertainment of travelers, most of which are of a truly inferior kind. A few of them, however, are kept with a good degree of neatness and attention, and furnish more comforts to the lonesome traveler, than he could expect to find in such a barren and inhospitable desert. This road I found the most dreary and unpleasant of any which I traveled in any of the United States. One night I tarried at an inn where I was treated with much hospitality. Shortly after I arrived, the people informed me that two panthers had lately been seen by the side of the road which I had passed, and that one of these dreadful animals had, not long before, came near the house in the night, and screamed like a woman in distress, and came near decoying the man of the house to go out into the woods to search for what he supposed at first a bewildered and unfortunate sufferer. They had but just finished this relation, when two men rode up to the door, of a most rustic and woodsy appearance; they informed us that they were in pursuit of a man who had lately broken a log jail, some distance off down the mountain, and that he was imprisoned for robbing and murdering a traveler on the road. This was unpleasant news for me. They also informed us there were lurking a few miles off, two noted horse-thieves on foot, one of whom had lately broken jail in South-Carolina, and had fled to these remote mountains for protection, and that they were supposed to be waiting to furnish themselves with horses to expedite their escape to remoter regions, as horse-stealing in South-Carolina is a capital crime; and this, I thought, was bad news for myself and horse too. The people also informed me, that the wolves were at that time very numerous and voracious, and that a company of them had, a day or two before, shown alarming signs of insolence and hostility to some travelers on the road. After hearing all these unpleasant relations, I committed myself to the divine protection, and retired, to rest as composedly as I could; but I could not help reflecting that I must ride in the morning, if my horse was not stolen, over rocks and mountains, through mud and snow, ten miles, without a house or inhabitant.]

This Association in 1809, contained thirty churches, fourteen ordained and two unordained preachers, and 1466 communicants. The churches are principally in the counties of Knox, Claiborne, Seveir, and Jefferson. The dispute about the laying-on-of-hands has also been, at different times, agitated in this Association as well as in the Holston, and the subject is also left on the same ground. Robert Fristoe of this Association, a native of Stafford county, in Virginia, and nephew to the famous Virginia preachers of the name, usually officiates as the Moderator of its meetings, and is considered a principal minister in the body.

WEST TENNESSEE

The settlements in this part of the State were not commenced till a number of years after those in East Tennessee had become large and flourishing. In the year 1780, a party of about forty families, invited by the richness of the Cumberland country, under the guidance and direction of General James Robertson, passed through a wilderness of at least 300 miles to the French Lick, there founded the town of Nashville, on the Cumberland River, and commenced settlements on the luxuriant soil in its vicinity. But I have not learnt that there were any Baptists in this company. The first church of this denomination in West Tennessee was gathered in 1786, on one of the branches of Red River, called Sulphur Fork, some considerable distance from Nashville. Who were its constituents I have not been able to learn; they must, however, have been an adventurous set of people. to have settled in such a remote region, where they were exposed to continual alarms, and destructive depredations from the Indians. The founders of this church probably emigrated from North-Carolina or Virginia, about the year 1783, when a swarm of emigrants poured into this region from many different quarters. One John Grammar was for a short time their pastor; but he removed from them, and the church was dissolved before any of those were formed which are now in existence. A considerable number of families of the Baptist persuasion had settled in many parts of the Cumberland country, but it was not till the year 1790, that Baptist churches began to be established, or the denomination to flourish. [As the first settlements in this part of Tennessee were made on the Cumberland River and its vicinity, the whole region was distinguished, by the name of the "Cumberland Country, or Cumberland Settlements," and it was not until the settlements became extensive, that the name of West Tennessee was adopted.] In the course of five or six years from this date, five churches were gathered; and in 1796, they were embodied into an Association called Mero District, after the name of a civil department, which then comprehended all the counties in West-Tennessee. This Association has become the mother of two others, viz. the Red River and Concord, which are both considerably large, and very respectable and flourishing establishments. The five churches, which at first composed the Mero Association, were Mouth of Sulphur Fork, White?s Creek, Head of Sulphur Fork, which has generally been known by the name of Dorris?s church, Middle church on Sulphur Fork, and the church on the west Fork of Station Camp. The ministers, who had assisted in raising up these churches, were Daniel Brown, Joseph Dorris, Nathan Arnett, and Patrick Mooney. The number of members at the commencement of the Association is not recorded, but they must have been few. [It is a uniform practice with all the Associations in the western and most of those in the southern States, to procure a blank book at their commencement, in which they record all their proceedings and all remarkable events. Many Associations could not conveniently print their Minutes, until a number of years after their commencement. But in these records they are preserved. This commendable practice is not generally adopted by the Associations in the middle and eastern States, but it is certainly worthy their attention. These records have afforded me peculiar service, and have often saved me much riding and labor.] The church at the Mouth of Sulphur Fork is the oldest now in existence in West-Tennessee. It was constituted in 1791, by the assistance of Elder Ambrose Dudley and John Taylor, from the Elkhorn Association in Kentucky. These ministers by the request of the brethren in this place traveled not far from two hundred miles, mostly through a wilderness, where they were continually exposed to be destroyed by the Indians. This church was at first called Tennessee; it united with the Elkhorn Association, where it continued until the Mero District Association was formed. This church remained alone in the wilderness, having no other within more than a hundred miles of it, until 1794, when that on White?s Creek in Davidson county, about six miles to the north of Nashville, was gathered. The church at the Head of Sulphur Fork was constituted in North-Carolina in 1795, and immediately after emigrated to this country in a church capacity, having before their removal chosen Joseph Dorris for their pastor; from this circumstance, this has been generally distinguished by the name of Dorris?s church. The Middle church on Sulphur Fork was constituted in 1796, and partly of members, who had belonged to the church, which was gathered in 1786; the one on Station Camp was raised up the same year. These were the beginnings of the Mero Association, and it will be seen by recurring to the geography of the country, that most of the churches were on the waters of the Red River, and that all of them were north of the Cumberland.

At the annual meeting of the Association in 1797, the churches on Richland Creek, Mill Creek, and the Head of Red River, were admitted as members of the infant establishment. That on Richland Creek was the first Baptist church which was gathered on the south side of the Cumberland River. The Reverend John Dillohunty took the care of this church at its commencement, and still continues their much respected pastor. He emigrated from the Neuse Association in North-Carolina, and has been an eminent and successful Baptist preacher for fifty-five years.

The church on Mill Creek was the second one raised on the south side of the Cumberland River; it is like that on Richland Creek in the neighborhood of Nashville. The same day the church was constituted, Mr. James Whitsett, who is a native of Virginia, was ordained as their pastor, in which office he still continues. He is now in the meridian of life, and by a kind Providence placed in easy circumstances, and is laborious, successful, and highly esteemed, throughout an extensive circle of brethren and churches. Robert C. Foster, Esq. a planter of considerable opulence, and one of the Senators in the State Legislature, is a member of this church. From 1797 till 1801, the Association traveled on in a prosperous manner, and had increased to eighteen churches, in which were sixteen ministers and about 1200 members; but now its progress was impeded, and its former harmony much interrupted. Some reports had gone abroad against Joseph Dorris, who had at this time become very popular as a preacher, and a number of things had appeared in his conduct, which had, for some time, been a source of peculiar trial to many of his brethren. But no steps of gospel labor were taken with him, until the matter was abruptly introduced before the Association at Mill Creek in the year 1800, by the delegates from the church on White?s Creek. They, pursuant to instructions received from their constituents in open assembly, declared a non-fellowship with both Dorris and his church; with Dorris for unchristian behavior, and with his church for not dealing with him. The matter, being thus brought before the Association, the churches were advised to send brethren to examine into the grounds of complaint against Dorris and his church. An examination in due form was accordingly made; and though the charges against Mr. Dorris were many and grievous, yet nothing could be sufficiently proved to justify the Association in excluding either him or his church from their seats. The report of these proceedings was made at the Association in 1802, on the reception of which the churches of White?s Creek and Richland Creek immediately withdrew. No further steps were taken at this meeting. But at an extra session of the Association in the April following, appointed for the special purpose of attending to this business, it was resolved that Mr. Dorris?s case should be reconsidered; and the Association proceeded to try their obnoxious brother the second time for the same offenses. He however acceded to the proposal, and professed to desire a full and fair investigation of all the charges exhibited against him. But this examination issued like the former; the brethren concerned could not, by substantial proofs, convict him; nor could they, in their own minds, acquit him. His friends declared him innocent, but others alleged that he had, by the connivance of his party, and his own artful measures, so entrenched himself on every side, that matters could not be fairly examined. The Association now relinquished their pursuit of Mr. Dorris, and began to study how they should extricate themselves from the difficulty in which they were involved on his account. They would have been glad to have dismissed him and his church at first, but he was as much determined to maintain his seat, as his brethren were to displace him. The Association, therefore, at last, resorted to the singular expedient of dissolving their body and forming a new one, into which they would not receive him. This event took place in the year 1803. The new Association, which originated in this curious transformation, was called Cumberland; and all the churches, which had belonged to the old Association, united with the new one, except Dorris?s and three other small ones, which sided with him. These four churches continued to meet under the name of the Mero Association; their number in 1805, amounted to about 200; but they have never prospered, nor increased, nor been admitted into the fellowship of any of the neighboring Associations. Mr. Dorris, of whom so much has been said, and who has been the cause of so much trouble to his brethren in these parts, is a native of North-Carolina, where he commenced his ministry. The manner of his removal to this country has been related. His reputation was sullied before he left his native State, and he always moved under a misty cloud of censures and complaints since he settled in Tennessee. The burden of the charges against him have been for imprudent or criminal conduct with women, that fruitful source of iniquity and slander, from which have issued a thousand polluted streams, to spot the garments and ruin the usefulness of many, who have assumed the ministerial character. But amidst all the evil reports, which have been circulated against him for twenty years, Mr. Dorris has continued to preach abundantly, with great confidence and zeal; for notwithstanding all the censures which his brethren have passed upon him, and the warnings which they have published against him, such are his talents and address, that he has ever found means to attach many to his person and ministry. He is said to be a man of great art and intrigue; and it has also often been said of him (as it may in truth be said of many others) that if he had been as careful and skillful in avoiding occasion for censures and reproaches, as he has been in entrenching and defending himself when they were brought against him, that he would doubtless have enjoyed, through life, much more reputation, innocence, and ease.

CUMBERLAND ASSOCIATION

The singular origin of this body has already been related. It contained fifteen churches at its beginning; and in 1806, three years after, so great was its prosperity that it had increased to thirty-nine churches which contained about 1900 members. Its bounds had now become so extensive, that a division was thought necessary; and the mountainous tract of land called the Red River Ridge, which lies between the Red and Cumberland Rivers, was agreed upon for a general line of division. The churches south and south-east of this ridge retained the name and constitution of the Cumberland Association, while those on the other side of it formed themselves into a new one, by the name of Red River. The Cumberland, from this division, traveled on with a prosperous course until 1809, when its boundaries had become so extensive, that it was thought expedient that it should divide again. Another division was accordingly amicably effected, and the line was as follows. To begin on the Red River, and at the place where the road from Lexington, Kentucky, to Nashville, crosses it, and to follow this road southwardly by Haysborough to Nashville, thence to the Harpeth Licks, and thence to the Tennessee River. This line runs about north and south, and all the churches west of it retained the name and constitution of the Cumberland Association, while those east of it were formed into a new one, by the name of Concord. By this division the mother Association was reduced to ten churches; but it has since greatly increased. In 1811 and 1812 there was a very extensive revival in the bounds of this Association. At its annual session in 1812, it appeared that in twelve months past 1081 members had been added to its churches. This Association, as will be seen by the line of division above mentioned, lies wholly to the west of Nashville. A number of its churches are not far from that town in the county of Davidson, the oldest county in West-Tennessee; and of the rest some are in the counties of Dickson, Montgomery, and Humphries.

RED RIVER ASSOCIATION

The manner in which this body originated has already been related. It contains some of the oldest churches in the country. The river which gave name to it has its rise in the State of Kentucky, but its course, which is generally south-west, is mostly in Tennessee; it empties into the Cumberland River at Clarksville, about twenty-five miles below Nashville. A good degree of prosperity has attended this Association from its beginning, and it has now become large. It lies on the line between Tennessee and Kentucky, and a part of its churches are in the latter State.

CONCORD ASSOCIATION

This body was organized in 1810, of churches dismissed from the Cumberland Association. Between eight and nine hundred members were added to it in 1812. The churches in it he on both sides of the Cumberland River, and extend eastward from Nashville about fifty miles, near to the western side of the Cumberland Mountains. I have not ascertained the names of all the counties in which they are situated. A number of them, however, are in those of Davidson, Sumner, Wilson, and Rutherford.

ELK RIVER ASSOCIATION.

This is a new Association, which was formed in 1808, in a remote and newly settled region, on the south side of the State of Tennessee, and in the neighborhood of the Tennessee river, about opposite the Muscle Shoals. This extensive tract of land, known at present by the name of the Elk and Duck River country, much of which is said to be very fertile, was included in that extensive purchase which the United States? government made a few years ago of the Chickasaw and Cherokee Indians. As soon as the Indian claim was extinguished, and the white people were permitted to make purchases in the country, they pressed into it with great eagerness from many different parts. Most of the earliest settlers, however, are said to have emigrated from the back parts of the State of Georgia; and amongst them were many of the Baptist order. By them a number of churches were soon gathered. The Association at its commencement contained seven churches; the next year after it was constituted, it received five new churches, and the year following ten; it contains twenty-four churches, and upwards of two thousand members. Upwards of a thousand of them were added in 1812.

The Union church on War Trace in Bedford county, formerly belonged to the Cumberland Association. One or more of the churches in this body are in the Mississippi Territory. The others are principally in the counties of Franklin, Madison, Bedford, Warren, and White.

The Associations in West Tennessee have devised and adopted the following "Abstract of Principles," by which the reader will discover the doctrinal sentiments which prevail amongst them.

1st. We believe in one only true and living God, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.

2d. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, and the only rule of faith and practice.

3d. We believe in the doctrine of election, and that God chose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world.

4th. We believe in the doctrine of original sin.

5th. We believe in man?s impotency to recover himself from the fallen state he is in by nature, by his own free will and ability.

6th. We believe that sinners are justified in the sight of God, only by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

7th. We believe that God?s elect shall be called, converted, regenerated, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

8th. We believe the saints shall persevere in grace, and never fall finally away.

9th. We believe that baptism and the Lord?s supper are ordinances of Jesus Christ, and that true believers are the subjects; and we believe that the true mode of baptism is by immersion.

10th. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, and general judgment.

11th. We believe the punishment of the wicked and the joys of the righteous will be eternal.

12th. We believe that no ministers have a right to the administration of the ordinances, only such as are regularly baptized, called, and come under the imposition of hands by the presbytery, etc.

Most of these accounts of Tennessee were made out in 1811. Since that time great additions have been made to the churches in this State, particularly in West Tennessee. Our brethren in these parts have been favored with a number of great and precious revivals. While the great work was going on in Kentucky, in 1800 and onward, this country was visited with a part of the copious shower of grace. We have seen that great numbers were added to the churches here in 1812. In this year, Mr. Whitsett, near Nashville, baptized about 350, and among the number were five students of Cumberland college, in that town.

 
 
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