Early Church Influence in Todd County, Kentucky

The people who laid the foundations of society in Todd County were a religious people. The great revival movement which originated in Logan County in 1800, spread over the new settlements of the State like a prairie fire, and set the whole land in a flame of religious ardor. It was a time when pious ardor broke through the restraining forms of the church, and expressed itself in the wildest ecstasy and most extravagant manifestations. There were but few church buildings of any character in this region, and the people came together in large camp-meetings, where the Spirit of the Lord seemed to manifest His presence with almost the miraculous power of apostolic times. These manifestations, often bordering upon the ridiculous, baffle philosophical speculation. Men of rugged mind and physique, and women and children alike, succumbed to the “jerks, the falling or running exercises.” In describing these scenes, the Hon. Urban E. Kennedy relates: ” Many times I have seen them unexpectedly jerked flat on their backs, and the next instant jerked full length upon their faces. Ladies while sitting intently observant of the exercises, were jerked so violently that their bon-nets, capes, handkerchiefs and loose apparel would be thrown clear away, and their long, beautiful hair, unrestrained by combs, fillets, etc., flowing down to their waists, would crack like an ox-whip with the violent vibrations of their heads and shoulders. Others would jump and run like an antelope, perhaps for fifty or a hundred yards, and then fall prone upon the ground and lie apparently lifeless, sometimes for hours. Some would say it was the chastening work of an Almighty God; others, that it was the work of the devil. You might see the skeptical high-flyers stand on the outskirts of the assembly, winking and making sport of these manifestations, and often, in five minutes, they would be screaming and howling like madmen. Once two old church members of great formality and incredulity visited a meeting of this kind to observe with their own eyes what they had heard and disbelieved of these manifestations. After critically scrutinizing the whole matter, they pronounced it heterodox, and left the ground. However, before reaching home they took the jerks and were thrown to the ground, giving utterance to piercing yells. After a time the unbelieving and ridiculing portion of the community became afraid to attend these meetings lest they should feel this supernatural power. But many even here, in the midst of ridicule and philosophical explanation of this subject, would be taken with the jerks and send for the ministers and Elders for instruction and relief. These experiences were not wholly confined to those of religious training, but to all the community. Most of those who were thus affected became members of the church, though some while not embracing religion abated much of their skepticism.”

Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Church was probably about the earliest represented in Kentucky. At the conference of 1800 there were five circuits, to which six preachers were appointed, and a total membership in the State of about 1,741 communicants. At this point the remarkable revival of the time greatly added to its influence and numbers. During the following decade the membership was increased to 7,057, with such men as William McKendree, Lewis Garrett, Peter Cartwright and others as preachers, and Gabriel and Daniel Woodfield, Joseph Ferguson, John Graham, etc., as local preachers. The great revival began in 1799 under the preaching of John and William McGee, the former a Methodist and the latter a Presbyterian. Peter Cartwright and John Grahame were the only apostles of Methodism in Todd County up to about 1810, and their labors were carried on all over the county. Services were held in the cabin home of some member of the church, the class being guided by its leader on ordinary occasions, and preaching had when the pressing calls of the itinerant would allow. The King’s business demanded haste, and services were not deferred until Sunday, but whenever a preacher arrived word was sent round and an audience convened. Church buildings were not constructed in Todd County by this denomination until some years later, camp-meetings in the meanwhile serving to bring the people together, where they could enjoy the continued services of the church conducted by the few but efficient men to whom this large field was given to cultivate. The earthquake of 1811 ushered in a great revival in this church in Todd County. The natural phenomenon announced itself by shaking the furniture until it rattled, knocking down stones from the chimneys, and with a deep muttering sound that to the superstitious pioneers was ominous of the end of the world. Those learned in the Scriptures quoted with telling effect, ” Yet a little while and I will not only shake the heavens, but the earth also, and ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes in divers places.” The times lent confirmation to the earthquake; the Indian war in Ohio was only a mask which covered the more dangerous struggle with Great Britain, and what was not supplied by the facts was made good by the popular imagination. The pioneers had more than the average amount of superstition, and the general expectation would have hardly been exceeded if a large portion of the unrepentant people had been swallowed by some yawning gulf. Near Bell’s Chapel had been a dancing school, and here the excitement was intense. Prayer-meetings were inaugurated on the instant and held throughout the day, subsequent to every meeting. All churches profited by the event, and large accessions were received. The growth of the Methodist Church has been gradual, and did not have its usual early lead in numbers and influence in Todd County. It is probable the reason is found in the fact that other churches, which came as close to the common people, divided the field usually occupied entirely by the Methodists. At present this church has its organization in every village and center of population in the county.

Cumberland Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church was hardly second in its appearance in Kentucky. In 1796 James Mc-Gready, a Presbyterian minister, settled in Logan County and took charge of three congregations-Little Muddy, Gaspar River and Red River, the latter being situated near the line separating Kentucky and Tennessee. Mr. McGready- was a native of Pennsylvania, but commenced his ministry in North Carolina, where he inveighed with great earnestness against slavery and formalism. On this account he became offensive to the church and immigrated to Kentucky, where his severity and earnestness had a different effect, and gave the initial impulse to what became the great revival of 1800. Soon after his arrival in Kentucky several other ministers of this denomination came hither, among whom were William Hodge, William McGee and Samuel McAdoo, who entered heartly into the spirit of McGready’s work. There was decided opposition to their work from members of the church, which needed but a plausible pretext to grow into a formidable schism. The demand for ministers for the work of the church was far in excess of the means of the church to supply ac-cording to their methods, and these earnest men advised certain congregations to select some pious and promising young men and encourage them to enter the work which so urgently called them. They were not expected to undergo the usual educational preparation, and in a short time three young men were advanced to the ministry. This summary action brought out a vigorous but ineffectual protest, and when these young men were allowed to preach after refusing to accept certain dogmas of the old church, the opposition became irreconcilable. The difficulties were protracted through several years; the progressive party considered them-selves wronged, and when it became apparent that no redress could be had in the old church they determined to reconstitute the Cumberland Presbytery, which had been previously constituted and dissolved by the Synod of Kentucky. The ministers who took the responsibility of thus defying the Synod were Samuel McAdoo, Finis Ewing and Samuel King. The Cumberland Presbytery was reconstituted February 4, 1810, and became the head and front of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The character of church government and legal worship of the mother church was such as no intelligent man could much longer tolerate, and hundreds repelled by this and attracted by the position taken by the earnest leaders of the revolt, joined the standard of the new organization. The system of camp-meetings was instituted by this church, and the first one held in Christendom was at Gaspar River Meeting-house in Kentucky.

Finis Ewing was an early settler in Todd County, and did much to give this church the ascendancy here. A large number of the settlers were Seceders, and went into this organization. Camp-meetings were regularly held at a point two miles south of Trenton, where afterward the Lebanon Church was erected, which was instrumental in bringing large numbers into the church. A brick edifice was early erected here, and a seminary established which occupied this building. Ewing, King, Cassitt and others, leaders of the church, were among the early ministers of this denomination in the county. Some idea .of primitive views may be gained from some of their church customs as related by Mr. Kennedy, so often quoted in these pages. In relation to administering the Lord’s supper, he says: ” First, the minister would announce the times for his sacramental meetings, and Saturday, previous to the communion on the Sabbath, they met as a day of preparation and prayer. I remember well my father’s old buckskin purse of tokens, which. I would then have thought sacrilegious to have touched with the tip of my finger. Every one that desired to commune must apply to the Elders for one of those tokens, simply made of bullets hammered flat to the size of a silver dime. If the bench of Elders believed him worthy, they would give the applicant a token, which would be pocketed cheerfully until they went to the table, which was erected clear across the church. Then they all took seats, and while the institution hymn was chanted, the Elders passed one on each side of the table and took up the tokens. If one happened to be present with-out this mark of his fitness, he was obliged to retire.” Such formalities could not last long in a progressive organization, and, in fact, in the mother church, and were done away with many years ago. Ewing remained here some fifteen or twenty years. Toward the end of his stay here he was greatly annoyed to find the Baptist Church making rapid progress, and the culture of tobacco gaining popularity, both of which were distasteful to him. In 1821 he emigrated to Missouri, accompanied by many of his followers. This broke up the church here, and he left the edifice by will or recommendation to the Baptists, who had occupied the land. In the meanwhile Rev. F. R. Cassitt had organized a church at Elkton; William John had organized another at Salubria Springs; James Barnett at Mount Hermon, and one at ” Black Jack” by M. H. Bone and others. To these various churches the few members who remained were now transferred. Mr. Ewing died in 1842; he was one of the young men advanced to the ministry, and is considered one of the most important of the originators, if not the father of the church. Rev. F. R. Cassitt was prominent in the early history of the church as head of the school in this county, and subsequently the first President of the Cumberland College at Princeton, Ky. He was one of the originators of the Religious and Literary Intelligencer, and subsequently was for a number of years editor and publisher of the Banner of Peace, both papers devoted to the. interests of this denomination.

The Baptist Church

This church is also connected with the earliest settlements in the State. Its earlier history in Kentucky is marked by several important dissensions which caused divisions which greatly retarded the growth and influence of the church. Its largest strength came from the Old Dominion State, who were of the ” Iron Jacket ” or ” Hard-shell ” school, as they were popularly known. This church profited also by the great revival of 1800, but their meetings were generally free of those peculiar manifestations known as the “jerks or rolling and running exercises.” The early church grew rapidly until 1802, when a slight Unitarian schism occurred, which drew off a number of its members. In 1804 a schism which had its origin in the opposition of some to the institution of slavery occurred, which gave rise to the Baptist Licking-Locust Association, Friends of Humanity.” The ‘Regular Baptists declared that it was ” improper for ministers, churches or associations to meddle with the emancipation of slavery, or any other political subject,” and the schismatics withdrew. This new organization had but a short-lived existence. In 1809 another rupture occurred, which originated in a egro trade between a minister and layman, which resulted in the withdrawal of a respectable number under the name of Particular Baptists. Notwithstanding these adverse events the regular organization continued to thrive. Drake Pond Church of this denomination was organized in 1802, and still retains its primitive doctrine. The church edifice was erected just south of the Tennessee line, near Guthrie, but draws a large portion of its supporters from Todd County. This was the only church in this immediate region for years, until the emigration from Virginia in 1815-20 brought large accessions of strength to the denomination. Among the early ministers of this denomination in Todd County were Philip Boel, Ambrose Bowen, Archibald Bristow, Richard W. Nixon, John Christian and others. The Lebanon Baptist Church was organized about 1820, and marks the first permanent progress made by this denomination here. The church has since developed with persistent effort, and in point of numbers ranks first or second in the county. It has organizations and good church edifices in each of the villages of the county, and divides with the Methodist Church the colored church membership of Todd.

Reformed or Christian Church

This organization is an offshoot of the Baptist Church, and originated in the dissensions of 1829-32, under the guidance of Alexander Campbell. Rev. Barton W. Stone, a Presbyterian clergyman, was the great bead of this reform movement in Kentucky, and the Presbyterian Church may properly be said to have contributed almost as much to the new organization as the Baptists. The dissensions of the general church were felt in Todd County as well, and in 1833 the Zion Christian Church was formed from the Lebanon Baptist Church. Until about 1842 the church was fostered here by itinerant preachers, but at this time Elder C. M. Day entered into the work, and may be called the chief of the early preachers of the denomination in this county. Mr. Day was born in Virginia and educated for the ministry at Richmond. He became interested in the reform, and without any special commission from the church began to labor in Todd County. His work was a labor of love, and done without pecuniary reward. He was a man of remarkable energy and industry, and supported himself and an invalid wife by teaching school at Trenton. His preaching was marked rather by forceful expression and logical deduction than by eloquence. He was not lacking in culture, however, and his earnest, powerful will seemed to control the minds and hearts of his hearers. His nature was such as resisted coercion with vigor, and yet could be led by persuasive reason most easily. In his church work Mr. Day was remarkably successful. He was eminent as an organizer, and aided by G. W. Ellery and John D. Ferguson, established churches at Trenton, Elkton, Daysville and Allensville. He became the settled pastor of the Trenton and Allensville Churches at once, and served them until his death, a period of about thirty-eight years, holding the undivided love of his parishioners to the end. After the. death of his first wife, he married a lady of some wealth, and in his declining years was saved the extra exertion which he had put forth in earlier years to preach a Gospel ” without money and without price.” He died in Todd County at the age of seventy-two years. J. B. Ferguson was for a short time a prominent Elder of the church; he was a native of Virginia, educated at William and Mary’s College, and came to Todd County at the age of twenty-two; he was a gifted speaker, his eloquence making him the idol of every community. But he lacked the more solid and substantial acquirements, and about 1855 drifted into spiritualism. Elder John T. Johnson, brother of R. M. Johnson, the Vice-President, and the hero of the battle of the Thames, was an eminent evangelist of the Reformed Church, and remarkably successful in Todd County. Mr. Johnson was well educated, and entered upon the practice of the law. He was a volunteer aid to Gen. Harrison, and at the battle near Fort Meigs, on May 5, 1813, had his horse shot under him. He represented Scott County, Ky., in the Legislature in 1814-18, and again in 1828. He was a member of Congress four years, 1821-25, and a Judge of the new Court of Appeals for nine months from December 20, 1826. He joined the Baptist Church in 1821, and in 1831 embraced the principles of the re-form movement, and began preaching. He visited Todd County about 1860, and carried on his work here with his usual success. His political training colored his style of speaking, which was of the heroic kind. He had a large fund of effective anecdotes, which, with his deep earnestness and great personal magnetism, wrought wonders upon his audiences. At his meetings here he baptized as high a number as forty or fifty at a place, and was the means of adding great numbers to the church. The number of baptisms performed by him is placed at 3,000. He went to Missouri and soon afterward died.

Other ministers of some note in this church in Todd County were Dr. Orville Collin, J. J. Harvey and W. E. Mobley. The latter is still serving the church in this county. He began his ministry in 1851, with but little educational preparation, but his natural ability marked him as eminently fitted for the service. His circuit extends from Roaring Springs in Trigg County to Berea in Logan County, the intermediate appointment being at Elkton. Save an interval of two years, Mr. Mobley has served these churches for thirty years, a longer pastorate than any other Elder in this church in Kentucky. One Sunday in each month he preaches where his services seem to be required, having no regular appointment. J. W. Gant is another contemporary Elder of the church. He is agent of the Sunday-school and Christian Missionary Society. His duties are those of a home missionary agent, and as such he has been instrumental in establishing several churches in the county. The denomination has organizations at Daysville, at Mount Vernon in District No. 7, Kirkmansville, Cherry Hill, Hadensville, Trenton, and one about four miles north of Elkton. Save the last all have good places of worship: frame buildings, save at Trenton, which is a brick edifice.



MLA Source Citation:

Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/kentucky/early-church-influence-in-todd-county-kentucky.htm - Last updated on May 18th, 2011


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