History of Baptists in Kentucky

The history of the Baptist movement in the United States state of Kentucky (and the area before it reached statehood) begins around 1775, when a few Baptist preachers visited from Virginia. Virginians John Taylor, Joseph Reading, and Lewis Lunsford all visited in 1779, but returned to Virginia. Baptists began to settle around 1781, the first Baptist congregation of 18 people being left by John Garrard. Rev. Lewis Craig led several hundred people of "The Travelling Church", including several preachers, to Gilbert's Creek[1] from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, arriving the first week of December 1781. Cedar Fork Church was founded in 1782.[2][3]

By 1785 there were 12 Baptist churches in Kentucky, formed into three Associations.[2][3][4] The early preachers brought slaves with them, who were members of many congregations. The Elkhorn Association comprised the three churches to the north of the Kentucky River at Tate's Creek, Clear Creek, and South Elkhorn. The South Kentucky Association comprised the four churches south of the river at Rush Branch, Head of Boone's Creek, Gilbert's Creek, and Pottinger's Creek. The Salem Association comprised the four churches in Nelson County at Cox's Creek, Severn Valley, Cedar Creek, and Beargrass. The 12 pastors of the churches in 1785 are recorded in Asplund's Register as Lewis Craig, Joseph Bledsoe, George S. Smith, Richard Cave, James Smith, James Rucker, Robert Elkin, John Taylor, William Taylor, James Tanner, John Bailey, Joseph Craig, and Ambrose Dudley.[2][4]

About 1790 the slaves Peter Durrett and his wife united their followers into the First African Church (later the First African Baptist Church) in Lexington, Kentucky.[5][6] It is the oldest black Baptist church in Kentucky and the third oldest in the United States.[7] Long active in the church, Durrett unsuccessfully sought ordination by the local association; they encouraged him to keep on with his work. By his death in 1823, Durrett led about 290 parishioners and they had bought their first properties as a church.[6]

Rev. London Ferrill, the second pastor and a freed slave from Virginia, led the church to acceptance in the Elkhorn Association in 1824. In 31 years of leadership, he increased the congregation to 1,820 members, making it the largest church, black or white, in Kentucky.[5] By 1861, the church had a congregation of 2,223 members.[8]

The Elkhorn and South Kentucky Associations were, respectively, "Regular" and "Separate" Baptists, a doctrinal division that members and preachers had brought from Virginia. They attempted to follow the examples of the unification of the Regulars and Separates in Virginia (in 1787) and the Carolinas, first in 1789 and then again in 1793. In 1801, members agreed to terms, and the Elkhorn and South Kentucky Associations were unified. But, they separated again a year later, in 1802, into the North District and South District Associations, as the number of churches in the association had grown.[4]

More Associations were formed in the same and subsequent years: the Bracken Association in 1798, the North Bend Association in 1802, the Long Run Association in 1803, and the Green River Association in 1800.[4]

See also



  1. ^ See the article, "Gilbert's Creek Baptist celebrating its 225th" at http://articles.centralkynews.com/2006-10-30/history/24888715_1_modern-church-congregation-formal-church-services Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 4 September 2015.
  2. ^ a b c David Benedict (1850). "Kentucky". A general history of the Baptist denomination in America, and other parts of the world. New York: Lewis Colby. pp. 811 et seq.
  3. ^ a b Lowell Hayes Harrison (1992). Kentucky's Road to Statehood. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-8131-1782-9.
  4. ^ a b c d David Rice (1824). "Sketch of the Baptist Churches of Kentucky". In Robert Hamilton Bishop (ed.). An Outline of the history of the church in the state of Kentucky, during a period of forty years. T.T. Skillman. pp. 287–297.
  5. ^ a b H. E. Nutter, A Brief History of the First Baptist Church (Black) Lexington, Kentucky, 1940, accessed 22 August 2010
  6. ^ a b Robert Hamilton Bishop's An Outline of the history of the church in the state of Kentucky, during a period of forty years (containing the memoir of Rev. David Rice), T.T. Skillman, 1824, pp. 230–233
  7. ^ "First African Baptist Church", Lexington: The Athens of the West, National Park Service, accessed 21 August 2010
  8. ^ John H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists: From 1769–1885, Vol. II, Cincinnati, OH: J.R. Baumes private printing, 1886, p. 657, accessed 23 August 2010

Further reading

  • Frank Mariro Masters (1953). A history of Baptists in Kentucky. Kentucky Baptist Historical Society.
  • John H. Spencer (1886). Burrilla B. Spencer (ed.). A history of Kentucky Baptists: From 1769 to 1885. Vol. 1. J. R. Baumes.
  • Traylor, Richard C. (2015). Born of Water and Spirit: The Baptist Impulse in Kentucky, 1776–1860. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.
  • James Duane Bolin (2000). Kentucky Baptists, 1925–2000: A Story of Cooperation. Baptist History and Heritage Society. ISBN 978-1-57843-006-2.
  • Leo T. Crismon, ed. (1975). Baptists In Kentucky, 1776–1976: A Bicentennial Volume. Middletown: Kentucky Baptist Historical Society.
  • Ira V. Birdwhistell (1985). Baptists of the Bluegrass: A History of Elkhorn Baptist Association, 1785–1985. Berea, KY: Berea College Press.
  • Ira V. Birdwhistell (1992). "Baptists". In John E. Kleber (ed.). The Kentucky encyclopedia. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 47–50. ISBN 978-0-8131-1772-0.
  • William Cathcart (1881). "Kentucky Baptists". The Baptist Encyclopedia. Baptist History Series. Vol. 1 (reprinted by The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 2001 ed.). Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts. pp. 650–651. ISBN 978-1-57978-909-1.