The Baptists in Southwest Virginia

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Southwest Virginia Project
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From Source:Coale, 1878


The writer is without accurate information as to the exact time of the organization of the first Baptist society in the Holston country, but it is known to have existed before 1776-at least cotemporary with, if not anterior to, the Presbyterian organizations at Sinking and Ebbing Springs, which was certainly as early as 1772.

The first Baptist Church, as far as any reliable information can be had, was at St. Clair's bottom, and as that was about the first "clearing" in the Holston region-an Englishman by the name of St. Clair having been found there in 1764-it is more than probable that it was honored with the first house of worship. It is of record that the ministers, as well as members of that church in its early history, worshiped with their rifles in their hands, and that they were often harrassed by predatory bands of Indians.

The first Baptist mninisters in this part of the State were Jonathan Mulkey, Andrew Baker, Edward Kelly, Barnet Reynolds and John Brundridge, and they literally took their lives in their hands "going about doing good." They traveled great distances through a comparative wilderness, facing dangers, seen and unseen, for the purpose of dispensing the blessings of the Gospel among the scattered settlers; and all this labor, exposure and danger without the prospect or even hope of earthly reward. They were mostly unlettered men, but not more so, perhaphs, then the fishermen who were called from their nets on the sea of Galilee, and thus laid a foundation for their sucessors to build upon, and upon which has been reared a spiritual temple of magnificent proportions.

Many of the older citizens of this part of the State remember some of the immediate successors of the primitive ministers, among whom were Elders Colley, Jessee, Senter, and Edwards, with all of whom the writer had a pleasant personal acquaintance. They formed the connecting link between the founders of the church in the wilderness and the oldest of the Baptist Ministers of the present day. They were men of exemplary lives, and though rude in speech preached with great power and effect. all working men, laboring with their hands for the bread that sustained themselves and families, and dispensing the bread of life to others without money and without price. They were all men of sound, practical sense, and of simple, unadorned, but dignified piety.

Mr. Colley was somewhat eccentric, but a man of great earnestness and fidelity. He was a professor, if not a preacher, at least as early as 1808, as he was called to visit Mr. William King, the founder of the Saltworks during his last illness, who died in October of that year.

Mr. Jessee would have ranked with the ablest divines of the present day in his familiarity with the theology and his natural elocution. The writer was present on one occasion, many years ago, when Mr. Edwards girded himself with a towe1 and washed the disciples' feet.

These were all grand old men, simple in speech as in garb, and the great Hereafter only can reveal the amount of good they accomplislied in their day.

When there was a division in the church some thirty-odd years ago on the subject of Foreign Missions, Mr. Jessee gave the missionary cause his hearty and zealous support, and Mr. Colley was equally as earnest in his opposition. He thought the Church could and would evangelize the world, and had no need of auxiliary societies of any sort. When the matter was discussed at Yellow Spring, where he had ministered for many years, he stood alone in his opposition. When a brother arose and said there was something radically wrong in such opposition, Mr. Colley replied "take your seat, my brother, you know nothing about it. We have all heard of Radical* Methodists, but who ever heard of a radical Baptist?"

  • Alluding to the Methodist Protestant Church, by some called Radical in derison.