The subject of Christianity occupies a conspicuous place in the history of every enlightened community, and it is to the credit of our ancestors that they were a God-fearing people. Criminals and fugitives from justice, who hover on the confines of civilization, where there is no law to restrain or govern, except that public judgment that is crystallized into a resistless force, flee before the light that shines from the Star of Bethlehem as the morning mist disappears before the rising sun. As the Cross advances, the rough and the turbulent recede, keeping pace with the frontier posts. They cannot flourish in a Christian community. Infidelity may array itself against the Bible, and its clamors may be loud in the assemblies of the wicked, but it has not the courage to enter the sanctuary of a religious home, and listen to the earnest prayers of pious parents as they point their children to the throne of God.
There were among the pioneers of Christian County, as is the case in all newly settled countries, a rough element, ignorant, vicious and worthless, but this element comprised only a few of the people. Of the majority, their moral deportment was good, and their title to mansions in the skies unquestioned. Scarcely was the nucleus of It settlement formed ere steps were taken to counteract, in some way, the influence of the lawless and evil-minded. This early led to efforts at religious organization and instruction, and often hymns of praise were mingled with the sound of the pioneer’s ax. The earnest teachings of the time were plain and unvarnished, touched with no eloquence save a sincere desire to show men the way to better things by better living. There was more sincerity and less hypocrisy then than now. A recent writer, with much truth, says: ” Bigotry and a disposition to worship creeds rather than one Almighty God, do more to bring religion into disrepute than any other cause that might be named. Churches of all denominations agree that there is but one God, one heaven and one hell, but beyond those boundary lines the question of duty diverges widely. Taking a common-sense view of the matter-throwing aside all devotion to denominationalism-there is no reason for strife within the pale of the church. Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists, Unitarians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Hebrews, Baptists and all others are living in the hopes of happiness beyond the great unknown. The church is but the way of getting there, and the destination of all the roads is heaven.” The above would not be a bad motto for some of our modern churches, modern preachers and modern Christians.
The Baptists were the pioneers of religion in Kentucky, and are still the strongest church, numerically, in Christian County. Elder William Hickman, a Baptist, is supposed to have been the first minister of any denomination to proclaim the good tidings that should be to all people ” in the wilderness of Kentucky. As early as 1776 he left his home in Virginia and came to Kentucky, and during his stay devoted much of his time to preaching the Gospel to the people of the scattered posts and stations. But no Baptist Church was formed until 1781, when the Gilbert Creek Church, near where the present town of Lan-caster stands, was organized.
The Presbyterians followed close in the wake of the Baptists, and long before the war-cry of the retreating savages had died away on the frontiers of Indiana and Illinois, they had obtained a hold upon the “dark and bloody ground.” Rev. David Rice was the first Presbyterian preacher who came here. He was from Virginia, and emigrated to Kentucky in 1783, locating in what is now Mercer County. The same year Rev. Francis Clark, the advance guard of the Methodists, came and settled in the neighborhood of Danville, followed in 1786 by Revs. James Haw and Benjamin Ogden. As early as 1794 there was an organized Episcopal Church in Kentucky. About the year 1787 Rev. Father Whelan, a Roman Catholic clergyman, came to Kentucky as pastor to the Catholics, who lives principally about Bardstown. He had been a chaplain in the French navy, that served with us during the Revolutionary war, and when the struggle ended he remained in America. Thus the different religious denominations invaded Kentucky, gathered together the lost sheep of the wilderness, and led them into the fold of the Master.
The first religious organization, perhaps, in Christian County, was the old-time Baptists, known familiarly as ” Iron jackets ” or ” Hard-shells.” A minister of that denomination, named Williams, came here and located in the present Precinct of Hamby about the year 1796-97. He settled on a farm now owned by the heirs of Benjamin Armstrong.
Here, it is said, a church was built as early as 1805, and the small congregation was administered to by Elder Williams. He removed to Missouri about 1815, and the church finally died out. It seems only to have flourished while Williams remained, and now there is not even a ruin to show where the old building stood. There is also a tradition that there was a church of the same denomination organized in the southeast part of the county in the Galbraith and McFadden settlement as early as 1800. As that section was the scene of the first settlement of the county, it is not improbable that there was a church organization there very early. James Davis, the pioneer, is represented as having been a fatalist, or Predestinarian, and doubtless was a member of the old Baptist Church.
Elder Isaac Todevine was one of the pioneer Baptist preachers of Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, and possessed all the peculiarities and eccentricities of the Hardshells. He lived six or eight miles north of Clarksville, a kind of a hermit life with his horse ” Snip ” and his dog ” Pup.” He had no other family, and thought as much of Snip and Pup as if they had been his children. He often preached to the old church, tradition says, in the southeast part of Christian County before the great majority of the citizens now living here were born. Pup always accompanied his master on his preaching expeditions, and sometimes caused the old man some uneasiness lest he might depart so far from his ministerial dignity as to stray off with young and frivolous dogs and he would lose him. It is told of Elder Todevine that he was preaching one day, and had be-come warmed up in his sermon, when, looking through the window and seeing Pup in a great romp with the other dogs, he stopped short and asked a brother to go and get him, as he was afraid he would stray away and be lost.
Elder Todevine believed in election and predestination, and according to his theology, one not elected from the foundation of the world was as surely lost as though already in the bottomless pit. He dreamed that he would die upon a certain day, and when the appointed day came, he went to bed, told his friends that his appointed time had come, and sure enough died (March 23, 1821) the time indicated in his dream. His name has nearly passed into oblivion, but this mention will doubtless re-call it to some of the oldest citizens.
Lorenzo Dow, one of the most eccentric preachers, perhaps, that the country has ever known, unless it was the ” White Pilgrim,” used to sometimes preach in Hopkinsville and Christian County. As early as 1814 he made his appearance in Southern Kentucky and the adjoining part of Tennessee, and at Hopkinsville, Russellville, Clarksville and Palmyra, his strange, weird voice was often heard proclaiming the messages of his Divine Master. He was born in Connecticut in 1777, and is said to have been an ordained minister of the Methodist Church. He generally traveled the country on foot, and preached wherever and whenever he could get an audience together; he preached the Gospel pure and simple as he understood it, not for pelf, but solely for the good of mankind. He was a humble, sincere, great pioneer preacher, with fists like a maul and a voice like the roar of a Numidian lion, and thus equipped he went forth upon his mission, made reprobates tremble, women to cry and shout aloud, and many a tough old sinner to fall upon his knees and plead for the pardoning of his sins. Anecdotes and incidents enough have been told of him to make a large volume of themselves. One of these will serve as a sample of the others, and is as follows:
One of his brother preachers was in the habit at the close of every sermon of giving a description of the day of judgment, when at the sound of Gabriel’s trumpet, the Son of Man would appear in the clouds of heaven with all his holy angels, ” to judge the quick and the dead,” uniformly adding a description of the alarm and terror that would overwhelm the impenitent sinner. Then changing his description, would picture all the glorious triumphs of the righteous, and with whom he hoped to be found. Mr. Dow, becoming disgusted with his repetition, determined to put a stop to it, and for that purpose engaged a boy famous for his skill in blowing the trumpet, to climb a tree near the church one night where the old brother was to preach, and when he got to the day of judgment and Gabriel’s trumpet, to blow a terrible blast. All worked well; the preacher gave an animated discourse with the usual peroration of the judgment and Gabriel’s trumpet, when the boy, from his perch in the tree-top, with his trumpet gave an awful peal, making the heart of every one in the meeting-house stand still. Leaving hat, saddle-bags and umbrella, the old preacher cleared the pulpit at a single bound, rushed to the door and took to the woods, followed by his terror-stricken congregation. Henceforth, that preacher struck Gabriel and his trumpet out of his sermons.
Lorenzo Dow died in Georgetown, D. C., in 1834. The strange, wandering old herald of salvation has long since realized the hope given him of a futurity on the margin of the “Beautiful River,” where, through everlasting ages, he can sit in the light of holiness.
The Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians came shortly after the ” Hardshell ” Baptists, and churches of these organizations were soon established in the different settlements. At first their meetings were held in the settlers’ cabins, but as their strength increased rude log structures were put up for religious worship. In time these gave place to better buildings, which have been improved from time to time, as the community grew in wealth, until the county at large, as well as the city of Hopkinsville, can boast of their temples of worship as comparing favorably with those in any section of the State. In the chapters devoted to the towns and election districts every church organization will be written up, so far as their history can be learned, with sketches of Peter Cartwright, John Johnson, Vardeman, Fort, Ross and other old soldiers of the Cross who have passed away.
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