A history of the Salem Association of Baptists really begins in the fall of 1779, or in the winter of 1780. At this time Captain Thomas Helm, Colonel Andrew Hynes and Samuel Haycraft built three rude stockades forming “a triangle, equidistant a mile apart,” in the dense unexplored forest of Severn’s Valley.
Somewhere near this triangle of stockades on June 18, 1781, under a large sugar tree eighteen converted souls gathered the First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Here came John Gerrard, not unlike Melchizedek, priest of Salem. He was the first pastor of Severn’s Valley Church. About eleven months after becoming pastor he left his cabin to hunt in the forest. Whence he came and whither he went no man knows. It is supposed that he was captured by the Indians and was killed by their hands.
October 29, 1785, four Regular Baptist Churches met at Coxes Creek by their delegates in order to form an association. Joseph Barnett preached on John 1:17. Joseph Barnett was chosen moderator and Andrew Paul, clerk.
Four Regular Baptist Churches reported. Severn’s Valley with 37 members, no pastor, organized June 18, 1781; Cedar Creek with 41 members, Joseph Barnett
pastor, organized July 4, 1781; Bear Grass with 19 members, John Whitaker, pastor, January, 1784; and Coxes Creek with 26 members, no pastor, organized April, 1785.
The right of churches to associate, the character and authority of an association opened by Brother Barnett.
Following this the constitution, principles and character of the several churches, proposing to associate, minutely inquired into, both in regard of doctrine and discipline, and left under consideration till Monday morning.
After convening Monday morning, it was resolved: “That the churches have adopted `the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and Treatise of Discipline,’ hereto annexed, and hold ourselves in full fellowship with the Philadelphia, Ketocton and Monongahela Associations, and proper measures be endeavored to obtain assistance from, and correspondence with the same.” The Elkhorn Association was not mentioned probably because it had made some exceptions to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith.
The second session was held at Cedar Creek, September 30, 1786. At the third session, October 6, 1787, at Coxes Creek, Elkhorn Association sent a letter of correspondence with Merias Hansbrough, John Tanner and Augustine Easton, as messengers. Spencer Clack says that six or seven rules were adopted at this session. The remainder of the twenty-nine rules were adopted in 1807.
The fourth session was held at Coxes Creek, October 4, 1788. The total membership was 188. Joshua Corman was appointed to preach the introductory sermon.
At Coxes Creek, October 3, 1789, “The introductory sermon was preached by the Reverend John Ganoe (John Gano) from the 6th verse of the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.”
The Rolling Fork Church sent the following query: “Is it’ lawful in the sight of God for a member of Christ to keep his fellow creatures in perpetual slavery?” The association judged it improper “to enter into so important and critical matter at present.” Joshua Coman and Josiah Dodge, irreconcilable emancipationists, finally broke off from the association and gathered an emancipationist church.
Another question that came up had to do with the laying on of hands at baptism. In speaking of this practice, Spencer Clack makes the following notation in the original minute, book of the association:
In the western country the practice has grown into disuse in many churches. The right hand of fellowship should be given before or after baptism. It is, however, a question which should excite no bickerings and controversy among the disciples of the Redeemer.” The association had a membership of 250 and had baptized 34 members.
At Cedar Creek Church in 1792 it is possible that the Lick Creek Church with 23 members came into the union at this session of the association. This church was divided on the question of perpetual slavery. It was “Resolved, That Brethren Josiah Dodge, P. Phillips, James Brown, William Taylor, William May, Josiah Lee, William Bethel, Thomas Phlllips, Peter Cummings and Walter Stallard be appointed a committee to attend with the brethren of Lick Creek Church in order to confer with and afford any relief in their power under present distress.”
The slavery question would not down in the churches of the Salem Association. At one time Severn’s Valley joined the Green River Association, which was opposed to slavery.’ Joshua Corman, Josiah Dodge and Thomas Whitman assisted by the venerable William Hickman ably opposed perpetual slavery. The family of Abraham Lincoln was on the side of the emancipationists. Sally Bush Lincoln, the stepmother of President Lincoln, was familiar with the bitter controversy in the churches of the association. The Emancipation Proclamation was in line with bitter controversy over the question of perpetual servitude in the Salem Association of Baptists.
Religious beginnings in the territory of Meade County suffered many vicissitudes. The settlers along the river were engaged in the river traffic. Back of these settlements many years were to pass before the barrens were occupied. On account of its exposed condition: Indian forays were more frequent and dangerous than they were in Severn’s Valley and Sinking Creek.
The first Baptist preacher in Meade County was Squire Boone. This man from all the evidence available certainly preached at a rude hunting camp at the Blue Spring near the head of Doe Run. Next in order came Warren Cash, born in Virginia April 4, 1760. After serving four years in the Revolutionary War, he and Susannah Basket, daughter of Rev. William Basket, a Virginia Baptist preacher, were married in November 1783. In the fall of the next year Warren Cash came to Kentucky. His wife taught him to read and write. In 1799 William Hickman and John Penny ordained him to the gospel ministry. He came to this section in March 1806. Under his ministry Benjamin and Enos Keith and John Rush were called to the ministry. He adhered to the anti-missionary party in this section. He died September 15, 1850.
In 1813 Otter Creek Church was gathered and in that year requested admission into the Salem Association which met in that year at the Nolin meeting house.
The messengers from Otter Creek were H my Johns, Thomas McCarty, Thompson Kendall and Shadrach Brown.
Shadrach Brown, born in North Carolina in 1780, married Rachel, a daughter of Rev. James Chambers. After coming to Kentucky in 1804 he made his home in 1808 near Mlll Creek Baptist Church in Hardin County. He was ordained by this church about 1812. The following year he moved his membership to Otter Creek Baptist Church. He served both churches as pastor until his death October 13, 1821. He owned land below the mouth of Doe Run. His children were: Rebecca (married Joshua Kelly), Asa, Nancy (married William Johns), John, William, Katherine, James C., Elzina, Rachel and Alfred.
Isaac Veach was an early preacher in Otter Creek Church. It is probable that he gathered the Doe Run Church. This church with a membership of 9 was received into the Salem Association at Mill Creek September 23, 1825. The organization was later abandoned: Roderick R. Rockwood and Miss Eliza Stone were married by Isaac Veach, October 24, 1824.
Simeon Buchanan, born in 1790, was the son of Alexander Buchanan, also a Baptist preacher. Simeon Buchanan was a soldier of the United States army from 1812 until 1815. After coming to Hardin County he became a member of Rude’s Creek Church. Here he was ordained in 1822. Soon after he moved to the Hill Grove. He became a member and pastor of Otter Creek.
After Ohio (now Wolf Creek) was established in 1821,he was pastor for twenty-two years. Hill Grove was established the following year. He died June 27, 1863.
John Rush was also a member of the Otter Creek Church but was not brought into the ministry until late in life. October 13, 1813, be and Betsy Brandenburg were married. They lived in Buck Grove where John Rush accumulated a large estate in land and slaves. He gave much promise in the ministry but as he was a slave owner he was not accorded a hearing in some of the churches. He died in 1838.
James Nall was in Meade County at intervals. He and Amanda Boone, daughter of Enoch Boone, were married, September 23, 1822.
Enos and Benjamin Keith were sons of Alexander Keith, a Virginian, who came to Kentucky soon after the Revolution. Enos Keith was born in 1788. Benjamin Keith was a younger brother. While small boys their father moved to Vertrees Creek. In 1808 Union Baptist Church was organized under the preaching of Warren Cash. Enos and Benjamin were baptized by Warren Cash.
Enos was ordained in 1811 and preached on Otter Creek before this church was gathered as a result of his labors. Enos was never married. He died in 1824 and is buried in the Baptist burying ground at Garnettsville.
Benjamin Keith began his work a little later than his brother. His ministerial life extended over half a century. He was identified with “Otter Creek Association of Regular Baptists” organized at the Otter Creek meetinghouse, October 25, 1839. This association was composed of the anti-missionary factions of the churches of Salem Association.
Benjamin Keith was a remarkable preacher and did much good in all this section. The original minute book of the Otter Creek Baptist Church was in his possession.
Unfortunately the records of the church and of the Otter Creek Association are now lost. Benjamin Keith, while visiting relatives at Joplin, Missouri, died and is buried there.
Conditions under which these pioneer preachers labored created a zeal for evangelism. Prayer meetings were held in the open air in summer or in the settlers’ cabins in winter. On such occasions the formalities of worship were dispensed with and people talked about the condition of their souls.
In 1815 Luther Rice came into the territory of the Salem Association bearing the news of gospel triumphs in Burma. Leaven was working in the mass even before his coming. While there were no church organizations itinerant preachers went long distances to visit the new settlements. John Shacklett was one of these little known ministers.
Hill Grove Baptist Church grew out of the pioneer conditions. Otter Creek, Union and Wolf Creek were the nearest organized bodies of Christians. There were no other organizations.
Accordingly, Elizabeth Ashcraft Shacklett, Rachel Ashcraft Shacklett and Sallie Shacklett Jenkins used to meet in their cabins in cold weather and at a spring in warm weather for divine services. With Bible and hymnal they were faithful unto the Redeemer. It was a time when other than consecrated women would have given up. After many months passed the men were willing to help in gathering the Hill Grove Baptist Church. Elizabeth Ashcraft Shacklett gave the world Brother Ben F. Hagan and Brother Daniel Fulton Shacklett; Rachel Ashcraft Shacklett, the Willett preachers; and Sallie Shacklett Jenkins, the Jenkins preachers.
October 4-5-6, 1839, the association met at Brandenburg. Opposition to the newly formed General Association of Baptists had developed among the churches. Squire LaRue Helm and Mentor A. Shanks of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church had played prominent parts in its organization. It was at this association that the anti-missionaries made their last stand. The church at Brandenburg was most favorable to the General Association.
West Point in her letter sent a friendly query, “Does Salem Association approve of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, and will she send delegates to its next anniversary?”
“On presenting this query, a motion was made for Elder William C. Buck, to lay before this Association the object and views of the General Association, which being agreed to, and thereupon Elder Buck addressed the Association upon the above named subject.”
After the address the Association resolved “That we, as an Association feel no disposition at present to decide upon the subject, but to leave the churches to act as they in their judgment may think best, and that the churches be requested to express their opinion in their letters to, the next Association.”
This was a drastic step and in a few days the “Otter Creek Association of Regular Baptists” was a fact. History Vindicates the General Association. In the communities where the Otter Creek Association was strongest the churches have either perished or they have been mission territory for these ninety years. Other churches have had to contend with this anti-mission spirit.
The minute has this to say of the Sunday services: “At an early hour a very large congregation was assembled at the stand. Elder Joseph Board preached from Luke XXII, 67; Elder William Vaughan from Romans V, 21; and Elder W. C. Buck from Eph. III, 10. The preaching was listened to with deep interest, and it is hoped that the seed sown on that occasion will in due time, yield a plentiful crop. Great good order prevailed, and the citizens of Brandenburg, and its vicinity will long be remembered by all in attendance at the Association for their kindness, courtesy and hospitality. A collection of $46.00 was taken up for the purpose of the General Association.”
It had been a year of severe trial but 531 members had been added by baptism. The following year was a great ingathering in spite of the anti-missionary association.
Traveling preachers were sent out by the association. In 1843 the Terms of General Union were adopted which partially closed the breach but the leaven continued its work for many years to come.
Squire Larue Helm was a remarkable man. For the most part his education was acquired by his own efforts. He was a great orator in his day and the passion of his soul was for others to know the Savior. He left Mount Pleasant Church in 1843. Doctor Squire Larue Helm was a great soul winner and in each field his great, persuasive personality was used for the Master’s glory.