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EARLY KNOX COUNTY CHURCHES

Goodspeed’s History of Tennessee (1887)


BAPTIST

The Baptists began preaching and organizing churches in Knox County about 1790.  It may have been a year or so earlier than that, as a church was organized at the mouth of Richland Creek, in Grainger County, in 1788.  The oldest church in the county still in existence is Little Flat Creek, which was organized in 1796.  Among the earliest ministers may be mentioned

Nearly all were men of limited education, and received no pay for their services, but they possessed a rude and fervid eloquence, well suited to the mass of their hearers, and their congregations grew.  It was not long until the Baptists had outnumbered both the Presbyterians and Methodists, and they have ever since maintained that position.  As the history of the denomination in Knox County is largely the history of the Tennessee Association, it will be traced in connection with that body.

On the 25th of December 1802, delegates from nineteen Baptist Churches, formerly belonging to the Holston Association, assembled at Beaver Creek meeting-house, in Knox County, and organized the Tennessee Association.  William JOHNSON was chosen moderator and Francis HAMILTON, clerk.  A plan of association and statement of religious principles was adopted, embracing with some slight alterations, an extract from  ‘Asplund’s Register’.

Of the nineteen churches represented at this meeting five  were located in Knox County.  They were:

  • Beaver Ridge, represented by Aquila LOW, Thomas HUDIBURGH and Jesse COUNCILL;

  • Hickory Creek, represented by William HELMS and John FINLEY

  • Fork of Holston and French Broad, represented by Alexander BLEAKLEY

  • Little Flat Creek, represented by Richard NEWPORT,  Eli SCAGGS and George HALMARK

  • Beaver Creek, represented by Francis HAMILTON, John and Hezekiah BOYLES.

 These churches, as reported the following year, embraced an aggregate membership of 172.

The first annual session of the association was held at Big Spring Church, in Granger County, with the same officers as at the preceding meeting.  Elder Richard WOOD preached the introductory sermon from Acts xx, 28.  Letter from twenty-three churches were received, showing a total membership in the association of 1,615.  In 1806 Stock Creek Church with twenty-four members was organized, and its delegates, Aaron SMOTH and Abraham REID, were admitted to seats in the association.  During the next two or three years the association did not prosper., and the membership in 1809 aggregated only 1,466.  Accordingly, November 4, of this year, was appointed a day of fasting and prayer for the revival of religion.  In 1815 the subject of foreign missions was first introduced to the association.  At the next session Luther RICE, the agent of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, was present, and a constitution for a local missionary society was adopted, with the reservation, however, that the churches were not to be bound by the action of their delegates.  In 1817 twelve churches, situated in the counties north and northwest of Knox County, withdrew and formed Powell Valley Association, leaving seventeen congregations in the Tennessee Association.  At the next session the churches in Knox County were represented as follows:

  • Hickory Creek: John COURTNEY, Henry HOWARD, Arnold MOSS, Sterling KEMP, John FREEMAN and Rowland CHILDS

  • Stock Creek: Joseph JOHNSON, James TRICE and James CHILDERS

  • Little Flat Creek: Peter GRAVES

  • Forks of French Broad and Holston:  Randall DAVENPORT

  • Beaver Ridge: Thomas HUDIBURGH, Obed PATTY and Eli CLEVAND

  • Beaver Creek: Willis HAMMONS. 

The last named church (Beaver Creek) had not been represented for ten years previous.  At this session a meeting of the missionary society was appointed to be held at Robert TUNNELL’s in Knox County in Mary, 1820.  At the session in 1822 the number of churches in the association had increased to twenty-eight, and it was agreed to divide it by a line running from Chilhowee Mountain with the Little Tennessee River, to the Holston; thence northwest so as to include the east fork of Poplar Creek and Hickory Creek in the upper end.  A committee was then appointed to meet at Pisgah on the fourth Saturday in May 1823, to form a constitution for the lower association, which was known thereafter as the Hiwassee Association.  This left eighteen churches in the Tennessee Association, but other congregation were soon after formed and admitted.  In 1830 the number had increased to twenty-six, and in 1835 to thirty. In 1836 Beaver Creek Church changed its name to Beaver Dam Creek.  It afterward became simply Beaver Dam.

In 1829 a congregation was organized at Union Meeting-house, and its delegate, Thomas HUNT, was admitted to the association.  From this time until 1843, however, it was not again represented.  At that session J.S. WATERS and Z. REEDER were its delegates.  In 1830 a church known as Third Creek was organized in Knox County, and in 1833 its delegates, J. HILLSMAN and Samuel LOVE, were admitted to the association.  In 1835 Hickory Creek Church withdrew.  At about this time the schism in the church between the mission and anti-mission actions began to threaten serious damage to the cause.  Queries from individual churches with reference to tests of fellowship, were received each year by the association, but the danger of expressing a decided opinion was apparent, and it was avoided as long as possible.  In 1837, however, the query was received from Zion Church – “Is it right to fellowship the Baptist State Convention or home missionary and temperance societies?”  The reply was, “We advise our churches not to make the joining or not joining of institutions any test of fellowship.”  This resulted in the withdrawal of two churches and serious divisions in others.  The anti-mission party, however, were largely in the minority, and the Tennessee Association stood unshaken.  In an address issued by the association in 1843 to the Baptist s of the State, urging the importance of a general association, is the following:  “We rejoice that so much union seems to exist on the subject, and cannot help looking back to the origin of this convention, when it was followed by an opposition fierce and clamorous; we rejoice that whilst the anti-mission spirit has been prowling around our association and convention, we have been so far preserved from its withering and destructive influence, and instead of being annihilated by its insults and torpedo touch, our churches, under the blessings of the God of missions, have been greatly increased and built up in their strength.”

During these troublous times new churches continued to be established.  Those in Knox County were:

  • Mount of Olives in 1837

  • New Hopewell in 1840

  • Knoxville, 1843.

As has been stated in the early history of the Baptist churches in East Tennessee its greatest numerical strength lay in the country and remote from towns, therefore it is not strange that the organization of a church at Knoxville occurred at so late a date, and that when it did occur the membership was so small, numbering as it did only twenty-six white persons, and twenty colored.  It is remarkable, however, that its organization was suggested by a man not a member of any church, and was effected chiefly through his instrumentality.  That man was James C. MOSES,  had been recently arrived at Knoxville.  He afterward was the first person baptized into the fellowship of the church, was its first clerk, a member of its first board of deacons and trustees and the first superintendent of its Sabbath-school.

On the 15th of January 1843, a sort of mass meeting, composed mainly of Baptists, from the surrounding country, met in the upper room of the courthouse, at which time arrangements were made for completing the organization of a congregation on the following Sabbath.  The ministers present upon this occasion were Rev. Messrs. KENNON, KIMBROUGH, MILLIKEN, BELLUE, CORAM and RAY.  During the next few months the church grew rapidly, and by August the enrollment reached eighty-five.  Thirty having been added by experience and seventeen by letter, while seven had been dismissed and one excommunicated.  This large increase was due to two revivals, which were hold during the spring and summer.  The first was conducted in the First Presbyterian Church by Rev. Dr. BAKER, and the other by Rev. Israel ROBARDS, a man of great power, who drew large crowds to hear him.  He continued for several successive days and nights, and awakened a deep interest.

The first pastor of the church was Rev. Joseph A. BULLARD, who remained but one year.  Prominent among his successors may be mentioned:

  • G.W. GRIFFIN

  • L.B. WOOLFOLK

  • J.L. LLOYD

  • J.F.B. MAYES

  • George B. EAGER

  • C.H. STRICKLAND

  • and the present pastor, E.A. TAYLOR.

In 1844 the erection of a church on Gay Street was begun, and completed about two years later.  This served the congregation as a place of worship until 1886, when one of the finest churches in the South was erected upon the site of the old church.  It will cost when completed $30,000.  Of this sum, one member, Capt. W.W. WOODRUFF, contributed one-half.  This church now has a membership of 640, and maintains a Sunday-school with over 500 scholars.

In November 1873, a second congregation was organized in Knoxville, and a house of worship was erected on McGhee Street. The location was found to be unsuitable, however, and in November 1880, the congregation was disbanded.  A short time after a mission was established in the northern portion of the city, and there in November 1885, Calvary Church was organized with Rev. O.L. HAILEY as pastor, and L. HUDDLESTON, W.C. McCOY, W.A.J. MOORE, G.W. PETERS, J.J. MARTIN, J.R. DEW and J.A. GALYON as trustees.  It has since been highly prosperous, and in one year the membership has increased from 53 to 115.  But to return to the association.

In 1844 the “New Hampshire Confession of Faith” was adopted.  The radical difference between these articles and those adopted at the first session in 1802 is conclusive evidence of the great revolution, which had taken place in the church.   From this time until the beginning of the civil war, the association continued to prosper.  In 1862 there were within it bounds thirty-nine churches, having an aggregate membership of 4,119, of whom 125 were colored.  Six new churches have been established in Knox County.  There were:

  • Adair Creek, 1845

  • Brick Chapel, Lyon Creek, Mount Pisgah and Mars’ Hill, now Gallaher’s View, 1855

  • Sinking Creek, 1859.

During the war nearly all the churches suffered more or less from loss of both members and property, and some were entirely destroyed.  But the work of reviving old churches and establishing new ones were entered upon with zeal and energy, and in 1870 there were forty-five churches and 4,705 members within the bounds of the association.  Of this number fifteen churches and 1,755 members were included in Knox County.

In 1873 Little River Association was formed, and the following year, seven churches, including all of those in Knox County south of the Tennessee River, except Stock Creek, withdrew from the Tennessee Association to join Little River, now Chilhowee Association.

Since January 1870, new churches have been constituted in Knox County as follows:

  • Stock Creek, 1870

  • Sharon, 1871

  • Pleasant Gap, 1874

  • Meridian, 1874

  • Pleasant Hill, 1875

  • Mount Harmony, 1875

  • Fair View, 1877

  • Guesses Creek, 1877

  • Hill's Chapel, 1879

  • Calvary, 1885

There are now in the county twenty churches belonging to the Tennessee Association, having a combined membership of 2,434, and four belonging to the Chilhowee Association, with an aggregate membership of 642, making a total of twenty-four churches, and 3,076 members.


At different times periodicals have been published in Knoxville, under the auspices of the Tennessee Association.  The first was established in 1855, and was known as the Baptist Watchman, a weekly edited by M. HILLSMAN.  It continued only a few years.  In 1868 D.M. BRAEKER began the publication of the East Tennessee Baptist, which in 1870 was consolidated with the Christian Herald.  In 1880 the Beacon was established by Rev. J.B. JONES.  After about two years it was consolidated with the Reflector, of Nashville, and has since been published in Chattanooga as the Baptist Reflector.


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