May 30, 1957


This Article Appeared In The Times

But Was Not Actually Titled Calís Column


Transcribed by Janette West Grimes


First Church In Tenn., Was It Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian?



†† When the first white settlers began to cross the mountains into what is now Tennessee, religion played a very small part in their lives. One of the main objects was to get from under the rule of George the Third, of England, and Governor Tryon, of North Carolina. It was the persecution of the early Christians that drove them from Jerusalem, and caused the gospel to be carried to the ends of the earth, and oppression that caused the bravehearted men and women to turn their eyes westward, across the mountains.


†† After the battle of the Alamance, fought in 1771 between the king's troops, under the command of Gov. Tryon, and the Regulators under the command of James Hunter, of which about two hundred of the Regulators were killed, after this battle, the inhabitants of Virginia, North and South Carolina began to flock to the wilderness across the mountains.


†† Bancroft's History of the United States, Vol. 3, page 402, 1891 edition, I quote, "The Governors of South, Carolina and Virginia were requested not to harbor the fugitives, but the wilderness offered shelter beyond the mountains, without being instinctively impelled by discontent and the wearisomeness of life exposed to bondage, men crossed the Alleganies and descending into the basin of the Tennessee, made their homes in the Valley of the Watauga. There no lawyer followed them with writs. There no king's Governors came to be their lord. There the flag of England never waved." And westward the star of empire takes its way.


†† In the early days of Virginia, the Episcopal church, or the church of England was the only denomination that was allowed to teach or preach, by an act of 1643, entitled,"An act to preserve the purity of doctrine and unity of the church, it was required, that all ministers shall be comformable to the orders and constitution of the Church of England; that no others shall be permitted to teach or preach publicly or privately." And many other such acts are recorded in Henning's Statutes at Large of Virginia, and even after the Methodists came to Virginia, they adhered to the rules and regulations of the Church of England, and even the Presbyterians, with the two above-mentioned denominations wanted the ministers paid from the state treasury, from a tax levied by the state as had always been done, and was the custom for the Episcopal Church.


†† The Baptist were the only denomination that stood out uncompromisingly for the liberty of concience and separation of church, and state. And that was the cause of the slow progress made by the Baptists in Virginia, and the cause of their suffering persecution that almost reminds us of the dark ages, but Baptist came into Tennessee, along with the other settlers, and shed their blood for freedom. It was the Revolutionary War that put the Baptists on the map, so to speak. There were no Tories among the Baptists they fought, bled and died, that this country might be free.


†† The Baptist ministers pleaded from their pulpits for the men to fight for freedom and many a Baptist gave his life full measure of devotion that this country might be free.


†† George Washington extolled the Baptists for their loyalty to the cause of freedom, Washington always had a warm spot in his heart for the Baptists, and the part they played in his great war for freedom.


†† The first churches in Tennessee were neglected for some reason by the early historians, probably on account of the Indians, and the settlers trying to get the choice tracts of land, but a great many things of interest can be found in the acts of the legislatures of the various states, and old books and papers. The Presbyterians try to lay claim to the first church in Tennessee, but their claim will not stand in the light of historical research, but unless one makes a very careful investigation one would believe that they were right, for in Ramsey's Annals of Tennessee, 1853, edition, page 159, quote, " As early as 1772 a congregation was organized, and two churches built among these primitive people, to whom the Rev. Charles Cummings regularly preached." And Miller's Political Manual of Tennessee, page 10, quote, Rev. Chas. Cummings, a Presbyterian, established a church at the Watauga settlement in 1772. He is using Ramsey's facts, only putting them in a new dress.


†† In Rosevelt's Winning of the West, a very reliable source, Vol. one, page 191, quote: [ He is describing life on the Watauga] "The families throve and life was happy even though varied with toil, danger, and hardship, books were few, and it was some years before the first church-Presbyterian, of course, was started in the region," but he was quoting from and address of Judge John Allison delivered in 1797. "East Tennessee one hundred years ago." Which says on page 8 Salem Church was founded in 1777 by Samuel Doak, a Princeton graduate, and a man of sound learning, who at the same time started Washington College the first real institution of learning west of the Alleghanies."


†† But Judge Allison must have discovered his error, for in his book "Dropped Stitches in Tennessee History," published in Nashville in 1897, he says on page 25, and after describing the Watauga settlers, "Soon thereafter, the first church, a Presbyterian; and the first institution of learning, that was established west of the Alleghanies were founded. These were Salem Church and Washington College, both established in the year, 1780 eight miles southwest of Jonesboro." So we see the authority that the careful and painstaking Roosevelt relied on has corrected himself and says that the first Presbyterian church in the state was established in the year 1780, which would make Roosevelt as an authority void.


†† Now a careful study of the facts as laid down by the leading historians will show to a clear and unbiased mind that the Baptists were about one year ahead of the Presbyterians. Ramsay's Annals of Tennessee, and referred to before, page 169 speaking of Col. Christian's expidition against the Cherokee Indians in 1777 says, "The Rev. Charles Cummings accompanied the expedition as chaplain, and was the first Christian minister that ever preached in Tennessee." Ramsay also on page 144 says, "The westermost settlement, late in the fall of 1775, of this year, and was in Carters Valley, Mr. Kincaid, Mr. Long, Mr. Love and Mr. Mulky, a Baptist preacher, were the pioneers.


†† Benedict's History of the Baptists, 1848 edition, and the only Baptist authority I have referred to, writing on the Holston Association, page 791, says, "As this is the oldest associational community in the state, I shall under this head, give a few items of the history of the early adventurer to this region, and of their evangelical efforts in the new and rugged field which they explored. It is said there were two churches gathered in this part of Tennessee, which was then a dangerous wilderness, some time before any of these arose whose history we are now about to relate; but they were broken up and scattered during the time of the Indian war, the associations under which they were gathered, I have not been able to learn, they were probably collected some time after the year 1765 and broken up in the Indian war, which happened in 1774, one of these churches was on the Clinch River, a few of whose members returned after the war, and the church was reconstituted by the name of Glade Hollow."


†† In Dr. L. C. White's "Centenial Dream," published in the Nashville American of March, 1897 says, "Tidence Lane, Baptist preacher, was the first one to preach regularly to a Tennessee congregation and that was in 1779." And also his interpretation of his dream, published in the Nashville American, May 16, 1897 says, "Careless reading of Ramsay has led astray a great many as to the preacher who first preached in Tennessee," says it is not who first preached in Tennessee but who first preached regularly to a Tennessee congregation and this was Tidence Lane in 1779 as clearly demonstrated elsewhere by Ramsay.


†† Dr. White says that Goodspeed, indeed using Ramsay's facts, but changing his language asserts in terms, Cummings had charge of a congregation within the limits of the State, but he says, Goodspeed is in error in this as he is in very many other statements."


†† And Dr. White referring to Dr. Parks' "Historical Discourse," a work says he "Is the result of the most careful and painstaking original research, the statement is explicity made that the congregation to which Goodspeed refers as having employed the ministrations of Cummings in the Holston Valley as early as 1772, was not really located in Tennessee at all but in Virginia near the site of the present town of Abingdon.


†† Dr. Parks, himself a Presbyterian, would not be likely to fail to claim for a minister of his own denomination any credit justly due him.


†† Now, there is not any dispute as to the first Baptist church in Tennessee being organized in the year, 1779, all the Tennessee historians being agreed upon that date, and all agree that Tidence Lane organized it. Miller's Political Manual of Tennessee, and referred to before, says on page II, "Tidence Lane organized the first Baptist church in the state on Buffalo Ridge in 1779." Ramsay's Annals again on page 182, in recording the events of 1779 says, "Amidst these scenes of civil disorder and violence, the Christian ministry began to shed its benign influence under Tidence Lane. A Baptist preacher organized a congregation this year, a house of worship was erected on Buffalo Ridge. About this time the Rev. Samuel Doak was preaching through Washington and Sullivan Counties." Now it is a question as to who preached first in Tennessee, Cummings or Mulkey, both were on the field early and about the same time, it is agreed that Samuel Doak organized the First Presbyterian church and Washington College in 1780, one year after the date of the Baptist church.


†† One of the big troubles with tracing the history of the churches is that the historians were too much interested in recording Indian fighting and battles, to take up their time with churches. Haywood, the father of Tennessee history, fails to give anything of note. Monette's Mississippi Valley only gives a short sketch of the Great Revival of 1800, Carr's Early Times in Middle Tennessee only take up a few of the Methodist preachers and the revival of 1800. The Methodist did not appear on the scene until about 1794. Roosevelt's Winning of the West, Vol. 2, page 102 says, "In 1781 a Baptist congregation came out from Virginia, and went to Kentucky, keeping up its origanization even while on the road, the preacher holding services at every long halt."


†† The Baptist have always been the pioneers in religious and civil liberty, and missionary activities. Had it not been for the Baptists and the stand they took in Virginia in the early days of our great republic, the constitution would not have given up religious freedom and liberty as it does now. The Episcopalies and Presbyterians and Methodists would never have appealed to the political leaders for it. Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Tom Paine were influenced by the direct, sound urgent appeals of the Baptist ministers. Jefferson said himself that he went to hear the leading Baptist preachers in order that he might be helped that he might understand how to legislate for the best interest of the whole people, the first amendment to the Federal Constitution was the result of the untiring efforts of the Virginia Baptists. And they petitioned the legislature of Virginia for over 20 years before they had taken the Glebes, or land away from the Peiscopal church, and sell it to pay the public debt. The world would never know the part the Baptists played in shaping the destinies of this great Republic of ours. Letter from C. L. Hooberry, Nashville, Tennessee.