PILGRIMS IN PARADISE
Ernest Edward Carrier
The Story of Baptist Pioneers of Upper East Tennessee
In grateful appreciation:
This volume is dedicated to
Mr. and Mrs. J. D. Thomas
whose support made possible my theological education
Many dear and wonderful people have greatly helped in providing information and assistance in the completing of this account of our Baptist endeavors in East Tennessee. In the bibliography, I have given credit to those whose contributions were helpful, and the nature of their aid indicated.
However, I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge the following persons: Ms. Grace Pennell for typing the original manuscript; Mrs. Darlene Atwood for making valuable suggestions as to style and structure; Mrs. Gloria Cress for preparing the final manuscript; Mrs. Mary Whitton for finding the grave of L. L. Maples; Clyde R. Green, Boone, N. C.,
for making available the early minutes of the Three Forks Association, and a special thanks to Mrs. Mollie Slier for sharing the only complete set of minutes of the Watauga Association of Baptist.
Finally, my deepest appreciation to Louise and Jeffrey whose interest and sacrifice has made it all possible.
First Baptist Church
Mountain City, Tennessee
May l5, 1976
The following account of Baptist endeavors in East Tennessee is an effort to preserve the story for later generations while authentic and historical records are still available. Many hours and much effort have been spent to get all the facts and to record the impressions of eye-witnesses. It has been very disappointing to discover that many records have been misplaced or lost through carelessness. Many valuable church documents have been destroyed in fires. Too many churches do not keep accurate records, nor do they provide safe storage for their documents. Unless church clerks improve in keeping church documents, future generations will have few accounts of present happenings in our churches.
We have received a priceless legacy from our pioneer parents. Through their sacrificial efforts we have gained religious freedom and the eternal message of salvation. From our progenitors let us learn courage, faithfulness, patience and in the name of Zion's King let us subdue our wilderness, sowing the good seed of the gospel.
I present this material with a prayer that it shall provide the reader with much enjoyment and inspiration, and that the ties of our Baptist fellowship will be strengthened.
Pilgrims in Paradise
Traveling through the countryside of Johnson County, or driving along the shady streets of Mountain City, the county seat, one is impressed with the beauty of the area. One would readily agree with the feelings of the early pioneer visitor to the area when he reported: "I have discovered a country so delicious, pleasant and fruitful, yet were it cultivated it would, doubtless, prove a second Paradise." (1)
Where a growing community is now established, Indians once hunted and made campgrounds. Many relics of these American natives have been discovered by later generations. Some historians have dated Indian tribes in the area as early as 4,000 B.C. The predominate of these tribes were the Cherokees. (2)
In 1779 Daniel Boone, an early pioneer explorer from the Yadkin River Valley of North Carolina, passed through the county marking the trails to carry settlers to the western wilderness of Kentucky. (3)
The hunters, explorers, traders and travelers led the way for the settlers who would come to Tennessee. The first permanent white settlement was established in January, 1769, when William Bean of Virginia built on Boones Creek in Washington County. (4)
These early settlers came from North Carolina and Virginia. The expectation of gain, the lure of the open country, an infectious spirit of adventure, and a desire for liberty and independence led them over hazardous trails to the mountains and river valleys of East Tennessee. (5)
The persecution and opposition by the established religious authorities of North Carolina and Virginia hastened the immigration of settlers into the wilderness. Records reveal that toward the end of the 18th century hundreds of Baptists migrated into the territory of Tennessee. By 1810 there had been established in the state 102 churches with 11,693 members and six associations. This rapid growth of the Baptist Church was due, in part, to revivals and the energetic ministry of the frontier preachers, the simplicity of Baptist doctrine, the democracy of its congregational structure, the lack of ecclesiastical controls, and its appeal to the common people. (6)
Jonathan Mulkey was the first Baptist preacher to come to Tennessee. Records reveal that he was preaching in Carter's Valley (Hawkins County) in 1775. The grave of this pioneer preacher is in the church yard of Buffalo Ridge Baptist church, Gray Station, and the inscription on the marker reads: "In memory of Jonathan Mulkey, Sen., born Oct. 16, 1752, after having been a preacher of the gospel of the Baptist order more than fifty years." (7)
The first Baptist congregation to be established in Tennessee was the Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church, 1779, at Gray Station. Tidence Lane was the first known regular pastor of the congregation. By 1786 there were seven Baptist churches organized in upper East Tennessee; Kendrick's Creek (Double Springs); Bent Creek (Whitesburg); Beaver Creek (Sullivan County); Greasy Cove (near Erwin); Cherokee Creek; North Fork of the Holston (Abingdon, Va.); and Lower French Broad (Dandridge).
These early churches were represented in the Sandy Creek Association in North Carolina. But because of the hazardous journey to the North Carolina association, the Tennessee churches organized their own association, the Holston Association of Baptist, in 1786. Tidence Lane was chosen moderator, and William Murphy, clerk. (8)
The Baptists established a congregation in Johnson County on April 20, 1794, as the Roan's Creek Church of Christ, under the tutelage of the Three Fork Baptist Church, Watauga County, North Carolina.
This congregation was organized on the doctrinal position of the Philadelphia Articles of Faith (1722). The congregation counted 75 members. (9)
As the Baptist work prospered in the area there grew a need for the Baptist Churches of Johnson and Carter Counties to organize an association to strengthen their fellowship. The Watauga Association of Baptists was organized at the Cobb's Creek Baptist Church, Johnson County, on September 18, 1868. J.H. Hyder was chosen moderator; J.P. Vanhuss, clerk; and A.J.F. Hyder preached the sermon.
Taylorsville, Pine Grove, Pleasant Grove, Friendship, Sugar Grove, Little Doe, and Cobb's Creek from Johnson County: Stoney Creek, Watauga, Elizabethton, Elizabethton (Colored), and Zion from Carter County. Two Washington County congregations, Indian Creek and Coffee Ridge, were represented, but later withdrew to unite with the Holston Association.
A note of interest is the fact that L.L. Maples was pastor of five of the fourteen churches organizing the new association. These five congregations (Taylorsville, Pleasant Grove, Little Doe, Cobbs Creek, Watauga) had a total of 614 members, one-half of the total membership of the constituting churches.
During the next two decades 18 more congregations would unite with the association: Shady Valley, Union, Harmony, Sharp's Creek, Bethel, Doe River, Rain Hill (Little Mountain), Pleasant Hill, Happy Valley (Roan Mountain), Walnut Grove, Elk Park, Elk Knob, Elk River, Popular Grove, Antioch, Hampton, Evergreen, and Rock Springs.
In 1889 the association would report twenty-four churches with 2404 members.
Gleaning the early minutes of the annual meetings of the Watauga Association of Baptist, one can discover the concerns of its messengers. In the first meeting of the Association, 1868, a need for a local high school was discussed. A committee was appointed to study the possibility of constructing a school "in a healthy and central location in the Association." L.L. Maples was appointed chairman of the committee.
The winning of the mountain people of the Association to faith in Jesus Christ was a real concern of the delegates. L.L. Maples was chosen "as a suitable person to serve as general missionary, within the bounds of this Association." And the Moderator's son, A.J.F. Hyder, was appointed "to labor in the destitute parts of this Association and especially among the Colored population." The missionaries reported at the next annual meeting 144 converts.
The use of alcohol by church members was a topic of discussion in the 1874 annual meeting. The messengers adopted a resolution urging member churches "to prohibit their members from making, selling, or using spiritious liquors as a beverage." Again in 1879, the messengers of the annual meeting would urge cooperating congregations to expel all drunkards and discourage common dram drinking among their members." Later the association pleaded with member churches, "to adopt total abstinence, and each church draw a rigid reign of discipline over all dram-drinkers."
Getting a formal education was very difficult for these pioneers of the mountains. The lack of training was most noticeable among the clergy, and was a deep concern of the Association: "Ministers should be educated in order to meet the infidelity and skepticism of this age. Men of learning and sagacity are assailing the word of God and trying to subvert the Christian faith. Such men can only be silenced by an educated ministry. The educated must meet the educated in the great struggle between truth and error."
Because of the autonomy of the local Baptist congregation, the Association was prevented from establishing educational requirements for its ministers.
The Association in each annual meeting challenged member churches to support missions. The gospel must be sent "to the heathen in other lands." It also urged the messengers to assist other local congregations in their building programs.
In 1968 the Watauga Association celebrated 100 years of serving Christ. A Centennial Pageant, "Forest of Faith," written and directed by Pat Alderman, was presented at Elizabethton High School, October 25, 1968, to dramatize the story of the growth and progress of Watauga Association of Baptists. (11)
The story of Watauga Association would not be complete without reference to Gertrude Hale, who has served as associational missionary for 34 years, 1941 - 1975. "Miss Hale," as she is affectionately known throughout the area, came to the Association after graduating from W.M.U. Training School in Louisville, Kentucky. During her early years as missionary she traveled by foot, by bus, and by borrowed automobile to churches in Carter and Johnson Counties. Through her visits with local churches, she promoted the work of the Southern Baptist Convention, taught Bible courses, conducted Vacation Bible Schools, and led in visitations seeking the non-Christian. The growth and stability of the Association during these last 30 years has been, in part, due to her efforts. Many times the Association has shown its appreciation for "Miss Hale." (13) Recently the Association voted to give to her the Association Home as a permanent residence in appreciation of her years of unselfish service.
At present the Watauga Association is composed of sixty-six churches, 25 of which are in Johnson County. The stated purpose of the Association is: "to promote Christian fellowship and cooperation among the churches affiliated with the Association; to uphold the doctrines and principles of our Baptist faith, and to encourage the churches to be loyal to and practice these doctrines and principles; to promote the preaching and teaching of God's word; the enlisting and training of all Christians for service; to promote missions, benovolence, stewardship, Christian education, and the winning of all men to Christ to the ends of the earth; to cooperate, as we deem proper, with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention in a world mission program." (12)
An important part of the religious growth of the Baptist churches in Johnson County and the mountain area has been the revival meetings. Most churches include at least two revivals each year in their activities. During these revivals great effort is made by the people to gather in the unsaved of the community. Some of the greatest spiritual victories of the local church have come during these appointed times of revival.
The Baptist churches have joined forces for countywide revivals in recent years. These united efforts have resulted in the churches being strengthened and the spiritual life of the community moved to greater dedication.
In 1951, Hyman Appleman was the evangelist of the Associational wide revival with many lasting results. A united crusade conducted by the E.J. Daniels revival party, August 1965, included 41 Johnson County churches. Thirty-three were Baptist congregations. Ernest E. Carrier, pastor of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, served as general chairman. Virgil Booher, paster of the Pleasant View Methodist Church, served as general co-chairman. The twelve-day crusade resulted in 116 salvation decisions, 78 rededications and 34 surrending to full-time Christian service.
The greatest county-wide revival ever witnessed in Johnson County was the Gage-Bernard Crusade, August 11-18, 1974. There were 565 salvation decisions, 529 rededications. Sponsored by twenty-five Baptist churches of the county, more than 16,000 people crowded into the county high school gymnasium during the nine-day event. The total offering for the meeting was $14,000, with over $6,000 going for crusade expenses. The balance was given to "Pulpit In The Shadows" a drug-abuse treatment center in Houston, Texas, which the evangelist Freddie Gage founded.
The music director for the crusade was Jerry Wayne Bernard, who sang his way into the hearts of the people, and is acknowledged by local residents as the greatest gospel singer in America!
The youth of the county were greatly influenced by the GageBernard Crusade. Young people went to the streets carrying their Bibles and witnessing to those they met.
The following testimony given by a county youth reveals the stirring effect of the Crusade:
The Freddie Gage Crusade has been a meaningful experience in my life. I've seen so many of my friends saved that have done really bad things in their lives and I've been worried about them. This week has really meant something, because all the young people have grown closer in the Lord and we've been having really Christian fellowship .
Ray Payne was General Chairman of the Gage-Bernard Revival. Rev. Brooks Peters and Rev. Victor Wallace served as cochairmen.
From our pioneering fathers to the success of recent revivals, the Baptist congregations have laid a solid foundation for future generations to build upon. Build worthy upon it. Be faithful to witness to the truth, "and earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."
1. Anonymous, Colonial Records of North Carolina, (Raleigh, North Carolina), Vol. 1, page 208.
2. O.W. Taylor, Early Tennessee Baptist, (Nashville, Tennessee Baptist Convention, 1957), page 2.
3. Early Tennessee Baptist, pages 6 - 7.
4. ___________ Goodspeed, History of Tennessee, (Nashville, 1887), page 922.
5. David Benedict, A History of the Baptist Denomination In America and Other Parts of the World, (New York, Manning and Loring, 1853), pages 11 - 17.
6. Lynn E. May, Jr.. Baptist, (Nashville, Historical Committee, SBC).
7. Samuel W. Tindell, The Baptist of Tennessee, (Kingsport, Southern Publishers, 1930), Vol. I, pages 14 - 15.
8. Ben D. Akard (Mrs.), Baptist History, 1639 - 1786, (Johnson City, Holston Association of Baptist, 1953).
9. _____________ "Minutes," First Baptist Church, Mountain City, June, 1775.
10. "Minutes," FBC, September, 1880.
11 Elizabethton "Star" Newspaper, October 23, 1968.
12. _____________ "Annual Minutes," Watauga Association of Baptist, 1974, page 22.