DAVIESS COUNTY ASSOCIATION.
This large and prosperous fraternity was constituted of the following churches, all of which had been dismissed from Goshen Association: Rock Spring (now Yelvington), Green Brier, Bethabara, Owensboro, Buck Creek, Pleasant Grove, Bells Run, Mt. Liberty and Fredonia.
In accordance with previous arrangements, messengers from the above churches met at Bethabara meeting-house, in Daviess county, November 1, 1844. Thomas Downs preached from I Pet. 2:4-5. The convention was then called to order. Thomas Downs was chosen Moderator, and G. W. Triplett, Clerk. The preliminary measures having been gone through, the convention adjourned. It met again on the following day. A constitution, articles of faith, and rules of decorum were adopted, and the organization, embracing nine churches with 1,021 members, assumed the title of “Daviess County Association of United Baptists.” John G.Howard was then elected Moderaor, and G. W. Triplett, Clerk. It was agreed to solicit correspondence with Goshen, Gasper River and Little Bethel Associations, in Kentucky, and Little Pigeon, in Indiana.
This organization came into existence after the schisms and revolutions which afflicted the older fraternities had ceased. It was constituted a missionary body, and from the first favored all the benevolent operations of the denomination. At its first anniversary, in 1845, it approved the formation of a Bible society within its bounds. The Indian Mission Association was also approved, and the churches were recommended to organize auxiliary societies. A small collection was taken up for the Daviess County Indian Mission Society. This branch of christian benevolence received the attention of the Association several years.
At its first anniversary, the Association adopted the following: “Resolved, That, in view of the great destitution existing in the bounds of this association, we request the churches to send up their contributions, next year, for the purpose of employing a missionary in our bounds.” This was the initiatory step to the principal work of this body, down to the present period. The next year, William Head was appointed missionary to labor within the bounds of the Association. An executive committee was appointed to conduct the mission, and was composed of John G. Howard, M. J. Whayne, J. S. Ford, C. T. Noel and James Miller. This committee was the first missionary board of Daviess County Association, as Mr. Head was its first missionary. The report of the executive board was not printed ; but we have it from the lips of Mr. Head that the mission was very successful. This system of Associational missions has been kept up, with various modifications, and one or two brief interruptions, to the present time; and has doubtless been a chief cause of the extraordinary progress of the body. Its course of procedure with reference to other benevolent institutions has been similar to that of other fraternities of the kind in the State.
At its second anniversary, in 1846, the Association took up the subject of alien baptism, and it was discussed at considerable length. A resolution, declaring the reception of such baptisms to be disorderly, was offered; but was rejected on the ground that the Association possessed no ecclesiastical authority, and therefore, had no right to dictate any system of doctrine or polity to the churches. The next year, three of the churches asked advice on the subject. As an advisory council, the Association had a right to give the advice asked for. It, therefore, adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That while we disclaim all right to make laws for the government of the churches, we return as answer to Buck Creek and Station churches, that we advise the churches not to receive members from Pedobaptists or Reformers, upon their baptism.” The subject was again brought before the Association, in 1871, when the following resolution was adopted: “Resolved, That this Association does not consider any person baptized, unless he has been immersed In water in the name of the Trinity by the authority of a regularly organized Baptist church.” In 1876, it was “Resolved, That immersion in water, under authority of a gospel church, is essential to Christian baptism, and prerequisite to membership in a gospel church; that no one has the right to recognize any organization, or body, as a gospel church, the members of which have not these qualifications;” and, “that membership and fellowship in a gospel church are essential prerequisites to a seat at the Lord’s table.”
In 1852, the Association commenced raising a fund for the purpose of distributing books among the people within its bounds. This enterprise was put in operation, and the good work was prosecuted about eight years. This was doubtless a valuable work, and may, in part, at least, account for the fact that an unusually large number of people have come from other denominations to the Baptists, within the bounds of this fraternity.
Sunday schools did not receive the attention of this body, till 1858. At that date, A. B. Smith and K. G. Hay, were appointed a committee on Sunday schools and Sunday school books. In their report, they stated that, so far as they could learn, a majority of the churches had no Sunday schools ; that they regarded such schools as among the most efficient means for accomplishing the work assigned to Christians, and advised that the Association recommend the churches to faithfully employ this means. They also recommended the careful selection of such books as taught the doctrine of the denomination. Since that time, there has been a constantly increasing interest on the subject, and this has become one of the leading enterprises of the body.
During the meeting of 1858, a communication, accompanied by a contribution of $12.10, was received from the Female Home Missionary Society of Spottsville church. This appears to have been the first society of the kind, organized in the Green River country. The Association passed a resolution of thanks to the society, and recommended the formation of similar societies, in other churches. The next year, a slightly increased contribution was received from this society, and the sum of $13 was received from a similar organization, at Owensboro. It is presumed that these societies did not meet with popular favor, as we hear no more of them.
The subject of education engaged the attention of the Association, as early as 1855. It was then asserted that the education of the ministry should be one of the prominent objects of the body, and it was resolved to raise money to educate J. M. Dawson, a young preacher, at Georgetown College. Young Dawson declined going to college, and the subject was dropped. In 1860, the Association approved the enterprise of erecting a high school at Hartford, and the sum of $2,000 was pledged to aid in its establishment. In 1869, the Association resolved to secure a school property in Owensboro, and establish a high school, at a cost of $10,000. The buildings were finished, and the school was opened, under the style of the Central Baptist Institute, in September, 1869. The property was a very handsome one, and was valued at $25,000. But in default of paying the paltry sum of $3,500, a debt incurred in the erection of the buildings, this valuable property was sold, and thereby alienated from the Baptists. In 1865, the Association did a better work, in raising means to aid in educating John S. Gatton and F. P. M. Sharp, who are now very valuable ministers of the gospel.
About 1860, the subject of what was called intercommunion, was agitated among the churches of the Association, especially by B. T. Taylor, pastor of the church at Owensboro. He took the position that each church should confine the administration of the Lord’s Supper to its own members. The great ability of Mr. Taylor so influenced the Association, for the time, that it declared in favor of his views, and advised the churches “to examine the Scriptural authority for this practice.” The churches generally were not convinced of the correctness of the position, and the former practice of intercommunion among the churches “of the same faith and order,” has been continued.
In 1864, a Mr. Bidwell, recently excluded from New Hope church, appealed to the Association for redress. This gave the body an opportunity to express its adherence to the ancient Baptist doctrine, that the individual church is the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth, and that, from its decision, there is no appeal, except to the Supreme Arbiter of human affairs. Mr. Bidwell was accordingly informed that the Association had no jurisdiction in his case.
In 1866, the Association designated the first of the following January “as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer to Almighty God, for a revival of his grace.” This is believed to be the only fast day this fraternity has ever appointed. The body gave its opinion, in 1869, in regard to agricultural fairs, as follows : “Resolved, That fairs, as now conducted, are not suitable places for members of the church to attend ; and, as the evils growing out of them are manifest, we advise the churches composing this body to take the subject under serious consideration.” In 1880, it expressed its opinion on the subject of dancing : “Resolved, That promiscuous dancing, as practiced by the unbelieving world, is inconsistent with symmetry of christian character, and destructive of christian influence. 2. That we earnestly request our churches to use all christian means for the suppression of the practice among their members.”
The progress of this Association has been unusually even and rapid. Its membership was nearly doubled during the first ten years of its existence. In 1860, it numbered 26 churches with 2,783 members; in 1870, 34 churches with 3,639 members ; in 1880, 34 churches with 4, 103 members; and, in 1882, 34 churches with 4,317 members. At the last named date, it was the largest association of white Baptists, but two, in the State, Little River being the largest, and Bethel the next. Its statistics are wanting for the years ’48, ’50 and ’61. During the remaining 35 years of its existence, down to its meeting, in 1882 its churches reported 6,951 baptisms.
Source: A history of Kentucky Baptists: from 1769 to 1885, Vol. 2. John H. Spencer, Cincinnati, 1886