Green Brier Baptist Church

This Church is the second oldest Baptist Church in Daviess County and the third oldest Church in the entire Association at present. The Church was organized at a meeting of the Tanner’s Meeting House Church (now Buck Creek Church) on October 29th, 1820. There were twenty-five constituent members in the organization all of whom held membership with the Tanner’s Meeting House Church. Of this number nine were negroes and sixteen were whites. Elders Thomas Downs and Benjamin Tolbert, pioneer preachers of the Green River country, were in the council of recognition. Until after the Civil War there were many negroes in the membership of the Church, and for a number of years a section of the meeting house was reserved for them. They were accorded all the privileges of the Church the same as the white members and after their emancipation were organized into a church of their own.

In her Thirteen Articles of Faith there was one declaring “Feet-Washing” to be a “strict ordinance of God that ought to be practiced when opportunity afforded.” But the records fail to show that they practiced what they preached, though traditions say they often did; and that the colored members continue to observe the ordinance after the whites ceased to do so. For many years before the Civil War the negroes had preaching once each month on Sunday with one of their own preachers conducting the services; and presumably, the ordinances were observed on these occasions.

The Thirteenth Article of Faith declared the duty to support the ministry. When they began paying a stipulated amount, or how liberally they contributed, we have no means of knowing. Reliable tradition has spoken of how that the men would break the ground, plant, cultivate and harvest the crops for their pastor, Thomas Downs, while he devoted his time to preaching in the wide belt of country from Logan County to the Ohio River. The women would also divide fruit, linsey, flannel, flax-linen, knitting-yarn and dried fruit with his family; and by doing so the Church Scripturally met her obligation to her pastor. The pastor lived on a farm near the Church at that time and had united with the Church by letter, with his entire family, in January, 1824.

The Church met in the homes of her members for the first few years of her history. Finally, in May, 1824, Brethren John G. Howard and James Johnson donated a parcel of ground on which to erect a house of worship. It seems that this lot was covered with a rank growth of green briers and it was from this that the Church took her name – GREEN BRIER. Tradition says that the first house of worship was built of logs. Its size, appearance, convenience and comfort must be left to the imagination. How long it was used is not known. Many of the meetings were held in private homes long after the house was built. The second house of worship was built of brick burned on the premises and Bro. John A. Bennett tells us that references to the “old brick church” among the older people were not uncommon when he was pastor there in the 1880’s. The present house of worship was completed in the years 1858 and 1859. Dr. J. S. Coleman preached the dedicatory sermon on the first Sunday in June, 1859. The house was completely remodeled in 1888. The pulpit, windows, pews, roof, cornice, and gables were changed at a cost of about $1,400.00.

Green Brier Church for many years covered a large territory. In 1849, letters were granted to thirty-three members to constitute a Church at Hewlett’s School House, which is now known as Mt. Carmel Church in Ohio County. The constituent membership of the Oak Grove Church (Utica) came from Green Brier in 1854. When that Church was moved to the town of Utica more of the Green Brier members united with that Church. In 1878 several members were dismissed from Green Brier to organize the Woodward’s Valley Church. In 1892 and 1894 the constitution of Pleasant Ridge and Red Hills Churches took more than fifty members from Green Brier, among them some of her best. Buck Creek Church received many members from Green Brier after 1894 when the Church moved its location to the Owensboro-Livermore road near to Green Brier. Even though she became depleted in strength by these inroads into her membership this old mother church has rallied and is now among the strongest of the rural churches of the Association. For a number of years after the organization of the Association she was the largest Church in membership, and was even ahead of the First Church of Owensboro, in point of numbers. The Church has always been noted for her large congregations and even today it is not an uncommon thing to see the large house almost filled with worshippers.

This Church has always been strongly evangelistic. As early as 1840 the Church conducted regular revival meetings. These were a new fad in the country at the time and opposition arose to them but they have proved themselves and Baptists are the greatest revival people on the earth today. The meeting of 1856 saw over seventy added to the membership and on another occasion more than one hundred were added to her fellowship. On many occasions meetings were held in private homes and there would be candidates for baptism awaiting the pastor when he came into the midst of the people. Many lay-preachers, never ordained but licensed to, exhort and preach, conducted these services. Among them were Terry Thorpe, Allen Howard, Goodwin – a negro, and S. B. Howard, Jr. It was largely through their efforts and zeal that the evangelistic spirit of the Church was maintained and that many were converted unto the Lord.

Like all of her sister Churches this Church maintained a strong disciplinary work. One striking feature of her records is the large number of exclusions. Often there were exclusions at each monthly meeting for many months in succession, and almost invariably these occasions were followed quickly by one of the great revivals for which the Church was famous. In the year 1833, one, Benjamin Smith, was talking and preaching against Baptist doctrines. He was promptly arraigned before the Church for trial. The first charge was for refusing to commune at the last observance of the Lord’s Supper and then for teaching that the Spirit is the Word and the Word is the Spirit; that in the act of baptism we receive forgiveness of sins; and for denying a special call to the ministry. This is readily seen to be genuine Campbellism. He also believed that faith is produced by evidence. A council was called from Beaver Dam, Buck Creek, Mt. Pleasant (Fordsville), Bell’s Run, Bethabara, and Rock Spring (Yelvington) Churches consisting of seventeen preachers and laymen. After a two-day session the Church and council decided to withdraw the credentials of Smith and he was afterwards excluded from her membership. This stand by the Church saved the situation and the Church has continued to occupy her territory so far as other religious organizations are concerned for over one hundred years. In the year 1847 the question of the validity of immersions administered by other denominations was brought before the Church; and the Church strongly repudiated such baptisms and has twice reaffirmed the same position on Alien Immersion. She says to all who come into her membership “Be Baptized.”

The Church became a member of the Goshen Association in August, 1821, sending John G. Howard and Littleton Howard as her messengers. She withdrew from that fraternity in 1844 to become a constituent member of the Daviess County Association and every year since that time she has been faithfully represented in the sessions of this body of Baptists. This Association met with the Church in 1872, 1913, and 1940. We have since learned that the 1846 and 1862 sessions were also held with the Church thus making five times the Association has been entertained by the Church. The Church has always been open to the visits of the representatives of denominational enterprises and usually a commendation of the work and a collection for it was in order. She has been generous in her mission gifts and has assisted many of her sister churches in paying for their houses of worship.

During her one hundred and twenty-three years of history she has had the pastoral ministrations of the following brethren and has been served by the following clerks:


Pastors Years
Thomas Downs 1820-1848
J. M. Bennett 1848-1853
William J. Owen 1853-1854
J. S. Dawson 1854-1855
J. S. Coleman 1855-1868
J. M. Peay 1869-1882
John A. Bennett 1882-1892
I. M. Wise 1892-1894
R. T. Bruner 1894-1897
J. N. Jarnagin 1898-1904
L. H. Voyles 1905-1909
Norris Lashbrook 1910-1911
W. W. Williams 1912-1913
Norris Lashbrook 1914-1922
C. D. Chick 1923-1924
D. Arthur Dailey 1925-1926
Foster E. Howard 1926-1930
J. H. Boswell 1930-1933
G. A. Smith 1934-1936
Buelle Wells 1936-1942
Willard B. Watts 1942-1943


Clerks Years
Mark Howard 1820-1823
John G. Howard 1823-1838
Stephen Ashby 1839-1864
Mark Owen 1865-1870
M. Cravens 1870-1871
J. S. H. Kigel 1871-1877
Nathan D. McDonald 1878-1883
S. B. Howard, Jr 1883-1891
T. L. Martin 1892-1910
Felix Owen 1911-1943

Space forbids an enumeration of the labors of the pastors who have served the Church but their records are among the best in the Association. No church has ever had a better array of ministerial talent to fill the pulpit than this Church. Downs – the pioneer, Coleman – the doctrinal giant, Peay – the evangelist and lovable character, Bennett – the learned and efficient denominational leader, and Lashbrook – the pious and meek leader, were among the best this Association has produced. Her work is again in a flourishing condition under the leadership of her present pastor. On several occasions the Church has enjoyed one-half time preaching. At present she is enjoying such ministrations.

Green Brier’s contribution in ministerial talent has helped to make history in this section of the Green River country for over one hundred years. John G. Howard was licensed to preach the Gospel in December, 1821. His connection with the early progress of this Association is noteworthy. A negro man by the name of Goodwin was licensed in the late 1820’s. Terry Thorpe and Allen Howard were licensed to preach in April, 1841. They were never ordained but their work in the membership was very fruitful as has already been mentioned. In 1833, she had in her membership a man by the name of Benjamin Smith who was an ordained preacher. We know not whence he came; but we know whither he went. He was excluded for preaching the heresy of Alexander Campbell. In December, 1849, D. A. McCormick was licensed to preach but was never ordained. On January 20th, 1850, William J. Owen and James B. Matland were ordained to the ministry. On February 5, 1860, Daniel E. Yeiser was ordained and Bryant Y. Cundiff in October, 1867. Both of these brethren labored efficiently in and around this Church for many years and finally organized the Red Hill Church to which their membership was transferred. S. B. Howard, Jr., was licensed to preach in 1868 but was never ordained. On July 4, 1891, J. Bryant Benton was licensed to preach by the Church but was ordained elsewhere. After laboring successfully in Kentucky pastorates he moved to Missouri and the crowning work of his life was performed at Trenton and St. Louis, Missouri. Although he died before he reached middle age he proved that Green Brier produced none greater than J. Bryant Benton, D.D.

Since the year 1870 the membership of this Church has never been lower than 190 and has climbed as high as 350. At present the membership is about 300 with prospects of a larger growth. This Church has had a wonderful history and the present is glorious and the future is as bright as the promises of God.

We conclude this sketch with a list of the names of the deacons who have served the Church during her history and the date they began their services. John G. Howard and Littleton Howard were elected as deacons in February, 1821. John G. Howard was ordained the following June but nothing is said of Littleton Howard. Terry Thorpe was ordained in May, 1830; and from this time to the year 1870 no record is available, but it is known that Hammond Hansford, S. B. Howard, Jr., Ben Tanner, J. F. Mohon, William Hansford, and William O. Howard held office in this period. J. S. H. Kigel and Ben S. McCormick were ordained in November, 1872; J. S. H. Henry and William C. Atherton in December, 1886; G. M. Riley and A. F. Davis in February, 1892; T. L. Martin and W. J. Owen in February, 1895; William Ashby and P. D. Maddox in April, 1897. Since 1900 the following have been ordained or recognized: E. P. Chinn in 1909; T. S. Coke in 1913; Edgar Owen and G. H. Benton in August, 1918; Dennis Yates and Ellis Shelton in July, 1930.

The Church observed her Centennial on October 29-30, 1920. At this time we find Brethren John A. Bennett, J. N. Jarnagin, I. N. Strother, W. C. Boone and O. M. Shultz taking part on the program. Bro. Bennett read the history of the Church and we have the original copy of his history and have used it extensively in this sketch. The pastor, Bro. Norris Lashbrook, also preached to the congregation on this occasion. It was a happy time for the Church and the reminiscent spirit pervaded the entire congregation but a spirit of hope and anticipation also filled their hearts as they looked forward to the second one hundred years of usefulness.

Source: A History of the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Kentucky, 1844-1943. Wendell H. Rone, Messenger Job Printing Co., Inc., Owensboro, Kentucky, 1944.

Green Brier, located in Daviess county, was constituted of 25 members who had been dismissed from Tanners Meeting House, by Ben Talbot and Thomas Downs, Oct. 29, 1820. Thomas Downs was chosen pastor, and served the church nearly 30 years. Since his death, it has had the pastoral labors of J. M. Bennett, Wm. J. Owen, J. S. Dawson, J. S. Coleman, B. F. Swindler and J. M. Peay. It is now the largest and one of the most prosperous, of the country churches in this Association.

Source: A history of Kentucky Baptists: from 1769 to 1885, Vol. II. John H. Spencer, Cincinnati, 1886