Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
On the lookout for Baptist historical data and family relics, at the old Barton residence, near Russellville, we made a valuable "find" of a manuscript history of the Barton family, in Isaac Barton's own handwrite. The document bears date of "October 4, 1825", extracts from which will constitute the major part of the following sketch.
Isaac Barton was born in Maryland, near Fredericktown, August 16, 1746. His father, Joshua Barton, was the son of a widowed mother, from Holland. In 1753 or 1754, his father moved to North Carolina and settled on a branch of the Yadkin River, and, after the death of his mother, moved to Virginia, settling on Pig River, in what is now (1825) Franklin County.
October 9, 1772, Isaac Barton was married to Keziah Murphy, a daughter of William Murphy, a Baptist pioneer preacher of Virginia. This union was blessed with twelve "living children." Soon after his marriage he joined a Baptist church, in a short while was called from above and encouraged by his church to preach the gospel, "the which I undertook to do," says the record, "with much fear and trembling."
He was ordained to the ministry by Samuel Harris, one of Virginia's most famous preachers, and William Johnson; and took the pastoral care of Blackwater and Pig River churches (Virginia), remaining wit them "in love and harmony" until 1780, when he came to East Tennessee, and not long after took the care of a church near Greenville (Warensburg Church), where "we enjoyed a great degree of love and fellowship, until the prospect of new countries cause the greater part of the church to break up and move. I also moved to the head of Bent Creek, in the bounds of the Rev. Tidence Lane's church (Whitesburg), where I remained thirty-one years, during which time, in general, we lived in mutual love and friendship, until a little before his death (1800), when his mind by some means got dissatisfied with my sentiment on the atonement, though we had preached together for many years." This difference in "sentiment" was doubtless due to the fact that Lane had come to consider Barton too strongly Calvinistic in his views of the atonement and of kindred doctrines.
"About that time" (1800), the record continues, "from the Bent Creek Church there went out a newly constituted church, called Bethel South of Holston (First Church of Morristown), of which I took the pastoral charge, and am yet with them as such" (1825). He was then past 80. "We have lived in general," the records goes on to say, "in harmony and love, and as a church have been able to dismiss members for Head of Richland, Friendship, and Blackwell's Branch churches. Our present number is between seventy and 100 members."
March 25, 1786, Jonathan Mulky [sic] and Isaac Barton constituted "the Church of Christ on French Broad River," or "Lower French Broad" Church, three miles northeast of Dandridge, the constituent members being "twelve in number".
At the organization of the Holston Association (1786), Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton and Frances Hamilton were messengers of the Bent Creek Church.
Sept 14, 1798, William Murphy and Isaac Barton constituted the Church of Christ on Lick Creek (Warrensburg), with a constituency of "twenty members".
He was pastor of what is now the First Baptist Church of Morristown, judging from all the available evidence (the church records having been destroyed), for thirty or thirty-one years. He died November 10, 1831, in his 86th year.
Isaac Barton was father, grandfather and great-grandfather to a number of distinguished men. One of his sons, Judge David Barton, of Missouri, was President of the convention which met in St. Louis, June, 1826, to form a State Constitution, which was afterwards known as the "Barton Constitution". In September of the same year he was elected the first United States Senator from the State of Missouri, with Thos. H. Benton as his colleague. This distinguished son was also the first Circuit Judge that ever held a court west of the Mississippi River. Judge Robert Barton, of Chattanooga, a grandson (recently deceased), and Senator R. M. McKinney Barton, a great-grandson, are both noted men.
Dr. W. A. Montgomery, one of the ablest preachers among Southern Baptists, is also a great-grandson of Isaac Barton, a pioneer of the wilderness nearly a century and a half ago.
The following incident, referred to elsewhere, I believe, may be mentioned in connection with Isaac Barton's preaching in the early part of the last century. Near Whitesburg, on the farm of Brother George Smith, and on the bank of Bent Creek, there stood a historic and noted tree, an elm, something like a hundred feet high, and extending its branches over a circle of at least 300 feet. This tree was old and decaying when the writer saw it. Perhaps it is no longer standing. But tradition says the shade of that elm tree was the preaching place of Tidence Lane and Isaac Barton before the Baptist in that part of the country were able to build or had not learned yet the art of constructing meeting houses for worship of God.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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