Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 281 - 284)
James Kennon was a son of Thomas and Rachel (Walker) Kennon, who came from Virginia in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, settling in Jefferson County, Tennessee. He was a double brother-in-law to Hughes O. Taylor - he marrying Taylor's sister Rebecca, and Taylor marrying his sister Elizabeth.
There is no record of James Kennon's conversion and baptism. He was most likely baptized by Isaac Barton into the fellowship of Bethel South (Morristown First) Church. He was a messenger of this church to the Holston Association, along with Hughes O. Taylor, Elihu Millikan and others, from 1815 to 1825. In the last-mentioned year he was likely lettered off with other Bethel South members, to form Blackwell's Branch Church. In 1827 he represented Blackwell's Branch in the Powell's Valley Association. He was a messenger of Blackwell's Branch to the Nolachucky Association, and moderator of that body in 1831 and the three following years. He preached the introductory sermon in the years 1833, 1840 and 1845. In March of 1826 he "was received to the pastoral care of" the Mouth of Richland Church, and remained with the church as pastor twenty-nine years and a half. Church "agrees to let Brother Kennon or any other brother have house to preach on temperance, except church-meeting. days" (August Minute, 1835). "April, 1837, received by letter Jas. Kennon and wife, Rebecca." "August 11, 1838, choose Joel Aldredge [sic] assistant pastor." "August, 'second Saturday, 1853, J. Kennon offers his resignation as pastor, having served the church twenty-seven years." Old pastor is re-elected "indefinitely" and serves till September, 1855.
In 1828 Elder Kennon was a corresponding messenger from Powell's Valley Association to the Tennessee Association, meeting with the Forks of Little Pigeon (now the Sevierville) Church. "Brother Kennon and Brother S. Love, by appointment, preached on the Sabbath, after which, having been invited by the church, the association joined in commemorating the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sympathetic tears which flowed in abundance on the occasion was satisfactory evidence of the propriety" of the observance. In 1840 Brother Kennon was elected moderator of the Tennessee Association, and in 1846 was preacher of the introductory sermon. At this time he was pastor of New Market, Adair's Creek and perhaps other churches, as well as his home church, the Mouth of Richland. He was elected pastor of the Mossy Creek Church (now the Jefferson City First), "November, second Saturday, 1848," and continued in that connection for six years. He was pastor of the Sevierville and Boyd's Creek Churches I know not how many years.
James Kennon was one of the ablest men of his day. As a preacher he was a man of dignified and courtly mien and a commanding speaker. He was at home in preaching, on occasions, to lawyers and judges and the best scholars of his day. Tall and imposing in appearance, with a massive physique and a massive voice, he was a commanding figure anywhere, in the pulpit, in the presiding officer's chair, in the social circle. He was ambitious, strong and uncompromising in his views of truth or duty, and when he took a stand it was hard to change him.
The following incident related to me some years ago by one of the old members of the Boyd's Creek Church, of which Elder Kennon was pastor, will be of interest as illustrating the value to a preacher, at times, of a powerful voice, as also showing how Providence sometimes co-operates, with the preacher in securing results. It was August of 1848. The pastor was in a meeting with his church. Saturday was an election day, and the people were late getting to church at night. Then a great storm came up; the thunder and lightning were terrific. But the preacher had a powerful voice; the louder the thunder the louder he preached. The storm subsided for a minute or two, then reinforced itself with fury. The rain poured, the wind blew like a hurricane, the thunder roared. "God is speaking," said the preacher, "we must speak too, and the sinner must listen." Every sinner in the house was forward for prayer but one. The meeting continued till past midnight. The church door was opened to receive members some two or three times, and twenty-odd members were received on the one night. The text of the occasion was, "Come, for all things are now ready." The preacher went home with the one unsaved sinner, a Methodist by prejudice, and by way of improving the occasion and the opportunity said to his host: "Well, Brother W., you see the Lord knew what I had to do, and helped out with the sermon, and sent plenty of water; let the Lord have his way with you, and cast in your lot with his people."
Another incident: Elder Kennon was holding a meeting in Union County. One of the neighbors, an old man and a sinner had to go for the doctor, riding horseback for some miles. A sudden and very heavy rain raised the waters till fording was exceedingly dangerous. Everybody was anxious for the man's safety, some telling him he had better be religious before he got into worse trouble. The man was afterwards heard to say: "The prayers of Uncle Jimmy Kennon saved my body from a watery grave, and will not let my soul go to hell.'; Whether the man was finally saved or lost my informant could not say.
"Sabbath day, June 28, 1846, Elder James Kennon delivered a very able sermon on the subject of baptism, after which and a short intermission, the Rev. William Minnis, a Presbyterian minister, delivered a sermon on the same subject, advocating sprinkling to be the true mode of baptism. The meeting was then dismissed." (Records of the Dandridge Church.)
James Kennon was assistant, associate and acting pastor, with Elder Duke Kimbrough, of the French Broad (later the Dandridge) Church, from 1843 to 1847, preaching to lawyers, judges and other educated men, and greatly admired by James Harvey Carson and others of his hearers.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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