Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 294 - 297)
In the following sketch I follow Borum, Cathcart, and an obituary notice in the Tennessee Baptist, (September 22, 1849), signed "W. R.," which I take to be William Rogers, the first president of Mossy Creek College. The facts thus gleaned and restated as compactly as possible will form the outline history of one of the largest and most interesting figures in the early history of Tennessee Baptists.
Bradley Kimbrough was born November 3, 1799, in Jefferson County, Tennessee, three miles from Mossy Creek (now Jefferson City). He was the oldest son of Elder Duke Kimbrough and his third wife, Eunice (Carlock) Kimbrough, of near Dandridge. He was born and reared on a farm. His father being a preacher, and away from home most of the time, and his four older brothers having married or gone to the War of 1812, and with a mother and several younger brothers and sisters to support, young Kimbrough, at the age of 12, was up against the necessity of taking the lead on the farm and supporting the family. This circumstance interfered with his getting an education. Nevertheless, when it was possible for him to be spared from the farm, he attended the neighborhood schools, and was an apt scholar. His father also sent him three months to a grammar school, five miles from home, then three months to the Dandridge Academy, and next to the Columbian Academy, where he made considerable attainments in science and philosophy, and studied Latin. This ended his schooling; but he and his brothers read and studied at home, and attended debating societies far and near, always taking a part.
In 1822 he commenced reading law with Judge Jacob Peck. who was then on the supreme bench with Haywood and White. Two years later the supreme court, which sat at Rogersville, gave him license to practice. He then located at Madisonville, where he practiced as a leading attorney for ten years.
As a representative of Monroe County, in 1834, he was a member of the State Convention which remodeled the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. The following year he refused to be a candidate for the legislature, choosing rather to be a preacher of the gospel, and was accordingly ordained to the ministry by the Madisonville Church in the year 1835: His first experience in preaching was a delightful seven months' missionary tour through Georgia and into South Carolina: preaching to churches and collecting his support as he went from place to place, making his circuit around through Hot Springs, North Carolina, to his father's home in Jefferson County, Tennessee, thence to Madisonville.
In December, 1836, he received an appointment as missionary under the direction of the Board of the Tennessee, or Middle Tennessee, Convention, operating mostly in Middle Tennessee and North Alabama. He continued two years in this work, with great opposition from brethren who did not much believe in missions, and were particularly opposed to conventions and general associations. However, he sowed the good seed, introduced the leaven of missions in the churches, created disturbance, excited discussion, aroused opposition, caused division, all of which was better than stagnation.
August 31, 183 7, he was married to Martha H. Whitaker, a daughter of Deacon John J. Whitaker, of Mulberry, Lincoln County, Tennessee, a pillar of the Mulberry Baptist Church, and a liberal supporter of the Lord's cause. To this union were born five children, all daughters.
For the next few years he was pastor of churches. He served the church in Columbia twice a month for two years, giving one-fourth of his time to the Rutherford Creek Church, six miles north of Columbia, and the rest of his time to an interest in a schoolhouse near his home, where a house of worship was afterwards built, as a result of his labors in connection with others. Not being able to give his whole time to the ministry here, for lack of support, he sold his farm and moved his family to Mulberry. His labors with this church and in the country round about, were blessed of the Lord. With the aid of other brethren he constituted a church at McMinnville, another at Winchester, another in Cornersville, and still another six miles from Shelbyville. His labors were extensive and abundantly blessed.
In 1845 an educational mass-meeting was held near Murfreesboro, for the purpose of taking steps toward the endowment of Union University. The society voted to endow the university with fifty thousand dollars, and appointed a committee to secure an agent to raise the money. The committee employed Elder Kimbrough, who gave himself unreservedly to the work, going on horseback from church to church and from house to house, completing the proposed endowment in less than two years. He now gave himself for a time to evangelistic work, holding meetings here and there, giving special attention to weak churches. But the Domestic Missionary Board at Marion, Alabama, offering him work, he accepted an appointment as missionary and served the board one year. He was solicited to serve the board at Marion longer, but having offers at the same time from the Bible Board and Union University, he chose the harder job, collecting the money due on bonds that had been given to endow the university. Railroads in this country in Kimbrough's day were few and far between, and riding thousands of miles on horseback, along unbeaten roads through dismal wilds, was no easy job. It took moral courage and physical energy and endurance.
In the course of his ministry Elder Kimbrough witnessed many remarkable religious revivals, and the Lord gave him many seals to his ministry.
He assisted in the organization of Liberty Association, was a member of the body thirty-eight years, and several years its moderator. He was also the honored president of the General Association or Convention of Middle Tennessee and North Alabama.
Elder Kimbrough had ministerial gifts of a high order, and they were wholly consecrated. He also had good native ability and a legally trained mind. All these were assets which guaranteed his success in whatever he undertook. He closed his earthly labors June 30, 1874, "falling on sleep" in Jesus the Lord, whom he had faithfully served.
Elder Bradley Kimbrough was a "bright and shining light in our beloved Zion. He had a stately form and a benignant face. He was courageous, but tender and humble as a child. He was quick and impulsive, reached his conclusions, at times, by intuition rather than by reason, but his conclusions were generally correct. He had a zeal for the Lord's work that knew no discouragement."
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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