Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 302 - 308)

Isaac Barton Kimbrough, namesake of Elder Isaac Barton, of pioneer fame, was born near Madisonville, Monroe County, Tenn., February 10, 1826. His parents were William and Elizabeth (Molder) Kimbrough, of Jefferson County, Tenn. He was the seventh in a family of eight children. He had three uncles who were Baptist preachers of distinction and ability. His grandfather, Elder Duke Kimbrough, was among the early settlers of the new country, was nearly sixty years a minister and fifty years pastor of French Broad (now the Dandridge) Church. Young Kimbrough was left an orphan at the tender age of seven, and grew up without a father's counsel or a mother's care. Thus early life became to him a battle and a struggle. He was brought up on a farm, with few advantages of an education. July 29, 1847, at the age of twenty-one, he was married to Miss Mary J. Henderson, of his native county. At this time he could scarcely read intelligently. At the age of twenty-four he was converted, and with the call to Christ there came a call to preach his gospel. He was now awakened to a sense of the imperative need of an education and, with both hands and an iron will, he took hold of the double task of making a living for "ween and wife" and preparing himself to preach. By "sweat of brow" by day he made the "living," and by sweat of brain by night (mostly by the light of a torch) he made an acquaintance with books, acquired a knowledge of the Bible and dug into the deep mysteries of theology.

He united with the Madisonville Church in the spring of 1850, and was baptized by Elder A. Stapp. He was ordained by Shady Grove Church in the autumn of 1852, Elders H. C. Cooke and T. J. Russell acting as a presbytery. For two years he served as missionary and evangelist in Monroe County, Tenn., North Carolina and North Georgia. He then became pastor, and served at different times the following churches: Spring Creek, Big Creek, New Hopewell, Tellico, Madisonville, Hopewell, Sweetwater, Mount Harmony, Eastanallee, Salem, Union, Fork Creek, and possibly other churches. At this early period of his life, as missionary and pastor, he baptized into the fellowship of Baptist churches more than 1,000 persons, who were converted under his ministry, constituted eight new churches, and afterwards had the pleasure of seeing several of his converts become Baptist preachers.

In 1873 he accepted an appointment as missionary under the auspices of the General Association of East Tennessee; his two years' work under the direction of the Mission Board, stimulating, enlisting, collecting, put missions among East Tennessee Baptists on higher ground.

In 1875 he moved his family to Mossy Creek, putting some of them in college, while he himself undertook the herculean task, as financial agent of the college, of raising money with which to provide larger and better quarters for the overflowing school. Just how many thousand dollars, in cash and bonds, he raised for the college cannot be accurately stated since the college records were burned in the disastrous fire of December 13, 1916, which destroyed our administration building; but a sum not less than from $16,000 to $18,000, funds sufficient to secure the purchase of the Major Mountcastle property, which was used for classroom purposes for several years, then becoming Carson Hall, a dormitory for boys, at present belonging to Jefferson City, and used for a public school building. So active, insistent, persistent and ubiquitous was I. B. Kimbrough as a financial agent and money-getter, with his eye on every Baptist pocketbook, to collect the Lord's dues, that Dr. T. T. Eaton, then pastor at Chattanooga, was more than once heard to say of him: "When Kimbrough dies it will have to be said of him, that the beggar died also."

I. B. Kimbrough was a good parliamentarian, knowing well how to handle a deliberative body. He was ten years moderator of the Sweetwater Association and three years president of the East Tennessee General Association. He was active in the organization of the Baptist State Convention. He was one of the vice-presidents of the Convention, and ever labored for the unification of Tennessee Baptists in co-operative effort. He was one of a committee appointed by the Convention to investigate and report on a suitable location for the Southwestern Baptist University, locating it at Jackson.

Not the least of his services to the Baptists was that which he rendered as their standard bearer in several public discussions, a dozen, perhaps, with Pedo-baptists, Campbellites and Adventists. He was a skilled debater, an able defender of the Baptist position. He carried the standard with a steady nerve, never lowering the flag, and the cause of truth never suffered in his hands. His premises were like the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture upon which they were laid, his arguments were logic linked and strong, his quotation of Scripture was a steady fire upon his opponent; his sarcasm was merciless, withering, unrelenting. It has been said that not one of his opponents ever remained on the ground to fight to a finish all the questions scheduled for discussion, but invariably cut short the allotted time for debate, quitting the field before the battle had been joined on all the questions at issue.

Elder Kimbrough was a Fullerite in theology, holding to Andrew Fuller's theory of the Atonement. He read with delight and profit Abraham Booth's "Reign of Grace." He was a great admirer of J. R. Graves, and was a "Landmarker" in faith and practice.

His greatest endowments were a strong intellect and a soul of fire. Next to these were a wonderful physique and a powerful voice. His usual weight was 230 pounds; height, five feet, ten inches; hair, a chestnut brown; eyes, a deep blue; skin, fair; complexion, florid. He was a giant in strength. His will was imperious, his imagination lofty at times and entrancing. Few men were more positive in their convictions, few, if any, had more decision of character or had more energy and perseverance. He was at times eccentric in manner, and sometimes rough. His peculiar oddities of expression were not always pleasing. He was educated but not polished, was a diamond, but a diamond in the rough. I suppose it would have been impossible to polish him. While his outstanding characteristic was rugged strength, still he combined with that a tenderness that was eloquent, at times, with feelings of suppressed emotion, and strangely touching. In one sense he was sui generis, a genius of his own order, distinctly original and unique, without a duplicate, standing apart, and a law unto himself.  In another sense he was a fellow servant and a brother, atypical mountaineer, an East Tennessean, "to the manner born," and proud of the fact that he had been born and reared and had spent his life, to quote one of his favorite expressions, "among the vine-clad hills and rock-ribbed mountains, God's country, bounded by the Cumberland range on the north, which is the backbone of the world, and the Alleghanies on the south, a country including East Tennessee, the Switzerland of America." His strength was as the strength of the mountains under whose shadows he lived; his eloquence as the dashing streams and swiftly-flowing rivers of his native land, untutored, untrained, but having in it spontaneous, original and, sometimes, irresistible force.

As illustrating the more winsome and appealing side of his nature and as showing what grace can do in subduing, softening and refining the untamed nature of man, the writer distinctly recalls an experience of his schoolboy days. A protracted meeting was in progress. Elder Kimbrough, having come in from his travels and labors to take some needed rest, was out at the meeting, and it was at night. The war-worn veteran got up to talk. The spirit of exhortation came upon him with great power, and he was supremely happy. With walking stick in hand he walked the floor with as much liberty and ease as if he had been at home in the presence of his own family, talking to us eloquently of heaven, our future home. Gradually bringing his powers of imagination into play he carried us all, a vast throng, up with him through the gates into the city and had us walking with him on the streets of gold and looking with him upon the jasper walls. He introduced us to the heavenly company and to the Saviour himself. It was a marriage feast, and many guests were coming in. But the time came when the door must be closed, and some who had been invited would be shut out and, hearing the words, "too late, you cannot enter now," would go away disappointed and lamenting their sad fate. It was a feat of sacred and really inspired eloquence, possible only to a gifted orator, under the enthralling power of the Holy Ghost, and the effect was electrically thrilling throughout the entire audience.

In the year 1876, perhaps, Carson College, in recognition of his ability and merit, conferred upon him the honorary title, Doctor of Divinity.

In 1879 Dr. Kimbrough moved with his family to Texas, settling in Collin County. He was pastor at McKinney, and organized several new churches in the surrounding territory. Later he was pastor at Weatherford, Plano, Henrietta and Bowie, Texas. In 1890, following his missionary and pioneer impulse, he went to a remote unorganized district of the extreme western part of Texas. Here he organized many small churches at ranches, under trees (where trees could be found), and in other destitute places, throughout a large and sparsely settled section, since organized into counties and developed into a magnificent country. Under his ministry was built at Plain View the first church house within a radius of a hundred miles of that center. That section has since developed into a Baptist stronghold, one of the denominational colleges being located in its center. In Texas, as in Tennessee, he was imbued with the missionary and pioneer spirit, labored for harmonious and organized denominational effort in carrying out the great commission, was active and outspoken for local and state-wide prohibition of the liquor traffic, and was not afraid to meet a religious opponent in public discussion. When the time came for him to put off his war harness and lay his armor by he was with one of his daughters at Barstow, in the Pecos River country. He had been preaching fifty-two years, was tired and wanted to rest. His mind wandered at times, but his faith in God was unfaltering. He died as he had lived, in the triumph of an overcoming faith, passing to his reward December 21, 1902. He was buried at Plano, Texas, beside his companion, who had preceded him to their new home above. On the tombstone of the veteran soldier is the inscription
"He fought the good fight, he kept the faith.," The epitaph of his companion in early toils reads, by her own request: "A sinner saved by grace." .

Out of a large family five are still living, three sons and two daughters, all living in Texas and all making good, I am told, in their several vocations.


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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