Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
A PIONEER OF 1775 AND THE FIRST PREACHER ON TENNESSEE SOIL.
(pages 388 - 391)
In the old cemetery at Buffalo Ridge, Washington County, is a monument with the inscription: "In memory of Jonathon Mulkey, Sen.; born October 16, 1752; departed this life September 5, 1826, after having been a preacher of the gospel of the Baptist order more than fifty years."
Jonathan Mulkey was born in Virginia, and is of Welsh descent. Though there are missing links in the family record. it is reasonably certain that his father was a Philip Mulkey, whom Semple mentions, in connection with William Murphy, as an active pioneer preacher in Virginia, in 1756, and who little later, according to Benedict, was a "'reputable and successful minister for many years" in South Carolina.
The dates of Benedict are somewhat confused, I think, with regard to Tidence Lane and Jonathan Mulkey, as are also Ramsey's dates with regard to Cummings (a Presbyterian minister) and Mulkey. There is no doubt but Lane was 'the first permanent pastor of the First permanent church (Buffalo Ridge, 1779) in Tennessee. This is now universally conceded, I believe. It is equally certain, I think, that Mulkey was the first preacher to plant his feet on Tennessee soil, to remain and engage actively in the Christian ministry.
Ramsey, in speaking of Col. Christian's expedition against the Cherokees, in the fall of 1776, mentions the Rev. Charles Cummings as the chaplain of the expedition, and says of him that he was the "first Christian minister that ever preached in Tennessee, a pioneer of civilization, of learning and religion - let his memory not be forgotten." (Annals of Tennessee, page 169.) The same author, however, in another place (p. 144), mentions "Mr. Mullkey, a Baptist preacher," with three others, as "pioneers in Carter's Valley," Hawkins County, "late in the fall of 1775," about a year earlier than Mr. Cummings and the Cherokee expedition. Cumming's work, mainly, was in Virginia; Mulkey's was in Tennessee.
A bold and spirited adventurer, Mulkey, in early manhood, left his native Virginia and came to what is now East Tennessee. to battle with the wilderness and the Indians. With his little company he made a settlement in Carter's Valley, a little west of where Rogersville now is. The settlers, while clearing their land and preparing for a crop, got their bread-corn from where Abingdon, Virginia, now stands, and for their meat "hunted buffalo." They had planted their corn and worked it once when the rumor of a Cherokee invasion reached them, and all was confusion. The little farms had to be abandoned The families below the North Fork of Holston re-crossed that stream, and the women and children were conducted back as far as the present Wythe County. Virginia. (Ramsey.)
Among my "notes" I find the following "incident of Mulkey," vouched for by the venerable William A. Keen, and generally believed as a creditable tradition handed down by Mulkey himself: In one of these Indian raids, as Mulkey and his companion were trying to make their escape, the Indians overtook them, knocked down, scalped and left for dead Mulkey's companion, while Mulkey himself, slightly wounded by a bullet, leaped into the Holston River, swam across. and made his way to Heaton's Station. But imagine his surprise when. on arriving at that place, he found his companion, whom he had thought scalped and sure enough dead, very much alive. He had not been killed by the Indians, but had made his escape and by a shorter route had reached the station before Mulkey.
In October of 1786, at the organization of the Holston Association, in the meeting-house of the old Cherokee Church, the names of Jonathan Mulkey and Anthony Epperson appear en the minutes as "messengers" from Kendrick's Creek (now Double Springs) Church; of which church he was doubtless the founder and first pastor. He was also pastor of Buffalo Ridge, Cherokee, Sinking Creek, Muddy Creek, and other churches. He was a strong preacher of the true pioneer spirit, and more inclined to do active evangelistic work than to be pastor of churches. He was a leader in the Holston Association for many years; for seven years was its moderator.
James White, a Baptist deacon, living near the center of the "Mulkey dominion," I have been told, would go from seven to ten miles, about every Sunday, to hear "Father Mulkey" preach. He was pastor of Buffalo Ridge as long as he lived, and when too old and too feeble to preach standing, the church, it is said, made him a suitable and easy pulpit-chair, that he might sit down and pour out his soul in melting exhortation:; to a devoted people who would listen to his every word.
The reader, with the writer, will feel a sense of loss that there are so few memorials of the first real, resident pioneer preacher in what is now "fair Tennessee," but then, a wilderness portion of North Carolina; his ministry and adventurous life antedate the Declaration of Independence by eleven years.
It is gratifying to know that in the subject of this sketch and his descendants we have a goodly line of Baptist preachers. Jonathan Mulkey had a son, Isaac, who was a Baptist preacher, and a useful man. Isaac had a son, Philip Mulkey, who was a preacher of the Baptist faith. This Philip was the great-grandson namesake of the elder Philip Mulkey, mentioned by Semple and Taylor, and the great-grandfather, on the maternal side, of E. K. Cox, pastor at Sweetwater, and E. A. Cox, pastor at Watertown, sons of the venerable W. K. Cox, of near Jefferson City - all Baptist preachers of ability and very great usefulness. To this list of inheritors of a favorite family name might be added the name of Philip Cox, a promising young son of pastor and Mrs. E. K. Cox (as above), who may himself, some day, with the Lord's blessing, become a Baptist preacher.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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