In January of 1896 this writer commenced the preparation and publication of "Illustrated Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers," publishing some of the sketches in the East Tennessee Baptist, other in the Baptist and Reflector. As field-worker and correspondent for those papers, during a self-imposed Baptist itinerancy of five years, covering nearly every county in East Tennessee, and other historic grounds, in and out of the State, with pencil and notebook in hand, visiting associations and churches, historic places and persons, and making extracts from or abstract of old church records, family records, tombstone and associational minute records, and records of tradition in the memories of the oldest inhabitants, he had the opportunity to decipher and preserve obscure inscriptions and rare old Baptist ecclesiastical documents, which, but for this or a like good providence, would have been obliterated by time ere now, or been buried with the old and knowing heads which surrendered their treasures of historic lore to the reporters' notebook while the parties were living. Encouraged by the favorable reception given these published sketches and the expressed wish of many to have them in more suitable form for preservation, and, personally, being not unwilling to continue a labor of love, the writer decided it might be a worthwhile task to continue and extend his researches, and really purposed to put in book form, just so soon as he could make the necessary investigations, a history of the self-sacrificing labors and difficult but glorious achievements of the old-time, John the Baptist type of preachers of our State - and thus give them a chance to speak their message of loyalty and devotion to the present generation of Baptists. But the task was greater than he had anticipated. Besides, the prosecution of the work was long hindered by untoward circumstances - perhaps I should say, was providentially delayed. For the last two or three years, however, in the providence of God, he has been enabled to spend most of his time in selecting and recasting materials already in hand, gathering other materials, typewriting sketches, and investigating by correspondence and otherwise, the immediate sources of our history in the Carolinas and in Virginia, with the gratifying result that with some of our oldest churches and preachers he has been able to supply some missing links and connect back with Baptist settlements in the older states, thus supplying a fitting background for sketches of men not less able or worthy but only less noted than the Baptist heroes of Virginia, Maryland and New England, memorialized in the histories of Semple and Taylor, Cathcart and Armitage, and other historians. These sketches, when completed (in a supplemental volume), will constitute a more or less complete history of Baptist beginnings in the territories covered by the several associations in the State, commencing with the oldest settlements or communities of Baptists.
In preparing sketches for the present volume, it was the writer's plan, at first, to run through the State a line of even date, covering a definite period, say fifty years, and to give equal attention to the three sections of the State - East, Middle and West. This plan, however, did not prove to be practicable, owing to the double difficulty of fixing a line and of working to it. As the matter now stands there is a slight disproportion in favor of East Tennessee, which, in a way, has been better worked, and so far as names, great and small are concerned, is more largely represented in the present volume than the other divisions of the State. This inequality, however, on the eve of going to press, has been remedied in a measure by reserving for the proposed "Second Series" sketches of East Tennessee preachers (mostly middle, connecting links between a remote and a less remote past), which were at first intended for this volume. This change seemed desirable for two reasons. First, a number of the reserved sketches are mere fragments, which might, perchance, be improved by taking more time for research. Second, the reservation of a batch of imperfect sketches would make room for a greater number of prominent pioneers of Middle and West Tennessee -- preachers, editors, and teachers, whose names are familiar household words over the entire State.
In the preparation of this work the writer has had to deal with some difficult problems, such as denominational machinery and methods, ministerial education and theological seminaries, Sunday schools and missions, interdenominational fellowship and affiliation, "church succession," etc., questions about which there are differences of opinion among Baptists. In dealing with these questions the writer had tried to be judge and not advocate; has sought to bring to his task the judicial temper, at the same time having a conviction that his findings and decisions ought not and could not be negative and colorless. Throughout the work he has sought accuracy, justice, impartiality - endeavoring to give to each of his subjects his true figure and merited place in history. He has not affected elegance of style or cared to conform to conventional rules. Most of his subjects were rugged pioneers of the wilderness, to whom elegant dress would not be natural or becoming. These the writer has not hesitated to clothe with the becoming dress of homespun and home-made garments; he has painted them as he saw them and as they were, "holding up the mirror to nature" and reality. He has chosen to let them speak their mother tongue freely and tell their own story (where there were autobiographies to speak) in their own original way - only using, at times, the editorial liberty of correcting a little of the spelling. The writer esteems it a great privilege to have been permitted to know these men intimately - some of them personally, more of them in the lives they lived; to enter into their inner life and experience was goodly fellowship; to follow them in their "travels and labors," and note their struggles and triumphs, was, and is still, to have a high appreciation of their worth. Should the reader share in a measure the writer's pleasure and profit, that would be cause for thankfulness.
With these words, explanatory and apologetic, and with the hope that these biographies may mean something to the on-going of the Kingdom and serve to stimulate a greater interest in and appreciation of our history, and its makers, this volume, with its fortunes, is committed to the care of the Baptist brotherhood of the State, and other readers personally or sympathetically interested.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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