Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 489 - 491)
(The following is practically a third edition of a sketch which appeared January 12, 1899, in the Baptist and Reflector. and later in Grime's History of Middle Tennessee Baptists. It is an interesting sketch, and I give Rev. J. H. Grime, "lover of history," credit for all the facts and most of the sentences. -ED.).
The name of this man of God is interwoven in the early history of Middle Tennessee Baptists. He was born in Northhampton County, North Carolina, in December, 1762. He was married to Sarah Perry in September, 1779. This union was blessed with ten children, from whom have descended many of the best citizens of Middle Tennessee, while many have moved to the great West. He, in company with the ancestor of the Rutland family, emigrated to this section of country in 1790, before Tennessee was a State, and settled in Sumner County. They soon afterward moved to Wilson County, and were among the first white settlers of the county. Elder Stephenson settled on Cedar Creek, near where Little Cedar Lick Church now stands, and became its founder. He was baptized before leaving his native State of North Carolina by Lemuel Burkitt, who afterwards became an eminent minister and historian of the old Kehukee Association. On coming to Tennessee, Elder Stephenson most probably attached himself to Station Camp Church, since it was the only church in his section at that time. Under the tutorage and influence of Elders James Whitsitt, Patrick Mooney and John Dillahunty, he entered the ministry in the year 1800. To his ability as a preacher Elder Whitsitt pays this tribute: "Elder Stevenson was a sure preacher; he seldom failed to rise high, and had perfect control of himself in the management of his voice. The doctrinal parts of his discourses were well studied and delivered in a deliberate manner, without much fatigue, and by the tine he was through with his doctrine his feelings were generally up and he would launch into exhortations, which were most admirable. He seldom sat down when his congregation was not in tears. His forte was repentance, faith and baptism On baptism he excelled. He drew in a number of Pedo-baptists by his skillful management of that point. He did not ascend into the more sublime or strong points of divinity, and yet he was a strong believer. He did not hold with systematic preaching, and yet he had a system. He ,bowed divine sovereignty in the new birth, for he was very experimental. His motto was. "Play the man, and `the Lord do that which seemeth him good.' Like most other preachers of his day he was Calvinistic in his sentiments."
He did pioneer work and was the chief instrument in founding and building the following churches: Big Cedar Lick (Mt. Olivet at Leeville), Little Cedar Lick, Spencer's Creek, Barton's Creek, Bradley's Creek (then known as Philadelphia), and Bethesda. He was also father in the ministry to Elders Jacob Browning, Joshua Woolen, John Simpson, Edward Willis, James T. Tompkins, Elijah Maddox, William White and Micajah Estes. He and Cantrel Bethel served as a presbytery in the constitution of Round Lick Church at Watertown, July 2, 1803. He was also present and took part in the formation of Cumberland and Concord Associations.
Elder Stephenson was well educated, for his day, and was a man of fine address and pleasing appearance. He lived to see flourishing churches on his field of labor, where, in the beginning of his work, there was nothing but a wilderness, with only a few pioneer settlers and not a single minister. His ministry was mostly in Wilson County. He was in easy circumstances, had a managing and industrious wife and overseers to look after his temporal affairs, so that he was able to give himself to the ministry, which he did. He died in the prime of life, at 59 years of age, passing from earth to glory March 18, 1818. His wife survived him many years., living to the ripe old age of four score and four years. Their dust sleeps together in the old Rutland graveyard, one mile from Rutland Church. The Concord Association memorialized him in her minutes for 1818, making mention of his "usefulness." commending his "piety and zeal" as a "great and good marl fallen in Israel," and praying that the Chief Shepherd would apply his place in the field below."
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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