Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 507 - 511)

"Farmer, shoemaker, blacksmith, surveyor, minister; member of Bethel South (now the Morristown First), fifty-three years; messenger of his church to the Nolachucky Association forty-nine years, six years clerk, one year assistant clerk, twenty-three years Moderator, pastor of this church for many years." (Col. T. H. Reeves, Centennial Celebration, First Baptist Church of Morristown, 1803-1903.)

Hughes Woodson Taylor was born in Grainger County, Tennessee, September 22, 1803. He was a son of Elder Hughes Owen Taylor, a Virginian by birth, born in Henry County. His mother, Elizabeth Taylor, was a Kennon (or Cannon) before her marriage; of Irish descent and transmitting to her gifted son some of the blood and peculiar characteristics of that noted people. His grandfather, James, who was a son of William Taylor, both of them Virginians, came to the "new country," settling in Grainger County, Tennessee, in the fall of 1797 or the spring of 1798, when Woodson's father, Hughes O. Taylor, was about nineteen years of age.

Woodson Taylor was converted in the fall of 1822, while teaching school at Macedonia, near Morristown, but did not ",join the church" until some years afterwards. February 2, 1823, he was married to Miss Alis G. Grantham. This' union was blessed with a family of seven children, two sons and five daughters. After the birth of their third child both father and mother were led down into the waters of Holston river and together were buried with Christ in baptism (1826), becoming members of Bethel South (South of Holston River), now the First Church of Morristown. As to who baptized him, his call to the ministry and the date of his ordination, I have no information, since the church records for forty odd years were lost or destroyed, it is thought, during the Civil War. His aged widow, who in her ninety-third year, twenty years ago, furnished me many of my "notes," remembered that two members of the ordaining council were Joseph Manning and Elihu Millikan. Of course, she could have told me who baptized her and her husband, but if she did my "note" of same has been lost.

Like most preachers of his day, Woodson Taylor had a limited education. This he improved greatly, from the beginning of his ministry, by close application to study. During the early years of his married life he would teach school through the fall and winter months, devoting the "crop season" to farming, which was his chief means of support throughout his ministerial life.

Among the churches served by him as pastor I note the following: Antioch, Cedar Creek, Friendship, Prospect, New County Line, Warrensburg, Sweetwater, Bethel South, or the Morristown First, Mossy Creek, now the Jefferson City First. With Isaac Barton and Hughes O. Taylor he pioneered the way for Baptists at Morristown. He was the first pastor that ever received a salary on that field - $50. More than any one man he tided the church over the difficulties incident to the doctrinal and party strife of the '30's and '40's. From 1847 - the date of the church's earliest preserved records, to near the close of his life - his name is prominent and of frequent occurrence in the records of the church among a score or more of other noted and familiar names. Prominent on the record: of other churches also is the name of Woodson Taylor, who lead been called to "help" in a meeting, to attend a "sacramental occasion," or to "sit in counsel." A chief element of his strength, the open secret of his popularity and success, was his conservatism. He was not an extremist; was not rash. Conservative and conciliatory in disposition and bearing, he was enabled to heal many a wound made by the unhappy division of denominational sentiment on the question of "missions" and the "societies of the day," as well as the hurts inflicted upon the churches by the ruthless hand of civil war. But notwithstanding his peaceable disposition and his habitual avoidance of controversy, he was a faithful defender of what he considered sound doctrine and the true principles of the Baptist faith. He saw and deprecated the evil consequences of extreme views of election and predestination. So, vexed and worried by the report, constantly circulated, that "Brother Randolph," and other preachers of the "old school" persuasion, had over and again "preached infants to hell," he proceeded to take Brother Randolph to task over the report, resulting; I have been told, in a spirited "tussle" between the two brethren. Brother R. denied that he had preached such doctrine. Brother T. protested that the ultra-Calvinism of Brother R. and of the "old school" brethren, to say the least, placed infants dangerously near the brink of that fearful place "prepared for the devil and his angels."

In a sense Woodson Taylor was a born preacher. His father before him was a preacher of no mean ability. The son, in particular, had the orator's tongue and temperament was fervid and fluent; impassioned in manner; persuasive in speech. He was courtly and sympathetic. The last twenty-five years of his life he suffered from a chronic throat trouble, but even with this affliction and with the infirmities of age upon him, his quiet and subdued eloquence was impressive and effective. Both in manner of speech and in personal appearance, as I recall, he reminded one of the aged and silver-tongued ex-Governor Joseph E. Brown, of Georgia, as he appeared before the Southern Baptist Convention.

H. W. Taylor's tombstone, in a cemetery near Morristown, publishes the fact that during his ministry he baptized 1,406. professed believers into the fellowship of Baptist churches.

One of Brother Taylor's most intimate and valued friend, was Elder James Gilbert, of the Mulberry Gap Association. In compliance with Elder Gilbert's request, that "Brother Taylor visit" him and his Association as long as he lived, or was able to get away from home, in the fall of 1887, Brother Taylor lead the pleasure of visiting for the last time this Association. Meeting with Cloud's Creek Church, and of preaching, on Sunday, what proved to be his last sermon. The following summer June 5, 1888, he passed to his reward, leaving behind two of his children, and his aged widow, whom the writer, years ago, found at her home, "hale and hearty," at the age of 93. On  Sunday before the summons came for him to depart to be with Christ, he was visited by his old-time, friend, Elder T. J. Lane. "You'd like to have been too late," were the first words of greeting from the dying patriarch, as he "rounded the cape" in his 85th year. They recounted their labors and sacrifices, talked of the kingdom of God, the goodness of the Father, the promises of the Bible, and their heavenly home. As they quoted Scripture after Scripture and promise after promise, if one missed or failed to recall a word, the other would supply it. Happy meeting! grand converse this in the evening glow life! But they have met above. Both are now in the "land the cloudless sky," quoting Scripture, perchance, and recounting their earthly toils, while they "rest from their labors and their works follow."


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


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