Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 545 - 547)
I am now standing (1896) on the former site of the old Providence Church, Sevier County, a place made sacred by the sleeping dust of Elder Richard Wood, the "first preacher," it is thought, to preach the gospel, as Baptists believe and preach it, in Sevier County. He is the first preacher whom Elder John Russell, now upwards of eighty, among his first recollections, remembers to have seen and heard preach "when a very small boy." The old meeting house is no more, the church having long since gone down and been revived and established in another place. But the graveyard is still here, and a tomb-stone, bearing this inscription: "In memory of Rev. Richard Wood: Died, A. D., 1831; aged seventy-five years." Solitary and alone he pioneered the way for the Baptists over a large territory in Sevier and Blount counties, as far back perhaps as 1785 or '86. He gathered the materials for and was the founder (1789) and first pastor of the Forks of Little Pigeon (now the Sevierville) Church: and continued the pastor, actively and nominally, till his death-a period of forty-two years.
He was present at a "conference of nineteen churches" (a messenger from the Forks of Little Pigeon) assembled at Beaver Creek meeting house, on the 25th day of December, 1802, at which time the Tennessee Association was organized. In 1804 he was Moderator of that body. He was elected and served as Moderator of the body at eight of its annual meetings; and preached the "introductory" or "annual" sermon at seven different sessions of the body.
The ordination of Elijah Rogers, in 1810, brought to his help a true yoke-fellow and companion in the ministry. These men of God held meetings together over the country, witnessing many gracious revivals, organizing churches, and baptizing multitudes of people. The first baptism ever witnessed in the city or neighborhood of Knoxville was that of John Hillsman, a convert of these two preachers and a first fruit of Baptist work in what is now known as a Baptist city. He was baptized in the Tennessee River in the presence of 3,000 people, in the month of August, 1825.
Since writing the above I find Richard Wood memorialized at length in the Tennessee Association minutes for 1834. By appointment of the Association the "biography" was prepared by Brother Samuel Love. I condense from the same as follows: Elder Richard Wood was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, in 1756. His parents were poor, but respectable people, belonging to the Episcopal or State church of Virginia: Young Wood had sufficient education to carry on his vocation as a farmer and mechanic. At the age of nineteen he was converted, under the preaching of some Baptist evangelists and missionaries from the North. He commenced preaching at once, in spite of persecution, which was the portion of Baptist preachers of that day. In his twenty-first year he was married to Mary Price, who had been converted in the same revival as himself. The war of the Revolution was on and he became a soldier, "facing with settled resolution the frowns of British tyranny and oppression, fighting manfully, that the American people might enjoy the fruits of political and religious liberty." In 1784 he moved to South Carolina, where he was ordained, and preached for a while with great success to country churches. At the close of the Cherokee war he emigrated to Tennessee, locating in Sevier County. He planted churches on the creeks and in the coves of Sevier and Blount counties. Two of the churches he established, the Forks of Little Pigeon and Providence, had each extended three "arms" that had become separate and independent churches before he died. In old age he had become heavy and was afflicted with rheumatic troubles, but in spite of pain and the infirmities of age, and when he bad to have help to get on and off of his horse, he would go and preach. One of his faithful old members testified: "Brother Wood was entirely devoted to the ministry. His talents were of a respectable order, which, being assisted by his great zeal and earnestness, made him an interesting and a useful preacher. But his talents and zeal were not all. Behind these was consistent and devoted life, which the world could not gain-say." February 4, 1831, "his ransomed spirit returned to God who gave it." He left a widow and a large family of children - all of them members of Baptist churches, two of his sons being ministers of the gospel.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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