Red River Meeting House

Logan County, Kentucky


Red River -- the Mother of Kentucky Churches.

IT is a matter of some doubt as to which of the now existing churches in Kentucky was the first one to become a Cumberland Presbyterian church. A number of churches in the state were under the care of the Cumberland Presbytery when that presbytery belonged to Kentucky Synod of the mother church but cast their lot with the Cumberland Presbytery when reorganized by the Cumberland Presbyterians. This was true of Gasper River (now called Old Gasper), and, if I remember rightly, of Piney Fork; but Gasper River has not had a continuous existence, as many of its members were transferred to Pilot Knob, and the church was in a disorganized condition for many years.

But I am well satisfied that the oldest organization in the state and the one first becoming a Cumberland Presbyterian church was Red River, situated in Logan county, eight miles south of Russellville and only a few miles from the Tennessee line. At this place there has been an organization for something over one hundred and eight years, and a regular Cumberland Presbyterian church organization for ninety-four years.

This church, though sometimes running low, has never ceased to maintain its identity nor to have its membership and its session. It stood with the revival party during the great trials through which the ministers and churches passed about 1800, remained firm during the days of the council, and cast its lot with the new presbytery, when organized by McAdow, Ewing and King.

The Red River community was that in which Rev. Finis Ewing and family lived during the stormy days that resulted in the formation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Though the organization took place in Dickson county, Tenn., yet the travailing pangs that gave birth to the church took place in southern Kentucky and mostly in Logan county. The center of that mighty struggle was about old Red River. It was there that the first regular camp meeting was conducted ever known to any church. In these camp meetings great spiritual forces were apparent on every side, and some accompanying phenomena that I have never heard explained unless upon the principle of divine power. I refer to what was known as the "jerks." Dr. McDonnold, in his history, said they appeared in East Tennessee under the preaching of Dr. Blackburn, A Presbyterian, before they were known in Logan county, Ky. My father was then a boy and went in a covered wagon to a camp meeting, either to Gasper or Red River, with his parents and the family. He saw a young woman while making sport of others taken with the jerks and surged back and forward with such force and rapidity that her long hair cracked like a whip, she calling all the while on God for help. He said, moreover, the in going out into the tall grass to find their horses that had been hobbled and turned out to graze, he passed many persons kneeling in earnest and devout prayer alone with God. We still need a baptism of prayer. True, some effort at a camping was made the year before at Gasper River, but the first regular appointed camp ever conducted on earth was at Red River.

Here Logan Presbytery had its first meeting ninety-one years ago. The ministers in this presbytery were Finis Ewing, William Harris, Alexander Chapman and William Barnett. May the sons of these men in this presbytery prove worthy of such noble sires. Some of the Ewings, relatives of Finis Ewing, were among its early ruling elders. This church has given to the denomination some of its brightest lights in the ministry; among others Rev. A. M. Bryan, D.D., "the golden-mouthed orator" of the church in his day. The church has had for its pastors and supplies a number of our best preachers.

Perhaps the preacher that did most for the upbuilding of that organization in the first half of the last century was Rev. Caleb Weedin, as he was an able minister and preached for many years to that people. Its pulpit was often filled by Alex. Chapman, whose memory still floats like sweet incense in the memory of some of the very old people of Logan Presbytery.

William Harris, strong, resourceful and effective; Hiram Hunter, a veritable master in the pulpit; Leroy, Penick, Mansfield, Foster, Johnston, and a host of others, have preached Christ Jesus in power and sincerity from its pulpit; yet Caleb Weedin did a large share in building up the church and making it permanent.

During Mr. Weedin's ministry there lived in the community an able jurist but most unique character. I refer to Judge Broadnax. He was a man of wealth for the times and greatly attached to the "evangelical Weedin," as he often called him. He was a member of Mr. Weeden's church, possibly an elder, and under his pastor's influence built a church near the old site. It was a large brick building and for the condition of the country a fine house. When urged to insure it against lightning by putting up a lightning rod he replied: "If God wants to destroy the house I have built and given him he is at liberty to do so." The house stood but a little while and was burned down. I do not know the cause.

The house of worship now standing is near the place occupied by the first church building, and near the old graveyard where the dead have been laid away for one hundred and twenty years. The church building now occupied has been built some sixty years and is kept in good repair. Rev. W. J. Hayden, of Logan Presbytery, is the supply at this time. The membership is not large now, but faithful and true to the church and the Master, and the old light is yet in the candlestick. Perhaps no church in all the list of churches in southern Kentucky is better entitled to be called the mother of churches and ministers than Red River. What a host will gather around the great white throne as the result of the existence of this church!
Smiths Grove, Ky.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, February 4, 1904, page 137]


The following analysis of Red River Meeting House and the Great Revival of 1800 is the first part of a research paper prepared by Rev. Hughlan P. Richey describing the phenomenon of the spiritual uprising in what was then the Western United States and quotations and commentary concerning the Revival which furnished the spark for enthusiastic revivals across the state and nation. The second and final portion of Bro. Richey's paper will be published next week, which lists some of the results of the revival and a bibliography of references used in preparing this most comprehensive work. Bro. Richey, pastor of the Adairville Baptist Church, prepared the paper as part of the requirements toward earning his Master of Divinity degree this summer, and has also taken the lead in the re-establishment of a modern-day annual nondenominational revival at the site of the Red River Meeting House which will be held this year August 18-22, 1969:

By Rev. Hughlan P. Richey

The Old Red River Presbyterian Church was located near Red River, near Maulding Fort, and about three miles northeast of Adairville, Kentucky. Maulding's Fort was built in 1780 by early Scotch-Irish settlers for protection against the Indiana.

This church was established between 1785 and 1789. The county, Logan, in which it is located became a county in 1792. Among the earliest ministers to serve Red River were Rev. Thomas Craighead, Rev. Samuel Finley, and Hezekiah Balch.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as early as 1789 began to send out missionaries on the frontier. The Great Revival in the West is known as the Kentucky Revival or the Revival of 1800.

At the close of the Eighteenth Century the prospects of Christianity in the young nation looked unfavorable and discouraging. This was true in Logan County. Peter Cartwright, who lived near Adairville as a boy, tells that when his father moved the family into Logan County it was known as "Rogue's Harbor."

Bernard A. Weisberger said, "the revival was no passively received blessing. It was weapon aimed at sin, and it was meant to be used to hit hard."

Among the props on which revivalism rested, two were fundamental. One of these was the importance of emotion. The other was the significance of the individual. In 1800 two of these props were being hewn out of native timber. In the flickering light of Kentucky campfires, the Great Revival was beginning to make a tradition.

The Red River Church book of 1833 records the following: "Red River Church was the seat of the Memorable Revival of 1800, out of which the Cumberland Presbyterians arose."

The Great Revival which made such a great impact on the immediate area, "powerfully stimulated religious enterprise all over the United States. It is best understood by a study of the men who roused the indifferent Christians from their spiritual lethargy."

The outstanding minister at this time was the tall, angular Rev. James McGready. He was born in Pennsylvania about 1760, and came to Kentucky in 1796 by the way of North Carolina. His ministry was not too well received in North Carolina. There was opposition, and this is evident because his pulpit was burned and he received a threatening letter written in blood.

On arriving in Logan County he took up residence in the Red River Community and had charge of three congregations, Red. River, Gasper River, and Muddy River. This section, known as "Rogue's Harbor," was abounding in desperadoes and unregenerate doings."

In a sketch of the character of McGready, Rev. John Andrews, a contemporary, said, "he was favored with great nearness to God and intimate communion with him. He was plain in his dress and manners. His sermons were not polished but pointed and his delivery was impressive." Andrews said, he was distinguished by a talent for depicting the guilt and deplorable situation if impenitent sinners, and the awful consequence of rebellion against God. He preached the new birth with great enthusiasm.

It is said that the congregation at Red River was not entirely in accord with McGready's preaching. The "revival doctrine," and the personal witness of the Spirit doctrine were not unanimously received.

In July of 1799, McGready's power over audiences began to be witnessed visibly. Here at Red River the signs of renewal began. the spirit of animation was felt at a sacramental meeting. These services were participated in by McGready, Mr. Rankin, Mr. Hodge and William McGee, Presbyterian preachers, and John McGee, brother of William, a Methodist preacher.

During a service prior to the Lord's Supper, some of the "boldest, most daring sinners in the country covered their faces and wept bitterly." McGready saw marvelous things happen in his small congregations at Red River, Gasper River, and Muddy River.

In June of 1800 McGready had his Pentecost at Red River. The occasion was another sacramental service with other ministers present. McGready said, "the year of 1800 exceeds all that my eyes ever beheld upon earth." He looked upon the events of 1799 as prelude as to what was to happen in 1800. In a letter to a friend, dated Logan County, Kentucky, October 23, 1801, he tells of the "Commencement and Progress of the Revival of 1800."

"In June (1800) the sacrament was administered at Red River. This was the greatest time we had ever seen before. As multitudes were struck down under awful conviction; the cries of the distressed filled the whole house. There you might see profane swearers, and sabbath breakers pricked to the heart, and crying out, "what shall we do to be saved?" There frolickers, and dancers crying for mercy. There you might see little children of 10, 11 and 12 years of age praying and crying for redemption, in the blood of Jesus, in agonies of distress. During this sacrament, and until the Tuesday following, 10 persons we believe, were savingly brought home to Christ."

At these services people came in wagons. Since accommodations were not sufficient some people came in covered wagons, bringing provisions for several days. This was the beginning of camp meetings in this country. It is referred to as the forerunner of the first camp meeting in American church history. The first large camp meeting was the next month in the area of the Gasper River church. So popular did the method of encamping on the ground at the large meetings become, that it was adopt by the leaders as a means of stimulating revivals.

By the end of 1800, much of Southwestern Kentucky and part of Tennessee had caught the revival fire, and it now spread northward. As reports spread, people traveled long distances to see for themselves what was happening.

One of these persons was Barton W. Stone, pastor of the Presbyterian societies--at Concord and Cain Ridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky, who came to Logan County in 1801 to investigate the excitement. He had been a convert of McGready's in North Carolina.

A new exercise known as the "jerks" came to characterize the emotional aspects of the meetings. Sometimes the people would run, make noises like animals or even climb trees. Peter Cartwright, well-known Methodist preacher, who earlier was converted at Red River Church, describes some of these scenes.

"To see the proud young gentlemen and young ladies dressed in their silks, jewelry, and prunella, from top to toe take the jerks would often excite my risibilities. The first jerk or so you would see their fine bonnets, caps and combs fly and so sudden would be the jerking of their head their long loose hair would crack almost as loud as a waggoner's whip."

The preachers then believed in experimental religion. Today, we would call it "experiential" religion.

James McGready was the prominent personality in the Great Revival. Rev. John Andrews in giving a sketch of his character compares him with several Bible characters. "Like Enoch, he walked with God; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he was very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; like Job, he deeply abhorred himself; and like Paul, he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, his Lord."

Some of McGready's contemporaries eventually went to other groups. He, however, did not secede. This John the Baptist of the Western Awakening made amends for driving Presbyterians into the arms of Cumberlanders, Christian, Shakers and Disciple.

Some of the sermon topics of McGready were probably typical of the preaching of that day--"The Nature and Consequences of Sin," "The Believer Embracing Christ," "The Blinding Policies of Satan," "The Super-Abounding Grace of God," and "The Dangerous and Destructive Consequences Attending the Use of Spirituous Liquors," "On the General Judgement," "To the Heavenly Canaan."

We look at some brief points of one of his messages called "A Sacramental Meditation." "How dreadful is this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Genesis 28:17. These are some of his points:

1. A sacramental table is a dreadful place; for God is there.

2. A sacramental table is a dreadful place, because it is a striking exhibition of the most important transaction ever witnessed by men or angels, vis. the redemption of guilty sinners by the bitter agonies, bloody sufferings and dying groans of the incarnate God.

3. A sacramental table is a dreadful place; for the Holy One of Israel here confers and sups with pardoned rebels.

4. A sacramental table is a dreadful place; for here heaven is brought down to earth.

Jacob is his vision, saw a ladder connecting heaven and earth, "and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon it." And when christians are seated at a communion table, and are near Christ, they are at the gate of heaven, for Christ is that gate. Time and eternity, heaven and earth, meet in him, and he is the medium of communication between the eternal I am and worthless sinners. In his face they behold the glory of God.

The Rev. James McGready had entered the ministry without any religion. God led him to see his ruined condition, and he sought and found conscious salvation. He was then in Pennsylvania but went to North Carolina. Because of opposition encountered in North Carolina he came to Cumberland (Kentucky) area.

McGready found a dead formalism in the churches. In view of the spiritual deadness he drew up a very solemn covenant for his congregations. Every Saturday evening, every Sunday morning, and one whole Sabbath of each month, for a year, were to be observed as a season of special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Logan County, Kentucky, and throughout the world. To this covenant he obtained the signatures of his church members.

Camp meetings became the order of the day. God's Spirit used the distant visitors to these camp meetings to spread the revival, not only throughout Kentucky and Tennessee, but many other states. Foote's History of North Carolina and his History of Virginia give us thrilling accounts of revivals started in these two states by people just returned from McGready's meetings. This would remind us of what happened in New Testament days as recorded in the book of Acts.

Rev. George Baxter says:

Never have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which disclaims the merits of its own duties, and looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God. I was indeed highly pleased to find that Christ was all in all in their religion as well as in the religion of the gospel. Christians in their highest attainments seemed more sensible of their entire dependence upon divine grace, and it was truly affecting to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ as the only physician who could give them any help. Those who call these things enthusiasm ought to tell us what they understand by the spirit of Christianity. In fact, sir, this revival operates as our Saviour promised the Holy Spirit should when sent into the world--it convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, a strong confirmation, to my mind, both that the promise is divine and that this is a remarkable fulfillment of it.

Again he says in the same letter:

"I think the revival in Kentucky among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the church of Christ, and, all things considered, peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country. Infidelity was triumphant and religion on the point of expiring. Something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of giddy people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable and futurity a dread. The revival has done it. It has confounded infidelity and vice into silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions."

That revival in Tennessee and Kentucky, under God, rescued those two states, and through them, the West and South, from French infidelity.

The revivals in McGready's churches stirred up some opposition. We are told that a Rev. Balch of McGready's own presbytery, visited McGready's churches for the special purpose of preaching against the revival, and ridiculing what McGready had taught about faith, repentance, and regeneration.

The Red River church was locked against the revival party, and McGready stood on the door steps and preached. "One day while he or some other revival preacher stood there gesticulating violently, a backward stroke broke the lock, and the house was never locked against the revival party afterward."

There were many ministers who believed in the genuiness of the revival, but objected to many of the measures used. Sometimes they were classed with the anti-revival party. One of these new measures was the mourner's bench (my comment: Is this the origin of the mourner's bench?). The advocates of this measure argued thusly: It commits the sinner publicly to seeking salvation; it touches the hearts of his comrades; it enlists the prayers of Christians for him; it mortifies his stubborn pride. The mourner's bench, through the years, has certainly been abused. It does present difficulties.

The revival party in answering the objectors to revival would point out these things. "They showed what a routine of stagnation and death the ordinary services had reached before every one of the great revival periods." They said men were taken into the church without conversion; and that unconverted men were taken into the ministry; infidelity they said crept in under this cloak of lifeless forms.

One of the writers (himself a Presbyterian) asks: "Are any of these able men who are writing against the way we conduct our revivals themselves experts in revivals? Did any single one of them ever have a revival, either genuine or spurious, under his ministry?"

McDonald in his History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church said: "Several writers confounded McGready's meetings and the Cumberland meetings of a later day with these wild meetings in upper Kentucky, but afterward discovered and corrected their mistake." One of these writers was Dr. Samuel Miller who gave approval to the charge that the Stoneites, Shakers, and Cumberland Presbyterians were all branches of one tree, and all alike in their revival meetings.

Within a year after the fires began to burn in the Red River section, the spirit of revival moved to the central region of Kentucky around Cane Ridge. On August 6, 1801, a large crowd gathered at the church. It was a Presbyterian meeting, but Baptist and Methodist preachers came to join in. It seems that Baptists did not take the active part that others did during these days, but nevertheless were blessed greatly by the impact of revival.
(Continued Next Week)
[Source: Adairville Enterprise, August 14, 1969, page 2]


Continued From Last Week

By Rev. Hughlan P. Richey

Editors Note:

This is the final half of a special paper prepared by Bro. Richey on Red River Church and the Revival of 1800 which was continued from last week. Herein he describes the results of the revival along with a Bibliography of the historical work which was prepared as a requirement toward earning his Master of Divinity degree this summer. Subscribers and others interested in keeping information concerning the historical site will no doubt be anxious to save these two issues of the Enterprise:

Some of the results of the Revival can be enumerated. First, it can be stated that the three denominations most vitally affected were the Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists in that order. The movement was detrimental to the Presbyterian interests in the West, because of the schisms which occurred. Second, in 1810 the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination was formed. In 1801 the Kentucky Synod had set up a new presbytery in Southwestern Kentucky, where McGready's fires were burning. This Cumberland Presbytery promptly used its authority to ordain some new preachers, and these were ardent revivalists. This brought about a bitter battle, and the conservative group sought to dissolve the new presbytery. Thereupon, the Cumberland men seceded and organized separately as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Third, the "New Lights," dissolved their organization, and proclaimed a new church, giving it the simple name of "Christian." Barton Stone, one of the leaders in this movement, remained for some time in the Christian Church. But in time he became interested in the teachings of the Campbellites, or Disciples of Christ. In 1832 he led some of his fellow Christians over to a a union with Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and "became, at last, a patriarch among the Disciples."

Fourth, there was a marked missionary spirit which prevailed, and it was, in large measure, due to the Great Revival of 1800.

Fifth, the New Light schism also prepared the ground for the development of Shakerism in the West. In 1805, some of the "revivalists" went over to the Shakers, the small sect which had a colony in Logan County, not far from Red River.

Sixth, was the influence upon slavery in this country. Seventh, there was the stirring up of sentiment against the use of intoxicating liquors.

O. Olin Greene in his conclusion to the chapter on the Revival of 1800 is somewhat skeptical in his appraisal of the results of this Revival. He is right in saying we must take things as they are and not what we would like to have them be. He said we would never want such excesses and extravagances as were manifest in the Revival of 1800. He deplored the fact that it was a producer of sects. McDonnald said, speaking of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, (it) was raised up to be the conservator of evangelical, liberal Presbyterianism. Again, Greene said, "Let us in praying put in a few limiting clauses so that the Lord will know that we do not mean a revival like that of 1800, for I hardly think we would want that again."

We need the fiery zeal and earnestness, but not the excesses. Then Green goes on to say we much accept the kind of revival the Lord is pleased to give. Surely, this was the kind the people needed. It was a model (Dr. Rust) through which God spoke to the people. Should a revival come in our day like the one of 1800 our society would be blessed and probably would not react with excesses and strange behavior seen 170 years ago.

Red River Church was the prominent church in the Revivalism of 1800. This Revivalism did not come to the cities hot, smoking and direct from the Kentucky campfires. It underwent a period of probation and polishing. Even as the victory shouts were rising from Red River and Cane Ridge, another kind of revival was taking place in the Presbyterian and Congregationalist church houses of New England and New York. The Atlantic phase of the Great Revival of 1800 was enlisting its champions. They were better bred and cultivated than the Western messengers whom God was sending before His face. But they were equally full of holy concern.

Several years after the Red River Church ceased to be a church, and the building was torn down, the Red River Church Memorial Association was organized. The purpose of this association is to perpetuate the memories, color and tradition of the events of 1800 at Red River, and care for the cemetery.

A replica of the Old Red River Presbyterian Church was built in 1959 by the Association. The builder was Kermit Robey, Adairville, and plans for the building were drawn by the late Frank J. Cheek, Jr., Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.

Each year the Association holds a re-union on the second Sunday in September. This consists of a worship service, basket dinner, business meeting and usually a special speaker. At the dedication of the replica in September of 1959, Dr. Walter O. Parr, Morgantown, Kentucky, who presided, said "This is a crucial time in helping preserve this historic spot where the battle for Christianity of our growing nation was fought and won, and where brave fighters for our liberty still lie buried."

The Red River Cemetery contains the graves of a number of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans, including the grave of General Robert Ewing, a hero of both wars. Captain Robert Paisley, Revolutionary soldier, was buried in Red River Cemetery Octoer 24, 1828. Some years ago a marker was placed at his grave by a great, great, great, great granddaughter, Silva Dell Partridge, Los Altos, California, chapter D.A.R.

William McPherson, born in the Highlands of Scotland, died in the hills of Kentucky and was buried at Red River. On one tombstone of one of the McPhersons is the entire Twenty-Third Psalm in his native Gaelic. (It begins:)

Is e'n Tighearna mo bhuachaille: cha bhi mi ann an dith.

At the re-union in September of 1966, Mr. Kermit Robey remarked to this writer, "Why can't we have a revival out here?" From that remark plans began to take shape and the first week of special services was planned for August of 1967. It was an inter-denominational project. Al Smith wrote in the July 20, 1967, issue of the News-Democrate: 'Idea for an inter-denominational worship service at Old Red River Meeting House was developed by the Rev. H.P. Richey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Adairville.' We would like to rekindle some of the fire which was present when the Great Revival was held in Logan County, said Brother Richey."

The preachers and churches taking part were: Hughlan P. Richey, Adairville Baptist Church, James Talley, Whipoorwill Baptist Church; Russell Bow, Methodist Temple, Russellville; Glenn Bennett, Auburn Cumberland Presbyterian Church; T. Howard Stark, Berea Christian Church; and Wayne Davis, Adairville Methodist Church. In 1969 the ministers planning this ecumenical venture are: Russell Bow, Glenn Bennett, James Talley, T. H. Stark and H. P. Richey.

It was thought that here at one of Kentucky's most historic religious settings, we would like to rekindle some of the spiritual fire which was present in the Great Revival of 1800.


Cleveland, Catherine C. "The Great Revival in the West 1797-1805." Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1916.

Christian, John T. "A History of Baptist." Vol. 2. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1916.

Coffman, Edward. "The Story of Logan County." Nashville: The Parthenon Press, 1962.

Davidson, Robert. "History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky." New York: Carter, 1847.

Finley's "History of Logan County."

McDonnold, B.W. "History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church." Nashville: Board of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1888.

McGlothin, W. J. (ed.). "Kentucky Baptist Historical Society." Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1911.

Smith, James (ed.). "Posthumous Works of James McGready." Louisville: Worsley, 1831.

Strickland, W.P. (ed.). "Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwood Preacher." New York, 1856.

Weisberger, Bernard A "They Gathered at the River." Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1958.

Other Sources: Newspaper Clippings, Pamphlets, Personal Interviews.
[Source: Adairville Enterprise, August 21, 1969, page 2]

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