The Kentucky Revival, that great awakening of religious fervor on the frontier, was rampant in the closing years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth century. The first fervors of the Revival appeared in Logan County and spread throughout Kentucky and the neighboring states. Much has been written about the Revival with emphasis on the revival activities in upper Kentucky. Under the leadership of the Reverend Barton W. Stone, the camp meetings of that area attracted a fantastic and seemingly highly exaggerated number of people. Then, too, the phenomena accompanying the camp meetings have claimed their share of space in the Revival accounts. Comparatively little has been written concerning the Revival as it sparked, smoldered, and burst into flame at its source in Logan County.
The following account of the Revival limits itself to Logan County, more particularly to the Gasper River Meeting House. This meeting house was one of the principal ones figuring in the Revival beginnings. The events occurring here foreshadowed the larger ones which were to follow in upper Kentucky. During most of the Revival years, the minister attending the congregation was John Rankin who, with a part of his flock, embraced Shakerism when missionaries of that sect arrived in Logan County in 1807. The history of the meeting house since that time is not one of continuity, but rather one checkered with abandonment and revival before final abandonment early in the twentieth century.
When the Gasper River Meeting House was established, Logan County was approximately twice its present size. It included present day Butler and Simpson counties as well as part of Todd County. The first settlers had arrived in the 1780's the first house on the site of Russellville was built in 1790. By 1800, the county population had grown to 5,807 inhabitants with Russellville, the county seat, having 117. The remaining population was scattered in hamlets of various sizes and on farms which dotted the county. The region of rolling hills and knobs was well wooded with some open prairie spots. The Red River, the Muddy River, and the Gasper River were the three principal streams flowing through the southern portion of the county. The larger Barren River flowed through the more northern part, now the present Butler County. These rivers and their tributaries afforded abundant water for the settlers and, in some places, a route for travel and commerce. The overland routes consisted mainly of animal and hunting trails converging upon salt licks. Such routes were often indirect. Logan County, then, was a part of the American frontier with the settlers struggling for a livelihood in the wilderness.
This struggle left them with little time for religious practices. In some cases, this neglect of worship and religious education was their own fault, but principally it was due to the scarcity of clergymen. It was difficult for the settlers to worship regularly because the county's few clergymen were widely scattered. Then, too, the ministers themselves were engaged in wrestling a livelihood for their families from the wilderness. Hence, the bare minimum of church order was found in the area. Due to the absence of religious restraint, vice and dissipation became a way of life for many. The Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright, described Logan County in this rough and unpolished stage of its growth as "Rogues Harbor." This was due to the large number of horse thieves, counterfeiters, and other outlaws residing in the area. However, a law abiding element among the settlers banded together in self-defense and to drive out the undesirables. It was at this time that the Reverend James McGready came to reside in Logan County.
The Reverend James McGready, a Presbyterian minister, was foremost among the early revivalists of the area. In fact, one might say that he was largely responsible for this outburst of religious fervor. This zealous and fiery revivalist was born about 1760 in Pennsylvania of Scotch-Irish parents who, while he was still a boy, moved to Guilford County, North Carolina. Here he grew into manhood in a somewhat calm and religious atmosphere. After spending some time studying for the ministry, McGready was licensed by the Redstone Presbytery in Pennsylvania at its twentieth meeting, August 12, 1788.(1) At the following meeting on October 21 McGready applied for and was furnished credentials allowing him to return to North Carolina. His ministerial activities produced considerable religious excitement. A party of opposition took to violence and sent him a threatening letter written in blood. Hence, in 1796, McGready wisely betook himself to the western frontier. He is said to have spent some time in eastern Tennessee before taking up his residence among some of his former Carolinian friends as pastor of the Red River, Gasper River, and Muddy River congregations in southern Logan County.(2) McGready's arrival in Logan County must have occurred in the fall since he tells us that he took pastoral charge of the three congregations in January 1797.(3)
Prior to this time, the only Presbyterian minister engaged in pastoral work in this region was the Reverend Thomas B. Craighead, who had been at Spring Hill, Tennessee, since about 1784. Evidence indicates that he was the minister under whom the organization of the Red River congregation took place about 1790 or a few years earlier. He also appears to have been the organizer of the Gasper River and Muddy River congregations although the precise date is not known. The Transylvania Presbytery, meeting at Paint Lick Church on October 7, 1794, answered requests from the Cumberland area for ministers by sending the Reverend Mr. James Blythe to assist the Reverend Mr. Craighead. When the Presbytery met in October 1795 there were requests for supply ministers from each of the three Logan County congregations. Hence the Gasper River and Muddy River congregations had been organized before that time, possibly as early as 1792 or within a few years after the organization of the Red River congregation.(4)
McGready has been characterized as "one of the sons of Thunder, both in manner and matter; and an uncompromising reprover of sin in every shape. It was not long till the effect of his impassioned preaching was visible."(5) Hence he had quickly sized up the local scene, in both its human and spiritual aspects, and readily sided with the law-abiding settlers in their efforts to bring law and order to the area. He abhorred the fighting sometimes necessary and enlisted the more powerful weapon of the spirit by drawing up a solemn covenant. The signers pledged themselves "to observe the third Saturday of each month, for one year, as a day of fasting and prayer, for the conversion of sinners in Logan County and throughout the world." They also pledged themselves "to spend one-half hour every Sabbath morning, at the rising of the sun, in pleading with God to revive his work."(6)
Such efforts were rewarded with a quickened, though short-lived, interest in religion during the summer of 1797. The first manifestation took place at the Gasper River congregation, some five miles from South Union.(7) In May "the Lord visited the Gasper River congregation with an outpouring of his spirit. A very considerable number, both men and women, were awakened to a deep and solemn sense of their sin and danger."(8) In another place, McGready emphasizes "In May, as I said before, the work began."(9) This latter statement written by McGready in a letter dated October 23, 1801, is an affirmation that the Kentucky Revival began at the Gasper River Meeting House. In the fall of 1797, McGready found a similar spirit prevailing among the members of the Muddy River congregation. These outbursts of fervor were as smoldering sparks, preludes to the revival flames which were to break out the following year. Thus it was at the Lord's Supper at Gasper River on the fourth Sabbath of July, 1798, that the flame of revival broke forth. Of this meeting, McGready records:
This was indeed a very solemn time throughout; but especially on Monday, the Lord poured out his spirit in a very remarkable manner, to the awakening of a great number of persons; very few families could be found in the congregation, where less or more were not deeply and solemnly impressed.(10)
The religious fervor awakened at this meeting did not abate for many years, and its contagious spirit spread throughout Kentucky and the neighboring states. The following summer McGready was not alone in his labors for assistance came to him in the persons of William Hodge and John Rankin, both Presbyterians, and of John and William McGee, the former a Methodist and the latter a Presbyterian. These ministers, like McGready himself, came from Guilford County, North Carolina.(11)
Of these frontier preachers, John Rankin claims our attention for he was in nominal charge of the Gasper River congregation during most of the revival years. When the Shaker missionaries arrived in Logan County in 1807, Rankin, with many members of the congregation, readily embraced the Shaker faith. A short sketch of his previous years, as given in his "Autobiography," will enable us to understand his motives in doing so.(12)
John Rankin was born November 27, 1757, in Guilford County, North Carolina. His father having died when John was three years old, the boy grew up under the influence of his devout mother. She instructed him in his catechism, taught him his prayers, and watched carefully over his reading which consisted chiefly of religious books. Thus, from his earliest years, his mind was turned to religious subjects and he began his search for a living religion. He frequented religious gatherings to hear the various preachers and to discuss his problems with them. On December 5, 1786, he married and began raising a family, but this did not stop his religious quest as he continued to consult the preachers as heretofore. Many of these assured him that he should prepare himself for the ministry in the Presbyterian faith.(13)
Rankin was about twenty years of age when first urged to study for the ministry. However, he experienced many doubts as to his calling and as to his ability to carry out ministerial duties. Thus a number of years elapsed before he resolved to enter upon theological studies. His religious reading and searching and prepared him well, and he completed the necessary studies in two years. He zealously entered upon the duties of his ministry, but soon found that one's zeal can be put to a hard text. He speaks of his discouragement, lukewarmness, and apparent loss of fervor in preaching to the people. He then writes concerning a visit to the West:
About this time,  I received an invitation by letter from a friend in Sumner County, Tennessee, to visit the West; on due consideration, I complied with his request; and on my arrival, to my astonishment, I found the inhabitants of the Presbyterian denomination comparatively a barren waste in the religious point of view.(14)
It appears that these first observations of the state of religion among the frontier people inspired him to continue his travels for further information in this regard. Thus he found himself in the vicinity of Gasper River where, on the Sabbath, he preached to the people assembled to hear him. He also preached in the vicinity of Russellville, Nashville, Gallatin, and other places.(15)
Upon returning to his home in North Carolina, Rankin began making arrangements for moving to the West. He sold his home and land with the crops and other disposable things. Then, in October, the Rankin family began their westward trek to Tennessee, accompanied by Jesse McComb and his family. The Rankin family settled in the vicinity of Gallatin while the McComb family probably continued on their way to settle in the Gasper locality. Three months later Rankin moved to the Ridge in Sumner County where he was residing in 1798 when called to assist at a sacramental meeting at Gasper River in July. It is possible that his friend McComb was instrumental in sending the invitation.
McGready's account of this four day sacramental meeting makes no mention of Rankin's being present although, according to his own account, Rankin preached several times. His description of the conclusion of the meeting on Monday is more vivid than McGready's.
After the congregation was dismissed, the principal subjects of the operation, sat fettered to the ground, with their heads bowed down: They Trembled & shook in silence, & frequently burst into Tears of sorrow for their loss. I felt refreshed in spirit & Thankful to God in the ministration of The spirit of light, hope & promise to my guilty & depraved fellow man.(16)
Such a scene impressed itself upon the mind of Rankin who may have regarded it as a manifestation in his search for a living religion. His preaching must have impressed the congregation for, at the request of their commissioners, he moved his family to the Gasper locality the following December. Here he spent half of his time ministering to the people and the remainder as a roving minister throughout the region as far as a hundred miles.(17)
John Rankin settled near the source of Clearfork Creek, referred to in early deeds as "the Clear Fork of Gaspers River," in the northeast corner of Logan County. This is near the common boundary of Logan, Warren and Simpson counties and approximately five or six miles from the Gasper River Meeting House used by McGready since 1797. Sometime before the following spring, McGready "resigned the charge of Gasper River, on account of the distance and difficulties of the road. . . . Mr. Rankin, a faithful and successful minister, took charge of Gasper River."(18) McGready's reference to the difficulties of the road indicates that this transfer of ministry probably occurred shortly after Rankin's arrival in December 1798.
With the coming of spring the revival once more manifested itself among the people of Logan County. Thus far the revival had been confined to Logan County, but this year the religious fervor began to spread to the surrounding area. There was a sacramental meeting at Red River in July of which McGready writes in glowing terms. This was followed by a sacramental meeting at Gasper River on the fourth sabbath of August. Rankin tells us:
In August, 1799, a sacrament was appointed at Gasper River, old meeting house five miles below South Union. The preachers attended, gifts were given to men, their [our] language was clothed with power which pervaded the congregation, many were convicted, some called on their neighbors to pray for them, & one under a view of his exposure to Justice, asked in consternation of soul: 'Is there no hand to stay the Justice of God?' some few could rejoice in hopes of mercy & promise of God, et cetera.(19)
McGready assisted Rankin at this meeting and left the following vivid description written just a few years after the event:
The Almighty power of God at this time was displayed in the most striking manner. On Monday, a general solemnity seized the greater part of the multitude; many persons were so struck with deep, heart-piercing convictions, that their bodily strength was quite overcome, so that they fell on the ground, and could not refrain from bitter groans and outcries for mercy. The work was general with old and young, white and black. . . . In other places, many poor, giddy persons, who, on the first days of the solemnity, could not behave with common decency, now lying prostrate on the ground, weeping, praying and crying for mercy. But time would fail to record every particular. In a word, it was day of general awakening; several person on that day, we hope, were savingly brought to Christ; and in the space of three weeks after, above twenty of those awakened gave the most clear, satisfying accounts of their views of the glory and fulness of the Mediator, and the sweet application of his blood and merits to their souls.(20)
After relating the sacramental meeting at Muddy River Meeting House the following month, Rankin writes "In the mean Time, the members of this society (Gasper) were cordially engaged in building a meetinghouse for their future accommodation."(21)
The sacramental meeting at Muddy River Meeting House was followed by another at the Ridge, a few miles across the Tennessee border. Neither Rankin nor McGready mention sacramental meetings being held during the winter months. However, it was necessary for the ministers to visit the members of their congregations to strengthen and maintain them in their fervor. McGready mentions retaining their convictions and continuing in their exercises, and occasionally he heard of some poor sinner being brought to Christ. Another reason for the continued visits of the ministers is found in the fact that not all the Presbyterian ministers favored the revival activities. Some of these ministers, notably James Balch, were very violently opposed to the revival and worked against the revivalists.
The year 1800 was probably the most memorable of the revival in this locality. The religious fervors displayed during the past few years were as smoldering sparks which during the previous year had begun to spread from Logan County. The present year was the climax to the revivalistic efforts of McGready and Rankin, for the religious fervors became as a conflagration spreading throughout Kentucky and the neighboring states. On the third Sabbath of June a sacramental meeting, attended by their three congregations, was held at the Red River Meeting House. McGready, the minister of the congregation, speaks of it in glowing terms:
This was indeed a blessed day of the Son of Man--The Lord afforded more than common light, life and zeal to his ministers, and more than common life to the exercise of his praying people. Upon every day of the occasion, there were visible tokens of the love and goodness of God. Christians were filled with joy and peace in believing; and poor distressed, condemned sinners were brought to see the glory and fulness of a crucified Jesus, and to feel the power and efficacy of his merits and atonement. . . . We have reason to believe that the number truly and savingly brought to Christ, on this occasion, and till the Tuesday night following, was about ten persons.(22)
Rankin, who was an assisting minister, has this to say about the meeting:
But wonderful to be seen & heard; on a sudden, an alarming cry burst from the midst of the deepest silence; some were thrown into wonderful & strange contortions of features, body & limbs, frightful to the beholder--others had singular gestures, with words & actions quite inconsistent with Presbyterian order & usage--all was alarm & confusion for the moment. . . . When this alarming occurrence subsided in outward show, The united congregations returned to their respective abodes, in contemplation of what they had seen, heard & felt on this most impressive occasion.(23)
Many more details concerning this meeting could be given, but we limit ourselves to the principal one which influenced the meeting at Gasper River the following month. Most accounts of the meeting at Red River relate that one family encamped upon the grounds. This idea appealed to McGready as an excellent one to benefit future meetings. He, therefore, proclaimed that the sacramental meeting the following month at Gasper River was to be a camp meeting.(24)
Rankin tells us that the Gasper River meeting was held "at the new Meeting House one mile and a half below South Union in the month of July, 1800."(25) The work of erecting this new meeting house had been pushed as rapidly as time from other labors permitted. It was only the evening before the meeting that the workmen finished shingling the roof. Meanwhile, other workmen had cleaned up the area and had spread shavings upon the dirt floor to prevent the dust from soiling the clothes of the people. Temporary seats were also erected for the accommodation of the congregation. Rankin gives no reasons for the removal and construction of this new meeting house nor does he again mention the original one some five miles from South Union. There are several possible reasons for the removal: first, it would be closer to the home of Rankin; second, the larger portion of the congregation may have lived in this locality; and third, the original site may have been near a minister opposed to the revivalist activity.
Rankin had this to say concerning the July meeting:
The curious came to gratify their curiosity--The seriously convicted presented themselves that they might receive some special & salutary benefit to their souls, & promote the cause of God, at home & abroad. The honorable (?) The sentimental exemplary & strictly formal Presbyterians attended to scrutinize the work, & judge whether it was of God & consistent with their sentiments, feelings & order, or whether it was a delusive spirit eminating [sic] from the prince of Darkness, of which they were very apprehensive. . . . On Friday morning, at an early hour, the people began to assemble in large numbers from every quarter, & by the usual hour for preaching to commence, there was a multitude collected, unprecedented in this or any other new country of so sparse a population. The rising ground to the west & south of the meeting house, was literally lined with covered wagons & other appendages--each one furnished with provisions & accommodations, suitable to make them comfortable on the ground during the solemnity. When I came in view of this vast assemblage with their new & singular preparations which they had made to qualify them to attend & sustain the meeting without interruption to themselves or other, I was astonished. . . . [On the evening of the following Monday] inquirers began to fall prostrate on all sides, & their cries became piercing & incessant--Heavy groans were heard, and trembling & shaking began to appear throughout the house; and again in a little time, cries of penitential & confessional prayer sounded thro the assembly--Toward the approach of night, The floor of the meeting house was literally covered with the prostrate bodies of penitents, so that it become necessary to carry a number out of doors & lay them on the grass or garments, if They had Them.(26)
As usual, McGready is much more detailed and vivid in his account of the meeting since he wrote shortly thereafter:
Here a surprising multitude of people collected, many from a very great distance: even from the distance of 30, 60, and 100 miles. There were 13 waggons [sic] brought to the meeting-house, in order to transport people and their provisions. On Friday and Saturday there was a very solemn attention. On Saturday evening, after the congregation was dismissed, a few serious exercised christians were sitting conversing together, and appeared to be more than commonly engaged, the flame started from them and overspread the whole house, until every person appeared less or more engaged. The greater part of the ministers, and several hundreds of people remained at the meeting-house all night. Through every part of the multitude there could be found some awakened souls, struggling in the pangs of the new birth, ready to faint and die for Christ, almost on the brink of desperation. Others again, just lifted from the horrible pit, and beginning to lisp the first notes of the new-song, and to tell the sweet wonders which they saw in Christ. Ministers and experienced Christians were every where engaged in praying, exhorting, conversing and trying to lead enquiring souls to the Lord Jesus. In this exercise the night was spent till near the break of day. The Sabbath was a blessed day in every sense of the word.--The groans of awakened sinners could be heard all over the house, during the morning sermons, but by no means so as to disturb the assembly. It was a comfortable time with many at the table.(27)
Not only were sinners awakened to the sense of their sins, but even exemplary Christians and little children were filled with a sense of guilt and awakened to the love of Christ. Concerning the latter, McGready continues:
I have likewise stood present, when the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus broke into their souls, and to the astonishment of all around them, these little creatures have started to their feet, and told all present their sweet views of the lovely, precious Jesus--what fulness, sufficiency, suitableness and willingness that they saw in him--to hear them describe the sweet plan of salvation, and pointing of the nature of believing or coming to Christ to save the very worst of sinners--to hear them tell the tender, bleeding concern they felt for poor sinners: I say, to hear them speak upon these subjects, the good language, the good sense, the clear ideas, and the rational, scriptural light in which they spoke, truly amazed me. I felt mortified and mean before them.--They spoke upon these subjects beyond what I could have done. An evident demonstration that, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings the Lord can perfect praise.(28)
The meeting continued with such manifestations until after sunrise on Tuesday morning when the people were dismissed with a prayer. McGready tells us that the number of awakened souls "were forty-five persons, seventeen of whom belonged to my congregations."(29)
McGready's account records a continued outpouring of the revival effects at Red River the following week; at Shiloh, in Tennessee, from whence a group of young people had attended the Gasper River meeting, and at Muddy River on the fifty Sabbath in August. At the latter meeting, a vast multitude assembled from far and wide. There were twenty-two wagons loaded with people and their provisions besides a large number of people prepared to camp on the grounds. Rankin was prominent and on Saturday preached with such effectiveness that "Christians were filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and poor sinners sensibly felt the arrows of the Almighty sticking fast in their hearts."(30) Thus the solemnity began and continued until Tuesday morning during which time McGready thinks about fifty persons were converted from their sins. The revivalists journeyed to Tennessee for meetings at the Ridge and at Shiloh during September; at Clay-lick and Montgomery's meeting-house during October; at Little Muddy-creek (one of Rankin's congregations) and at Hopewell, in Tennessee, during November. He also mentions Drake's Creek where Rankin preached several times, and it was thought about thirty persons in that area had obtained religion.(31)
McGready's account of the revival ends with the events of 1800. Likewise, Rankin's "Autobiography" relates the events of that year and then, in a sweeping summary, covers the intervening years to 1805 when the first Shaker missionaries arrived in Kentucky. Two events recorded by Rankin as happening during those years appear to be prophetic although one must remember that he was writing in 1845, forty years after the events. The first occurred in 1803 when Betsy Berry, aged eighteen, said that she saw a vision that "the kingdom of Christ was near, but that we revivalists were not in it; but that the people of the kingdom would come to me. [John Rankin]" The following year George Walls came out of a trance announcing that the New Jerusalem church would be built at the head of the creek where the South Union Shaker colony was later built.(32)
However, the flame of revival had been enkindled, and the center of the revival now moved from Logan County to upper Kentucky. Here Barton W. Stone, who had attended a sacramental meeting at Muddy River in the spring of 1801, organized the camp meeting at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County during August 1801. It is reasonable to say that about 10,000 persons (some accounts say 25,000 or more) were present for this occasion. Since this sketch deals principally with the Gasper River Meeting House, we return to the Logan County scene.
Two aspects of the revival in Logan County are worthy of fuller treatment. The first of these concerns the phenomena which occurred during the meetings. The principal phenomenon during the Logan County meetings was that of falling to the ground. Oftentimes the person would fall and swoon away as in a stupor resembling death. At other times the person would cry out his sorrow for his sins or cry out for mercy as though in a convulsive fit. The duration of the occurrence might be short or last for several hours. Opie maintains that McGready, though a revivalist, was strictly a theologian of the opinion that true revivalism was based upon sound theology. He deplored excesses. However, he did allow for phenomena in a mild form since the sinner must realize his helplessness before he could be fully converted.(33) Both McGready and Rankin speak of the phenomena of falling as occurring at their meetings.
Some expressions used by these Logan County revivalists indicate the presence of other types of phenomena. These consisted of jerking, barking, dancing, whirling, and similar exercises.(34) The jerking exercise usually began with the head jolting from side to side, spreading throughout the body until all the muscles, nerves, and tendons were jerking spasmodically. The jerks were uncontrollable and often assumed violent proportions. When the barking exercise seized people, they uttered guttural sounds resembling the barking of dogs, and often they acted as such by running around on all fours. Two other uncontrollable phenomena were the involuntary dancing and the whirling exercises. In both of these, the subject would sometimes unknowingly pass over a considerable area of the grounds. In general, the dance was a simple graceful variety of steps although sometimes it assumed a rather lively tempo. Persons seized with the whirling exercise often spun like tops for hours at a time. These latter forms were more widespread at the meetings in upper Kentucky than at the early meetings in Logan County. This was probably because their contagious nature affected the greater numbers attending the later meetings.
The falling phenomenon made its first appearance at Gasper River during the sacramental meeting of August, 1799.(35) In discussing the phenomena, McDonnold states that those who attributed them to a nervous condition were confused and confounded when such first appeared since no relief was obtained from medical treatment. Also, despite the violence of the phenomena, "no harm to life, limb, or reason ever came from the mysterious exercises."(36) More detailed descriptions of the phenomena are numerous, enabling interested readers to pursue the matter further if they desire.
The second aspect stemming from the revival during the Logan County period was the camp meeting. At such meetings, many of the assembled people came provided with shelter and provisions sufficient for their stay on the grounds throughout the time of the meeting. It has been stated by some that the meeting at Red River in June 1800 was the first of the camp meetings. The principal of the idea was present there, but it was not the first designated as a camp meeting. A letter written by John McGee in 1820 gives us the following particulars in this regard:
One man, for want of horses for all his family to ride and attend the meeting, fixed up his wagon, in which he took them and his provisions, and lived on the ground throughout the meeting. He had left his worldly cares behind him, and had nothing to do but attend upon divine service.(37)
Surely one man and his family does not constitute sufficient evidence to proclaim the Red River meeting as the first camp meeting. However, McGready was quick to perceive how the idea would benefit future meetings by allowing the people to remain on the grounds.
McDonnold, in discussing the origin of the camp meetings, follows the account of Captain Wallace Estill who had been present at all these early meetings. He has this to say about the Red River meeting and the one following at Gasper River:
This by some people, John McGee among them, was called the first camp-meeting in Christendom. It was at least the forerunner of the first camp-meeting for the good results which M'Gready saw follow this spontaneous camp-meeting caused him to publish far and near that his sacramental meeting at Gasper, in July, 1800, would be a camp-meeting. The public responded fully and campers with their wagons encircled all the place when the meeting began. This meeting at Gasper was the first meeting in Christendom that was appointed and intended for a camp-meeting. Estill calls this the first camp-meeting in Christendom.(38)
Davidson speaks of the June meeting at Red River and then continues concerning the camp meetings:
From this time such crowds flocked to the sacraments, as these occasions were called, that sufficient accommodations could not be procured for them, the neighborhood being sparsely settled. They therefore came in wagons, loaded with provisions, and fitted up for temporary lodging. Such was the origin of CAMP-MEETINGS; an expedient which owed its birth to necessity, although much abused in after times, and of late fallen into great disrepute. The first regular CAMP-MEETING was held in the vicinity of Gasper river Church, in July, 1800. Mr. McGready had taken great pains to circulate the information, previous to the time appointed, that he expected the people to come prepared to encamp on the ground; and the whole country, and ministers especially; were earnestly invited to attend and witness the wonderful scene that was anticipated. Impelled by curiosity, a great concourse assembled, from distances of 40, 50,and 100 miles.(39)
He then goes on to describe the encampment as being arranged to form a hollow square containing a pulpit and hewn log seats as the place of worship. This latter description does not coincide with the description given by Rankin and McGready, both principal revivalists serving that particular congregation. Their description of the scene was presented when speaking of the meeting.
This sketch is concerned mainly with McGready and Rankin since they were the ministers caring for the Gasper River congregation. Other Presbyterian ministers assisting them in the revival work were William Hodge, William McGee, and Samuel McAdoo (or McAdow). A Methodist minister, John McGee, brother of William, also assisted in the work. The other Presbyterian ministers of the area "disapproved and discountenanced the work from its commencement, as spurious."(40) This opposition group, led by the Reverend James Balch, consisted of the following ministers: Thomas R. Craighead, John Bowman, Terah Temple [sic: Templin], and Samuel Donnell.(41) The revivalists, however, continued their activities in spite of the opposition raised by these men.
Most accounts of the Revival use the terms "revivalists" and "anti-revivalists" to distinguish these groups. The present writer uses these convenient terms only in the sense that the former supported and fostered the revival work while the latter sought to maintain the traditional Presbyterian mode of worship and doctrine. Those engaged in the revival work were themselves disturbed at the first manifestations of the phenomena since these did not accord with the regular Presbyterian mode of worship. Yet no steps were taken to bring them under control as they were considered to be the operation of God's spirit upon the individual. It was principally this feature of excesses to which the so-called anti-revivalists objected; later, there would be the ordaining of men who did not have a formal classical education as required by church law. In short, what we have here are two groups of men with differences in viewpoint or, in today's terminology, progressives and conservatives. Each of the men was a sincere, honest, and upright minister filled with zeal for God's interests.(42) Among the revivalists, some ministers continued to teach the regular doctrines of the church while others deviated in their attempts to meet the current situation. It was this deviation which resulted in charges of heresy and brought troubled times to the Gasper River congregation.
The erection of the Synod of Kentucky in 1802 had resulted in the division of the Transylvania Presbytery to form the Cumberland Presbytery. The new Presbytery included all the ministers laboring in the Green and Cumberland rivers region. Since none of these ministers were present at the Synod, they had had no voice in the proceedings; the result was that the ministers composing the new Presbytery were equally divided in their sentiments regarding the revival work. The foremost problem confronting the new Presbytery was the increased demand for ministers due to the revival activity. The revivalists, controlling the proceedings of the Presbytery, took steps to remedy this situation by ordaining good, pious men to the ministry. They did this on the advice of the Reverend David Rice, the Father of Presbyterianism in Kentucky, who himself privately examined the young men and recommended their being licensed. This method of procedure was contrary to the educational requirements laid down for the Presbyterian ministry.
The revivalists on the rough Kentucky frontier could see no need for formal, time-consuming studies when "the fields were ripe for the harvest of souls." They reasoned that it was sufficient for the candidates to have the ability to preach and to explain certain fundamental doctrines.(43) McDonnold says that most, if not all, of these young men studied on their own and eventually reached the necessary standards.(44) After being licensed or ordained, these young men were sent out to travel through the unpastored congregations as exhorters, catechists, and preachers. The minutes of the Presbytery meetings show that the Presbytery provided such congregations with sacramental meetings usually conducted by one of the duly ordained ministers.(45)
The minutes of the twice yearly meetings of the Presbytery reveal that John Rankin, minister of the Gasper River congregation, was somewhat indifferent in his attendance. During the years from 1803 to 1806, Rankin attended only three of the eight meetings, and to one of these he was late in arriving. He was, however, appointed to administer the Lord's Supper on three occasions; during the summer of 1804 at Hartford, the next summer at Muddy Creek congregation, and in December, 1805, at Drake's Creek. The minutes do not reveal the reason for Rankin's absences. Most likely it was due to the continual opposition of the anti-revival element within the Presbytery. This element, together with a minority of the Gasper River congregation, sent complaints and made charges of heresy against the revivalists to the Synod of Kentucky. The Synod could not ignore such protests. In 1805 a Commission invested with Synodal power was appointed to investigate matters.
The Commission appointed by the Synod opened its investigations at the Gasper River Meeting House on December 3, 1805. It consisted of ten ministers and six elders empowered to "investigate the proceedings of Cumberland Presbytery and take such action as the case required."(46) There was some misunderstanding concerning the purpose of the Commission since it was composed of men having sound doctrinal standing within the Synod. Naturally the revivalists feared that the Commission's task was to suppress the revival movement. It is easy to understand their concern for during the two previous years the Synod had experienced difficulties in the Transylvania Presbytery concerning the activities and teachings of Barton W. Stone, Richard McNemar, and others engaged in revival work.(47)
In the present case, the members of the Presbytery especially under scrutiny were: McGready, Hodge, McGee, Rankin, McAdow, Hawe, Finis Ewing, King, Nelson, and Samuel Hodge (the last four having been ordained by the Presbytery); Hugh Kirkpatrick, James B. Porter, Robert Bell, David Foster, and Thomas Calhoun (licentiates); Robert Guthrie, Samuel K. Blythe, and Samuel Donnell (candidates).(48)
Davenport sums up the main issue precisely:
The trial lasted for nearly two weeks and evidence submitted proved that the Cumberland Presbytery denied that a classical education was prerequisite to ministerial ordination and that rigid adherence to Westminster standards was unnecessary.(49)
The Commissioners, of course, could not accept these contentions of the revivalists and consequently denied the right of the newly ordained to exercise their ministry. The Commissioners did agree on two things: that the young men possessed personalities of prayerfulness, dignity, and firmness and that the chief manifestations of bitterness and hostility shown toward the Commission came from the people rather than from the revivalists, the sole exception being John Rankin.(50) Rankin had the audacity to deliver an inflammatory address to the people in the presence of the Commission.(51)
This action of Rankin, together with his steadfast defense of the ordinations, gave an added incentive for the Commission to proceed in an investigation of the teachings of the revivalists. They, therefore, ordered John Rankin, William Hodge, and William McGee to appear before the Synod for examination of their teachings. They claimed that these teachings appeared to be tending toward Arminianism. Concerning the heresy of Arminianism, Sweet says:
Arminianism, with its emphasis on man's participation in his own salvation, would naturally be more at home in a frontier society than predestinarian Calvinism, which stressed man's impotence and inability to do anything about his eternal welfare. The doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God and a plan of salvation provided for all, which man may accept or reject as he wills, was a much easier doctrine for the common man to comprehend and accept than a doctrine which divided men into rigid classes and limited salvation to the few.(52)
The Synod, hearing the report of the Commission, confirmed its decision and action in denying the young men the right to exercise their ministry and declared their congregations vacant. It also demanded that Rankin, Hodge, and McGee either appear before them for examination of their teachings or submit and teach the established doctrines of the church. The three ministers refused stating that it was an unconstitutional order since the Cumberland Presbytery had powers to try its own members.
Although no mention was made of James McGready in connection with the charges of heresy, he appears to have aligned himself with the three ministers in supporting the ordinations performed by the Presbytery. A resolution passed by the Cumberland Presbytery during its meeting at Spring Hill Church on October 8, 1806, shows that the four ministers: James McGready, William Hodge, William McGee, and John Rankin
persist in encouraging and in holding Christian and ministerial communion with those young men declared by the Commission of the Synod to be destitute of any authority to administer sealing ordinances, preach or exhort in the Presbyterian Church, notwithstanding the fact that said young men neglect said declaration. Therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the duty of this Presbytery to report the same to the Synod.(53)
The Synod of Kentucky, meeting in Lexington on October 21, took up the matter of this resolution. John Rankin and William Hodge were among those present. They had not come in obedience to the Synod's summons but to attempt a reconciliation between the Synod and the views held by the revivalists. They declared themselves willing to submit to an examination of their teachings, but they refused to abide by the decision whereby the young men were denied the exercise of their ministry. The reasons given in support of their views were not satisfactory to the Synod; nor would the revivalists yield but remained stubborn and obstinate in their views. Whereupon the Synod pronounced sentence of suspension upon the ministers until they repented their action and submitted to the decision of the Synod. The Synod also declared the dissolution of the Cumberland Presbytery.(54)
As stated above, a division existed in the Gasper River congregation between the majority favoring the revival work and those who did not. The size of these factions is not known although it is clear that those remaining faithful to traditional Presbyterianism were few in number. The suspension of Rankin and the other ministers served to accentuate the breach. Rankin, perhaps the other ministers also, received the support of the congregation which urged him to continue his preaching. According to Dr. Provine, it was at about this time that the Reverend James Balch, leader of the opposition, was appointed minister tot he congregation and held possession of the church property. Thus the doors of the meeting house were closed to Rankin and his followers who took to holding their meetings in a nearby grove.(55) Dr. Provine says that the grove meetings were held for about a year. Other sources state that the meetings were held for several years before the erection of Pilot Knob Church in 1811. Although the congregation was at this time divided, there was the possibility of the factions being re-united provided the differences could be settled and the suspension of the ministers removed.
Robert Stuart, who had been a member of the Commission, came to Logan County as a missionary in November 1806. He speaks of being at Gasper River where he found Mr. Rankin "more friendly than I expected." His journal entry for November 22 includes the following:
Had information that Mr. Rankin who was suspended by the synod of Kentucky after his return from synod had called the people of Gasper (his former charge) together and refused to preach until they would give their approbation. They drew up an instrument of writing the nature of which I could not fully understand however this paper was generally signed by male & female after which he preached & continues to preach--Mr. Hodge also Mr. Rankin had also informed the people of missionaries that were expected and enjoined upon the people not to open their ears to them--learning this to be the case I found it necessary to use the cunning of the serpent. By appearing friendly with Mr. Rankin manifesting as my design as a missionary under Genl. Assembly to preach the Gospel by these means Mr. Rankin published an appointment for me at Gasper his place of meeting.
Concerning the meeting, he continues:
Sabbath 23. preached at Gasper Church to a pretty large and very attentive audience all the predudices [prejudices] of the people appeared to be removed against me as a missionary and have reason to believe by the blessing of God some good was done in the place after the sermon the elders of the congregation met me and appeared friendly--By this circumstance I hope in the providence of God a door is opened to preach to advantage in these bounds--Kept some appointments here and pursued my journey to Muhlenburg County to supply some vacancies there Monday 24th. rode to the Rev. James Balche's(56)
Thus we learn of the means taken by Rankin to insure the loyalty of the congregation to himself, the signed document, and his warning against the missionaries sent by the Synod. Stuart mentions speaking "at Gasper Church" which may or may not have been within the church itself. Hence there is difficulty in determining whether the doors of the church had already been closed to Rankin. The fact that the majority of the congregation, including the elders, gave their approbation for Rankin to continue his preaching indicates that the church was still being used for their meetings. Stuart's mention of riding to Balch's home indicates that the latter had not changed his residence if he had been appointed to the Gasper River congregation. Rather it indicates that the faithful members of Gasper River had attached themselves to one of his other congregations.
Meanwhile the revivalists formed a Council, or Committee, to work for reconciliation with the Synod. Within a short time after its formation, James McGready withdrew from taking part in the activities of the Council. He was deeply imbued with Calvinist doctrines and deeply attached to the Presbyterian Church. The meeting of the Commission of 1805 caused him to review and consider all aspects of the events which led to this meeting. He became aware of the widespread influence of Arminian sentiments among his co-workers and of the means being taken to perpetuate them. He became convinced that such a policy could lead only to a complete separation from the Presbyterian Church. His decision and withdrawal was a heavy blow to his fellow revivalists.(57)
Rankin, however, was active in the formation of the Council. In a letter dated April 6, 1818, he mentions having been given the task of drawing up a form of government for the Council. He did this by searching the scriptures for the form of government as it was in the days of the Apostles.(58) From this task of Rankin's, one gets the impression that some of the revivalists sensed the hopelessness of their appeals for reconciliation with the Synod and that they realized they eventually would have to form a new organization. Another point in the letter indicates that Rankin himself was changing his views concerning salvation. He now maintained that salvation can not "be obtained until Christ came the second time." He then goes on to speak about having heard of the Shakers and his desire of hearing their doctrines. The Council, after repeated petitions, failed to secure a reconciliation with the Synod and General Assembly as these bodies maintained their adherence to traditional standards.
Previous to these developments in Logan County, three Shaker missionaries from New Lebanon, New York, had arrived in Kentucky on March 3, 1805. Their first scene of action was in upper Kentucky from whence they went into Ohio, and later returned to the Shawnee Run area of Mercer County. In both of these areas they made a number of converts. In 1807, Issachar Bates, Richard McNemar, and Matthew Houston, as Shaker missionaries, came to Logan County where they contacted John Rankin. Rankin listened with attention as they explained their belief that Christ had made His second appearance. Most likely thoughts of his difficulties with the Synod mingled with those suggested by the missionaries. Both McNemar and Houston had been Presbyterian revivalists in upper Kentucky and had experienced difficulties with the Synod before it took action at Gasper River. No doubt, they had heard of Rankin's difficulties with the Synod and sought him out as a likely convert to Shakerism.
The missionaries explained their doctrine of the first appearance of the Christ spirit as having been embodied in the man, Christ; the second appearance being embodied in the woman, Mother Ann Lee, their foundress. They explained further that the second appearance of Christ manifests itself in an interior intimacy uniting each person to Christ and God the Father. This unity being acquired by all mankind constitutes the second appearance of Christ. As Christ during His earthly life lived in intimacy with God the Father so the true Shaker must also live in such intimacy. This meant that they were to live a pure spiritual life of celibacy embracing moral responsibility in all their actions. Hence they lived in community, having all things in common like the primitive Christians, being guided by their motto of "Hands to work and hearts to God." Their talents and time were used for the welfare of all through the faithful performance of their share of their share of the work. In this manner, they believed themselves to be as leaven building up the resurrection order.
Throughout his life, John Rankin had been in quest of a living religion and as he pondered the words of the missionaries it appeared to him that here was such a religion. It was not merely a collective gathering of persons at stated times for the purpose of worship, but it was a way of life permeated with Christian and spiritual ideals. So as he saw several prominent members of the congregation embrace the new faith, John Rankin professed his belief in Shakerism on October 28, 1807. Others of the congregation followed his example so that between twenty and thirty converts were gathered into the Shaker fold. It is possible that these converts to Shakerism included members of both factions of the congregation and possibly some members of the Red River and Muddy River congregations
How soon the Synod heard of this apostasy is not known for it took no definitive action at the time. Such a delay may have been due to endeavors to get Rankin to reconsider the step he had taken and to repent of his act. If such attempts were made by the Synod and those ministers faithful to Presbyterian practice, they proved futile: the Synod formally deposed Rankin on March 24, 1809.(59) It would appear that his fellow revivalists sought to influence Rankin to return to them since he was their most able preacher and defender. If so their efforts were also of no avail since Rankin remained steadfast in Shakerism until his death on July 12, 1850.
Robert Stuart, the missionary, was again back in the Gasper River locality during February and march 1808. His first visit occurred shortly after Rankin's suspension in 1806. This second visit occurred just several months after Rankin had joined the Shakers. It appears that he was sent by the Synod to ascertain the activities of the revivalists' Council in addition to his missionary work. His activities during the time spent in this area were not confined to Gasper River but extended for some distance in all directions. The following extracts from his journal pertain particularly to Gasper River Church. The first of these is dated February 21st when he
preached this day at Gasper Meeting house to a considerable congregation of attentive people
Tuesday 1st. March attended the Counsel meeting at Gasper heard Mr. Nelson preach The Shakers; Beats, Houston Dunlevy & Rankin were present
Wednesday March 2nd. attended at Gasper, and preached after Mr. Ewin to a large attentive audience
Sabbath March 6. preached this day at Gasper to a pretty large congregation of attentive people
Friday 11th preached at the Rev. James Balch's meeting house to a few attentive people
Sabbath 24th. had an appointment at Gasper but prevailed on Mr. Balch to fulfill it for me, and returned home.(60)
These extracts indicate that the Gasper River congregation at this time may have been keeping an open mind concerning religion. Just a few months previous, they witnessed the departure of Rankin, their minister, and some of their members as these joined the Shakers. Then, too, during the past decade or so, they had heard regular Presbyterian doctrine, the revivalist teaching, and the Shakers expounding their beliefs. These three viewpoints were represented at this time by Stuart, revivalists Nelson and Ewing, and Rankin with other Shaker leaders. Stuart makes the observation that the Gasper congregation was composed of "a large attentive audience" while he preached to "a few attentive people" at Mr. Balch's meeting house. The mention of preaching to two different congregations of such contrasting characteristics may be an indication that they were not under the same minister. The last extract relating that Stuart prevailed upon Balch to take the appointment at Gasper River is the first mention of Balch at this place. It is possible that a misunderstanding of this statement forms the basis for Dr. Provine's assertion about Balch being appointed to the Gasper River congregation.
Clergy lists for the years 1808 and 1809 show Balch in charge of the Salem and Caney congregations. The possibility exists of his having been appointed to Gasper River upon the deposition of Rankin in 1809 but too late to be included in the list for that year. This would make the period of the grove meetings held by the revivalists more correct as they would have been of about a year's duration. An interesting though confusing fact comes to light in a letter of the Reverend Finis Ewing to the Reverend James B. Porter, dated December 6, 1809. After speaking of several congregations strongly supporting the revivalists' Council, or Committee, he writes: "And what is strange to tell, Gasper River congregation have unanimously dissented from their preacher's act; and all declare for the Committee."(61) This passage is the sole mention of Gasper River congregation in the letter treating of his travels and also a few ideas indicative of a trend of his thought towards an independent presbytery. It is difficult to determine with certainty to whom Ewing refers when speaking of "their preachers's acts." The possibility of Balch's appointment clouds the issue for he would have found few faithful members remaining in the congregation. The fiery opponent of the revival would have seen the endangering situation of this small flock amid the surrounding revivalists and the Shakers. He may have decided to close the Gasper River Church by uniting its congregation to that of one of his other congregations only to have the people object by joining the revivalist group. The writer is inclined to consider the reference as referring to Rankin who had been deposed just nine months previous to the letter. In all likelihood, the few faithful Presbyterians had already associated themselves with one of Balch's congregations.
With the departure of Rankin and McGready, the revivalists were considerably weakened in their efforts to obtain reconciliation with the Synod. Several further unsuccessful attempts so disheartened them that they decided to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Synod by forming a new and independent presbytery. Some misunderstanding has arisen as to the location at which the presbytery had its beginning. Some sources state that this occurred at the home of Samuel McAdow in Dixon (or Dickson) County, Tennessee, on February 4, 1810. Others give the Gasper River Meeting House and February 10, 1810 as the place and date of origin. However, it appears that the events occurred in the following manner.
Finis Ewing and Samuel King proposed their idea of a new presbytery to Samuel McAdow while visiting the latter at his home on the earlier date. The three ministers, after prayer, agreed that this would be the solution of their difficulties and drew up a declaration of their intention to form a new and independent presbytery. It will be remembered that various scattered congregations had supported the Council of the revivalists. This new development created a somewhat different situation since it meant a complete break with their traditional jurisdiction. In all likelihood, this new proposal as outlined in the declaration was presented to the people during the intervening days so as to secure their affirmation. A formal affirmation was given by the people assembled at Gasper River Meeting House on February 10, 1810 under the leadership of Finis Ewing and Samuel King.(62) This formal affirmation could have been made by representatives from the various congregations, or it could have been merely the affirmation of the local congregation. In either case, the new presbytery was launched in February 1810 under the title of Independent Cumberland Presbytery. The new presbytery retained most of the beliefs and practices of Presbyterianism with some changes in accordance with their views of doctrine. The difference of educational standards required for the ministry was considered a temporary expediency. The presbytery eventually became the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Of the principal Logan County revivalists, William Hodge and James McGready were the only ones to submit eventually to the Synod. They had both departed a bit from Church order through their fiery zeal but remained true to Calvinist doctrines. Neither of them would consider separation from the Church, and it was the realization of their closeness to such apostasy that caused them to make their submission.(63) Hodge was the first to make his submission at the meeting of the Transylvania Presbytery held at Greensburg on December 6, 1809. William Nelson and Samuel Hodge, who had been licensed and ordained by the original Cumberland Presbytery, were also present at this meeting. They were examined for the soundness of their doctrine and other qualifications for the ministry which were found to be satisfactory. The Presbytery ten confirmed their previous offices and authorized them to enter upon ministerial duties.(64)
McGready, at this time, was still under a cloud a suspicion although he held fast to his Presbyterian doctrines. From these, he would not think of departing so it was with a sense of horror that he viewed Rankin's apostasy to the Shakers and the formation of the Independent Cumberland Presbytery. The realization of his closeness to such a step brought about his writing a letter of submission and later acknowledging his submission in person on October 3, 1810.(65) He remained loyal to the Presbyterian Church throughout the remaining years of his life. Smith's biographical sketch of him, after relating the revival years, has this to say concerning his last years:
Suffice it to say, that this distinguished servant of God, with some occasional irregularities, which he lived to correct, pursued his bright and useful career for many years; and was instrumental, directly or indirectly, in the conversion of many souls, most of whom are now rejoicing before the throne. Towards the close of his career he removed to the town of Henderson, on the Ohio River, where he spent the remainder of his days, and died in 1817.(66)
With the formation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1810, the most interesting and important history of the Gasper River Meeting House came to a close. We have witnessed the disintegration of the congregation beginning with the Commission of 1805; the defection of Rankin and other members to the Shakers in 1807; and the permanent departure of the majority as they followed the revivalists in forming the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Hence, there appears to have been only a small portion of members remaining loyal to Presbyterian doctrine and practice. If what Ewing writes about the entire congregation declaring for the revivalists is true, then it appears that the loyal members had joined one of Balch's congregations. This would account for McDonnold's assertion, or implication, that the meeting house was used by the Cumberland Presbyterians until the erection of Pilot Knob Church in 1811. He then states that Gasper River was vacated until after the Civil War.(67)
Thus, the subsequent history after 1810 is checkered requiring further investigation since several problems present themselves during this period. The following pages are concerned with the site used during the revival period and its use as a place of worship. Sources consulted indicate that the meeting house was abandoned when the Cumberland Presbyterians moved to Pilot Knob Church. The formation of the new church left but one faithful Presbyterian minister in Logan County. This was the Reverend James Balch, minister of the Mt. Tabor congregation. We must except James McGready since he was under a cloud of suspicion and had withdrawn from the controversy for several years. He had not yet made his submission to the Synod although he was to do so within a short time.
Balch's congregation had suffered some loss of members during the revival years, but this appears to have been a minority group. The ministers and majorities of the Gasper River and Muddy River congregations had joined the new church or the Shakers. Thus, it was necessary for the remaining faithful of these congregations to join Balch's of Mt. Tabor. This movement could have begun at the time of the Commission of 1805; hence, Balch was minister of Gasper River about 1805. The formation of the Cumberland Presbytery made a permanent arrangement necessary. Thus, a new Salem congregation was formed which comprised the remnants of the three congregations of Gasper River, Muddy River, and Mt. Tabor with a new church being erected at a more central location. The exact date this congregation was organized is not known although it was previous to 1814.(68)
The Gasper River Church of revival fame ceased to exist although no record has been found of the sale of the property at this time or shortly afterwards. It is possible that the meeting house had been built upon land given to the Church but never formally deeded to it. Gasper River Church again became an entity when a deed, dated March 26, 1836, conveyed eight acres to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., as the gift of three local land owners.(69) The remains of these three men--Jacob Yost, Stephen P. Bowles, and Benjamin K. Bowles--are buried in the cemetery at the site located on the Woodward property.
This action prepared the way for the next mention of Gasper River Church found in the Minutes of the Muhlenberg Presbytery in March 1838. Here it is recorded that
A petition from sundry members of the church in the neighborhood of Old Gasper Church was received and was referred to Brothers Hamilton and Curry as a Committee in behalf of the Presbytery to act as the interests of religion may seem to them to require.(70)
The reference to "neighborhood of Old Gasper Church" would seem to indicate the original site. However, since the remains of the above mentioned landowners rest in the cemetery, there is no doubt as to the site, as they were instrumental in re-establishing the congregation. The two ministers reported at the fall meeting of the Presbytery that a church had been organized at Gasper River.
There is no mention of the size of the congregation nor of the ministers in charge during the time that the meeting house was used for their services. The sources consulted indicate that the Gasper River congregation at this time was not very large, and, in all likelihood, was under the care of the ministers of Salem. The Reverend Mr. William Hamilton was minister of Salem at this time. Salem, itself a small congregation even before the re-establishment of Gasper River, was dependent for services upon short-term supply ministers or missionaries from time to time. It is apparent that such conditions also existed at Gasper River. The Minutes of the Muhlenberg Presbytery for the meeting held in April 1852, reveal that the Gasper River Church and Pleasant Grove Church had united to form Oakland Church.(71) There is no mention as to when this union of the two congregations took place although it appears to have been several years previous to this date.
Some accounts state that the meeting house and the lands surrounding it came into the possession of the Shakers. However, all records consulted indicate that this was not the case although the site was close to the Shaker community in which Rankin was an outstanding figure. The meeting house, the scene of Rankin's labors in the Kentucky Revival, soon became a point of interest to be visited by Shakers from elsewhere. These travelers kept journals of their travels in which they recorded observations of the places visited. Several visitors to South Union mention the Gasper River Meeting House. William Demming from Hancock, Massachusetts, visited here in August 1810. His journal is brief throughout, and he mentions having passed the meeting house while going to a sawmill about four miles away.(72)
Another Shaker visitor mentioning the meeting house was Amos Stewart of Mount Lebanon, New York who visited in 1852. He describes it as being in the woods and gives the following particulars:
The roof has fell [sic] in, but the logs stand quite erect, it was quite a large building perhaps 35 by 50 feet about 10 feet high, a door on the south side and one at each end. A grave yard but a few rods distant all in the woods some new graves.(73)
Ten years later the devastation was more complete when Elder Giles Avery of the ministry at Mount Lebanon visited South Union. Under the date of July 4, 1862, he writes of his visit to this place of revival fame.
We rode over to the old methodist meeting house of 'Revival' fame. Its site was then and is now in a heavy forest. The old church of which only two or three of the logs of which it was built now remain on the ground was a log building 60 ft long by 30 ft wide.--and, at the time of revival fame far in the wilderness. It is now about 3 miles from the village of South Union and a quarter of a mile from the residence of a family of slave owners of the name of Bowles.(74)
The Elder mentions the graveyard being "walled in" and containing several graves. He also mentions a number of other graves in the woods nearby.
These extracts give us a description of the meeting house as it appeared some fifty years after the stirring events of the Revival. They indicate the short-lived use and abandonment of the meeting house as a place of worship. Since the building was not in their possession, the Shakers did nothing towards keeping it in repair although they considered it a point of interest to be shown to their visiting brethren. The extract of Amos Stewart is of importance since he gives a good description of the building even though the roof had fallen. The scene of devastation seen by Elder Giles Avery was probably due to the Civil War then in progress since armies camping in the vicinity needed firewood. His mention of its being a Methodist meeting house poses a question since both James McGready and John Rankin were Presbyterian ministers serving a Presbyterian congregation. No mention of the Methodists using the meeting house has been found in the sources consulted. In all likelihood, the Elder was misinformed on this point.
As stated above, Gasper River Church and Pleasant Grove Church had united to form Oakland Church before April 1852. Amos Stewart's visit to the site was in July of that year. His view of the deterioration to the extent of the roof having fallen indicates that the congregation of 1838 must not have used the building very long; likewise it indicates that the formation of Oakland Church may have taken place before 1850. It is definite from Elder Giles Avery's account that the original building was destroyed by 1862.
Before the War, the meeting house site remained in the possession of the Presbyterian Church. The union of the Gasper River congregation with other congregations and its subsequent revival created difficulties for a complete and continuous history. The same is true of the post-war period when in 1870 the Logan Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church changed the name of Comfort Church to Gasper River Church.(75) This, however, was not at the revival meeting house site.
McDonnold mentions the revival of the Gasper River Church after the Civil War, but he gives no date when this took place. In the February 10, 1876, issue of the Cumberland Presbyterian, we read:
The Cumberland Presbyterians having received permission from the claimants of the old site, also a donation of more land from Jacob Yost and family, are now erecting on the old place a large and elegant church edifice, . . .(76)
This congregation, known as Old Gasper Church, was admitted to the Logan Presbytery at the meeting held in March 1877. Thus the Presbytery had two congregations with similar names; one was designated as Old Gasper River and the other as Gasper River.
The building erected on the meeting house site in 1876 may have been the one viewed by another Shaker visitor, Eldress Harriet Bullard, in 1889.(77) She speaks of its untidy condition which indicates that it was no longer being used for church services. Like Elder Giles Avery in 1862, she is mistaken in referring to it as a "Methodist meeting house." It is possible that she was misinformed as to the building and visited another in the vicinity.
There was a church building on the site at the beginning of this century. Mr. Claude Pottinger was among those who attended Sunday School and services there. He described the building as being about 60 or 65 feet in length and about 48 feet in width. It stood near the graveyard and faced the creek. A large white oak tree to the left of the doorway had many pegs for hanging hats. This twentieth century congregation continued to use the Gasper River site until about the time of the First World War. The Gasper River meeting house site then passed form the Presbyterian Church to J.S. Hamlin and J.S.P. Bowles, jointly, by deed dated May 11, 1918.(78) Since that date, it has passed through several hands until it came into the possession of Mr. Wade Woodward.
In 1958 the Auburn Rotary Club formed a Committee for the Restoration of the Site of Old Gasper Meeting House. This Committee sought to purchase the site and make it into a shrine or park area, but the project was dropped when it was unable to secure title to the property. The Committee did obtain approval of the Kentucky Historical Society for the erection of a highway historical marker concerning the meeting house. The marker, erected in the spring of 1962 at the intersection of U.S. Highway 68 and State Highway 73, reads as follows:
ONE OF THREE CHURCHES OF REV
JAMES MCGREADY, A PRESBYTERIAN
MINISTER, IN LOGAN COUNTY--GASPER
RIVER, MUDDY RIVER, AND RED RIVER--
AROUND WHICH THE GREAT FRONTIER
REVIVAL OF 1797-1805 BEGAN
The only other information given is an arrow stating "2 MILES" which points north of State Highway 73. There are no further signs to direct the seeker; a fork in the road may take one miles from the site. Following the road to the right will bring one past the site but no sign informs him he has reached the hallowed spot.
Today the original meeting house built in 1800 and its late successor are no longer in existence. There remains only the graveyard which had probably been kept in a reasonably neat appearance by the successive congregations. However, since the site was abandoned for church use, there appears to have been little interest shown in maintaining the appearance of the graveyard. Hence a scene of desolation was to be seen due to the encroachment of the unchecked weeds, bushes, and trees; many rooted in graves or near grave markers. Some graves had sunk, forming depressions in the ground. Not all the grave markers remained upright for some were toppled, others awry, others broken and strewed about the ground. Holes of wildlife rodents abounded throughout the plot. Such was the appearance of the site at the beginning of 1968 when the Explorer Scouts of Bowling Green, under the direction of Dr. Harold W. Evans, began to improve the area by clearing away the underbrush. This task is a difficult one since it requires a continual effort to rid the site of the encroaching woodland.
Thus once more this site of historical importance to Logan County and to the churches of the area awakens interest in the heritage that has come down to us. It was at the site of its short-lived predecessor, according to McGready, the Kentucky Revival had its beginning in May 1797. It was at this site that the first organized camp meeting took place in July 1800. The events occurring here served as a magnet to draw the Shaker missionaries to Logan County in 1807, resulting in the founding of the South Union Shaker community. Events occurring here resulted in the formation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Truly this is a spot of great historical and religious importance in the heritage of Logan County.
1. Joseph Smith, Old Redstone; or, Historical Sketches of Western Presbyterianism, its early ministers, its perilous times, and its first records (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1854), p. 358. The date for the meeting is August 12, but on p. 362 he is said to have been licensed on August 13, which is the date generally given in all accounts. Likewise, on this same page, he is said to be "about thirty years of age when licensed." This information appears in a biographical sketch where his name is spelled "M'Gready."
2. Benjamin W. McDonnold, History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Nashville: Board of Publication of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1888), p. 9.
3. James McGready, "A Short Narrative of the Revival of Religion in Logan County, in the State of Kentucky, and the adjacent settlements in the State of Tennessee, from May, 1797, until September, 1800." This work appears as a series of articles in the New York Missionary Magazine, IV, 1803. The above information is on p. 74. Hereafter, this work will be cited as "A Short Narrative." This assertion of McGready refutes Finley's statements that the Gasper River and Muddy River congregations were founded in the spring and fall of 1797. Finley's statements are in his History of Russellville and Logan County, Kentucky, p. 10 as quoted by Edward F. Coffman in The Story of Logan County (Nashville: The Partheon Press, 1962), p. 75. It is possible that the two congregations were without meeting houses upon McGready's arrival and that these were erected at the times given by Finley.
4. Littleton Groom, History of Salem Presbyterian Church, Logan County, Kentucky, 1792-1900 (Princeton, New Jersey, 1969), pp. 10-26. The evidence presented decisively establishes the organization of Gasper River and Muddy River congregations before the arrival of McGready.
5. Joseph Smith, op. cit., p. 363.
6. Catharine C. Cleveland, The Great Revival in the West 1797-1805 (Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1959), p. 40, fn. 1, quoting James Smith, History of the Christian Church, Including a History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, pp. 565-66.
7. Coffman, op. cit., pp. 75, 86 gives two references to this location of the first Gasper River Meeting House. He gives John Rankin as the source of this information--cf. note 12 below. Outside of this vague reference of "five miles" from South Union, the writer has not located information to pinpoint the site of this first meeting house.
8. "A Short Narrative," p. 74.
9. Posthumous Works, ed. by Reverend James Smith (Louisville, Kentucky, Printed by W.W. Worsley: 1831), I, ix.
10. "A Short Narrative," p. 75.
11. Cleveland, op. cit., pp. 41-42. Another revivalist who came from Guilford County was Barton W. Stone who preached in upper Kentucky.
12. John Rankin's "Autobiography" precedes the Shaker Journal, Book A, in the manuscript collection at the Kentucky Library located at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Rankin wrote his autobiography in 1845 when he was eighty-eight years old, and may have made us of written notes, but of this there is no mention. Hence when speaking of events described by Rankin and McGready, we favor the latter's account written in 1801.
13. Ibid., p. 29. It is possible that Rankin was advised by McGready or other ministers who later were associated with the revival.
14. Ibid. Although Rankin dates his visit to the West in 1796 which is also the date of McGready's arrival in this locality, there is no mention of the two men meeting at this time. This would indicate that McGready's arrival took place after Rankin's visit, most likely towards the close of the year.
15. Ibid., p. 30. Another possible motive for Rankin's coming to the Gasper locality on this visit is found in his later reference to Jesse McComb--namely, to view lands granted McComb in the area.
16. Ibid., p. 31. This description of the meeting corresponds to that given by McGready for the meeting of 1799--cf. infra., p. 10. It is possible that Rankin is mistaken in the year since he wrote forty years after the event. Rankin's mistake in the year would account for McGready's failure to mention Rankin being present at the 1798 meeting. Most writers give 1799 as the year of the first appearance of the phenomena.
17. Ibid., p. 32.
18. "A Short Narrative," p. 152. His Posthumous Works terms Rankin as "a precious instrument in the hand of the Lord."--cf. I, p. viii.
19. "Autobiography," pp. 32-33.
20. "A Short Narrative," pp. 152-53.
21. "Autobiography," p. 33.
22. "A Short Narrative," pp. 154-55.
23. "Autobiography," p. 33-34.
24. McDonnold, op. cit., pp. 12-13. Although the marker at the Red River Meeting House replica states that this June 1800 meeting was the first camp meeting, most authorities maintain that it was the forerunner to the first one which was held at Gasper River in July 1800. McDonnold definitely states that "This meeting at Gasper was the first meeting in Christendom that was appointed and intended for a camp-meeting."
25. "Autobiography," p. 35. This site, on the Wade Woodward farm, is on Clearfork Creek which in early deeds is termed "The Clear Fork of Gaspers River."
26. Ibid., pp. 35-37.
27. "A Short Narrative," pp. 192-93.
28. Ibid., p. 194.
29. Ibid., p. 195.
30. Ibid., p 196. According to Coffman, op. cit., p. 84, it was most likely a camp meeting at Muddy River that Barton W. Stone attended during the spring of 1801.
31. "A Short Narrative," p. 196.
32. "Autobiography, p. 38.
33. John Opie, Jr., "James McGready: Theologian of Frontier Revivalism" in Church History, 34 (December, 1965), pp. 445-56.
34. Cleveland, op. cit., p. 88.
35. Ibid., p. 89.
36. Op. cit., p. 47.
37. Coffman, op. cit., p. 79, quotes this letter and refers to Methodist Magazine, IV, pp. 189-90 from which it was reprinted in Reverend A.H. Redford, The History of Methodism in Kentucky, pp. 267-72. McDonnold, op. cit., also mentions only one man and his family, recently arrived from North Carolina, encamped upon the grounds.
38.McDonnold, op. cit., pp. 12-13.
39. Reverend Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky; With a Preliminary Sketch of the Churches in the Valley of Virginia (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), p. 134.
40. Ibid., p. 135.
41. McDonnold, op. cit., pp. 38-39. The forenames of these men were obtained from: T.C. Blake, The Old Log House, A History and Defense of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Nashville: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1878), p. 39.
42. Groom, op, cit., pp. 28-29.
43. Frances Garvin Davenport, Ante-Bellum Kentucky: a Social History, 1800-1860 (Oxford, Ohio: The Mississippi Valley Press, 1943), p. 122.
44. op. cit., p. 56.
45. Minutes of the "Original Cumberland Presbytery: 1802-1806." Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Published by the Stated Clerk, Louisville, Ky., October 9, 1906. (Louisville, Ky.: Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1906), passim. Hereafter cited as Minutes.
46. McDonnold, op. cit., p. 77.
47. Accounts of these difficulties may be found in Davidson, op. cit., and in most accounts concerning the Revival as well as biographies of the principal men involved.
48. Davidson, op. cit., p. 234.
49. Davenport, op. cit., pp. 122-23.
50. McDonnold, op. cit., p. 80.
51. Davidson, op. cit., p. 235.
52. William Warren Sweet, The American Churches (New York: Abingdon-Cokesburg Press, 1948, p. 131.
53. Minutes, p. 20.
54. Davidson, op. cit., p. 244.
55. William A. Provine (comp.) "Record of Early Presbyterian and Cumberland Presbyterian History," p. 210. This work in Dr. Provine's handwriting also contains clippings pertaining to the subject. It is to be found in the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am indebted to Mr. Littleton Groom for having sent this information as well as other information pertaining to this period to me. This is the only reference the writer has found which mentions the appointment of the Reverend Mr. Balch to the Gasper River congregation. No mention is made of the effective date of the appointment nor of the length of the tenure. Coffman, op. cit., p. 54, says that Balch opposed the revival teachings and that he "later moved to Todd County and died there." He gives Finley (op. cit., bk. 2, p. 15) as reference for his statement. The writer has found no substantiation concerning this statement. Clergy lists reveal that Balch was active in the Muhlenberg Presbytery as late as 1814. From references concerning Balch's later life, it would appeared that he left this area in 1817. Hanford A. Edson, Early Indiana Presbyterians (Winona Publishing Co., 1898) pp. 84, 98, et seq. states that Balch came to Sullivan County, Indiana in 1817 where he organized and served the Hopewell Presbyterian Church on Turman's Creek until his death on January 12, 1821.
56. Robert Stuart Sanders. The Reverend Robert Stuart, D.D. 1772-1856: A Pioneer in Kentucky Presbyterianism and His Descendants (Louisville: The Dunne Press, 1962), p. 54. Stuart's "Journals" were first published in the publication of the Presbyterian Historical Society, vol. 23 (September, 1915), pp. 150-79. The pagination given above is from Sanders' work. Stuart journeyed to Muhlenberg County, stopping at the home of the Reverend James Balch on the way.
57. Davidson, op. cit., p. 243.
58. Original in Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. The letter appears to have been sent to one of the ruling ministry of the Shakers who apparently had inquired of him concerning his revival activities before he joined the Shakers.
59. Davidson, op. cit., p. 252.
60. Sanders, op. cit., p. 59. Stuart misspelled the names of Bates, one of the Shakers, and of Ewing.
61. Quoted in Franceway R. Cossitt, The Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing (Louisville, Ky.: L.R. Woods, Agent for the Board of Publication of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church [c1853]), p. 191.
62. William Warren Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), p. 233.
63. Davidson, op. cit., p. 228, 283.
64. Ibid., p. 251.
65. Ibid., p. 252.
66. Smith, Old Redstone, p. 364. Coffman tells us that McGready was living in Russellville in 1812 and labored in many places in western Kentucky and possibly Tennessee before his death--cf. op. cit., p. 75. Other sources indicate that it was about this time (1812) that McGready removed to Henderson. He was no stranger to this new field of activity for as a part-time missionary he had been visiting Henderson for many years. A letter written by him from Henderson County, dated December 11, 1807, is in the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. In this letter, McGready mentions Rankin's joining the Shakers with "about 20 persons of his congregation." There is also mention of the Shakers being active in Henderson County. I am indebted to Mr. Littleton Groom for a copy of this letter. Groom, op. cit., p. 35 gives additional information concerning McGready's missionary activities during his last years.
67. McDonnold, op. cit., p. 121.
68. Groom, op. cit., p. 55. Finley, op. cit., mentions the decline of Balch's congregation during the Revival and its subsequent growth, but he makes no mention of the source of new members. The influx of members could have begun previous to the Commission of 1805.
69. Deed Book "U" p. 293. County Clerk's Office, Logan County Courthouse, Russellville, Kentucky.
70. "Minutes of the Muhlenberg Presbytery" in Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. I am indebted to Mr. Littleton Groom for references to this source.
72. The Journal is in Western Reserve Historical Society. A copy of the South Union entries was sent to the author by Mrs. Charles J. Conlin, Jr., of Cleveland. What seemed to interest Demming most was the presence of Indian mounds in the vicinity although he does not discuss their location in regard to the Shaker buildings.
73. The Journal is in Western Reserve Historical Society. Typewritten extract concerning the meeting house was sent by Mrs. Conlin.
75. Reverend Walter Chesnut of Lenoir City, Tennessee, in a letter to the writer, dated October 5, 1969, gives information concerning the various Gasper Churches in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church during this period.
76. In the Historical Library and Archives, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee.
77. See note 73 above.
78. Deed Book 100, p. 606. County Clerk's Office, Logan County Courthouse, Russellville, Kentucky.
[Source: Thomas Whitaker, "The Gasper River Meeting House," The Filson Club History Quarterly 56 (January 1982): 30-61.]