Since the history of Mt. Byrd church from 1869 till my death will be an inseparable part of my history, the two being linked together, the church is destined to be known, and is known to-day, wherever I am known. And as a part of its history will be given, I think it would be more satisfactory to all who may feel interested in it, and more profitable as a study, if an outline of its career from the beginning were known. I therefore insert it here.
In 1832, Isaac Foster, then a Baptist preacher, came into this community preaching the principles of reform as advocated by Thomas and Alexander Campbell. The people gave heed to his teaching concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, and on the second Lord's day in September, 1832, at the house of David Floyd, on the top of the Ohio River hill, opposite Hanover College, Ind., a church was established. The following were the charter members: James Lindsey, Hatty Ann Lindsey, William Maddox, Elizabeth Maddox, David Floyd, John B. Floyd, Miss Mary A. Trout, Miss Catherine Trout, Miss Priscilla B. Trout, Miss Sally Trout, Miss Saloma Overpeck, Miss Julia Ann Lindsey, Miss Artamisia Cooper, Mrs. Minerva Cooper.
James Lindsey and his wife, Hatty A., were formerly members of the Old Christian Connection, at Cane Ridge, Ky. William Maddox and his wife, Elizabeth, were from the Baptists. The rest were admitted by immersion.
William Maddox and John B. Floyd were appointed elders, and David Lloyd deacon.
For a time they met and worshiped in private houses. They then built a meeting-house, near the river bluff, on the farm of Bro. David Floyd. It was of hewed logs, and primitive in architecture. It was called Mt. Olivet. They met every Lord's day to break bread, to worship God and to edify one another in love. Much of the long-continued prosperity of the Mt. Byrd church is doubtless due to beginning with good material and on correct principles.
In that early day the church enjoyed the visits of such men as Isaiah Cornelius, Allen Kendrick, L. L. Fleming, Jesse Mavity, Wm. Brown, and others. The church increased in number rapidly.
In a short time several families of standing and influence moved into the present neighborhood of Mt. Byrd and south of it, from Woodford county, Ky. The house was unfavorably located, being on the extreme edge of the territory from which the membership must come. It was agreed by all parties to build another house, farther back from the river, in a more desirable locality. About 1837 this house was built on the farm of Bro. Robert Moffett, at the crossing of the Strother and Cooper roads, about two and one-half miles from the other house, and one and one-half south of Milton. It was a commodious frame building. The site is now on the corner of Bro. Allen's place, two hundred yards from his house. It was called Mt. Byrd, from the fact that it was on part of a large survey of land known as the Byrd survey; and the "Mt." was due to its elevation. It was understood that so soon as certain obstacles were removed, the two churches were to become one. Hence the house was used a year or two before our organization was established. And, in one view of the case, Mt. Byrd had its origin in 1832; and in another, in 1839.
On the second day of August, being the first Lord's day, 1839, an organization was established on the following covenant:
"We, the undersigned individuals, agree to have fellowship with each other, and to be united together in the bonds of Christian affection according to all the rules of conduct and requirements of God, as contained in His Word -- the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments."
Robert Moffett, Elizabeth Moffett, Lucinda Moffett, Sarah Ann Moffett, Catherine Stipes, Alexander Moffett, Nancy Moffett, Emily Moffett, Harriet Moffett, Jane Moffett, Porter Fisher, Caroline Fisher, Hayden Fisher, Robert Thompson, Anna F. Thompson, Polly Blake, Elizabeth Taylor, Susan Taylor, Zachariah Taylor, Sally Taylor.
Porter Fisher was chosen elder.
In September following, Dr. Curtis J. Smith and Newton Short held them a meeting, resulting in forty additions.
The members of the first organization began to move their membership to Mt. Byrd, and soon the two congregations were one.
The following is a list of the overseers of the church, in their order, from its establishment till 1885:
Porter Fisher, Hayden Fisher, John B. Floyd, James Jones, Samuel Morris, John A. Bain, Isaac Trout, John S. Maddox, Jacob Trout, George Craig, F. G. Allen.
The following are the names of the preachers who have served the church a stated length of time:
Porter Fisher, Hiram Stark, J. Newton Payne, Dr. C. J. Smith, Henry Rice, Jesse Mavity, Dr. Sadler, J. A. Bain, G. B. Moore, A. A. Knight, J. C. Walden, J. V. Price, F. G. Allen.
In addition to meetings held by the regular preachers, it has enjoyed the evangelistic labors of some of the ablest preachers in the Reformation.
From its organization to June, 1885, there were added to the church, at various times and in various ways, 982 members. At this time (June 12, 1885) the membership is 350.
In addition to removals, deaths, exclusions, etc., we gave a large number to the Bedford Church when it last organized (1874), and our colored membership organized to themselves in 1877. Also the nucleus of the Beech Grove church went from here.
Three things, that have had much to do with the prosperity of this church, deserve special mention -- their course during the war, their way of choosing church officers, and their method of church discipline.
During the war the church remained in a peaceful and prosperous condition. At the beginning they were of one mind in the decision that the religion of Christ was more important to them than political interests; that the war would end, but that the kingdom of God would not, and that they would stand for the things that could not be shaken by the shock of arms. A large number of young men of the community were in the service, and they wanted to be in a spiritual condition to take care of such of them as should return. Though soldiers of both armies were frequently in the neighborhood, the church continued the service of God and the discharge of Christian duty as if the peace of the country was undisturbed. Consequently, when the war was over, they had no alienations to adjust, no broken down walls to rebuild, no breaches to close up. They needed no reconstruction. Their history demonstrates that even cruel war need not necessarily alienate the people of God. The congregation was not a unit in political sympathy, but they allowed no mixing of politics with religion, in the pulpit or elsewhere, on either side. Strong rebels from Kentucky and strong Union men from Indiana filled the pulpit during the time, but with the understanding that they preach the gospel and not politics -- no difference was made.
Till 1867 the method of selecting church officers was by popular ballot. They were thus selected according to the feelings, and tastes, and prejudices of men, women and children, many of whom are always controlled by personal likes and dislikes. At this time a change was made that resulted in great good. The change was to this effect, that a committee in whom the church have perfect confidence be appointed to select elders and deacons. When selected, their names are submitted to the congregation, and two weeks given during which objections may be made privately to the committee. Should objections be made to any one, which are considered valid, and can not be removed, that name is dropped and another substituted. It is understood from the beginning, by all parties, that the objections are to be kept private, and if a candidate is dropped on account of objections, he has no right to demand the name of the objector nor the objections. When objections are not made, or they no longer exist, it is understood that the selection is ratified by the church. The parties are then set apart to their work by fasting, prayer and the laying on of hands. In this way a better selection is made, and the church is much more impressed with the importance of the official work, and of their obligation to those set apart, as co-operants in the work. The plan gave entire satisfaction, and the church ever after observed it.
When I began to preach for the church, I introduced a plan of disciplinary work which I had observed since my labors with the Crittenden Church. The leading idea in it was to save the offender, and the church was impressed with that fact. The relatives and friends of the offending party were enlisted in an effort with the preachers and elders to save him, with the understanding that if this could not be done, the law of the Lord must be enforced in his exclusion. Such efforts rarely failed, and, when they did, those most likely to be hurt about his exclusion felt that they had failed in trying to save him, and that all was done that could be done. When such efforts failed, the case was then stated to the church, and if any one thought that he might accomplish something, and wished an opportunity to try, action was delayed till he did what he could, and thus the whole moral force of the church was exerted. When all felt that nothing more could be done, the law of the Lord was executed, the church withdrew its fellowship, and the occasion was made as solemn and impressive as possible. There was no voting as to whether or not they would exclude him. That is a matter of divine legislation on which we have no right to vote. The sense of the congregation was taken only as to whether or not they had done all they could to save the offender, and had thus complied with the law of the Lord in this respect. In twenty years, with much attention to disciplinary work, I have never had the least trouble or evil consequence result from a case of exclusion.
In 1867 they built a new house of worship, about a quarter of a mile nearer Milton than was the old house. It is a large and substantial frame.
When Mt. Byrd was established there were several strong Methodist and Baptist churches within a few miles. They have all dwindled into comparative insignificance, and Mt. Byrd has the controlling influence in the county. Her territory extends sixteen miles along the Ohio River and eight miles back.
I engaged to preach for Mt. Byrd Church one-half my time, beginning the first of October, 1869. It is thirty miles from New Liberty, and at that time it was reached by a dirt road terribly muddy in the winter. I went back and forth on horseback. I arranged to have my two Sundays come together, and spent the intervening week visiting the congregation and preaching at some neighboring school-house. I thus made but one trip a month. My health was very poor, and each visit I made they thought would be the last.
After I began preaching at Mt. Byrd, I discovered a very serious trouble in the church, of which I before knew nothing. I saw, from its nature and the men involved in it, that unless it was peaceably and permanently settled, the church would be effectually ruined. And circumstances indicated that it was next to impossible to secure such a settlement. I was deeply concerned about it.
The difficulty grew out of a man's making engagements to teach two schools at once, and consequently having to disappoint one of the parties. They had depended on him, and thereby lost the opportunity of getting a good teacher. They felt grievously wronged, and sued for damages. The teacher was a poor man, not able to fight the suit, and he so worked upon his patrons that they promised to stand by him and defend him in court. A large number of good and influential brethren were involved in it, and they had worked up a very bad state of feeling. Bro. J. S. Maddox, the leading elder, stood by me faithfully in the work. We labored incessantly day and night for over two weeks before we accomplished our purpose. I preached in the two school-houses alternately, day and night, so as to reach all of both parties; for they would not go to each other's houses. The rest of the time was spent in visiting and laboring privately with the disaffected members. The preaching was all directed to the one special end. Sometimes we would have it nearly completed as we thought, and then the trouble would break out again. One day our hearts beat with joyous hope, and the next we were depressed and discouraged.
Finally, they agreed to arbitrate the matter if I alone would act as arbitrator. I tried hard to reason them out of this, for I felt almost certain that I would sacrifice myself in so doing. I felt that I could hardly hope to retain the friendship of both parties in such a complicated matter, over which there was so much bad feeling. But, finding that there was no other way of settlement, I concluded that the sacrifice of myself was a small matter as compared with the ruin of the church, and I consented. All parties agreed to abide by my decision in good faith, bury all their animosities, and be at peace among themselves. I wrote out carefully the whole case, giving my decision on each point, and the reasons therefor. I read it at a meeting at which all were present. They all signed it, and the trouble was forever ended. Both parties kept it in good faith, and I retained their fraternal love.
When the church had been "rounded up," and all dead matter cast off, we had 240 members on the list. Some new deacons were appointed, till we had seven in all. Not because there were seven appointed at Jerusalem, but because we needed that number and had material out of which to make them. We divided the congregation into seven districts, each deacon having his boundary defined. Each had a list of all the members in his district, and it was his duty to obtain a subscription from each member and collect it. Each child of a family made his own subscription. All were expected to give something, unless they were beneficiaries of the church. This system has several advantages: (1) More money is obtained than when given only by heads of families. (2) Each one feels that he is a factor in the church, not an overlooked cipher, and this does him good. It stimulates him to do something. (3) In training each one to give, however little they may be able, there is developed in them a right spirit and a very important principle.
A business meeting was held every three months. At these the deacons made their reports, and squared accounts with the preacher. Thus the exact financial condition of the church was known. Cases of discipline, missions, charities, and everything pertaining to the interests of the church, were freely discussed. A record was kept of everything done. These meetings were held on Saturday, and the next day a statement was made to the church of what was done, and their sanction obtained to such matters as it was thought best to submit.
With a thorough organization, systematic working, and the happy settlement of the big trouble over which all were filled with anxiety, the church took on new life, and ever after continued in an active, growing condition.
The brethren soon petitioned me to move into their midst. I jocularly told them I would do so if they would give me a good home. The suggestion was no sooner made than accepted. Bro. J. H. Moffett gave me eight acres of ground just where I wanted it, and he and the rest of the brethren agreed to build me a house. I was permitted to plan just such a house as I wanted, and they would see that it was built. No obligation whatever was required of me as a condition. I was free to dispose of it and leave them at any time, if I wished to do so. It was all a matter of trust. The outside improvements were also made mostly by the brethren. I may say here that in the fifteen years I preached for that church, not a man ever charged me a cent for anything he ever did for me, and they did everything that I needed to have done.
In the spring of 1870 we organized a Sunday-school. It ranged usually, one year with another, from 125 to 150. One peculiar feature about it was that a large number of old people attended. In a word, the church went into the Sunday-school. The teachers have all the time been of the older brethren and sisters, and many men and women of middle age and beyond have been in the classes. We kept a record of the attendance, recitations, contributions, etc., thus indicating the regularity of the work. The record shows that there were perfect, in recitations and attendance, twenty-six in 1873, thirty-four in 1874, and twenty in 1875. This is a fair sample for the fifteen years. The school is still in a fine condition. Some members have not missed a single recitation in five years.
From the beginning we have adhered to the rule of opening on the last Sunday in April and continuing till Christmas. The congregation being scattered over a large district, and the roads being bad in winter, we have been in the habit of dismissing the children for the rest of the year; but all the older people form one class, and are taught the Scriptures by the preacher or elder of the church from the first of January till the last of April.
I am satisfied this is a good arrangement for churches in the country, where the membership is much scattered. It works well at Mt. Byrd, and I don't see why it may not work well elsewhere under the same circumstances.