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A Brief History Of The Grace Baptist Church

Of Florence, Kentucky

Compiled by Larry L. Burton and Berlin Hisel


Here at the Grace Baptist Church, our roots go all the way back to the Jordan River, in the land of Judea, to the time of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. An old preacher back in the mountains described it very accurately when he said, “You can grab that old Baptist chain and shake it and it will rattle plumb back to Jordan.” That is perpetuity!

To the Memory of Doctor John Clarke, one of the original purchasers and proprietors of this island and one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Newport, its first pastor and munificent benefac­tor; He was a native of Bedfordshire, England, and a practitioner of physics in London. He, with his associates, came to this island from Mass., in March 1638, and on the 24th of the same month obtained a deed thereof from the Indians. He shortly after gathered the church aforesaid and became its pastor...

I begin this brief history of the Grace Bap­tist Church of Florence, Kentucky, by sharing with you, in part, an epitaph found on a tombstone. On this tombstone the epitaph, in part, reads: “To the Memory of Doctor John Clarke, one of the original purchasers and proprietors of this island and one of the founders of the First Baptist Church of Newport, its first pastor and munificent benefac­tor; He was a native of Bedfordshire, England, and a practitioner of physics in London. He, with his associates, came to this island from Mass., in March 1638, and on the 24th of the same month obtained a deed thereof from the Indians. He shortly after gathered the church aforesaid and became its pastor…” The First Baptist Church of Newport, Rhode Island, in whose cemetery this monument stands, is as far as the records are con­cerned, the first Baptist church organized on American soil.

In about the middle of the 17th century, a Baptist minister, Elder Thomas Dungan from Ireland, left his native home to escape persecutions under King Charles II, and coming to Rhode Island, joined himself to Dr. Clarke’s church. In 1684, Elder Dungan and a small group of members from the church in Newport came south to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and established as a church body there. This was the Cold Spring Baptist Church, and it was about three miles north of Bristol, Penn., not too far from Trenton. Elder Dungan was old when he came to America, and he died in 1688. But something he did just prior to his death has had lasting results. In 1688, Elias Keach, son of Elder Benjamin Keach of England, came to Penn., and posed as a minister. While “preaching” he came under terrible conviction and had to stop. He confessed his lost condition and asked for help. The people sent him to Eider Dungan, under whose witness Elias was saved. Elias felt called to preach the gospel in earnest, and after the church at Cold Spring bap­tized him, and ordained him, he began to do so with good effects. The church at Cold Spring finally dissolved about 1692 or 1702, depending upon which historian you follow.

Elias Keach, being now a missionary out of Cold Spring Baptist Church, gathered a small church body together in Philadelphia County, Penn., in 1688, which they called the Lower Dublin Baptist Church. Since the church was actually at Pennepeck, Penn., it is us­ually known as the Pennepeck Church. Some of the members of Pennepeck were already Baptists, while others were converted under the ministry of Elder Keach. Several of the Baptists were from South Wales, and were members of Baptist churches in Llandewi and Nantmel parishes of Radnorshire, where Henry Gregory was the chief pastor. Another Baptist member who was gathered into Pennepeck was John Baker, a member of the Baptist church at Kilkenny, Ireland, where Elder Christopher Blackwell was the pastor. Another Baptist was Samuel Vaus, of England. Elder Keach baptized Joseph Ashton, and his wife, Jane, William Fisher, and John Watts. The church had twelve charter mem­bers. As Elder Keach traveled around that part of the country in Penn. and over into New Jersey, he made converts, and baptized them into membership of the Lower Dublin Baptist Church. Thus the church at Pennepeck had missions at West Jersey, the Falls, Burlington, Cohansey, Salem, Penn’s Neck, Chester, Philadelphia, and other places. To make it fair concerning travel, the Lower Dublin Baptist Church gathered for the Lord’s Supper in different places each quarter, namely, Burlington, Cohansey, Chester, and Philadelphia. The Pennepeck Church numbered about 46 members in the ‘Mother’ body by about 1700. They evidently didn’t erect their first building until 1707. Thus for awhile, all the Baptists in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, except those at Cold Spring, were members of the Lower Dublin Baptist Church. Toward the end of the century these bran­ches began to become separate churches.

The next church in our line has a difficult history to trace, due to its records being burned by its Tory Clerk during the Revolution. That church is called the Piscataway Baptist Church, of Shelton, Middlesex County, New Jersey. This body, according to Cathcart’s Encyclopedia, page 901, and A Social History of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1707-1940, by Robert G. Torbet, page 14, was originally a branch-mission of Lower Dublin Baptist Church. Other historians claim the same thing, and I accept it as so. (The only reason I sound doubtful is because some historians I’ve read do not mention Lower Dublin when they treat the history of Piscataway.) Evidently the Piscataway Baptist Church was organized in 1689, but there is also some controversy over the date. However, the more widely accepted writers such as David Spencer, author of the Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877; Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, etc., 1887; and David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848; etc. all give the correct date as 1689. Evidently the first pastor was Elder John Drake, but there is a great deal of confusion about when he was ordained, dates running from 1669 to 1715. He seems to have been preaching in the Piscataway area as early as 1669. Another minister’s name which comes up when trying to learn when the church was started is Elder Thomas Killingsworth, from Norwich, England. He was evidently present at the organization of this church, but these facts are difficult to affirm. Elder Killingsworth later (or some say earlier) became the first pastor of the Cohansey Baptist Church, which was a branch of Lower Dublin Baptist Church also. (Some of Cohansey’s members had evidently origin­ally followed Obadiah Holmes, Jr., a Baptist minister, who was a member of Dr. Clarke’s church, in Pennsylvania, while other members were from a Baptist church in Clouketin, Tipperay County, Ireland. Still others were converted and baptized by Elias Keach, while he was pastoring Lower Dublin.) These controversies seem to stem from each church wanting to claim the earliest date possible. At any rate, it seems obvious that in 1689, the Piscataway church was organized as an independent church. Until that time in its history, it had been a branch of the Lower Dublin Baptist Church where Elias Keach pastored.

The next church in our list is not so diffi­cult to follow in history, as there was no unfaith­ful member to destroy its records. There were a number of Baptists living at Scotch Plains, Essex County, New Jersey, in 1747, who were members of the Piscataway Baptist Church. They petitioned their ‘Mother’ church to dismiss them by letter so that they might organize an independent church body, which being done, they accomplished on August 5, 1747, with 15 charter members. William Darby, one of the members, was selected to minister to the church until it could call a regular pastor, which it did on February 13, 1748. Benjamin Miller, a member of Piscataway, was called as first pastor. Elder Miller was a friend to Elder John Gano, of whom we will learn more presently.

The next church in our history is the First (Regular) Baptist Church of New York City. (The first Baptists in the state of New York are said to have been Arminian in doctrine; and since that is an unscriptural position, I can see no great reason to include them in this short history.) In 1745, Jeremiah Dodge settled in New York City and began holding prayer meetings in his home. He was a member of the Fishkill Baptist Church. When he learned of Benjamin Miller at nearby Scotch Plains, he asked him to come and hold preaching services at the prayer meetings, which he did. As the Free Will Church had disbanded, in 1732, some of its former members also attended Dodge’s home prayer meetings while Miller preached and renounced their former errors. Other ministers preached to this group from time to time, and in 1753, all thirteen of them joined Scotch Plains, after Miller had baptized some of them. They were organized as an independent church on June 19, 1762, by Benjamin Miller and John Gano, the latter being called as pastor. Elder Gano served as pastor until 1776 when he became a chaplain in General Washington’s American Army. Gano returned to pas­tor the church in 1784. He was there until 1788 when he moved to Kentucky and became the pastor of Town Fork Baptist Church near Lexington. (The church in New York did not function as a church during the British occupation and Elder Gano’s ab­sence, but it retained its official status as a church, and awaited Gano’s return.) In 1788, when Gano left, the church called Benjamin Foster as pastor, and he remained until his death in 1798. (Elder Foster was born in Massachusettes, in 1759. He graduated from Yale in 1774. He was appointed to defend infant baptism, and his studies converted him. He was baptized by Dr. Stillman in Boston in 1774. In 1776, he was ordained as pastor of the Baptist Church of Leicester, Massachusettes. He became pastor of the church in New Port in 1785. (Yes, Dr. Clarke’s church.) Then he accepted the call to New York in 1788.)

Now we are ready to bring the history we’re tracing down to home base, so to speak. Steven Gano, son of John Gano, was born in New York in 1762, the same year the church there was organized. He studied medicine in New Jersey under Dr. Stiles, an uncle, rather than theology under Dr. James Manning, another uncle, in Rhode Island. He was a surgeon in the Patriot forces during the Revolution, and suffered several imprisonments and great hardships. He was converted at Tappan, New Jersey, and also was “set apart” to preach there. This was in 1786. He was ordained to the gospel minis­try by his father’s church in New York in 1786. In 1790, after John Gano had resigned the New York church and moved to Kentucky, his son Steven Gano was on the way to visit him and stopped in what is now Cincinnati, Ohio, where he found a small group of Baptists from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Evi­dently, most of them were members of Scotch Plains Baptist Church at that time, who had migrated to Cincinnati in 1788. Steven, who was at that time still an active member of the church in New York, organized this little group into a church in 1790, and bap­tized a few new converts into it prior to leaving for Kentucky. Elder John Smith of Virginia became the first pastor of this first church in the Old North West Territory, as well as the first church in the future State of Ohio. This was the Columbia Baptist Church, which moved in 1808 to Duck Creek and changed its name accordingly.

The first meeting of Turtle Creek Church after being constituted on Saturday before the second Sabbath in December, 1802, and after prayer, we proceeded to business. 1st. Agreed to and did call Brother Daniel Clark to the pas­toral care of this church. 2nd. Agreed to con­tinue Brother Matthias Corwin Deacon in this church, and both complied. 3rd. Resolved that meetings be held here on the same stated seasons as before our separation from Clear Creek, viz: on the Saturday before second Sabbath in each month and the Sabbath following.

In the year 1797, a number of members were dis­missed from the Columbia Baptist Church who settled at Clear Creek and there organized a Baptist Church. A meeting house was erected a little north of the present site of Ridgeville, Warren County. For a short time Elder James Sutton served this church as pastor. He was succeeded by Elder Daniel Clark who had moved from Columbia to a little tract of land purchased by him about four miles northeast of Lebanon. In 1798 a branch was organized at Turtle Creek with a log meeting house, located one mile east of Lebanon. This branch was organized into an inde­pendent church on December 11, 1802, with thirty-three charter members. The first minutes of the first meeting read as follows: “The first meeting of Turtle Creek Church after being constituted on Saturday before the second Sabbath in December, 1802, and after prayer, we proceeded to business. 1st. Agreed to and did call Brother Daniel Clark (who being formerly pastor at Clear Creek Church) to the pas­toral care of this church. 2nd. Agreed to con­tinue Brother Matthias Corwin (who being Deacon in Clear Creek Church) Deacon in this church, and both complied. 3rd. Resolved that meetings be held here on the same stated seasons as before our separation from Clear Creek, viz: on the Saturday before second Sabbath in each month and the Sabbath following.” The church continued to hold its meet­ings at the original place of worship until 1811 when a substantial brick building was erected in Lebanon on West Mulberry Street.

In 1813 the name was changed from Turtle Creek Baptist Church to The Baptist Church at Lebanon. On May 24th, 1824 the First Baptist Church of Lebanon, Ohio, sent Brother Wilson Thompson to Dayton, Ohio, to organize the First Baptist Church of Dayton now located at 111 W. Monument Avenue. Elder Wilson Thompson, in November of 1824, was called as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lebanon where he remained as pastor for ten years. On September 20, 1872, the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio, organized the Linden Avenue Baptist Church of Dayton now located at 101 Linden Avenue. In January of 1912, the Linden Avenue Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio, organized the Haynes Street Baptist Church of Dayton. This church later changed its name to the Emmanuel Baptist Church now located at 1501 E. 3rd Street, Dayton, Ohio. In January of 1945, the Emmanuel Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio organized the Grace Baptist Church of Middletown, Ohio. On March 28, 1948, the Grace Baptist Church of Middletawn, Ohio, organized the First Baptist Church of Harrison, Ohio, with Brother Charles Ashcraft, who had begun the mission work, being called as pastor. The church was organized in theWest Harrison Town Hall with 36 charter members. The Town Hall was used for regular services until the basement of their present building was completed on January 14, 1951. In March 1975 a group of members from the Big Bone Baptist Church of Union Kentucky joined the First Baptist Church and asked to be a mission until such time that they saw fit to organize. Their first meeting was in the home of Marvin and Margaret Howard on Skyline Drive or March 31, 1975. In the fall of that year they bought a house on Mt. Zion Road in Florence, Kentucky. This work was organized on January 10, 1976 with 42 charter members. They called Robert Ginn who had been their mission pastor to be pastor of the Grace Baptist Church. A new building joining the old was constructed and started having services in it on August 3, 1980.

Bro. Ginn remained as pastor until December 31, 1991 when his resigned to retire. The church called Bro. Wilbert L. Ellis as pastor and he assumed his duties on January 1, 1992. With the coming of Bro. Ellis, the church began a new type of outreach. Bro. Ellis, who had long been involved in a Printing Outreach, brought all of his printing equipment and began printing for churches and missionaries of like faith and practice throughout the United States and into many countries around the world. The church remained at its Mt. Zion Road location until 1999 when it dedicated a new building at 10080 Demia Way in June of that year.

It is our desire that God will, in His good pleasure, keep blessing this work until he comes again. It is our desire that we will be found faithfully upholding His Word until He returns and takes His saints back to heaven to live with Him forever.