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Raccoon John Smith

Raccoon John Smith: Frontier Kentucky's Most Famous Preacher

Elder John Sparks
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 504
  • Book Info
    Raccoon John Smith
    Book Description:

    The Disciples of Christ, one of the first Christian faiths to have originated in America, was established in 1832 in Lexington, Kentucky, by the union of two groups led by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. The modern churches resulting from the union are known collectively to religious scholars as part of the Stone-Campbell movement. If Stone and Campbell are considered the architects of the Disciples of Christ and America's first nondenominational movement, then Kentucky's Raccoon John Smith is their builder and mason. Raccoon John Smith: Frontier Kentucky's Most Famous Preacher is the biography of a man whose work among the early settlers of Kentucky carries an important legacy that continues in our own time. The son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Smith spent his childhood and adolescence in the untamed frontier country of Tennessee and southern Kentucky. A quick-witted, thoughtful, and humorous youth, Smith was shaped by the unlikely combination of his dangerous, feral surroundings and his Calvinist religious indoctrination. The dangers of frontier life made an even greater impression on John Smith as a young man, when several instances of personal tragedy forced him to question the philosophy of predeterminism that pervaded his religious upbringing. From these crises of faith, Smith emerged a changed man with a new vocation: to spread a Christian faith wherein salvation was available to all people. Thus began the long, ecclesiastical career of Raccoon John Smith and the germination of a religious revolution. Exhaustively researched, engagingly written, Raccoon John Smith is the first objective and painstakingly accurate treatment of the legendary frontier preacher. The intricacies behind the development of both Smith's personal religious beliefs and the founding of the Christian Church are treated with equal care. Raccoon John Smith is the story of a single man, but in carefully examining the events and people that influenced Elder Smith, this book also serves as a formative history for several Christian denominations, as well as an account of the wild, early years of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7182-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    Elder John Smith, early nineteenth-century minister of the United Baptists and the Disciples of Christ in Wayne, Montgomery, Bath, and Scott counties, Kentucky, and Audrain County, Missouri, is said to have hated his popular nickname “Raccoon John” almost as badly as Lincoln despised being called Honest Abe. All historical figures seem to be surrounded by their own set of myths, though—some created for them by others but many created by their own actions—and neither man could truly be separated from his title however much disdain either entertained for his distinctive appellation. Both men received their nicknames from popular...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Fatherland
    (pp. 1-28)

    The headwaters of Virginia’s historic James River lie to the central west of the state near its border with present West Virginia, in the county of Botetourt. In the latter days of British colonial rule in America and the early years of the United States, Botetourt County, Virginia, comprised not only its own present territory but that of several later counties created from it both in Virginia and West Virginia, and in this mountainous region we must begin our story of the life of Raccoon John Smith with the little information we have available on the early lives of his...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Training in Christianity
    (pp. 29-68)

    By the spring of John Smith’s eleventh year a relative peace had descended on the Holston Valley. More settlers were pouring in from both the northeast and southeast, the Baptist and Methodist religious communities were stable and even prospering in a small way, the older Smith boys were ready to marry off and raise families of their own—and once again George Smith found that arable land with good soil, which he considered his greatest necessity in order to do right by his sons, was getting scarce. As has been noted, he had a total of eight by this time,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Stages on Life’s Way
    (pp. 69-104)

    Cercis canadensis, most commonly known as the American redbud, is for most of the year one of the most unprepossessing little trees to be found in the hills of the American southeast. Like its European and western Asian cousinCercis siliquastrum, it is also called the Judas tree, from the old legend that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from the branch of aCercis, a large and imposing tree in ancient times that, since then, in shame and sorrow at one of its number having allowed itself to be so utilized by the arch-traitor, has vowed never again to grow tall...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Sickness Unto Death
    (pp. 105-134)

    Though picking through the facts of John Smith’s early life with a fine-tooth comb has been essential to our purposes thus far, we should be careful of judging him too harshly on the basis of our discoveries. If his modest but increased patronage-based advancement within the General Union structure between the fall of 1810 and the summer of 1814 pointed him directly into a very muddy path, his situation actually made more sense than that of the United States at large. At the midpoint of these same years, the American government had managed to fall headlong into a deep, ripe...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Truth, and a Living
    (pp. 135-188)

    The site where the historic Lulbegrud United Baptist Church once stood is located near the dividing ridge between Hinkston and Lulbegrud Creeks, approximately two miles off U.S. Highway 60 just west of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, at the edge of a community now known as Reid’s Village and on a small country road called Prewitt Pike. Today, just as it was two hundred years ago, the hamlet has a predominantly Baptist aura about it; there’s a Baptist church on the main highway near the Prewitt Pike turnoff, a second on the Pike itself, and a third on Fogg Pike just off...

  10. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER 6 Why I Make Use of This Newspaper
    (pp. 189-242)

    Charles Dickens once wrote of the best of times and the worst of times, the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief and the epoch of incredulity, the season of light and the season of darkness, the spring of hope and the winter of despair. In almost the same vein, John Augustus Williams once romanticized a certain eastern Kentucky community as a place wherein “there was not, at that time, a nobler citizenship in all the land,”¹ and Jilson and Dulcinea Payne’s niece Mary Harrison wrote with perfect vitriol of the same hamlet as being...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Attack Upon Christendom, Part I: THE MOMENT
    (pp. 243-292)

    American religious historian and scholar Robert Fuller once made some observations that every historian, historical novelist, biographer, and even the casual reader of history should consider. History, he notes, is both descriptive and interpretive. As an academic discipline belonging to the humanities, history is expected to enrich our understanding of all that it means to be human. To do this, he continues, historians frequently need to go beyond what is objectively reported in the historical record and try to reconstruct layers of meaning, motivation, and significance that have perhaps never been fully clear to the participants in a particular historical...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Attack Upon Christendom, Part II: THIS HAS TO BE SAID
    (pp. 293-328)

    Andrew Jackson was elected to the presidency of the United States in the fall of 1828. He took office on March 4, 1829, and after the Great Defender of the American Common Man was safely ensconced in the White House and the Campbell movement became firmly entrenched within North District Association, the labors and accomplishments of North District’s own religious version of Old Hickory, Raccoon John Smith, began to snowball. We could wish that space and time allowed us to cover the years between 1828 and 1832 in as much detail as John Augustus Williams did; more than 300 of...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Repetition
    (pp. 329-376)

    Though we could resume the thread of Raccoon John Smith’s life at almost any point after the Stone-Campbell union on New Year’s Day 1832, for our purposes Tuesday, November 14, 1843, is as good a date as any and perhaps a better one than most. We know as much or more about that specific day than perhaps any other in Raccoon John’s life after his participation in the historic unity meeting in Lexington, and we can in fact use it to put his entire post-union ministry in context. If we employ the logical principles of deduction advocated by Alexander Campbell...

  15. CHAPTER 10 A Concluding Unscientific Postscript
    (pp. 377-400)

    As both America’s Era of Good Feeling and Alexander Campbell’s sweet dream of a Messianic Age built on the foundations of his Restored Gospel quietly passed away with a whimper in the midst of the northern and southern sectional strifes that would lead finally to the Civil War, Raccoon John spent the autumn years of his life and ministry in genteel Georgetown, ironically, finally in the gracious lifestyle to which he had begun to aspire so many years before in the hills of Wayne County. He was the Grand Old Man of a respected religious denomination (orthechurch, as...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 401-434)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 435-444)
  18. Index
    (pp. 445-462)