Primitive Baptist Church and Family History
Research Assistance for Cocke County, Tennessee



The following account regarding Big Pigeon Church is copied from EARLY RECOLLECTIONS OF NEWPORT AND COCKE COUNTY, by W. J. McSween (Newport Times, 1903); reprinted in the Newport Plain Talk, 1933, and in the Newport Plain Talk, July 27, 1967, page 4b):

The clearing of Gilleland was followed by the location and clearing of a plot of land adjoining William Coleman, and on this clearing and on the bank of the Agiqua river was built the first cabin or house, which formed the nucleus of the settlements of the valley of the Big Pigeon and French Broad rivers, which were composed of a number of men and women of the Primitive Baptist faith, as the reader will remember the Missionary Baptist had not yet seceded from the old church.

We now approach the organization of the first religious society that ever existed in Cocke county, and the erection of the first meeting house.

In the latter part of the year 1785, and in the spring of 1786, the Big Pigeon settlement was visited by Jonathan Mulkey and William Reno, Primitive Baptist preachers, and thier labor resulted in the election of William Whitson and Abraham McKay (now called McCoy), as a committee to meet with the association held at Kendrick's Creek, (Sullivan county) in the year 1786, and petitioned for permission and the assistance of two ministers to establish a Primitive Baptist church. Accordingly on the 6th day of December, 1787, the Rev. (Elder) Isaac Barton and the Rev. (Elder) William Reno, and others met at the house of Jas. English (now Ed Burnett) on Big Pigeon river and constituted, as they expressed it, the Primitive Baptist Society on Big Pigeon river, and there formulated a Confession of Faith which conformed to the Confession of Faith adopted and promulgated by the Primitive Baptists at Philadellphia, Pa., on the 25th day of September, 1742. From these old records and from this church organization we are able to extract the names of the progenitors of very many of the leading and influential families that now live in Cocke county. The following are the names of the original members that assisted in the organization of the chuch: William Whitson, David Job, Abraham McKay, Elizabeth Whitson, Lezeanah Job, Rachel McKay, Mourning Prier, Mourning Denton, Dorcas Job, Mary White and Nickless Woodfin.

A little after the days of the organization, owing to the hostile incursions of the Indians the members of the church, as well as other inhabitants of the valleys of the Big Pigeon and French Broad rivers, were compelled to shut themselves up in the various forts that had been erected in Cocke county and the church was for a time disbanded.

The forts referred to were as follows: William Whitson's fort situated on Big Pigeon river near the big spring on Campbell McNabb's place below the Denton Mill, now owned by William Wood; McKay's fort on French Broad river located at the same place where Geo. McNabb's old residence now stands; Huff's fort on French Broad opposite the Holland farm, this fort has recently burned down; Wood's fort situated on French Broad river near where J. H. Clark now lives.

The inhabitants, or rather the women and children, remained housed in these forts from January, 1788 to September, 1788, and then until February, 1789, and for a period of nearly ten years, there were constant raids and depredations, horses stolen and men, women, and children massacred by the Indians. The settlements were protected by the bravery and valor of the members of the Primitive Baptist church, namely: Col. William Lillard, Lieut. Col. Abraham McKay, Maj. Peter Fine, Capt. William Job, Capt. John Fine and Capt. John McNabb.

Between the date of the organization of the church and 1800 there was added to the church rolls the following distinguished names: John Netherton, Daniel Hall, Ruben Padgett, Joshua Kelley, John Breeden, Thos. Mantooth, Daniel Rice, William Fox, Ezekiel Campbell, William Coleman, Joseph Huff, Richard Wood, Thos. Dillon, Thos. Clevenger, George Roberts, William Calfee, Martin Sisk and his wife, Mary Sisk, Reuben Allen and George Allen. And now we pause to call the reader's attention to the fact that in the recital of the above names we have given the ancestor of almost every influential family that resided in the Big Pigeon and French Broad valleys from their earliest settlement to the present time. In the year 1794 this church society selected a place to erect a meeting house, which was on the north bank of the Big Pigeon river on the land of Thos. Dillon and in the angle of the road leading up said river and from said road to John Hale's house at or near where Geo. Gray's house stands. This meeting house was completed on the 1st of October, 1794; it was built of large hewed logs, securely notched down. It was thus built for two reasons -- first, there were no saw mills in the country to manufacture lumber; second, it made a substantial fort, and furnished a sure protection against the deadly bullet of the savage. It is a well attested historical fact that the attendants at this place of worship, and all other churches at that date, carried with them their trusty rifles and deposited them within easy reach until religious services were over. Abraham McKay was the clerk of this church from its organization until the year 1823 when he was succeeded by his son, Jeremiah McKay, and the latter holding the position until 1845, when he was succeeded by Toliver Sisk, who filled the position until his death in 1880. The deacons of said church were Peter Fine, William Lillard, William Coleman, Ezekiel Campbell, Joseph Huff, John Huff, and probably others. The ministers of the church were Jonathan Mulkey, William Reno, Thos. Hill, John Huff, and Thos. Smith; the latter lived to a ripe old age, and on the hundredth anniversary of his age he preached a sermon in the Primitive Baptist Church on Long Creek, in Jefferson county, Tenn., and afterwards preached a sermon in Parrottsville, Tenn., near his home, and shortly afterwards his ministerial pilgrimage ceased, and he was called up higher.

The Primitive Baptists, on account of their belief in original sin, election, predestination, and in the final perseverance (preservation) of the saints, are sometimes contemptuously called "Hardshells," "old Ironsides," they of the one seed doctrine; but if you will compare their creed, as embodied in their Confession of Faith, with the teachings and writings of the great apostle to the Gentiles, and you will find they literally harmonize. Owing to the quaint habits, the simplicity of dress and manner, this sect is sometimes characterized by the new fangled religionists of the day as "religious fossils"; but show me a community where this old sect dwell, and I will show you a community of peace and plenty, possessing a chaste and pure womanhood casting sunlight and happiness around the home over which they preside, and a manhood as determined and patriotic as the Sons of the Revolution and as fearless and brave in battle as the marshalls of the great Napoleon.


Abell, Adams, Adeny, Allen, Anderson, Andrews, Aspell, Aston, Barker, Barnett, Barton, Bass, Baxter, Bell, Bellow, Black, Blackwell, Blanchip, Bonham, Booker, Borden, Bottoms, Bowman, Bradcut, Braden, Bradley, Branson, Breeden, Brent, Brickey, Bridges, Brown, Buckler, Buckner, Bugg, Calahan, Calfee, Calvin, Campbell, Carney, Carr, Carson, Carter, Case, Cave, Cavender, Chairs, Chambers, Clark, Clevenger, Cobb, Coffee, Coleman, Conyers, Cooper, Copeland, Couch, Cox, Cross, Crosswhite, Cunningham, Davis, Dennis, Denton, Dillon, Driskell, Duet, Edenton, Ellender, Ellis, Ellison, English, Ewing, Ewitt, Fain, Farris, Fine, Fox, Hill, Huff, Job, Kelley, Mantooth, McKay, Netherton, Padgett, Prier, Rice, Roberts, Sisk, White, Whitson, Wood, Woodfin (very incomplete).


Slate Creek Church was organized in January 1818. The record, called "The Church Book," was enclosed in a handmade leather case seven by eight inches, with an overflap like an envelope to protect the outer edge. Leather strings tie the case. The beautiful penmanship, with its quaint spelling, is written with a quill-pen. The fly-leaf is dated March 5, 1818, signed by Simeon Smith three times, and by John Smith. Tommy Smith was moderator forty years and Moses Driscol (Driskill) clerk sixty years. Tommy Smith gave two acres of ground for the Slate Creek Meeting House, which was erected near the old Morristown road and a short distance from the present home of Dave Legg.



Laurel Springs Primitive Baptist Church was organized on January 4, 1889 as an Arm of Bethany Primitive Baptist Church of Christ. The following is quoted from the Bethany Church record: Names to be examined and organized into a Church; Calvin Jenkins, Andrew Jenkins, Drury F. Jenkins, Martha Jenkins, A.B. Harrison, S.L. Harrison, W.J. McKinna, Elmira McKinna, Sarah Jenkins, Sytha (Cynthia) Jenkins, Florence Jenkins, Jane Jenkins, Annah Valentine, and Martha Cureton. The above-named Brothers and Sisters after being carefully examined by the Presbytery was by them pronounced orthodox and set at liberty to do business and keep House for the Lord. Elder Isaac L. Ogle, Moderator, Owen Harrison, Clerk.

It is believed that the congregation of Laurel Spring Primitive Baptist Church possibly first met at Webbs Schoolhouse off Roostertown Rd or shared the Log House with the Laurel Springs Church of Christ (Christian Church). A building was constructed in the mid-1890s on the property of Alexander Webb that became known as Whaleys Chapel in honor of Elder George Bradford Whaley from Greenbriar in Sevier County who was among the early pastors. The church splintered off due to a disagreement between Elder Issac L. Ogle and Elder Samuel McMillan over Secret Orders, Sunday School, and Arminian doctrine.


Copyright c. 2001-2022. All rights reserved. The Primitive Baptist Library.

This page maintained by: Robert Webb - (