An Early History of the Lord’s Church in the Nashville Area

By Steve Wolfgang

In the fall of 1796, 24-year-old Barton Warren Stone arrived in Middle, Tennessee, at a settlement known as “Bledsoe’s Creek, five miles east of Gallatin and the site of present-day Castalian Springs. Stone visited at Shiloh,. . .about a mile east of Gallatin, and then went on to Nashville.”(1) Stone, at that time a Presbyterian, had left North Carolina where he had attended David Caldwell’s “log college” at Guilford(2) (near present-day Greensboro) and had come in contact with revivalist James McGready in May.(3) When he left, Tennessee was only a territory; while he journeyed (via Virginia) across the Cumberlands to Knoxville, it had become the third state to join the original thirteen in the Union.(4) Leaving Knoxville, Stone journeyed west to Nashville, during which trip he encountered several Presbyterian preaching friends. Arriving in the vicinity of Nashville, Together the three friends traveled throughout the area holding services in the settlements. Stone did most of the preaching. . .The Presbyterian Church in Nashville was especially cordial to Stone, and. . .Stone preach (ed ) to the congregation several times. Stone had become a familiar and admired figure in the region. Virtually every person who saw and heard him remembered the occasion.(5) At that time, Nashville was a quite unimpressive frontier settlement, “a poor village, hardly worth noticing,” said Stone.(6) In October, Stone left Nashville and moved to a place near Lexington, Kentucky, called Cane Ridge.

Sixteen years later (in late 1812, while “Old Hickory” was returning to Nashville with his militia via the Natchez Trace), Stone also returned to the Nashville area.

The years in Kentucky (had) moved rapidly and were filled with dramatic and panoramic event.-pastor for the small Presbyterian congregations of Cane Ridge and Concord; climactic manifestations of the Great Western revival at Cane Ridge; doctrinal difficulties with the Washington Presbytery; jurisdictional ‘troubles with the Synod of Kentucky; participation in the establishment and dissolution of the Springfield Presbytery; the emergence and forming. . .and active leadership in the new communion devoted to the objective of church union.(7) The immediate cause of Stone’s return was the death of his wife on May 30, 1810, leaving him with four little girls. Stone remarried and moved back to Tennessee.

In Tennessee, Stone’s first efforts in preaching and establishing. . .congregations were in the area around Nashville. . .Here he was in familiar territory and in the presence of old friends. When he had been among them as a Presbyterian, they had heard him gladly; now, they reasoned, the man had not changed, even if his message and ecclesiastical affiliation had. . .Consequently, Stone found a ready and warm response to his proclamations and organizational endeavors from some of his friends and a few of their neighbors. When he moved to Mansker Creek, not far from present-day Hendersonville. . .he was able to extend the scope of his travels. Some trips took him as far as Rutherford County, and eventually to Maury and Marshall Counties. So Stone, the best-known leader of the Christian Church, patterning his activities somewhat along the line of the Methodist Circuit Rider, personally laid. the foundation for the movement in Tennessee.(8)

Although Stone left Tennessee after two years, his influence and the work he had accomplished among the churches remained much longer.

Philip Slater Fall

A decade later, another young preacher, Philip Slater Fall, moved to Nashville from Louisville. Fall had come to Louisville as the minister of the Baptist Church in January, 1823.(9) Before the year was out he had read Alexander Campbell’s famous “Sermon on the Law” as well as the first few issues of the new publication, the Christian Baptist.

He came out as a bold and earnest champion for the Restoration Movement which was being led by Alexander Campbell. Fall expressed his views both in private and in public. Soon his Louisville congregation was sympathetic to his position. Feeling that the Baptist Church, as it then existed, was not following the practices of New Testament Christianity, the Louisville congregation, late in 1823. . . recognized and followed the New Testament as its sole and sufficient rule of faith and practice,’ and the church had the distinction of being the fourth in which the ancient order of things’ had been introduced. It was preceded only by Brush Run, Wellsburg, and Pittsburg.(10)

Fall’s new insights were strengthened by Campbell’s visit to Louisville in November, 1824.(11) The following year, Fall received an invitation to move to Nashville to preach for the Baptist church there, as well as to teach at the Nashville Female Academy. The Nashville Baptist Church’s preacher had died, and they had heard of Fall; on August 23, 1825 they wrote him, stating that “some people have started a report among us that you have become a `Campbellite’. . .you need have no apprehensions on this ground. . .you will find enough here to support you who are tied to no doctrines but those that are indubitably scriptural.”(12) This analysis of the congregation proved correct, for after only a short time, the majority of the group followed Fall in renouncing the Baptists.

Fall carried most of the congregation with him, and this schism almost destroyed the original Baptist Church of Nashville before it was a decade old. Only five members of the congregation remained true to the old Baptist faith but this did not prevent them from organizing the First Baptist Church of Nashville.(13)

At the time that Fall moved to Nashville, it was described as a “picturesque town and the natural beauty of its setting perhaps compensated in part for the material and cultural refinements which it lacked.”(14)

In 1823-and in all probability the scene had changed little by 1825-there were only about five hundred buildings in the town. Less than a dozen boasted a third floor, and even some of the larger two-story dwellings were constructed of logs. There were at least seventy-three log houses within the corporate limits. . .(15) Little more than a year after Fall’s arrival, “in February 1827, Campbell came to Nashville, his first visit to the state and Capital City, where his daughter, Mrs. John Ewin, resided.”(16)

Several of the more gifted members. . . deeply convinced of the rightness of their position, `went everywhere, two by two, preaching the gospel.’ The membership grew rapidly and the church was well on its way to becoming the largest congregation of any faith in the state. It was the largest congregation in the Restoration movement.

In December, 1830, Alexander Campbell paid his second visit to Nashville, accompanied by Jacob Creath, a former Baptist minister with whom Fall had once served as an associate. . .On Tuesday, December 14, Campbell, along with Fall, left for Franklin and Columbia.

Services in Nashville were to be conducted by Jacob Creath in their absence. At Franklin, Campbell spoke to large groups which gathered in the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches. In Columbia, Fall preached in the Methodist church on Saturday evening and Campbell at both of the Sunday Services.

.Campbell’s visit to Nashville, and his travels to adjoining areas, inspired the new church to greater and more active interest in `Restorationism.’ Even some church leaders of other Protestant groups who had attended the Campbell addresses went back to their churches advocating a return to `New Testament Christianity.’ The Nashville congregation was then made aware of its strategic position both within the Restoration Movement and the South. When Campbell visited Nashville in 1835, the church. . .had grown to six hundred . . .(17)

Campbell had also made a trip to Nashville in 1831, and “this time had a public debate with Obediah Jennings, Nashville’s Presbyterian preacher;” that same year, Philip Fall resigned and returned to Kentucky due to ill health.(18)

The following year, in January, 1832, 21-year-old Tolbert Fanning enrolled in the University of Nashville.(19) Fanning had been preaching for three years, not always with good success. One elderly sister told him, “You have made a failure. You are neither called nor qualified to preach. You ought not to try. You will disgrace the cause.” Farming’s homespun clothing and gangling six-foot-six frame caused one brother to remark to him, “Brother Fanning, you can never preach, and will always run your legs too far through your breeches. Do go home and go to plowing.”(20) Even one of the pioneer preachers, Rees Jones, told him, “I do not think you will ever make a preacher. It might be well for you to go at something else.”(21) Fanning had also been arrested and sued for inciting slaves to rebellion in Murfreesboro after he rebuked, in a public sermon, a prominent church member who had the week before sold one of his slaves (also a church member), separating him from his wife and children(22).

Thus, Fanning sought to educate himself at the University of Nashville, from which he graduated in 1835. After Fall’s departure, the services of the church at Nashville were largely carried on by the elders, freeing Fanning and another young evangelist, Absalom Adams, to do evangelistic work in Middle Tennessee. One of the congregations Fanning was instrumental in starting was at Franklin (although Campbell preached in Franklin, there were no baptisms until August of 1831, when the two young preachers baptized seventeen).(23) Toward the end of his collegiate career, Fanning experienced a unique opportunity:

Young Fanning, barely twenty-five years old and nearing the completion of his college course, was permitted to accompany Campbell on a preaching tour in the spring of 1835 through Kentucky and other points East, and again on a more extensive tour the following year.(24)

The 1836 tour took them through the Western Reserve of Ohio to Cleveland, to Canada and New York via Lake Erie, and finally to Baltimore before returning to Bethany. Campbell wrote of his young protege:

The church (in Nashville-SW) now counts about six hundred members, and employs brother Fanning as its evangelist. This devout, ardent, and gifted brother, about finishing his academic studies in the University of Nashville. . .expects to graduate next September, and is desirous of fitting himself for permanent and extensive usefulness.(25)

In November, 1835, Fanning had married Miss Sarah Shreve at Nicholasville, Kentucky, and apparently made plans to teach with Walter Scott at Bacon College at the session ‘beginning November 14, 1836.(26) Tragically, however, his wife died shortly after their marriage. Fanning had met Charlotte Fall (Philip’s sister) while she was teaching at the Nashville Female Academy during Fanning’s student days at the University of Nashville. They were married on December 22, 1836, and the following month moved to Franklin to found another female academy.(27) For three years they remained in Franklin, “watering” what Fanning had “planted” there several years before.

In January, 1840, having become an officer of the Tennessee Agricultural Society and .editor of its periodical, the Agriculturalist, Fanning moved to a farm (which he dubbed “Elm Crag”) on the outskirts of Nashville, near the present site of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport, Berry Field.

This was the last move which Fanning made. As the years passed, the city of Nashville grew dearer to him. It was always a warm experience to return from an extensive preaching tour to the city into which he poured so much of himself during the thirty-five years that he was its citizen. When he moved there on January 1, 1840, Nashville was a thriving, active little city of seven or eight thousand people (not including Negroes ). Already it had become a, great emporium of trade, literature, and fashion for the state . . . . Even then it was being compared to Athens because of its educational accomplishments, and someone observed, it certainly cannot be said, there is a more church going place anywhere

When Fanning rode into town as the editor of the new Agriculturalist magazine, he could count four banks and about forty wholesale and retail stores . . . Other things made Nashville a center of interest in that year, including a great political convention: . .Such ado about nothing was usually quite irritating to Fanning. For him there were more important things. . .In the spring of that year, Fanning was encouraged to see twenty-six baptized into Christ in Nashville during a series of meetings. The preacher was B. F. Hall, from whose lips Fanning himself heard the gospel when he was a lad.(28)

However, things would not be so bright for the church in Nashville for a good while. During the decade of the forties and fifties, Fanning found himself enmeshed in the controversy between Campbell and Jesse B. Ferguson, whose universalism would carry a significant portion of the church in Nashville, Middle Tennessee, and other areas into apostasy.(29) Ferguson served as minister for the church in Nashville from February 24, 1846 until his resignation on June 1, 1856, and his teachings eventually resulted in a splitting of the Nashville congregation and a suit over the property.(30) On April 8, 1857, the large and finely furnished building burned to the ground; “many were convinced that it was the work of the Ferguson party” (who had lost the suit).(31) Philip Fall was invited to return, and accepted. By the eve of the Civil War, however, the congregation still numbered only slightly more than 200, “less than half of what it had been when Fall moved away from Nashville almost thirty years earlier.”(32)

Years before, in January of 1844, Fanning had received from the Tennessee Legislature a charter for Franklin College, named for Benjamin Franklin and operated on the property at Elm Crag. It is through this medium, perhaps, that Fanning exerted his greatest influence on the Churches of Christ. One historian has said, “his lasting influence stems from his work as mentor and molder of a generation of young Southern preachers who formed the vanguard of religious conservatism ip the Disciples of Christ in the last half of the nineteenth century. When the Churches of Christ emerged as an independent group early in the twentieth century, it was led by a coterie of Fanning proteges-David Lipscomb, William Lipscomb, and Elisha G. Sewell.”(33)

The forties also found Fanning engaged in , controversy, first with N. L. Rice, the year before the Campbell-Rice debate,(34) and also with those who were rapidly making. the church of the Lord a handmaid to their human institutions and projects.(35) While Fanning. respected Campbell, and “regretted that he gave (Rice) the opportunity” to “prepare for Campbell,”(36) the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849, and Campbell’s attendant acceptance of the presidency, signaled the beginning of a deterioration of the relationship between the two men which eventually resulted in a bitter controversy involving Fanning and, at first, Robert Richardson, and later an aging Alexander Campbell.(37)


1. Herman A. Norton, Tennessee Christians: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ ) in Tennessee -(Nashville: Reed and Company, 1971), p. 5.

2. William Garrett West, Barton Warren Stone: Early American Advocate of Christian Unity (Nashville: Disciples of .Christ Historical Society, 1954), p. 3.

3. Stone had also come in contact with Hope Hull, a sympathizer of James O’Kelly, while teaching at Succoth Academy in Washington, Georgia, in 1795 (West, p. 14).

4. Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the sixteenth state on June 1, 1796 (Stanley J. Folmsbee, Robert E. Corlew, and Enoch L. Mitchell, Tennessee: A Short History, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1969, p. 112).

5. Norton, p. 6.

6. John Rogers, The Biography of Elder Barton Warren Stone Written By Himself: With Additions and Reflections by Elder John Rogers (Cincinnati: J. A. and U. P. James, 1847), p. 22.

7. Norton, p. 6.

8. Ibid., p. 7.

9. Ibid., p. 21. See also, for Fall’s career, Herman A. Norton, “Fall of Vine Street,” unpublished M. A. thesis, Vanderbilt University, 1951.

10. Norton, Tennessee Christians, p. 21.

11. Ibid.

12. Quoted in Norton, Tennessee Christians, p. 22.

13. F. Garvin Davenport, Cultural Life in Nashville on the Eve of the Civil War (1825-1860 ) (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941), p. 92. See also Goodspeed’s General History of Tennessee, .(Nashville: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1887), p. 701.

14. Davenport, p. 5.

15. Ibid.

16. Norton, Tennessee Christians, p. 23. (After some mobility, the capital remained at Nashville after 1826. Corlew, et. al., pp. 205-206).

17. Norton, Tennessee Christians, pp. 24-25.

18. James R. Wilburn, The Hazard of the Die: Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, 1969), p. 30.

19. Ibid., p. 26.

20. Ibid., pp.

21. Earl Irvin West, The Search For the Ancient Order: A History of the Restoration Movement, 1849-1906 (Volume I: 1849-1865; Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1954), pp. 111-112.

22. Wilburn, pp. 24-25.

23. Ibid., p. 29.

24. Ibid., p. 30.

25. Alexander Campbell, “Sketch of a Tour of 75 Days,” Millennial Harbinger, VI (June, 1835), p. 280.

26. Wilburn, pp. 36-7, 263-264.

27. Ibid., pp. 37-39, 42.

28. Ibid., pp. 43-44. Fanning’s farm was located not far from Andrew Jackson’s “Hermitage,” and was later sold to make way for the Nashville Airport (Wilburn, pp. 46, 93, 278, n. 2; Norton, Tennessee Christians, p. 70). One of the better histories of the state praised Fanning for his work in agriculture: “Enlightened leaders such as. . .Tolbert Fanning, editor of the Agriculturalist, urged farmers to diversify and practice crop rotation, contour plowing,and terracing” (Corlew, et. al., p. 294). See also Wilburn, pp. 43, 46.

29. Davenport, pp. 110-117: Wilburn, p. 66, and chapter 8, “No Room for Repentance: Nashville and Jesse B. Ferguson,” pp. 121-143.

30. Wilburn, pp. 124, 140-141.

31. Ibid., pp. 141-142.

32. Ibid., p. 142.

33. David Edwin Harrell, Jr., review of Wilburn, American Historical Review, LXXVI:1 (February, 1971), p. 200.

34. James W. Adams, “Tolbert Fanning: Southern Giant of the Restoration Movement,” Faith and Facts, II:3 (July, 1974), p. 36; Wilburn, 118-119.

35. See Wilburn chapters 9 (“Remember Nashville-And Lot’s Wife: Preachers and Church Organization”), 10 (“Concert of Action: Church Cooperation Before 1849”), 11 (“In the Multitude of Counselors: American Christian Missionary Society’), and 12 (“Before You Drive Us From You: Missionary Society Division Widens”).

36. Adams, p. 36; Wilburn, pp. 118-119.

37. Wilburn, pp. 198-203.

Truth Magazine XIX: 28, pp. 443-446
May 22, 1975