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Raccoon John Smith

Frontier Kentucky's Most Famous Preacher

Elder Sparks

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Religion in the South

Front cover

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I would like to express my appreciation to the following individuals, whose advice and/or assistance I found invaluable in bringing this work to completion: James Tramel of the Words’n’Stuff Book Store of Van Lear, Kentucky; Karen Daniels, Patricia Patton, Esther Titlow, Lee Pack, Mary Ann Runyon, ...

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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. ...

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1. The Fatherland

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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 ...

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2. Training in Christianity

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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 ...

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3. Stages on Life's Way

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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 cousin Cercis siliquastrum, it is also called the Judas tree, from the old legend that Judas Iscariot ...

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4. Sickness Unto Death

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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 ...

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5. Truth, and a Living

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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 ...

Photo insert follows page 188

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6. Why I Make Use of This Newspaper

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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. ...

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7. The Attack Upon Christendom, Part I: The Moment

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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, ...

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8. The Attack Upon Christendom, Part II: This Has to Be Said

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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, ...

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9. The Repetition

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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 ...

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10. A Concluding Unscientific Postscript

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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, ...


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pp. 401-434


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pp. 435-444


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pp. 445-462

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171821
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123707

Page Count: 504
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Religion in the South