The Tennessee Baptists

“Jonathan Mulkey was one of the early pioneer Baptist preachers in Tennessee whose burial site is in the Old Buffalo Ridge Cemetery near Gray, TN. Jonathan’s father, Philip Mulkey was a very successful preacher among the Separate Baptists in the Carolinas.
     Philip had been baptized by Shubal Sterns on Christmas of 1756, and led in establishing the Baptist witness in South Carolina. However, Philip had fallen into sin, and done irreparable harm to his testimony. (Can happen to anyone, but doesn’t have to.) His son, Jonathan married Miss Nancy Howard, daughter of Obadiah Howard of North Carolina. In time the couple made their way westward into Tennessee. A historian reports that Johnathan Mulkey and a companion, trying to cross the North Fork, were overtaken by the Indians. The companion was scalped and left for dead while Mulkey was slightly wounded by a bullet. Mr. Mulkey jumped into the river, swam across and made his way to Eatons. To his great surprise, he found that his scalpless companion had gone by a shorter route to the fort and was waiting for him.
     Jonathan Mulkey served the Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church as pastor for forty-two years, and during that same interval of time, he pastored the Sinking Creek Baptist Church (This name reminds me of a church in Hildebran, NC named Drowning Creek Baptist Church where we baptized our folks in their creek baptistry complete with cement steps and iron handrail. Not one was drowned.) for thirty-one years.  On March 25, 1786, Pastor Mulkey, along with Isaac Barton, constituted the French Broad River Baptist Church which is now the First Baptist Church of Dandridge, Tennessee. Working with William Reno, Pastor Mulkey also assisted in the founding of the Big Pigeon Baptist Church in Cocke County.  (This church name reminds me of the Cherokee Indian church we attended years ago called Big Witch Baptist Church. Pray for James Mills who recently was given a church on the reservation and has begun services already.)
     It has been pointed out that the churches where Jonathan Mulkey ministered grew in spirituality, doctrinal stability and practical service. Godliness, consecration, and spirituality seemed to characterize Jonathan Mulkey, and this spiritual maturity was caught, practiced, and exhibited by his people as well. Jonathan Mulkey was possessed of a missionary spirit, and constantly kept the cause of missionaries before his congregations and the Holston Association, of which he served for eight terms as moderator.
     An interesting insight into this pioneer Baptist preacher has been found in a manuscript of one of his relatives. It seems that when Pastor Mulkey became elderly and was crippled by disease, he trained his horse to kneel like a camel so could mount and dismount and travel about preaching the Word of God. When he no longer could stand to preach, his congregation gave him a large armchair that sat behind a table upon which his Bible was laid.
     Thinking of this arrangement, it is not difficult to transport ourselves in mind to the scene. We observe the elderly man of God mounting his kneeling horse and riding to the church house. Then the horse would kneel that the servant of Christ might dismount and painstakingly make his way into God’s house.  We see him in our mind’s eye as he makes his way slowly up the aisle to the armchair behind the table. And there he open the bread of life and feeds the church family that he loves so well. How the hearts of his people must have been stirred at such a sight.
     On August 23, 1826, when Jonathan Mulkey prepared his will, he was too weak to sigh his name. Rather he simply made the mark of an X. Then, on September 5, 1826, the tired, old servant of the Lord closed his eyes on earth and was gathered to his people in glory.
    May we purpose in our hearts so to live that we might also have an abundant entrance into our home above. (Jesus called the eternal dwelling of the saint, ‘mansion.’ The earthly dwelling of the saint is also the earthly dwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a living breathing body with eternal life. What then must the eternal dwelling place be?) On the tombstone of Jonathan Mulkey, one can read, “In Memory of Jonathan Mulkey, Sen. Born Oct 16, 1752—Departed this life Sep. 5, 1826, After having been a preacher of the Baptist order more than fifty years.”
[Cummins, David. This Day in Baptist History]