Saturday, February 10, 2018



            I am not an expert on religion but I do enjoy thinking and reading about the subject because religion was one of the most important things in the day-to-day life of the early settlers. Most of the social life of the community revolved around the local churches. Before church buildings were erected, church services were held in the homes of the settlers. I’m guessing a little, but it is likely that stability for the community came more from the church than the local government. After all, everything was local then – the distance (in geography and in time) of state government and federal government meant that people necessarily relied on each other for everything. So I think local religion might have been more important to stability and social life than we can imagine.

            The religious history of Ohio County, Kentucky, actually starts with early religion in Maryland, as most of our first settlers originally came to Ohio County from the state of Maryland.  So we should take a quick look at religion in early Maryland.

            In the early 1630’s King Charles I gave Sir George Calvert (Lord Baltimore) a grant for land in the upper Chesapeake area of the New World.  Lord Baltimore wanted to establish a refuge for Catholics because they were being persecuted in England.  Lord Baltimore was a Catholic, but King Charles was a Protestant, so Lord Baltimore extended his offer of refuge to both Catholics and Protestants, and thus the charter given to Lord Baltimore, unlike any previously granted, secured to the emigrants equality in religious rights and civil freedom, and an independent share in the legislation of the province. The government of provincial Maryland was absolute, embodying the most extensive grant of royal powers to a colonial settlement. The colony was formed in 1634 by two hundred emigrants, mostly Roman Catholics, who entered the Potomac and purchased from the Indians a village on the St. Mary's River, about ten miles from its junction with the Potomac.  Although there were struggles between Catholics and Puritans in the 1640’s, the religious toleration which already existed by charter was further established by a law of the Maryland Assembly, on April 2, 1649. 

            In 1689, with Protestants ascendant in both England and Maryland, the British crown assumed direct control over the province, and in 1692, the Church of England became Maryland's established religion.  This lasted until the death of the Calvert heir, Charles Calvert, in 1715, when his successor, a Protestant, was granted full proprietary control over Maryland.  During this period, 1715 to 1776, there was freedom of religion in Maryland and many different denominations flourished, although the Anglican Church (Church of England) had a strong foothold.

            My first Leach ancestor (that lived in America) was John Leach and John arrived in Maryland only 28 years after the first colony was formed in 1634.  John arrived as an Indentured Servant, which meant someone else paid for his passage and he had to work for them for a certain period of time to pay off that debt, typically three to seven years. During the time he was an Indentured Servant, he was given room, board, and clothing, but not wages. In the 1600’s nearly two thirds of the English that came to the colonies came as Indentured Servants. The descendants of John Leach that migrated to Kentucky were Protestant, so we can assume that John and his family were seeking freedom of religion (among other freedoms) when they left England for the colonies.  We know that John was one of the original vestrymen of All Saints Church in 1692, and that his first son was a member of the Anglican Church and a supporter of the Puritan Church.  Note that most Marylander's, if not all, became members of the Anglican Church in 1692 when the British crown assumed direct control over the colony, so his membership in the church was probably not voluntary.  It is more important to note that he was a supporter of the Quakers who were the dominant Protestant religion in Maryland around 1700.

            Ignatius Pigman, the preacher that led many Marylander's to Ohio County around 1800, was a Methodist Episcopalian, which was organized in Maryland in 1784 (commonly referred to as the “M. E.” church), a cousin of the current Methodist Church.  Therefore, several early Ohio County churches leaned heavily towards the Methodist beliefs.  It is said that the first Methodist Church to be organized in Ohio County was at Goshen, two miles south of Hartford, in 1804.  Shortly afterwards, the No Creek M. E. and Bethel M. E. Churches were established. In addition, the Baptist religion was strongly followed in early Ohio County, and remains strong today at several Baptist churches within the county.  It is noted that William Leach (Maryland 1718 – 1780), grandfather of William Brooks Leach (Maryland 1764 – Ohio County 1853), was baptized in the Seneca Primitive Baptist church (Montgomery County, Maryland) as an adult on April, 1777, shortly before he died, as were several of his sons.  His grandson, William Brooks Leach, became a member of the Methodist church in Ohio County.

            The Beaver Dam Baptist Church was established in 1798 and still stands on the same hill where it was originally established.  Church membership of early Kentuckians included Baptist, Church of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic.  In 1799 a great religious revival swept through Kentucky based on the oratory of several evangelist preachers that traveled throughout the frontier areas.  The revival lasted until about 1805 and resulted in many churches being formed throughout Kentucky.

            If you want to take an additional look at the history of religion in Ohio County, look at my posts on 4 March 2013, 6 March 2013, and 30 Nov 2014.

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