Raccoon John Smith
The following excerpts of material were taken from the
George Smith/Schmidt and Rebecca Bowen and is intended to be both
informative concerning the life of
John as well as give the reader a feel
for the period in which "Raccoon" John Smith lived. At least a portion
of their material came from The Life of Elder
John Smith by John Augustus
Williams which was published in 1870. Space limitations here allow only
a brief overview of this material. Interested readers will find this
book at most public libraries. The following material is presented
exactly as printed by the Smith's.
John Smith was born October 15, 1784 in Holston Valley, Sullivan
Co., East Tennessee, the ninth offspring of
George and Rebecca (Bowen)
Smith, strict Calvinist Baptist members who migrated from Botetourt
Co., Va. earlier that year. At an early age
John began to doubt the
doctrines of his parents' religion and would stop at different gospel
meetings for more insight to other beliefs at every opportunity. From
the novel based on his life in relation to his religious pioneering,
we found the following description of him. At age 17 he rode his old
faithful horse, Zebulion, had tanned cheeks barely rough with sandy
sprouting whiskers framing along almost belligerent nose under a pair
of sky blue, craggy eyes, he wore a round close fitting raccoon cap
snugly fitted back on his high forehead, against ears standing boldly
out under tufts of brown, reddish hair as though poised for instant
flight, had long sinewy hands, a stringy youth in leather breeches and
moccasins, brown linsey shirt faded to a dingy blue and a cotton
kerchief knotted about his long neck.
He was headed to Christian County, Kentucky, to help his brother
and family move back home when he stopped at a revival meeting. There
John identified himself as being from the well known raccoon county in
Cumberland County and thereafter was called
"Raccoon" John Smith to tell him from all the other
John Smiths in the area.
John was baptized December 27, 1804 in the church of his parents,
Clear Fork Baptist Church, however, he was still doubtful of the
Calvinist doctrine of the Elect and the body exercises that took place.
April 2, 1805, it is said he bought 200 acres in Wayne County on Horse
Hollow on a ridge sloping to the Little South Fork of the Cumberland
River from Billy Barnes, a distance of six miles from his brother
William's place and fourteen miles southeast of Monticello. Shortly
after this, John learned of a school master who had moved to Stockton
Valley. As he had a passion for education, he enrolled in the
school. Due to demand of business
Robert F. Ferrill, the English
educated scholar who was a wheel wright by trade, had to give up the
classes. John persuaded him to let him live and work for him while he
continued to study. After a few months,
John returned to his farm and
he moved his church membership to a congregation meeting place within
fourteen miles of his place. After clearing about two acres and
preparing a one-room cabin with the help of friends and relatives,
John married Anna Townsend
on her twentieth birthday, December 9, 1806,
who was the daughter of widower James Townsend a very successful farmer
who lived four miles away.
John was ordained as a preacher in May of 1808 by the Stockton
Valley Association at the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, which he had helped
to organize and which had been consecrated in August 1807.
very prosperous on his farm, but had heard of greater opportunities
farther south and sold his farm for $1500 in the late fall of 1814. He
loaded his personal possessions in a wagon, and took some livestock, and
moved near Huntsville, Alabama with his wife and four small children. On
January 7, 1815 at Hickory Flats, Mississippi Territory, while
visiting some old friends of his father and preaching at their services,
a fire destroyed their cabin and all possessions during a short time when
Anna had gone to attend a sick neighbor at their request. The fire took
the lives of their two oldest children,
Eli and Elvira. Anna never
recovered from the shock, took sick and died in April of 1815. John also
took sick of a cold plague for some two months. Upon recovery after near
death, he returned home with his two little girls,
Jennie and Zerelda Ann.
In September of 1815 he settled on an eighty-acre farm with a two-room
cabin he purchased for $400 in Wayne County, 12 miles from his ma's place
and six miles from his brother William according to the Raccoon John book.
On December 25, 1815, John
married Nancy Hurt, who became his
strongest supporter of his religious endeavors.
John continued to study
religion through the bible and other publications he obtained from many
different denominations. He read constantly on other beliefs in search
for his own, and soon became alienated from the Calvinist Baptists.
October 22, 1817, he sold his South Fork farm to his father-in-law for
$400 and moved to Montgomery County, Ky., where he became pastor of four
churches - - Spencer's Creek, Lulbegrud, Old Bethel, and Grassy Lick,
that were a short distance from Mt. Sterling. These churches grew
rapidly under his ministry. While all four churches belonged to the
North District Association, their beliefs varied. Some were strict
Regular Calvinist Baptist, some were Separate Baptists, and
again repudiated the damnation of infants Elect or not, as it had since
the death of his own two young children over two years previously. With
the success of his ministry, the churches helped to secure a 200 acre
farm two miles east of Mt. Sterling and were to care for the Mortgage.
March of 1822 - John was preaching at will from the bible teachings,
or the Old Ancient Gospel, when he suddenly realized that he was preaching
in direct conflict of the Elect doctrines of the Calvinist, so he
announced before the congregation his confusion and sat down. He returned
home and counseled with his wife. They prayed together and John avowed he
would take hereafter God's word as his only oracle, follow its teachings
wherever they might lead him. This was the beginning of that religious
reformation which John contributed so much.
John was heavily in debt because the churches had failed to
contribute their money for his farm mortgage due to so much dissension
among the members on the different doctrines. After
John and Nancy
summed up their poor financial status, a constant burden on his heart,
the loss of many dear friends when he renounced previous opinions, and
the fact that he may not live to see the Reformation come about, in
1825, he began preaching the commandments of Jesus and the Bible as the
only revelation to man, and faith as the true salvation - which he said
could not be found in any "ism" doctrine.
John memorized the greater
part of the scriptures and never ceased to study the works of many
prominent religious leaders to gain more knowledge of the Word of God
and to improve his exhortations.
In 1827 at the annual association meeting held at Lulbegrud, the
committee voted to oust John Smith, however, the next day he got a
reprieve for another year after he eloquently defended his actions
based on the word of truth in the Ancient Gospel which preceded the
King James translation. At this time,
John felt his financial
condition required that he return to his farm and redeem his
indebtedness to benefit his family. A short time later in January of
1828 he realized that there was no one who would carry on the case he
loved and told his wife, "Nancy, I shall work no more! Get whom you
please to carry on the farm, but do not call on me!.. I am determined
from this time forth, to preach the Gospel and leave the consequences
to God!" While he continued his regular commitment at Spencer, Mt.
Sterling, and Grassy Lick, he began preaching from house-to-house, or
wherever he could gather a few together - - mostly those of the
Separate Baptist who used only the Bible. He drew listeners from some
distance, but his old brethren gave him no assistance. Even though
John traveled many miles and a heavy schedule, his temperate zeal was
threatened by palsy disease, however he disregarded it, and moved
forward with enthusiasm. John's greatest efforts were given to the
union of all Christians on the basis of faith in Jesus and the Messiah,
and obedience to him as the only Head of the Church. Through his
persistent evangelism he immersed hundreds of converts to the faith of
Christ. He never ceased to challenge the doctrines of all churches
outside the reformed beliefs.
John received but little compensation for his preaching from 1822
when he renounced Calvinism at Spencer to the year of Grace, 1828, but
his wife struggled to profit on their farm.
John kept no records, but awhile in 1828 he noted the results of
his labors for a few weeks to Nancy, "I have baptized 700 sinners and
capsized 1500 Baptists, so we have made two mistakes." He had said to
her early in the year that the Reformation would not prevail in his
lifetime; yet in six months, it was already established in the hearts
of the people. He had considered the
sacrifices and persecutions they
would have to endure, but now felt the struggle was over and his labors
would be in pleasant fields. He ascribed all his success to the Truth
itself and seemed unconscious of his own power.
During the next four years John worked toward unification of
Christians throughout Kentucky and was considered as having done more
toward the reformation than any other one person.
August of 1835, John sold his farm in Montgomery County and bought
land near Owingsville, Bath County, Ky.
He was asked to be an
evangelist supported by the congregation, but his church at Mt.
Sterling refused to accept his resignation and he would not leave his
long time friends. Again, in 1837, he tried to work his farm to
recover some of his indebtedness from the move, but soon developed a
palsy when he performed hard work. In 1839 he wrote, "my nerves are so
much affected that I can hardly write my name. I have no doubt that I
shall be completely palsied, in a few years, if life would last." They
became the Church of Christ, the Christian Church.
John, Nancy and two daughters,
Emma and Mary moved to Mt. Sterling
in October of 1849, and then to Georgetown in October of 1851 after
dissent developed in the congregation when a young preacher with a
questionable reputation was taken in. By this time, at the age of 70,
John was so palsied he had to be fed like a baby, but he continued to
take short journeys to visit friends and a servant boy as a companion,
according to one source.
In 1857 at Ghent, John served as Moderator of a discussion between
Benjamin Franklin and Rev. T. J. Fisher, and in September 1858 he sat
among brethren of Missouri in the state meeting at Columbia. Wherever
he traveled, his reputation for the Reformation and preaching preceded
him, and he was greeted with great affection.
November 4, 1861 at Georgetown, Scott Co., Ky., his beloved wife,
Nancy, died. She was survived by her husband and five of her eleven
children. John lived with daughter
Maria M. Lee at Owingsville, Ky.,
and part of the time with daughter
Emily F. Ringo at Mexico, Missouri,
where he died February 28, 1868.
John was a notable person in Kentucky because of his religious
pioneering work. Upon a visit in July 1980 to the Cemetery of
Lexington, Ky., which is very old,
John's grave was discovered to be
one of prominence. When his name was mentioned, we were immediately
presented a map on which the graves of him and other family members
were particularly marked, his was one of four Disciples of Christ
elders buried there. The epitaph on John's tombstone is:
"True, gential, wise by the study of the Word, he gave up the
Creed of his fathers for the sake of that Word. By its power
he turned many from error; in its light he walked, and in its
consolations he triumphantly died."
Nancy's inscription is:
"In all his sacrifices and service, his companion shared.
She gave her life to God, and her death was precious in his
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