The Old Church on the Dry Ridge
Our Circa 1870's Pipe Organ
On the fourth Sunday in August, 1791, nine settlers and two Baptist ministers established the Old Baptist Church on the Dryridge between the
present day communities of Dry Ridge and Williamstown in Grant County, Kentucky. The church first met at a block house called Campbell’s Station
and in 1799 a meeting house was built in the vicinity of the blockhouse.
The church, which had by 1818 added “Predestinarian” to its name suffered a severe setback in its membership in June, 1817, when sixteen of
its congregation were dismissed from the church for adopting the doctrine of Free-Will. Those eleven organized a new church which was initially called
the Baptist Church at the Dry Ridge, Free Will. The predestinarians suffered an additional loss in membership when sixteen members of the
congregation left to organize the Old Baptist Church at Fork Lick.
Because the church’s membership was in a state of continuing decline and its identity being threatened by the growth of the Free Will Baptist
Church, the church reorganized in November 1826 in nearby Williamstown as the Williamstown Church of Christ, Particular Baptist. The church
existed in that form and location until the dedication of a new building (the current one) on June 26, 1892, in Dry Ridge. It had been contemplated that
the entire congregation would move to the new church building and worship as the Williamstown Church of Christ, Particular Baptist, at Dry Ridge but
as the construction of the new church building was nearing completion, several members of the congregation who resided near the Williamstown
location decided to continue to worship at the old location. The concept of one congregation with two meeting houses was formalized by joint
resolutions in 1897 and that mode of worship was continued until 1919 when the Williamstown location was closed.
By the late 1940s, the church which had in the meantime adopted the name, the Dry Ridge Church of Christ, Primitive Baptist, and which was
more commonly known as the Dry Ridge Primitive Baptist Church, began to depart from some of the more conservative aspects of its earlier traditions.
For example, it began to conduct services on the third Sunday of each month rather than only on the first Sunday as had been traditional. Further, a
piano and later an electric organ were introduced despite the Primitive Baptist tradition of non-toleration of musical instruments in its services. An
increasingly better educated congregation began to be dissatisfied with lay ministers, there being no Primitive Baptist seminaries to provide a source of
trained ministers. Finally, in 1974, unable to find a suitable Primitive Baptist minister, the church contacted the Louisville Presbytery of the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) and arranged for students from the Presbyterian Seminary to fill the pulpit on a temporary basis. Recognizing that Primitive Baptists
and Presbyterians were both Calvinistic in faith and belief, the congregation formally affiliated with The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on June 1, 1975,
and remains affiliated to this day. While originally under the jurisdiction of the Louisville Presbytery, the church eventually transferred to the Cincinnati
Presbytery due to geographical considerations.
William Conrad was born on December 6, 1797 in Harrison County on Twin Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Licking River. He was
reasonably well educated for the time in primitive schools in Harrison County. In December, 1823, he apprenticed himself to a James McMurtry of
Harrison County to learn the trade of tanning. Freed from the apprenticeship in August, 1817, he married Elizabeth Boyers and they moved to eight and
a half acres of land in what was then Pendleton, now Grant, County where he built a log dwelling and a tannery.
William eventually became a farmer and acquired over twelve hundred acres of prime farmland which he very successfully farmed with his five
sons and seven slaves. William was a multi-faceted and versatile individual who, in addition to his farming and tannery business, found time to operate
a distillery, pastor four churches simultaneously, dispense homemade remedies to his ailing neighbors and friends, make several tours of the frontier
territories, and publish a book on theology.
William’s greatest calling in life was his ministry. William joined the Old Baptist Church on the Dryridge in September, 1820. He was among the
seven members who reorganized the church as the Williamstown Church of Christ, Particular Baptist in 1826. William was ordained by the
congregation in April, 1827, and was its minister continuously from that time until 1881, the year before his death. In addition to serving as a minister of
that church, he also concurrently served as minister of the Fork Lick Church in Grant County (thirty years), minister of the Twin Creek Church in
Harrison County (twenty-nine years) and minister of the Ray’s Fork Church in Scott County (forty years). All of these churches were what would later
become more commonly known as Primitive Baptist Churches. From the time of his ordination Mr. Conrad was always referred to as Elder William
Conrad, the term “Elder” being the title favored for ordained ministers of the Primitive Baptist persuasion. Interestingly, William Conrad never received
any compensation for his ministry at any of his churches.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, one of Kentucky’s most interesting citizens, had all but been forgotten by history, until William Townsend of Lexington
resurrected his memory in a famous speech about Clay before the Chicago Civil War Round Table in October 1953. Keven McQueen, one of Clay’s
biographers described Clay as follows:
He was one of the few Southern emancipationists in the years preceding the Civil War. He was in President Lincoln’s cabinet as Minister to Russia.
He was a fiery orator, a bold duelist and fighter, a celebrated soldier, a controversial newspaper editor, a shrewd politician, and one of the most lauded
and reviled men of his time.
Clay was born on October 19, 1810, in Madison County at the family’s famous Clermont (later renamed White Hall) home. He was the son of famous
pioneer Green Clay and Sally Lewis Clay.
Cassius first attended the Jesuit College of St. Joseph in Bardstown and later attended Transylvania University in Lexington before transferring to Yale
as a junior where he majored in oratory.
While at Yale, Clay attended a speech by the famous emancipationist, William Floyd Garrison. The speech made such an impression on Clay
that he resolved to, in his words, “give slavery a death struggle.” Clay’s father had died in 1828 and in his will freed some of the family’s slaves,
providing them money and land in Tennessee. The remainder of the family slaves were left to Cassius by will, some in trust to Cassius for his heirs.
Beginning in the early 1840s Cassius freed all the family slaves except those who had been left to him in trust, that trust status preventing him from
legally freeing them. At about the same time, he bought and freed thirteen more slaves to preclude families being separated.
After his graduation from Yale in 1832, Clay returned to Kentucky, reenrolled at Transylvania to study law and married Mary Jane Warfield. By
1835, he was serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
Politics and his emancipationist stand led to a series of duels and fights for which Cassius is perhaps best known. He first fought a dual with
Robert Wickliffe on May 13, 1841, at Locust Grove in Louisville. Shots were exchanged at ten paces with neither party being wounded. His next two
engagements would not end so benignly. The Wickliffe family hired a thug named Samuel Brown to attack Clay at a political rally at Russell’s Cave
Spring near Lexington on August 1, 1843. Brown attempted to shoot Clay with a pistol but his shot struck the handle of Clay’s knife beneath his coat.
Clay then used his knife to inflict massive wounds to Brown’s head and face.
On June 15, 1849, Clay was attacked by a mob while giving a speech at Foxtown in Madison County. Clay used his by now famous Bowie knife
to mortally wound his principal adversary, Cyrus Turner.
On June 3, 1845, Clay launched “The True American”, a weekly emancipationist newspaper in Lexington. However, in mid-August, while Clay
was desperately ill with typhoid fever, a pro-slavery mob stormed the newspaper’s offices and dismantled the press. Clay continued to publish the
newspaper in Cincinnati until he volunteered to fight in the Mexican War.
In 1846, Clay helped organize the 1st Kentucky Volunteers, consisting primarily of soldiers from Fayette, Bourbon, and Madison Counties.
Clay was elected Captain of his company. Unfortunately, his Mexican service consisted primarily of being captured and held prisoner for about eight
months until the war ended.
While giving speeches in Springfield, Illinois, in 1854, Clay met and talked at length about emancipation with Abraham Lincoln, whose wife, Mary
Todd, was a childhood friend of Clay’s wife. This contact and Clay’s popularity in the North resulted in his being seriously considered as a Republican
nominee for Vice President on Lincoln’s ticket in 1860 and subsequently for the position of Secretary of War. However, it was determined that such
nomination or appointment would unduly enrage southern slaveholders. Instead, he was offered and accepted the position of Minister to Russia where
he served from 1861 to 1869. While in Russia, Clay succeeded in preventing Russia from recognizing or assisting the Confederacy. He also was
instrumental in acquiring Alaska from Russia.
Clay’s wife and family had originally accompanied Clay to Russia but returned to Kentucky within a few months, his wife not finding the Russian
climate agreeable. Upon Clay’s return to Kentucky, relations with his wife were strained. This strain was exacerbated in 1871 when a four year old
Russian boy was delivered to Clay at White Hall. Clay adopted the child and it has always been generally assumed that the child was Clay’s illegitimate
son by a Russian woman. Two weeks later Clay’s wife and children moved to Lexington and the Clays were divorced a few years later.
Clay’s later years were lonely ones, with Clay and the Russian boy living alone at White Hall. The loneliness was briefly interrupted by Clay’s
marriage on November 13, 1894 at age eighty-four to Dora Richardson, age 15, a marriage that scandalized the local community. The marriage was
not to last as Dora, while maintaining great affection for Cassius, left White Hall on July 3, 1897, and they were divorced a year later.
Clay remained hardy in his old age, as demonstrated by his killing two men who broke into his home in October 1899. But hardy as he was, he
finally died on July 22, 1903, at ninety-two years of age. The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote:
By some he was loved, by others he was hated, but by all he was feared and by most he was respected. He made his mark in whatever
department of life he was thrown …. He rode
roughshod and cared not a whit whose toes were injured in the riding. He was editor, politician, duelist, author, and statesman, and acted each
part with an originality and spice which lent
him new interest.
The Connecting Event
Lloyd W. Franks, a then Elder in the Dry Ridge Presbyterian Church and professor of history at Thomas More College, edited and published The
Journal of Elder William Conrad in 1976. Something in his research for that publication must have given Franks, long since deceased, reason to believe
that there was some connection or relationship between William Conrad and Cassius Marcellus Clay beyond a rather unflattering reference to Clay in an
undated entry in the Conrad journal:
'I[t] has indeed become a sad state of affairs when the question of servitude has become the domain or [sic] rascally politicians who will stop at nothing
to get votes and thus be elected to an office. Many who call themselves abolitionists and have spoken out against servitude have no interest in the
servant or his wretched state, but wish only to excite feelings of hatred to be used for personal gain. Mr. C.M. Clay of Lexington prints a newspaper
which speaks out against black bondage as he calls it, but yet owns many servants of colour. This vile wretch speaks of the equality of all men, yet he
has provoked and killed several by the knife who have dared to speak out against his byased [sic] opinions and evil deeds.'
While this journal entry is undated, by Conrad’s reference to Clay’s newspaper, the entry can be approximately dated to the period, June 3, 1845,
to June 7, 1846, the period during which Clay edited The True American.
Franks requested and was finally granted an interview on October 8, 1976, with Mary Esther Warfield Bennett, Cassius Clay’s great-
granddaughter, in whose possession Clay’s unpublished daily memorandum books resided. Miss Bennett related in her own words the following:
'According to family history Cassius M. Clay has once heard Elder William Conrad speak at the Baptist Church in Lexington when it was under the
pastorship of Elder William Moody Pratt. It seems that Elder William Conrad and Cassius M. Clay became acquainted although they disagreed
considerably over slavery and the question of freeing the blacks. They were nevertheless personal friends. Elder Conrad asked Mr. Clay concerning
church membership and if he was a member of any church. Mr. Clay replied that he was not a member of a church but that his beliefs leaned toward
that of the Old Baptist faith. Mr. Clay once considered becoming a member of the Cane Spring Baptist Church in Madison County, but because of the
pro-slavery attitude of the congregation, he felt that he was not welcome there although he frequently attended the services at that church. Cane Spring
Baptist Church is located in Eastern Madison County not far from Estill County. Mr. Clay was, as we know, an abolitionist and had made many enemies
in his anti-slavery stand. He was much interested in Elder Conrad’s concepts of slavery because Elder Conrad completely separated the issue of
slavery from that of the Scriptures when he stated that slavery was neither upheld or condemned by the Bible. This to Mr. Clay was a most unusual
stand for that day and time, who did not accept this view but he considered Elder Conrad one of the most enlightened men that he had ever met. Elder
Conrad, he said, has a tolerance for other peoples’ opinions that are not the same as his own, even though he holds fast to his convictions.
Nevertheless, he feels that every person is entitled to his own opinion and he feels that every person has a right to live his life as he sees fit,'
After these remarks, Miss Bennett allowed Mr. Franks to record an entry dated August 4, 1856, in one of Clay’s memorandum books:
'Some past months ago I was journeying to Cincinnati to address a contingent of the free-soil party of that fair city which was to assemble at the Burnett
home. Having decided to curtail the length of my journey by transversing the dry ridge, I was prevailed upon to speak to a small gathering of persons
assembled at Williamstown. Having thus spoken with little ado, I proceeded northward astride my faithful mount where I was joined a few leagues
northward of the village by William Conrad, known to many of the good citizens as Uncle Billy, a large land owner, a minister of the Old Baptist Church
of that locale and I regret to say, a slave owner. Notwithstanding our differences over involuntary servitude, we continued our journey forthwith,
notwithstanding a thorough castigation of my various experiences in knife-fighting by my companion. Mr. Conrad, although a slave owner, is a man of
peace and he earnestly endeavored to persuade me to cease and desist from what he calls “living by the sword”. We had traveled but a short distance
when we were set upon by ruffians intending upon maiming if not destroying me. I had upon my person my favorite knife, which I quickly reached for
as to defend myself and my companion, but Mr. Conrad urged me to put away my weapon and he turned and spoke to our would-be assassins.
“Gentlemen, Mr. Clay is a so-journer in our land, and moreover he is going to take food and lodging with myself and wife. Pray leave us in peace.”
One of the men replied “We will leave you in peace if you say so, Uncle Billy, and we will trouble you no more.” Mr. Conrad proceeded to escort me to
his spacious home where I supped and lodged under his kind roof. Before retiring, I asked if there was any way by which I could express my
appreciation for his intervention earlier that evening. He replied that as a child of God it was his duty and privilege to be a friend to all men and that
no compensation as to his person would be accepted. Being deeply touched by this gesture I inquired as to his congregation of Old Baptist at
Williamstown, asking as to anything lacking. Having been answered in the negative, I next inquired if the congregation would accept a small organ as
a token of appreciation. He replied that although it was not the custom for Old Baptist to use musical instruments as a part of their worship, nothing in
the church doctrine forbade such. Thus, I pledged to myself to call upon the organ builders of Hook and Hastings in Philadelphia upon my next
journey to that city to build a small organ of pipes for the Old Baptist Church at Williamstown of which I would bear the expenses thereof.'
Upon having allowed Franks to read the aforesaid passage from the memorandum book, Miss Bennett inquired as to whether the organ had in
fact ever been delivered to the church. Franks advised that there was no indication that any organ had ever been delivered to the church. Upon
hearing this, Miss Bennett advised that she, as a descendant of Clay, would like to make a donation to the church in the name of the Clay descendants
in lieu of the organ promised some one hundred twenty years earlier. Miss Bennett caused a legal document to be drawn up (copy attached as
Enclosure “A”) evidencing that the Dry Ridge Presbyterian Church released the Clay family from Cassius Clay’s pledge of the organ in consideration of
the gift of $300.00 to be used for the restoration of the church premises. Miss Clay, knowing of the plans for the church to build an addition to the
church building, advised that she would make a further contribution toward that addition. While this writer has been unable to determine the additional
amount contributed to the church, it was said to have been substantial.
While this would appear to be the end of this little historical vignette, there was to be yet another chapter.
Lloyd Franks had determined, apparently from the archived records of the then defunct Hook & Hastings, the organ company in Boston mentioned
by Clay in his memorandum entry, that Cassius Clay had, in fact, purchased an organ from that company on March 2, 1877, which organ was
subsequently installed in the Remapo Presbyterian Church in Hilburn, New York in 1890. A friend, knowing of Franks’ interest in the Remapo organ,
advised Franks in 1984 that the Remapo Church had moved to a new location and that the old organ was for sale. Franks purchased the organ and had
it installed in the Dry Ridge Presbyterian Church where it remains to this day.
Was this the organ that Clay intended to be given to the Old Baptist Church at Williamstown and if so, why the delay from its pledge in 1856 to its
purchase twenty-one years later in 1877? And why and how did the organ end up in the Remapo Presbyterian Church thirteen years after it was
purchased by Clay? And where was the organ during those intervening thirteen years? There are no answers to these questions. One would like to
think, however, that Cassius Clay would be pleased and perhaps amused that the organ finally arrived, even though one hundred twenty-eight years late.