An American Family History


Big Pigeon Primitive Baptist Church

East Tennessee is part of Appalachia. At the end of the French and Indian War, colonists began drifting into the area. In 1769, they first settled along the Watauga River. During the Revolution, the Overmountain Men defeated British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The State of Franklin was formed in the 1780s, but never admitted to the Union.

In 1785/86, Primitive Baptist preachers, Jonathan Mulkey and William Reno/Reneau visted the Big Pigeon settlement in Cocke County, Tennessee.

In 1786, William Whitson [Jr.] and Abraham McKay were elected to meet with the Primitive Baptist church association held at Kendrick's Creek, (Sullivan County, Tennessee) to petition for permission to establish a church at Big Pigeon.

The early members of the church included:

Reuben Allen and George Allen
John Breeden
William Calfee
Ezekiel Campbell
Thomas Clevenger
William Coleman
Mourning Hogg Denton
Thomas Dillon
Peter Fine,
John Fine
William Fox
Daniel Hall
Joseph Huff
David Jobe, Lezeanah Jobe, and Dorcas Jobe
Joshua Kelley
Wlliam Lillard
Thomas Mantooth
Abraham McKay and Rachel McKay,
John McNabb
John Netherton
Ruben Padgett
Mourning Prier
Daniel Rice
George Roberts
Martin and Mary Sisk
Mary White
William Whitson, Elizabeth Whitson
Richard Wood
Nickless Woodfin

The members built forts for protection from the local indigenious people. The forts included

  • William Whitson's fort on the Big Pigeon river near the big spring on Campbell McNabb's place below the Denton Mill
  • McKay's fort on French Broad river
  • Huff's fort on French Broad
  • Wood's fort on French Broad river

In 1794 they built a meeting house, which was on the north bank of the Big Pigeon out of large hewed logs.


Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796. It was initially part of North Carolina.









European and indiginous American fought fierce battles as the Europeans expanded their territory.

from Early Recollections of Newport and Cocke County by W. J. McSween

We now approach the organization of the first religious society that ever existed in Cocke county [TN], and the erection of the first meeting house. In the latter part of the year 1785, and in the spring of 1786, the Big Pigeon settlement was visited by Jonathan Mulkey and William Reno, Primitive Baptist preachers,

and their labor resulted in the election of William Whitson [Jr.] and Abraham McKay (now called McCoy), as a committee to meet with the association held at Kendrick's Creek, (Sullivan county) in the year 1786, and petitioned for permission and the assistance of two ministers to establish a Primitive Baptist church.

Accordingly on the 6th day of December, 1787, the Rev. (Elder) Isaac Barton and the Rev. (Elder) William Reno, and others met at the house of Jas. English (now Ed Burnett) on Big Pigeon river and constituted, as they expressed it, the Primitive Baptist Society on Big Pigeon river...

From these old records and from this church organization we are able to extract the names of the progenitors of very many of the leading and influential families that now live in Cocke county. The following are the names of the original members that assisted in the organization of the church: William Whitson, David Job, Abraham McKay, Elizabeth Whitson, Lezeanah Job, Rachel McKay, Mourning Prier, Mourning Denton, Dorcas Job, Mary White and Nickless Woodfin.

A little after the days of the organization, owing to the hostile incursions of the Indians the members of the church, as well as other inhabitants of the valleys of the Big Pigeon and French Broad rivers, were compelled to shut themselves up in the various forts that had been erected in Cocke county and the church was for a time disbanded.

The forts referred to were as follows:

  • William Whitson's fort situated on Big Pigeon river near the big spring on Campbell McNabb's place below the Denton Mill...
  • McKay's fort on French Broad river....
  • Huff's fort on French Broad ....
  • Wood's fort situated on French Broad river...

The inhabitants, or rather the women and children, remained housed in these forts from January, 1788 to September, 1788, and then until February, 1789, and for a period of nearly ten years, there were constant raids and depredations, horses stolen and men, women, and children massacred by the Indians.

The settlements were protected by the bravery and valor of the members of the Primitive Baptist church, namely: Col. William Lillard, Lieut. Col. Abraham McKay, Maj. Peter Fine, Capt. William Job, Capt. John Fine and Capt. John McNabb.

Between the date of the organization of the church and 1800 there was added to the church rolls the following distinguished names: John Netherton, Daniel Hall, Ruben Padgett, Joshua Kelley, John Breeden, Thos. Mantooth, Daniel Rice, William Fox, Ezekiel Campbell, William Coleman, Joseph Huff, Richard Wood, Thos. Dillon, Thos. Clevenger, George Roberts, William Calfee, Martin Sisk and his wife, Mary Sisk, Reuben Allen and George Allen.

....In the year 1794 this church society selected a place to erect a meeting house, which was on the north bank of the Big Pigeon river on the land of Thos. Dillon and in the angle of the road leading up said river and from said road to John Hale's house...

This meeting house was completed on the 1st of October, 1794; it was built of large hewed logs, securely notched down. ...

It is a well attested historical fact that the attendants at this place of worship, and all other churches at that date, carried with them their trusty rifles and deposited them within easy reach until religious services were over.

Abraham McKay was the clerk of this church from its organization until the year 1823 when he was succeeded by his son, Jeremiah McKay, and the latter holding the position until 1845, when he was succeeded by Toliver Sisk, who filled the position until his death in 1880.

The deacons of said church were Peter Fine, William Lillard, William Coleman, Ezekiel Campbell, Joseph Huff, John Huff, and probably others.

The ministers of the church were Jonathan Mulkey, William Reno [Reneau], Thos. Hill, John Huff, and Thos. Smith...