Tag Archives: Knoxville

219 – Aug. 07 – This Day in Baptist History


Saw the first baptism in Knoxville


1814 – Matthew Hillsman was born.  He would have been one of the three thousand present when his father John was baptized by John Rogers, a pioneer Baptist preacher, in August of 1825 when the first such event ever occurred in Knoxville, Tenn.  John Hillsman, a native of Virginia, had also fought in the Revolutionary War, saw the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, and heard Washington’s farewell address.  Matthew was saved and baptized at nineteen and later ordained to preach.  He helped plant the seeds which grew into the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tenn. He pastored churches in Middle Tenn.  His church in Murfeesboro sent out three missionaries to the foreign field.  He died Oct. 2, 1892.  [J.J. Burnett, Sketches of Tennessee’s Pioneer Baptist Preachers (Nashville: Marshall and Bruce Co., 1919), pp. 231, 32. This Day in Baptist History II: Cummins and Thompson, BJU Press: Greenville, S.C. 2000 A.D.]   Prepared by Dr. Greg Dixon



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Mr. Camp Meeting”

Evangelist Billy Kelly- The Prodigal Son – Singing on


Billy Kelly from Olive Springs, Tennessee, born on April 17, 1932 was an evangelist that patterned his preaching style after Billy Sunday.  Brother Kelly, (known to us as “Machine gun Kelly”), was an interesting personality whose big frame peaked at 350 pounds or more.  Not only was he athletic, playing football and baseball at the Young High School in Knoxville, but he was musically talented, and well known for his fiddle playing and singing with a country band on radio and other places of entertainment.  Billy was saved on May 16, 1950, at the University of Tennessee in an area-wide revival meeting.  He was influential, and people were interested in the testimony he gave at the First Baptist Church on the following Sunday morning, and he was soon called to preach.  Billy was ordained on his twenty-third birthday.  Brother Billy, as he was called, was known as “Mr. Camp Meeting” and directed the Greer Baptist Camp Meeting in Greer, South Carolina, for twenty-two consecutive years. He preached, led singing, played the piano, sang special numbers, and was responsible for the grounds.  Almost single-handedly, he built a new tabernacle.  Billy was a very animated, popular speaker and turned down as many as 300 preaching requests a year.  One special event in his ministry was portraying a bootlegger in the film “Sheffey” produced by Unusual Films.  He met his Lord  on April 1, 1997.  It is estimated that 500 preachers attended his funeral on April 4 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, where he and his wife Dorothy (Frost) Kelley attended and became members in February of 1961.

Dr. Dale R. Hart, adapted from: “This Day in Baptist History III” David L. Cummins. pp. 139  – 140


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