Butler Kennedy Smith
Biographical Sketch On The Life
Of Butler K. Smith
Elder Butler Kennedy Smith was born in
Spartansburgh District, South Carolina, on the sixteenth day of September, 1807.
When he was an infant his father disposed of his possessions in South Carolina,
intending to emigrate to Indiana Territory; but, changing his purpose, he
settled in the adjoining District of Union, where Butler K. spent the happy days
of his childhood.
In the Spring of 1817 his father carried
out his long cherished design of removing to the Northwest. In April of that
year he reached Indiana, and soon after entered land on the head waters of West
river, in Wayne county. Here in the wild woods—theirs being the extreme
frontier house for a long while—Butler K. passed the remaining years of his
In a country like that there could be no
such thing as a school; consequently he never suffered from that "weariness of
the flesh" which is produced by "much study." He had been taught to read before
leaving his native State; and with this ability he gleaned what information he
could from the few books owned by his father, and from the newspapers, which at
long intervals found their way into the neighborhood. In the course of a few
years, however, a respectable school was established, in which he acquired a
pretty thorough knowledge of arithmetic, and was shown a little way into the
symbolic mysteries of algebra. This, with the general knowledge since gathered
by the wayside, is the sum total of his education.
The circumstances surrounding him were
equally unfavorable to moral and religious culture. It was only occasionally
that a Methodist itinerant left an appointment in the neighborhood; and the
nearest Baptist church, of which both his parents were members, was ten or
twelve miles distant—entirely beyond his range. At a distance of three or four
miles there was a Society of Friends, whose meetings he frequently attended,
but without once hearing a discourse exceeding five minutes in length. His
religious training devolved, therefore, on his parents, by whom he was
thoroughly indoctrinated according to
the creed of the Calvinistic Baptists.
In the course of a few years a couple of
Baptist missionaries established a station at his father's house; and from that
time he heard one or more of the "five points" expounded every month. Under this
preaching several persons professed to have "obtained a hope," and among the
number was Carey Smith, the eldest brother of Butler K. These fresh recruits,
together with a few old soldiers of the cross—nine in all—were organized as a
"Baptist Church of Jesus Christ," which was christened "Bethlehem." William
Smith, the father of B. K., was made deacon, and Carey was ordained as pastor,
with license "to preach and exhort wherever God in his providence should cast
his lot." Thus a church was brought near to Elder Smith, but from the gospel he
was as far removed as ever. He strove to enter in at the straight gate, but all
his efforts were ineffectual. By constant exertion he worked himself into the
belief that he had obtained what his parents and brother denominated a
"trembling hope;" but his "experience" being unsatisfactory, his "hope" was
evanescent. He finally reached the following conclusions, which are stated in
his own language:
1. That I was one of the non-elect. Such
be case, the present life was all I could promise myself any enjoyment in;
consequently the less I thought about a future state the better.
2. If I was of the elect the Lord's time
for effectually calling me had not yet come; consequently any effort, on my
part, to forestall the divine arrangement would be useless, if not sinful.
3. That the whole matter of religion was
but a farce, gotten up by priest-craft to gull the superstitious and
Such being his convictions, the Bible was
laid aside, and Burns' Poems became his favorite pocket companion. In "Holy
Willie's Prayer," "Kirk's Alarm," "Ordination," and "Holy Fair," he specially
delighted, because of the clear light in which they exposed the absurdity of the
Calvinistic theory. A decent self-respect and the early counsel of his parents
kept him from descending to gross immoralities; but for a long while, the fear
of God was not before his eyes.
In the Fall of 1823 or '24 his brother
Carey, mounted on a sorry nag and an old weather-beaten saddle, set out on a
preaching tour through Kentucky and other Southern States. In Kentucky he fell
in with "The Christian Baptist," with which he was so well pleased that he
ordered two copies of the work, as far as published, to be sent to Indiana, one
to his own address, the other to that of his father. Thus his apparently
unpromising mission was the means of introducing the primitive gospel and the
ancient order into Wayne and other counties of Eastern Indiana.
He lived to see many churches grow up
under the labors of himself and others. Finally he went on a mission to the
South, under the special patronage of Elder A. Campbell, and fell a victim to
the Southern climate soon after reaching his field of labor. He died at Fayette,
Miss., on the 27th of January, 1841, in the forty-first year of his age, and
about the eighteenth of his ministry. He was among the very first of the pioneer
preachers of Indiana, but his career was of short duration, and confined to the
day of small things.
By the reading of the "Christian
Baptist," Butler K.'s objections to Christianity were removed one by one.
Gradually the fog of false teaching and consequent skepticism rolled away, and
he saw once more the water of life, with full assurance that he might approach
and partake freely. But on the principle embodied in the old adage, "A burnt
child dreads the fire," he approached very slowly and cautiously. It was not
until the Spring of 1832 that he obeyed the gospel, being baptized some six
miles southwest of Indianapolis, by an aged and semi-reformed Baptist preacher
by the name of William Irvine —alias "Uncle Billy."
Prior to this event, however, some
changes worthy of note had taken place. For the purpose of establishing
themselves in the business of blacksmithing—which trade was a kind of heirloom
in their family—he and his brother Carey had removed to Indianapolis, at which
place they arrived on the 1st of February, 1829; and, on the 17th of November,
1831, he had married Miss Sarah Bristow, the third daughter of Peyton Bristow,
Esq., of Marion county.
At the time of their removal to
Indianapolis, there was at that place a Baptist church, which had reported
itself to the "Christian Baptist" as reformed; but it was still so far from the
ancient order that Carey Smith refused to unite with it, and attached himself to
a congregation in the country designated by the significant name of Liberty
church. At the period of Butler K.'s immersion, the said Liberty church was
arraigned before the Indianapolis Association on the charge of heresy, and the
so-called Reformed church was taking an active part in the prosecution.
Therefore the little church which was organized in the "Bottom," (or six miles
from town on the Bluff road,) and of which Elder Smith and his wife were
original members, did not report itself to the Association, but assumed an
independent form of government, adopting the New Testament as its constitution
or creed. They also recognized the principle of weekly communion; and, as far as
they understood it, conformed in all things to the order observed by the
primitive churches. In this faithful little congregation he retained his
membership until the 12th day of June, 1833, on which day was organized "The
Church of Jesus Christ at Indianapolis, Indiana." The organization was
effected at the house of a brother Benjamin Roberts, Peter H. Roberts and John
H. Sanders being chosen as the first overseers.
When the disciples met together on the
next "first day of the week to break bread," not an officer of the church was
present. But there were a faithful few who were not ashamed of the gospel;
and there were quite a number of spectators, anxious to see how those "Campbellites"
would conduct a meeting without a preacher.
For a while it was conducted in the most
approved Quaker style. Not one of the members present had ever spoken in public,
and every one's "tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth." When the
suspense became intolerable, Elder Smith went forward, took up a collection of
Baptist hymns—there was then no Christian hymn-book—and began to search for a
suitable song. The prayer that he was soon to make in public was pressing with
mountain weight upon his mind; and, fearing that he might make a failure, he
selected the familiar hymn beginning with a definition of prayer
especially favorable to him on that occasion, viz.:
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed.''
This hymn he read and lined out as it was
sung, thinking by that means to throw off his embarrassment before the arrival
of the critical moment. But the last stanza being ended, his heart failed him,
and he sat down, overwhelmed by a sense of dizziness and blindness. One or two
other brethren attempted to lead in the exercises, but each and all failed
precisely where Elder Smith had failed. Thus the first meeting adjourned, the
loaf being unbroken, not a single prayer having been offered.
This mortifying failure taught the
disciples that elders and deacons alone were not to be depended upon; but that
it was the duty, as well as the privilege, of all, "to offer up spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.'' Realizing this, and seeing
clearly that the church would go to ruin if such abortive meetings were
permitted to recur, Elder Smith added to his faith courage, and at once stepped
forward into the front rank of that little faltering band.
To obviate the difficulty growing out of
the absence of the officers, two more elders and as many additional deacons were
appointed. Of the latter, Elder Smith was made one; though he still retained the
office of sexton—sweeping, warming, an dilluminating the old school-house, which
was the pro tempore "Christian chapel." Ever faithful and punctual in his
attendance, he gave the sacred emblems to the disciples; and in the absence of
all four of the elders, he officiated at the table.
In a short time he became one of the
overseers of the congregation, which position he occupied until
Elder L. H Jameson was installed as pastor of the
congregation, in October, 1842. At that time Elder Jameson was ordained as an
evangelist, Ovid Butler as bishop, and some three other
brethren as deacons. His last official act, as an elder of that congregation,
was to preside over the Presbytery which officiated on that occasion.
Shortly afterwards he was himself
ordained as "an evangelist at large;" and thus released from all personal
responsibility as to the management, government, and edification of the
In his watchful care over that
congregation, and his zealous efforts to extend its borders, he had greatly
neglected his own business, and had consequently lost very much of the liberal
patronage he once received. Moreover, his location at that central point, and
his position as elder of the church at the capital, enabled him to form but too
many acquaintances, and constrained him to receive but too many calls from his
brethren in different parts of the State. His house was for many years a
Disciples' Inn, and his stable was usually well filled with horses not his own.
Owing to these combined causes he became
greatly involved in debt; and finally had to dispose of his town property (that
would be a fortune to him now) at a great sacrifice, and remove to a farm
several miles in the country. There he worked hard to retrieve his former
losses; and in the course of a few years, frowning poverty was succeeded by
smiling plenty. During these years of severe manual toil he did not wholly
forsake the word of life; but on almost every Sunday he rode away from one to
ten miles, preached one or two discourses, and returned the same day.
Early in the year 1849 he was solicited
by the co-operation meeting to evangelize in the county of Johnson. This call he
accepted; and, in April, entered into his new field at a salary of three hundred
dollars per annum. The principal churches composing the "co-operation" were at
Franklin, Mount Auburn, Edinburg, and Williamsburgh. For these, and in destitute
places, he labored with such success, that he was employed to evangelize another
year in connection with Elder Ara Hollingsworth.
Anxious that he should devote his whole
time and attention to the work of the ministry, his brethren, at the
commencement of the second year, urged him to lease out his farm for a term of
years, at the same time making him verbal and indefinite promises of a liberal
support. Yielding to their requests, and abandoning the farm—his only sure base
of operations—his supplies were soon cut off; and by the close of the year he
found himself reduced almost to absolute want. But this return of financial
embarrassments only exemplified still further the apostle's declaration that
"all things work together for good to them that love God." By the irresistible
force of circumstances he was compelled to visit other and distant points, where
he hoped to find more liberality, and at least equal opportunities of doing
good. In this way he made himself known to many brethren who, perhaps, would
never have heard of him had he continued a successful tiller of the soil. Thus
his area of usefulness was widely extended; and he was forced to fulfill the
hitherto unfulfilled conditions of his commission as "evangelist at large."
Though his labors were arduous, he fared
sumptuously every day, and so far as himself was concerned he could have enjoyed
this itinerant service very well. But every dainty morsel was robbed of its
relish by the recollection that his wife and children were subsisting on the
cheapest and coarsest fare; and as he sat by the fireside of the thrifty
farmer—father, mother, sisters, brothers, all present, the happy circle
unbroken—his mind was filled with sad thoughts of a very different scene beneath
his own distant roof. But remembering the words, "He that loveth son or
daughter more than me is not worthy of me," he sustained the cross, and
continued to point the people to Him whom, for their sakes, the cross sustained.
Having spent some two years in these
desultory labors, he was invited to take the pastoral charge of the congregation
at Harrison, in Dearborn county. This call he accepted, and removed to Harrison
in the Spring of 1853. The congregation at that place gave him three hundred
dollars for half his time, and two churches in Kentucky gave him the same amount
for the remainder. Thus he received a salary of six hundred per annum, which was
more than sufficient to supply the temporal wants of his family. At this point
he spent two of the happiest years of his life, the success of the gospel being
not the least cause of his rejoicing.
In May, 1855, he returned to his farm
near Indianapolis, where he has continued to reside. From that time to the
present he has preached regularly for some two or three congregations, and has
gone hither and thither throughout Central Indiana, preaching the gospel of the
kingdom, establishing new churches, edifying old ones, healing dissensions, and
provoking to love and good works.
In addition to his preaching he has
exerted a considerable influence, and become somewhat distinguished as a writer.
He wields a vigorous pen, which, for the last fifteen or twenty years, has been
industriously employed in contributing to the various Christian periodicals.
He is now, and has been from the
beginning, a punctual and working member of the Board of Directors of the N. W.
C. University. He also acts a prominent part in the management of County,
District, and State Meetings; and is well known as a true friend of education,
an active and liberal supporter of missions, both home and foreign, and of every
institution, human or divine, which ends to the physical improvement, mental
illumination, or spiritual elevation of his race.
Of the personal appearance of Elder B. K.
Smith, no written description is necessary. By one glance at the portrait
accompanying this sketch, the inquirer will obtain a better idea of that than it
is in the power of words to convey. Like the ancient Eli, he is "an old man and
heavy." He has too much sound sense to attempt to adorn such a person as
his with fine clothes; therefore he dresses in very plain style, his main object
being to give the respiratory organs full play, and to guard against the
suffocating effects of heat.
His mental machinery is not of the most
ponderous kind; but his inexhaustible supply of physical force runs it at a
furious rate. Impelled by this bodily vigor, his mind easily surmounts obstacles
which would be insuperable to a superior intellect inhabiting a frailer
tenement. But the Lord has given him more than one talent, though he may not
have given him five. Such are his abilities, natural and acquired, that when the
Master comes to reckon with his servants, he may truly say, "Lord, thou
deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two other
talents besides them." He is a bold, original thinker, who attempts the solution
of the most intricate problems in theology, and who usually throws some
additional light on subjects the most difficult to elucidate.
He is an edifying, stirring
speaker—fluent, impressive, and oft-times affecting even to tears. His voice is
deep and powerful, but under perfect control; his gestures are natural, and
therefore appropriate; his countenance glows with animation; and his whole
manner is so earnest as to force upon his hearers the conviction that "from the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." He is fond of doctrinal subjects;
but he faithfully reminds his brethren of the practical precepts of the gospel.
He opposes at all points those who resist the truth; yet in so doing he does not
assume the authoritative air of the Saviour when he said, "O generation of
vipers," but rather that sympathetic mood in which he exclaimed, "O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto
In all things he endeavors to please him
who has called him to be a soldier. Therefore he does not suffer himself to
become much entangled in the affairs of this life; but the affairs
themselves—especially his own—are apt to become greatly entangled. He is not
remarkable for the possession of great tact, or superior business qualities; and
his bump of order would hardly be found by the clumsy fingers of some
He is a man of warm and generous
emotions—kind, forgiving, tender-hearted, ardently attached to his family and
friends. Above all other objects he prizes "the kingdom of God and his
"The church our blest Redeemer saved
With his own precious blood."
For it he has toiled and suffered,
denying himself the pleasures, the riches, the honors—all the "vain pomp and
glory of this world." In its service he is fully resolved to spend the remainder
of his days, with a firm reliance on the promise, "They that be wise shall shine
as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as
the stars forever and ever."
-Biographical Sketches of
Pioneer Preachers Of Indiana, Madison Evans, Page 363-373.
Directions To The Grave
Of B.K. Smith
Butler K. Smith is
buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana. Traveling On
I-65 North Out Of Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana Take The Dr. Martin
Luther King Street Exit - Exit 117. (Note: If you cross White River, You
Have Gone Too Far) Go North On Dr. Martin Luther King Street. Turn Right
On West 32nd Street. Cemetery Will Be On Your Left. Go Until The Road
Dead Ends Into Boulevard And Turn Left. There Will Be An Entrance To The
Cemetery As You Cross The 34th Street Intersection. Turn Left Into The
Cemetery. Be Sure To Click On The Map for
specific location in the cemetery.
N39º 49.075' x W086º 10.573'
Grave Facing North
Accuracy to 17ft.
Section 21, Lot 32
Hover over Green Arrow Below for Exact Location
Also, Click on "Sat" for Satellite Imagery
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Butler K. Smith.
Sept. 6, 1807
Nov. 16, 1812
Below are some shots taken in June, 2009
Crown Hill Cemetery Map
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