Joshua Kennerly Speer
Biographical Sketch Of The Life Of J.K.
Very few realize the hardships that were endured by preachers of the
gospel a hundred years ago. There were two very formidable enemies, the world
and religious denominations. These enemies are found today in many communities,
but they are not so prejudiced and bitter in their persecutions as they were in
the earlier days of the Restoration Movement. It was unpopular to proclaim
"the ancient order." Oftentimes the one who proclaimed the gospel had
to suffer persecution. Those who preached the gospel at that time came out of
some well-established denomination. When one came out of a denomination and
began preaching the gospel, he lost the friendship of all his acquaintances and
incurred the enmity of the denomination whence he came.
Joshua Kennerly Speer was born in 1794, in Yadkin County, North Carolina.
He was the son of Aaron Speer; his mother's name was "Elizabeth." He
was reared in the Baptist faith. His parents were what they then called
"Old Baptists," or Primitive Baptists. Joshua K. Speer accepted the
teaching of his father, but could not understand the theories concerning
predestination and election. He searched for light from all whom he thought were
able to give him help. He held long and interested interviews with the prominent
Baptist preachers of his faith. They tried to satisfy his mind, but were unable
to do so. He doubted the whole system of the Baptist faith. Some of his
preachers told him that his "doubts" were strong evidence that he was
one of the elect. However, this did not remove the difficulty from his mind.
At the age of twenty-four he came to Tennessee and located in Williamson
County not far from Franklin. This put him in new environments. He thought that
be might find comfort and further instruction with respect to his religious
life. By nature he was pious and humble. He wanted to do the will of God, but
did not know how to begin it. He had never read the Bible. It did not occur to
him to read the Bible for instruction. He began reading the New Testament, and
soon he saw the light. He was baptized by Elder J. J. Trott. However, he
identified himself with the Baptist Church of his community. It did not occur to
him that he could be a Christian, without belonging to some of the
denominations. He knew that they were wrong, that they taught much error, but he
attributed this to the frailty of man.
On the fourth Lord's Day in November, 1823, he began to preach. He was
identified with the Baptists that time. He was not trying to preach what the
Baptists believed, but what little he knew of the Bible. He wanted to honor God
and teach his truth, but he had learned very little of it at that time. He
became a reader of the Christian Baptist, published by Alexander Campbell, and
this led him to preach with more clearness the truth as revealed in the New
Testament. It was difficult for him to banish from his thoughts the confusion of
religious error that he had learned. He continued to preach, and was among the
first in the State of Tennessee to come from the Baptists and preach "the
ancient order of things." He set his heart to the task of teaching his
neighbors and all who would listen to him the will of God. He was a successful
preacher and had a wonderful influence over his hearers. He entered the
evangelistic field and preached in Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee
wherever opportunity was offered him.
He was positive in nature and preached the gospel in a direct way. There
was no misunderstanding him. He had but little education from books, but he
became quite familiar with the teachings of the Bible and had the gift of
expressing himself with clearness and force. He had sympathy for those in error,
and, with his power of presenting the truth with clearness and his power of
exhortation, he won many to Christ. In 1848 we find him teaching clearly the
duty of members of the church. He wrote to the editor of the Christian Magazine
and said: "For three months I have been trying to 'bring about a better
state of things in the churches where I have labored, by teaching the disciples
what the Scriptures, demand them to do and what they forbid their doing, as
members of Christ's body." He further says: "As the course most likely
to insure success in this, I have laid great stress on personal and family
culture. I am perfectly convinced, that, if a member of the, church will not try
to add to 'his faith all that is commanded (see 2 Pet. 1: 5-7), he should be
removed from the community. Again, if a member who is at the head of the family
will not read (if he can read) to, and offer prayer to God in, his family, he
should be excluded." This shows that Brother Speer saw the need of teaching
the word of God in the family.
In 1850 we find him preaching at Cathey's Creek, Dunlap, Liberty, and
Mount Horeb. In giving a report of his work for 1849, he gives the number of
additions to these churches, which amount is above three hundred. He held a
meeting at Totty's Bend and baptized eighteen in July of that year. In August of
the same year he held a meeting at Lynnville, Tenn., and baptized twenty-nine.
He preached a week at Weakley's Creek and baptized fifteen. He held a meeting at
Lasea in 1849 and baptized fifty. In 1850 we find him doing evangelistic work in
Giles and Lawrence counties. In these counties he established many
congregations. We find him also preaching in Wayne, Lewis, Maury, Hickman, and
Lincoln counties. He established churches in all of these counties that year. In
1.852 we find a record of his work published in the Christian Magazine. In his
report he says: "I bad the good fortune to plant a church at Williamsport,
Maury County, Tennessee, last year , numbering thirty-eight members.
Several have been added to this congregation this year ." There are
very few congregations in Maury County that have not felt the influence of
In 1855 we find him living in Rutherford County. He held a meeting for
Rock Springs Church, in that county, beginning on July 13, 1855, and continuing
one week, in which there were forty additions to the church. In making his
report to the Gospel Advocate he says "Let us thank God and take
courage." He preached monthly for the Rock Springs Church during the year
1855, and there were fifty-three additions to the church that year. On December
27, 1855, he reported to the Gospel Advocate that he had just closed a meeting
at Brawley's Fork (old Brother Calvin Curlee's earthly home) with seventeen
additions. He also reported that he had fifteen additions at Cripple Creek, in
Cannon County, and fifteen at Millersburg, Rutherford County. He closes his
report to the Gospel Advocate as follows: "As ever, your brother in the
best of all labors on earth, J. K. Speer."
In 1856 he visited his old home in Yadkin County, North Carolina. He bad a
brother living there at Yadkin Institute. He preached there and baptized
fourteen and planted a church there. He says that he preached "three times
in the meetinghouse in Rockford, and three times in the courthouse in
Yadkinville, to very large congregations who seemed to be anxious to learn the
gospel plan of salvation more perfectly. Never did I see a people more ripe for
reformation than they are at this time in North Carolina. I believe we ought to
send one or more to preach the gospel there." This report was made to the
Gospel Advocate in 1856. His meeting at Yadkin Institute was held in the early
spring of that year. Again we find him visiting Yadkin Institute in September of
the same year. In making his report of this visit to the Gospel Advocate, he
says: "I am happy to say that 1 found the disciples here 'walking in
truth.' They have met every Lord's Day since they first became a congregation
last spring. I have added nine to their number since my arrival." A later
report shows that nineteen were added to the church and that he preached at five
other places in the State. He reported that he had preached at Dobson, Surry
County, North Carolina, and found there two ministers---one a Baptist, the other
a Methodist---"both of high standing in their respective churches, and of
fair abilities both natural and acquired. After hearing me three times the
Baptist minister most freely gave up his humanisms for the truth, and after
hearing four more discourses the Methodist made the good confession and was
immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; with these I
gained fourteen others, thus planting a church in Dobson of sixteen members,
with two of as good preachers as are to be found in that region. Thus you see I
gained thirty-five in all."
We find Joshua K. Speer in 1857 living at Lavergne, Tenn., and a member of
the board of trustees of Franklin College. This shows that he was in high
standing and in great favor with Tolbert Fanning. He was interested in the
education of the young people of his country. He was especially interested in
preparing young men to preach the gospel. In giving his report for the year 1857
in the Gospel Advocate, we find him at McMinnville, Tenn., in a week's meeting,
in which there were twenty additions to the church. That year he preached at
Lynnville six days, with seven additions. He reports holding a meeting at New
Hermon, where he labored with Brother David
Lipscomb in a meeting and baptized nine.
He was associated with Dr. T. W. Brents in a meeting
at Liberty, with twenty-five additions. At Ebenezer he joined Brother D.
Lipscomb and Brother Tolbert Fanning in a pleasant meeting, with twelve additions.
This year he had one hundred and thirteen additions to the congregation at Rock
Spring, in Rutherford County. No preacher labored more abundantly than did
Brother Speer. This year he lived at New Hermon, in Bedford County, Tennessee.
This congregation is one of the oldest congregations in the State.
Brother Speer died at his home at New Hermon, May 27,1858. A recent visit
to his tomb in the little cemetery near the New Hermon church house revealed
that, according to the record on the tombstone, he died in 1859. This is an
error, evidently placed on the stone some years after his death. The Gospel
Advocate, bound volume of 1858, page 256, gives a report of his death. The
Millennial Harbinger of 1858, page 540, gives a brief report of his death. Both
the Gospel Advocate and Millennial Harbinger of 1858 report his death. These
evidently record the date of his death correctly; hence, the date on the
tombstone is an error. Brother Speer was married twice and has many descendants
Biographical Sketches Of Gospel Preachers, H. Leo
Boles, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1932, pages 66-71
Location Of The Grave of J.K. Speer
From Fayetteville, Tennessee go east on Hwy 64 and
then north on Hwy 50 toward Lynchburg. Turn left on Booneville Rd. Go through
the little community of Booneville and dead end into Hwy 129W. Bear to the left
and about 8/10 mile to New Herman Road on the right. Go out New Herman Road 3.1
mile and the church building will be on your right. Behind the building up to
the right is the old cemetery. Speer's grave is toward the front of the cemetery
on a hill. The obelisk shape can easily be seen from the Church Building.
From Lynchburg, Tennessee take Hwy 129W off of Hwy 55.
Go about 4.6 miles and note a sharp turn to the right. (to the left is
Booneville Rd.) Go around the bend to the right and go 8/10 mile to New Herman
Road on the right. Go out New Herman Road 3.1 mile and the church building will
be on your right. Behind the building up to the right is the old cemetery.
Speer's grave is toward the front of the cemetery on a hill. The obelisk shape
can easily be seen from the Church Building.
From Petersburg, Tennessee (Hwy 431) take Hwy 129E to
Hwy 231 and turn right. Then turn back to the left where Hwy 129E continues. Go
about 3 or 4 miles and turn left on New Herman Rd. Then 3.1 miles on the right.
While visiting the old church at New
Herman and the grave of J.K. Speer, be sure to travel another 3.6 miles out New
Herman Rd. to the grave of J.D. Floyd. He is buried
in the Rose Bank Cemetery (on your right), in the community of Flat Creek. Go to the
first entrance and as you enter, bear to the left, counting in
about 12 rows, at the top of the first little rise. From the driveway it will
be about 4 stones in where you'll see the "Floyd" stone which is about
4ft square in size.
Speer Monument Past Sign And To The Right / In
Front Of Cemetery
Blessed Are The Dead
Which Die In The Lord
That They May Rest
From Their Labours, And
Their Works Do Follow Them