Peter Durrett

Peter Durrett

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Peter Durrett (also appeared in records as Peter Duerrett) was a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 preacher
Preacher
Preacher is a term for someone who preaches sermons or gives homilies. A preacher is distinct from a theologian by focusing on the communication rather than the development of doctrine. Others see preaching and theology as being intertwined...

 and slave, who with his wife founded the First African Baptist Church
First African Baptist Church (Lexington, Kentucky)
First African Baptist Church is a historic church at 264-272 E. Short Street in Lexington, Kentucky. The congregation was founded c. 1790 by Peter Durrett and his wife, slaves who came to Kentucky with their master, Rev...

 of Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 63rd largest in the US. Known as the "Thoroughbred City" and the "Horse Capital of the World", it is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region...

 by 1790. By his death, the congregation reached nearly 300 persons. It is the first black congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains
Allegheny Mountains
The Allegheny Mountain Range , also spelled Alleghany, Allegany and, informally, the Alleghenies, is part of the vast Appalachian Mountain Range of the eastern United States and Canada...

, the first black Baptist congregation in the state and the third oldest in the United States. Its historic church was built in 1856, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

.

Early life and education


Peter Durrett was born into slavery on the plantation
Plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

 of his white father, Captain Duerrett of Caroline County, Virginia
Caroline County, Virginia
Caroline County is a county located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2010, the population was 28,545. Its county seat is Bowling Green. Caroline County is also home to The Meadow stables, the birthplace of the renowned racehorse Secretariat, winner of the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and...

. He would have learned a variety of skills from his mother and fellow slaves. While in Caroline County, at about age 25, he was awakened to the gospel and began to be active as a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 exhorter. This was during the First Great Awakening
First Great Awakening
The First Awakening was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of personal...

, the revival of the eighteenth century when Methodist and Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 preachers in the South
The South
-Geography:* Southern United States* South of England* South of France* South Italy* South Korea* Republic of Ireland* South Province * Global South, the developing nations of the world-Other uses:* The South , by Victor Erice...

 made many new converts.

Marriage and family


Peter married an enslaved woman who was held on another farm. When he learned in 1781 that her master was planning to migrate to Kentucky, he asked Captain Duerrett for help. Captain Duerrett made an exchange so the couple could stay together, and Peter prepared to migrate.

Career


The Baptist preacher Joseph Craig held Peter and his wife as master. Craig, his family and slaves migrated in 1781 with the congregation and other members of The Traveling Church, led by Craig's older brother Rev. Lewis Craig
Lewis Craig
Sir Lewis Craig, Lord Wrightslands , was a Scottish judge.Craig was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton, by Helen, daughter of Heriot of Traboun. He was educated at Edinburgh University, where he graduated M.A. in 1597...

 from Spotsylvania, Virginia. (Some accounts say the group traveled in 1785.) Because Peter helped the military leader, Captain William Ellis, guide the several hundred migrants on the arduous 600-mile journey through the Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

, he became known as Old Captain after the trip. He was believed to have learned the route at an earlier time, perhaps on another journey with Ellis.

In Kentucky, Peter Durrett became a Baptist preacher, although he was never formally ordained. In 1784 he and his wife were members of their master Joseph Craig's church at the head of Boone's Creek. It was about eight miles east of the settlement of Lexington.

Soon after, when the church dissolved, Peter and his wife got permission from Craig to hire themselves out and moved to Lexington. They were hired most steadily by the pioneer
American pioneer
American pioneers are any of the people in American history who migrated west to join in settling and developing new areas. The term especially refers to those who were going to settle any territory which had previously not been settled or developed by European or American society, although the...

 John Maxwell, who also helped them build a cabin on his property at Maxwell Spring. Here Peter called fellow slaves together and began preaching. In the early years, they often met at different locations. The 19th-century religious historian and minister, Robert Hamilton Bishop
Robert Hamilton Bishop
Robert Hamilton Bishop was a Scottish-American educator and Presbyterian minister who became the first president of Miami University in Ohio...

, gives Mrs. Durrett credit for having been integral to forming the congregation:
"His wife was also particularly active in providing accommodations for the people, and in encouraging them to be in earnest about the things which belonged to their everlasting peace."
Durrett applied to the local Baptist association for ordination, which they declined to do, but "directed him to go on in the name of their common Master." Gradually Durrett and his wife gathered about 50 congregants, most of whom Durrett baptized. As the congregation united as a church, Durrett began to administer the Lord's Supper
Lord's Supper
The Lord's Supper may refer to:*Eucharist, Mass or Communion, a rite in Christianity*The Last Supper, the last meal Jesus of Nazareth shared with his disciples in the collection of Christian Scriptures called The Holy Bible....

.

By 1790, they had founded the First African Church of Lexington, now known as the First African Baptist Church
First African Baptist Church (Lexington, Kentucky)
First African Baptist Church is a historic church at 264-272 E. Short Street in Lexington, Kentucky. The congregation was founded c. 1790 by Peter Durrett and his wife, slaves who came to Kentucky with their master, Rev...

. It was the first black congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains, the oldest black Baptist congregation in Kentucky and the third oldest in the United States. Its early congregants were fellow slaves, who were joined by free blacks in the Lexington area. The congregation was believed to number up to 300 people during Durrett's lifetime. The trustees, all free men of color
Free people of color
A free person of color in the context of the history of slavery in the Americas, is a person of full or partial African descent who was not enslaved...

, purchased their first property for a worship place in 1815. Durrett lived until 1823, when he was said to be near 90.

He was succeeded by Rev. London Ferrill
London Ferrill
London Ferrill, also spelled Ferrell, was a former slave who became the second preacher of the First African Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, serving from 1823–1854. During his 31 years of service, Ferrill attracted and baptized many new members in the growing region; by 1850 the church had...

, a free black
Free people of color
A free person of color in the context of the history of slavery in the Americas, is a person of full or partial African descent who was not enslaved...

who was a former slave. Ferrill increased the congregation to 1,820 by 1850, making it the largest of any church, black or white, in the state.