Creek History • April 17, 2015
The Legacy of the William “Billy” Kellar (1768-1817), Pioneer Baptist Minister
William “Billy” Kellar sought the challenges of the new frontier of westward expansion in the United States. A native of Virginia, Kellar, known as wild and adventurous, was converted to a call of ministry as a young man, soon after his marriage to Ann Netherton, daughter of Col. John Netherton of Shenandoah County, VA.. He moved his family to Kentucky where he settled near Harrods Creek in Oldham County. There were few ministers in the area and Kellar began preaching to both a small community of Methodists and Baptists. The small congregation wrote letters of intent to form a church and selected Kellar to be their leader and teacher. During this time, Kellar became a good friend of a well-known Baptist minister, John Taylor, and was soon ordained into the Baptist ministry.
Kellar organized four Baptist churches, Eighteen Mile, Harrods Creek [in the Harrods Creek watershed] and Lick Branch which were in Oldham County and Beargrass in Jefferson. These churches were part of the Long Run Association which comprised churches in a ten county area. The Harrods Creek church was closest to Kellar’s family and farm and that is the one where his family attended.
always carrying his gun and knife, and on one occasion he killed a very large bear while on his way to preach at Eighteen Mile one Sunday morning.
Kellar was a member of the volunteer company, the Mounted Rifleman, during the Revolutionary War. He recruited one hundred local men that lived in the vicinity, to join him at the Wabash River to fight the Illinois Indians in the last war with Britain. The following excerpt is an early church history from the archives of the Oldham County History Center that was written by Elmo Anderson on September 20, 1900 about circuit riding preacher William Kellar:
One hundred years ago, when civilization had barely made its entrance in the forests of Kentucky, and when she had been only eight years a State, when nature in dominance reigned in its fullest glory, when nothing but a little log cabin here and there was suggestive of human existence, and during this period Eighteen-Mile had its origin. The church was first gathered by the famous pioneer of this region, William Kellar, and was constituted by William Kellar, Ambrose Dudley and William Payne, September 12, 1800, the constituent members being nine in number, viz.. John Coons, Rheuben Pemberton, Garvin Adams, Joel Camper, Zelick W. Quinn, Elizabeth Coons, Elizabeth Pemberton, Ann Camper and Sarah, a black woman. The lot upon which it was first built was purchased from John Coons, near Brother Pembeton’s spring…William Kellar was chosen as first pastor and served in that capacity until his death, November 6, 1817.
William Kellar had many difficulties with which to contend, owing to the newness of the settlements, having had to walk from the Harrods Creek settlement to this place, a distance of about 12 miles, through a pathless forest, always carrying his gun and knife, and on one occasion he killed a very large bear while on his way to preach at Eighteen Mile one Sunday morning. Few men have been better fitted for pioneer preachers than William Kellar. He possessed great physical strength and courage, and unflagging industry, and it added much to his popularity that he was a skillful hunter, a boss mechanic (cabinet maker), and the best hand in the settlement at a log rolling or a house raising. He was of a cheerful temperament. His doctrine was built on sovereign grace, and he was eminently practical in applying it. Of him John Taylor says: ‘Everything that was calculated to recommend a man to his fellow men was summed up in Mr. Kellar. Generosity, good will and liberality, as well as justice and truth, were predominant in him. Of the value of this man a tenth part has not been told.
Historic records provided by:
Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD
Oldham County Historical Society