J.R. Graves and J.M. Pendleton A Model for the Ages
Throughout Baptist history, there have been several famous Paul and Barnabas-type friendships.
Examples such as James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus, J.B. Moody and J.N. Hall and B.H. Carroll and J.B. Gambrell readily come to mind.
Two of the most famous in Kentucky Baptist history are J.M. Pendleton and J.R. Graves. Their story is worth telling.
Pendleton was a native Kentuckian, born in Christian County. He pastored the First Baptist churches of Hopkinsville, Russellville and Bowling Green. Graves was born in Vermont but moved to Kentucky in 1841 and was soon after ordained to the gospel ministry by the Mount Freedom Baptist Church in Jessamine County.
While the two men knew each other in the 1840s, their friendship was truly formed in 1852 when Pendleton invited Graves to preach a revival for him in Bowling Green. For four weeks, Graves preached and a mighty move of God came to the community.
As a result, 75 people were baptized into the fellowship of the First Baptist Church of Bowling Green, including several from other denominations and multitudes of new believers. One of those saved was Pendleton’s 13-yearold daughter.
Graves soon invited Pendleton to move to Tennessee and officially join him in his publication efforts. Pendleton had been a weekly contributor to Graves’ Tennessee Baptist newspaper since 1852. Together, he and Graves made it the largest antebellum Baptist periodical in the world with a weekly circulation of 14,500. Their influence across the south was unprecedented. Even today there are many churches in Kentucky that continue to hold to the conservative Baptist ecclesiology of Graves and Pendleton.
Unfortunately, the Civil War changed everything.
Pendleton was convinced that secession was wrong and slaves should be emancipated. Graves, however, strongly believed in states’ rights and supported the Confederacy. This — coupled with the financial stress from the war — caused the partnership that had been so influential to break apart. Pendleton left his duties as associate editor and moved north to Ohio.
This part of the account is well known. Yet the rest of the story is not.
The Civil War left both men broken. J.M. Pendleton’s son John was killed at the Battle of Perryville, while J.R. Graves’ mother, Lois, and wife, Louise, both died of yellow fever in Memphis in 1867. Each man wrote tender letters of sympathy to the other.
In the midst of personal tragedy, their close friendship was restored. While Pendleton was engaged in a successful pastorate in Upland, Pennsylvania, he again became a regular contributor to the Tennessee Baptist, even serving for a time as associate editor.
This renewed friendship would remain until the death of both men. When J.M. Pendleton celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary in Bowling Green in 1888, he invited his “dear friend” J.R. Graves to attend.
The story of J.R. Graves and J.M. Pendleton shows us the importance of forgiveness, restoration and co-laboring in the ministry. May we follow their example as we remember, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a Baptist historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.