Marker #1498, "New Providence" [Presbyterian Church]

Historical marker #1498 in Mercer County notes the location of New Providence Presbyterian Church, a congregation first established in 1785.

In October 1773, a group of men gathered in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress and sent a petition to King George III, asking for the Intolerable Acts to be repealed. Five months earlier, and nearly seven hundred miles away, a different group of men arrived at the banks of the Salt River. This group included three brothers—James, George, and Robert McAfee—leading some to call them the McAfee Company.

In spite of its name, the group was not a land company and did not have shareholders. The McAfees, James McCoun, Jr., and Samuel Adams were neighbors who lived in Botetourt County, Virginia. Inspired to explore the West, with hopes of resettling their families into the region, they travelled along the Ohio River, later meeting up with Hancock Taylor and Captain Thomas Bullitt. Taylor—the future uncle of Zachary Taylor—continued with the McAfee party, while Bullitt soon departed to explore regions farther north.

The group found land that they wished to occupy, but they nevertheless decided to go back to Virginia. Six years later, in 1779, several members of the original party returned to Kentucky and helped form McAfee Station, where a stockade was established, approximately six miles from Harrodsburg. The growing community soon sought to create a more permanent religious establishment.

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Revolution, citizens of McAfee Station gathered together to discuss the creation of a building that could be used for religious and educational purposes. A heated debate ensued on where exactly to place the structure, but folks settled on a plot and agreed to construct “a log cabbin 20 feet by 28.” Soon completed, the congregation brought in the Reverend David Rice, who preached once a month.

Called New Providence, the congregation grew in size. In 1790, a new cabin was constructed that was twice the size of the original, but this still proved incapable of holding the congregation. In 1803, the building was expanded. It was replaced entirely by a brick building later. As the congregation flourished, a permanent minister was sought. Rice preached for a time and was succeeded by the Reverend William Mahon, who soon left. The Reverend Samuel B. Robertson proved more successful and stayed for nearly a decade (1801-1811) as the ordained pastor of the United Churches of New Providence and Cane Run.

By far the longest serving ordained minister at New Providence before the Civil War was Thomas Cleland, who succeeded Robertson. Born in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 1778, Cleland and his family later moved to Washington County, Kentucky. Cleland studied under a lawyer at the Kentucky Academy in Woodford County and spent a short time at Transylvania University. In his early twenties, Cleland preached for over two hours at the famous camp meeting held at Cane Ridge in 1801 and was licensed to preach two years later. In 1813, Cleland was ordained over New Providence and Cane Run. He would continue to preach at New Providence for the next forty-five years and was regarded as one of the most popular preachers in the state.

Less than a decade after the death of Cleland in 1858, New Providence Presbyterian Church moved into a new building. Designed in the Greek Revival style, this structure features a broad and high gable and large windows. Built in the midst of the Civil War, and laid with bricks in the Flemish bond style, this building has served as a permanent home for the congregation. In 1976, as the United States celebrated its bicentennial, the congregation at New Providence marked the occasion by observing its own 192nd anniversary.

The marker reads:

New Providence

The McAfee Company first visited Salt River in 1773 to choose a location for settlement. While returning to Virginia, they were near starvation until Robert McAfee killed a deer which provided food for them. Later when they built their church on Salt River, it was named New Providence to commemorate this act of divine providence in their behalf. See over.

House of Worship

The McAfee Company returned to Salt River, 1779, to establish their permanent settlement. In 1785 the first building to serve as meeting place and school house was erected ¾ mi. east. Present church building was started in 1861; Civil War delayed completion until 1864. Continuous worship services have been held since church’s founding. See over.



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