Madison Campbell was born a slave in 1823 in Madison County, Kentucky. Through the influence of Edmund Martin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond, he came to saving faith in Christ Jesus in 1841.
The 18-year-old young man desired to join the Baptist church, but his owner, Audley Campbell, demanded his slaves hold to his Methodist faith. Therefore, Madison joined the nearby Bethlehem Methodist Church and became an active member.
Within a few months, Madison felt the Lord calling him to preach. This presented a problem — Audley Campbell believed only educated men should become preachers and there were few schooling opportunities for slaves. Though Madison had learned to read the Bible, Audley expressly forbid him from preaching.
Madison courageously declared he "was called of God and sent to preach" and told Audley, "I cannot promise you that I will not preach anymore."
The standoff ended when Audley's wife, Hannah, who was a Baptist, persuaded her husband to allow Madison to continue preaching, lest God should bring judgment on their household.
Madison was licensed to preach by the Methodist church in 1844 and served the Bethlehem congregation for over a decade.
However, Audley Campbell died in 1851 and Hannah told Madison he could preach for whichever denomination he wanted. The young preacher began to earnestly search the scriptures on the subjects of the church, its ordinances and eternal security. By 1856, he was convinced that Baptist doctrine was indeed Bible doctrine. He was scripturally baptized by Pastor Jacob Bush and joined First Baptist Church of Richmond. The following year he was ordained.
Madison immediately went to work serving the Lord, preaching wherever he had an opportunity. First Baptist Church of Richmond called him as pastor in 1858 and he served that congregation for 39 years until his death in 1897.
After the Civil War, Madison saw the need for new Baptist churches to be started for the freed slaves and organized New Liberty, Otter Creek, Mount Pleasant and Mount Nebo Baptist churches. The Mount Pleasant District Baptist Association was organized in 1876 in Madison County, and Madison would serve as moderator of that body for 21 years.
Two years before his death, Madison Campbell wrote his autobiography. Although he never lived outside of Madison County, he estimated he had traveled 32,000 miles preaching the gospel, baptized over 3,000 individuals and helped ordain 125 ministers and deacons.
He and his wife Polly were married for 51 years — until her death in 1894 — and they had 14 children.
This Baptist pastor was so respected in Madison County that, when he died, Judge Thomas J. Scott ordered the Richmond Circuit Court closed in his honor — the first time this happened for an African American in Kentucky.
Madison Campbell's faithfulness reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel."
Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a Baptist historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.