Lexington, Kentucky, has the honor of being the birthplace of one of the first genuinely homegrown American Christian faiths: the Disciples of Christ. Established in 1832 by the union of two Christian groups led by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, their descendent churches are now referred to by religious scholars as the Stone-Campbell movement. In the state's best tradition, this historic movement soon acquired its own larger-than-life legend: Raccoon John Smith, the flamboyant frontier preacher of the southern Kentucky mountains. Smith moved to the lowland Bluegrass and braved considerable odds to preach and establish the self-described ""pure, nondenominational"" Christianity of Stone and Campbell throughout the state and beyond. The 1832 union of Stone and Campbell's churches was in fact formalized not by Stone and Campbell, but by Stone together with Smith, who represented Campbell's constituency in Kentucky. Raccoon John Smith occupies a well-deserved place both in Kentucky and Stone-Campbell history. All previous biographical studies have been colored by the religious faith he embraced and the legends that evolved around him, however, rather than giving an accurate account of Smith's life. In ""Raccoon John Smith,"" Elder John Sparks fills this void in the literature about Smith, using historical sources to present a faithful portrait of a seminal frontier preacher and colorful figure in early Kentucky history.
Elder John Sparks, an ordained minister of the United Baptist Church and a graduate of Pikeville College, is the author of The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns, for which he received the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Celebration of Appalachian Writings award in 2003. He lives in Offutt, Kentucky.