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The first book printed in the State of Kentucky (which became a state in 1792) was published on January 1, 1793 by a Pennsylvania-born (March 24, 1755) Presbyterian minister, Adam Rankin. It is titled, A Process of the Transilvania Presbytery, which refers to the presbytery covering the territory of Kentucky within the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, established in 1786. Adam Rankin had been charged with several offenses which involved worship and doctrinal differences between him and others. This book is his account of the matter.
In this interesting work, Rankin fired the first literary salvo in his controversy with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), specifically, the Transilvania (Transylvania) Presbytery of Kentucky, of which he was a member. The controversy led to the further publishing of 1) A Narrative of Mr. Adam Rankin's Trial by the Transylvania Presbytery (1793); and 2) Adam Rankin’s A Reply to a Narrative of Mr. Adam Rankin's Trial (1794). Here, in A Process, he lays out the particular charges that were leveled against him, along with his defense. Additional sections of the book set forth his reasons for separating from the PCUSA (he later joined the Associate Reformed Church); a digest of his positions on matters of controversy at that time between the PCUSA and the ARC, including the free offer of the gospel, terms of communion, national covenanting, marriage licenses and more; followed by “A Appendix on a late performance of the Rev. Mr. John Black of Marsh Creek, Pennsylvania,” in which Rankin sets forth satirically a “Modern Creed” which lays out the arguments of the opposition, largely regarding the place of the Psalms in worship.
One of the major issues between Rankin and the Transylvania Presbytery was his conviction that the Psalms of David alone were to be sung in public worship, to the exclusion of Isaac Watts’ imitations. A Process, in fact, constitutes one of the earliest published American defenses of exclusive psalmody. Following the January 1, 1793 publication of A Process, we have at Log College Press also a February 7, 1793 letter of encouragement from ARC minister Robert Annan to Rankin touching on this very issue.
Rankin is famous in church history for possessing difficult temperament. Here is an opportunity to read his own words in the heat of controversy to see for yourself how he expressed himself. Also available at LCP is his Dialogues, Pleasant and Interesting, Upon the All-Important Question in Church Government, What are the Legitimate Terms of Admission to Visible Church Communion? (1819). John Wilson Townsend, Kentucky in American Letters, 1784-1912, Vol. 1, p. 18 (1913), says: “His Dialogues …, is really his most important publication, but it has been greatly overlooked in the recent rush among Kentucky historical writers to list A Process as the first book published in Kentucky.”
Controversy followed Rankin even in the ARC in the form of a dispute with Robert Hamilton Bishop, which resulted in church discipline for both men. Eventually, Rankin left the ARC too, bidding his Lexington, Kentucky congregation farewell with plans to travel to Jerusalem. He died on the way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 25, 1827. James Brown Scouller, A Manual of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, 1751-1881, pp. 493-494, writes:
There can be no question that Mr. Rankin was “encompassed with infirmities,” that he was sensitive, a little jealous, impulsive and strong of will, so that he soon put himself on the defensive, and always with his face to the foe, and he had the misfortune of living at a time when ecclesiastical things did not always run smoothly. On the other hand it is just as certain that he was loyal to the truth and valorous in its defence, however faulty his methods. He was of unquestioned piety, and commanded the full confidence of those among whom he lived. He possessed unusual eloquence and power in the pulpit, and often moved a whole congregation to tears.