Barton Warren Stone (December 24, 1772 – November 9, 1844) was an American preacher during the early 19th-century Second Great Awakening in the United States. First ordained a Presbyterian minister, he and four other ministers of the Washington Presbytery resigned after arguments about doctrine and enforcement of policy by the Kentucky Synod. This was in 1803, after Stone had helped lead the mammoth Cane Ridge Revival, a several-day communion season attended by nearly 20,000 persons.
Stone and the others briefly founded the Springfield Presbytery, which they dissolved the following year, resigning from the Presbyterian Church altogether. They formed what they called the Christian Church, based on scripture rather than a creed representing the opinion of man. He later became allied with Alexander Campbell, a former Presbyterian minister who was also creating an independent path, sometimes allied with Baptists, and formed the Restoration Movement. Stone's followers were first called "New Lights" and "Stoneites". Later he and Campbell brought the groups together that relied solely on the Scriptures. Three main streams are descended from this union: the Churches of Christ, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ.
Stone was born to John and Mary Warren Stone near Port Tobacco, Maryland on December 24, 1772. His immediate family was upper-middle class, with connections to Maryland's upper class of planters. The first Protestant governor of Maryland, William Stone, was an ancestor and one of the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence; Thomas Stone was his second cousin.
Mary Stone was a member of the Church of England and Barton had been christened by a priest named Thomas Thornton. After Barton's father died in 1775, his mother moved the family to Pittsylvania County, Virginia in 1779, then on the frontier. After the move to the Virginia frontier during the war, Mary joined the Methodists. Barton was not himself notably religious as a young man; he found the competing claims of the Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists confusing, and was much more interested in politics.
Barton entered the Caldwell Log College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1790. While there, Stone heard James McGready (an evangelical Presbyterian minister) speak. A few years later, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
As Stone looked more deeply into the beliefs of the Presbyterians, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith, he doubted that some of the church beliefs were truly Bible-based. He was unable to accept the Calvinistic doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election and predestination. He also believed that "Calvinism's alleged theological sophistication had . . . been bought at the price of fomenting division" and "blamed it . . . for producing ten different sects within the Presbyterian tradition alone."
The huge Cane Ridge Revival of 1801 was "set up as a traditional Presbyterian 'sacramental occasion'," similar to the one he attended earlier that same year in Logan County which was later called the Revival of 1800. Like its predecessor, Cane Ridge continued for two to three days amid much fervor. Attracting an estimated 20,000 people, Stone was one of eighteen Presbyterian ministers, along with a number of Baptist and Methodist preachers who attended the participants. Traditional elements included the "large number of ministers, the action sermon, the tables, the tent, the successive servings" of communion, all part of the evangelical Presbyterian tradition and "communion season" known in Scotland.
In a disagreement with the Kentucky synod over its determination to censure a minister for what they said was deviation from doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith, in 1803 Stone and four other ministers formed the Springfield Presbytery. By 1804 the Springfield Presbytery had attracted 15 congregations in Ohio and Kentucky. The leaders of this newer presbytery became concerned by its growth, because they did not want to create a new denomination or "party". Ultimately convinced that their newer Springfield Presbytery was sectarian, the ministers dissolved it on June 28, 1804.
To publicize the dissolution, they signed a document entitled The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. This tract willed that "this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large." It expressed the desire for Christian union and identified the Bible as the only standard of Christian faith and practice. In addition to signing the Last Will and Testament, they agreed to take "no other name than christians" on the basis that it was "the name first given by divine authority to the disciples of Christ." Soon, they adopted the name "Christian" to identify their group. Thus, remnants from the Springfield Presbytery eventually became known as the Christian Church. It is estimated that the Christian Church numbered about 12,000 by 1830.
Elias Smith had heard of the Stone movement by 1804, and the O'Kelly movement by 1808. The three groups "declared themselves one" by 1810. At that time the combined movement had a membership of approximately 20,000. This loose fellowship of churches was called by the names "Christian Connection/Connexion" or "Christian Church."
In 1819 Stone moved with his family to Georgetown, Kentucky, where he had been hired as principal of the Rittenhouse academy, which became Georgetown College in 1829. In 1834 the Stones moved to Jacksonville, Illinois, in part to be able to free slaves whom his wife had inherited. This was not possible in Kentucky because they were attached to the estate. His mother-in-law's will bequeathed the slaves to his wife and her children in perpetuity in a way that placed them under the control of trustees. Moving to a free state allowed the Stones to emancipate them. Stone was a proponent of abolition and an active supporter of the American Colonization Society, which promoted sending free blacks to a colony in Africa (this was the basis of Liberia). By 1833 Stone had become disillusioned by the lack of success of the colonization efforts and began to support the immediate abolition of slavery.
The "Christian" movement associated with Stone merged with the "Disciples" movement led by Alexander Campbell in 1832. This was formalized at the High Street Meeting House in Lexington, Kentucky with a handshake between Barton W. Stone and "Raccoon" John Smith. Smith had been chosen, by those present, to speak in behalf of the followers of the Campbells. A preliminary meeting of the two groups was held in late December 1831, culminating with the merger on January 1, 1832. Campbell had been publishing the Christian Baptist since 1823, and Stone the Christian Messenger since 1826. Through these publications, they had begun bringing their followers closer together in uniting under Christ.
When the Christians and Disciples united in 1832, only a minority of Christians from the Smith/Jones and O'Kelly movements participated. Those who did were from congregations on the frontier, west of the Appalachian Mountains, that had come into contact with the Stone movement. The eastern members had several key differences from the Stone and Campbell group: an emphasis on conversion experience, quarterly observance of communion, and nontrinitarianism.
Stone died on November 9, 1844 in Hannibal, Missouri at the home of his daughter. His body was buried on his farm in Morgan County, Illinois. When the farm was sold, descendants had his remains reinterred at Antioch Christian Church east of Jacksonville. In 1847 his remains were moved again and reinterred at Cane Ridge Meeting House Cemetery in Cane Ridge, Kentucky.
Stone's grandson, Charles Chilton Moore initially became a preacher in the tradition of his father and grandfather, but he later became one of America's most famous atheists and founded the Blue Grass Blade, a newspaper which he used to promote atheism and criticize religion.