Barton W. Stone (1772-1844), evangelist, founder of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, was born into a farming family of Episcopalian background near Port Tobacco, Maryland. The family later moved to Virginia and in 1790 Stone enrolled in an academy run by a Presbyterian pastor in Guilford, North Carolina. While there he underwent a conversion experience and began to look to the ministry as his life work.
Questioning many traditional Calvinist assumptions, by the late 1790s Stone had moved to Tennessee and by 1798 was serving as a Presbyterian pastor for a pair of churches in Bourbon County, Kentucky. After investigating a revival in western Kentucky, he returned to one of his churches in Cane Ridge, Kentucky determined to stoke a revival similar to what he had just witnessed. The result was the famed Cane Ridge camp meeting where Stone and a group of mostly Presbyterian ministers preached to more than 20,000 people enflamed by emotion and mysterious physical manifestations (“exercises”).
Stone and associates’ involvement in that meeting and subsequent revivals caused trouble within several local presbyteries and as a result they decided to form and then abolish their own independent presbytery in 1804. Calling themselves simply “Christian,” the new movement questioned some elements of traditional Christology including the equality of the Son and the Father. In 1824 Stone came into contact with Alexander Campbell and over the next few years the two corresponded over their doctrinal similarities and differences. By 1829 Campbell had formally pulled out of the Baptists and Stone, having toned down some of his more unorthodox speculation, proposed that the two groups merge. Campbell had reservations but finally in 1832 the two groups, numbering about 15,000 followers across the Ohio Valley, merged together in a piecemeal fashion. In his latter years Stone became an enthusiastic critic of slavery and booster of the American Colonization Society’s plans to resettle slaves in Africa.
For further reading see D. Newell Williams, Barton Stone: A Spiritual Biography (Chalice, 2000), Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement: A History (College Press, 1982, revised ed. 2002).