Robert Kirtley was born May 30, 1786 along the Rapidian River in Culpepper (now Madison) County, Virginia, the son of Jeremiah and Mary Kirtley. In 1796 he moved with his parents to Boone County, Kentucky, where he resided for the rest of his life.
Around 1806, Robert married Mary Thompson, the daughter of Asa Thompson of the Bryant's Station area near Lexington, Kentucky. They lived on a farm, and had ten children together, several of whom died in infancy.
In February 1811 Robert Kirtley was baptized by Christopher Wilson, and joined the Bullittsburg Baptist Church. His life in the local religious community was briefly interrupted in 1812 when he entered the Kentucky militia as a Lieutenant, serving under General Harrison. With the end of the War of 1812, Kirtley returned home.
Robert became a Deacon in 1817, and was licensed to preach in July 1819. He was later ordained in August 1822. In 1826 he succeeded James Dicken and Absalom Graves as the sole pastor of Bullittsburg Baptist Church. He served for thirty-one years as a moderator for the North Bend Association of Baptists, retiring from the post in 1865.
Robert Kirtley died early in the morning of 9 April 1872. His funeral was held at Bullittsburg Baptist Church the following day. S.L. Helm officiated.