A History of the Baptists
The Baptists of the Ohio Valley.
The Ohio Valley?The Conditions?George Rogers Clark?The American. Settlers?The French Settlers?The First Churches in Ohio?John Smith and James Lee?The Indians?The Miami Association?Illinois?J. M. Peek?Indiana?Isaac McCoy and George Waller?Judge Holman?Missouri?Hardships?Bethel Church?Fee Fee Church?Tennessee?Middle Tennessee?Alabama?Revivals in Alabama.
The settlement of Kentucky brought vast changes in other sections of the Ohio Valley. The movements here involve almost the entire early history of this country. At first the territory was largely under the influence of the French Roman Catholics. The Jesuit missionary was often in advance of even the explorer and the fur trader, and while he was eagerly seeking to make converts of the Indian tribes, the missions planted by him became centers of Roman Catholic colonization. While such adventurers as La Salle, Joliet, and Nicolet, were extending westward and southward the limits of discovery, Marquette and his associates were no less active, and with no less of daring and self sacrifice, in preparing the way for what was meant should be a definite and permanent settlement in the country.
"Soldiers and fur traders," says Parkman, "followed where these pioneers of the church led the way. Forts were built here and there throughout the country, and the cabins of the settlers clustered about the mission houses." The "new colonists, emigrants from Canada or disbanded soldiers of French regiments," however wild in their habits of life, were devout Catholics, and wherever a little community of them gathered there was a center of the Roman faith. The missionaries were animated, no doubt, in the main by intense desire for the conversion of the native tribes. "While the colder apostles of Protestantism labored on the outskirts of heathendom, these champions of the cross, the forlorn hope of the army of Rome, pierced to the heart of its dark and dreary domain, confronted death at every step and were well repaid for all, could they but sprinkle a few drops of water on the forehead of a child, or hang a golden crucifix round the neck of some warrior, pleased with the glittering trinket" (Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac, II.). None the less they were the instruments of designs far more secular in character.
As intimated in the first words of the above extract, Protestantism found no such fervid championship. The day was to come when a different form of effort for conversion of the natives should be made by ministers of a truer faith and with better results than those just described. At this time, Protestantism was represented simply in the person of the American pioneer, seeking a home farther and farther in the depths of the western wilderness, perhaps with his religious instructor and guide sharing with him the rude conditions of the wilderness life, perhaps not, yet. in either case representative of ideas which must mean in western development something far different from all that appeared in the Jesuit missionary of the Canadian settler (Smith, A History of the Baptists in the Western States East of the Mississippi).
Under such conditions collisions were inevitable. As French adventurers and colonization moved westward by way of the great lakes, and southward and westward to the Ohio and the Mississippi, they found after a time their right of occupancy disputed. Meantime, while French and English were contending on battlefields in Europe, it could not fail to happen that wherever representatives of those two nationalities should meet in the new world, it must be as enemies, not as friends.
The conquest of the country by General George Rogers Clark, in 1778, and the organization of a civil government by Virginia, opened the way for an American emigration. "All that rich domain northwest of the Ohio was secured to the public at the peace of 1783, in consequence of the prowess of Clark" (Appleton, Cyclopedia of American Biography. Article, George Rogers Clark).
These early American settlers have been thus described by Hon. John Moses:
The larger proportion of these first American settlers came from Virginia and Maryland. While a few had received a rudimentary education, and had lived among communities which may be said to have been comparatively cultured, the most of them were hardy, rough, uncultivated backwoodsmen. They had been accustomed only to the ways of the frontier and camp. Many of them had served in the war of the Revolution, and all of them in the border wars with the Indians. While they were brave, hospitable, and generous, they were more at ease beneath the forest bivouac than in the "living room" of the log cabin, and to swing a woodsman?s axe among the lofty trees of the primeval forest was a pursuit far more congenial to their rough nature and active temperament than to mingle with society in settled communities. Their habits and manners were plain, simple, and unostentatious. Their clothing was generally made of die dressed skins of the deer, wolf, or fox, while those of the buffalo and elk supplied them with covering for their feet and hands. Their log cabins were destitute of glass, nails, hinges, or locks. Their furniture and utensils were in harmony with the primitive appearance and rude character of their dwellings, being all home made, and here and there a few pewter spoons, dishes and iron knives and forks. With muscles of iron and hearts of oak, they united a tenderness for the weak and a capability for self-sacrifice worthy of an ideal knight of chivalry, and their indomitable will, which recognized no obstacle as insuperable, was equaled only by integrity which regarded dishonesty . as an offense as contemptible as cowardice (Moses, Illinois, Historical and Statistical).
Over and against these were the French settlers. Parkman thus describes the colony at Kaskaskia, Illinois:
The Creole of the Illinois, contented, light-hearted, and thriftless, by no means fulfilled the injunction to increase and multiply, and the colony languished in spite of the fertile soil. The people labored long enough to gain a bare subsistence for each passing day, and spent the rest of their time in dancing. and merry making, smoking, gossiping, and hunting. Their native gayety was irrepressible, and they found means to stimulate it with wine made from the fruit of the wild grapevines. Thus they passed their days, at peace with themselves, hand and glove with their Indian neighbors, and ignorant of all the world besides. Money was scarcely known among them. Skins and furs were the prevailing currency, and in every village a great portion of the land was held in common (Parkman, Conspiracy of Pontiac, II.).
The religious conditions of this section of the country have been well described by Thomas Flint. He says of the religious character of the Western people:
An experiment is making in this vast country, which must ultimately contain so many millions of people, on the broadest scale on which it has ever been made, whether religion, as a national distinction of character, can be maintained without any legislative aid, or even recognition by the government. If there be any reference to religion, in any of the constitutions and enactments in the western country, beyond the simple, occasional granting of a distinct incorporation, it manifests itself in a guarded jealousy of the interference of religious feeling, or influence with the tenor of legislation. In most of the constitutions, ministers of the Gospel are expressly interdicted from any office of profit or trust, in the gift of the people. In none of the enactments are there any provisions for the support of any form of worship whatever. But if it be inferred from this, that religion occupies little or no place in the thoughts of the people, that there are no forms of worship, and few ministers of the Gospel, no inference can be wider from the fact. It is the settled political maxim of the west, that religion is a concern entirely between the conscience and God, and ought to be left solely to his guardianship and care.
Ministers are not settled.
Except among the Catholics, there are few settled pastors, in the sense in which that phrase is understood in New England and the Atlantic cities. Most of the ministers, that are in some sense permanent, discharge pastoral duties, not only in their individual societies, but in a wide district about them. The range of duties, the emolument, the estimation, the fact, the whole condition of a western pastor, are widely different from an Atlantic minister.
There are prejudices against contracts between pastors and people.
The people are generally averse to binding themselves by any previous legal obligations to a pastor for services stipulated to be performed. It is the general impression, that he ought to derive his support from voluntary contribution after services performed, and uninfluenced by any antecedent contract or understanding. There are many towns and villages, where other modes prevail; but such is the general standing feeling of the west.
The west is not destitute of religious instruction.
It has been a hundred times represented, and in every form of intelligence, in the eastern religious publications, that there were but few preachers in the country, and that whole wide districts had no religious instruction, or forms of worship whatever. We believe from a survey, certainly very general, and we trust, faithful, that there are as many preachers, in proportion to the people, as there are in the Atlantic country. A circulating phalanx of Methodists, Baptists, and Cumberland Presbyterians, of Atlantic missionaries, and of young elders of the Catholic theological seminaries pervades this great valley with its numerous detachments, from Pittsburg, the mountains, the lakes, the Missouri, to the gulf of Mexico.
The ministers are generally itinerants.
There are stationary preachers in towns, particularly in Ohio. But in the rural congregations through the western country beyond Ohio, it is seldom a minister is stationary for more than two months. Nine-tenths of the Religious instruction of the country is given by the people, who itinerate, and who are, with very few exceptions, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, men of great zeal and sanctity.
A description of Camp Meetings.
Suppose the scene to be, where the most frequent camp meetings have been, during the past two years, in one of the beautiful and fertile valleys among the mountains of Tennessee. On the appointed day, coaches, chaises, wagons, carts, people on horseback, and multitudes traveling from a distance on foot, wagons with provisions, mattresses; tents, and arrangements for the stay of a week, are seen hurrying from every point toward the central spot. It is in the midst of a grove of those beautiful and lofty trees natural to the valleys of Tennessee, in its deepest verdure, and beside a spring branch, for the requisite supply of water.
The line of tents is pitched; and the religious city grows up in a few hours under the trees, beside the stream. Lamps are hung in lines among the branches; and the effect of their glare upon the surrounding forest, is as of magic. By this time the moon, for they take thought to appoint the meeting at the proper time of the moon, begins to show its disk above the dark summits of the mountains, and a few stars are seen glimmering through the intervals of the branches. The whole constitutes a temple worthy of the grandeur of God. An old man, in a dress of the quaintest simplicity ascends a platform, wipes the dust from his spectacles, and in a voice of suppressed emotion, gives out the hymn of which the whole assembled multitude can recite the words,-and an air in which every voice can join. We should deem poorly of the heart that would not thrill, as the song is heard like the "sound of many waters," echoing from among the hills and mountains. The hoary orator tells of God, of eternity, a judgment to come, and all that is impressive beyond. He speaks of his experiences; his toils and travels, his persecutions and welcomes, and how many he has seen in hope, in peace and triumph, gathered to their fathers; and when he speaks of the short space which remains to him, his only regret is, that he can no more proclaim, in the silence of death, the mercies of his crucified Redeemer.
The effects of Camp Meetings.
Notwithstanding all that has been said in derision of these spectacles, so common in these regions, it cannot be denied, that the influence, on the whole, is salutary, and the general bearing upon the great interests of community, good. The gambling and drinking shops are deserted; and the people that used to congregate there, now go to the religious meetings.
The usefulness of Methodist and Baptist ministers, missionaries from the East.
The Methodists, too, have done great and incalculable good. They are generally of a character, education, and training, that prepare them for the element upon which they are destined to operate. They speak the dialect, understand the interests, and enter into the feelings of their audience. They exert a prodigious and incalculable bearing upon the rough backwoodsmen, and do good, where more polished and trained ministers would preach without effect. No mind but his for whom they labor can know how many profane they have reclaimed, drunkards they have reformed, and wanderers they have brought home to God.
The Baptists, too, and the missionaries from the Atlantic country, seeing such a wide and open field before them, labor with great diligence and earnestness, operating generally upon another class of community (Thomas Flint, The History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley. Second Edition. Cincinnati, 1832).
The Baptists were the first to enter this territory and to organize a church. The first church was planted in Ohio, called Columbia, now Cincinnati, in 1790. This company has been thus described: It was on the 18th of November, 1788, that a company of twenty-three men, some of them hardly grown, three women and two children, (the oldest only five years of age) landed from the flat boat on which they had floated from Pittsburgh and began to erect the cabins in which they proposed to spend the winter, awaiting the arrival of other relatives-fathers and mothers, and wives and children-in the spring. Most of these people had come from Essex county, New Jersey, and several of them had been members of the old Scotch Plains Baptist Church, from which the First Baptist Church of New York City had been organized, and of which Rev. John Gano, noted for having been among the most efficient and influential chaplains in the army of the Revolution had been pastor. The leader of that company of Pioneers was Major Benjamin Stites, who later became very prominent in this church. There was also General John Gano and wife (The Journal and Messenger, July, 1889). Rev. Stephen Gano, of Providence, Rhode Island, visited this little band, in 1790, baptized three persons and organized the church.
The next May the church chose John Smith to be their pastor. He was a Virginian, a very able, talented man, an excellent orator, whose voice could be heard at a great distance in the open air, and thus admirably adapted to a new country. He was everywhere heard gladly. For several years he was very useful, till he became involved in politics, the great mistake of his life, as he himself admitted. He was a member of the Convention for the adoption of a State Constitution for Ohio, and one of the first senators in Congress. He became intimately acquainted with Aaron Burr, and entertained him for a week or more at his home in Cincinnati. When Burr was suspected of treason, suspicion also fell on Smith. He was tried in the Senate, and although not proved guilty, there were so many against him, that he resigned. In 1808 he left Cincinnati for Louisiana, where he lived in obscurity for fifteen or sixteen years till his death. Some of his enemies were bitter persecutors, but those who knew him best had great confidence in him.
Associated with John Smith was James Lee of Virginia. He was a man of marked personality. He has been thus described:
He could not read even when of age, but seemed evidently called of God to preach the gospel. He had hardly heard a sermon till his majority but was soon after licensed to preach by some church in Kentucky. In an excursion through the Miami country he called upon Elder Smith on Saturday, and on his way to church Sunday morning, Elder Smith learned that he was a preacher, and urged him to preach, though having been traveling for several weeks he was in no condition to appear in the pulpit. But he yielded to entreaty and ventured to speak to the people both morning and evening. This was God?s introduction for his servant to some twenty-five years of usefulness in the Miami Association.
These and other ministers were assisted by distinguished lay. men. Two of these were Judge Francis Dunlevy and Judge Matthias Corwin. Judge Dunlevy "was one of the early Baptists of the Northwestern Territory, and in the pioneer history of the territory actively shared. He became a member of the Columbia Church in 1792; was one of the conference which took the first steps toward organizing the Miami Association and, it was said long after, drew up the articles of faith agreed upon by the Association. He continued an active member of the church in Miami Valley until his death, November 6, 1839, a period of forty-seven years, and had been a member of the Baptist church some five or six years previous to his uniting with the Columbia Church" (A. H. Dunlevy, History of the Miami Association.). Judge Matthias Corwin had likewise held important political positions. "When at home he was always at his post; and so constant was his attendance upon the meetings of the church that if he was missed at any time, when at home, it was known that something unusual had detained him. He was frequently one of the messengers of the church in the association, often a messenger of the association to some corresponding body, and on several occasions was appointed to prepare circular and corresponding letters of the association as well as the letters of his own church" (Dunlevy).
"This settlement was made in perilous times," says Benedict. "The Indians made every exertion to cut them off and prevent their settlement. They tried many stratagems to decoy them ashore on their passage down the river; and after they settled they were continually lurking to destroy them. They were obliged, for a number of years, to live mostly in forts and blockhouses; but, notwithstanding all of their precautions a number of the first settlers fell victims to the rage of their savage neighbors" (Benedict).
The Miami Association was founded in 1797, of four churches, with about one hundred members in all. In 1805 the Scioto Association was formed from this one, with four churches, and three years afterwards six other churches were dismissed from the Red Stone Association and formed into a new organization.
The emigration to Ohio, being principally from those parts of New England where Baptists were few, did not increase in proportion to the population. About 1825 a great revival was experienced in all the Baptist churches of the State. The beginnings followed the powerful preaching of Jeremiah Vardeman, then of Kentucky, who held a series of meetings in Cincinnati with great success, several hundred being converted under his ministry in the course of a few weeks. The revival spread through the churches adjacent, and the organization of the Ninth Street Church, Cincinnati, was one of the results (S. H. Ford, Planting and Progress of Baptist Churches in the Valley, The Christian Repository, October, 1875. XVII. 241).
The Baptists were the first, after the Roman Catholics, to enter the territory of Illinois. The following narrative of their introduction into this State is largely taken from the account of J. M. Peck, who was more conversant with the facts than any other man: About the year 1786 a number of families had settled in the American Bottom, and in the hill country of what is now called Monroe county. They came chiefly from western Virginia and Kentucky. In 1787, James Smith, a Baptist minister, whose name is found in the first table of Kentucky, made them a visit, and preached the gospel with good effect. A few families from their first settlement had been in the habit of keeping the Sabbath, governing their children, and holding meetings for religious purposes. At that period there were none who had been members of churches. Their method of observing the Sabbath was to meet, sing hymns, and one would read a chapter of the Scriptures, or a sermon from some author. No public prayer was made until after the visit of Smith, and some had professed to be converted. It deserves to be noted that the descendants of these families are now exceedingly numerous, that a very large proportion are professors of religion, that are marked for industry, sobriety and good order in their families, and in one of the families there are five ministers of the gospel.
James Smith visited the settlements in Illinois three times. The Indians made frequent depredations, and on one occasion, they captured Smith, and conveyed him prisoner to their town on the Wabash. The people of Illinois, though extremely poor, raised the ransom of one hundred and seventy dollars.
In January, 1794, Josiah Dodge, originally from Connecticut, but one of the pioneers of Kentucky, visited Illinois and in February baptized four converts. One of those baptized was James Lemen, Sr., who became a preacher, and left four sons who were preachers. No church was organized on this occasion. In the spring of 1796 David Badgley removed his family from Virginia to this territory, preached among the people for several weeks, baptized fifteen persons, and with the aid of Joseph Chance, organized the New Design Baptist Church of twenty-eight members. The work prospered and shortly afterwards, in 1798, the two men organized another church of fifteen members in the American Bottom. The churches in Illinois soon became sadly divided on the subject of slavery and other causes.
These Baptists of Illinois lived a genuinely pioneer life. "Many a family," says one who was associated with these heroes of the faith, "long after the New Design was settled, was exterminated, tomahawked, and scalped by the Indians. The cougar, the coyote, the bear, the Indian, had to be met in those days, by one class of men, while another class turned the sod, tilled the soils reaped the grain, and still another had to plant, build and sustain the churches. All of these onerous duties were often performed by one and the same class. The man went to the place of worship clad in a suit of dressed buckskin, with moccasins on his feet, shot pouch swung to his side, and the ever present rifle on his shoulder, and preached the gospel to the few neighbors gathered inside the log cabin while others were stationed as pickets."
In this company of pioneers J. M. Peck was a mighty man. Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1789, a descendant of one of those by whom the New England colonies were planted, with imperfect advantages of early education, reared as a Congregationalist, but becoming a Baptist through independent study of the New Testament, ordained at Catskill, New York, in 1813, after a brief pastorate in Amenia, in that State, he removed in 1816 to Philadelphia, where he studied theology under Dr. Stoughton, and having later caught the missionary spirit from Luther Rice, devoted his life thenceforth to missionary services in the West. His home was at first in St. Louis and St. Charles, Missouri, but after some years he fixed it finally at Rock Spring, Illinois. From this time on he became a principal figure in Illinois Baptist history, until his death in 1858. "He was," says Sprague, "undoubtedly one of the most remarkable self-made men of his day."
He was among Baptists in Home Mission work in the West what Judson was to then in Foreign Work. After a long and tiresome trip he reached St. Louis, which for a time was the base of his operations.
In this new country he had assumed a most discouraging task, and his Journal sets forth the extreme difficulties which he encountered. "The people," said he "throughout these extreme frontier settlements were quite ignorant; few could read, and fewer families had Bibles. They knew not the name of a single missionary on earth, and could not comprehend the reasons why money should be raised for the expenses, or why ministers should leave their own neighborhoods to preach the gospel to the destitute. They manifested the same apathy in their worldly business. A small corn field and a truck patch were the height of their ambition. Venison, bear meat, and hog meat dressed and cooked in the most slovenly and filthy manner, with cornbread baked in form of a pone, and when cold as hard as a bricket, constituted their provisions. Coffee and tea were prohibited articles amongst this class; for had they possessed these articles, not one woman in ten knew how to cook them. Not a school had existed. A kind of half-savage life appeared to be their choice. Doubtless in a few years, when the land came into market, this class of ?squatters? cleared out for the frontier range in Arkansas."
His directions for spending a comfortable night in the open are interesting. He says:
The first thing is to select the right place in some hollow or ravine protected from the wind, and if possible behind some old forest giant which the storms of winter have prostrated. And then, reader, don?t build your fire against the tree, for this is the place for your head and shoulders to lie, and around which the smoke and heated air may curl. Then don?t be so childish as to lie on the wet or cold frozen earth, without a bed. Gather a quantity of grass, leaves, and small brush, and after you have cleared away the snow, and provided for protection from the wet or cold earth, you may sleep comfortably. If you have a piece of jerked venison, and a bit of pone with a cup of water, you may make out a splendid supper, provided you think so, "for as a man thinketh so he is."
He was never a great speaker but he was a great organizer. He saw in the new country the need of schools. On a visit to the Bethel Association in Missouri he put in operation a plan of a society which worked wonders. When he was called on by the association "to speak upon the subject of missions he presented a copy of the annual report of the Board, and then enlarged at length upon the value of missionary work, and the opportunities which were opening for large and successful undertakings by the denomination. He also suggested that the association through its corresponding secretary enter into a correspondence with the Board of Foreign Missions. Then he outlined the plan of a proposed society to embrace all Baptist churches in Missouri and Illinois which should desire to affiliate with it. He submitted for discussion a carefully prepared Constitution. According to its provisions the objects of the new society were to be two-fold,-to aid the Western Mission in spreading the gospel and in providing common schools in the western part of America, both among the whites and the Indians. A person of good moral character could become a member on payment of an annual fee of five dollars. Each Baptist association contributing to the work could send two missionaries to the annual meeting.
"One of the matters particularly emphasized was the consideration of means whereby prospective school teachers and ministers could be aided in obtaining an education. It was not the purpose of the founders to use any of the funds of the society to pay the salaries of teachers amongst the white settlers. This would be done by the local communities. But the society was to aid worthy young people to prepare for the ministry or for a profession; and it was also to be on the lookout constantly for good teachers, to import them from the East, if deemed advisable, and to introduce them to the. schools. In other words, it was to combine, in this department of activity, the functions of a Teachers? Recruiting Station, a Board of Education and a Teachers? Agency.
"In spite of the opposition of two visiting preachers from the Boone?s Lick Country, who were anti-mission and anti-everything, the Bethel Association voted heartily to endorse the plan embodied in the Constitution which had been submitted. It was formally adopted by the Illinois Association on October 10th, and by the Missouri Association October 24th. Following its adoption by the latter body the organization of the society was completed; and, under the vigorous leadership of Mr. Peck, it began operation almost immediately. It was the first society of any denomination to be organized west of the Mississippi for philanthropic purposes.
"It is natural for ardent natures to dream dreams. It is easy and fascinating to form plans and to translate them into constitutions and by-laws. The new society was a vision and an ambition. Was it anything more? The provisions already outlined, for instance, with regard to the oversight of teachers and the improvement of educational facilities sound impressive, and rather statesmanlike, but were they workable? Distances were great; facilities for travel were at a minimum; the churches were poor and widely scattered; the preachers were ignorant; the sentiment against schools and education was strong; the people were occupied with the immediate tasks of clearing the land and making a livelihood; all the conditions of life were primitive; immorality was prevalent and religious indifference was almost universal. How was the strong and positive influence of a new educational system to be made effective? It is difficult to say just how it was done; but that it was really accomplished is shown by the facts. Within three years after the formation of the new society more than fifty schools were established in Missouri and Illinois, where common nuisances, with drunken, with illiterate Irish Catholics at their head, had before existed. This seems startling, almost inconceivable, yet the fact stands" (Austen Kennedy de Blois, John Mason Peck, 34, 35. New York, 1917). Out of this movement came Shurtleff College.
About the year 1800 the immense stretch of country from the Ohio to the Lakes, and thence to the Mississippi, was known as the Northwest Territory. It was divided into seven counties. Wayne county included the whole of Michigan, and Knox county the most of Indiana and a part of Illinois.
When the settlers in this wilderness began to clear small patches of ground, William McCoy, of Shelby county, Kentucky, made frequent visits to Indiana, and preached the gospel with good results. He was the father of Isaac McCoy, who became the apostle to the Indians in this section. As a result of these visits he organized a church about the year 1798 called Silver Creek. There has been some dispute in regard to this church for it appears to have been at times likewise called "Owen?s Creek, Knox county."
He had a son, Isaac McCoy, who was associated with George Waller of Kentucky. Together they explored the wilderness of the Indian Territory as far as Vincennes, preaching wherever they could gather a few persons in cabins and in the woods. Through their instrumentality a church was organized eight miles north of Vincennes, in 1806, and the same year a church called Bethel, further down the Wabash. These were followed by the organization of Patoka, Salem, Moriah and Pigeon Creek churches. These six churches with six ministers, Alexander Devens, James Martin, Isaac McCoy, and Stephen Strickland, were formed into an association called Wabash. It met in the Bethel meeting house, Knox county, and the sermon was preached by George Waller. The churches numbered one hundred and thirty-three communicants. This was three years before the organization of the Silver Creek Association, whose churches were planted earlier. The remoteness of the Wabash from other associations doubtless hastened the organization. The Silver Creek Association was formed in 1812 from churches mostly dismissed from the Long Run Association, in Kentucky. These associations were followed by others in this section (J. M. Peck, Historical Sketches, The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, 197, 198. July, 1842).
In the southwestern portion of the State a few Baptists settled in 1809. George Hume, from Campbellsburg, Kentucky, made repeated visits to the Laughrey, a stream which empties into the great Miami a few miles below Cincinnati. His labors were blessed, and in 1811, a revival followed, in which a great number were baptized. Thus, the Laughrey Church was formed, and built the first house of worship, costing three hundred dollars. This was the first church house in this district. An association was soon formed. The two foremost men were John Watts and Jesse Holman. Watts was a man of great gifts, but gave up the ministry to become a United States Senator. Holman was born near Danville, Kentucky. He became the Supreme Judge of the State and afterwards a Federal Judge. He did not give up the ministry and was a tower of strength for the Baptist cause.
The following story of the removal of Judge Holman to Indiana was published after his death and will give some idea of the sacrifices and hardships of these early settlers. He says:
I sent my household furniture, a very small stock, by water, in time to reach Verdestan before my arrival. The weather had been remarkably fine for several days, and on Monday evening, when we crossed the river into Indiana, there seemed to be a fair prospect of its continuance, but about the time we started on Tuesday morning it commenced snowing, and the snow continued to fall all day. My wife?s health was still delicate, and her babe but two months old, yet we persevered in our journey. In fact, there was but little prospect of doing better, as there were very few families living on the road, and not much promise of accommodation, in any of them. When we reached our cabin, we were cold, hungry, and fatigued?and what a prospect was presented! The eye of civilized woman scarcely ever looked upon a more lonely, dreary, desolate habitation. The men who had charge of my furniture had not arrived; no mark of human feet?no, nor the feet of any animal?had disturbed the smooth surface of the snow. All was still?as uniform?as unbroken, as if no living thing had ever been there, or had long since departed. The inside of the but was as chilling and cheerless as the prospect without. The snow had drifted through the crevices in the roof, and down the open chimney, and covered the floor, and in some places was as deep as it was without. There was no fire, and it was more than a mile down the long river hill to the nearest dwelling, and night was. setting in. And there we were?myself weary?my wife sinking with exhaustion, chilled and shivering with cold?our sweet, tender infant?it was no time for thought, but for action. Not that we don?t think in such emergencies; but thoughts rush in such rapid succession that scarcely a moment is employed in thinking. I had a small feather bed and some blankets which I had used while preparing my habitation. I scraped the snow from a part of the floor, and there laid the bed, and folded my wife and baby in the blankets, then laid them on the bed, and wrapped it over them?cheered and encouraged the dear woman with the assurance that she should have all the comforts it was in my power to give-gave her lips and heart all the warmth my kisses could impart?and then secured my horses and sought the nearest habitation. There are very few who can outrun me when I put forth my utmost speed, and never had I such a motive for such speed before. I had run when I thought the Indian?s tomahawk just behind me?I had run from the fangs of the surly bear and the ferocious wolf?but I never before ran to prevent my wife and child from perishing with cold. Seldom, if ever, was such a distance traversed by man in so short a time. The strides I made in descending the hill could afterwards be seen in the snow, and they were prodigious; but I could have run no further. I instantly dispatched two men, inspired with something of the energy with which I was nerved. I had to pause and breathe a few minutes myself, but my wife and child were too dear to me to let me linger while I was able to move. I returned, however, much slower than I came. My two neighbors, with a zeal and diligence for which I shall always feel grateful, had built up a large blazing fire, and swept the snow from the floor, and my wife with a bright countenance was soon seated before the fire, on one of the few stools which were my only seats. Our neighbors having rendered all the assistance we needed, returned home. I had a coffee pot and some tin cups, in which we made and drank our tea, not the most palatable to refined tea drinkers; but we were thankful for it-after which I read a chapter in the Bible, and we for the first time in our lives, knelt down together and gave thanks to God for the mercies we had enjoyed, and committed ourselves to his paternal case. There is not much of this world?s goods that are absolutely necessary to happiness, and we laid down that night on our very humble couch with feelings as cheerful as we had ever enjoyed when surrounded with all the comforts, the luxuries, and the splendors of life. So it was with me, and so I believe it was with my wife. She was far less accustomed to privations than I was; but she always said, and I believe she said truly, that she could be happy with me in any situation. But she was now and for a long time put severely to the test.
Our furniture did not arrive; we looked for it day after day, but it came not; we were suffering for the want of it; and our neighbors were too few, too far distant, and too destitute themselves to lend us any, and there was none to be purchased. I borrowed a single chair, and one or two trifling articles, and with these we lived for about a week. I was compelled to go out several times among the neighbors, in order to procure the means of subsistence, and we had few nearer than three or four miles. On these occasions Betsey was left alone with the infant in a solitary wild, where no human beings were to be seen, and she knew not where to be found in case she needed assistance or protection. Transported at once from a populous region, swarming with inhabitants; from the border of a highway, along which a stream of passengers was incessantly flowing, to an unpeopled wilderness, which the retiring savages had recently given up to the wild beasts and a few backwoods Americans, her imagination had full room for dreary pictures and dark apprehensions. Everything tended to invite gloom and foreboding. My presence insured protection; my smile lightened the solitary scenery; but in my absence, all was startling loneliness (The Banner and Western Pioneer, 1842).
From 1731 to 1803, the condition of the governmental affairs of the province of Louisiana, which then included what is now the State of Missouri, was far from being settled. The question of Spanish or French rule was not arranged to the satisfaction of the people. Yet for years the "Upper Territory" was under the control of a Spanish governor whose headquarters were at Cape Girardeau. Here he ruled with the pomp and severity of an oriental prince. He was never without a retinue of priestly advisers. Influenced by these vassals of the pope, he at one time issued an order that all the people who resided within a distance of fifteen miles from his mansion, should, on a certain day, attend "mass" at Cape Girardeau. The few Baptists then in the province, and residing in the district named in the order, dared to disobey the command. And it was only by what the priests termed "the neglect of the governor," that they narrowly escaped the penalties of their heretical insubordination (Dunean, A History of the Baptists of Missouri.).
During the Franco-Spanish period some Baptists ventured to leave their homes under the protection of the Stars and Stripes and take up residence in the wilds of Missouri. It appears that the Baptists were the first non-Roman Catholics among the whites who settled in this territory. These were found in 1796 a few miles south of where the town of Jackson, in Cape Girardeau county, is now located. These adventurous Christians made their homes in the forests. Besides these few settlers there were in that immediate section no other human beings except the savage red man. The institutions of Christianity had not found a home in the forest, and the few Baptists assembled only occasionally to read the Scriptures, and have song and prayer in their lonely cabins. But in 1799 an aged Baptist preacher named Thomas Johnson came among them. He was from the State of Georgia where he had been a missionary among the Cherokee Indians. He was on a voluntary missionary tour at his own charges and at the risk of his life. His preaching was in violation of the established government of the country, but his preaching was a great comfort to these poor people. He was the first to administer baptism in the State of Missouri. The subject was Mrs. Ballow who was baptized in Randall?s Creek (Pope Yeaman, A History of the Missouri Baptist General Association).
The first church organized in the State was in the Tywappity Bottom under the preaching of David Green, a native of Virginia, who had spent much time in preaching in North Carolina and had early gone to Kentucky. After preaching here for a period he returned and fixed his home in Cape Girardeau county. This Tywappity church was a feeble body from the beginning and became extinct after a few years.
These settlers suffered most distressing hardships for many years. As late as November 15, 1817, an eye-witness describes the conditions existing among them as follows:
When we left Shawneetown, there was not half a barrel of flour in the place, and it was by special favor that we got two loaves of bread. We had laid in a supply of fresh beef, and the captain had a small stock of hard sea biscuit. A supply of eatables of some sort must be had at the first settlement, and this proved to be Tywappity Bottom, on Sunday at 12 o?clock. Here I found two Baptist families, learned some important facts about the state of religion and schools in this part of the territory, but no milk and no meal could be had. We obtained a few ears of damp corn from the field, and a bushel of potatoes. The mills, such as then existed, were out of repair, and no family enjoyed the benefit of corn dodgers. Hominy was the substitute for bread.
Bethel church, the second in the territory, was organized July 19, 1806, in the same county. David Green, the minister, and deacons George Lawrence and Henry. Cockerham officiated in the constitution. The first house of worship erected in Missouri, save by the Roman Catholics, was erected not long after its organization by the Bethel church. It was constructed mainly of very large yellow poplar logs well hewn. The building was about twenty by thirty feet. Several churches were organized out of this one, notably the one in Jackson.
J. M. Peck, who visited the church in 1818, gives the following description: "On the 7th of November?Saturday?I met the church in Bethel meeting house. Eld. William Street, who had come from a settlement down the St.. Francois, had preached before my arrival. The church sat in order and transacted business. I then preached from Isaiah 53: 1, and Eld. James P. Edwards followed me from John 14: 6. The people tarried through all of these exercises with apparent satisfaction. Custom and common sense are the best guides in such matters. Dinner was never thought of on meeting days. The Cape Girardeau Society, auxiliary to the United Society, had already been formed in this vicinity, and there were more real friends and liberal contributors to missions in this church than in any other in the territory. Yet in a few years, from the formation of Jackson and a few other churches from this, the death of some valuable members, and the removal of others of a different spirit, Bethel church had ?Ichabod? written on her doors. It became a selfish, lifeless, and anti-mission body."
The first Baptists of St. Louis county formed three settlements, the Spanish Pond, Bridgeton and Fee Fee?s Creek. For several years these emigrants were destitute of preaching. Finally, in 1798, came John Clark, the first "preacher, other than Roman Catholic, that ever set foot on the western shore of the Mississippi River." He was born in Scotland, November, 29, 1758. His family connections for many generations had been strict Presbyterians. He had received a liberal education in the common branches. In 1787 he removed to Georgia and settled on the banks of the Savannah River, where he was ordained a Methodist deacon by Bishop Asbury. Having become dissatisfied with the episcopal form of government of that church, he severed his connection with it. About the year 1803 he became a Baptist in the following singular manner: He was intimate with an independent Methodist minister by the name of Talbot. Both were dissatisfied with their baptism. A meeting was appointed. Talbot baptized Clark, who in turn baptized Talbot and several others. "At the next meeting a month later, Mr. Clark baptized two or three others of his society? It was ten or twelve years after this before he became regularly connected with the Baptist denomination."
Clark was the pioneer preacher of Missouri. His mode of travel was on foot, for there were no railroads or steamboats in those days. At length some friends furnished him with -a pony, saddle, bridle and saddle bags and induced him to ride. He was much troubled lest the pony would either hurt him or itself. Whenever he came to a creek or a muddy slough, he would dismount, throw his saddle bags over his shoulder, take off his nether garments, and carefully lead his horse through mud and water, often to the depths of three feet. His thoughts were so distracted by the pony that on his return home, he entreated his friends to take back the horse which interfered with his religious duties. He would travel through heat and cold, wet and dry, rather than miss an appointment. On one occasion he traveled all night to reach his destination.
He was soon afterwards followed by Thomas R. Musick who was the first permanent Baptist preacher in Missouri.
The first sermon preached in Iowa was by a Baptist, John Logan, of McDonough county, Illinois, in a rude cabin, the home of Noble Housley, Des Moines county, October 19, 1834.
Among the first settlers in this part of the Territory were a few Baptists from Illinois and Kentucky, who desired to be organized into a church, and so they invited two ministers, Logan and Bartlett, to visit them. After a sermon on the next day by Logan, eleven persons were enrolled as a church. The articles of faith adopted had been copied by William Manly, one of the members, from the Brush Creek Baptist Church, Green county, Kentucky. The church was named the Regular Baptist Church of Long Creek, and is now known as the Danville Baptist Church.
At the time of the organization Iowa was a vast wilderness, and what is now known as the city of Burlington was a village of a half-dozen rude log huts. There was no minister of any denomination in all this country, and no religious service of any kind. Logan continued his visits to this little flock for about eighteen months. The records of the church show that there were baptisms in 1838, but no mention is made of the administrator. The first mention of a pastor is in June, 1840. The minutes of the meeting read:
Called Eld. A. Evans for one year, for which the church agreed to contribute for the support $75.00. Eld. Evans labored as pastor about four years, and was succeeded by Eld. H. Burnett. Of the success attending the early labors of these brethren, Eld. R. King, the present pastor writes: One peculiar feature of the early history of the church, is the gradual and constant increase. Conversions seem to take place through the entire year, and baptisms are reported at twenty-three regular meetings, during a period of four years and ten months.
Two other churches, Rock Spring and Pisgah, were formed in 1838, and the three numbered at this time ninety members. In August; 1839, in a grove near Danville, the Iowa Baptist Association was formed. There were ten messengers present from the three little churches, and the ministers were J. Todd, A. Evans and H. Johnson. Todd was chosen moderator, and the other nine sat on a log while he stood before them resting on the back of a chair; and thus they transacted business.
In 1842 the Davenport Association was organized, and the name of the body was changed to Des Moines, to denote better its location. Later it was divided into other associations. In June, 1842, twenty-six brethren met in Iowa City and organized the Iowa General Association. Some of these persons walked seventy-five miles to attend this meeting. The object of the organization was stated to be: "To Promote the Preaching of the Gospel, Ministerial Education, and all the General Objects of Benevolence throughout the Territory (George W. Robey, Planting and Progress of the Baptist Cause in Iowa; The Christian Repository, December, 1876. XXII. 410).
After the Revolutionary War Tennessee was called The Deceded Territory of North Carolina. There was an attempt made in 1754 by North Carolinians to settle in Tennessee, but they were driven off by the Indians. Following the waters of the Holston and Clinch rivers, they located near Knoxville as early as 1756, and were soon followed by a few others. The Baptists were the first to plant churches in the State. Baptist churches were organized as early as 1765 in East Tennessee on the above rivers. They were broken up by the Indian War of 1774, but they were soon reinforced by new settlers. One on Clinch river, by the name of Glad Hollow, was reorganized the next year. "Amidst these scenes of disorder and violence," says Ramsey, "the Christian ministry began to shed its benign influence. Tidence Lane, a Baptist preacher, organized a congregation this year, 1779. A house of public worship was erected on Buffalo Ridge" (Ramsey, Annals of Tennessee).
The historian Benedict gives the following account: "But the beginning of the first churches, which have had a permanent standing, was in the following manner: about the year 1780, William Murphy, James Keel, Thomas Murrell, Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton, Mathew Talbot, Joshua Kelby, and John Chastain, moved into what is called the Holston country, when it was a wilderness state, and much exposed to the ravages and depredations of the Indians. These ministers were all Virginians, except Mr. Lane, who was from North Carolina. They were accompanied by a considerable number of their brethren from the churches which they left, and were followed shortly after by Jonathan Mulky, William Reno, and some other ministers and brethren, and among other emigrants there was a small body, which went out in something like a church capacity. They removed from the old church at Sandy creek in North Carolina, which was planted by Shubeal Stearns; and as a branch of the mother church, they emigrated to the wilderness and settled on Boon?s creek" (Benedict).
Next year six churches had been organized, which held semiannual conferences, until 1786, when the Holston Association was organized, with seven churches and six ministers. Revivals of religion were enjoyed, converts were multiplied, and in 1793 the Holston Association included sixteen churches, twelve ordained ministers, and 1,033 communicants. The Baptists of East Tennessee, were a mixture of Regulars and Separates, though the Calvinistic principles prevailed in the Association.
The settlements in Middle Tennessee were not commenced till a number of years after those in East Tennessee had become large and flourishing. In the year 1780, a party of about forty families, invited by the richness of the Cumberland country, under the guidance and direction of Gen. James Robertson, passed through a wilderness of at least three hundred miles to the French Lick, and there founded the city of Nashville, on the Cumberland, and commenced settlements in that vicinity. There were some few Baptists in this company of emigrants.
Several churches were gathered and an association organized, called Mero District, in 1796. By 1801 the association had increased to 18 churches, 16 ordained ministers, and about 1,200 members (J. M. Peck, Baptists in the Mississippi Valley, The Christian Review, October, 1852. XVII. 489). In 1810 there was one church belonging to the South Kentucky Association. It was located at "the forks of Sulphur and Red rivers; John Grammar, pastor; number of members 30, constituted in 1786." This church became extinct, and "they must have been an adventurous set of people to settle in such a remote region, where they were continually exposed to distractive depredations of the Indians." This church was constituted by preachers from the Elkhorn Association in Kentucky. This is now Robertson county.
Another church was soon after located at the head of Sulphur Fork. It was constituted in North Carolina as a traveling church, and settled near Fort Station. Other churches followed?Mill Creek and Richland Creek, near Nashville. An association was formed of fifteen churches in 1803, and in three years increased to thirty-nine churches, with 1,900 members. Soon after the Red River Association was formed, embracing the churches south of the Cumberland and along the Kentucky line. Concord Association was organized in 1810, and included the churches in and around Nashville. Three associations were organized early in the nineteenth century between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers?Forked Deer, Central and the Big Hatchie.
The settlement of Alabama was of comparative late date. Perhaps Hosea Holcombe gives the best account of the rise of the Baptists in this State. He says: "The northern part of the State, i.e., north of the Tennessee river, particularly Madison county, which is a beautiful and fertile county, was settled many years before any other part of the state, except a small section on the Tombigbee River, about St. Stephens. In the first settling of Madison county there were some Baptists. Elder John Nicholson, who became pastor of the first church constituted in Madison county, John Canterbury and Zadock Baker, were, as we learn, among the first Baptist ministers, who labored in this wilderness. The beauty of the country?fertility of the soil?the excellent springs of water, combined with many other advantages, soon drew a dense population into this region, and in the course of a few years, a number of Baptist churches were formed. Worldly inducements brought a number of ministers into this region; some of whom died in a short time; and others removed; and although there were those who stood high in the estimation of the people, yet, as we have mentioned in the history of the Flint River Association, it appears that they labored in vain. The hearts of preachers and people were fixed too much on the fleeting things of time and sense. It was easy to accumulate wealth, and professors of religion as well as others, gave themselves up to the flattering prospects of gain. Elders R. Shackleford, W. Eddins, and Bennet Wood, were among the early ministers in this country; men, whose names will live long in the recollections of many; others settled about the same time, among whom were Jeremiah Tucker, George Tucker, John Smith, J. C. Latta, and J. Thompson, all of whom have since died, or left the country.
"About the year 1808, or earlier, some Baptists were found in the southern part, near the Tombigbee river, in Clarke and Washington counties. Wm. Cochran, a licensed preacher from Georgia, is said to have been the first in Clarke county, and a Mr. Gorham, who died in a short time, the first in Washington county. The last named county lies on the west side of the river, and Clarke on the east. In the latter, a church was organized in 1810, by Eld. J. Courtney, Elder Joseph McGee, who was highly esteemed as a minister of Christ, settled here shortly after. There was no great increase of Baptists in this country until after Jackson?s purchase was made. In 1815 and 1816 the tide of emigration began to flow into this Indian country, and on until 1820; and after that there was a continual flood, pouring in from almost every State in the Union. From the Tennessee river to Florida; and from the Coosa to the Tombigbee, there was scarcely a spot but what was visited by emigrants, or those who wished to be such. Churches were formed in almost every part of the State, and a number of laborious, and indefatigable ministers of the gospel, came in and settled this country.
"Houses for the worship of God were scarce for several years after the writer .came to this country in 1818; and many of those which were erected, were more like Indian wigwams than anything else; only they were, more open and uncomfortable. It was common in those days when the weather was favorable, for the minister to take his stand under some convenient shady bower, while the people would seat themselves around him on the ground. In many instances, large congregations would assemble; and they were far more attentive to the Word than they are at this time in many comfortable places, as in some instances a hard shower of rain would disperse them" (Holcombe, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Alabama).
Holcombe gives an account of the revival services held, which soon became common in the South. "The first camp meeting," says he, "perhaps, ever known in Alabama, was held with the church, where the writer has his membership. This meeting took place about the first of October, 1831 it continued for five or six days, and twelve or fifteen families tented on the ground. Here the Lord made bare his arm, and displayed his power in the salvation of many precious souls. The groans and cries of repenting sinners, the songs and prayers, the shouts and praises of Christians, formed an awful, and yet delightful harmony. At this meeting there commenced the greatest general revival ever known at that time, in middle Alabama; it continued over twelve months; during which period there were near 500 baptized in three or four churches. One of the happiest seasons of the life of the author was the cold winter of 1831, and ?32; during which he baptized over 150. From that time camp meetings became common among the Baptists in different parts of the State; yet some churches disapproved of the course. That there were extravagances at some of those meetings, we think few will deny; yet there was much good done. ?It was not unusual to have a large portion of the congregation prostrated on the ground; and in some instances they appeared to have -lost the use of their limbs. No distinct articulation could be heard; screams, cries, shouts, notes of grief, and notes of joy, all heard at the same time, made much confusion,-a sort of indescribable concert. At associations, and other great meetings, where there were several ministers present, many of them would exercise their gifts at the same time, in different parts of the congregation; some in exhortation, others in prayer for the distressed; and others again, in argument with opposers. A number of the preachers did not approve of this kind of work; they thought it extravagant. Others fanned it as a fire from heaven.? When the winnowing time calve on, it was clearly demonstrated that there was much good wheat; notwithstanding, there was a considerable quantity of chaff" (Holcombe, 45, 46) .
Books for further reference:
Justin A. Smith, A History of the Baptists in the Western States East of the Mississippi. Philadelphia, 1896.
R. S. Duncan, A History of the Baptists in Missouri, embracing an Account of the Organization and Growth of Baptist Churches and Associations; Biographical sketches of Ministers of the Gospel and other Prominent Members of the Denomination; the founding of Baptist Institutions, Periodicals, &c. Saint Louis, 1882.
W. Pope Yeaman, A History of the Missouri Baptist General Association. Columbia, Mo., 1899.
Hosea Holcombe, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Alabama. Philadelphia, 1840.
B. F. Riley, A Memorial History of the Baptists of Alabama, being an Account of the Struggles and Achievements of the Denomination from 1808 to 1923. Philadelphia, 1923.
J. M. Peck, Baptists in the Mississippi Valley, The Christian Review, XVII. 481-514. New York, 1852.
J. M. Peck, Religious Progress of the Mississippi Valley, The Christian Review, XIX. 570-590.
B. B. Edwards, Obligations of the Eastern Churches to the Home Missionary Enterprise, The Bibliotheca Sacra and Theological Review, II. 621-636. New York, 1845.