A History of the Baptists
The Baptists in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Spanish America—The Inquisition—Florida—New Mexico—The French Occupy Louisiana—The Conditions—The Mississippi Country—The Claim of Great Britain—The Uprising Against Spain—Emigrants in the Natchez Country—Richard Curtis—Journey by Flatboats—Religious Liberty—Salem Church—Meetings Held at Night—The Spanish Officers—The Flight of Curtis—In South Carolina—The Return of Curtis—The Dissensions of the Salem Church—The Baptists Enter Louisiana—Mills and Smith—The Conditions in Louisiana—Persecutions—Bailey E. Chancy—Half Moon Bluff Church—Baptists in New Orleans.
The story of the Spanish occupation of America is romantic and cruel. Spain at the time of the discovery of this country was dominated by a blind religious fanaticism, the expression of which was the Inquisition. The very year, 1492, that Columbus discovered America the Inquisition in Spain had done its fiercest work. Isabella afterwards expressed herself as follows: "For the love of Christ and the virgin mother I have caused great misery, and have depopulated towns and districts, provinces and kingdoms."
"The discovery of America by Columbus," says Goodspeed, "opened to Spain an opportunity such as never again fell to the lot of that ignorant and expiring nation. She had passed the summit of her glory, had sanctioned the barbarities of innumerable conquests, and had witnessed the moth-like delight of her fawning nobles; but with fatuous blindness had wholly disregarded the call of the scythe and the grateful peans of the plow. Her civilization had sprung from the gospel of the Inquisition, from the creak of the rack, from the expulsion of learning, from the death chants of burning heretics, and from the nightmare of distorted, brutal and barbarous Christianity. The husbandman and his family were classed with the swine that root in the ground. He was kicked, cowed, cursed and robbed by court and church, by state and supernumerary. The glory of Spain had become the exile and degradation of labor and the enthronement and deification of caste, ignorance and priest-craft. The blasting stupidity of the priests perverted the religion established by the Almighty and proclaimed to all mankind by Jesus of Nazareth. The priestly orders gave their consent to murderous conquest, crime for gold and the unprincipled splendors of church and state. The wealth of the nation in rippling fields of grain, homes of intelligent and happy children, the reign of liberty—s beneficent laws, the nobility of labor, and the piety of perpetual peace, were undreamed of and unknown to the swaggering grandees, who thronged the fair Spanish cities and jeered at the laborer rooting in the adjacent soil. The nation that took delight in the hideous spectacle of the Spanish bull fights could not be expected to emblazon —Kindness— on its bloody banner. A people who regarded all persons other than Catholics as heretics fit only for the rack or the stake found an easy excuse for the deliberate slaughter of the Indian heretics of the New World. In the name of God—Jesus—Mary—the glittering Toledo blades of De Soto—s grandees and Coronado—s cavaliers drank the blood of the natives with the sanction of the priests, just as the Inquisition destroyed other unbelievers in Old Spain. The religion of Castile and Aragon was the murder of heretics; and murderous conquest was the Spanish colonial policy. So the golden opportunity of adding to this miserable civilization a splendid realm of domestic happiness and industrial wealth was wholly unappreciated by the priests and the nobility who dominated the Spanish court. She passed blunderingly by a magnificent empire, which later shone in the West like a star, inviting wise men of the East to come here to worship at the shrine of domestic happiness and a just Christianity. But her wise men were wanting. They had overridden their camels of conquest and were lost in the desert of their own crimes. She was doomed to decadence from the inherited evil festering in her own cruel and ignorant heart." (Goodspeed, The Province and the States, A History of the Province of Louisiana under France and Spain, and of the Territories and States of the United States formed therefrom, I. 17, 18. Madison, Wis., 1904) .
The same awful conditions were transferred to the Spanish possessions in America. A vast system of government was set up on these lines from Florida to the Dakotas, everywhere characterized by cruelty.
The occupation of Florida by the Spanish had every appearance of success. For one hundred and fifteen years Spain and the Spanish missionaries had exclusive possession of Florida, and it was during this period that those imposing results were achieved. In 1680 a settlement of Scotch Presbyterians at Port Royal in South Carolina seemed to menace the Spanish domination. It was wholly characteristic of the Spanish colony to seize the sword at once and destroy its nearest Christian neighbor. It took the sword and perished by -the sword. The war of races thus inaugurated went on, with intervals of quiet, until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when Florida wag transferred to the British crown. No longer sustained by the terror of the Spanish arms and by subsidies from the Spanish treasury, the whole fabric of Spanish civilization and Christianization, at the end of a history of almost two centuries, tumbled at once to complete ruin and extinction (Bacon, A History of American Christianity).
When the Spaniards left Florida, the English found little to possess but the country. "The whole number of its inhabitants," says Bancroft, "men, women, children and servants, was three thousand; and of these the men were nearly all in the pay of the Catholic king. The possession of it had cost him nearly two hundred and thirty thousand dollars annually; and now, as a compensation for Havana, he made over to England the territory which occasioned this fruitless expense. Most of the people received from the Spanish treasury indemnity for their losses, migrated to Cuba, taking with them the bones of their saints and the ashes of their distinguished dead, leaving in St. Augustine their houses of stone, and even the graves without occupants" (Bancroft, History of the United States, III. 403. Centennial Edition).
The same thing happened in New Mexico and all the West. Louisiana and a part of Mississippi came under the same domination. Thomas O—Gorman, of the Catholic University at Washington, recounts the extraordinary successes and failures of this Spanish regime. He says: "Over an hundred thousand of the aborigines were brought to the knowledge of Christianity, and introduced, if not into the palace, at least into the antechamber of civilization. It was a glorious work, and the recital of it impresses us by the vastness and success of the toil. Yet, as we look around to-day, we can find nothing of it that remains. Names of saints in melodious Spanish stand out from maps in all that section where the Spanish monk trod, toiled and died. A few thousand Christian Indians, descendants of those they converted and civilized, still survive in New Mexico and Arizona, and that is all" (O—Gorman, A History of the Roman Catholic Church in the United ,States).
The French in a most brilliant series of exploits sought to occupy America. Large sums of money were used to subsidize their expeditions, only finally to meet with failure. Their system of colonization was not a success. There was a want of men and permanent population. This was the condition in Louisiana. "Such was Louisiana for more than half a century," says Bancroft, "after the first attempt of colonization by La Salle. Its population may have been five thousand whites and half that number of blacks. Louis XIV had fostered it with pride and liberal expenditures; an opulent merchant, famed for his successful enterprise, assumed the direction; the company of the Mississippi, aided by boundless but transient credit, had made it the foundation of their hopes, and, again, Fleury and Louis XV had sought to advance its fortunes. Priests and friars, dispersed through nations, from Biloxi to the Dakotas, propitiated the favor of the savages. But still the valley of the Mississippi was a wilderness. All its patrons—though among them it counted kings and ministers of state—had not accomplished for it, in half a century, a tithe of the prosperity which, within the same period, sprung naturally from the benevolence of William Penn to the peaceful settlers on the Delaware" (Bancroft, History of the Colonization o f the United States, III.).
The whole of the Mississippi country had come under the domination of Spain. The conviction of the settlers was that the country belonged to Great Britain. In April, 1782, there was an uprising against Spain in favor of the control of England. As might have been expected, Spain put down the revolt. The harsh treatment of the French malcontents, in New Orleans, by Governor O—Reilly was then recalled Many fled the country precipitately, taking with them their families as best they could. Few incidents in the early history of Mississippi caused more suffering or distress than the flight of the men and women of that day. Claiborne gives the following pathetic account of the sufferings of it large number of fugitives:
A more precipitate and distressing exodus never occurred. Leaving their homes, which they had made comfortable by severe toil, their property, which had been accumulated by patient industry; with no transportation but a few pack horses, with no luggage but their blankets and some scanty stores, they gathered their wives and children and struck into the wilderness. Fearful of pursuit, fearful of ambush, dogged by famine, tortured by thirst, exposed to every vicissitude of weather, weakened by disease, more than decimated by death, the women and children dying every day, this terrible journey makes the darkest page of our record. But the courage and perseverance they evinced, the uncomplaining patience and fortitude of refined and delicate women, and the period of suffering and peril, shed a glow of sunshine over the story, and their descendants, still numerous in Mississippi, will read it with mingled pity and admiration (Claiborne, Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State, I.).
Fortunately, those who remained were treated better by the Spanish governor than might have been expected. Speaking of the Spanish governors Claiborne says:
The successive commandants at Natchez, and the governor-general of Louisiana, were accomplished gentlemen, trained to arms, stately but courteous, punctilious, fond of etiquette and pomp, but hospitable, generous and forbearing. They were Catholics, of course, and such was the religion of the kingdom and its provinces, and those who emigrated to the country came with a full knowledge of the fact. A large majority of the settlers were Protestants, and enjoyed their faith and the right of private worship. No attempt was made to proselyte or proscribe them, nor was there any official interference unless the parties in their zeal, or under indiscreet advisors, became offensively demonstrative (Claiborne, I.).
This language of Claiborne is guarded, and has in it a number of limiting clauses. A little further on he justifies the action of the Spanish governors by contrasting their actions with those of some of the Protestants in New England. So far as Baptists are concerned the point holds good. They no more escape the wrath of the Roman Catholics in Mississippi and Louisiana than they did that of the Puritans of New England. "It was a community of Protestants," says Lowry and McCardle, "under a strictly Catholic dynasty, in an age of intolerance" (Lowry and McCardle, A History of Mississippi). And that probably relates the story.
It was under conditions like these that in the spring of 1780, a number of emigrants left South Carolina for the Natchez country. In this company there were ten or twelve Baptists. There was Richard Curtis, Sr., who was the father of a large family and a deacon; Richard Curtis, Jr., who had a small family and was a licensed preacher; John Courtney, John Stampley, Daniel and William Ogden, and Mr. Perkins, friends and neighbors. Richard Curtis, the preacher, was from Virginia, and had settled previous to the War of Independence, in South Carolina, on the Great Pedee river, some sixty miles from Charleston. During the war the elder Curtis and his sons were soldiers in the command of General Francis Marion. They remained in the service until their homes and their substance were destroyed by the British and the Tories. Exposed as they were to the constant attacks of the enemy they saw that their only hope was to emigrate to the Wee.; (Charles H. Otkin, Richard Curtis in the Country of the Natchez, The Mississippi Historical Society Publications, III: 148-153. Oxford, 1900).
After enduring hardships incident to a journey through an unbroken forest, the company reached the Holston river in the year 1780. Here they halted to make needed preparation for the voyage by water. When this had been accomplished, three flatboats started down the Holston river. When toward the close of the year the waters of the Holston river had attained a sufficient depth for navigation, they embarked in their boats, and committed themselves to the protection of God. The Rev. J. G. Jones, who was a member of the Mississippi Conference of the M. E. Church, South, and a lineal descendant of one of these pioneers, gives a graphic description of the journey. He says:
Such were the natural difficulties in the way of navigation in those early times that it was, at best, a hazardous undertaking to descend the Holston, Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers in such water craft as they were then able to construct; but what made it doubly hazardous was the belligerent stand which the Cherokee Indians had taken against all emigration through their country. They often availed themselves of the narrows, shoals and sudden turns in the Holston and Tennessee rivers to attack immigrant boats. Our voyagers being fully aware of that fact, went as well prepared for it as their limited resources would allow, and kept a constant watch for the approach of their stealthy foe. We who have, until lately, generally had "peace and truth in our days," think it strange that our pious forefathers would thus not only peril their own lives, but also the lives of their wives and little ones; but they had already become inured to the horrors and dangers of war, and viewed such adventures very differently from what we do. These emigrants, for the sake of mutual protection, had agreed to float as near each other as they conveniently could. The foremost boat contained Richard Curtis, senior, and his immediate family, and his own sons and daughters with their families. The second boat contained two brothers by the name of Daniel and William Ogden, and a man by the name of Perkins, with their families, most of whom were Baptists. We have no record of the names of those in the third boat. They seem to have fallen in with the others for the sake of protection in descending to Natchez. The voyagers in the last boat had in some way contracted the smallpox and, to prevent the contagion from spreading to the other boats, they were required to float a few hundred yards in the rear and to occupy a different landing at night. After floating unmolested for several days, the hostile savages espied the boats somewhere near the mouth of Clinch river, and fixed on a short bend in the Tennessee river, near the northwestern corner of Georgia, as the place of attack. Having to float near the shore to keep in the channel, the foremost boat was violently assailed by the lurking Cherokees. All hands on board commenced a vigorous and well directed defense. That her husband might be released to use his rifle on the assailants, Mrs. Jones put her eldest son, William, then in his twelfth year, at the oar, while she held up a thick, poplar stool between him and the bullets; and it was well she did, for it was pierced by one of the Indian leaden missiles. After the danger was all over, Mrs. Jones laughingly remarked that "the guns were weak, as they did not make a deep impression on her stool." Another lady heroically took the steering oar from her husband that he might ply his rifle on the foe, and, with unfaltering courage, guided the boat until disabled by a wound in the back. Hannah Courtney was grazed on the head by a ball, and Jonathan Curtis was slightly wounded on the wrist, but, so far as the writer knows, no life was lost. While the attention of the assailants was directed to the first boat, the second floated by the point of attack unharmed.
The excited and bloodthirsty savages now directed their whole force to the capture of the third and last boat, and as it was passing through the narrows they boarded it full force and massacred all on board except one lady, whom they retained as captive about three years, until, by treaty, she was restored to her friends. But this was a dearly bought victory to the Cherokees, for, either from the captured lady, or the clothing and other articles taken from the boat, they contracted the smallpox, which passed through their villages like the destroying angel, until multitudes of them died. When suffering from the raging fever and thirst occasioned by the terrible epidemic, they sought relief by lying in the waters of the Tennessee, which only made it the more fatal. Their descendants have, to this day, a traditional horror of that terrible pestilence. It was impossible, from the slow and unwieldly movements of their flatboats, for those who had escaped to round to and land enough to afford the captured boat any assistance, even if they had not been so far outnumbered as to render the attempt worse than fruitless; so, with gratitude to God for their deliverance, and sadness and lasting sorrow for their lost fellow voyagers they pursued their dangerous way until they landed in safety at the mouth of Cole—s Creek, about twenty miles above Natchez by land (Jones, A Concise History of the Introduction of Protestantism into Mississippi and the Southeast, 25-27. St. Louis, 1866).
They settled some ten miles from the river. For several years they endured many hardships and deprivations incident to a new country, which was but poorly supplied with the necessities of life. They were a people of sound morals. Richard Curtis, Jr., was their instructor in religion. It was said that there was not a cabin in the community in which the Bible was not read, and from which prayers did not ascend to God. Firm in their convictions, they neither prescribed nor proscribed creeds. The idea of religious liberty. had taken deep root in the thoughts of this people.
This community was called the Salem Baptist Church; but it was constituted, not only without a presbytery of ministers, but without the presence of a single ordained minister. "They simply agreed to meet together statedly," says Bond, "and worship God according to his Word, and to exercise good discipline over one another, and called Elder— Curtis to preach to them, whose labors were greatly blessed eventually. This course was a matter of necessity with them, and it seemed that the Lord owned and blessed their efforts; and in process of time sinners were converted to God, and professed hope in the Saviour, and desired baptism" (Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Association from its Organization in 1806 to the Present Tine, 3, 4. New Orleans, 1849).
This brought up in the minds of these pioneer workmen in the Lord—s vineyard a very interesting question for solution. Who could administer the ordinance of baptism according to the faith and order of the church— Curtis was only a licentiate, and was not authorized, according to the polity of Baptist churches, to administer baptism, and yet there were persons desiring the ordinance, who exhibited the usual evidences of conversion. The matter was postponed until by letter they could consult the parent church in Carolina. The church in that State on receiving this interesting communication from the "Natchez Country," took the matter under consideration and returned the answer: "That there was no law against necessity, and under the present stress of circumstances the members ought to assemble and formally appoint one of their number, by election, to baptize the converts." This advice was acted upon and Richard Curtis baptized the converts. Thus the first church in Mississippi was organized without a presbytery of ordained ministers.
From this period to 1793, Bond informs us, little is known about the church, only that it continued to exist and increase in numbers. Other emigrants had come in, among whom were some Baptists. At this time is found the name of William Chaney, an ordained deacon, among them, from South Carolina; also, Bailey Chaney, who was a preacher, but not ordained, also a man by the name of Harigail, Barton Hannan, and William Owen, all of whom, it appears, preached, but none of them was ordained, as far as can be learned; and it is not known whether they began preaching here, or came here as licensed preachers.
To avoid the detection of the Spanish Catholics, on at least one occasion baptism was administered by torch light. About this time there was an occurrence which greatly incensed the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. Stephen De Alvo renounced the Catholics and united with the Baptists. The opposition of the Catholics broke into a blaze of persecution, and the Baptists were peremptorily ordered to "desist from their heretical psalm-singing, praying and preaching in public of they would be subjected to sundry pains and penalties." This coercive act was followed by another, in 1795, through Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, the Spanish Commandant at Natchez, the tenor of which was that "if nine persons were found worshiping together except according to the forms of the Roman Catholic Church, they should suffer imprisonment." It was at this time that the Spanish governor wrote an "expostulatory letter to Mr. Curtis demanding that he should desist from what was considered violative to the laws of the province, and against the peace and safety of the country" (Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas. 335. III. 149). To this letter Curtis replied with bluntness, and informed him that he intended to do his duty.
The immediate arrest of Curtis was now ordered, and on April 6, 1795, he stood a prisoner before Governor Gayoso. He was given to understand that if he did not desist from preaching publicly he would be sent with Hamberlin, De Alvo, and others to the mines in Mexico. For some two or three months only night meetings were held. About this time Curtis married a couple and this further inflamed the authorities.
"The officers of the provincial government," says Jones, "instigated by the priesthood, made diligent inquiry as to the time and place of holding their meetings for exhortation, prayer and Christian intercourse, and devised plans for the capture of Messrs. Richard Curtis, William Hamberlin and Stephen De Alvo." Orders for their arrest were secretly issued on or just previous to the 23rd of August, 1795. The 23rd of August was a quiet Sabbath, with all of its holy associations inviting the devout worshipers to assemble at the house of prayer. It was the private residence of one of their number, in what was then and is still known as "Stampley—s Settlement" on the south fork of Cole—s Creek.
"The pickets had been promptly posted or. all the roads, and the little persecuted fraternity of Baptists were, in subdued tones, conducting their worship, when the sentinel on the Natchez road came in hurriedly and announced the appearance of five men whom he took to be a Spanish officer and his posse. The religious exercises closed immediately, and Messrs. Curtis, Hamberlin and De Alvo hastened to a neighboring thicket to conceal themselves, knowing that they were particularly obnoxious to the hierarchy at Natchez. The others adjusted themselves with apparent carelessness about the house and yard, when the unwelcome visitors rode up, with characteristic self-importance, inquired, —What are you all doing here—— They replied: —We are not harming anybody; we always suspend our secular avocations on the Sabbath, and either rest at home or spend our time in such intercourse with each other as suits us.— —We wish to see Dick Curtis, Bill Hamberlin and Steve De Alvo—either one or all of them; where are they to be found this morning—" authoritatively enquired this embodiment of papal intolerance, to which an evasive answer was given, such as, —We don—t know exactly, somewhere in the neighborhood, w e suppose.— The officer then announced that he had come with orders from Governor Gayoso to arrest those three rebels, preparatory to their being sent to the mines to work the remainder of their lives, and if any man should be found aiding and abetting either their concealment or escape, he should suffer the like penalty.
"It therefore became necessary that for security these men should leave the country. They were provided with horses. But no man must be found —aiding and abetting— them in their escape. —Who will take their supplies to their place of concealment, on Bayou Pierre—— The problem was solved by a daring woman of the neighborhood, Cloe Holt. —If the men in the neighborhood,— said she, —are so faint hearted that not one of them can be prevailed upon to take Dick Curtis and his companions in exile their promised supplies, in order to secure their escape from the clutches of these gospel-hating Catholics, if they will furnish me with a good horse surmounted with a man—s saddle, I will go in spite of the Spaniards, and they can catch me if they can.— All things being ready, she made her appearance, dressed in a man—s clothes, she mounted her horse and boldly dashed off.
"In due process of time Curtis and his companions reached the Great Pedee, in South Carolina, where they remained for two years and one-half. In the meantime Curtis was an active and acceptable preacher, and was ordained to the gospel ministry by Elders Benjamin Horseley and Matthew Cullins. The Natchez country had in the meantime passed under the control of Georgia, and was recognized as United States territory. While this much desired event was verging to maturity, the Baptist community in the Natchez were not idle spectators. They resumed their meetings for public worship. They had written to their long banished brethren in South Carolina to return home, and expectation was on tiptoe to hail their arrival.
"The return of Curtis and his companions was most affecting. With light hearts and buoyant hopes they commenced their homeward journey. Now they could sing... On Saturday night they were in a half day—s journey home. At early dawn they resumed their journey, thinking it no harm to travel a little on Sunday under such circumstances. They separated, and each was making for his home, when Mr. Curtis fell in with cheerful companions of former acquaintances on their way to the —House of Prayer.— They assured him that he would not find his wife and children at home, for by that hour they were certainly on their way to the Church, so he turned with the company to the house of God. When they arrived at Church Mrs. Curtis, with her household, had not yet made their appearance, but he was assured that all were well, and that they certainly would be there; and as the hour for the preaching had come the brethren insisted on his going immediately into the pulpit and preaching them a sermon. He submitted, and while, with his head depressed below the book board, he was turning to his hymn and text, his wife came in, unobserved by him, and quietly took her usual place by the wall. The congregation being mostly within doors—and waiting one for another—no one gave her an intimation of the presence of her long exiled husband. When he arose she looked at the pulpit to see who was going to officiate, and seeing that it was her own beloved, long lost, but now restored husband, it was more than her womanly heart could endure. She shrieked and swooned away, and was borne from the house in an unconscious state. Cold ablutions were resorted to, and consciousness soon returned; and the cordial greetings and soothing words of her husband soon quieted her nerves. All returned to the Church, and Elder Curtis preached an appropriate sermon" (Jones).
The story had an happy ending. "Within the year," continues Jones, "preceding the evacuation of the Natchez district by the Spanish government, and pending the negotiations between the representatives of the United States and those of the Court at Madrid, there was a great deal of ill feeling between the adherents of the two governments, and also between the Protestants and the Catholics. Believing the day of their freedom from Papal rule to be near at hand, the Baptists began to rally theft forces and to demand the re-establishment of their public worship. The state of affairs brought to light several prominent members and licensed preachers of the Baptist church not hitherto known in its history. Among them we find the names of William and Bailey Chaney, from South Carolina. William Chaney had been ordained a deacon in the Church, and several persons desiring baptism before the return of Elder Curtis, he was appointed by the members to administer the ordinance, from which we infer that he was a man of gifts as well as grace. Bailey Chaney was a licensed preacher, and probably preached the first sermon in Natchez after the Spanish Government was superseded by that of the United States. Soon after the Spaniards left, the Americans erected a large bush arbor and supplied it with a temporary pulpit and seats, and invited Mr. Cheney to preach them a sermon under the —Stars and Stripes,— which he did to an immense congregation."
The Salem Church had a troubled career and finally on account of internal dissensions dissolved. The church made a request of the United States Government for a grant of land. President Madison rejected this petition. In a letter dated June 3, 1811, addressed to some churches in North Carolina, he gives his reason for this action in the following words:
I have received, fellow citizens, your address approving my objection to the bill containing a grant of public land to the Baptist church at Salem meeting house, Mississippi Territory. Having always regarded the practical distinction between religion and civil government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not otherwise have discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself. Among the various religious societies in our country, none has been more vigilant and consistent in maintaining that distinction than the society of which you make a part; and it is an honorable proof of your sincerity and integrity that you are ready to do so in a case favoring the interest of your brethren, as in other cases. It is but just, at the same time, to the Baptist church at Salem meeting house to remark that their application to the national legislature does not appear to have contemplated a grant of the land in question, but on terms that might be equitable to the public as well as to themselves.
Other churches were speedily gathered, and so in 1806 five churches sent messengers to Cole—s Creek Church and the Mississippi Baptist Association was organized. This association became the mother of all the other associations in Mississippi and Louisiana.
North Mississippi, or the Chickasaw countries, was not opened to settlers till the fourth decade of the century. The government land office was at Pontatoc. People poured into the country with amazing rapidity. The Pontatoc Union, in February, 1838, gives the following account of the growth in North Mississippi:
At the Governor—s election, two years ago, there were less than five hundred votes polled in the whole Chickasaw nation, now subdivided into twelve counties. At the late election the returns so far as received dis. close four thousand eighty-seven votes polled for Governor in nine of those counties, showing the astonishing and unparalleled increase in our population of one thousand per cent, in two years! We do not believe there is, in the history of the United States, an instance of the peopling of a country, just emerging from the domain of savage, with the same rapidity. We attribute this to climate unsurpassed on the American continent—to a soil of universal and inexhaustible fertility—well watered, and presenting the means of enjoying all the blessings of life in as great perfection and profusion as can fall to the lot of man.
Through the Natchez country of Mississippi the Baptists entered into Louisiana. This territory was ceded to the United States by France April 30, 1803. Previous to that date, and long afterwards, the religious condition of the State was distressing. There is some very interesting information written from New Orleans, under date of April 8, 1815, by Messrs. Mills and Smith, to the Massachusetts Bible Society. They were agents of that organization and presented the following "View of Louisiana":
We left Natchez on the 12th of March, and went on board of a flat-bottomed boat, where our accommodations were indifferent. The weather was generally pleasant, and we arrived in New Orleans on the 19th. The distance is three hundred miles. For 100 miles above New Orleans the banks of the river were cleared, and in descending the river you pass many elegant plantations. The whole of this distance the banks appear like one continued village. The greater part of the inhabitants are ignorant of almost everything except what relates to the increase of their property; destitute of schools, Bible and religious instruction. In attempting to learn the religious state of the people we were frequently told that they had no Bibles and that the priest did not allow of their distribution among them. An American who had resided two or three years at a place which had the appearance of being a flourishing settlement, informed me that he had not seen a Bible during his stay at the settlement. He added that he had heard that a woman from the State of New York had lately brought one into the place (Publications of the Louisiana Historical Society, 1916).
Mr. Mills, accompanied by the Rev. Daniel Smith, made a second missionary journey to Louisiana, in 1816. He says:
There are American families in that part of the country who never saw a Bible nor heard of Jesus Christ. It is a fact that ought not to be forgotten that so late as March, 1815, a Bible in any language could not be found for sale, or to be given away, in New Orleans (Ibid, 64).
These gentlemen likewise give the following information in regard to the State:
In 1810 Louisiana contained 76,556 inhabitants, 34,600 were slaves. Since that time its population is doubtless considerably increased; but to what extent, we are unable to say. The principal settlements, out of New Orleans, and above the northermost boundary of the State, are almost wholly occupied by Frenchmen, Acadians and Germans who speak the French language. The settlements in the counties of Attakapas and Opelousas are very considerable and have a mixture of French and American inhabitants. There are in the State two Methodist circuits, but there is no Baptist preacher, as we could ascertain, out of New Orleans, no Presbyterian minister. A very large portion of the State has never, as we could learn, been visited by a Presbyterian preacher. Many of the American inhabitants were originally Presbyterians and very many would rejoice to see a respectable missionary among them. It is, therefore, of immense importance that one should be sent to explore the country and learn its moral and religious state, and introduce, as far as possible, the institutions of the gospel. Such a man might not only be useful to the Americans; he might exert a salutary influence on the French also. He would doubtless promote the farther distribution of the French Scriptures. Religious tracts in that language, might be very soon circulated among the people. And a prudent and diligent use of such means, we have reason to hope, would result in happiest con. sequences (Publications of the Louisiana Historical Society, IX. 69, 70).
The country had been under the complete control of the Roman Catholics. Protestantism was not tolerated in the Province. The Spanish authorities were on the alert for the appearance of heresy in the Louisiana Territory. Baron de Cardondelet had been succeeded as governor by Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, a brigadier general of the royal armies. In the month of January, 1799, he issued, among other regulations, the following:
6. Liberty of conscience is not to be extended beyond the first generation; the children of the emigrant must be Catholic; and emigrants not agreeing to this must not be admitted, but removed, even when they bring property with them. This is to be explained to settlers who do not profess the Catholic religion.
7. It is expressly recommended to commandants to watch that no preacher of any religion but the Catholic comes into the province (Martin, History of Louisiana).
These regulations were not new and they did not prevent Baptist preachers from entering the province. They had suffered too long and cruelly to be deterred by such threats as these. No more heroic men ever lived than these early preachers in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The first Baptist preacher, indeed the first Protestant preacher, was Bailey E. Chaney. During the persecution of Curtis he remained in concealment. He had removed from South Carolina, about the year 1790, and settled near Natchez. In 1799 he visited an American settlement near Baton Rouge and preached. He was arrested by the authorities and released upon the promise not to preach any more. He was not able to organize a church, but he did have the honor of being the first Baptist preacher in Louisiana.
The first Baptist church in Louisiana was organized in Washington parish, near Bogue Chitto river, and was known a$ the Half Moon Bluff Church. It was constituted October 12, 1812. This church is now extinct. The Calvary Baptist Church, Bayou Chicot, St. Landry parish, was organized November 13, 1812. The centennial of these two churches was observed in 1912 with fitting ceremonies. The following record is made of that notable event:
We call attention to this, the centennial year of the history of Louisiana Baptists. In the early years of the nineteenth century, missionaries from other States entered this territory. The first Baptist church organized in this State was the Half Moon Bluff Baptist Church in Washington parish in 1812. This church had a brief life and recently the brethren celebrated its birth over its grave near Franklington. The first Baptist church organized west of the Mississippi river and the oldest living Baptist church in the State is the Calvary Baptist Church at Bayou Chicot, St. Landry parish. It was organized November 13th, 1812, and has had a continuous history up to this good hour. It was this church, with a few others that went out from it, that organized the Louisiana Association. We gathered on this historic spot and thanked God for the preservation of this church and for the pioneer servants of Jesus Christ who laid the foundation for our Baptist cause in Louisiana (Minutes o/ the Louisiana Convention, 1912, pp. 77, 78).
The Baptist cause was slow of beginning in New Orleans. The first Baptist missionary to New Orleans was James A. Raynoldson. He was a messenger from North Carolina to the Triennial Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May, 1814. He came to New Orleans in the winter of 1816-17 as a missionary from that body. The Baptist cause passed through many vicissitudes in that city. The first Baptist church there was organized December 28, 1843.
Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon, 1512, on the festival occasion of Pascua de Flores, hence it is known as the land of flowers, or Florida. It was purchased by the United States from Spain in 1819 by treaty, which was formally signed in 1822, constituted into a colony in 1825, admitted into the Union as a State in 1845.
Since the peninsula was settled by the Spanish the religion was the Roman Catholic. A number of priests accompanied the army of occupation and preached to the aborigines. It was under the French flag that Protestantism was introduced into Florida by the Huguenots, in 1562. They were of the Reformed or Calvinistic order. They landed near the mouth of the St. Johns river, raised the French flag at Fort Caroline. An army of Spaniards came down from St. Augustine, fell upon !,he French and massacred the entire colony. Later the British occupied the country.
Baptist work began in this State early in the nineteenth century. A number of Christian men came into Florida, in 1812, as a part of the army to suppress the Indian uprisings. The War Department, in Washington, records the march of General John McIntosh Houston against these offenders in 1812. With this company was Wilson Conner, probably the first Baptist preacher in Flordia. General David Blackshers, who was sent to aid General McIntosh, says of him: "The Rev. Wilson Conner was a roan of magnificent stature, fine features and voice, with a commanding personality. While uneducated, he was a man of great vigor, of sympathetic personality, very spiritual, and having a fine delivery." Later he was followed by other Baptist ministers.
Bethlehem, the first Baptist church in Florida, was constituted in an oak grove on the red hills of West Florida, Jackson county, March 12, 1825. The record is as follows:
West Florida, Jackson County, March 12, 1825.
Pursuant to a resolution of the church of Christ at Bethlehem in said county, in conference this day, for the better government and union of the Church and for the glory of God, we believe it to be expedient for us to adopt Constitution, covenant and decorum.
WHEREAS we have reason to believe that God in his goodness has made known the riches of his grace to a number of our souls to be formed into a church.
We therefore called our beloved brethren, Jeremiah Kimbril and E. H. Calloway and they have inquired into our faith and manner of life, thought proper to constitute us into a church upon an equal footing with other churches of the same faith and order.
Articles of faith were recorded, and the church covenant signed by:
March 13th, 1825.
The church being constituted, met in conference, appointed Brethren James Chason and Clark Jackson, deacons of the church. Brethren Jeremiah Kimbril and E. H. Calloway were called upon by the church to ordain the two deacons, which was done by them. Appointed Brother William Brady, Church Clerk, and chose Brother E. H. Calloway pastor of the church. Opened the doors of the church, received Brother E. H. Calloway and Sister Elizabeth Calloway by letter. Sister Elizabeth Owens was taken under the watchcare of the church.
Miller Brady, Clerk.
The second church was constituted at Indian Springs in Leon county, in 1828. Other churches were constituted in rapid succession (S. B. Rogers, A Brief History of Florida Baptists, 1825-1925).
It is not certain who was the first Baptist preacher, but one of the pioneers was John Young Lindsey, who held services in the northern part of the State before Arkansas Territory was organized. His father, Caleb Lindsey, came to Arkansas in 1815, and settled in that part of Lawrence county now Randolph. He was a surveyor and an educated man. One of the earliest schools in that section of the State was taught by Caleb Lindsey in a cave, Without pay or thought of pay.
It was told of John Young Lindsey that he would preach sometimes for two hours and then invite the entire congregation to go over to his house for dinner. Later, some of the congregation sometimes invited the minister home with them for dinner.
Benedict says: "At what point or by what men the sentiments of the Baptists were first propagated in Arkansas, I have found it difficult to ascertain. Rev. David Orr appears to have been the instrument of planting a considerable number of the first church of which I have gained any information; contemporary with Mr. Orr, or perhaps a short time before him on this ground, were Benjamin Clark, Jesse James and J. P. Edwards. The first church of our order in this then territory of Arkansas was at Fouche a Thomas, in Lawrence county." (Benedict.)
The first house of worship in Little Rock was built in 1825 by the Baptists. It stood on the south side of Third street between Main and Scott. Silas Toncray was the pastor from 1824 to 1829. This church was disrupted by the followers of Alexander Campbell; the few that remained faithful afterwards organized the present First Baptist Church.
Spring River, the oldest association, soon dissolved. The White River Association was organizer) in 1840.
Books for further reference:
Z. T. Leavell and T. J. Bailey, A Complete History of Mississippi Baptists from the Earliest Times. Jackson, Mississippi, 1904. 2 volumes.
W. E. Paxton, A History of the Baptists of Louisiana, from the earliest Times to the Present. St. Louis, 1888.
John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists of Louisiana. Shreveport, 1923.
John M. Peck, The Annexation of Louisiana, The Christian Review, XVI. 555-580. New York, 1861.
Dallas T. Herndon, Centennial History of Arkansas. Little Rock, 1922. 3 volumes.
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. St. Louie, 1890.
Weston Arthur Goodspeed, The Province and the States. A History of the Province of Louisiana under France and Spain, and of the Territories and States of the United States formed therefrom. Madison, Wis., 1904. 7 volumes.