PIONEER WORK IN AND AROUND NEW ORLEANS BEFORE AND AFTER THE WAR.
Because the birth of our organic denominational life is so closely connected with that of the white Baptists of the state, and especially those of New Orleans, we must know their beginnings if we would intelligently know our own. The first effort made by the white Baptists to establish a church was in 1817. In that year the Board of the Triennial Baptist Convention sent out as missionary, Elder Jas. A. Randolson, who preached and taught in the "Long Room" which belonged to a Mr. C. Paulding on Dorseive street, near Canal. In this room Bishop Ranaldson organized the first white Baptist church in the city of New Orleans, which was admitted into the Mississippi Association. Dr. Paxton says in his history this church prospered under the pastorate of Elder Benj. Davis, of Natchez, Miss., who succeeded Bishop Ranaldson. The membership soon reached forty-eight--sixteen white and thirty-two colored. These thirty-two Negro Baptists were perhaps the first to hold membership in an association except those who were won to Christ by "Father Willis," and with all probability they were the first Negro Baptists of New Orleans. In 1820 Bishop Davis left this church, and it disbanded soon after. Following the dissolution of this church, Elder Wm. B. Johnson, of South Carolina, came to New Orleans and preached in this "Long Room." From this time until 1826 Baptist preaching was only occasionally heard. Frequent preaching was resumed when Elder Wm. Bondeau arrived from England in 1826, formed a new organization and preached about one year, first in the "Long Room," and then in a school house in Paulding's Row on St. Charles street, and then in a brick building, corner of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas streets. Mr. W. C. Duncans says Bishop Bondeau afterwards went north and settled in Kentucky. His church at one time had about twenty members, but by the close of the year 1828 it was dissolved and scattered. Now we are nearing the organization of the first Negro Baptists in New Orleans. Dr. Paxton's History says: "There was also at this time (1827) an African church of about twenty members. They had a colored minister named Asa Goldsbery, who just before had been bound over by authority of the city, or otherwise to be silent six months under penalty of a law against colored preachers. Of this body J. L. Furman, an intelligent member of the First Baptist Church (white) and editor of the New Orleans Baptist Messenger, says: "As we have been informed by the late Brother Lewis Banks, an aged colored Baptist from Virginia, who resided here many years, and who died here last January (1876) and as appears also from a book of minutes in his possession, the first colored Baptist church of this city was organized on the 31st of October, 1826, under the name of the First African Church of New Orleans." This was done in a school on Burgundy street, by a Presbytery consisting of the already mentioned Wm. Rondeau and Elder Elisha Andrews. Asa C. Goldsbery was elected by the church and ordained pastor and Moses Jackson deacon. The church flourished for a time. Additions were made from time to time until the membership numbered 41 males and 46 females.
After a few years, Mr. Goldbery died and the church declined. About 1834 several other colored Baptists came from Virginia and elsewhere, among whom were Brethren N. D. Sanders, Richard Satterfield, John Edmonds, Lewis Banks and Nathaniel Short. The church became somewhat revived, worship was maintained and new life was apparent. Brethren Sanders and Satterfield were licensed as ministers and labored with much success. In 1837 Elder Peter W. Robert, aided by some transient preacher, reconstituted this First African Church, and ordained Brothers Sanders and Satterfield to the gospel ministry. Bishop Sanders became pastor. The church purchased property and began to build on the corner of Howard and Cypress street in 1842. Under Elder Sanders the "Old Church" grew and became the acknowledged mother of New Orleans Negro Baptists. However, during the time Elder L. Fletcher pastored the white Baptist church (1850), the Negro members of his church were organized into a church under the care of the white brethren. This Second Colored Baptist Church numbered sixty-two members and was received into the Mississippi River Association (white), in 1859 under the fostering care of the Coliseum Baptist Church (white). This is the same church that Bishop Jackson Acox now pastors (1914), called the Fourth Baptist Church. This body owes its beginning to the new interest started by Elder R. H. Steptoe in 1857. Dr. Paxton, speaking of the work of these churches, said: "The First and Fourth African Churches had greatly prospered. They had baptized into their membership about 3,000. They had established a number of branches in the city, and extended their labors along the Mississippi above and below New Orleans. With their branches they now number 7,000."
It will be also of interest to those who scan these pages to read what Dr. John Marks, pastor Sixth Baptist Church, has to say concerning Baptist progress from 1867 to 1902. He speaks as follows: "In order that I may have a foundation to build upon, I will have to go back to 1833 when the Rev. Nelson D. Sanders, a Negro Baptist minister, was sold in Virginia and brought to New Orleans in chains by Negro slave traders. He was sold to a good master who allowed him to hire his time, and afterward bought himself. He gathered together 32 slaves in a little house in Gentilly Road. Under the leadership of Rev. Sanders, assisted by Revs. Satterfield, Hollands, Esau Carter, Robert Steptoe, Joseph Davenport, Henry White and others. The First Colored Baptist Church was organized in 1833. They held services on Gentilly Road until 1844. As it was against the law for colored people to hold public meetings, their meetings were often broken up, and their leaders were often arrested by the police officers and carried to jail and punished to the full extent of the law that was then on the statute books against slaves holding meetings. Sometime all in the meeting house were arrested and carried to jail--both men and women. They finally, through the kindness of some of the whites who owned slaves, obtained permission from the city authorities to allow the colored people to hold meetings two hours on Sundays from 3 to 5 p. m., under the watch of a police officer who was to be paid $2 per hour. The officer was instructed not to let the meeting continue one minute over two hours. If they should violate that order all who were present would be arrested and punished. The city authorities and police officers were not favorably disposed to Baptist doctrine, and as the law was against colored people assembling in any meetings they enforced the law to the letter. Under these oppressions and persecutions the Baptists "contended earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." The fire of truth was kindled and could not be quenched. In 1844 they moved to Cypress street and Howard avenue. Here they bought the first piece of ground owned by Negro Baptists in the state, and erected a house of worship thereon. Many were the oppressions and persecutions of these humble servants of God, but their faith in Christ and his Word made their burdens light. When New Orleans surrendered and freedom removed the persecutions and oppressions, new zeal for the faith sprang up, and the once-smothered flame burst forth and its influence spread all through the city and parish. Churches were organized in different parts of the city, and in every parish in the southern part of the state. In 1865 a large number of churches had been organized. Elder Sanders and others organized what is now known as the Louisiana Southern Baptist Association. The following year Rev. Charles Stachel and others, taking issue at the name, "Southern Baptist," withdrew from the Association, and organized the First Free Mission Association. These two bodies being zealous of each other unto good works, labored earnestly and planted the Baptist banner all over the southern part of the state and as far up the Red River as Nachitoches, and in the southwestern part as far as the line of Texas.
In 1867 a very few churches owned any property. Preaching was done in the gin houses, ware houses, log cabins, under cane sheds on plantations, or rented houses in cities and towns. In 1871 Revs. Wm. Head, Whaley and others organized the Gumspring Association in the northern part of the state; and the brethren in the northwestern part of the state withdrew from Texas and organized another Association. These two bodies extended all over the northern part of the state, organizing and building churches in every town and city, and on every plantation until the ministers were heard of from the Gulf of Mexico to the line of Arkansas, and from the line of Mississippi to the line of Texas.
The work of the Associations had grown to such magnitude in 1872, and each of them covering such large territories, that it was impossible for them to cultivate their fields properly. In order to more thoroughly organize their forces, the Louisiana Southern Baptist Association, in session at Baton Rouge, February, 1872, passed a resolution inviting the other associations and churches to send delegates to meet in joint session at the First Colored Baptist Church, New Orleans, La., for the purpose of organizing a State Convention. The invitation was hailed with joy all over the state, and on the appointed day, delegates from each Association and each regularly organized Baptist church met and accomplished their work.
In 1883, the Convention in annual session at Baton Rouge, passed resolutions dividing the state into fourteen Associational Districts. The districts' plans were well received by the churches throughout the state, and by July, 1884, nearly every district was organized. We have our Grand State Convention with sixteen Associations. Our growth for the last thirty-five years has been as follows: In 1867 we had a few small churches organized, and about 5,000 members. The ministers had just been emancipated, and with a very few exceptions they could neither read nor write. We had no day schools nor Sunday-schools. Today (1902) we have 125,000 members; 1,200 churches at an average cost of $1,000 each, making a total of $1,200,000 worth of church property throughout the state. We have eleven well organized and fairly equipped academies, namely: Gibsland, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Donaldsonville, Cheyneyville, Opelousas, Homer, Ruston, Shreveport, New Iberia and Monroe. These schools value on an average of $1,200, making a total valuation of $30,000. Adding church and school property together, you have a grand total of $1,213,200. This does not include our Leland University, which is our highest institution of learning given by Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook Chamberlain. We have now in the state over 800 pastors who read and write intelligently. We can count our graduates by the hundreds; also there has been wonderful improvement in divine services. All of this work has been accomplished by Negro brain and energy from the Baptist pulpits, as they have lifted up Christ to the people. We can say with thanks-giving and rejoicing: "The Lord is with His people."
The above REMARKABLE progress recorded by Dr. Marks brings us up to 1902. From that time to this our material progress has been phenominal. Today (1914), we thank God for our Grand Old Convention born in 1872. Further mention will be made of it elsewhere in this volume. Through this and other agencies our pioneer and post-pioneer brethren wrought more than we knew. They set in motion snow balls of consecrated work which gained in momentum and size as they rolled.
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