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William Savage Pitts was born in 1830 in Orleans County, New York. In 1857 he is living in Rock County, Wisconsin employed as a schoolteacher. It was in that year he was in traveling to Fredericksburg, Chickasaw County, Iowa to see his fiancée, Ann Elize Warren, when he had a chance to visit Bradford, Chickasaw County, Iowa. While there he located a setting in a wooded area in which to him was of rare beauty and later when he was back home in Wisconsin the setting inspired him to write words which would later be words to "The Little Brown Church in the Vale" song. In 1858 William and Ann married and lived in Wisconsin. In 1862 they relocated to Fredericksburg.

The following account documents how he became identified with the song and the church. Doctor Pitts says, (Quote) " One bright afternoon of a day in June 1857, I first set foot in Bradford, Iowa, coming by stage from McGregor. My home was then in Wisconsin. The spot where the "Little Brown Church" now stands was a setting of rare beauty. There was no church there then, but the spot was there, waiting for it. When back in my home I wrote the song, "The Little Brown Church in the Vale." I put the manuscript away. In the spring of 1862 I returned to Iowa and settled in Fredericksburg, inasmuch as my wife's people were there. In the winter of 1863-64 I taught a singing class in Bradford. We held our school in the brick building known as the academy.

In the year 1859 and 1860 the good people of Bradford determined to build a church. I will not undertake to tell of the trials, the disappointments, and the successes that followed; suffice to say by the early winter of 1864 the building was ready for dedication. While I was holding the singing school, near its close in the spring, the class went one evening to the church. It was then not seated, but rude seats were improvised. My manuscript of the song I had brought with me from Wisconsin. It had never been sung before by anyone but myself. I sang it there.

Soon afterward I took the manuscript to Chicago, where it was published by H. M. Riggins. It won speedy recognition locally and with the years won its way into the hearts of people of the world. Soon after its publication the church at Bradford, which had been painted brown (for want of money to buy better paint, so say), became known as "The Little Brown Church in the Vale." My hope is that it will stand for a thousand years and call the old man and his descendants to worship." (End of Quote)
William attended Rush Medical College in Chicago, became a Doctor and practiced in Fredericksburg, Iowa until 1906. He died in 1918 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg. Ann Elize and two daughters are buried in West (also called Fredericksburg) Cemetery in Fredericksburg.


1) The History of Chickasaw and Howard Counties, (1919) Vol. 1, Chapter 9, page 228, transcribed by Leonard Granger.
2) Lavonne Edeker.
3) Transcribed/Developed by Mike Peterson.



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