EDITED BY John C. Parish
Copyright 1922 by the State Historical Society of Iowa
CALLED TO IOWA
In 1673 Iowa was already designated as a
field for missionary activities. When Joliet was employed by the French
government to discover the course of the "river to the west", the opportunity
was seized by the Jesuit Society to Christianize the inhabitants of the
undiscovered country. Father Marquette was therefore commissioned to join the
exploring party as an emissary of the church.
Protestant groups did not begin the extension of their faith
into Iowa until white settlers had supplanted the red men. Little time was lost
in the organization of churches in the growing communities. Methodists erected
a log-cabin church in Dubuque in 1834 to provide a place of worship even before
a legal code existed. David Lowry, government teacher at the Indian school on
Yellow River, acting also as a missionary, organized a Presbyterian church for
soldiers and employees in 1835. Congregationalism crossed the Mississippi at
Dubuque in 1836, and in 1842 a group of theological students of Andover,
Massachusetts, came as the Iowa Band to teach the Congregational creed.
First to spread the gospel among the Indians, the Catholics were
equally zealous in providing the early settlers with the benefit of clergy.
Early in the summer of 1833 a priest said mass at the Dubuque mines. Father
Lefebvre made an extended missionary trip into Iowa in 1834, but his plan to
erect a stone church at the head of the Des Moines Rapids failed. Meanwhile,
however, over $1000 had been subscribed for a Catholic church at Dubuque. The
cornerstone was laid in 1835 and the edifice was occupied for services before
the end of the following year.
The swift growth of settlements west of the Mississippi was for
many preachers in the East a spur to missionary activities. Iowa was a
desirable field. One of the Andover group had said, when a location for his
Christian endeavor was being determined: "I am going to Iowa; whether any one
else goes or not, I am going."
The salvation of Iowa was also a matter of concern among
Baptists. In 1834, a history of the church records that a house of worship was
built at Long Creek, now called the Danville Baptist Church, for a congregation
of eleven members. The services of an Illinois minister were borrowed, but in
1836 a resident minister was secured. Meeting not far from Burlington in
August, 1839, ten delegates representing three churches and less than ninety
members organized the Iowa Baptist Association.
In response to a call voted by the Association just formed, a
convention of brethren from the Baptist churches in Iowa Territory was held in
Iowa City on the third and fourth of June, 1842, "to consider the expediency of
forming a Territorial Association for missionary purposes." Twenty-five
delegates were present - eight ministers and seventeen laymen.
One of the delegates was the Reverend Charles E. Brown. He had
arrived in the Territory of Iowa from Warren, Herkimer County, New York,
scarcely more than a week previous. It was an inclination for pioneer
missionary work, he wrote many years later in his autobiographical
recollections, which had directed his thoughts toward the West. In October,
1840, he expressed his desire to the New York Missionary Convention. "The
application said nothing about salary or any special location, excepting a
preference expressed for Iowa. The request was favorably endorsed by the
convention and an appointment by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society
"This appointment came in due time, designating the forks of the
Maquoketa River in Jackson County, Iowa, as the field of labor, with an
allowance of one hundred dollars a year from the board and seventy-five dollars
for traveling expenses to the field."
At that time Reverend Brown's family consisted of himself, wife,
and the two little boys, Benjamin and Charles. As household goods could not be
economically shipped so far, everything was sold "except clothing, bedding, a
common table and stand which could be conveniently packed, and a rocking chair,
taken for the comfort and convenience of the mother in caring for the little
ones on the journey." A small cook stove was taken apart, packed in straw, and
boxed for shipment. Altogether their household effects weighed about 1600
Let Mr. and Mrs. Brown describe their trip to their new home
beyond the Mississippi. With slight adaptations, the story follows as it was
published in the Personal Recollections of Rev. Charles E. Brown.
"On Monday May 2, 1842, we left Utica on a passenger packet
known as a Line boat on the Erie canal, bound for Buffalo en route to Iowa
Territory. These boars were provided with a comfortable cabin with berths for
passengers in the bow, kitchen and dining cabin at the stern, and space
amidships for freight and baggage. With good company, clean wholesome food, a
sober and accommodating master and crew, the two hundred mile trip from Utica to
Buffalo was comfortable and pleasant. The fare, two cents per mile, which
included berth and board with no charge for young children, was very reasonable.
"Arriving at Tonawanda, twelve miles from Buffalo, at midnight
Saturday, we lay by until the next midnight, as the boat did not run on the
Sabbath. We reached Buffalo at daylight Monday, May 9th, and the family and
goods were transferred to the Lake steamer, Great Western, Captain Walker
commanding, which sailed for Chicago at seven o'clock Tuesday evening.
"The shades of night were falling when the great steamer with
nearly four hundred passengers bound mostly for Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin,
put out into the lake for Chicago. Very few had ever been on the water, and
ominous clouds were looming up in the west. The cabin passengers gathered on
the promenade deck, some looking back on the lights of the city toward the homes
and loved ones they were leaving; some at the dark waters of the lake, and some
anxiously at the threatening clouds, many with tearful eyes. It was one of the
most solemn and intensely interesting scenes we ever witnessed and one we will
"We retired to our state room but could not sleep. The storm n
broke upon us with great fury in the night, but our noble steamer met and faced
it bravely, and brought us safely into the harbor at Cleveland, which was the
first landing place. The effect of the night's storm on the stomachs of the
passengers was manifest at breakfast, many being absent from the table. We lay
at Cleveland a few hours waiting for the storm to pass."
From Lake St. Clair, on Thursday, May 12th, Mrs. Brown wrote to
her brother and sister describing their voyage. "In accordance with your
request, I improve the first convenient season for writing you some of the
incidents of our journey thus far. We are on board the Great Western,
the most splendid vessel on the lakes. It is a lovely morning, the lake is
still and we are sailing at the rate of twelve miles an hour. We are furnished
with every comfort and convenience that could be obtained in the best hotel.
Our journey has been pleasant, with the exception of some little sea-sickness
for the first few hours on Lake Erie. Benny and myself have had a pretty
thorough emetic. Mr. B. and Charley escaped with a little nausea of the
stomach, and no vomiting. We have been sailing up the Detroit River this
morning with Victoria's dominions on our right hand, and borders of Michigan on
the left; passed a British military station; saw a number of her Majesty's
"Our steamer stopped some time at Detroit. We went on shore. I
priced articles in a number of dry-goods establishments, found a handsome
assortment, and as low as can be purchased in New York. We find the tide of
emigration to the far west has by no means subsided. There are between three
and four hundred passengers on board, and quite a large proportion go round to
Chicago. The children have been less trouble than I anticipated. We left Utica
Monday morning in the Little Western; Captain Newcome, a pleasant man and
fine crew; heard no profane language; had a good cook and good fare, and with
the exception of speed found ourselves comfortable."
The pioneer missionary and his family encountered stormy weather
again on Lake Huron. For four hours the vessel lay by at Presque Isle until the
worst of the squall was over. Thereafter they "had pleasant sailing to Chicago"
where they arrived on Sunday afternoon, May 15th.
"We arrived in this city yesterday afternoon safe and sound",
wrote Mrs. Brown to her sister. "Our passage from Buffalo, together with
freight, cost us forty-eight dollars; from Little Falls to Buffalo
twenty-three." Except for the two bits of rough weather "we have had a pleasant
journey. We are much pleased with the appearance of the western country so
far. Milwaukee, Racine, and Southport on the Wisconsin shore are pleasant
villages. We passed Mackinac in the night, regretted it very much, as it is
said to be a very interesting spot.
"We are at the New York House in Chicago. There were eighty
people at breakfast; very good accommodations; have plenty of radishes, onions,
"Mr. B. is making arrangements for prosecuting our journey to
Iowa. The weather is fine and the roads good, and we hope to get along without
any difficulty. We shall soon be on the road teaming off. I cannot realize the
distance that separates us. It seems to be annihilated by the facilities for
overcoming it. I think to come by railroad from Little Falls to Buffalo, and
then by the lakes to Chicago, would make a delightful jaunt. Take an emetic
before you leave."
From Chicago the journey was continued overland in a private
conveyance. "On Monday", Mr. Brown recalled. "we found a man from Rockford,
Illinois, who came in with a lumber wagon and a load of produce, and engaged
him to take us to Savanna on the Mississippi River. After loading our things,
the rocking chair brought from New York was fastened on top of one of the boxes
with a small chair secured alongside. Seated in the rocker with the youngest
child in her lap, and the other in the little chair by her side, Mrs. Brown
cheerily said, 'Now, this is fine,' and there was sunshine on the load all the
way through. I took a seat on the box beside the driver with our feet on the
whiffle-trees, and we started on our two hundred mile drive to our future home
in the Territory of Iowa.
"We stopped for the first night about twelve miles out on the
Elgin road, and the second at a small log cabin at Pigeon Woods, sixteen miles
west of Elgin, where a hearty appetite for supper was demoralized by badly
tainted ham; and the presence of two loads of stagecoach passengers to be cared
for obliged us to sleep on the floor. But these incidents were minor matters in
a journey like this.
"Early next morning, proceeding on our way we found a
satisfactory breakfast at a small cabin located where the town of Marengo now
stands. At noon we reached Belvidere, where we enjoyed a visit with Prof. P. S.
Whitman who was one of my teachers at Hamilton. Here on the public square we
saw the stakes used to support a rude platform which had been the resting place
of the body of an Indian chief. The body was gone but the poles and some
fragments of his burial dress were there, a dismal and gruesome reminder of the
"That evening we arrived at the west side tavern at Rockford
where, to our great disappointment, our teamster was summoned as a witness in a
case on trail, delaying us until the following Monday. But while tarrying we
found a good home and pleasant friends in the family of the Rev. Solomon Knapp,
pastor of the Baptist Church at Rockford, for whom I preached on Sunday; my
first sermon in the west.
"Monday morning, in good health and spirits, with fine weather
and roads we continued our journey, taking the Galena stage road to Twelve Mile
Grove, thence turning directly west for the Mississippi.
"About sun down we reached Crane's Grove, and as the next
stopping place was eighteen miles west, here we must put up for the night. Mrs.
Crane from Kentucky, middle aged and stout, was just coming from the cow yard
with a pail of milk. To our inquiry if we could stop for the night she replied.
'Oh, I reckon, though I am mighty tired. The old cow gives a right smart of
milk, well on to half a bushel.'
"That night our teamster overfed his horses with grain and next
morning found of of them dead. We arranged with Mr. Crane to take us eighteen
miles to Cherry Grove, where we stopped with a Mr. Gardner, Mr. Crane's
brother-in-law, who next day took us to Savanna on the Mississippi. We here had
our first view of the mighty river, its volume then being much greater than in
later years. That evening we were ferried across to Charleston, now Sabula, and
put up for the night at the town tavern. In the morning we engaged a man and
team to take us the remaining twenty-five to thirty miles to the end of our long
"Owing to rain we were late in starting. About noon we stopped
for dinner at a cabin on the west bank of Deep Creek, where we found nothing to
eat but eggs. Of these they had eleven, which were boiled for us. But the
children would not eat them. We did not see any other human habitation until
night had fallen, when the little ones, tired and hungry, had long since cried
themselves to sleep.
"In the darkness of midnight we reached a cabin occupied by Mr.
C. W. Doolittle. At that spectral hour, in silence and solitude that could be
felt, we were at the end of our long journey, nearly a thousand miles from home
and friends in the distant east. The Indian had recently left, and his
pale-faced successors were few and far between. We had been twenty-four days on
the road and had lost but little time, having diligently pursued our way from
"With cordial frontier hospitality which we gratefully
appreciated, Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle turned out and welcomed us, prepared supper
and then gave us their bed, while they found lodging for themselves and family
in the cabin loft. Tired and worn by the long and tedious last day's drive we
slept sweetly and soundly, four in the bed, myself, wife and two children."
The next morning a dense fog obscured the country. Nevertheless
Mr. Doolittle and the new minister went to visit some neighbors two miles away.
Reverend Brown was surprised to learn that there was no organized Baptist
society in that part of Iowa. The settlement was so new that the few Baptist
families were widely scattered. "This and the fog and the fact that, aside from
the $100 per year from the home missionary board, our living was to come from
our field of labor was rather discouraging and made me feel a little blue. But
during our walk a breeze came up and carried away the fog. The clouds lifted
and the sun came out, revealing a most beautiful prairie country to the south,
with a grand body of Maquoketa timber to the north for a background. My blues
went with the fog; hope, courage, and cheer came with the sunshine and clear
Desiring to attend the convention in Iowa City to organize a
Baptist Territorial Mission Association, Reverend Brown borrowed a horse and
light wagon and, accompanied by his wife, drove across country to the new
capital. Early in the morning on June 1, 1842, they set out toward Bergoon's
ford across the Wapsipinicon River. "We soon lost the dim uncertain trail",
remembered Mr. Brown, "but having a good general idea of the direction did not
miss our way. The weather was fine, the prairies carpeted with wild flowers,
and the trip novel and wonderfully interesting. The broad expanse of rolling
prairies extending in every direction as far as the eye could reach, with now
and then a beautiful grove to relieve the monotony, was a great change from the
hills, valleys, and heavy timber of our central New York home."
Having stayed over night at Tipton, they started early the next
morning and after a hard drive reached Iowa City in the evening of the second
day. The business of the convention was soon finished and three days were
occupied with preaching and devotional services. Reverend Brown was glad to
"meet the brethren and sisters from different and distant parts of the
Territory." On the return trip he preached at Tipton and at a settlement on the
Temporal affairs next claimed the attention of the missionary
and his family. Most of June was spent in building a log cabin at Wright's
Corners about two and a half miles south of the present site of Maquoketa, just
over the line in Clinton County. It was a crude habitation but it was home.
Meanwhile Reverend Brown did not neglect his missionary duties.
Assigned to the vicinity of the forks of the Maquoketa, he visited the
settlers, preached to them whenever possible, and on the last day of August
organized a Baptist church in that community. During that first summer in Iowa,
he also preached at Iowa City, Andrew, Tipton, Marion, and Davenport. In
September he and Mrs. Brown drove to a meeting in Davenport on a cart made out
of the rear wheels and axle of a lumber wagon and a pair of rails for shafts.
There they participated in forming an association of the seven Baptist churches
north of the Iowa River. "There was precious enjoyment in this pioneer
missionary life and work and we loved it."
COMMENT BY THE EDITOR
A missionary is an altruistic person who goes to a strange land
in the service of the church. The title implies great zeal in a holy cause, a
life of hardship among primitive people in a remote part of the world, danger of
disease and accident, and utter renunciation of financial profit. Modern
prototypes of Paul answer the Macedonian call of Africa and the Orient.
Less than a hundred years ago, Iowa was a field of missionary
endeavor. Charles E. Brown traveled twenty-four days by canal boat, lake
steamer, and lumber wagon from central new York to his mission at the forks of
the Maquoketa River on the frontier. He built his own cabin, suffered from
rheumatism and ague, managed to live on a $100 a year from the missionary fund,
and found deep satisfaction in the conversation and baptism of more than fifty
persons at a revival during the first winter. At that time there was no Baptist
church west of Iowa City.
Most of the pioneers sought material advantage from the prairies
of Iowa, but Reverend Brown was dominated by spiritual motives. Well educated,
clear minded, and energetic, he might have achieved high distinction in his
denomination, but he preferred the humbler station of rural pastor. First in
Jackson and Scott counties and later in Howard County, he ministered to the
religious and educational needs of his neighbors. He founded several churches,
helped organize two Baptist associations, and served as a chaplain in the Union
Army. Careless of opportunities for personal exaltation, he spent half a
century working for the benefit of others.
Nor did he shun his civic duties. From 1858 to 1861 he was the
superintendent of schools for Howard County, and in 1877 was elected
Representative of that county in the State legislature. His record as a law
maker, no less than his Christian ministry, was indicative of his idealism. He
served on committees dealing with various charitable and educational
institutions of the State, railroads, and the suppression of intemperance. His
proposal to legalize majority jury verdicts in civil cases passed the House but
was indefinitely postponed in the Senate - which prompted him to observe that
reform in the administration of justice was hopeless "so long as our legislative
bodies are made up largely of lawyers.".
J. E. B.