|It is the
characteristic of Baptist churches to seek association as
drops of water flow into each other. Accordingly, as soon as there are
three or four churches in the new territory of Iowa, we find them
moving into association.
The third church organized seems to have been the Pisgah church, twelve
miles north of Burlington, in 1838, and the fourth probably the Union
church, in Lee county, not far from the Des Moines river, in 1839. In
August, 1839, at the regular monthly meeting of the Long Creek (now
Danville) church, they were met by delegates from the Rock Spring and
Pisgah churches, and the first associational organization took place.
The place of meeting was in a grove about fourteen miles west of
Burlington. The entire membership of the three churches was less than
ninety, the number of delegates present ten. "The organization was
effected and the entire business of the meeting transacted, while nine
of these delegates sat in a row on a log, and the Moderator stood
before them supported by the back of a chair."
It appears from the only data in my possession that Jonah Todd was
Moderator, and Alexander Evans, Clerk, and that Hezekiah Johnson
preached the introductory sermon. The name at first chosen was "The
Iowa Baptist Association." This was afterwards, upon the organization
of another, changed to the Des Moines Association. It did not, perhaps,
occur to the brethren at the time that they should, in many years, be
under the necessity of changing the name to make it appropriately
As illustrative of the "unexpected" that has been constantly
"happening" in the growth of this great region, I am reminded here of
an incident related to me by one who was, if I remember correctly,
present, at a somewhat earlier date. It was in Northern Ohio or Western
New York. A Baptist Association was being organized, and it had been
proposed to call it the Northwestern Baptist Association. It was then
the farthest northwest of any Baptist organization. The name seemed
appropriate, and was about to pass unchallenged. But there was one
brother more sanguine than the rest who, with some hesitation,
evidently feeling that he might be regarded as a little wild, drew
himself up and said something like this; "Brethren, I don't know about
the name. It maybe that the time may come when it would be a misnomer.
Indeed," said he, "I should not be surprised if some of us should live
to see the day when there will be a Baptist Association still west of
us." This was scarcely more than two generations ago. Comment is not
We come now to note the beginnings of growth. The mustard seed has been
planted in the garden of Iowa soil, and the branches have begun to put
We take our first standpoint at the year 1840. The mother church is now
six years old. To the four churches before named, Long Creek, Rock
Spring, Union and Pisgah, have now been added one each at Davenport and
Le Claire, and possibly at Dubuque and Keosauqua. Later tables place
the organization at Dubuque in 1841, and the one at Keosauqua seems
never to have had more than a very dim "visibility." The ministers who
entered the State prior to 1840, were Alexander Evans, Hezekiah
Johnson, Ezra Fisher and Calvin Greenleaf. The only account I have
found of the last is that he was under commission of the Home Mission
Society at Davenport, in 1839 eight weeks, and from 1835 to 1838 at
Griggsville, Illinois. Alexander Evans was under appointment at
Burlington and surrounding country four years — 1839 to 1841 inclusive
— except less than half of 1841. Hezekiah Johnson was under appointment
most of the time as an itinerant from 1839 to 1844. He came from Ohio
in 1836, and left for Oregon in 1844. Elder Evans came from Indiana in
1839, and left for Oregon in 1845. During four years of this time he
was pastor of the Long Creek Church. The spiritual activity of these
pioneers must have been remarkable. In a history of the oldest Church,
Rev. R. King says, ''One peculiar feature was its gradual and constant
growth. Conversions seemed to take place through the entire year, and
baptisms are reported at twenty-three regular monthly meetings, in a
period of four years and ten months." In 1841 a Church was organized at
Farmington, and also one at Muscatine, then called Bloomington,
probably by Ezra Fisher. In the same year W. B. Morey is commissioned
by the Home Mission Society thirteen weeks at Iowa City.
The next year, 1842, marks an epoch in our history upon which we may
well bestow more than a passing notice. "In response to a call voted by
the Des Moines Association in 1841, a Convention of brethren from the
Baptist churches in Iowa Territory, was held in Iowa City on the third
and fourth days of June, 1842, to consider the expediency of forming a
Territorial Association for Missionary purposes." The names are
preserved of twenty-five delegates who were present at this meeting,
eight ministers, and seventeen laymen. The names are as follows: Elders
Ezra Fisher, B. Carpenter, Hezekiah Johnson, J. W. Todd, M. J. Post, W.
B. Morey, Charles E. Brown and Ira Blanchard. Laymen, Stephen Headly,
Amos Matthews, M. W. Rudd, J. M. Choate, J. Brown, A. Denison, J.
Parks, J. Wolf, R. C. Mason, Henry A. Ritner, Joseph Downing, E.
Whipple, Henry Headly, John N. Headly, Wm. Elliott, John Potter and
Benjamin F. Pike.
Of these Rev. Charles E. Brown is still living in Northern Iowa, his
praise in many churches where he has labored in word and doctrine
during the forty-four years of the Convention history. M. W. Radd
recently closed a quiet and useful life in Washington, Iowa, and was
promoted to a well-earned rest above. This brother, with perhaps some
others, walked seventy-five miles to attend the meeting for
organization of the Convention.
Of another brother yet living, we use his own words: He was "a poor
bashful boy, afraid of his own shadow, far from home, in a land of
strangers, glad to be let alone." This was William Elliott. A
licentiate at the time, he was not long let alone. His shadow certainly
never grew less, nor is it likely that his fear increased. He was
ordained in the fall of the same year at Rochester, three miles from
Keosauqua. Members of the council were, Hezekiah Johnson, A. Burnett,
Alexander Evans, M. J. Post, John Bond, Daniel Jewett and M. W. Rudd.
For over forty-one years he "has traveled over the trackless prairies,
by night and by day, swimming swollen streams and preaching the Gospel
continually." "His natural force," not yet greatly "abated," lie has
recently gone to Nebraska to try again pioneer life. Bro. Elliott was
probably the first Baptist minister ordained in Iowa, unless M. J. Post
was ordained here.
There were now, at the organization of the convention, 382 members in
the territory in somewhere from ten to fifteen churches. At the same
meeting at Iowa City, "delegates from the churches north of the Iowa
River had an informal meeting and considered the matter of forming
another district association;" and September 16, of the same year, a
meeting was held in Davenport, "in a small one-and-a-half story
building on Front Street," and the Davenport Association was
constituted. There were delegates present from seven churches,
including the one at Rock Island in Illinois. The aggregate membership
was eighty-six. As illustrating some of the experiences of these
pioneers, and the questions to be settled. Rev. Charles E. Brown, who
was at the organization, says, "Fixing the time of year for the annual
meeting of the Association was attended with some difficulty. There
were two considerations to be taken into the account. (1), To avoid the
sickly season, and (2), to have the meeting to occur at the time of the
year when wild fruits, fresh vegetables and fat chickens would be
plenty. The Friday before the third Sunday in September was fixed upon,
and so remained until 'wise men came from the East' and said the time
must be changed to the middle of the week."
We will now take our stand at 1844, the completion of one decade.
Membership in the State has increased to 592; forty-two baptisms are
reported for the year. Churches, not before mentioned, have been
organized, at Washington in 1841, at Bonaparte in the same year, at
Iowa City 1842, and the Providence church near Troy, Davis county, in
1842. The last is a country church and seems to have maintained its
existence until the present time.
Of the beginning of the work at Washington, we have some data worth the
mention. The town of Washington, Washington county, was located in
1839. The first Baptists in the county were Deacon Calvin Craven and
his wife, who settled six miles northwest of the town in 1840, On
Saturday, October 2, 1841, they, with Isaac Arnold and wife, and Samuel
Kitz and wife, with perhaps some others, were organized into a Baptist
church. Elder H. Johnson preached a sermon from Daniel 2:44. This is
probably the oldest record of the text of a sermon preached in Iowa.
Bro. Craven is still living at his home occupied in 1840, his wife
having recently preceded him to the better home above. At the close of
this first decade the Home Mission Society is found vigorously pushing
its work in Iowa Territory. In 1842 it has had seven missionaries here,
and in 1843 eight. But in 1844 the number is increased to twelve. They
are H. Johnson, itinerant, C. E. Brown, Davenport (twenty-six weeks),
B. Carpenter, Dubuque, M. J. Post, Fox River, Wm. Elliott, itinerant,
J. N. Seeley, Bloomington (Muscatine), W. B. Morey, Iowa City, Daniel
Dye, Davenport (twenty-six weeks), Edwin S. Byron, Dubuque (twenty-six
weeks), Hamilton Robb, Keosauqua, Horace Eaton, Davis county, and Wm.
Sperry, Dubuque (twenty-six weeks). It will be seen then how the
branches of the Baptist tree are gradually spreading over Iowa soil.
By S. H. Mitchell, published in 1886 by Burdette County,