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Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists
Chapter II
Associations, Name,
Ministers and Early Churches

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 descriptive.

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 needed.

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 forth.

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, Burlington, Iowa


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