Mahaska County


Histories of Mahaska County

Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886
S. H. Mitchell Published by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa


Pages 101-114

The Des Moines Association - 1839 - 1859. Great Prosperity

THE present and subsequent chapters will be devoted to a sort of bird's-eye view, of the growth of the different Associations in Iowa, so as to show, 1st, the growth of each considered in and of itself, and 2d, the growth of each as related to the growth of the denomination at large in the State. The present chapter will have to do with the first of all the Associations, the old Des Moines. We shall endeavor to sketch its history from the time of its organization in 1839, down to the time it was disbanded, and the Churches composing it, by mutual agreement, were organized into the Keokuk and Burlington Associations. The account of the organization of this Association in August, 1839, at Long Creek now Danville was given in the beginning of these Sketches. The Churches composing it were three, Long Creek, Pisgah and Rock Spring. There were about 80 members in the three Churches. The first Moderator was Rev. Jonah Todd, Clerk, Rev. Alexander Evans, Preacher of Introductory Sermon, Rev. Hezekiah Johnson. The name of the Association at first was the Iowa Baptist Association. The data for its history and its meetings for the first five years are very meager. It appears that annual meetings were held in 1840 at Rock Spring, 1841 at Danville, 1842 at Rochester Church, near Keosauqua, in 1843 at Portland Church, and in 1844 at Danville again. For these years we have no means of knowing who were the officers, nor any statistics.

At the second meeting of the Iowa Baptist State Convention, held in Davenport in 1843, this Association was represented by Elders A. Evans, H. Johnson, D. Jewett, and M. J. Post. There were then reported ten Churches, six ministers, 43 persons baptized during the year and 223 members. The name of the Association was changed to Des Moines, either that or the next year. The ten Churches and the dates of their organization, were, as near as we can ascertain, Danville, 1834; Rock Spring, 1836; Pisgah, 1839; Union, 1839; Farmington, 1841; Washington, 1841; Mt. Zion, 1842; Mount Pleasant, 1843; Keosauqua, 1838, and possibly Fox River, 1842. The ministers, in addition to those mentioned above, were Wm. Elliott and H. Burnett. The latter arrived in the territory in 1842.

1844. Number of Churches, 14, ordained ministers, 8, baptized, 100; whole number 361.

1845. The Association met with the Ebenezer Church, Lee county. The introductory sermon was preached by Elder M. J. Post, who was elected Moderator and Brother Otis Thompson, of the Farmington Church, Clerk. Among the ordained ministers are found Wm. Sperry and R. Cheedle. The Rock Spring Church seems to have previously lost its connection with the Association and, on application, is received again with 14 baptisms and 18 received by letter; members, 56. Brother S. Pickard appears as a Licentiate of the Liberty Church, also received this year with 27 members. New Churches were also received, viz: Shiloh, 8 members; Oskaloosa, 20; Village Creek, 8; Toolsborough, 8; Eddyville. 7, and Fairfield, 22. Whole number of Churches, 25; baptisms, 11; members, 656.

1846. Met at Round Point, September 4. The preacher of the introductory sermon, Elder Sperry, being absent, Elder Hiram Burnett preached and was chosen Moderator, W.B. Morey, Clerk, Daniel Jewett, Secretary. Delegates from the Davenport Association Rev. Dexter P. Smith and J.N. Seeley. The Tabernacle, Mount Moriah and Ft. Des Moines Churches were received. The name of the Oskaloosa Church has been changed to Union. Elders Shaply Elmore, J. Moore, J. Bond, B.B. Nichols and H. Worden are among the ministers not named above. Number of Churches reporting, 24; pastors, 11; baptisms, 71; total membership, 563.

"Elder John Rexford, from the Free Communion Baptist Church, stated that he had embraced our sentiments, and enquired whether his ordination would be accepted by this body." After reading his certificate and some discussion, the Association voted satisfaction and invited, him to a seat with the body. A request came up from the Eddyville and Tabernacle Churches for the ordination of Brother G. W. Bond, but after examination it was deemed inexpedient at present, and the Churches "advised to aid our brother in the support of his family, that thereby he may be enabled to study to show himself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed."

There is evidence of an intelligent conservatism in such matters in those early days, that it would have been well in some quarters to have emulated later.

The place of meeting in 1847 was Mt. Zion. William Elliott had been appointed to preach the introductory sermon. No record of this meeting nor statistics of the year have been found.

1848. The Association met in its tenth session with the church at Washington, Iowa. Rev. Horace Warden preached the introductory sermon from Titus, 1st chapter, 3d verse. Rev. R. Cheedle was elected Moderator, and Rev. W .B. Knapp, Clerk. There are now 21 churches, 104 baptisms reported and 717 members. Rev. James M. Hope of Keokuk, appears among the ministers. The name of the Keokuk church appears with 13 members. A year earlier, in 1847, Keokuk was represented in the State Convention by Rev. J. W. Seely.

The question of a division of the Association, already began to be discussed. The death of the late beloved M. J. Post, was reported and the Association most painfully mourn his loss. Near the close of 1848, began a work at Burlington, which claims more extended notice. The beginnings of Baptist seed-sowing here date still further back. In 1848. Rev. Luther Stone, now of Chicago, spent a number of weeks in Burlington, found a few Baptists, and preached a number of sermons. Rev. Alexander Evans and perhaps one or two others had also preached occasional sermons, but there was no organization. Rev. George J. Johnson "first arrived in Burlington, on the evening of the first Wednesday in November, 1848, the day following the election of Gen. Zachary Taylor, as President of the United States". The population of the city at that time was between one and two thousand. In a reminiscence of the time, Brother Johnson says that on his arrival at Burlington, "there was no Baptist Church or any other friends that were under any special obligations to receive him, and that he had not money enough to pay his way for half a week." He however found, the next day, a "Kentuckian," who with genuine Kentucky like hospitality, invited him to his home and made him welcome. This was John H. Webber who was afterwards the first person ever baptized by Brother Johnson, and so far as known, the first in the Mississippi River at Burlington. He is supposed to be still living at East Portland, Oregon. On the first Lord's day, in April, 1849, the First Baptist Church of Burlington, was organized with twelve members, and six others were baptized on the same day. In 1849 the Church was represented in the State Convention and in 1850 became connected with the Des Moines Association. In June, 1851, the Church entered, though it was far from being completed, the house, where its services were regularly held for about thirty-four years, until the conference rooms of the present house were occupied.

1849. We have no record of this year. The Association was to meet at the Liberty Church, near Charleston, and Rev. J. M. Hope was to preach the sermon. August 8, 1848, Brother Hope had been recommended to the Home Mission Society, by the Executive Board of the Convention, "to labor with the Baptist Church in Keokuk, with an appropriation of $250.00 for one year from June 1, 1848," but the record says, "withdrawn by Brother Hope at the expiration of six months, on account of impaired vision."

1850. Met for the fourth time, at Danville. The introductory sermon was preached by Brother Burnett, from Acts 20: 24. Rev. H. Burnett was chosen Moderator, Rev. E. Gunn, Clerk and M. W. Rudd, Treasurer. This is Brother Gunn's first introduction to the Association and to the State. He is pastor at Keokuk where 7 baptisms are reported, 15 received by letter and the church numbers 36. Brother Gunn received his first appointment from the Home Mission Society to labor at Keokuk in 1849, laboring 13 weeks in that year. Delegates of the Burlington, Brighton, Richland, Charleston and Aurora Churches came forward and requested admittance into the Association, and upon favorable report of a committee, they were all received. There were now 27 Churches, 71 baptisms reported, 139 received in other ways and a total membership of 912. The Burlington Church reports 13 baptisms, 35 received in other ways and 41 members.

1851. The Association met at Agency City. Rev. O. Ormsby, of Troy, preached the introductory sermon and was chosen Moderator, Brother Gunn of Keokuk, Clerk and M. W. Rudd, Treasurer. The great revival elsewhere noticed in the Sketches, as setting in soon after 1850, is fully inaugurated, 219 baptisms are reported. Rev. G. J. Johnson reports 77 baptisms at Burlington. They were permitted to visit the baptismal waters for thirteen consecutive Sabbaths, and have now 136 members. Members in the Association, 1126, in 27 Churches, with 11 pastors. Wm. A. Wells is pastor at Danville, O. Ormsby at Keosauqua and Fox River, W.H. Turton at Farmington, G.W. Bond at Oskaloosa, Aurora and Knoxville, Wm. Elliott at Fairfield and Brighton, Hiram Burnett at Mt. Pleasant, Elihu Gunn at Keokuk, T.J. Penny at Pisgah, G.J. Johnson at Burlington, and J.B. McGlasson at Blakesburg. At this meeting in 1851 the division of the Association which had been impending for some time took place, and the West Des Moines, afterwards Oskaloosa, Association was formed. Prior to this division the Des Moines Association had extended from Keokuk and Burlington on the Mississippi, to Knoxville in Marion county, and at one time to Fort Des Moines, and embraced all the territory south of the Iowa River. The division was amicably arrived at and was made "On a line to be drawn from Keosauqua to Fairfield, and from thence to Brighton, thence on the line dividing the counties of Keokuk and Washington," the Churches at the places named, on this line to be in the western division. This divided the then existing Churches south of the Iowa River into two respectable Associations in point of numbers, and of nearly equal strength. Keokuk "have disposed of their old house of worship and lot, and purchased a new and better lot, upon which they expect soon to have a new and commodious house of worship erected." It sounds strangely to hear a Church not yet five years old talking of its old house of worship, but it illustrates how rapidly changes came about in those stirring pioneer days. Burlington had been enabled to enter their new house of worship, the interior of which was now "entirely completed."

1852. The Association met at Keokuk. Rev. Wm. H. Turton preached the introductory sermon. Rev. E. Gunn was chosen Moderator and Brother Turton, Clerk, and Deacon E. Cady, Treasurer. Though the Association has been reduced by the organization of a new one on the west, from about 30 Churches to 16, yet an era of unparalleled prosperity is about to be ushered in. Two new Churches are received; the Jefferson and Augusta Churches, and there are now 16 Churches, 71 baptisms reported, 69 received in other ways, and the membership is 725. Burlington have baptized 26, and the new Church at Jefferson organized last March, report 19 baptisms. Elder Burnett is preaching the Word to them.

1853. The Association met at Farmington, in the Congregationalist House of Worship. Introductory sermon by Rev. Geo. J. Johnson. H. Burnett Moderator, and W. H. Turton Clerk. The Church at Keosauqua seems to have, for a time, lost its visibility, and is again received into the body. Glasgow is also a new organization where 38 have been baptized and 56 members are reported. Rev. H. R. Wilber appears as pastor at Mt. Pleasant, Obed Sperry at Pisgah, and Isaac Leonard at Rock Spring. Brother Sperry should have been noticed at Pisgah a year ago. Also Rev. E. O. Town at Mount Zion. Brother Leonard has been reported as a Licentiate of the Burlington Church for a couple of years ; was ordained in 1851, Brother Town in 1852, Rev. B. F. Braybrook preaching the sermon in both instances. Churches in 1852, 17; pastors, 8; baptisms, 136; total membership, 812. Perhaps the progress of the great revival in this Association for the next five years will be best shown by exhibiting in a condensed statement, the names of Churches, pastors and number of baptisms each year, in the principal places visited by the Saving Power of God. Beginning with 1853, and ending with 1857.

1853. Danville, Obed Sperry, 12; Bonaparte, no pastor, 15; Mt. Pleasant, H R. Wilber, 25; Burlington, G. J. Johnson, 13; Jefferson, H. Burnett, 13; Glasgow, Wm. Elliott, 16; other baptisms, 19; total, 139.

1854. Union, S. Pickard, 12 ; Liberty, S. Pickard, 21; Keokuk, E. Gunu, 29; Burlington, G. J. Johnson, 124; Jefferson, no pastor, 17 ; Richmond, Charles Thompson, 15; Lockridge, Wm. Elliott, 16 ; other baptisms, 13; total, 247.

1855. Union, S. Pickard, 37; Bonaparte, M. Sutton, 10; Washington, C. Thompson, 15; Burlington, G. J. Johnson, 17; Glasgow, Wm. Elliott, 12; Tuscarora, S. Pickard, 23; other baptisms, 27; total 140.

1856. Danville, J. G. Bowen, 20; Bonaparte, M. Sutton, 15; Liberty, S. Pickard, 42; Keokuk, E. Gunn, 11; Burlington, G. J. Johnson, 26; Jefferson, W. Elliott, 15; Glasgow, W. Elliott, 12; Tuscarora, S. Pickard, 12; other baptisms, 16; total, 169.

1857. Pisgali, Isaac Leonard, 46 ; Bonaparte, M. Sutton, 7; Mt. Pleasant, H. K. Wilber, 37; First Keokuk, E Gunn (resigned), 85; First Burlington, G. J. Johnson, 27; Jefferson, W. Elliott, 23; Glasgow, W. Elliott, 7; Tuscarora, S. Pickard (resigned), 10; Second Keokuk, S. Pickard. 30; Denmark, M. Edwards, 1; total, 223. Total baptisms for five years, 917.

The above will show the pastors doing service during the same period.

The Association met at Jefferson in 1854. Introductory sermon by H. R. Wilber. H. Burnett, Moderator, H. R. Wilber, Clerk. In 1855 meeting at Burlington. Preacher, M. Sutton ; Moderator, M. Sutton ; Clerk, H. R. Wilber. Place of meeting in 1856, Glasgow. Preacher, Morgan Edwards; Moderator, Wm. Elliott; Clerk, H. R. Wilber.

1857. Bonaparte. Preacher, Morgan Edwards; Moderator, T. J. Penny; Clerk, H. R. Wilber. There are now 22 Churches, 11 pastors, 7 other ordained ministers, 12 Licentiates and 1,609 members. Among those just licensed to preach, are E. C. Cady, of the Danville Church, W. A. Eggleston, of Mount Pleasant, J. M. Wood and J. Lee, of Glasgow, who have since been long and well known among Iowa Baptist ministers.

1858. The Association held its Twentieth Anniversary with the Baptist Church at Richmond. Annual sermon by Rev. G. J. Johnson, who was elected Moderator, Rev. M. Sutton, Clerk and Calvin Craven, Treasurer. Throughout 1858 the revival work seems unabated. Before its close. Brother Leonard has baptized at Pisgah 14; Brother Sutton at Bonaparte 26; Brother Moore at Charleston 15, and at Bethlehem 13; G. J. Johnson at Burlington 25; Brother Elliott at Glasgow 31; G. W. S. Bell at Richmond 45; W. A. Eggleston at New London 14; Jonathan Lee at Tuscarora (Pilot Grove) 11; Pickard at 2d Keokuk 27, and Thomas M. Ind at 2d Burlington 32. Other baptisms had been 30, and the whole number 283. Rev. P. P. Bishop during this year becomes pastor at Burlington, and Rev. G. J. Johnson, having closed his labors there, goes to Fort Madison, where 53 converts have been baptized and a Church of 102 members raised up. Rev. W. W. Allen is pastor at Keokuk and A. Edson at Washington.

We have dwelt in considerable detail on these revival years in the hope that their perusal by such of those who were permitted to mingle in these Spiritual awakenings, as are still in the flesh, and by all of us, may awaken the memory of their blessedness, and create an earnest longing for a return of those days of the mighty power of God. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled."

The earnest spirit of devotion that showed itself, and the patient continuance in religious exercises that show them to have been a joy, are worthy of a little careful study. This will be best seen in a sketch of the doings of one Associational Sabbath. In August, 1858, the Des Moines Association met at Richmond, Iowa. The following is a full minute of the services of Sunday, August 22. Prayer meeting was held at 7 a. m.; Brother Ford addressed the Sabbath School for about one hour at 8:30 a m.; Brother Sutton preached at 10 a. m., from 2 Corinthians v: 20, 21; Brother Bastion preached at 11 a. m., from Romans X. 13, after which a collection was taken for the State Convention amounting to $21.60; Brother W. W. Allen preached at 2:30 p. m., from Matthew 10: 8, after which Brother Johnson made remarks and took up a collection for the Publication Society, of $14.35. Prayer meeting was held at night, and then Brother Edson preached from Job ix: 2, and Brother Eggleston from Galatians v: 6. The services of the day were throughout largely attended, and seemingly attended with a solemn sense of the Divine presence." Seven sermons and two prayer meetings in the same house in one day! What else than "a solemn sense of the Divine presence" could make such a bill of fare possible? Doubtless, many will read this account with a smile to-day, and think of that day's services as belonging to a past order, when people had not yet learned to free themselves from the bondage of long and, perhaps, dry sermons, etc. But as we have studied it in connection with the evidences of the mighty power of God in the Churches during those years, we cannot doubt that such a lingering in the sanctuary, and such prolonged listening to God's Holy Word, was a most natural and a most delightful thing. May the reminiscence of it tend to hasten the return of a similar sense of the Divine presence in all our associational gatherings!

The Des Moines Association has had a prosperous history. Though the territory has been reduced by the organization of the Oskaloosa Association, the necessity or expediency of further dividing it had been agitated for a year or two. The question has been submitted to the Churches in 1856, and at the Annual Meeting in Bonaparte in 1857, a committee was appointed "to examine the votes of the Churches" in reference to the matter. This committee reported that five Churches had voted for, and ten against division.

At the meeting in Richmond in 1858, "on request of the Glasgow Church, and on motion of T. R. Carter, a special committee was appointed on division of the Association, as follows: C. Craven, T. R. Carter, E. Cady; J. W. Ratliff and D. W. Ford." A majority of this committee reported, through the Chairman, C. Craven, against division. A minority report brought in by Brother Carter, favored division. The question was again submitted to the Churches, with the recommendation "that the Churches desiring a division, communicate that desire to the next Association for such action as may then be deemed proper."

1859. The Twenty first and last Anniversary of the Des Moines Association was held with the Pisgah Baptist Church, near Dodgeville, Iowa, August 27, 1859. The tide of revival and of prosperity is still unabated. There are now 24 Churches, with 14 pastors, 321 baptisms are reported, 213 other additions, and a total membership of 2,036. A net increase for one year of 316. Under the powerful revival efforts of Rev. Morgan Edwards a Church of 102 members has been raised up at Fort Madison within a year; 53 of whom have been received by baptism, and Rev. G. J. Johnson settled as pastor. Also by Brother Edwards' labor, a Church of 75 members at West Point, of whom 57 are by baptism.

The proposition to divide the Association has at last prevailed. In a report made by Rev. G. J. Johnson, Corresponding Secretary, to the Slate Convention at Oskaloosa, in October, 1859, we find the following. After stating some of the cheering facts of the Association's prosperity" in the year past, he says: "In view of the enlarged membership of the Association, the throngs drawn together thereby to attend upon its meetings," * and the great distance to be traveled over in order to attend its sessions, the Association was divided and resolved into two new Associations, named respectively, Burlington and Keokuk Associations." The report then closes with a just tribute to the memory of the Des Moines Association, as follows: "Surely the Lord has done great things for the Des Moines Association, whereof we are glad. It was organized just twenty years ago last August, under the name of the Iowa Association, and then embraced the whole State. It has since been changed in its name, divided and subdivided repeatedly in its territory, and now, finally has passed out of being and taken its place among the things of the past. And yet, though this Association has ceased to exist, the name will be associated in many minds with hallowed interest, with scenes gone by and long cherished in the heart of sacred memory, by many friends of our Zion in Southeastern Iowa." Among the pastors of the Des Moines Association, perhaps not mentioned before, are D. H. Paul, at Danville in 1858, and W. J. Cochran, at Bethlehem in 1859, and others may have been unintentionally overlooked. At this last meeting of the Des Moines Association Rev. M. Sutton preached the annual sermon, Charles Hubbell, Esq., of Keokuk, was Moderator, P. P. Bishop, of Burlington, Clerk, and Isaac Leonard, Treasurer.

The history of the Des Moines Association is a history of a most important epoch in our growth as a commonwealth, and is full of the deeds and thoughts of a class of men who would do honor to any State in any age. Many of these noble men of God are still living and doing for God and humanity. With them these reminiscences must be of intense interest. Youth, vigor, anticipation, sanctified ambition, enthusiasm, are at one end of the view. Gray hairs, experience, sober reflection, trials endured, courageously met and surmounted at the other. In many instances doubtless, mistakes made, discovered, repented, and, alas! sometimes when too late to make amends, all reminding us that the treasures of gospel grace have been committed to "earthen vessels," and yet in view of all, what was said above in 1859 is true in 1886, the name of the Des Moines Association is still associated in many minds with hallowed memories and scenes of those early days of our Iowa Zion.

Transcribed by Constance Diamond