Among the early settlers of the county were Christian men and women who brought their religion with them into the wilderness, and who were not willing to abandon the public ordinances of the Gospel, even though no temples, "with groined arch and vaulted aisle" reared their spires toward heaven. But in the settler's humble cabin, or in a brush-covered inclosure, on rude rived benches, with no organ peal or trained choirs, they gathered at the summons carried from house to house that "a preacher is coming," and raised the simple hymns of praise, the devout prayers, and listened to the earnest exhortations of the devoted pioneer ministers, who traveled through heat and cold, through rain and shine, from settlement to settlement, fording swollen streams, miring through treacherous sloughs, and often wandering on the trackless prairies in their peripetatic pilgrimages. The ministers were given a, hearty welcome in every home, whether a Christian or "pagan" one, as an old settler expressed it, and in the home of many a settler, whose rough speech and rugged ways did not indicate that they were of Puritan stock, these missionaries found a cordial entrance and a hospitality that made them a kind of oasis for man and beast. On their journeyings they preached the Gospel, brought news of the outer world, ministered consolation in the days of trial, buried their dead and married their sons and daughters. To-day, the memories of those faithful men and Christian teachers, who shared the hardships of primitive times in this county, are cherished by those of the pioneers who are still "on this side of the river."

The earliest religious services by a minister of which information can be gained were held by Rev. Mr. Hall, a Methodist, who came over from Albany, Ill., and hold services in 1887. He preached at what is now DeWitt, in that year.

In June, 1840, Rev. Oliver Emerson, familiarly known as "Father Emerson," came to Davenport. He was a graduate of Lane Seminary and a classmate of Henry Ward Beecher. Mr. Emerson was a Baptist in creed, except that he was an "open communionist." This heresy interfering with his ordination in Ohio, he came to Iowa, hoping that his "unorthodoxy" might be overlooked, and he receive ordination in the church of his choice. He preached to a Baptist society in Davenport a short time, when his views caused a separation. A few persons, members of different denominations, then engaged him to preach to them, and agreed to pay him $15 per month and board him on the "boarding-around" system. An unfinished building was secured, benches put in, and here he labored "on his own hook," for a brief term, being unlicensed to preach and under the pay or control of no ecclesiastical body. Davenport then had a population of about five hundred.

At the close of this labor, he removed his headquarters to Dubuque—though it might be more appropriately said that his headquarters were in the field—and took Jackson and Clinton Counties for his territory. In September, 1840, he preached his first sermon in Clinton County, at the house of Joseph Turner, on Silver Creek, near De Witt. He reached there on Saturday evening, and in the morning T. W. Clark went around among the settlers and gave notice that a meeting would be held, and thus gathered a congregation.

Making his base of operations Sabula, his custom was to preach on Sunday morning at that place. in the afternoon at the house of George Griswold, on Elk River, and at evening in Lyons. He also preached in Camanche and out on the Wapsie, at the Dutton settlement, and at the Alger settlement and at De Witt. Indeed, he ranged over the sparsely-settled country, and wherever he could gather a congregation, on Sabbath or weekday, he "spake for the Master; " in the language of another, "preaching at regular though distant intervals, and occasionally administering the sacrament." He had been ordained as a Congregational Minister, but was extremely catholic and was welcomed by Christians of every creed. He is everywhere spoken of with love and veneration. His face was welcome in every household, "even the sulky, in which he traveled through his circuit, is remembered as a vehicle quite as venerable as the deacon's 'one-hoss shay."'

From him we gather the following historical items. A Congregational church was organized at an early day, he thinks in 1842, in Bloomfield Township, and was continued several years, but a large number of its members emigrated to Missouri and the church was disbanded. Services were held as early as 1843, in Deep Creek Township, at the Hunter Schoolhouse. In the tall of 1842, Mr. Emerson removed to De Witt, it being nearer the center of his territory, a Congregational minister having been sent to Dubuque. In the spring of 1843, he married Miss Eliza Bedford, and built him a house there, but in 1847 moved back to Sabula.

In speaking of those early days, he says the people were all poor. Many came without means, and those who did bring a little money with them, soon found their means invested in a cabin, in their improvements and supplies. Their first crops, on account of remoteness of markets, brought them but scanty returns,' and so all were on a level. The poverty of the people was great. During his early ministrations, he had no salary or fixed compensation. He was welcome to the homely fare of the cabin and the best place to sleep that they could furnish, and, when his "clothes got seedy and worn, they clubbed together and provided him with a new suit."

Cotemporaneous with Father Emerson was Rev. Barton H. Cartwright, who was the first Methodist circuit rider. His circuit was called the Charleston Circuit, including Charleston (now Sabula), Lyons, Camanche, De Witt, and, indeed, nearly all of Jackson and Clinton Counties. His residence was in the timber, between the two forks of the Maquoketa.

The first Presiding Elder was Rev. Mr. Weed. Rev. John. H. Prentiss was also a pioneer minister, and the first Pastor of the Union Grove Congregational Church, which he organized in 1838, and which included Fulton and Lyons in its boundaries. 

Rev. John C. Holbrook was commissioned in the winter of 1841—42 as a Home Missionary for Pleasant Valley, Clinton County, etc. He supplied the Church at Lyons, and preached in this vicinity. He removed to Dubuque, where he remained about twenty years, thence removing to Syracuse, where he is at present the Secretary of the New York Home Missionary Society.

The first Sabbath school of which any report is found was gathered in Lyons, and was held at the house of Chalkley A. Hoag. Frederick Hess was the Superintendent, Daniel Hess, Librarian, and Margaret Hess (afterward Mrs. John Sloan) the Teacher. This school was discontinued during the winter months. Afterward, a Mr. Goodrich, who was a school teacher, was for a time the Superintendent, and until Father Vincent came, who then became the Superintendent. Father Warner also gathered a school at his cabin, two miles from town, in 1847.

Other early enterprises in churches and Sabbath schools will be found mentioned in the history of towns and cities.

From these humble beginnings in church services and Sabbath schools has grown and ripened a plentiful, harvest; and now, scattered over prairie and rearing their spires in every town and village, are a multitude of temples of worship, from within whose walls arise the incense of prayer and praise to the Great Architect, whose hand unfolded these rich prairies for the homes of more than 35,000 people.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




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