Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886
S. H. Mitchell
by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa
First Association — Name — Ministers.
Second Association — 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
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 ii.
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.