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 Iowa History

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Churches and Religion

Pages 35-42

Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886

S. H. Mitchell

 Published by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa



Our Cultured and Broad-Minded Pioneers—
Educational Plans Institutions of Learning Conventions, Etc
Items from Records of 1853.

WE have already referred to the foresight and breadth of view of the Iowa Baptist pioneers. While, as a rule, it is necessarily true that pioneer work is largely done by hardy but illiterate men, it is a notable fact that among the first Baptist ministers of Iowa were a goodly number of educated and thoroughly well-informed men who knew the value of missionary and educational institutions, and who were profoundly impressed with the possibilities and necessities of the opening fields west of the Mississippi. As early as 1844, at the third annual meeting of the convention held at Mount Pleasant, a committee was appointed to report on "the expediency of establishing an institution of learning" in the territory.

There were then 502 members in a population of 75,450, or one Baptist in 150 of population. The report of the committee was in these words: ''' Resolved, That the establishment of an institution of learning at some eligible point in the territory by the Baptist denomination is a subject of vast importance, and that it is the duty of this convention to take immediate and vigorous measures towards the consummation of this object."

A committee was appointed "to confer with citizens in the territory and receive proposals towards procuring a site for and defraying the expenses of erecting suitable buildings for said institution." The Davenport Association in the following September endorsed this action and pledged co-operation. In May 1845 the General Association, though no place had been fixed upon, resolved, "still urging the importance of the subject upon the attention of the brethren," and appointed a committee "to take the preliminary steps for commencing a literary institution adequate to the wants of Iowa Territory." Rev. Luther Stone, then of Burlington, was chairman of this committee, and associated with him were Revs. J. N. Seeley, C. E. Brown, Wm. Elliott, M. J. Post, and several laymen.

At the meeting in 1846, held at Iowa City, the chairman of the committee, Luther Stone, having removed from the territory, the other members of the committee held a meeting and reported that "we deem it highly important to enter into immediate arrangements for establishing said literary institution, and that we present the various proposals received to the Convention in committee of the whole, to discuss and decide upon the respective claims." After a lengthy discussion it was voted by a majority of three to locate at Agency City, Wapello county. This vote, however, was immediately after reconsidered and so the matter rested for a brief space.

Incipient steps had already been taken looking to the formation of an Iowa Baptist Educational Society. This society held its annual meeting in connection with the Convention in 1847, and records this item in the minutes "In consideration of the donations and subscriptions of the citizens of Agency City, "Resolved, That an institution of learning be located at that place."'

Though nothing more seems to have been done for some four years after this, it is plainly seen how much the hearts of those then toiling on this field were enlisted in laying broad foundations for its effective cultivation for Christ. It is a reasonable inference that the removal of Mr. Temple from Agency City, as noticed in the last "Sketch," and the changes attending the "California fever," had much to do with the delay.

In 1851 the Convention held two sessions; one in Muscatine the other in Burlington. At the Burlington meeting, in September, the subject of an educational institution for Iowa was again revived. "It appears that a committee had been previously appointed to correspond with the Baptist ecclesiastical bodies of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, with regard to the establishment of a Baptist theological institution for the Northwest." This committee, in connection with a report of considerable length, submitted a resolution: "That a committee of five be appointed whose duty it shall be to make investigations, solicit proposals, etc., with reference to the immediate establishment of a denominational university in the State."' Thus early did the educational idea in Iowa grow into that of a university This committee were also authorized to call an educational convention at such time and place as they might deem expedient, "when the whole subject might be considered in detail."

The committee consisted of "five representative and prominent brethren." The president of the Convention was afterwards added to the committee and the six, "according to instructions of the State Convention," called an educational convention at Iowa City to meet April 13. 1852. This convention met and was in session two days. The final result is recorded in these words: "On motion, after an extended, free and full interchange of opinion, it was unanimously resolved that the contemplated university be located at Burlington." Articles of incorporation were
adopted, trustees elected, etc.

The names are recorded of eighteen brethren present at this convention, and two visitors from St. Louis. The Iowa delegates represented such places as Davenport, Muscatine, Iowa City, Des Moines, Marion, Knoxville, Brighton, Le Claire, Burlington, Keokuk, Bella, Columbus City and Wapello.

It appears that there were some brethren not present at the Iowa City convention of April, 1852, who were not satisfied with the result of that invention, and who, raising the claim that "the denominational institution for the State ought to be located in some central portion of the State, began an agitation for the calling of another convention. It was said that "conversations on the subject resulted in an agreement on the part of brethren of the north and of the south to call a convention to be held at Oskaloosa in November, 1852.  "The weather being unpropitious" at the time appointed " the attendance was small and there was an adjournment to the following June, 1853, at Bella." By this convention, was located the Central University at Bella. We have the names of eleven delegates representing the following places : Brighton, Danville, Bella, Aurora church. Libertyville, Oskaloosa, Bonaparte, Farmington, and Union church.

In the mean time Burlington has begun to build, and soon a building is erected at Bella, and the two schools begin their history. Into the controversies that ensued, and whatever of painful experiences have attended their growth, it is not the purpose of these sketches to enter, nor would the subsequent educational movements in the state be in place among these earlier records. The sketch of these earliest days of educational work would, however, not be complete without a brief notice of the State Convention proceedings for 1852 and 1853. In 1852 the Convention was held at Marion. It appears that a resolution was passed and recorded in the minutes in the following words :  Resolved, That this Convention cannot sanction the proceedings of the educational meeting held in Iowa City, in locating an institution of learning.

At the Convention at Keokuk in 1852 "a memorial of the trustees of Burlington University, in behalf of that institution" was read and referred to a committee. That committee submitted a report, and, pending its discussion. Rev. H. R Wilbur, of Mt. Pleasant, presented a substitute in the following words: "Resolved. That the resolution in the minutes of last year (and quoted above) be rescinded. The substitute of Bro. Wilbur was adopted. The yeas and nays being called were recorded. There were thirty-three yeas and eleven nays.

At this same meeting was presented an obituary report containing "suitable notice of the death of brother B. F. Brabrook, " whose name had stood first among the delegates of the Iowa City convention of April, 1852. He died at Davenport, June 9th, 1853.

That these schools, thus started, and others later, have all done and are still doing much good, no careful and unprejudiced observer, and certainly none who has been conversant with the work in Iowa for the last twenty-five years, will for a moment question. The facts we have been sketching illustrate what has long been, to the mind of the writer, a settled principle, that in the development of God's plans, especially in a rapidly growing country where large foresight is required, no resolutions of Associations, nor votes of Conventions, nor even the wisest forethought of finite minds, can determine for a great length of time what will be best, nor what the subsequent unfolding's of Providence may require for the efficient carrying out of his purposes for the race. We must ever continue to walk by faith, not by sight, and we shall never pass the time when it will be necessary that "if any man lack wisdom" he "ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. " Whatever may have been the mistakes and the unhappy rivalries' of the past, let us be thankful that there were among the foundation-builders in this goodly field a spirit of enterprise and a thoughtfulness for the future, leading to so much earnestness in efforts to lay the foundations broad and strong.

We will close the present sketch with one or two items of interest from the records of the last mentioned year, 1853. I find here a record of "life-members resident in Iowa of the different Baptist societies generally supported by" the denomination in the Northern and Western States. There are thirteen of the Missionary Union, and twenty-one of the Home Missionary Society. These represent the names of nearly all of our leading ministers and others, and money paid out of meager earnings, that the work might not be hindered for want of means. There was also about that time a "German Mission Society of the Mississippi Valley," in the interest of which Rev. D. Read, as chairman of a committee, presented an able report. Rev. J. G. Oncken, of Germany, was present and greatly interested the Convention by his remarks.

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