Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886
S. H. Mitchell
by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa
Our Cultured and Broad-Minded Pioneers—
Institutions of Learning Conventions, Etc
Items from Records of
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
adopted, trustees elected, etc.
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
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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