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Churches and Religion

Pages 464-470

Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886

S. H. Mitchell

 Published by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa


Retrospective - Biographical

A Growth


First Capitol of Iowa as a State and its Baptist Church.

Such a volume as this upon which we are engaged, like its subject matter, is a growth. It was unavoidable that most valuable materials that ought to have had place in the beginning of these Sketches, should come to hand after the earlier pages had gone through the press. But as we have undertaken to write, only in Sketches rather than, what will undoubtedly come later from an abler pen, a connected history, the introduction, in a retrospective chapter, of some very valuable matter belonging to the earlier periods will be admissible. The only remaining constituent member of the Iowa Baptist State Convention, so far as we know now living in Iowa, is Rev. Charles E. Brown of Lime Springs, Howard county. The only other one known to be living at all is Rev. Wm. Elliott, if still alive, who went to Nebraska a few years ago.

Rev. Charles E. Brown was born in Augusta, Oneida county, New York, February 23, 1813, son of Rev. P. P. Brown, one of the successful pioneer ministers in Central New York. Converted when 19 years of age, he became a member of the Baptist church in Augusta, of which his father was pastor. He was educated at Madison University and ordained in September 1838, and married the same month to Miss Frances Larson of Little Falls, New York.  He commenced labor as pastor of the Norway Baptist Church in the following November, and continued four and one-half years here, and at Warren in the same county, baptizing nearly 40 persons. In May, 1842, he was appointed by the American Baptist Home Mission Society to Iowa, at a salary of $100 per annum, and $75 to pay expenses of moving to the field. He had then a wife and two children to support. After a journey of nearly 4 weeks, 200 miles by canal boat, nearly 900 by steamboat, and about 150 by lumber wagon, he reached his field of labor, the Forks of Maquoketa, territory of Iowa, the last of May, 1842. The next month, June, 1843, he and his wife went to Iowa City, 60 miles, over an almost uninhabited prairie, to aid in the formation of the Iowa Baptist State Convention. The means of conveyance for the assembling brethren and sisters was "on foot, on horse back, and in prairie schooners." Mr. Brown says, "Elder M.J. Post came over a hundred miles on horse back, with Brother Rudd walking by his side holding on to the stirrup of his saddle. It was a glorious meeting, and the brethren and sisters parted full of faith and courage for the religious future of Iowa."

Elder Brown and his wife were the missionaries who, the following September, "rode 40 miles in a one-horse cart
constructed for the occasion out of the hind wheels and axle of an old lumber wagon," to attend the organization of the Davenport Association. Elder Brown furnished some additional information in regard to the organization of some of the early churches in this Association. The LeClaire Church, at first called Bath, was organized in 1839 by Elder Rodolphus Weston, a classmate of Elder Brown, and at the time pastor at Carthage, Illinois. Davenport Church was organized in August of the same year. Not being prepared for winter in the unfinished log cabin then occupied. Elder Brown moved with his family to Davenport in November, 1842, and became the joint pastor of the Davenport and Rock Island Churches. The following winter is remembered by the early settlers as the long, cold winter of 1842-3. During that year Elder Brown baptized 50, most of them into the two churches which he served as pastor, two or three at Port Byron, Illinois, and a number at Comanche Iowa, where he organized a church. His next pastorate was at Le Claire. In 1847 he returned to Maquoketa and reorganized the church there. In 1851, with broken health he returned to the state of New York, where he remained as pastor six years, and then, in 1857, returned to Iowa and settled in the extreme northern part of the state, in Howard county, to avoid the ague and fever, "the annual dread of the people further south," he says, in those earlier years. In Howard county, where he has lived most of the time for 30 years, he organized the church at Vernon Springs (now Cresco) and the Lime Springs Church. Of these he was pastor many years. The people of Howard county elected him the first county superintendent of schools under the present school law, and also honored him with a seat in the Seventeenth General Assembly of the State.

Note. The Rev. Rodolphus Weston, (printed by mistake Adolphus in the Baptist Encyclopedia) who organized the Baptist Church at LeClaire in 1839 was appointed Missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society to Hancock county, Illinois, in that year. He preached in many places, and became pastor at Carthage, where he had a great revival and remained pastor for 12 3^ears. In 1852 he went overland to Oregon, where he was pastor of the West Union Church, and Missionary of the Willamette Association until 1863, when he removed to Washington Territory. He was "the pioneer Baptist preacher" of that Territory: the only Baptist preacher for many years in a large district of country. It is said "The churches at Elma, Centerville, Olympia, Seattle and other places all recognize in 'Father Weston' one of the chief founders of the Baptist cause in Washington territory." Another connecting link between the Baptists of Iowa and this part of the Mississippi Valley, and those of the North Pacific coast, Oregon and Washington Territory.

Iowa City and its First Settlers, and Organization of the Baptist Church.

From a sermon preached by Rev. Dexter P. Smith, D. D., on the 17th of December, 1876, we take a few facts that
are too valuable to miss of preservation in this retrospect. "In 1837 the only civilized inhabitants of Johnson county
were Col. S. C. Trowbridge, Eli Myers, Philip Clark, Samuel Walker and Eli Simms. In 1839 the capitol commissioners: Chauncy Swan of Dubuque county, John Ronnels of Louisa county, and Robert Ralston of Des Moines county, surveyed and laid out the capitol of the Territory on the section now occupied by Iowa City. The only improvements indicative of civilization were two unfinished cabins. During the autumn of the same year, his Excellency, Robert Lucas, Governor of the Territory, accompanied by his wife and daughter, visited the new capitol, traveling from Burlington to Iowa City on horseback. They were provided with what was then deemed ample accommodations, at a log cabin, the sleeping rooms of which were reached by means of a ladder. By January 1, 1840, the population had increased to twenty families, and in April of that year, Chauncey Swan, Commissioner, commenced the erection of the Capitol building. In December, 18-11, the Legislature  convened at Iowa City. In 1842 $50,000 had been expended on the State House, and the population had increased to nearly 1.000. Iowa was admitted to the Union as a State, December 28, 1846, and the Capitol was subsequently re-located at Des Moines and the State University established at Iowa City as a compensation. The State building was donated to the University with other valuable property which has since been greatly augmented. The first Baptists who settled at Iowa City were Isaiah Choate and I. N. Sanders and wife. In 1841 other members of the denomination having located at or near the City it was deemed advisable to organize a Baptist Church. A Council met at the Choate school house, June 28, 1841, composed as follows' Galena, Illinois, Rev. John Champlin; Dubuque, Iowa, Rev. Burton Carpenter, and Rev. W. B, Morey, late of New York; of the resident members. Elder B. M. Parks, Isaiah Choate, Newton Sanders, Jehiel Parks, Julius Brown, Jas. N. Ball, Julia Ball, Harrison Parks, Lucy Parks, Eliza Parks, and Orville Parks. Elder Parks was appointed Moderator and Isaiah Choate, clerk. All concurred in the expediency of the organization. Mr. Carpenter preached in the evening and W. B. Morey on Sunday morning, and at the close of the morning service baptized in the beautiful Iowa River, Brothers F. Hardee and John Wolf. A call was extended to Rev. W. B. Morey July 24, 1841, who thus became the first pastor of the Iowa City Church, services beginning in October of that year and preaching one-fourth of his time.

Some things in the subsequent history of the Iowa City Church are too good to be left out of this reminiscence. "The Iowa Baptist State Convention met with the Iowa City Church in June, 1846. Over thirty of the delegates were lodged at the pastor's house. Cots were obtained from the American Hotel for the women, who occupied the upper rooms. Buffalo robes, quilts and blankets were spread upon the floor below, where some of the brethren were ''packed'; others retired to the horse barn. The matron who superintended the cooking stated that over three hundred meals were provided at that house during the meetings. The formidable array of Baptists made an impression on the capital city. A good Methodist sister, awestruck, exclaimed, 'I did not suppose there were so many Baptists in the world.'" In Obituary notes will be found an account of the death of Rev. A. Russell Bolden, brother Smith's successor in the pastorate. We subjoin here another thrilling account : "The city had just been startled by the announcement of the death of Mrs. Col. Allen with cholera. Mr. Belden joined with the bereaved family in requesting Rev. Dexter P. Smith to preach the funeral sermon the following Sunday. "Revs. Belden and Smith, with a few friends, met at the house of Col. Allen for a short service, after which the remains of Mrs. Allen were conveyed to the cemetery for burial. Mr. Belden, in apparent good health, rode with Mr. Smith. They returned about noon, and before the close of that day Mr. Belden had passed away. The city was clouded with gloom ; all felt that God was near. Mr. Smith preached his funeral sermon at the same hour previously fixed for the funeral of Mrs. Allen." The writer of these sketches, with his wife, had just arrived in Iowa in September, 1855. Spending a week in Muscatine we then "took stage -'for Oskaloosa, via Iowa City, Washington, Fairfield and Ottumwa. Arriving at Iowa City on Friday night we were informed that no stage ran on Saturday for Oskaloosa, so there was no way but to stay in that city till Monday morning. We put up at a hotel and spent the time as best we could. We remember distinctly the awe and gloom that pervaded the place on account of a number of cases of cholera, though the people kept it as still as they could. This was still in September, and though we have not the exact date of the death of Mrs. Allen and Mr. Belden, it is very likely we were there just at the time.

The experience of getting the first church building for the Iowa City Church, which was at the time the best Baptist church edifice west of the Mississippi, and is the one occupied by the church yet, is worth a permanent record. A large Sabbath school had been gathered. The church had occupied different places of worship, the Universalist Church, the Mechanics' Academy, and subsequently a building afterwards known as the Christian Chapel. "In the midst of cheer and hope," a time of "incipient prosperity," the church was unexpectedly informed by the proprietors of the building they occupied at the time that it would not be convenient longer to rent the chapel. The next Sunday morning some of the children, not knowing what had been done, gathered around the closed building. The pastor met them, met their sad and imploring looks, "spoke words of cheer and hope, and assured them that an effort should be made to secure for them a permanent place of gathering. But where, and how, were questions not so easily answered. The church was too poor to purchase even an eligible lot upon which to build." After much prayer, and at great sacrifice upon the part of the pastor and his sick family, Mr. Smith, in the fall of 1846, "went east to solicit of personal friends and the churches in New York, funds to build a church.'' The effort was remarkably successful, exceeding the most sanguine hope; $4,067.89 were obtained. The house was built, 41x63 feet, and was dedicated November 2, 1848. The dedicatory sermon was preached by the pastor, Rev. B. F. Brabrook, and Rev. George J. Johnson, then just from the state of New York, being present and assisting in the services. A beautiful cut of the house is found in the minutes of the Davenport Association for 1852.

Iowa Baptists and Evangelism.

We have before us as we write a pamphlet written in 1855 by Deacon A. Wilber of Boston, father of Rev. H. R. Wilber, one of our pioneer ministers, entitled " An Examination of the Comparative Results of the Labors of Elder Jacob Knapp," in and about Boston. The prejudice against Evangelists was very strong and the paper was intended to answer some of the objections by showing that the subsequent life of the churches vindicated the soundness of conversions and the healthfulness of revivals. Iowa Baptists from the first have honored and been in return blessed by that among other of the Ascension gifts of the risen Lord, He gave some as evangelists.  Rev. Jacob Knapp did some valuable work at Burlington, and perhaps other of our Iowa churches. But eternity alone will divulge how many of the reliable members of nearly all our churches, in Southeastern Iowa especially, attribute their awakening and conversion to the labors of Revs. Morgan Edwards, Samuel Pickard, Wm. Elliott, J. M. Wood and others, not to speak of the strictly evangelistic labors of Pastors Johnson and indeed all the earlier pastors in that part of the state, for in the newer settlements more than later, pastors necessarily must obey the instruction, "Do the work of an evangelist," and right well they did it. Other evangelists. Revs. H. W. Brown, A. P. Graves and wife, E. C. M. Burnham, James M. Smith, and many others in the earlier days. Brother Chubbuck and wife, B. H. Brasted and others more recently, have all done much to fill up our churches with the best material.


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