Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886
S. H. Mitchell
by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa
An Instructive Incident—American Sunday School
Union—A Mysterious Subscription—The
Appropriate Work of the State
Convention—An Able Address.
IN our last chapter was sketched the almost
phenomenal growth of our Iowa Churches and Associations
during the years from 1852 to 1862. The present we will
devote to an account of the formulation and early growth of
our own State Missionary organization, State Convention,
etc. Before entering upon this, however, I wish to introduce
an incident, which, though not strictly "Baptist history,''
is in close connection, is unique in itself, and highly
suggestive, and is exceedingly good reading. It is in
connection with the labors of Rev. Dexter P. Smith, D.D.,
now of Santa Anna, California. From 1845 to 1851 Bro. Smith
was missionary of the Home Mission Society at Iowa City.
From 1851 to 1859 he was "employed by the American Sunday
School Union as General Sunday School Missionary for the
State of Iowa." I give the following sketch in his own
words, as furnished to Hon. N. Littler, of Washington, Iowa,
and by him furnished to me for these sketches. Bro. Smith
says: "As the salary of General Missionary was provided for
by friends East, all collections were paid into the treasury
of the American Sunday School Union, and expended in
supplying libraries for Iowa. Each new school, upon request,
received a donation of one-half the cost of a good library.
February 17, 1856, I was in Davenport. In the morning I
preached in the Congregationalist Church and received a
collection of $60.25. In the evening I addressed a union
meeting at the Baptist Church. Cash collection $103. Slips
of paper were circulated for subscriptions. Upon one
of these small slips was the following subscription : 'Mailin
Reisarf one thousand dollars ($1,000) payable at Cook &
Sargent's bank, Davenport, Oct. 2, 1856.' As no one of the
friends knew any person in Davenport by the name of Mailin
Reisarf, the subscription was valued at a discount of about
one hundred per cent. The next morning, with a friend, I
inquired at Cook & Sargent's bank, but the officials knew no
such person, which strengthened the belief that it was a
mere hoax, and that we should hear no more of it. But my own
mind was strongly impressed that God had touched the heart
of some one, and disposed him to do a noble thing for the
good cause. Just before the subscription matured, upon the
streets of Davenport, a stranger met the Rev. E.M. Miles,
pastor of the Baptist Church, and inquired, 'Do you
recollect that a subscription of $1,000 for the Sunday
School work was given in response to Mr. Smith's recent
lecture and appeals?"
"I recollect it very well,'
said Mr. Miles, and the stranger continued:
convey the funds to Mr. Smith without trouble?"
Miles assured him that it could be done without the least
"Then,' said the unknown stranger, 'I will
pay the amount to you instead of depositing it at the bank,'
and handed him a purse of gold containing a thousand dollars
in fifty pieces of twenty dollars each. In the excitement of
the moment the stranger passed from sight, and from that day
search was made in vain for the generous donor.
"But," says Mr, Smith, "the name and the act have received
an imperishable record in the great memorial book on high.
Stranger than romance, it was a God-send to Iowa. By
it influences were started which will reach down the ages to
the end of time, to be gathered up, reviewed, and fully
appreciated only under the blaze of eternity's broad
In accordance with instructions, the funds
were paid over to Mr. A.W. Corey, of St. Louis, who had
charge of a branch book depository of the American Sunday
School Union, from which Sunday School libraries for Iowa
were furnished. The Union was at that time doing a great
work for Iowa, planting Sunday-schools "where no
Church or mission out-post could be sustained." Each
Sunday school was "the nucleus around which gathered a
congregation and a permanent interest," and "many of these
schools subsequently developed into churches.''
broad-minded Baptist workers were quick to recognize and to
identify themselves with such beneficent movements where
they were needed, and also quick to avail themselves of the
development, and to advance every denominational
organization so soon as the field was providentially open to
When the Iowa Baptist State Convention
was first organized, and up to 1855, its object was to
awaken interest in, and devise means for the promotion of
the missionary work of other existing missionary
organizations. In 1855,. J. M. Witherwax, of Davenport,
treasurer of the Convention, reported, "Received for the
American Baptist Home Mission Society $161.40; for the
American Baptist Missionary Union, $288.08, and for the
American and Foreign Bible Society $24.10. "' This was the
aggregate of collections for missionary purposes in one
year, after the Convention had been at work thirteen years.
Although great financial embarrassment is spoken of this
year, limiting the work of all the societies, the amount two
years earlier, for 1853, was still less. The day of
small things, truly, in missionary collections for a state
organization! But it did not daunt the spirit of our earnest
pioneers. It seems that in 1854 the Convention began
to consider the question of taking up and maintaining
missionary work in its own name and by funds of its own
raising. A committee had been appointed to secure a German
missionary to labor among the Germans of the state, and to
raise money to provide in whole or in part for his support.
This committee seems to have made a report which was
referred to the Board at the meeting in 1855, but no record
is left of its work.
At the same meeting in 1854, a
committee was appointed "to prepare and offer" at the
subsequent meeting "a revision of the constitution" which in
its existing form did not "contemplate the department of
domestic missionary effort." Rev. T.S. Griffith was
chairman of this committee, but in his absence the report of
the committee was read by Rev. E. Gunn, and after some
amendments was adopted, looking in its provisions to
"the appropriate work of the Convention" the
prosecution of domestic missions. This was in 1855.
The secretary of the previous year. Rev. H.R. Wilbur,
mentions in his annual report that "this subject has already
received the attention of several Associations in the
state,'' and that ''at their recent annual meetings
resolutions were passed of very decided character,
commending this matter to the favorable regard of the
Convention." A missionary board was appointed at this
meeting, which was held at Mount Pleasant, and a collection
was taken to aid in its work, which amounted to §18.50 in
money and $175 in pledges.
Directed by a resolution
of the Board, the Corresponding Secretary, Rev. E. Gunn,
prepared and printed with the Minutes of that year, a
circular, addressed "To the Pastors and Members of the
Baptist Churches in Iowa, and to the Friends of the Baptist
Cause, and the Cause of Christ generally," commending unto
them this new work of domestic missions. The address
is a very able one and in Bro. Gunn's own strong and earnest
style. It took a comprehensive view of the rapid growth and
present and prospective needs of the great state, the
evangelization of which from within itself was just
beginning to be considered as a pressing duty.
sentences we transcribe: "The State of Iowa is at present
filling up by an immigration altogether unexampled in the
history of our country. It is computed by those best
qualified to judge, that not less than two hundred thousand
people have found homes within the ample borders of our
State within the last two years." "The great
thoroughfares of travel along the line of the lakes, uniting
the Atlantic cities with the Mississippi River, have been
choked with emigrants from all the Eastern and Middle
States." "Every point of transit across the
Mississippi has been crowded with the canvass covered wagons
of the hardy pioneers from other Western States." "Whole
townships and counties have been taken up and settled as by
magic. Tracts of country, scores and even hundreds of miles
in extent, where but two years ago the wild Indians disputed
the possession only with the prairie wolf and the elk, are
now dotted all over with the rude cabins of the settlers."
Such is Iowa as a missionary field in 1855. The address
takes a comprehensive view of the necessity of evangelizing
this moving, seething mass of humanity. A single sentence,
or two, must suffice for reproduction here: "Neglect this
field for ten years, and it is possessed by the man of sin,
by the disciples of Abner Kneeland, of Andrew Jackson Davis,
or of the Mormon prophet. Let Satan make such a disposition
of this great central valley, and he will have but an easy
task with the rest of our country and the world."
we read these words, by one who has been so widely known
throughout the West for his almost consuming zeal in
fighting the fight of faith for nearly thirty years since
they were written, and when we think of the many others
equally as well known, we cannot but thank God for the
forces thus early marshaled against the combined powers of
evils that have contested every inch of ground, and for the
measure of success which has been achieved.
found it well nigh impossible not to tarry thus long in
contemplation of the conditions under which the "appropriate
work'' of our State Convention was begun. The development of
it, which we had hoped to reach in the present chapter, must
therefore, wait until the next.
As these Sketches
have largely to do with beginnings, the subsequent growth
will require less of detail.