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Churches and Religion

Pages 133-144

Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists, 1886

S. H. Mitchell

 Published by Burdette Co., Burlington, Iowa



The Oskaloosa Association—
At First Called the Second Des Moines—
The Third Association On Our Records—1851 to 1886.

UP to 1851 we find record of but two Associations of regular Baptist Churches in Iowa. These were the Des Moines, organized in 1838' and the Davenport, organized in 1842. (But see History of Fox River Association.)

In 1851, 13 Churches were set off from the Des Moines Association and called the Second Des Moines Association. These were Agency City, with 42 members; Aurora, 25 Brighton, 18; Fairfield,16; Fox River, 33; Keosauqua, 32; Blakesburg, 35; Knoxville, 30; Libertyville, 26 ; Mount Moriah, 31 ; Oskaloosa, 31 ; Richland, 44; and Sigourney, 38. Of these Keosauqua had been organized in 1838 ; Fox River, in 1842 ; Agency City, in 1844 Fairfield and Oskaloosa, in 1845 ; Mount Moriah, in 1846; Sigourney, in 1847; Libertyville, in 1849; Aurora, Brighton, Blakesburg and Richland, in 1850; and Knoxville, in 1851.

The next year, 1852, these with the exception of Mount Moriah, which disappears, and with the addition of Steady Run, organized 1852 ; Cedar Creek, 1844 ; and Middle Creek, 1852 ; were constituted the Oskaloosa Association, with 15 Churches, 9 ministers and 455 members, of whom 64 had been baptized within the year. The pastors were Wm. Elliott, J. L. Cole, B. B. Arnold, John Bond, I. C. Curtis, G. W. Bond, G. W. Olney and A. N. Atwood. The Oskaloosa Church named here is not the Church in the city of that name, which was not organized for several years after.

1854. Churches 16, pastors 5, baptized 32, whole number 502. The name of J. Mitchell appears among the ministers as pastor at Sigourney and Richland, and that of J. Parker at Walnut and Brookville. The latter two Churches and that at Pella. appear for the first time, while Aurora and Keosauqua have disappeared. Two or three small Churches are added in 1855, and 120 baptisms are reported. Rev. E. H. Scarff is pastor at Pella and reports 40 baptisms and 150 members. C. Bullock, W. Drummond and J. T. Milner are new pastors. The country Church called Oskaloosa is missed from the record. There are now 627 members.

1856. The number of Churches has increased to 25; pastors 15; baptized 134. Total 934. A Church has been organized at Ottumwa with 16 members, Rev. J. T. Robert, pastor; at Oskaloosa, J. P. ChiIds, pastor, 32; Fremont, J. Ferguson, 36; one at South English with 39 members; and the Little Mount Church near Montezuma, Rev. M. Gregson, pastor, with 30 members. Rev. John Williams has become pastor at Fairfield and Brighton. Rev. A. Saladay is pastor at Fox River, near Troy, Davis county. Rev. N. Hays is pastor at Eddyville. In 1857 we find Churches 29, pastors 14, baptizing 92, whole 185 number of members 1065. The largest Churches are Blakesburg 128, and Pella 193. Rev. Wm. Elliott is pastor at Brighton and Martinsburg, and Rev. J. Frey at South English. 1858 "has been a year of the Right Hand of the Most High." The membership has reached 1150, of whom 264 have been baptized during the year. Rev. E. Gunn is pastor at Pella, and there is a Second Pella Church of 75 members, with Wm. Elliott pastor. Rev. J. M. Wood is ordained this year at Glasgow in the Des Moines Association, but is preaching also in this Association. Rev. E. Ward is also among the preachers.

1859. This year is memorable with the writer of these Sketches as the one in which he was baptized into the membership of the Oskaloosa Church by Rev. J. F. Childs, the pastor, and attended his first meeting of the Association at Fremont. There were reported 119 baptisms 252 additions from all sources, and a total membership of 1307 in 26 Churches. All of these Churches have been organized within less than ten years. Rev. S. H. Worcester has assumed charge of the Ottumwa Church and Wm. and F. J. McEwen have entered the Association.

1860. The year 1860 is complained of as one of coldness and discouragement, yet there are 183 baptisms reported ; 24 Churches, 14 pastors and 1146 members. Three Churches have been dismissed to unite with the English River Association which was formed this year. Of pastors not before named are H. S. Cloud, Bellefontaine, and E. S. Ayers, Blakesburg.

The annual meeting in 1861 was held with the Bluff Creek Church a few miles west of Eddyville. Many of the letters lament the "wicked rebellion and the war excitement as unfavorable to the cause of religion.' Churches 25, pastors 20, baptisms 177, members 1247. Rev. I. J. Stoddard is preaching at Bellefontaine, T. J. Arnold at Brookville, J. C. Burkholder at Fairfield, and G. W. Gunnison at Pella. Most of the Churches are in the country, meeting in school houses and have preaching only once a month.

1862. The writer was clerk this year. Baptisms 123; members 1,286. Wm. Hildreth is pastor at Blakesburg and has baptized 46. A. Robins, 21, at Lovilla, where a Church is received with 66 members. Place of meeting, Pleasant Grove, five miles south of Chillicothe. We well remember an incident of this anniversary Owing to heavy rains there were but very few delegates present at the time appointed. As it cleared away and we were speculating upon the probabilities of a failure of the meeting, the question went round, "Had any one present ever known a Baptist Association to prove a failure?" Not one had ever heard of a case. This was no exception. The weather cleared and man}' came, though late, and it was a good meeting. The Association met in 1863 at Fremont. The war is telling upon the condition of the Churches. Many of the best brethren have gone into the army. But 27 baptisms are reported and 1,078 members. Rev. I. J. Stoddard, of Pella, is clerk. Only two Churches now have above 100 members. In 1864 the Association met at Pella. Same clerk as last year. Baptisms 57; members 981 in 18 Churches.

1865. Met at Oskaloosa. J. O. Wilson, of Eddyville, clerk. A little increase; 91 baptisms; 1,041 members. Rev. J. O. Wilson, from Muscatine, recently ordained, is preaching at Eddyville. This brother did not remain long in the ministry, but owing to financial burdens deemed it duty to resort to business, for which he seemed to have special qualifications, and never returned to the ministry. Of the 91 baptisms, 60 were reported from Lovilla, where E. B. Hicks, a licentiate, was preaching. The writer baptized 25 for him in one day.

1866. Met at Lovilla, in the northwest corner of Monroe county. The writer was again clerk. On arriving upon the ground it seemed that no preparation had been made to entertain delegates; the weather was lowering, and the outlook was forbidding enough. But the skies cleared, houses were opened, and before we were through it was agreed that we had had a splendid meeting. There are now but 17 Churches; 9 pastors; 105 baptisms reported; and 1,028 members. Rev. S. L. Burnham has removed from Muscatine, and is pastor at Ottumwa. In 1867 the Association met at Ottumwa; 152 baptisms; 1,142 members. Among the baptisms are 35 at Ottumwa; 25 at Eddyville, J. T. Wilson, pastor; and 37 at Mt. Carmel, where Rev. J. Ferguson is preaching. Of the 16 Churches, 6 have meeting houses, viz.: Blakesburg, Eddyville, Lovilla, Mt. Carmel, Oskaloosa and Ottumwa. R. M. Tracy, a former member of the Oskaloosa Church, is preaching at Brookville, and at points in the English River Association, with marked success.

1868. But few changes. Rev. R. A. Clapp is preaching at Ottumwa, and Rev. J. F. Childs having resigned to give his entire time to convention work, Oskaloosa is without a pastor. Rev. John Williams having returned to the vicinity of his old field has been preaching the last three years at Ashland. There are now 16 churches; i 1 pastors; 82 baptisms during the year; and 1,059 members. In 1869, John Williams, moderator, J. L. Cole, clerk. J. Kingdon is pastor at Oskaloosa. J. Cheetman and Rev. Wm. Stonaker are among the pastors, the latter at Eddyville. Churches 18, baptisms 62. Total 1,067. For 1870 but little change since last year; 64 baptisms. Oskaloosa is again without a pastor, Mr. Kingdon having remained but for a short time. Rev. E. H. Scarff has been for several years supplying the Pella Church acceptably, while teaching in the Central University.

1871. Rev. J. F. Childs has returned to Oskaloosa. Rev. R. A. Clapp has resigned at Ottumwa. Rev. J. R. Shanafelt is preaching at Pella and Nine Mile. Rev. W.N. Whitaker at Batavia. N. Hafs at Ashland, and W. L. Miller at Frederick. Churches 17; baptisms 40; members 1,141. In 1872 there were Churches 18; pastors 9; baptisms 132; members reported 1,069. H. G. Curtis, of Pella, is clerk. Pella the place of meeting. Rev. J. R. Shanafelt is preaching at Brookville and at Fairfield, in the Burlington Association. Rev. E. C. Spinney, at Pella; Rev. C. Darbey, at Ottumwa; J. H. Miller is at Ashland, and W. L. Miller, at Blakesburg, Frederick and Pleasant Grove, R. M. Tracy has baptized 53 at Forest Home, and has the largest church membership in the Association, 178.

1873. Met at Forest Home. J. F. Childs, clerk; 95 baptisms; 1,158 members. About the only notable changes are that Rev. W. L. Brown has succeeded Bro. Darbey as pastor at Ottumwa, and T. L. Crandall is at Richland. Pella, E. C. Spinney still pastor, has baptized 52, and Eddyville reports 21. Rev. Wm. Stonaker has held on here since 1869.

Pleasant Point is the place of meeting. Same clerk as the last two years. Only six pastors for the 18 churches. Nevertheless pastoral work must have been done in several other churches part of the year. Abingdon reports 24 baptisms and no pastor; Brookville 6; Forest Home 9. A part of the above presumably the work of Brother Tracy. Pella also reports 10 baptisms and no pastor, Brother Spinney having returned east to finish his studies. He will be heard of again in Iowa. Brother Brown has baptized 31 at Ottumwa, and Pastor Stonaker, 15 at Eddyville. Baptisms in all, 103. Total membership, 1,149.

1875. Pella is the entertaining Church, Rev. J. Sunderland, clerk. Rev. T. Y. Powell has become pastor at Pella. Rev. H. R. Mitchell at Oskaloosa, Rev. J. F Childs is preaching at Nine Mile, C. Martin at Brookville, John Williams at Bladensburg—a new interest with 11 members and — J. Z. Zimmerman at Abingdon, Blakesburg, and Forest Home. Bro. Sunderland has succeeded Brother Brown at Ottumwa. Baptisms 21 ; total membership 1196 in 19 Churches, with 9 pastors.

1876. Meets at Ottumwa. J. Sunderland Clerk. Baptisms 46, total membership 1203. A new interest has been started at New Sharon and Rev. J. F. Childs is preaching there and at Nine Mile, Leighton, Post office. Rev. G. W. Hertzog is preaching at Ashland, and Batavia, F. J. McEwen at Frederick, Wm. Stonaker at Competine, J. Ferguson at Pleasant Grove, Post office Frederick, and T. Davis at Pleasant Point, Albia Post office. The last two should have been named in the same connection last year.

1877. Ashland has the privilege of greeting the Association this year. Rev. H. R. Mitchell Clerk. Rev. A. J. Furman has become pastor at Oskaloosa, succeeding Bro. H. R. Mitchell, who is now pastor at Pella. Rev. Felix Dickerson is preaching at Frederick. Brother Furman reports 36 baptisms at Oskaloosa, Pastor Sunderland 28 at Ottumwa, Bro. Mitchell 43 at Pella and Dickerson, 13 at Frederick. Whole number of baptisms 189 ; total membership 1231.

1878. In 1878 Competine has the Anniversary. Rev. Wm. Stonaker, clerk. Only 18 baptisms are reported from the 20 churches, and only 7 pastors ; total membership 1151. These figures tell their own" story. But let us not misinterpret them, nor undervalue the faithful work of holding on and seed sowing. The harvest time will surely come again. Rev. Charles Payne has become pastor at Pella, while H. R. Mitchell has returned to the east."We have no abiding city here.

1879. Annual meeting at Frederick. Rev. J. W. McMahill, clerk. Only 8 baptisms; members 1041. Rev. R. M. Tracy has returned to the charge at Abingdon and Competine. J. W. McMahill is preaching at Blakesburg, Cedar Creek, and Washington; this last a new church with 22 members and 6 of the 18 baptisms. Rev. S. West is preaching at Nine Mile, J. Sunderland is still at Ottumwa, and Charles Payne at Pella.

Brookville is the entertaining Church in 1880. A. N. Cain, clerk. Fifty-nine baptisms of which 40 are at Competine. R. M. Tracy still pastor. S. E. Nelson is preaching at Abingdon, and has baptized 7 of the remaining 18. Rev. A. E. Simons has become pastor at Oskaloosa after an interval without a preacher, and Geo. E. Tufts succeeds Bro. Sunderland at Ottumwa. Bro. Sunderland has become General Missionary of the State Convention and Home Mission Society.

1881. Met again at Ottumwa. Rev. T. F. Thickstun of Pella is clerk Brother Charles Payne resigned to return to England, and Brother Thickstun succeeds him as pastor at Pella. Only three baptisms are reported in the entire Association. This is a very unusual barrenness. Total membership 947; 7 pastors, 14 churches. Rev. G. S. Bailey has become pastor at Ottumwa, and they are moving, or soon to do so, to build a more commodious meeting house, in a very desirable location. Oskaloosa has bought the old Presbyterian church and very much improved their condition.

Oskaloosa is the entertaining Church in 1882. T. F. Thickstun clerk. Some improvement this year in fruit-gathering. Competine, R. M. Tracy yet pastor, report 42 baptized, Ottumwa 15, Pellal9; whole number baptized 82; total membership 1005. Rev. H. Shallenberger is preaching at Abingdon, Batavia and Brookville, and Rev. B. P. Mace at Albia. Only six pastors in the Association. Oskaloosa is again vacant. Pella has now the largest membership, 215; Competine comes next with 180, Ottumwa 170 and Oskaloosa 136. These are all that have over 100.

Met at Pella. T. P. Thickstun still clerk. W. H. Dorward is pastor at Oskaloosa, the only material change in the pastoral force. Forty-seven baptisms and 1,018 members in 11 Churches, with 8 pastors. Pella reports 27 of the baptisms. In 1884, Competine was the place of meeting. A.N. Cain, clerk. Baptisms 58, of which number Oskaloosa reports 21; Pella 19 and Ottumwa 7. A new Church is reported at Hedrick. Oskaloosa is again without a pastor, and there are only 5 in the Association. Total membership in 11 Churches 984. In 1885 Hedrick is the place of the gathering tribes. S. A. Swiggett, clerk. Twenty-seven baptisms; present membership 918. Rev. James Prey is preaching at Competine and reports 20 of the 27 baptisms in the Association.

Thus has been traced the history of the Oskaloosa Baptist Association from 1851 to 1885, a period of 30 years.Like every other organization it has had its own peculiarities. One peculiarity of this field has been that most of the Churches, especially in the earlier parts of its history, were organized in the country, often, only a short distance out of the towns. In the older States, and in earlier days, many strong Churches have grown up and made enduring history in the rural districts. But in Iowa we have succeeded in maintaining very few even comparatively strong Churches away from the centres of population. As a consequence of the policy referred to the Churches in the towns have, with few exceptions, remained also weak. Another peculiarity has been that the centres of this district Association, notably Oskaloosa itself, has been for the most part of its history, a sort of drill camp for other fields of work. Being the point where the lines of emigration from the Mississippi River westward converged to a sort of focus, many emigrants would settle here for a time and then move on westward. A portion of these would be absorbed into the Church, and it is hoped be drilled here for work to be taken up further on, so that while the Church has always remained weak, it may have filled a relatively large place in the year's work, of which it is seemingly a small part. The same may be true, in a measure, of the small Churches that have sprung up in country neighborhoods, to exist for awhile and die out. The candle stick—the light bearer—has been removed but the lights have been multiplied many fold.

The growth of the Church at Bella, owing to the interest centering in the Central University there, was almost phenomenal for a time, but with other changes there were afterwards great fluctuations. For instance, in 1857 they reported 193 members and in 1869, 12 years later, only 83. But who can estimate the good that may have been accomplished even through the dispersion of the elements thus gathered and drilled for work. Another 12 years, however, and in 1880 this same Church numbers 182.

The history of this Association would be incomplete without a further mention of Rev. J. F. Childs. the pastor at Oskaloosa from 1856 to 1866, and at intervals thereafter; serving the Church and the State Convention at the same time; often giving—with the consent and approval of the — Church full one quarter of the year to work for the Convention, while acting, through all the years as its Corresponding Secretary, and all the time with a very small salary. It is doubtful if any man in Iowa did more self-sacrificing and arduous toil for the denomination and the Master, during the 15 years from 1855 to 1870, than did Brother Childs. Being a member of his Church during all the time of the writer's service as General Missionary and Financial Agent of the Convention, and being associated with him in the financial details of the work, we can bear witness to the fidelity and sacrifice of those years. Often the hours have been spent in his study till midnight in careful inspection of the finances, and planning for the most effective prosecution of the work. It has been our lot to meet few men who had greater endurance, and who seemed to court hard work more than he. Taking charge of the Church at Oskaloosa in its infancy, in 1856, and almost at his own charges serving them as pastor, not spar- ing his own means in order to secure them a house of worship, it was two and one-half years before he sought or accepted aid from the Home Mission Society. He received his first appointment from the Society in 1858, and was aided for six years. During all the time of his pastorate here he was an active agent in whatever effected the interest and growth of the Oskaloosa Association.

Mention should also be made, in order to complete this record, of the active influence of Rev. E. H. Scarff and Rev. Elihu Gunn, and their families, long connected with the Central University of Pella, and of Rev. I. J. Stoddard and family, returned missionary from Assam, India. All these brethren whether active pastors of churches in the Association or not were always living factors in its life, and with others connected with the University, contributed to its efficiency as a Missionary Association. The record of the Pella Church has always been high, especially in contributions to Foreign Missions.

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