Ministers and missionaries played an important part among
the early settlers. We may rightly say that the church and
religion had much to do with the early life of our state.
EARLY RELIGIOUS SERVICES
Most of the pioneers were religious. The settlers gathered
in someone's house, a schoolhouse, or out in an open grove, to
hold a religious service. The ministers usually rode on
horseback from one preaching place to another. A few hymns
were sung; then the minister preached, sometimes for two hours
The early preachers who were know as "circuit riders" lived
a rough and rugged life. Charles Blanchard in The People
of Iowa says of one of them: "Pitner was somewhat noted
as a trapper and hunter-occupations that stood the pioneer
preacher well in hand. He was especially given to
bee-hunting. At one time on his way to conference he
employed his skill in bee-hunting and loaded his buggy with
honey, some of which he peddled to pay expenses on the way and
with the remainder treated his preacher brethren at the
conference. It was thus the old circuit riders and early
Methodist preachers managed to live, in a 'land of milk and
honey blest'! They ate the sweet and when they didn't have
honey they were well satisfied with sorghum."
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church and Jesuit missionaries were among the
very first to do religious work in Iowa Territory. Professor
M. M. Hoffmann in his book called Antique Dubuque says:
"Existing records show that on July 10, 1833, at 'Cadfish
near Dubuque Mines,' a Jesuit from St. Louis, Charles Van
Quickenborne, who the year before had visited in the
Half-Breed Tract in southeastern Iowa, baptized the children
of a half-breed Fox Indian, Kennoche, and the grandchildren of
Denis Julien, a widely known trader of the Northwest, who at
Prairie du Chien had supported the British in the War of 1812.
On July 12, 1833, he preformed a marriage at 'Cadfish' and
two days later he married three more couples in the Dubuque
Father Mazzuchelli, a Dominican, in 1833 organized at
Dubuque the first church on Iowa soil, and in 1835 the
cornerstone of St. Raphael Cathedral was laid there. In 1837,
Very Rev. Mathias Loras, of Mobile, was made bishop of
Dubuque. He arrived in April, 1838, and his diocese included
all of what is now Iowa, Minnesota, and a part of the Dakotas.
Father Mazzuchelli also founded the chapels of St. James,
in Lee County, and St. Anthony in Davenport.
Bishop Loras visited the Chippewas, the Sioux, and the
Menominees and sent priests to carry on the work that he
started. Churches were organized at Ft. Madison, Burlington,
Keokuk, Bellevue, Muscatine, and other points along the
Bishop Loras wrote interesting letters about his
experiences among the Indians and the pioneers. Once, while
conducting a service on July 4, he heard a strange noise. As
he looked through a window he could see a band of Sioux
Indians in a war dance. They were singing one of their death
songs and showing the scalps of members of an enemy tribe.
Bishop Loras was not frightened or discouraged. He wrote,
"Instead of discouraging me these events have only inflamed
my desire to labor in the civilization of these unfortunate
beings, by imparting to them the blessing of the Christian
THE FIRST CHURCH BUILDING
The first church building in what is now Iowa was built at
Dubuque in 1834. A man by the name of Johnson went from house
to house to ask for money. He told the young men that some
day they would be proud to say that they had helped to build
the first church in the "new purchase," meaning the Black Hawk
Over $250 was collected for this first church building.
The gifts varied from twelve and one half cents (a "bit") to
twenty-five dollars. The church was built of logs and was
twenty feet square. It is said that the building was raised
"without spirits of any kind." The preacher said in regard to
the undertaking, "Well done! To collect the money, build a
splendid house and pay for it, hold a two days' meeting, and
receive twelve members all in four weeks."
While Iowa's first church building was to be used by all
denominations, the men who were most active in raising the
money were Methodists. Other prominent early ministers of
that denomination were: Baton Randall and John T. Mitchell,
the first circuit riders of the Dubuque region, and Barton H.
Cartwright, the first Methodist preacher of southeastern Iowa.
OLD ZION CHURCH
Perhaps the most interesting of all early Iowa churches was
"Old Zion" at Burlington. The building was 60 feet long, 40
feet wide; and it cost $4,500. It was started in 1836,
enclosed and plastered in 1838, and completed in 1846.
Many important public meetings were held in "Old Zion."
Governor Lucas, in 1840, held a council there with the chiefs
of the Sac and Fox Indians, which wound up with an Indian show
and war dance. Four sessions of the Territorial Legislature
were also held in "Old Zion."
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN AND BAPTIST
The first Presbyterian churches to be organized in this
state were at Ion, Allamakee County, in 1834; in Des Moines
County, in 1836; at West Point, Lee County, in 1837; and at
Fort Madison, in 1838. Lancelot G. Bell, Michael Hummer, John
M. Fulton, and Enoch Mead are called the four "Iowa immortal
The Baptists were close rivals for first honors with other
early Iowa churches, their first being organized at Danville,
Des Moines County, in 1834.
THE "YALE" AND THE "IOWA"
One of the most important groups of religious leaders was
the "Iowa Band." They came here to help certain men of the
"Yale Band," which consisted of eleven young Congregational
ministers who came west to work for their denomination in the
Mississippi Valley. Some of them came to Iowa, one being Asa
Turner, who for thirty years was pastor at Denmark, where he
started Denmark Academy. Turner, with several others,
pioneered the way for the coming of the famous Iowa Band.
The Iowa Band was made up of eleven young men who had been
classmates at Andover Seminary. Seven of them were ordained
on their arrival at Denmark. They started more than
twenty-five Congregational churches in Iowa. It was J. J.
Hill, a member of this group, who in 1846 placed a dollar on
the table and said to his associates, "Now appoint your
trustees to take care of that dollar for 'Iowa College.'"
That is said to have been the beginning of the present
One of the most famous of early Iowa Congregational
churches is the "Little Brown Church in the Vale." It is
located at old Bradford, near Nashua, and was built under the
ministry of Rev. J. K. Nutting in 1864. It had been made
famous through a song written by Dr. William Savage Pitts, an
early day "singing master." The first stanza of the song is:
church in the valley by the wildwood,
place in the dale,
No spot is
so dear to my childhood,
little brown church in the vale."
OTHER EARLY CHURCHES
The first Church of Christ congregation was organized at
Lost creek in 1836 and the first Quaker, or Friends',
settlement was located at Salem, in Henry County, in 1835.
The German Evangelical Lutheran church began about 1840 with
organizations at Fort Madison, Keokuk, and Burlington. The
oldest congregation of the United Presbyterian church is
located at Crawfordsville, Washington County, where it was
organized in 1836. The first church of the United Brethren in
Christ was organized in Muscatine County in 1841.
The early ministers played an important part in the
establishment of schools and colleges. They also took an
active part in the early political and governmental affairs.
A writer in describing the work of Rev. Asa Turner, of
Denmark, Iowa, who was a member of the Yale Band, says of him,
"Among the notable things in his active career was the stand
he took for temperance and anti-slavery."