The History of Keokuk County, Iowa



You raised these hallowed walls; the desert smiled,

And Paradise was opened in the wild.—Pope.

The first settlement of the county was scarcely completed before the servants of the Lord were at work in the new vineyard.  Within the last fifty years the agents of the Christian religion have been taught and trained to accompany the first advance of civilization, and such was their advent here.  In the rude cabins and huts of the pioneers they proclaimed the same gospel that is preached in the gorgeous palaces that, under the name of churches, decorate the great cities.  It was the same gospel, but the surroundings made it appear different, in the effect produced, at least.

The Christian religion had its rise, and the days of its purest practice, among an humble, simple-minded people, and it is among similar surroundings in modern times that it seems to approach the purity of its source.  This is the best shown in the days of pioneer life.  It is true, indeed, that in succeeding times the church attains greater wealth and practices a wider benevolence.  Further, it may be admitted that it gains a firmer discipline and wields a more general influence on society, but it remains true that in pioneer times we find a manifestation of Christianity that we seek in vain at a later time and under contrasted circumstances. The meek and lowly spirit of the Christian faith—the placing of spiritual things above vain pomp and show—appear more earnest amid the simple life and toil of a pioneer people than it can when surrounded with the splendors of wealth and fashion.  But we may take a comparison less wide, and instead of contrasting the Christian appearances of a great city with that of the pioneers, we may compare that of thirty years ago here in the West with that in the present time of moderately developed wealth and taste for display, and we find much of the same result.

The comparison is, perhaps, superficial to some extent, and does not fully weigh the elements involved, nor analyze them properly.  We simply take the broad fact, not to decry the present, but to illustrate the past.  So that looking back to the early religious meetings in the log-cabins we may say: “Here was a faith, earnest and simple, like that of the early Christian."

The first religious meetings in the county were held in the cabins of the settlers, with two or three families for a congregation.  On pleasant days they would gather outside in the shade of the cabin or under the branches of a tree and here the word would be expounded and a song of Zion sung.

The Friends, or as they were more generally known, the Quakers, were the pioneers of religious organization.  The remarkable sagacity which always seems to characterize these people in their selection of lands early lead quite a number of them to locate on the rich and productive soil of what is now Richland township. For the first few years after the settlement of the county, members of this denomination were much more numerous than all others.  In 1841 they erected a small house of worship about one-fourth of a mile north of the present town of Richland.

The Methodists, Baptists and Christians, always among the first in pioneer work, were not long after the Quakers.  In 1847 the Methodists and Christians built houses of worship in Richland which were probably the first church buildings of note in the county, although organizations were formed and temporary buildings erected long prior to that time.

There was a Methodist church organized at Richland in 1840 by Rev. Moses Shinn, the original members being James Looman and wife, H. Harden and wife, Mrs. Lavina Ruggles and George Ruggles.  The Christian church of Richland was organized shortly afterward, and as before remarked a substantial church building was erected in 1847.  One of the first Baptist churches organized, was by Andrew P. Tannyhill in the southern part of the county in 1843.

Benjamin F. Chastain organized a Christian Church in Jackson township, in 1844.  The original members were Woodford Snelson and wife, Jesse Gabbert and wife, Dr. Raglin, Nathan Ruth and Benjamin Chastain.  Meetings were held at the house of Woodford Snelson who lived on section thirteen.

Among the first Baptist preachers was Andrew P. Tannyhill, who preached in barns, dwelling houses or in the woods, wherever and whenever he could get an audience.

The Mt. Zion M. E. Church was organized in the south part of the county in 1854.  The following were the original members: Jas. D. Williams, Jacob Battorff, Philip Heninger, Andrew Taylor, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Joel Skinner, Benjamin Parish, Thomas M. Thompson, Jas. M. Cheeny, James Cowger.

There was a Christian Church organized at Lancaster, in 1848, with the following membership: William Trueblood and wife, J. W. Snelson and wife, Thomas Cobb and wife, Asa Cobb and wife, James Mitts and wife, Samuel Williams, Elizabeth Williams, W. H. Brant and others.

A Methodist Church was organized in the same place, about 1852, the original members being: S. A. Evans and wife, Mrs. Jessie O'Neal and Miss Mary O'Neal.

In 1846 there was a Methodist church erected at Sigourney. The pastor at that time was Rev. S. Hestwood; the church having been organized some time previous by Rev. Mr. Hulbert.

A Baptist Church was organized in Sigourney, in 1845, by Rev. Mr. Elliott.

Churches were also organized in the eastern, northern and western parts of the county in an early day.

In 1850 there were in the county four Baptist churches valued at nine hundred dollars; three Christian churches, valued at eight hundred dollars; two Quaker churches, valued at four hundred and fifty dollars; seven Methodist churches, valued at thirteen hundred dollars; or in all sixteen churches, valued at three thousand four hundred and fifty dollars.

The following are the names of the ministers, or as they were then called preachers, who first labored among the people of Keokuk county: Moses Shinn, a Methodist, who was probably the first of the denomination to preach in the county. Revs. Haynes, Kirkpatrick, Orr, Hulburt, Hestwood and Snakenburg were also pioneer Methodist preachers, some of whom are still living.

Rev. Mr. Spainshower was probably the first Baptist preacher who traveled among the people of Keokuk county.  He was followed by Rev. Andrew P. Tannyhill, and Rev. Mr. Elliott. These men labored among the people with considerable success and their work is still visible, especially in the southern part of the county.

The Presbyterian Church was late in getting a foothold in Keokuk county. About the year 1856, a small church of less than a dozen members was organized in Sigourney.  N. H. Hall, then of Webster, J. F. Wilson and the Gregg family, of Lafayette township, constituted the membership.  S. C. Kerr was their first pastor. In 1858 Rev. D. V. Smock settled in Sigourney and took charge of the organization.  Some four or five years afterward Mr. Smock moved to Lafayette township and was succeeded in Sigourney by Rev. A. A. Mathews.  On moving to Lafayette, Mr. Smock organized a church there and in 1860 another church at Martinsburg.  Mr. Smock was a useful and highly respected citizen of the county, and like Rev. Mr. Snakenberg, of German township, had great influence among the people.  Their influence upon the morals of the people cannot be overestimated. Mr. Smock was elected to the office of county superintendent of schools, in 1861, and continued to hold the office till 1868.  He is now dead, but his works still live.

Many other particulars might be given relative to the churches of the county, but the details are reserved for another place, where they will be given in connection with other matters pertaining to the history of the several townships where they are located.

Transcribed by Steven McBride. Thank you, Steve!


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