As settlers moved westward, new lands were opened for settlement. In 1802 the United States purchased Georgia’s land claims west of the Chattahoochee River. Two years later the Mississippi Territory was enlarged to include most of what is now Alabama and Mississippi.
Because of the large population of Indians in the territory, the settlement began in the northern and southern sections of the state. "The first established record of an active Baptist minister in Alabama was in 1808, in Madison County, when John Nicholson led in the establishment of the first Baptist Church on Alabama soil."1 Flint River Baptist Church was organized on October 4, 1808, at the home of James Deaton. Other preachers that appeared in that area were John Canterbury and Zadock Baker.
The second Baptist church organized in the territory was the Enon Baptist Church, now the First Baptist Church in Huntsville, on June 3, 1809. John Nicholson, John McCutchen, and John Canterbury made up the presbytery at its organization and Canterbury was elected as its first pastor.
In the south part of the territory the first recorded Baptist preacher was William Cochrane from Georgia. In 1809 James Courtney, Joseph McGree and Jacob Parker began to evangelize the area. Courtney preached in the Choctaw and Clarke County area while McGee and Parker preached farther north near the Mississippi line, in present Sumter County.
On March 31, 1810, James Courtney organized the Bassett Creek Church, located near the present site of Choctaw Corner, in Clarke County. About the same time Joseph McGee and Joseph Parker organized the Oaktuppa Church in Sumter County.
In 1815 and 1816 the pace of immigration increased until 1820 when settlers began arriving from many states. John T. Christian stated, "From the Tennessee River to Florida; and from the Coosa to the Tombigbee, there was scarcely a spot but what was visited by immigrants, or those who wished to be such. Churches were formed in almost every part of the State, and a number of laborious and indefatigable ministers of the gospel, came in and settled this country."2
Hosea Holcomb, who entered Alabama in 1818, stated,Houses for the worship of God were scarce for several years after the writer came to this country in 1818 . . . It was common in those days when the weather was favorable, for the minister to take his stand under some convenient shady bower, while the people would seat themselves around him on the ground. In many instances, large congregations would assemble; and they were far more attentive to the Word than they are at this time in many comfortable places, . . .With the organization of churches, associations began to be formed. On September 26, 1814, the Enon and Flint River churches met with others to form the Flint River Association. Many historians consider this as the first Association in Alabama. Although it is true that Alabama churches were involved, the Association was actually organized in Lincoln County, Tennessee. This Association later split over missions and such, with the Enon Church going into another Association that was pro-missionary.
The first camp meeting perhaps ever known in Alabama, was held with the church, where the writer has his membership. This meeting took place about the first of October, 1831; it continued for five or six days, and twelve or fifteen families tented on the ground. Here the Lord made bare his arm, and displayed his power in the salvation of many precious souls.
At this meeting there commenced the greatest revival ever known at that time, in middle Alabama; it continued over twelve months; during which period there were near 500 baptized in three or four churches.3
The first Association formed on Alabama soil was the Beckbee Association in 1816, which by 1827 was called the Bethlehem. In principle it was purely missionary and year after year it grew in size. It continued to expand in territory until it reached from the Mississippi line on the west to the eastern limit of Conecuh County, and from the southern boundary of Loundes County on the north to the Gulf of Mexico. It was not uncommon for delegates in attendance of the annual sessions of the Bethlehem Association, to ride on horseback 150 miles, requiring a week's travel each way. The custom was for preachers on their way to the sessions of the body to arrange appointments at available settlements along the route and preach to the multitudes. The arrival of Alexander Travis in 1817 brought new life in the Bethlehem Association. Travis was responsible for organizing several churches in the south.
Farther in the north, Baptist churches began to be formed in and around what is now Bibb and Tuscaloosa Counties. On October 3, 1818, the second Baptist Association was organized on Alabama soil. Ten churches, including the Bethel Church in Tuscaloosa County, met at the Cahaba Valley Church in what is now Bibb County, to form the Cahaba Association. All these churches were new and scattered across present Bibb, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Perry and Tuscaloosa Counties, with a total membership of 259. Due to its strong missionary zeal for that part of the state, the Association grew. According to Hosea Holcombe, Moses Crowson was chosen as its first moderator and Willis Davis its first clerk. Preachers named at its organization were William Callaway, Nathan Roberts, James Baines, and Moses Crowson. Henry Haggard, John Tubb, Thomas Kerb and John Henry were listed as licensed preachers. By 1819 Thomas Baines and Hosea Holcombe came into the Association.
Over the next several years more Associations were formed. On December 19, 1819, the Alabama Association was formed in the southern part of the state. In 1820 two more Associations were organized, Bethel and Muscle Shoals. The Muscle Shoals Association of northwest Alabama was organized on July 15, 1820, at the Russell Valley Church. This group of churches became the strongest missionary body north of the mountains. In 1826 the Buttahatchie Association was formed out of the Cahaba Association. The Tuscaloosa Association was formed out of the Cahaba Association. It was organized in 1834 and was the association that Eld. Joab Pratt associated with before moving on to Arkansas. In 1835 the Big Bear Creek Association was formed. This too became a very large association in northwest Alabama. In 1852 it extended an arm in organizing the Judson Association in Mississippi.
North River Association
Another association in northwest Alabama was the North River Association, organized in 1834. David Andrews was the primary leader in this association. Two men sent out by the Turkey Creek Baptist Church, which was organized by Joseph Redding in 1785, organized Poplar Springs Baptist Church in 1794. The importance of this is due to the fact that William Marshall who was converted under the preaching of James Read and Samuel Harris baptized Joseph Redding. Read and Harris were both from churches in the Sandy Creek Association in North Carolina and were baptized by Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall.
In 1824, David Andrews felt the call into the ministry. He preached within the bounds of the Reedy River Association until 1831 when the church ordained him. After being deeply impressed to preach the gospel in the west, he left South Carolina in 1832 and settled in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, near Northport.
Andrews wrote, “When I settled in these regions there was a good many Methodists, a few Cumberland Presbyterians, and a good many Anti-Missionary Baptists. But there were no Missionary Baptist Churches in this country; no, not one. 4
By this time the Cahaba and Buttahatchie Associations had become bitter toward missions. It is interesting to note that Brother Andrews stated, “a few preachers among them . . . were not only anti-missionary, but were high Calvinists, and some Antinomians in doctrine.” 5
After being in the state a few months, David Andrews joined the Bethel Baptist Church of the Buttahatchie Association. He was a strong missionary Baptist preacher and was not liked by many of the Baptists who were opposed to his views. Under his fiery evangelistic preaching many were saved and new churches were organized. His success brought much division among the churches and many of them split over what he was preaching. After a few months, David Andrews moved his membership to the Salem Baptist Church and became its pastor. As a result the church split and those that were opposed to Andrews left and started another church by the same name.
The early minutes of these various associations indicate they did not practice open communion nor accept alien immersion.
Led by Andrews several of the churches left the Buttahachie Association in 1834 to form the North River United Baptist Association at the Salem Baptist Church. One of their first functions was to elect an executive board. This "board employed Brother Andrews and sent him forth as a missionary to travel and preach the gospel; and being cut loose from the world, he did go and preached for a number of years in succession."6
On one of these missionary journeys, Andrews went north into Marion County. Accompanying him were three preachers, Elijah Barbee and Joshua Holbert of the Salem Baptist Church and Abner Files of the Bethlehem Baptist Church. On August 17, 1835, they met in the home of Elenor Kuykendall for the purpose of organizing Zion Missionary Baptist Church. They then elected Bro. Andrews as pastor. This new church then began fellowshipping in the North River United Baptist Association.
Yellow Creek Baptist Association
By 1860 the association had grown to a considerable size with much distance between several of the churches. As a result a new association was formed. On November 24, 1860, eight churches bearing letters from the North River Association and one from the Aberdeen Association met with the Shiloh Baptist Church [Lamar County] to organize the Yellow Creek Association.
The Yellow Creek Baptist Association was involved in mission work as well as sending delegates to the State Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Many in the association supported the Gospel Mission Plan, including men such as T. P. Crawford. When the General Association was organized in 1905, part of the Yellow Creek Association supported the convention, while the rest sent their support to the missionaries of the General Association.
The opposition also had their men representing the convention and the Alabama Baptist. The division between the two camps grew until they divided in 1911.
1 Avery Hamilton Reid, Baptists in Alabama, (Montgomery, Alabama: Alabama Baptist State Convention, 1967), p. 9.
2 John T. Christian, History of the Baptists, II, 1926, p. 324.
3 John T. Christian, History of the Baptists, II, 1926, p. 324; citing Holcomb, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Alabama, 1840, pp. 45-46.
4 David Andrews, The Preachers' Looking Glass, (Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Gazette Book and Job Print, 1885), p. 5.
5 David Andrews, p. 5.
6 David Andrews, p. 36.
[From Robert Ashcraft, Contending for the Faith, 2006, pp. 501-504.
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