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Historical Sketch of the Baptist Denomination in Illinois
By J. M. Peck

      (The following sketch was made early in 1841, and exhibits the condition of the denomination in 1840. The absence of the writer from his residence for "many months," has prevented him from gathering and furnishing the additions for 1841.)

      This State stretches along the eastern side of the Mississippi river from the mouth of the Ohio, for the distance of nearly 700 miles, to follow its meanderings. It extends from 37 to 42 degrees 30 minutes north latitude. Its extreme length is 384 miles, and its extreme width is 220 miles; its average width is150 miles. Its area, including a corner of lake Michigan, 60,000 square miles. No State has an equal amount of rich, arable land. The population in 1840, taking the highest rates in each county, from the returns of both United States, and State census, amounted to 490,000; -- making an increase in five years, of 220,000.

      The Baptists were the first Protestant Christians to enter this region. The conquest of the county by General George Rogers Clark, in 1778, and the organization of a civil government by Virginia, opened the way for American emigration, and by 1786, a number of families had settled on the American Bottom, and in the hill country of what is now called Monroe County. They came chiefly from Western Virginia, and Kentucky. In 1787, Elder James Smith, a Baptist minister, whose name is found on the first table for Kentucky, made them a visit, and preached the gospel with good effect. A few families from their first settlement, had been in the habit of keeping the sabbath, governing their children, and holding meetings for religious purposes. At that period there were none who had been members of churches. Their methods of observing the Sabbath was to meet, sing hymns, and one would read a chapter from the Scriptures, or a sermon from some author. No public prayer was made till after the visit of Smith and some had professed to be converted. It deserves to be noted that the descendants of these families are now exceedingly numerous, that a very large proportion are professors of religion, that they are marked for industry, sobriety and good order in their families, that there is not an immoral person among all their descendants, and that of one family are five brothers who are ministers of the gospel. James Smith visited the settlements in Illinois three times. The Indians made frequent depredations, and on one occasion they captured Smith, and conveyed him prisoner to their town on the Wabash. The people of Illinois, though extremely poor, raised $170 for his ransom. In 1793, Joseph Lillard, a Methodist preacher visited this remote settlement. In the commencement of 1794, Elder Josiah Dodge of Kentucky, made a visit to the Illinois country, and in the month of February, baptized James Lemen, Sen., Catharine Lemen his wife, John Gibons, and Isaac Enochs. No church was organized on the occasion. Early in 1796, Elder David Badgley removed his family from Virginia, to this land of promise, and on the 28th of May the same year, constituted the New Design church of 28 members. Mr. Badgley had preached to the people for several weeks previously, in a revival, aided by Joseph Chance, an exhorter, and had baptized 15 converts.

      An association called the Illinois Union was organized in 1807, consisting of five churches, New Design, Mississippi Bottom, Richland, Wood River and Silver Creek; four ministers, David Badgley, William Jones, Robert Brazil, and Joseph Chance, and 62 members. In 1809, difficulties arose on the question of a correspondence with the Associations in Kentucky, where slaves were held. Those who declined correspondence adopted the appendage, "Friends of Humanity," to the term Baptists, which they still retain. In other respects they accord with the Baptists generally. The South District, North District, Saline, Vandalia, and Colored Associations in Illinois, and the Missouri District, a small body in Missouri, are of this class. Correspondence, co-operation and fellowship exist between these Associations and other Associations and the Convention in Illinois, though by tacit consent it does not extend beyond that State. The peculiarities of the Friends of Humanity have been presented in our notes on Kentucky.

      The "United Baptists," re-organized themselves by a subsequent meeting into the "Illinois United Baptist Association," which, in 1812, included 8 churches, 4 in Illinois and 4 in Missouri, and 4 ordained and 2 licensed preachers. A third party grew out of the division, of two or three small churches which still claimed to be the "Illinois Union," but which in 1819 merged in the Illinois Associations, which at that period numbered 10 churches, 8 ministers, and 194 members. The Friends of Humanity in 1821, reported 4 churches, 9 ordained ministers and 186 members. The subject of both Foreign and Domestic missions, was introduced into the Illinois Association in 1818, and met with approbation, and a social organization for mission and education purposes was recommended to be formed in conjunction with the Bethel and Missouri Associations west of the Mississippi, the same autumn. This organization was called "The United Society for the Spread of the Gospel." Its object was "to aid in spreading the gospel and promoting common schools in the Western parts of America, both amongst the whites and Indians. The labors of this Society will be noticed in our notes on Missouri. The missionaries employed to preach to the destitute in Illinois were David Badgley and William Jones. Two churches, Little Wabash and Lamotte, were gathered on the eastern side of the Illinois Territory in 1815, which appear on the minutes of the Wabash District Association of that year. Thomas Kennedy was a licensed preacher and a member of the latter church. In 1820 the churches of Lamotte, Little Village, Grand Prairie, Little Wabash and Glady Fork existed in the settlements near the Wabash River, and were connected with the Wabash District Association. They numbered jointly 130 members. The same year (1820) the Muddy River Baptist Association, consisting of six churches, four preachers, and 150 members, was formed in the south-eastern part of the State. Some of the churches had been in existence several years and connected with an association in Kentucky.

      In 1818, the eccentric Daniel Parker, removed from Tennessee to Crawford County, Ill., of whose doctrine some notice has been given under Indiana. [see under Indiana Baptists - jd] His efforts against missions produced divisions in the Associations in Illinois, so that the Illinois Association declared a virtual non-fellowship with missionary operations in 1824, and similar declarations were made by other associations at subsequent periods. For several years very few revivals of religion were enjoyed and the principle additions to the churches were from immigration. The Friends of Humanity were the most active in preaching to the destitute, and received considerable accessions by conversions. In 1830, they had two Associations in this State, (besides one in Missouri,) which included 19 churches, 25 ministers, and 632 members. Successive revivals, under the preaching of ministers and students connected with Rock Spring Seminary, produced churches at Edwardsville, Rock Spring and Upper Alton, which were formed without any direct connection with the existing subdivisions of the denomination. After due consultation, a circular was sent forth by these churches, inviting a conference with Baptist ministers and brethren, without distinction of party, to consult on the interests of religion and devise measures to secure harmony and mutual co-operation amongst the churches and brethren in Illinois in advancing the Redeemer's kingdom. In response, about 25 ministers and a large number of private brethren met at Edwardsville in October, 1830. After organization and mutual consultation, committees were appointed to prepare reports on the following subjects, which were subsequently presented and adopted.

      1. On the condition of the Baptist churches in this State. 2. On the proceedings of the Illinois Association in its declaration of non-fellowship with missionaries. 3. On terms of union amongst the churches. 4. On a system of travelling [sic] preaching, to supply destitute churches and settlements. 5. To prepare an address to the Baptist denomination throughout Illinois. 6. On finance and printing. An impressive circular was prepared and sent forth, and a "Union meeting" appointed to be held at the same place in July, 1831, for further consultation. The conference also advised the three unassociated churches before named, to form a new association, and which might be regarded as a rallying point of union. This was done, and the new organization took the name of the Edwardsville Baptist Association. Its statistics at that period were 3 churches, 1 ordained and 2 licensed preachers, and 77 members, three-fourths of whom had been baptized within two years. This Association, after dismissing two churches to other associations, had 12 churches, 13 ordained and 7 licensed ministers, and 591 members, at its eleventh session in May, 1840.

      The year 1831, opened with a ministers' meeting of unusual interest at Rock Spring. A series of resolutions were adopted, of which one was a solemn pledge to make special prayer for each other's children. Ministers in the Western States have to be absent from their families much of their time, and sometimes many weeks in succession. It deserves note that all the families of the ministers who entered into this covenant have since been remarkably blessed of God. Many of their families are large, but few of their children remain unconverted. A series of interesting revivals followed during the year 1831, and part of 1832, and more than 1,000 converts were baptized and added to the churches.

      In 1833, at the "Union meeting," preliminary measures were adopted to constitute a convention, and which was consummated in 1834, with the name of the "Baptist Convention of Illinois." Its objects are to collect and publish statistical accounts of the churches and associations in this State -- to devise and execute plans to promote travelling [sic] preaching, and supplying destitute churches and neighborhoods with the preached gospel -- to promote ministerial education, and aid in promoting education in general -- to promote and extend union and harmony among Baptists in Illinois -- and to circulate information by the press and other means, and especially on those subjects that pertain more immediately to our denomination.

      Its diversity of objects and its plan of operations make it auxiliary to the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, the American Baptist Home Mission society, the American and Foreign Bible Society, and the American Baptist Publication and Sunday School Society. In Home Mission operations, for the year ending October 15, 1840, including volunteer missionary services reported, the amount is 3,654 days, or upwards of ten years, in performing which the missionaries travelled [sic] 20,000 miles, preached about 2,100 sermons, besides a large number of lectures, exhortations and addresses, baptized 300 converts, and reported the baptism of 200 more by other ministers on their fields of labor, aided in constituting 20 churches, besides visiting families, tract distribution, visiting Sabbath and week-day schools and in a great variety of ways promoting the cause of truth and righteousness. An estimate of the voluntary missionary labor by Baptist ministers who have made no specific report, but known to the Secretary, would equal 2,000 days. In co-operation and forming this Convention, at the close of 1840, there were 18 associations, 159 churches, 98 ordained and 42 licensed ministers, and 5,921members. 800 converts were reported as having been baptized.

      The number of Associations in the State that do not co-operate with the Convention, some of which have declared non-fellowship with all benevolent societies, and others remain in a neutral attitude, are fourteen. These include about 185 churches, 106 ministers, and about 5,000 members. The number baptized in this connection in 1840, was about 300.

      There is also a class of Baptists, known in the Western States as "Reformers," or "Campbellites," from their affinity to the peculiar views of Alexander Campbell. In Illinois, they had in 1840, 103 churches, probably 75 preachers and expounders of the word, and 4,929 members.

Periodical Press

     In 1829, a weekly paper, called the "Pioneer of the Mississippi," was established at Rock Spring, and continued in that form for one year. It was then issued for one year in a pamphlet form, semi-monthly, under the name of the "Western Pioneer." Another small periodical was issued for a period, monthly, from the same press, and called the "Western Baptist." Its specific object as to counteract the antinomianism of Daniel Parker, and the peculiarities of Mr. Campbell. In 1832, both were merged in one, and issued on a medium sheet semi-monthly, by the name of "The Pioneer and Western Baptist." Another change in 1836, brought out the "Western Pioneer," weekly, on an imperial sheet, issued from Upper Alton, and which in January, 1839, was united with the Baptist Banner as already noticed. The same press, for two years, published a small monthly quarto, called "The Sunday School Banner," and devoted to the purposes of the Illinois Sunday School Union.

      The periodical press, has had no small influence in moulding [sic] the character of that portion of the Baptist denomination, who are engaged in benevolent societies.

Literary and Theological Institutions

     In 1827, the "Rock Spring Theological High School" was opened. Rock Spring is a country situation, 18 miles east of St. Louis, and on the great stage road to Vincennes and Louisville. The seminary commenced with 25 students of both sexes, which number in a few weeks were increased to 100. At that period no school for boarders under Protestant direction existed in Illinois or Missouri. In 1831, the school closed with the view of its removal to Upper Alton, as the commencement of a college. The institution opened again in 1832, under the name of "Alton Seminary." During two or three years, as at Rock Spring, the school was composed of male and female students. The number of different students annually, was from 80 to 90. A charter for a college was granted by the Legislature during its session of 1834-5, under the name of the "Alton College of Illinois." In consequence of the liberal donation of ten thousand dollars made in 1835, by Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff, of Boston, Ms., the name in the charter has been changed to that of "Shurtleff College of Alton, Illinois."

     In 1836-7, the whole No. of different students during the year was ... 82
Pursuing preparatory, classical or collegiate studies ... 22

     In 1837-8, whole number ... 83
Pursuing preparatory, classical or collegiate studies ... 35

     In 1838-9, whole number ... 101
Pursuing preparatory, classical or collegiate studies ... 48

     At the commencement of the academical year, in September, 1839, two classes were formed in the collegiate department. But in recitations no separation has been made between these classes and those students pursuing only a partial collegiate course. To accommodate the circumstances of the country, and the situation of many young who cannot well pass though a full collegiate course, means are provided in the preparatory department for a partial course, by select branches, but a full collegiate course is designed to be equal to the highest standard of education in the New England Colleges. A principle laid down by the Faculty is that every branch taught shall be thoroughly studied. The Scriptures, by the laws of the College, in all its departments, have been made a text-book. The extremes of sectarian bigotry and infidel neglect will be avoided. This is a principle, we think, adopted in all the colleges in the West, which are under the patronage of any Protestant Christian denomination.

     The Board of Instruction are Rev. Adiel Sherwood, A.M., President and Professor Elect of Moral Philosophy. Rev. W. Leverett, A. M., Prof. of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Rev. Warren Leverett, Professor of the Latin and Greek Languages. Rev. Zenas B. Newman, A. M., Professor of Oratory, Rhetoric, and Belles Lettres. The Professorship of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Botany is at present vacant, but it is expected to be filled during the present year.

     A Theological Department has been opened and is under the supervision of the President and one of the Professors.

     Several young brethren, licentiates from the churches are pursuing studies preparatory to the Christian Ministry. This department is open for those only who give evidence of genuine piety, with suitable gifts and attainments, and of being influenced by proper motives, in wishing to pursue Theological studies, or who give evidence of having been called to the work of the gospel ministry, and who, moreover, present certificates from churches of which they are members, approving of their devoting themselves to this work.

Course of Study

     The regular and full course of study embraces Biblical Literature, Ecclesiastical History, Biblical Theology, Pastoral Duties, and in short the various studies and exercises appropriate to a Theological Seminary, designed to assist those who would understand the Bible clearly, and as faithful ministers of Christ inculcate its divine lessons most successfully.

     Those, however, who are prevented by age, or other circumstances from pursuing a full course of study, may pursue a short one in English only, and attend to those branches which had the most direct bearing upon the sacred work of the ministry, such as Biblical Geography, and Oriental Customs, General Principles of interpreting the Sacred Scriptures, the Doctrines and Duties of Christianity, Church History Pastoral Duties, &c.

     The academic year in the College commences in September, and is divided into three terms, two of 14 weeks each, and one of 15 weeks. Commencement is the last week in July.

     The expenses of tuition in the collegiate department, and in classical studies in the preparatory department, $20 per annum. In English studies, $16.

     The Library consists of about 1,000 volumes. The buildings are, 1st. The "Academic Hall," a building of brick, 42 feet long and 32 wide, two stories high, erected in 1832. 2nd. "The Seminary Hall and Refectory," erected in 1835. The main body is 42 feet by 38, consisting of a basement containing kitchens, dinging hall, &c., two stories, and an attic above, with wings appended. This is the property of the Theological Seminary, but occupied for College purposes. 3rd. The "College Edifice," of brick, 130 feet long and 44 wide, four stories in height, to contain 55 rooms. This building was erected and enclosed in 1840, but partly finished. The College owns a quantity of town lots in Upper Alton, and about 300 acres of valuable land adjoining, with two or three tracts of unimproved land in other counties. It has a fund of about $4,200 on interest, the proceeds of an improved farm, the donation of the Hon. Cyrus Edwards, towards the endowment of the Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; $5,000, the moiety of the Shurtleff donation, towards the endowment of a Professorship of Rhetoric, Oratory and Belles Lettres.

     The debt on the new college edifice, for which subscriptions have been raised in part for its liquidation, is about $5,000. This debt includes a part of the Shurtleff Professorship fund, which has been loaned to the building fund by approbation of the donor. A subscription for $10,000 has been opened to endow the Presidency, of which about $1,500 have been secured.

Medical Department

     This department has been organized under the charter, and is under the direction of a President and four Censors. They have power to examine candidates for the degree of Doctor of Medicine, to issue diplomas of the same, and transact other business appropriate to a Medical Department. This Department have completed room in the college edifice for lectures which are expected to commence next winter.

     The officers are G. B. Perry, M. D., President; B. F. Edwards, M. D., B. K. Hart, M. D., A. E. Cassey, M. D., and E. C. Park, M. D., Censors.

     Arrangements are now in progress to obtain a Chemical and a Philosophical Apparatus.

     The Baptist denomination in Illinois, for a number of years, have co-operated efficiently with other denominations in establishing Sabbath schools, in Bible distribution, in Temperance efforts, in Tract distribution, and in the promotion of common schools.

     A portion of the denomination in the northern part of the State have co-operated with the churches in Wisconsin, in organizing the "North-western Baptist Convention." Its seat of organization at present is Chicago, Illinois.

     (This document appears as a long essay with historical sketches on Baptists in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri on pages 197-210 of the journal listed below. These articles are broken into histories of the separate states as it is easier to use in this format. The index page for other Peck articles may be accessed below. - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall)


[From Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, NY, July 15, 1842, pages 201-207. The document is from SBTS Library, Louisville, KY.]

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