Baptist History Homepage

History of the Baptists of Illinois
By Edward P. Brand

Wood River Association

[p. 141]
The first colored Baptist church in Illinois was organized by the Friends to Humanity in St. Clair county, in the '20's, and was called Mount Sinai, an apt emblem of the condition of the race, for surely they were at that time under the law and not under the gospel. Afterwards, perhaps acting on the suggestion of Hebrews 12:18-22, the name was changed to Mount Zion. John Livingston was called to be their pastor, and James Lemen and James Pulliam set him apart by the laying on of hands. Church and pastor were received into the South District Association Friends to Humanity, and so continued until they had an Association of their own. John Livingston was a poor and hardworking man, and of such prudence and sound sense that he was respected by all. He had the honor to be the first and for a time the only ordained colored Baptist preacher in Illinois. After a time Robert Crawford was his associate. This church was on Ridge Prairie.

A second church was organized on the historic ground of Ogle's Creek. In 1837 two colored people, A. H. Richardson and wife, came to Alton, and on Sunday morning set out to attend church as they had been accustomed to do in Tennessee. It was a "hot time" on the negro question. The Lovejoy excitement was rising to its bloody climax. The presence of the strangers was resented by some of the people, and to avoid trouble they came away arid returned to ther lodgings. On the way brother Richardson remarked to a friend, "We are not going to that Church any more." The result of. the incident was the organization of the colored Baptist church of Upper Alton with six members. John Livingston became the pastor, and he was assisted in the organization by pastor Ebenezer Rodgers of the white church at Upper Alton.

April 27, 1839, delegates from these three churches met with the Ogle's Creek church, at the house of Samuel Vincent, elected James Lemen moderator and A. H. Richardson clerk, and proceeded to organize the "Colored Baptist Association of Illinois Friends to Humanity." It was a small affair, the total of the three churches was not more than forty, but it was a beginning, and it went right on and did not stop.

It was in its beginning the adopted child of the Friends to Humanity. The small and trembling "Mount Sinai" was sheltered by the
[p. 142]
Lemens and their associates, and by them the first Association was sent forth on its journey through the coming years. It was not the rival but the ward of the State Convention. The annual meetings of the negro Association were fixed early in the fall that a report might be made to the white Baptist Convention following.

The first regular meeting of the colored Association was held with the Ridge Prairie church, September 13, 1839. The total membership had increased to fifty-two; and the Jacksonville church was .received with twelve members. This also was organized by John Livingston, and he was their pastor. He was pastor of the whole Association! One of the young members of the new church was Samuel Ball, who became a very useful preacher and leader among his people all through the Sangamon country. He published a Compend of Doctrine, and In 1848 was sent by the Association as their investigating agent to Liberia. He was cut off in the prime of life by typhoid fever, at Springfield, in 1852.

At this first anniversary of the Association resolutions were passed in favor of temperance, family worship, Sunday schools, and itinerant preaching, and they pledged themselves to cooperate with the state Convention along these lines. Our colored Baptists were never troubled with antimissionism! There was gospel preaching on Sunday, and a number of conversions. Thus the Association meetings were a help and a blessing to the church with which they were held. Here is one of the "old paths" to which, hand in hand with the Holy Spirit, we ought to return. During the first ten years the Association grew to fourteen churches and 240 members, scattered all the way from Galena to Shawneetown. For that reason in 1849 it was divided, the southern part taking the name of Mount Olive.

Through all these years one of the chief anxieties of the Association was to provide, education for thei:r children and training for their preachers. To this end they organized an Educational Association, provided course of study, arranged for ministers' meetings, petitioned the legislature, and where it was needed gathered their children into separate schools. Two attempts were made to locate the Association permanently. The first was in 1849, on grounds selected near Alton, on Wood River, from which the body got its new name. Some buildings were erected, but only two consecutive meetings were held there. Again in 1856 a committee was appointed to purchase ten acres of land in Macoupin county, and the meetings of the Association were located there for a term of years. It was "in the mind of the Association that it
[p. 143]
should be a site for a school or college some day." But nothing finally came of it.

In 1900 the northern Association was again divided into North Wood River and South Wood River.

One who was a chief leader among the colored Baptists of Illinois for thirty-five years was Richard DeBaptiste. He was elected corresponding secretary of the Association in 1864, and was annually reelected until his death. He was pastor at Galesburg and Chicago. He was a strong and steady help in drawing his people upward.

[Edward P. Brand, Illinois Baptists - A History, 1930, pp. 141-143. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

Go to the Next Chapter
Illinois Baptist Index Page
Baptist History Homepage