The beginning of the First Baptist Church in Madison, is found in the organization of the Crooked Creek Baptist Church, March 28, 1807, at the house of Elder Jesse Vawter, situated on the hill, north of the present city of Madison. The church consisted of fifteen members, connected with four families, who emigrated together to Indiana, from Woodford county, Ky., in the autumn of 1806, viz:, Elder Jesse Vawter and wife, John Vawter and wife, James Vawter, William Vawter, James Underwood and wife, his mother and two sisters, James Edwards and wife, and Mr. Jackson and family. A log meeting house was built during the following autumn, on the hill, east of the Michigan road, near the present site of the North Madison cemetery, and here regular worship was held for about five years. When this church was constituted no Baptist church is known to have existed in Southern Indiana, except the Silver Creek Church, in Clarke county, and, perhaps one or two churches in the Whitewater Valley, colonized from Ohio. The Silver Creek Church, the oldest in Indiana, still living connected with the Brownstown Association, was constituted Nov. 22, 1798, on Owen's Creek, near Charleston, by John Fisher, John Pettit and their wives, who had emigrated from New Jersey. Under the labors of Elder Wm. McCoy this church had increased in 1807, to a membership of about sixty. The Crooked Creek Church was doubtless the second Baptist church organized in Indiana on the Ohio River. Both these churches connected themselves with the Long Run Association, of Kentucky. The spiritual city set upon the hill of Madison, could not be hid, and it became a religious center, from which light was radiated over Southern Indiana. Other churches sprang up, and in July, 1812, was organized the Silver Creek Association. At that time but two Baptist associations existed in the State -- the Wabash District, organized in 1808, near Vincennes, with four churches, and the Whitewater colonized from the Miami, Ohio, in 1809 with nine churches and 380 members. By request of the Silver Creek Church, messengers from eight other churches assembled at their meeting house, and organized the Silver Creek Association: Those churches were Silver Creek, Fourteen Mile, Knob Creek, Indian Creek, Upper Blue River, Camp Creek, Salem and Crooked Creek, — now called Mt. Pleasant, -- The ministers present were Elders Wm. McCoy, who died the following year, John Reece, Jesse Vawter and his brother Philemon Vawter, who had recently joined the Crooked Creek Church, from Kentucky. The whole number of members in the Association was then about 270.
The church called Crooked Creek, in 1812, built a new frame meeting-house on the North Madison hill, west of the railroad, and changed its name to Mt. Pleasant. This house of worship, built of boards sawed by hand, the memorial of many sacrifices, like Bethel of old, became truly a house of God and a gate of heaven to the little band of worshipers; and many now living remember it as the birth-place of their souls. In those days the sessions of the Association became often the occasions for the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and their annual return was hailed as laden with heavenly promise. In 1817, a revival commenced in the Mt. Pleasant church, during the Association, at which 49 were added by baptism, and the gracious blessing spread through several other churches of the Association. In 1823, another revival resulted in the addition of 24 to the church.
This Association, in four years after its organization, had increased to 24 churches, with a membership of about 600; and fourteen churches withdrew to form the Blue River Association. The remaining ten churches continued to increase until in 1826, the Silver Creek Association numbered 28 churches, with 13 ordained ministers, seven licensed preachers and more than 1,000 members. The little one had become more than a thousand. Sixteen churches then withdrew to organize the Coffee Creek Association, in 1827, with eleven ordained ministers, four licensed preachers and 692 members. The Mt. Pleasant church, though weakened by dismissal of members to form other churches, had at this time 84 members, with Elders Jesse Vawter, Jacob Cox and Win Vawter. When this church was organized, not a house was standing where, afterwards, the city of Madison was built, but now, after twenty years, the growing city was without a Baptist church. It became apparent that the Mt. Pleasant church in its location, hindered the occupation of that important field, while its own strength was being drained to build up other churches. Slowly and reluctantly the brethren gave up their "Pleasant Mount," endeared by so many rich heavenly blessings, and prepared to occupy the city below them. In June, 1829, a committee was appointed to select a site for building, and December 18, of the same year, J. J. Vail, John Reese, James Jones, Mary Meek, Theresa Lodge, William Jones and Lyman G. Lathrop, met in the lower part of the Masonic Hall, and organized the Madison Baptist church. April 2, 1831, the Mt. Pleasant church met for the last time — bade farewell to the old endearing associations that clustered around the house in which they had worshiped for 19 years, and dissolved. Most of the members (42) united with the church in Madison — some joined at Harbert's Creek. During the 24 years, which this church existed, 127 members were received by baptism, 172 by letter and relation; dismissed by letter, 216; excluded, 16; deceased, 26. One minister had been ordained and four licensed to preach, by it, and at its dissolution, ten ministers were living who had been connected with it.
In 1832, the Coffee Creek Association, only five years old, had increased from 16 to 27 churches, and another division was thought advisable along the line of the State road from Madison to Indianapolis. Accordingly, 13 churches were organized into the Madison Association, to which two others were added the following year. The new association contained six ordained ministers, six licensed preachers and 567 members. The Madison church then had a membership of 59. During the first two years of its existance, [sic] the Madison church held their meetings on the first floor of the Masonic Hall. A lot was procured, and in 1831, a house was erected on the site of the present house of worship. In 1837, Elder Jesse Vawter removed to Harberts Creek church and March 20, 1838, in the 83rd year of his age, entered upon his eternal rest. For thirty years he had lived and labored in this church, from its organization as the Crooked Creek church, through its history as Mt. Pleasant church and in the transfer to Madison. Most of the time he was the pastor, but in his declining years he was aided by his son, Elder John Vawter and Elder Thomas Hill. He was a native of Virginia, was converted at the age of 19, but his native modesty prevented his entrance upon the ministry until upwards of 45 years of age, when the urgent solicitations of his brethren, joined to his own sense of duty, compelled him to the work. After his removal to this State, in the autumn of 1806, his labors were incessant and eminently successful. — Twelve churches were constituted, eight ministers ordained hundreds converted and baptized (127 in one year) under his labors. His missionary tours extended over the territory now occupied by the Coffee Creek, Sand Creek, Laughery, Flat Rock, Long Run and Madison Associations, and for twenty-three years successively, he was Moderator in the Silver Creek, Coffee Creek and Madison Associations. "He being dead yet speaketh," and the Madison church, among others, stands a living monument to his memory.
After the death of Elder Vawter, none among the early pastors of the Madison church, exerted a more marked influence upon its permanent growth, than Elder E. D. Owns. His first pastorate commenced in May, 1839, and continued seven years, and after three years absence, he resumed his labors as pastor, in Sept. 1849, which he continued until his death, in 1852. Under his pastorate, the present church building was commenced. The church continued to increase under the care of Elders Kirtley, Barnett, Blood, Wilkins and Stewart. In 1859, Rev. F. D. Bland became pastor, and continued in that relation seven years, during which time the membership increased from 120 to 228, Rev. J. W. Terry succeeded him, and in less than two years the number increased to 275. The present pastor, Rev. T. R. Palmer, commenced his labors in Oct., 1868. The church now numbers 263, maintains public worship twice each Lord's day, two weekly prayer-meetings, a flourishing Sabbath school with an average attendance of about 200. For further particulars, we ask our brethren to make personal enquiry at the next Association, to be held in Madison.
[From Madison Baptist Association Minutes, 1869, pp. 6-8. From Franklin (IN) College Library, Special Collections. — jrd]
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