Baptist History Homepage

History of Iowa Baptists
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
     There were some Baptists among the earliest settlers of Iowa. In succeeding years, as the tide of emigration flowed into the territory, Baptists were fairly represented. The fullest and most reliable account of Iowa Baptists in their earlier history is found in a paper carefully prepared by Rev. J.F. Childs some years ago, entitled "The History of the Rise and Progress of Iowa Baptists." This history is still unpublished, but, through the kindness of the author, it contributes largely to the facts of this sketch. The Danville, or, as originally called, the Long Creek, church, was the first Baptist church in Iowa. Brother and Sister Manly came from Kentucky, bringing with them the Articles of Faith adopted by the Bush Creek Baptist church, Green Co., Ky. They settled within six miles of Danville, where they continued to reside. Together with a few Baptists from Illinois, they organized a church, and invited Elders John Logan and Gardner Bartlett, of Illinois, to preach for them. Elder Logan preached in a log cabin the evening of Oct. 19, 1834, probably the first sermon by an evangelical minister in this part of the Territory. The next day the church was constituted and named "The Regular Baptist Church at Long Creek."

     In 1838 another church was organized, about six miles southwest of Burlington, through the labors of Elders James and Moses Lemon and Clark, from Illinois. It was called "The Baptist Church of Christ, Friend to Humanity, at Rock Spring, Iowa." The Union and Pisgah churches were organized in 1839. In 1839 three churches, Long Creek, Union, and Pisgah, were organized into an Association, the first Baptist Association in the Territory. The meeting was held in a grove, west of what is now Danville Centre. The membership of the three churches was less than 90, and the number of delegates in attendance was 10. The organization was effected and the entire business of the meeting transacted while 9 of the delegates were seated in a row on a log and the moderator standing before them, supported by the back of a chair. The body was called "The Iowa Baptist Association." In 1843, after the organization of the Davenport Association, its name was changed to the "Des Moines Association."

      The Baptists of Iowa went on gaining from year to year. Their strength and efficiency were increased by accessions to the ministry of able and earnest men, many of whom came under the appointment of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, by the constant tide of emigration from the older States bringing in many faithful Baptists, and by the conversion of souls. New fields of Christian labor were occupied, churches were multiplied, a general organization for missionary work was formed, additional Associations were established, the Sundayschool enterprise was pressed forward, means were proposed and devised for the advantages of higher education, and institutions of learning were founded.

      Baptist churches are found in most of the principal cities and towns of the State. There are now in Iowa 24 Baptist Associations, 410 churches, having a membership of 24,700; over 1000 were added to these churches by baptism during the year 1879-80. They have about 250 Sunday-schools, with 20,000 pupils, and are well represented numerically in their institutions of learning now at work. The Baptist ministry of Iowa has many men of sterling worth. Not a few of them have supported their families in part or altogether by the labor of their own hands while preaching the gospel to others. Iowa Baptists have been, and they still are, represented in the civil and educational interests of the State and nation, holding places of prominence and trust in halls of legislation, in executive and judicial positions, and among professional men.

      Iowa Baptists have contributed some noble men and women for the work of foreign missions, and for missionary toils in the dark places of our own land. Among the biographical sketches of this work will be found the names of a few men who are now living in the State or are sleeping in its soil. These by no means exhaust the list of men worthy of special notice, but may be accepted as representatives of the different classes whose lives and labors occupy an important place in Iowa Baptist history. Iowa Baptists have a future which has the promise of marked advancement and blessed results to those interests of Christ's kingdom committed to their trust.


Iowa Baptist State Convention

      "In response to a call of the Des Moines Association, a Convention of brethren from the Baptist churches in Iowa Territory was held in Iowa City, June 3-4, 1842, to consider the expediency of forming a Territorial Association for missionary purposes." Twenty-five delegates were present. Some had walked seventy-five miles. Three of these delegates, C. E. Brown, William Elliott, and M. W. Rudd, are still living and in Iowa. B. Carpenter was made president, and W. B. Morey secretary, of "The Iowa Baptist General Association." In 1851 the name was changed to "Iowa Baptist State Convention." The constitution then adopted said, "The object of this Association shall be to promote the preaching of the gospel, ministerial education, and all the general objects of benevolence throughout this Territory." Though the name of the organization has been changed, the declared object has remained the same.

      At the time of this organization there were about 380 Baptists in the Territory, and not more than 15 Baptist churches, while Iowa then had a population of about 52,000. For the first fourteen years of its history this Association was little more than an agent for the American Baptist Home Mission Society, to advise and assist that society in its work. In 1854 and 1855 the Convention attempted some direct labors in behalf of the German population. In 1856 the Rev. I. M. Seay received the first commission ever issued by this body. During the same year two other missionaries were sent forth, and the Convention entered heartily upon its declared work. During 1857 twenty-five missionaries were appointed, and Rev. J. Y. Aitchison was chosen agent. From 1858 to 1861, Rev. D. P. Smith labored in the interest of the Convention as financial agent, and a band of earnest-working missionaries were kept on the field. "In 1863, Rev. S. H. Mitchell became missionary agent, and labored till the fall of 1869. Other men have toiled in the general agency and missionary work of the Convention for shorter periods and rendered good service, while during all these years a number of noble, earnest-hearted men have been laboring as missionaries in the destitute and remote parts of the State. Among the secretaries have been Rev. T. S. Griffith, Rev. J. F. Childs, and Rev. T. F. Thickstun. Rev. J. Sunderland, the present missionary secretary and general missionary, in a recent circular says,

"The Home Mission Society has aided missionaries in Iowa for forty-one years, issuing about 600 commissions. Besides all the churches organized, houses of worship built, Sunday-schools established, and souls saved, more than 5000 persons have been baptized into our churches in this State by its missionaries. Its work has equaled the labor of one man for four hundred and forty-two years, or an average of eleven missionaries constantly at work for the forty-one years. It has expended in this State $115,000. The State Convention has aided missionaries for the last twenty-five years, issuing 386 commissions. Its missionaries have baptized 3029 persons, organized 69 churches, and aided in building 66 meetinghouses. Their work equals the labor of one man for two hundred and sixty-one years, or an average of eleven men for the twenty-five years. There has been raised and expended in this work $65,300. In the whole work of Baptist missions in Iowa there has been expended $180,000."
The Convention is now prosecuting its missions in co-operation with the Home Mission Society, holding the control of the work in its own hands with such guarantees of assistance from the Home Mission Society as enabled the Convention to extend it and increase its efficiency. There are at present thirty missionaries under appointment, including one Scandinavian and one German. There is a growing interest in this work, and a very deep conviction of the responsibility and promise of the present and future.

      The Convention has its Sunday-school department and Sunday-school secretary. Formerly there was an organization called "The Iowa Baptist Sunday-School Union," formed in 1.867, and having for its object "To promote the interests of Baptist Sunday-Schools in Iowa." This continued till 1878, and did good service. Now the Sunday-school work is a department of the Convention. It is put in the hands of a committee of five, known as "the Sunday-School-Committee co-operating with the American Baptist Publication Society." The plan includes the employment of a Sunday-school missionary, "to do a general pioneer missionary work in destitute fields, by establishing Sunday-schools, organizing churches, holding meetings with feeble churches, holding Sunday-school institutes," etc. In the Baptist churches of Iowa there are about 250 Sunday-schools, having a membership of officers, teachers, and pupils of over 20,000. A number of the smaller churches join union schools, and some of the weaker, scattered churches have no schools. For two years the American Baptist Publication Society and the Iowa Baptist State Convention have sustained a Sunday-school missionary. Through the efforts of these missionaries new churches and schools have been organized, and twelve Associations have formed Sunday-school Conventions. Other Associations devote a part of their time to Sunday-school interests. Institutes have been held, awakening greater enthusiasm in the work. These Sunday-school missionaries have sold several hundred volumes of denominational works, besides giving away books, Testaments, and tracts.

      In connection with their State Convention Iowa Baptists have "The Iowa Union for Ministerial Education," and "The Iowa Baptist Pastors' Conference." These assemble annually with the Convention, and also at the quarterly meetings of the board. The Union for Ministerial Education was organized in 1867. Its object is "the assistance of young men of Baptist churches in their educational preparation for the gospel ministry." The union has assisted over fifty brethren, several of whom are ordained pastors.

      The Pastors' Conference was organized in 1867. Its object is "the mutual improvement of its members in Biblical knowledge and in the duties connected with the ministry." Ministers' institutes are occasionally held under the guidance of this Conference.


[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, pp. 583-585. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Iowa Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage