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David Lewis: Indian Missionary and Sabine Divisionary
By R. L. Vaughn

Another pastor of Union Baptist Church, in addition to Elder James L. Bryant is David Lewis. Like Bryant, we know little of Lewis, when he was born, when he died, or where he is buried. Unlike Bryant, Lewis steps into a 20-something year window of time, appearing in 1832 and disappearing around 1853. Perhaps more will be discovered later.

The first record I find of David Lewis is his ordination, which occurred in May of 1832. The place of ordination was the McDougal Street Meeting-house in New York.[i]

Ordination of Mr. Lewis

“On Monday evening, May 17th, in the McDougal Street Meeting-house, New York, Mr. David Lewis was set apart to the work of the gospel ministry with special reference to missionary labor among the Indians. The exercises of the evening were unusually solemn and interesting, the congregation large and attentive, and an anxiety awakened for the heathen in the bosoms of many persons who had previously felt little interest in the cause of Missions.

“He is expected to settle among the Choctaws west of the Mississippi, in the employ of the Baptist General Convention, and with his wife and child left New York for the place of destination, May 25th. They will be followed, we trust, by the prayers of christians, that the Lord will make them a great blessing to the aborigines of our country.”[ii]

From information I have been able to gather, the pastor serving at the McDougal Street Church at the time of David Lewis’s ordination was Duncan Dunbar. We know little specifically of Lewis’s theology – beyond a full embrace of the missionary society methods and his views on communion found in the 1845 Sabine Association circular letter. Certainly, David Lewis must have embraced the main tenets common among Baptists. It is possible that Dunbar’s influence stamped Lewis’s theology. While we know little of Lewis’s views, Duncan Dunbar’s faith and practice is easily ascertained in Duncan Dunbar: the Record of an Earnest Ministry. A Sketch of the Life of the Late pastor of the McDougal St. Baptist Church, New York.[iii] The story paints Dunbar firmly in the hard predestinarian camp:

He loved to dwell upon the doctrines of grace...The moral depravity and helplessness of man, and his supreme dependence upon the sovereign grace of God; the eternal election of a peculiar people, who had been given to the Son to be redeemed by his blood and justified by his righteousness, as their covenant-head, the second Adam; the special and irresistible influences of the Holy Spirit in the enlightenment and regeneration of the predestined heirs of glory.[iv]

He was a practical believer in predestination, referring all current events, and all that have come to pass since the foundation of the world, to the eternal purpose of Him who ‘worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.’[v]

Despite his firm views on eternal election and predestination, he was on the other hand a zealous advocate of the society method of mission work. He was a strong proponent of the American Baptist Missionary Union, as well as a friend and missionary to the Indians.
From the first time that he saw the red men, he never lost his interest in them. From the Mic Macs of New Brunswick and the Penobscots of Maine he labored personally; and, in after years, interested himself greatly for the Cherokees and other tribes under the patronage of our Missionary Union. The name, Indian, was a passport to his heart, and the sorrows and oppressions of this people were to him a source of real grief and anxiety; for he believed that, with regard to them, as well as to the negro, God would call us to account.[vi]

He was an active and liberal supporter of Foreign Missions, and deeply interested in the work of the Missionary Union. His anti-slavery spirit had been sorely tried, during the days of the Triennial Convention, by the union of Northern and Southern churches, but he hoped the day of separation would come; and none rejoiced more than he in the triumph of principle over policy, in the formation of the American Baptist Missionary Union, — a free organization for the spread of a free gospel.[vii]

In connection with this, Dunbar is described as a strong advocate of the support of the ministry,[viii] and a great friend and promoter of young ministers.
Mr. Dunbar felt a special interest in young ministers; and while they shared, as many of them did, his unstinted hospitality, he spread before them richer dainties of free, sovereign, distinguishing grace, the conversation often extending into the night.[ix]

He fed his people on the word of God, and many strong men and gifted women were the fruit of his ministry. The church might well have been called a nursery for Christian workers, as many able teachers and preachers were raised up there.[x]

These factors make Dunbar a likely candidate of influence on David Lewis. We know they agreed on the issues of the missionary society and missions to the Indians. Our first introduction to Lewis is in [the] 1832 American Baptist Magazine, which reports his ordination and plans to work “among the Choctaws west of the Mississippi.” That he had a wife and one child implies he was a younger man, though at this point there is no evidence of his age at the time of his ordination.

David Lewis and family settled in Indian Territory by September 1832, where he and his wife made history as charter members of the first Baptist church organized in what is now the state of Oklahoma.

“The first Baptist church, in what is now Oklahoma, was organized September 9, 1832. Rev. Isaac McCoy, pioneer missionary to the Indians, was present and assisted in the organization. The constituent members were, Rev. David Lewis and wife, missionaries, John Davis, Creek Indian, and Quash, Rob, and Ned, negro slaves of the Creek Indians.”[xi]
Lewis’s tenure as an Indian missionary with the American Baptist Missionary Union was cut short by the death of his wife in the fall of 1833.[xii] Shortly thereafter, he left the field.
“Mr. Lewis, in consequence of the death of his wife, and his own ill health, removed from this station, during the last year. Mr. Davis continued to preach at several different places; and a number of persons were baptized before Mr. Lewis left the station. The church consisted, at the last dates, of about 80.”
While Lewis’s wife died and he did leave the mission, that story is the polite version – and probably one that protected the board from confessing their own mismanagement. Solomon Peck further explains “In the spring of 1834, Mr. Lewis, for misconduct was dismissed from service of the board.”[xiii] Isaac McCoy recounts some of Mr. Lewis’s indiscretions. We shall spread a cloak of charity over the details (which all are free to research), giving enough to disclose some things that could have become problematic if known in Texas later. Practically McCoy discloses that Lewis “had been exceedingly imprudent in his secular affairs, and had gone in debt beyond his means of paying. He had spent money unnecessarily, and drawn on the board for funds without authority, to pay debts foolishly created.”[xiv] Theologically, McCoy exhorted “Mr. Lewis and Mr. Davis not to admit to fellowship in the Baptist church any who could not give satisfactory evidence of their conversion to God...Notwithstanding all which, I had too much reason to fear that Mr. Lewis indulged this awful error.”[xv]
“Bro. Lewis has left the mission, and removed to Crawford Co., as, doubtless, you will have heard ere this.[xvi]
Several states possess a Crawford County. We might presume that David Lewis went to Crawford County, Arkansas, since it is the closest Crawford County to the Ebenezer Station where he lived in Indian Territory.[xvii] Further, Isaac McCoy wrote “He left the missionary station, and spent some time in the white settlements in the State of Arkansas. . .”[xviii]

Just when David Lewis arrived in Texas is hard to know. After leaving the Indian mission, McCoy traces some of his movements – Arkansas, Cincinnati, Ohio, and New Orleans, Louisiana. An Elder David Lewis was in the organization of the Baptist Church at Huntington, Indiana, “May 1841, and Elder Lewis was installed as the first preacher. . .” By November of that year this Elder Lewis had resigned as pastor.[xix] There is not enough information currently available to know whether this is our David Lewis or another. However, the available information could fit into the known timeline.[xx]

Lewis is not mentioned in the organizational minutes of the Sabine Baptist Association in 1843. He is present in 1844 at the meeting at Border Church. He preached on Sunday,[xxi] and was appointed one of the delegates to visit the United Western Baptist Association. He was appointed to write a circular letter for the next associational meeting (1845), as well as to preach the introductory sermon.

In 1845, the circular letter commends and defends restricted communion. Since he was chosen to prepare the letter, the assumption is that the 1845 circular letter is by David Lewis. His introductory sermon came from Psalm 133:1 – Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! He was also appointed to serve on the committee of arrangement.

There are no extant copies of the 1846 Sabine Association minutes. By the time the 1847 session rolled around, David Lewis and his brethren no longer dwelt together in unity! His only mention that year was his highly negative role as the catalyst for a split in the Sabine Association. “The charge of the Union Church, against the Border Church—charged with unchristian like conduct, for receiving David Lewis, an Excommunicated Member from the Mount Zion Church—on charges against him from the Union Church, into full fellowship, when they knew he, the said ‘Lewis,’ was an Excommunicated Member. The case being called up, the Border, the Massidonia, and the Eight Mile Churches, withdrew from the Association, and thereby declared a non fellowship.”[xxii]

Ostensibly, the split in the Sabine Association was over missions. At least that is the way the missionary society partisans tell it. It is likely that this was somewhere in the background. However, the immediate cause of the withdrawal of three churches was the disciplinary action against David Lewis by the Mount Zion Church of which he was a member – on a charge brought against him by the Union Church. Border Church in Harrison County, in violation of common Baptist order, received this excluded member and pulled the hinge pin on fellowship in the Association. Not only did the Border Church receive an excluded member, they called him as their pastor![xxiii]

The action can be traced through the Union Church minutes, though the record still leaves questions as to the exact nature of the difficulty. In December of 1844, the Union Church elected David Lewis to the pastoral care of the church. His service began Saturday before the first Lord’s day in January 1845. He served through the year, when he was once again called to the service of the church in December 1845. Nevertheless, his name does not appear in the minutes after the February 1846 conference. In May 1846, the church appointed a committee to see Lewis “to know the cause why he absents himself from us and fails to attend.” After the committee made a report in June “bro. Lewis was dismissed from the care of the church.”[xxiv]

A skirmish between Lewis and the church continued. Beyond his absenting himself from attending the church as pastor, the minutes give no further clue as to church’s “certain grievances” with Lewis.[xxv] In addition to dissatisfaction with David Lewis, Union Church was dissatisfied with the actions of the Border Church, and apparently communicated that to her.[xxvi] At Union Church on July 3, 1847, “Reference cald for it was moved that the letter from the Border Church be red which was don accordingly. A motion was made to put to the church whether or not is the Union Church hurt with the Border Church in her act for taking David Lewis to the pastoral care of the Border Church knowing he was in a state of exclusion which was declared on the afternoon. A motion was then made to send delegates to the Border Church to let them know their grievences where upon Brothers William Gill, S. F. Sparks, and James Simmons were appointed.”[xxvii] On September 4, 1847, Union Church “Appointed Brothers B. F. Whitaker, S. F. Sparks & A. Caddel, W. S. Gill in case of failure of the others as delegates to the association to convene with Enon Church on Friday before the first Lords day in October next.” Then on October 2, 1847, “An answer from the Border Church was red and the church not Satisfied Resolved that the Union Church communicate her grievance to the association.”[xxviii]

As seen above, the association took the grievance seriously. In January 1848, Union Church called Elder Isaac Reed to the pastoral care of the church. Reed was a leading preacher, who favored evangelistic efforts, but opposed missionary societies. Though Border Church and two other churches siding with it withdrew and formed a new association, the Lewis/Border matter received some attention in the Union Church conferences into 1848. That summer the Border Church sent some type of correspondence to the Union Church, which was not well received by Union. The June 3, 1848 conference minutes state, “A letter presented from the Border Church which was Red and Rejected. A copy of Said letter to be Retained and the original sent Back.”[xxix]

A few sources relate some of David Lewis’s religious work after the split in the Sabine Association. Lewis was one of the ministers involved in forming the Eastern Missionary Baptist Church, which met at Border Church in Harrison County, December 1847, and one of three present at the 1848 association.[xxx] This association was set up in contradiction of and opposition to the Sabine Association. Lewis was chosen to preach the introductory sermon at the 1848 meeting.[xxxi] Lewis organized Enon Church in Upshur County in 1848.[xxxii] Later he worked for a time with Z. N. Morrell at Leona in Leon County, or at least passed through that area.[xxxiii] J. W. D. Creath, in late summer 1850, connects Lewis to a San Pedro Church – probably somewhere in Houston County, where the San Pedro Creek rises and flows into the Neches River.[xxxiv] He was the first pastor of Rocky Spring Church, in Walker County.[xxxv] With elders Baines, Garrett, and Creath, Lewis organized a church in Walker County on March 5, 1854, eight miles from Huntsville.[xxxvi]

According to J. B. Link’s records in the Historical and Biographical Magazine, David Lewis served as a missionary for the Baptist State Convention of Texas, at least from 1850 through 1852. “Rev. David Lewis, in October, 1850 was appointed missionary for the counties of Houston and Anderson. He traveled 645 miles, preached 162 sermons, delivered 7 lectures, organized one church, baptized 5 persons, ordained one deacon, visited 97 families, conferences 14, attended 16 prayer meetings, delivered 7 Sunday-school addresses.” In 1852, he had “aided in constituting two churches” and was continued as a missionary at a salary of $100.[xxxvii]

The Tennessee Baptist describes “Rev. D. Lewis” as “an authorized agent for the ‘Tennessee Baptist’ in the counties of Leon, Walker, and Houston, Texas.”[xxxviii] Later the paper tells us “Rev. David Lewis has removed from Mitchell’s, Walker county, to Huntsville, Texas. Correspondents will please note the change. Bro. Lewis is an authorized agent for the Tennessee Baptist.”[xxxix]

June 23, 1853, Rev. David Lewis affixed his name to a council of ministers’ judgments on the fashionable amusements of the day. Obviously, he was still living at that time. [xl] Subsequent to that, I have found no contemporary accounts of the life and ministry of David Lewis.

The ministry of David Lewis of New York, Indian Territory, and Texas is fraught with difficulty. Though exposed for problems as a missionary to the Muscogee Indians, Lewis went on to minister some ten or so years without Texas Baptist historians uncovering his foibles. None (of whom I am aware) lay the division of the Sabine Association at the feet of David Lewis, though the primary documents focus on him as a major cause behind it. Possibly all historians who have propounded on the split have been pro-missionary-society members of the Southern Baptist Convention. The supporters of this system have submitted the Sabine story as a prop for their purpose of promoting their program and practice. In this version of the story, Isaac Reed becomes the foil – the whipping boy of the “Missionary Baptists” – even though he apparently held a general atonement and was “full of the mission spirit.”[xli] Reed cooperated with his missionary Baptist friend Lemuel Herrin in organizing several churches in East Texas, as well as organizing several more in which Herrin was not involved.[xlii] Reed’s crime? He “was opposed to boards and missionary societies.”

The first telling of the story apparently comes from the splitters themselves, the 1847 minutes of the Eastern Missionary Baptist Association. The record to which I have access does not help a lot. Nevertheless it says, “That it is due to our brethren of the Sabine Baptist Association, to the community at large, and to ourselves, that this Association should state frankly to the world the reasons which induced us to separate from the Sabine Baptist Association, and to organize the Eastern Missionary Baptist Association, viz.: That the Sabine Baptist Association, at its last meeting, refused to sanction the doctrines of the annexed circular, and declared a non-concurrence with its principles.” Z. N. Morrell interprets the circular letter as, an essay that was “in spirit and letter a missionary document.”[xliii]

Next comes Southern Baptist missionary Z. N. Morrell. Morrell was contemporary with Reed and Lewis, and weaves a lively document concerning early Baptist ministry in Texas in his book Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness. (Everyone interested in Texas Baptist history should read it. More than once!) Morrell knew Reed in Tennessee, but apparently never worked with him in Texas. On the other hand, Lewis spent time with Morrell in Leon County, unveiling his own version of the events. “From him I learned much concerning the troubles that hung around the infant association. The enemies of the mission cause pressed them sorely on every hand. . .”[xliv] Morrell tells us that “Reed, and those who acted with him, violently opposed all mission organizations,” and lays the division on this.[xlv] He mentions nothing of the disciplinary action against David Lewis.

In 1923, J. M. Carroll called Isaac Reed “mightily mixed, or a decided Omissionary.” J. B. Link (without documentation, of course) throws Reed completely under the bus, wheels a-rolling full speed ahead. According to him, Reed’s “opposition to all benevolent organizations for mission purposes at length created a division in the association.”[xlvi]

Believe what you will about missions, mission boards, and missionary societies. However, let us fairly interpret the available evidence concerning the Sabine Baptist Association. Let David Lewis take his place among the divisionaries. He had problems in Indian Territory. In all likelihood, at least some of those problems traveled with him to Texas. Students will not know the role of Lewis unless they read the primary documents in surviving records in the minutes of the Union Baptist Church and the Sabine Baptist Association.[xlvii]


[i] From my understanding, this McDougal Street Meeting-house was in Manhattan. The church at that time was apparently named North Beriah Baptist Church. In 1859, the church assumed the name McDougal Street Baptist Church. Reminiscences of Baptist churches and Baptist leaders in New York city and Vicinity, from 1835-1898, p. 35 (George H. Hansell, Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1899).
[ii] The American Baptist Magazine, Vol. XII, Board of Managers of the Baptist General Convention, Boston, MA: Putnam & Damrell, 1832, p. 185.
[iii] Jeremiah Chaplin, Third Edition, New York, NY: Sheldon and Company, 1868.
[iv] Ibid, p. 188.
[v] Ibid, p. 190.
[vi] Ibid, p. 204.
[vii] Ibid, pp. 201-202.
[viii] Ibid, favored a salaried ministry, pp. 112, 195-197.
[ix] Ibid, p. 197.
[x] Reminiscences of Baptist churches and Baptist leaders in New York city and Vicinity, from 1835-1898, George H. Hansell, Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1899, p. 35.
[xi] “Oklahoma Baptists Making History,” I. W. Marks, The Word and Way (Kansas City, Missouri) Thursday, May 16, 1912, p. 4.
[xii] The American Baptist Magazine, Vol. XV (Boston: John Putman, 1835, pp. 35, 217).
[xiii] Peck, “History of the Missions of the Baptist General Convention,” in History of American Missions to the Heathen, from Their Commencement to the Present Time, (Joseph Tracy, et al., Worcester: Spooner & Howland, 1840, p. 548).
[xiv] History of Baptist Indian Missions, by Isaac McCoy, (New York, NY: H. and S. Raynor, 1840, p. 484).
[xv] Ibid, p. 453.
[xvi] Ibid, pp. 226-227.
[xvii] Crawford County, Arkansas was formed on October 18, 1820. Arkansas was still a territory at that time.
[xviii] History of Baptist Indian Missions, Isaac McCoy, p. 484.
[xix] History of Huntington County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests, Vol. I, (Frank Sumner Bash, editor, Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1914, p. 327).
[xx] Through a letter by William Tryon to The Biblical Recorder, the Elder David Lewis in Texas, who had started a church in San Augustine, is identified as “formerly a missionary among the Indians.” “Progress in Texas,” The Biblical Recorder, Saturday, March 15, 1845, p. 2.
[xxi] From 2 Timothy 2:8.
[xxii] Minutes of the Sabine Baptist Association, October 1847, Held at Enon Church, Rusk County.
[xxiii] First Book of Church Minutes, 1838-1872, Old North Baptist Church, n. d., n. p., p. 25.
[xxiv] Ibid, p. 23.
[xxv] Ibid, p. 23.
[xxvi] One would assume Mount Zion Church was also dissatisfied with the act of Border Church receiving her excluded member, but we have no records to consider.
[xxvii] First Book of Church Minutes, p. 25.
[xxviii] Ibid, p. 26.
[xxix] Ibid, p. 28.
[xxx] Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness, Z. N. Morrell, pp. 262, 266. At least we assume that Lewis was present in 1847. Morrell implies that but does not clearly say so. Three ministers present in 1848 were Herrin, Lewis, and J. M. Perry.
[xxxi] Ibid, p. 263.
[xxxii] Ibid, p. 267.
[xxxiii] Ibid, p. 264. This is probably circa 1848-1850.
[xxxiv] Letter from J. W. D. Creath to Brother Chambliss, September 25, 1850, in the South Western Baptist (Marion, Alabama), Wednesday, November 6, 1850, p. 2.
[xxxv] Minutes of the Eighteenth Annual Session of the Union Baptist Association, Held at Bethany Church, Grimes County, October 2-5, 1857, p. 14.
[xxxvi] Letter from J. W. D. Creath to the Tennessee Baptist, March 21, 1854, The Tennessee Baptist (Nashville, Tennessee) April 8, 1854, Saturday, page 3. This is probably the Ebenezer Church. The Union Association minutes lists “Daniel Lewis” as one of the organizers of Ebenezer, but this is probably David Lewis. I have not found a Daniel Lewis working in this area at this time, but David Lewis was. Minutes of the Eighteenth Annual Session of the Union Baptist Association, Held at Bethany Church, Grimes County, October 2-5, 1857, p. 14. “Daniel Lewis” is also listed as first pastor of Madisonville Church, Madison County, Texas.
[xxxvii] Historical and Biographical Magazine, Volumes, 1 and 2, The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Version 1.0, 2005 (electronic data, no pagination).
[xxxviii] The Tennessee Baptist, Saturday, September 13, 1851, p. 3
[xxxix] The Tennessee Baptist, Saturday, February 7, 1852, p. 2.
[xl] South Western Baptist, Friday, July 15, 1853, p. 2.
[xli] Even my friend, mentor, and “not-a-Southern-Baptist” Isaac Reed descendant was carried away with the dissimulation, writing “[Lemuel] Herrin was decidedly promissionary, in contrast with the less missionary minded [Isaac] Reed.” Missionary Baptists in Texas 1820-1998, Oran H. Griffith, Henderson, TX: History & Archives Committee of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, 1999, p. 12.
[xlii] By my count at least seven, probably more – Union, Buena Vista, Bethel, Border, Mount Olive, Eight-Mile, and Macedonia. Reed likely was involved in the constitution of several other churches that joined the Sabine Association from 1844-1849, and probably organized churches in Tennessee and Alabama before coming to Texas. He participated in the constitution of at least three associations – Duck River in Tennessee, Mud Creek in Alabama, and Sabine in Texas (perhaps also Elk River in Tennessee, and maybe Mount Moriah).
[xliii] Flowers and Fruits, p. 262-263
[xliv] Ibid, p. 264.
[xlv] Ibid, p. 262.
[xlvi] A History of Texas Baptists, J. M. Carroll, Dallas, TX: Baptist Standard Publishing Company, 1923, p. 115; Historical and Biographical Magazine, Volumes, 1 and 2, The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Version 1.0, 2005.
[xlvii] So far as I know, the only historian who references David Lewis’s exclusion is A. J. Holt in A Brief History of Union Baptist Church (Old North Church). He misunderstands, however, writing that Lewis “was cited to the church for trial and he sent a defiant reply and was excluded for contempt of the church.” Lewis was excluded from Mount Zion Church rather than Union Church (though Union Church brought charges against him). Neither does Holt put this in context of the problems in Sabine Baptist Association.

[From R. L. Vaugh, October, 2019. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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