Through the Natchez country of Mississippi the Baptists entered into Louisiana. This territory was ceded to the United States by France April 30, 1803. Previous to that date, and long afterwards, the religious condition of the State was distressing. There is some very interesting information written from New Orleans, under date of April 8, 1815, by Messrs. Mills and Smith, to the Massachusetts Bible Society. They were agents of that organization and presented the following "View of Louisiana":We left Natchez on the 12th of March, and went on board of a flat-bottomed boat, where our accommodations were indifferent. The weather was generally pleasant, and we arrived in New Orleans on the 19th. The distance is three hundred miles. For 100 miles above New Orleans the banks of the river were cleared, and in descending the river you pass many elegant plantations. The whole of this distance the banks appear like one continued village. The greater part of the inhabitants are ignorant of almost everything except what relates to the increase of their property; destitute of schools, Bible and religious instruction. In attempting to learn the religious state of the people we were frequently told that they had no Bibles and that the priest did not allow of their distribution among them. An American who had resided two or three years at a place which had the appearance of being a flourishing settlement, informed me that he had not seen a Bible during his stay at the settlement. He added that he had heard that a woman from the State of New York had lately brought one into the place (Publications of the Louisiana Historical Society, 1916).Mr. Mills, accompanied by the Rev. Daniel Smith, made a second missionary journey to Louisiana, in 1816. He says:
[p 340]There are American families in that part of the country who never saw a Bible nor heard of Jesus Christ. It is a fact that ought not to be forgotten that so late as March, 1815, a Bible in any language could not be found for sale, or to be given away, in New Orleans (Ibid., 64).These gentlemen likewise give the following information in regard to the State:In 1810 Louisiana contained 76,556 inhabitants, 34,600 were slaves. Since that time its population is doubtless considerably increased; but to what extent, we are unable to say. The principal settlements, out of New Orleans, and above the northermost boundary of the State, are almost wholly occupied by Frenchmen, Acadians and Germans who speak the French language. The settlements in the counties of Attakapas and Opelousas are very considerable and have a mixture of French and American inhabitants. There are in the State two Methodist circuits, but there is no Baptist preacher, as we could ascertain, out of New Orleans, no Presbyterian minister. A very large portion of the State has never, as we could learn, been visited by a Presbyterian preacher. Many of the American inhabitants were originally Presbyterians and very many would rejoice to see a respectable missionary among them. It is, therefore, of immense importance that one should be sent to explore the country and learn its moral and religious state, and introduce, as far as possible, the institutions of the gospel. Such a man might not only be useful to the Americans; he might exert a salutary influence on the French also. He would doubtless promote the farther distribution of the French Scriptures. Religious tracts in that language, might be very soon circulated among the people. And a prudent and diligent use of such means, we have reason to hope, would result in happiest con. sequences (Publications of the Louisiana Historical Society, IX. 69, 70).The country had been under the complete control of the Roman Catholics. Protestantism was not tolerated in the Province. The Spanish authorities were on the alert for the appearance of heresy in the Louisiana Territory. Baron de Cardondelet had been succeeded as governor by Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, a brigadier general of the royal armies. In the month of January, 1799, he issued, among other regulations, the following:6. Liberty of conscience is not to be extended beyond the first generation; the children of the emigrant must be Catholic; and emigrants not agreeing to this must not be admitted, but removed, even when they bring property with them. This is to be explained to settlers who do not profess the Catholic religion.
[p. 341]7. It is expressly recommended to commandants to watch that no preacher of any religion but the Catholic comes into the province (Martin, History of Louisiana).These regulations were not new and they did not prevent Baptist preachers from entering the province. They had suffered too long and cruelly to be deterred by such threats as these. No more heroic men ever lived than these early preachers in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The first Baptist preacher, indeed the first Protestant preacher, was Bailey E. Chaney. During the persecution of Curtis he remained in concealment. He had removed from South Carolina, about the year 1790, and settled near Natchez. In 1799 he visited an American settlement near Baton Rouge and preached. He was arrested by the authorities and released upon the promise not to preach any more. He was not able to organize a church, but he did have the honor of being the first Baptist preacher in Louisiana.
The first Baptist church in Louisiana was organized in Washington parish, near Bogue Chitto river, and was known a$ the Half Moon Bluff Church. It was constituted October 12, 1812. This church is now extinct. The Calvary Baptist Church, Bayou Chicot, St. Landry parish, was organized November 13, 1812. The centennial of these two churches was observed in 1912 with fitting ceremonies. The following record is made of that notable event:We call attention to this, the centennial year of the history of Louisiana Baptists. In the early years of the nineteenth century, missionaries from other States entered this territory. The first Baptist church organized in this State was the Half Moon Bluff Baptist Church in Washington parish in 1812. This church had a brief life and recently the brethren celebrated its birth over its grave near Franklington. The first Baptist church organized west of the Mississippi river and the oldest living Baptist church in the State is the Calvary Baptist Church at Bayou Chicot, St. Landry parish. It was organized November 13th, 1812, and has had a continuous history up to this good hour. It was this church, with a few others that went out from it, that organized the Louisiana Association. We gathered on this historic spot and thanked God for the preservation of this church and for the pioneer servants of Jesus Christ who laid the foundation for our Baptist cause in Louisiana (Minutes o/ the Louisiana Convention, 1912, pp. 77, 78).
The Baptist cause was slow of beginning in New Orleans. The first Baptist missionary to New Orleans was James A. Raynoldson. He was a messenger from North Carolina to the Triennial Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May, 1814. He came to New Orleans in the winter of 1816-17 as a missionary from that body. The Baptist cause passed through many vicissitudes in that city. The first Baptist church there was organized December 28, 1843.
[John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume 2, 1926, rpt., pp. 339-342. Scanned and formatteed by Jim Duvall.]
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