The earliest trace of Baptists in the Territory of Michigan is found in Oakland County, in 1818, where the city of Pontiac now stands. Orison Allen and his wife are the first names that appear. In their hands our denominational flag seems to have been brought into the Territory, and over their rude cabin that symbol of our faith and love was first displayed. Others of the same faith accompanied this honored pair, and united with them in efforts to serve the same blessed Master.
After four years, during which these brethren and sisters on this wild shore must have often, like the man of Macedina, turned wistful looks and pleading calls to the ministers and churches across the lakes for some one to come over and help them, the Paul carne over. Rev. Elon Galusha was that Paul. He was the ardent and gifted missionary of the New York Baptist Convention. Brother Galusha reached Pontiac on an itinerant mission in 1822. Here ho preached in the wilderness, and led in the organization of the first Baptist church of the Territory.
The population of Michigan, when our first church was planted in it, was about 9000. Detroit was a muddy village of some 1500 inhabitants, among whom, if there was a Baptist, as doubtless there was, his or her memorial has perished.
The first resident Baptist preacher that we learn of in the Territory was Lemuel Taylor, who settled at Stony Creek, in Oakland County. He held the deacon's office, and preached as a licentiate, never desiring ordination. He was a good and useful man, the head of a large family, for whom his hands were diligent, and who perpetuated his use fulness by their own worth in the churches. As far as in him lay he preached the gospel to his neighbors and in the settlements around, seeking earnestly to plant the virgin soil with true religion and the true church.
The church at this place -- Stony Creek -- was the second one formed in Michigan. Rev. Nehemiah Lamb and his sons, Revs. C. A. and R. P. Lamb, visiting Pontiac in June, 1824, and breaking bread to the shepherdless flock, organized the brethren at Stony Creek into a church.
The first ordained minister who settled as pastor in our Territory was Elkanah Comstock. As missionary of the New York Convention he volunteered for this remote and solitary service, and took charge of the church in Pontiac in the summer of 1824.
In connection with the labors of Elder Comstock a church was constituted at Troy in 1825, and another at Farmington in 1826, making four churches in the Territory, all in Oakland County.
The Michigan Baptist Association was formed in 1826 of the above four churches, with their two or three ordained ministers.
The second pastor that we learn of was Rev. John Buttolph, who was settled in Troy in 1826. He died with this church the same year. His memory was long perpetuated as that of a loved and successful pastor, a character that was reproduced in his son, also one of the early ministers in the State, who died while yet young, and sleeps by his father's side in Troy.
In Detroit, the year 1826 set the Baptist elements astir, and while they were moving towards securing preaching, Brother Henry Davis, in his studies at Hamilton, was feeling strong impressions impelling him to attempt missionary work in their city. Accordingly, in the summer of this year, he visited Detroit for exploration, and became interested in its few Baptists. The next season (1827) we find him early on the ground with the wife who had given herself to share his life and work. Meetings were established in the academy, and soon baptisms were drawing the interested people to the great river-side to see the new spectacle. The church having formed under covenant, was approved by council of recognition, Oct. 20, 1827. No minister of the Territory was present. The New York Baptist Convention stood nurse to the babe, Elisha Tucker, of Fredonia, presiding and preaching, Jairus Handy, of Buffalo, giving the hand of fellowship, and Asahel Morse, of Ohio, the charge.
Brother Davis, as pastor, addressed himself with enterprise to the building up of the interest. Under his leadership, and with the friendly sympathy and co- operation of Gov. Cass, the grant was secured of the valuable lots, so long occupied, on the corner of Fort and Griswold Streets. But sickness seized
and disabled the young pastor, compelling him to abandon his Western work before a year of it was finished.
The next tributary to Baptist influence in Michigan had its rise in the coming of Thomas W. Merrill to this as his adopted field of pioneer work. He entered the Territory in May, 1829, and enjoyed the longest ministerial life in the State which our entire ministry presents. He was from the State of Maine, where his father, a Congregational minister, turned a piece of the world upside down by becoming a Baptist, and by treating his church as "a cake not turned," an "Ephraim who had mixed himself among the people." Thomas had graduated at Waterville College and Newton Theological Seminary. Taking his appointment “not from men nor through man,” he started at his graduation from the seminary, and made his way to Michigan at the date aforesaid.
It was his mission, as he had conceived it, and as the event has proved, to start and aid in rearing the Michigan Baptist Institution of Christian and Ministerial Learning, the history of which is detailed in another paper.
Looking across the Territory there is one other quarter in which light was newly breaking at this date, showing that torch-bearers were there setting the fires. It is at the southwest corner, and it reveals Rev. Jacob Price in Cass County. He entered there from Wales in 1831 or 1832, having been furthered on his way by Dr. Cone and others in New York. A Brother Miller, from Virginia, was also working along the Indiana border, adjoining Brother Price's field; and Brother H. J. Hall, from Vermont, was the same year sent as a missionary into that vicinity, and labored with Brother Price happily, and with some cheering ingatherings of souls churches were formed at Liberty, Lagrange, Niles, Edwardsburg, and perhaps over the Indiana line.
Elder Price was the unremitting toiler on that field for forty years. He was benevolence and work personified. God anointed hint with the Holy Spirit, and he went about doing good. his kindly countenance was the first preachers face seen in the cabin doors of the new settlers over a large portion of Southwestern Michigan. Under him, numerous churches rose up, and by his wise counsels and Christ-like spirit they guided their affairs with discretion. One generation after another saw his familiar appearance passing along the roads to his scattered preaching-places, and leading, the funeral processions of many surrounding towns; and then "he was not, for God took him."
At Comstock, the mother of all the churches in the Kalamazoo River Association was formed by Brother Merrill, Judge Eldred, and others. It is now the Galesburg church.
In 1831 the churches associated in organizing the Michigan Baptist Domestic Mission Society, which kept up its annual meetings, inspired the formation of auxiliaries in all the churches, solicited and appropriated funds, and was in fact what later took the name and form of the State Convention. Foreign missions were alike cared for, and Christian education. Tract circulation was also organized and urged with intelligent liberality and personal labor from the first.
In 1832 there were twenty churches in the Territory and twelve pastors.
Rev. Robert Turnbull became pastor in Detroit in November, 1834, soon after which time the church dedicated their permanent house of worship. During the two and a half years of this pastorate our cause in Detroit advanced well.
At Kalamazoo and vicinity, in 1835, Rev. Jeremiah Hall commenced preaching, and the church was formed the ensuing February. He labored as pastor eight years with discretion and faithfulness, and the church became a steady and central light. The Literary Institute fixed there its permanent location, and began its school-life.
At Schoolcraft, Rev. William Taylor was setting on the candlestick that pure and beneficent light which shone there in such blessing while belived; ay, and is phosphorescent from his grave there yet, though the storms of more than twenty years have drenched it.
Under these laborers and their co-workers in the churches our growth spread widely. The second Association was called for and formed in 1833 or 1834, bearing then the name of Lagrange, but now the St. Joseph River. And the third, first called the river Raisin, now the Washtenaw Association, was formed on the 14th of January, 1835.
Now came the building and launching of the Baptist Convention of the State of Michigan; for Michigan was becoming a State just in time to allow this name. The story of its organization and growth is reserved for another article.
Of the number of churches and members in the State at the date of the Convention's formation we can only have approximate knowledge. We judge there were about 35 churches and nearly 2000 members.
A large number of ministers came in or were raised up in the churches from 1830 to 1840 Brethren Weaver, Curtiss, Hamlin, J. Harris, N. G. Chase, M. Allen, L. H. Moore, G. B. Day, O. C. Comstock, Fulton, Hendee, Pennell, Rummerey, Wisner, Piper, and others. The American Baptist Home Mission Society came promptly on the field at its origin in 1843, and has been at the front ever since. Almost all the churches, both older and newer, have felt its ready and steady hand of help in their time of need.
In all their efforts, and in general co-operation with missionary, Bible, and other causes, there has been remarkable freedom from partisan divisions and strifes in the churches, Associations, and Conventions. The Baptists of Michigan have been a homogeneous people, respectful towards each other’s opinions and modes of action, and determined that no incompatibility should divorce what God had joined together.
The largest number of baptisms in a year was in 1876, when it lacked but little of 3000. The average for fifteen years is a little over 1400. Membership, 27,064. Number of churches, 341, constituting eighteen Associations. For benevolent objects of all kinds, not including what has been done by contributors for their own local churches, they must have given not less than $600,000, all of it in comparatively small sums, -- the drops that make the ocean. ____________________
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; rpt. 1988, pp.787-789.]
The Baptist Convention of the State of Michigan
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
The oldest Baptist church in Michigan -- that in Pontiac -- was formed in 1822. The first ordained Baptist minister residing in the State entered it in 1824. The first Association was organized in 1827, but no general convention of the Baptists in the State was attempted till 1836. In that year a call was issued to the churches to send delegates to Detroit for a State organization, and in response to the call 26 churches were represented by 55 delegates in Detroit on the 31st of August. Dr. Nathaniel Kendrick, Archibald Maclay, Elon Galusha, Elisha Tucker, and eight others, not residents of the State, were present, and invited to aid the delegates in their work.
The plan of organization then adopted was almost exactly the same as that now in use, after an experience of forty-three years. The design of the Convention was declared to be "to carry out the commission of Christ in giving the gospel to every creature; by multiplying and circulating copies of the Holy Scriptures; aiding home and foreign missions; encouraging Sabbath-school instruction; promoting the circulation of religious tracts; and the cause of education, especially that of the rising ministry." The constitution further provided that the objects contemplated by the Convention "shall be classed in the following order: Bible efforts; home missions; foreign missions; education; general benevolence; and each of the foregoing objects respectively shall be assigned to a specific committee appointed by the Board of Managers."
How little change has been introduced into the general plan of organization after nearly half a century will appear from the following statement of the present plan of work, contained in the bylaws as last printed:
"The board, at its first meeting after its election, shall appoint special boards, consisting of not less than five, nor more than nine members, as follows:
"1. The Board of State Missions.
"2. The Board of Christian and Ministerial Education.
"3. The Board of Foreign Missions.
"4. The Board of Bible Publication and Sunday-school work.
"5. The Board of Home Missions.
"These special boards shall be regarded as cooperative respectively with the general societies of the Baptist denomination for the same objects."
As a result of this organization the American Baptist Missionary Union, and the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and the American Baptist Publication Society, have at their service organized committees to commend their interest to the churches of the State, while other committees are intrustedwith the care of new and feeble churches, and with the duty of aiding young men whom God has called to prepare for the gospel ministry. At each annual meeting these subjects come up in turn for consideration, not as intruders, nor simply as welcome visitors, but as the very interests which the Convention was organized to serve.
At the first election of officers, Rev. Robert Powell was chosen president, and Rev. Robert Turnbull secretary, and the Convention entered on its work with hopeful zeal.
Among the objects for which the Convention was formed State missions have naturally occupied a prominent place, both because the demand for missionary work in the State has been great and constant, and because in this work the board was not auxiliary to any broader organization, but responsible for the whole direction and accomplishment of the enterprise. For a few years it co-operated with the American Baptist Home Mission Society in the care of the churches in the State, as was the case in other States, but in 1875 returned to the former plan of separate control. A large proportion of the ablest and largest churches in the State have been fostered by the Convention, and are now glad to recognize their indebtedness.
A second branch of the Convention's work is that of Christian and ministerial education. At the organization of the Convention appreciative recognition was made of the institution at Kalamazoo, and the policy was indicated of having a. college with full powers. Funds also were then proposed for theological education. In 1837 a theological school was resolved upon. Funds for beneficiaries were raised and appropriated to students at Hamilton.
In 1846 the establishment of a theological seminary was determined, grounds were purchased in Kalamazoo, and preparations were made for building. The seminary was not, and never became, a
separate corporation, but was directly controlled by the Convention, which owned the property, and by its board governed the institution. Prof. James A.B. Stone, pastor at Kalamazoo, and principal of the institute, was placed in charge of the work in the beginning, and retained this place for seventeen years. Instruction began in 1849, and Rev. Samuel Graves was added to the faculty in 1851. After the institute became Kalamazoo College, its professors taught in the seminary as occasion required. In 1866, Dr. Silas Bailey became the principal teacher in the seminary, and remained in this service till the fall of 1869, when the failure of his health compelled him to retire from all severe labor. The funds of the Convention for the support of the seminary had never been adequate, and after the retirement of Dr. Bailey, the seminary at Chicago having been established, it was thought not to provide at present for distinctively theological education. Meanwhile the funds of the Convention which were given for ministerial education are sacredly kept for that purpose, and the income is appropriated in aiding young men in their preparation for the ministry. While the seminary was maintained between 50 and 60 students passed from its studies into the ministry.
In 1869, Rev. Thomas W. Merrill offered to the Convention the sum of $8000 for the support of a professor in Kalamazoo College, who must be a Baptist minister and serve as college pastor. The original endowment was to remain on interest till it should amount to $10,000. In 1844 the same brother proposed to add $14,000 to a previous gift of $1000, for the endowment of scholarships in Kalamazoo College, this addition to become available in 1880 or at his death. These endowments are not at present available, as the notes in which Mr. Merrill made payment are not now paying interest. For one year, however, Rev. Dr. N. S. Burton served in the Merrill Professorship. The funds now in possession of the Convention for educational purposes, besides the Merrill endowments, are about $6000. The Convention also owns the grounds on which the upper buildings of Kalamazoo College are situated, worth about $60,000.
Another enterprise of the Convention was the establishment of a weekly religious paper. Contemplated in the origin of the Convention, and agitated at each of the annual meetings for six years, it was undertaken at the meeting in 1841, and the first number was issued in January, 1841, bearing the name of the Michigan Christian Herald. It was put in charge of a committee, of which Rev. Andrew Tenbrook, pastor in Detroit, acted as editor, and R. C. Smith and S. N. Kendrick as publishers. The second year Rev. Miles Sanford performed editorial work. After Prof. Tenbrook was called to the university, Rev. J. Inglis succeeding him as pastor, also filled the editorial chair. With the year 1848 began Rev. Marvin Allen's proprietorship of the paper, and Rev. Geo. W. Harris assumed editorial care of it. Thence to the death of Mr. Allen, in 1861, these co-laborers supplied the State with the Herald. The editor gave eminent satisfaction in his department, and the publisher threw his tireless zeal and rare executive abilities without reserve into the enterprise. On the death of Mr. Allen it was difficult to find a man ready to do his work. The orphaned Herald was taken up in Kalamazoo by Brethren Olney, Curtiss, Walden, Clark, and Cadman, and continued to serve the churches well but its publishers ill. In 1867 it was deemed expedient to consolidate the Herald with the Christian Times, of Chicago, and the Witness, of Indianapolis, under the name of the Standard, which has since been published in Chicago.
The publication of a weekly Baptist paper for Michigan was, however, commenced again in January, 1873, not by the Convention, but by Rev. L. H. Trowbridge as both publisher and editor. This paper, which bears the name of the Christian Herald, is issued from Detroit, and has had a constantly increasing circulation and a continuous growth in power among the churches till now.
Most of the influence which the Convention has exerted has not been of a nature to be easily stated. It has produced unity of action among the churches, has steadily aided in the collection of funds for foreign missions, home missions, and the circulation of religious books, has provided for the support of candidates for the ministry, and has collected and published statistics of the denomination in Michigan. The meetings from the very beginning have been characterized by harmony and an earnest desire to serve the interests of Christ's kingdom. In Michigan there are 18 Associations, 352 churches, 307 ordained ministers, and 27,285 members. =============
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; rpt. 1988, pp.789-790.]
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