Missouri Historical Address, 1875
A History of the Baptist in Missouri
Robert S. Duncan, 1882
In October, 1875, the General Association of Missouri met at St. Joseph. On the first day of the session, Rev. J. C. Maple presented the moderator with a handsomely mounted gavel, made of wood from one of the sills of the old Bethel Church house, accompanied by the subjoined address, and sketch of the early Baptists of the Cape Girardeau District. — [Duncan, p. 39]
ADDRESS OF REV. J. C. MAPLE, D. D.
The General Association of Missouri, 1875
"Brother Moderator and Brethren: I have a pleasant duty, which I desire, by your permission, to perform.
"It is known to you, my brethren, that, as in other states, the Baptists were among the first to erect the standard of the Cross in Missouri. And though we are not of those who have faith in the preserving power of relics or amulets, we do believe in guarding with care our records, and that both duty and affection require us to treasure some of the mementos of the men and their work who were the pioneers in this great state.
"From 1731 to 1803, the condition of the governmental affairs of the province of Louisiana, which then included what is now the State of Missouri, was far from being settled. The question of Spanish or French rule was not arranged to the satisfaction of the people. Yet for years the 'Upper Territory' was under the control of a Spanish governor whose headquarters were at Cape Girardeau. Here he ruled with the pomp and severity of an oriental prince. He was never without his retinue of priestly advisers. Influenced by these vassals of the pope, he at one time issued an order that all the people who residedwithin a distance of fifteen miles from his mansion, should, on a certain day, attend 'mass' at Cape Girardeau. The few Baptists then in the province, and residing within the district named in the order, dared to disobey the command. And it was only by what the priests termed 'the neglect of the governor,' that they narrowly escaped the penalties of their heretical insubordination.
"In 1806 the Bethel Baptist Church was organized and soon afterwards a house was built in which they met to worship God. This was the first house of worship built by anti-Catholics, west of the Mississippi River. From the Great River to the Pacific Ocean this log house was the only building devoted to the service of the Living God.
"The membership of the church was not large, but formed an active, consecrated band. When visited by those remarkable pioneers, Peck and Welch, they found here an earnest, liberal, working missionary body. Even the amount of money contributed for missions has been kept upon the records by the unwearied chronicler, Rev. John M. Peck.
"But in a few years a portion of the church withdrew, and formed a new organization in the village of Jackson, one mile north of the old Bethel meeting-house. This was not the first, but the fourth colony which had gone out from the mother church. But
those who remained after the formation of the Jackson Church unfortunately became anti-missionary, and of course the Bethel Church ceased to exist with the death of those who were the members.
"The church in Jackson, therefore, is the proper representative of this first Baptist church of Missouri. And at the suggestion of Rev. W. J. Patrick to the pastor of that church, Rev. James Reid, I had this gavel made. It is composed entirely, except the mountings, of wood taken from one of the sills of this first temple erected in the 'Western Wilderness.' * "The old house has been torn down. The hand of time and the ruder hand of man, have fully accomplished the work of demolition.+ But that spiritual temple, of which every truly regenerated man and woman forms a part, will never feel the weight of years, nor yield to the wasting force of time. Sustained by the Almighty Hand, this more glorious structure which we labor to erect, will endure with the rock upon which it is founded, not only through the ages, but its existence is absolute and eternal.
"This little piece of wood may serve to remind us of the small beginning of the Baptist denomination in Missouri, sixty-nine years ago. In less than seven decades the one church has increased to 1,292, and the little band that then stood alone in this vast region has become nearly 90,000 to say nothing of the large numbers and the glorious work now being accomplished in other states and territories west of the Mississippi River.
"We may well to-day exclaim, 'What hath God wrought!'
"And while we should carefully avoid all vain-glorying over our numbers, let us to-day take fresh courage from this little memento of the past, and seek an increase of consecration to the Master’s work, commensurate with our numbers and our opportunities. We have not now, as then, a single log-house in the wilderness, but many elegant houses of worship, and what is still better, a noble band of able and consecrated ministers, who preach the word of life in these well-built temples.
* This gravel is a handsomely polished instrument and may be seen at the annual sessions of the General Association in the hand of the president of the body.
+ The old building was standing in 1871, four years before the above was written. The writer then visited it, but it had long ceased to be used as a house of worship. We looked at the old walls of the building — now doorless and windowless, and without a floor — and thought of the men and women who, while the Indians and the wolves prowled around them, used to meet there and worship God.
"We have all needed facilities for great usefulness. And let us, my brethren, with the call of this gavel, hear the voice of the little band that began the work in this great state, exhorting to greater activity, and, in the name of Him by whom they conquered, promising us yet grander victories.
"To your care, my dear brother, as the moderator of this body, I commit this memento. And when seven more decades have passed by, may it appear that our growth has continued at least to equal, if it shall not surpass, the rate of the past." * ____________
Rev. John M. Peck visited the Bethel Church in 1818, of which he thus writes:"On the 7th of November — Saturday — I met the church in Bethel meeting house. Eld. William Street, who had come from a settlement down the St. Francois, had preached before my arrival. The church sat in order and transacted business. I then preached from Isaiah 53:1, and Eld. James P. Edwards followed me from John 14:6. The people tarried through all these exercises with apparent satisfaction. Custom and common sense are the best guides in such matters. Dinner was never thought of on meeting days. The Cape Girardeau Society, auxiliary to the United Society, had already been formed in this vicinity, and there were more real friends and liberal contributors to missions in this church, than any other in the territory. Yet in a few years, from the formation of Jackson and a few other churches from this, the death of some valuable members, and removal of others of a different spirit, Bethel Church had "Ichabod" written on her doors. It became a selfish, lifeless, anti-mission body." (Peck's Reminiscences of Missouri) The same writer, on the Sabbath following, preached a missionary sermon from Exodus 33:15, and followed it with a collection amounting to $31.37.
The Bethel Church sent messengers to the Red River Association, Kentucky, in 1810, and so continued to do until the formation of the Bethel Association in 1816,+ an account of which will be given in a subsequent chapter.
A Baptist preacher by the name of William Murphy, a native of Ireland, from East Tennessee, with his son William, and Mr. Silas George, located claims just south of the present site of
* From the Minutes of the Missouri Baptist General Association, 1875, pp. 7-8.
+ Life of Elder Wilson Thompson, p. 175; also Minutes of Bethel Baptist Church, June, 1810, and subsequent years.
Farmington, St. Francois County, in 1798. Rev. Murphy and Mr. George both died on the road home, as they returned for their families. David Murphy cut the first tree in what was known as the "Murphy Settlement."
Mrs. Sarah Murphy, the widow of Rev. Wm. Murphy, in 1804, came to the claim located by her husband in 1798, in company with her sons, Isaac and Jesse, and a grandson and several others. Three years after she came to this country, she organized a Sunday-school which continued in successful operation for many years. The school was organized not far from where Farmington now stands. ================
[From Robert S. Duncan, A History of the Baptist in Missouri, 1882, pp. 39-43. Thanks to Dale Lawson, Foristell, MO for this book. — jrd]
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