At the beginning of this period, i.e., from 1796 to 1800, the territory bordering on the western banks of the Mississippi River was, politically, under the control of the Spanish Crown, and, ecclesiastically, subject to the Papal See. In 1800 it was retransferred to France, the previous possessor; but, while the political control was changed, the ecclesiastical domination remained the same until 1803, when religious liberty came to the Territory through the cession thereof to Government of the United States by France.
During these years of Papal proscription, many men came to the Territory from Kentucky and Southern Illinois, bringing their families with them for the purpose of making a home in this naturally inviting section of the West. Among these new settlers, were many Baptist families that located themselves in those parts of the Territory whose centers were St. Louis, St. Genevieve, and New Madrid. They came with the definite purpose of remaining, and they remained, notwithstanding the prohibitions and persecutions that they encountered in endeavoring to worship God in accordance with the dictates of their own consciences. Some one has said that the Baptists are like the Canada Thistle: given a favoring spirit-laden breeze, and they may be wafted to the remotest parts of the earth, and wherever they light, they take root.
The settlements made during this time were of the crudest character, such as would be expected under the primitive and social conditions of this frontier region. Their log-cabin homes were often placed in the depths of trackless forests, and were so scattering as hardly to admit of the term, neighborhood; of churches and schools they had none, except those under Roman Catholic control in central parts along the banks of the river, and hence, inaccessible to them.
To these people, dwelling in the "region beyond," the earliest of our pioneer preachers came as self-appointed missionaries, bringing the Word of God to the hungering people. The casual visitations soon attracted the attention of the vigilant priesthood, who at once took measures to check the sowing of the "seeds of heresy," and those who had been meeting for religious purposes were haled before the governmental authorities of the Province. Had the zeal of these political governors for the welfare of the Church been as great as was that of the priesthood, the difficulties to be encountered might have been even greater than they were. But the dread of the "calaboza" was often lightened by the leniency of the Commandant. For example, the officer placed over the St. Louis settlement, application having been made by a Baptist for permission to have preaching at his house, though secretly favorable to the proposition, publicly rejected the petition, but explained his attitude thus: "I mean that you must not put a bell on your house and call it a church, nor suffer anyone but the parish priest to christen your children, but, if any of your friends choose to meet at your house, sing, pray, and talk about religion, you will not be molested, provided you continue, as I believe you to be, good Christians."
But upon the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, these difficulties from church and governmental interference were removed, and churches were organized: Tywappity in 1805, Bethel in 1806, and Fee Fee in 1807. The Canada Thistle had taken permanent root. But these hindrances having been removed did not lighten the physical difficulties arising from want of roads through the forests, bridges across streams, and long distances intervening between settlements, etc. The heroism with which obstructions to freedom of communication were met and overcome, will appear in some of the stirring stories of the consecrated efforts of our noble Pioneer Preachers. The Editors
[From J. C. Maple & R. P. Rider, editors, Missouri Baptist Biography, Volume I, 1912, pp. 7-9. This document is from the St. Louis [MO] Public Library. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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