History of the Bethel Association, Missouri
By William Polk, 1856
This mighty State, with its cities and towns, and densely populated districts, was, forty years ago, a far-western wilderness, more difficult of access from the old States than San Francisco is now from New York.
The difficulty of towing a keel-boat, laden with provisions , farming utensils, and the like, against a rapid current, made emigration stop as soon as a favorable location could be obtained. The lower portion of the State was, consequently, the first settled by Americans, to any great extent, as it had been by the Spanish and the French.
Among the first to undergo the hardships of the journey, and enter the wilds of Missouri, were found, as is usually the case, members and ministers of the Baptist denomination. Scattered about from the New Madrid to Old Franklin, they had few Churches and no organization. In 1816, Missouri was still a wild territory, its character and inhabitants almost unknown to the world.
In the county of Cape Girardeau, in 1816, at a small log meeting-house of the Bethel Church, the first gathering for the purpose of forming a society was held. It was on the second Lord's day in June.
Elder James Edwards preached. The Convention was then opened by prayer by Elder Thomas Donohue. Isaac Sheppard was chosen Moderator, and Thomas Bull, Clerk.
The following messengers from Churches were enrolled --
Bethel Church -- Thomas Bull, John Sheppard, Elder Benjamin Thomson, and Robert English
Tywappety Church -- Henry Cockerman, John Baldwin, and William Ross
Providence -- Wm. Savage
Saline Church -- Elder Thos. Donohue, and John Duval
St. Francis Church -- Elder Wm Street, and Jonathan Hubble
Turkey Creek Church -- Wm. Johnson, Daniel Johnson, E. Revell, and S. Baker
Such was the Convention to organize the first Association in the Territory of Missouri. And in the present strength and moral power of the denomination in the State, may it not be useful to look back to this commencement of its course and mark the progress of the Churches to the present time?
It was agreed at this Convention to meet again the last Saturday in September, 1816, at the Bethel meeting-house, near the town of Jackson. In the mean time, Elders H. Cockerham, Jno. Farrah, Thomas Donohue, and James P. Edwards, were appointed to constitute Churches at different points in the Territory.
On the first Saturday in July, the same year, the BARREN CHURCH, in Barren (now Perry) county, was organized at the house of Bro. Evines. With this Church, Elder Donohue lived and labored till his death. He was truly a good man, one of the brightest examples of piety. He preached the doctrines of the cross with undeviating faith and never failing zeal, while the confidence of the people never was shaken in him while living, and his virtues were thought on with tenderness after he went to reap his reward.
The BELVIEW CHURCH was organized at Caledonia Washington county, July, the same year, (1816). Felix Reading, from Kentucky, was its first pastor. He preached there a number of year, but finally moved to the upper part of the State, and was still preaching a few years since.
PROVIDENCE CHURCH was constituted at Fredrickstown some time previous to the others, by an old brother, by the name of Thomson, from Kentucky.
The Association was formed in the fall, and these new Churches entered its constitution. It was composed of Bethel, Tywappety, Providence, Barren, Belview, St. Francis, and Dry Creek. Elder Thomas Donohue, from Barren Church, preached the introductory sermon before the Association. It was the first introductory sermon preached west of the Mississippi. It was on the fourth Lord's day in September.
Of the preachers who composed this first Association in Missouri, a few words will be added. Henry Cockerham was preaching at the Tywappety Church. This singular name was taken from a bottom on the Mississippi, so called, I suppose, by the Indians. He soon after left the Church, and this part of the Territory.
Elder John Farrah was then a member of Providence Church, at Fredrickstown, and after preaching there till about the year 1825, removed into Washington county, and died in 1828 or 9. I remember being at his funeral. He was a lovely men; mild in his address, courteous in his manners, sound and unwavering in doctrine, and deserves to be recognized as one of the worthy and successful pioneer preachers of Missouri.
Elder William Street was a member of St. Francis Church, where he continued till his death, some where about 1827.
Elder James Edwards, after laboring for over fifty years in the vineyard of the Lord -- a faithful, God-fearing, toiling servant -- died in 1855, in Ballard county, Kentucky, at the advanced age of seventy-five, and the last year of his life found him still preaching the gospel, regularly.
The constitution of the Bethel Association, drafted by a committee, was the same as that adopted by the Virginia Union of Baptists. The Association was thus organized on the principles of the United Baptists, which faith it still holds. The Virginia Association, whose constitution was thus adopted, was called "Red River;" it then was known as the Red River constitution.
As soon as the organization was effected, a correspondence was opened with the Little River Association, held in Southern Kentucky, and also with Mount Pleasant Association, in Boone's Lick county, Missouri. This last Association was constituted, in 1818, of five Churches, in which were eight ordained ministers.
This year, 1818, two delegates from these corresponding Associations were present. The delegate from Little River was Elder Josiah Horn, and the one from Mount Pleasant, Elder William Thorp. They had each a long and dangerous journey to travel -- that was not an age of railroads nor steamboats. But either was it a silken-slippered age, especially among preachers, and three or four hundred miles were not too far to meet with brethren and build up the cause of the Redeemer. The Association this year, 1818, was visited by Elder J. M. Peck, T. P. Green, and others.
A resolution was introduced at this session to open a correspondence with the Foreign Board of Missions, and Elder T. P. Green appointed Corresponding Secretary. Communications were also submitted by J. M. Peck on Foreign and Western Missions. It resulted in a resolution favorable to the Missionary enterprise. But the next year it was withdrawn, and in 1820 renewed again. It was then resolved that the Churches send up their views at the next Association, in 1821, when the correspondence was again dropped, and never afterwards renewed.
The Association, by this time, had increased to fourteen Churches, with four hundred and seventeen members. Some of them were located in the Territory of Arkansas, and were soon afterwards dismissed to form an Association in that country.
In 1824, the Cape Girardeau Association was formed of eight Churches, dismissed for that purpose from Bethel. They were Barren, Dry Creek, Bethel, Tywappety, Clear Creek, Apple Creek Ebenezer, Big Prairie, Hebron, and Shiloh. Two other Churches were dismissed in 1831 to form the Franklin Association. So the old Bethel will be found to be the parent of most of the Associations in south Missouri, and some of those in Arkansas. From her bounds have gone forth a number of able ministers, to different parts of the west, scattering the good seed of the gospel in fresh, uncultivated fields; and thus has she and they been the harbingers of gospel light and civilization in this growing empire. She has been blessed with faithful men, who have labored in her midst, and willingly giving themselves wholly to the work. Many of them have fallen in the battle, and received the well-won plaudit; while others are entered in their labors, and are toiling in the great harvest field.
[To be continued]
[From The Christian Repository, July, 1856, pp. 34-37. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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