On the 18th of November, 1788, a settlement was made just below the mouth of the Little Miami River, by a Colony from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They cleared the land, built log cabins, and a fort for protection from the Indians. In January, 1789, they were driven to higher grounds by a flood, and made the settlement there and since known as Columbia. This Colony was gradually increased by new arrivals from the Eastern and Southern States, some of whom came seeking wealth, and some to enjoy a land of freedom, as slavery had been prohibited in the Northwestern Territory by the ordinance of 1787.
Some of these pioneers were staunch Baptists, and for more than a year maintained worship in private houses, with occasional preaching from visiting brethren. During a visit from Rev. Stephen Gano, of Providence, R. I., and under his direction,
THE COLUMBIA BAPTIST CHURCHwas organized at the house of Benjamin Davis, on the 20th day of January, 1790, with nine members, viz: Benjamin Davis, Mary Davis, Isaac Ferris, Jonah Reynolds, Amy Reynolds, John Ferris, Elizabeth Ferris, John S. Gano and Thomas C. Wade, making Issac Ferris, Deacon, and John S. Gano, Clerk. This number was immediately increased by six additions, three by letter and three by baptism, administered by Dr. Gano. This was the first Protestant Church in the North-western Territory, of which Ohio formed a part, till twelve years after its organization; it has an unbroken history, with records almost intact for one hundred years.
The Church celebrated its centennial on the 20th of January, 1890. The name given it when organized was retained till 1827, when it was changed to "The Duck Creek Baptist Church," and must be kept distinct from another church of the same name now flourishing at Columbia, but organized in 1865.
On the 9th of February, 1792, the Church voted to build a Meeting House, and appointed David Davis, Capt. White, Elijah Stites, Hezekiah Stites and Henry Tucker, Trustees, to execute the work. In a few months the house was finished and ready for use. It stood on elevated ground overlooking the Miami Valley, offered for that purpose by Benjamin Stites, and conveyed by him March 15th, 1804, in consideration of $100.00 to the Baptists of Columbia Township. A beautiful monument now stands there to commemorate these early events, erected by the Baptist Churches of Columbia Township, as then defined, and dedicated July 4th, 1889. This was the fnst Protestant Meeting House in the Northwestern Territory, and was used for worship ten years before Ohio was organized as a State.
It was built of hewed logs, two stories high, designed for a gallery, which was never finished, without weatherboarding, or fire-place, with rude pulpit and puncheon seats. As no religious fervor could warm such a house, it was unfit for winter use, and repairs were made from time to time till 1811, when it was clapboarded.
Until General Wayne's victory over the Indians in 1794, and the treaty the following year, all able bodied men attending church were compelled to carry their muskets. During religious services stacks of arms stood in the house, while armed sentinels stood guard outside. This Church had several skirmishes with the Indians, with the loss of a few lives on both sides.
With the dawn of peace, some members of the Columbia Church settled at Duck Creek and established worship there, which in a few years outgrew the interest at Columbia. On the 5th of December, 1801, the Columbia Church decided to build a meeting house at Duck Creek, and in a few months there stood, on the site of the brick house now standing, a comfortable two story log house, which was almost a facsimile of the Columbia house, but finished inside and outside, having both gallery and fire-place. No division of the church ever occurred, and for many years the Church maintained worship at both places, but in time some rivalry and unpleasantness sprang up which ended in the clapboarding and improvement of the house at Columbia, by the advice of the Association, to whom the difficulty was referred. After 1808 the Church was popularly known as the Duck Creek Baptist Church, though the legal name was not changed till 1827. Both houses of worship disappeared in 1835, the one at Duck Creek to be replaced by the more pretentious brick house now standing there, but which of late years has been used only for the annual June meeting, which has been maintained since 1851 in grateful memory of a revival during the ministry of Rev. James Lyon.
In 1882 the Church purchased an undenominational meeting house at Mt. Lookout, known as Union Hall, and transferred its worship to that place. The house has since been enlarged and improved, making it a beautiful and commodious home of worship. In addition to the houses above mentioned, the Church purchased a lot and built a substantial meeting house at Pleasant Ridge, which it afterward donated to the Baptist Church organized at that place.
This Church was connected with the Elkhorn Association [KY] from 1792 to 1799, when it united with five other churches in forming the Miami Association. The first regular meeting of the Miami Association seems to have been held with the Columbia Church, September 6th, 1799, though for two years previously several preliminary meetings had been held, and very strict articles of faith, practice and decorum drawn up "to be laid before the several churches, for their inspection, as the basis of an Association." The call embraced "the churches in this Western Territory, and those adjacent, of the Baptist Order." In 1799 this Church reported 35 members, and all the churches of the Association 185.
In 1817 this Church with seven others formed the East Fork Association, with which it remained till 1877, when it returned to the Miami Association.
In the course of 20 years several new churches grew out of the Duck Creek Church, such as Cincinnati Island Station, Carpenter's Run, Clear Creek, Turtle Creek, now Lebanon, Little Prairie, now Middletown, and Staunton, now Troy, as in later years the Pleasant Ridge and Columbia Churches.
The Church has been served by the following named pastors:
Daniel Clark, Licentiate, 1790-1791, ordained and assistant pastor 1791-1796,
then pastor in charge till 1797. John Smith, 1791-1796, a very talented and popular preacher and platform orator. Peter Smith, 1801-1804; during a revival under his ministry, aided by John Smith, about 150 were converted and added to the church, among whom were James Lyon, Ezra Ferris and Hezekiah Stites, afterward ordained to the ministry. William Jones, 1804-1816; a Welshman by birth. The Church prospered greatly under his ministry. David Jones. John Clark, 1816-1818. James Lyon, 1824-1852; there was almost a constant revival during his ministry. Louis Osborne. James Sargent. B. F. Harmon, 1852-1865; a successful pastorate, which closed with the peaceful withdrawal of himself and 27 members to organize the Columbia Baptist Church. J. A. Kirkpatrick, I year, during which the Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church was formed. G. W. Taylor, 3 years. J. W. Hawkins, 3 years. G. W. Thompson, 2 years. J. R. Powell, 1876-1878. G. W. Churchill, 1878-1880. T. C. Probert, 1880-1883. Thomas Ware, E. P. Jones, 1885-1887. S. K. Leavitt, 1888 to present time. The Church has also been ably supplied at intervals by John Mason, Isaac Ferris, J. L. Richmond, James Sargent, Lewis Richmond, Joshua Carman, and others. The Church has licensed to preach, David Snodgrass, David Jones, James Lyon, Hezekiah Stites, Thomas J. Price, Ezra Ferris, Isaac Ferris, John Clark, Daniel Robinson, John Morton and Samuel Gibson. The following named persons have also been ordained in this Church:
Daniel Clark, Sept. 23, 1792. He was the first Protestant minister ordained in the Northwestern Territory. Dr. Ezra Ferris, Hezekiah Stites, John Clark, James Lyon. Isaac Ferris. T. C. Probert.
For many years the discipline of this church was very strict, but kind. The exclusion of a member was sometimes preceded by a day of fasting and prayer. The monthly business meeting occupied an entire day, being opened with a sermon and continued with prayer and personal experiences, called religious conversations. A resolution is recorded that the communion season shall be preceded by a day of humiliation and prayer. Some quaint terms are used in the records. Inquiry into a case of discipline was called "inquisition," the exclusion of a member was an "excommunication," and the relation of Christian experience "a travel from nature to grace." Before the days of organs or choirs difficitlties arose about the singing, especially in reference to those who were not church members, which were generally settled by the appointment of one, and sometimes two, to act alternately, "in raising the tunes and lining the hymns."
The Church took early and decided ground against slavery, often urging the Association to have no affiliation or correspondence with other Associations or churches countenancing slavery. It seems to have been an abolition church from the start, and to have considered slavery as a sin not to be countenanced.
Many members of this church acquired distinction as citizens and left the impress of their sturdy characters on the institutions of the young State of Ohio. We might mention John Smith, the first pastor and first U. S. Senator from Ohio, Francis Dunlevy, an eminent educator, lawyer and jurist; the Stites, Ganos, Crossleys, Ferris, Mortons and others, but it seems almost invidious to mention any among so many noble names.
[From the Miami Baptist Association Minutes, 1890, pp. 21-23. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. - Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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