The first Baptist church in Wisconsin was an Indian church. Its membership was made up of Brothertown Indians on the east shore of Lake Winnebago. The Brothertown Indians in early colonial times occupied small reservations in New England. Between 1773 and 1795 they migrated to New York state where they settled in Oneida county with the remnants of a few other tribes. The story of white aggression was repeated and it became necessary for the Indians to move. They sought lands in Indiana, but that project failed. Joined by the Stockbridge tribe they bargained for a large tract belonging to the Winnebagoes and Menominees. The federal government frustrated this move but allotted the Brothertowns a township on Lake Winnebago. An adjoining township was set apart for the Stockbridge tribe. A Baptist church had been organized among these Indians before they left New York. In 1828 the church and its pastor moved to the new Brothertown in Wisconsin. The steps leading up to this move read like fiction as told by Coe Hayne in a Souvenir Pamphlet entitled, "They Who Made the Way." It is reasonably certain that the church in the east had been a Free Baptist Church.
The migrating pastor was Elder Benjamin Fowler. He was a native of Mohegan, Connecticut. In his later years he preached at Manchester, Wisconsin, where he died December 12, 1848. Elder Thomas Dick, an Indian, and his wife Deborah, arrived at Brothertown in 1834. Rev. T. S. Griffith, a missionary of the Home Mission Society, in a report in 1849 said, "Mr. Dick was a most excellent man and preacher, and a decided Calvinist. After his death no attention was paid to this church, and no care being exercised over it, it passed through a varied history. The covenant meetings were regularly maintained, however, till late in 1841". The Brothertown church joined the Fond du Lac quarterly meeting of Free Baptists in 1853. (See Free Baptist Cyclopedia.)
On August 5, 1934 a long Baptist caravan made its way to the east shore of Lake Winnebago, where a special service was held commemorating the founding of the First Baptist Church in Wisconsin. Rev. Ernest Hasselblad preached the sermon in the morning and the Fond du Lac church choir furnished the music. Rev. Fred W. Field of Green Bay gave the address in the afternoon and a group of young people from the assembly at Green Lake furnished the music. Rev. Coe Hayne gave the historical address. A bronze tablet and monument now mark the site of this historic church.
[From Edgar L. Killam, The Centennial History of the Wisconsin Baptist State Convention, 1944, pp. 18-19. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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