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The Baptist Denomination in West Virginia
By Rev. L. E. Peters, 1913
     A tradition says that the first wagon that crossed the Allegheny mountains westward, carried the goods and chattels of Elder John Alderson, who settled on the Greenbrier river, where now the town of Alderson is located, arriving some time in October, 1777. Here he opened a farm, and often plowed with his gun swung on his shoulder to protect himself from the Indians. In 1781 he organized the "Greenbrier Baptist Church," which has an unbroken history to the present day.

     About the same time the Forks of Cheat Church and the Simpson Creek Church, at Bridgeport, Harrison County, were constituted; these two were planted a few years earlier than the Greenbrier Church. The dates are not definitely determined. These three church were the centers in the territory, now West Virginia, from which the denomination has grown In the state.

     Up to the breaking out of the war in 1861, all the churches in that part of Virginia now West Virginia co-operated with the General Association of Virginia and were known as Virginia Baptists. At the close of the war these churches were very much dis-organized and the membership scattered, and there was no bond of denominational unity. But soon Divine grace triumphed over bitter feeling and blood-shed, and on the 16th of November. 1865, the Baptists of the state met through their representatives In Parkersburg and organized the Baptist General Association of West Virginia. Perfect harmony and brotherly love prevailed throughout the entire session of the convention, and here the Baptist denomination of West Virginia was well born. Here the history of West Virginia Baptists begins. In the limits of this sketch, I can not go into details, but shall give the development of the Denomination in the state along a few leading lines.

     1. Numerically. - It is impossible to get a correct statistical statement of the Baptists of West Virginia at the close of the war or even when the General Association was organized in 1865. They have been estimated at about 10,000. The first statistical table published was in 1869. Then we had 274 churches with a total membership of 17,518. The total of all contributions for that year was $26,536. At the close of our last associations] year - September 30, 1912 - we report 649 churches, with a total membership of 53,406. The total contributions for church expenses were

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$173 818.68; for benevolences, $30,511.38; grand total for all purposes, $204,351.31. While our Sunday-school work has kept pace with the churches and sometimes been In advance of them, we have no accurate published statistics. The old-time "union school" has give way to the Denominational school; the summer school has largely disappeared and the "evergreen school" is the rule. The old lessons consisting of the reading of a few chapters from the Bible has been replaced by the "Uniform Lessons," and in the last few years a splendid system of Graded Lessons is used in the lower grades.

     2. Development in Mission Work. - The General Association was organized primarily for state mission work. This was managed by an executive board, who made the appointments, collected funds and paid the missionaries. In 1869 the board had in the field 16 missionaries who traveled 22,323 miles, preached 2,053 sermons, delivered 450 lectures and addresses, baptized 501 persons, 200 of whom were baptized by one missionary. Rev. C. J. Rippetoe, held 450 prayer meetings and visited 24,468 families. Now, for the year ending September 30, 1912, we employed 44 Missionaries who performed 1,360 weeks of labor, delivered 4,616 sermons and addresses, made 15,119 family visits, reported 553 conversions and 373 baptisms, and traveled 55,537 miles. The first missionaries were appointed by the state board in 1866, seven men to labor in eight counties, at a total salary of $1,170. Mission work outside of the state in these days consisted largely In resolutions and speeches. The first record we find of contributions was in 1866, as follows: For home missions (North America) $6.50; foreign missions, $103.00. The records of 1912 show contributions for home missions, $5,357.30; for foreign missions, $6,688.69; for Sunday-school and colporter work, $2,707.98; for state missions, $15,161.26. In the prosecution of the state mission work, in addition to the 44 missionaries given above, the state board employs a general secretary, and two general missionaries, one in the northern and the other in the southern part of the state. $308.05 was contributed last year for church edifice work.

     3. Development in Denominational Education.
(1) Schools. The Baptists of "Western Virginia" some two or three years before the war bought the property of Blue Sulphur Springs and opened a school that started off under the name of Allegheny College, with fine prospects. At the beginning of the war of 61 it was closed, and in time of the war the buildings were destroyed by the Federal Army. Effort has been made to recover damages from the Government, but so far has failed. The managers paid off the entire debt against the property during the war in Confederate money, which after the war the courts decided was not a "legal tender" and the denomination lost the entire property. This school gave to the Baptists of West Virginia its two greatest preachers. Dr. W. P Walker and Dr. J. W. Carter. Before the war Dr. Wheeler started Rector College at Pruntytown in Taylor county, but the buildings were destroyed by fire and this ended its career. After the war Rev. J. B. Solomon came from Virginia and started a school and claimed for It a "regular university" course, but he was elected to a professorship in the State University, and that school was not. In 1869 Baylus Cade, a brilliant

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and enthusiastic student from Richmond College came to West Virginia and established Coals Mouth High School. Prof. P. B. Reynolds was its first principal. It was finally changed to Shelton College in honor of its largest donor, Mr. Matthew Shelton. While this school was short lived for want of funds, patronage and proper appreciation, yet it did a great deal of good in discovering talented young men and giving them a start and taste for learning. Some of them now fill prominent positions as educators and preachers.

     About 1877 Rev. E. J. Willis moved Broaddus Female College from Winchester, Va., to Clarksburg, where it had a varied experience, but did much good work and sent out a goodly number of well-trained young women in the state. It was reorganized and stripped of its title as a college and has ever since been known as Broaddus Institute. It changed administration about every two or three years. The buildings were enlarged and the attendance grew, it being now a mixed school. As the town grew it was hemmed in and demanded a better site. An offer was made to move it to Philippl, which was accepted. It now has on "Battle Hill" a splendid up-to-date plant and is doing good work under Prof. Elkanah Hulley, an experienced educator. Alderson Academy at Alderson, in Greenbrier countywas organized a few years ago, and has had several very successful sessions. it is now erecting an up-to-date building.

     (2) Ministerial Education. - In 1865 I doubt whether there was a college and seminary graduate in the Baptist clergy of the state, but now we have scores of them. There was not much done In an organized effort along this line until 1891, when Rev. John S. Stump, D. D., of Parkersburg, organized a State Education Society. It is incorporated under the laws of the state in the form of a joint stock company. Mr. Jarrett Llnch, of Monongalia county, left a handsome nucleus of an endowment in his will to the society. The proceeds of this endowment, annually supplemented by the contributions from our churches, put the society in good condition to help young men called to the ministry. This year we are assisting 23 students at a cost of $2,150.00. For the improvement of our present ministry, we have a state Minister's Fraternal Union with 42 members.

     4. Other Movements. - Women's missionary circles, young people's societies, twenty district associations, nineteen Sunday-school Conventions and an annual summer assembly keep our forces in line and at the work.

     5. Changes in the personnel of our Ministry. - The old pioneers who laid broad and deep the foundations of our denominational life in the state have gone to their reward. Strong, self-made, godly men they were. My heart longs to give a sketch of them, but my space forbids. Now we have a fine class of men, cultured and able preachers, such as Brinenstool of Wheeling, Bennett of Sistersville, Smith, Hank, Stump, Moore and Bartlett of Parkersburg, Wood of Huntington, Johnson, Blnford and Bayles of Charleston, Powell of Grafton, Eddy of Fairmont, and Brlggs of Morgantown, Taylor of Clarksburg, Woofter of Salem and scores of others I might mention. The three greatest preachers in the state among the old men were Dr. W. P. Walker, Dr. J. W. Carter, gone to heaven, and Jonathan Smith, who is still living.


[James Morton Callahan, editor, Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia: with Special Articles, 1913, pp. 522-524. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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