Abraham Lincoln and the Regular Baptist Church
near Lincoln's New Salem, Menard County, Illinois

"And Now He Belongs to the Ages . . ."

The Regular Baptist Church Near New Salem Village

The pioneer village of New Salem, Illinois, which was reconstructed in the 1930's and 1940's by the CCC program, is now a State Historic Site, made famous by Abraham Lincoln having lived there. It attracts more visitors each year than any of the other State Historic Sites. The village was surveyed in October 1829, thus becoming the first town platted in what is now Menard County. It became a commercial center for several settlements nearby in pioneer days. The village virtually ceased to exist after about ten years. The New Salem Regular Baptist Church outlived the village itself by about twenty years, and during its existence it was for awhile the largest and most influential church in the community of New Salem.

Some of the greatest mysteries in the reconstruction and history of the village had been related to the history and location of the New Salem Regular (Primitive) Baptist Church. A few years ago, after years of research (and detective work to find old church records), The Primitive Baptist Library's director discovered the exact date the New Salem Church was organized, in August 1829, from the manuscript records of Union Church, at Yatesville, which had not previously been accessible to the public. In 2018, again after several years of searching, he finally discovered the deed and trustee appointment which provide proof of the exact location of the New Salem Regular Baptist Church. It appears likely that the log church building was built by Mentor Graham, on land belonging to Felix G. Greene, for use both as a school and church. Church meetings were undoubtedly held there previous to the formal constitution of the church in 1829. Due to its dual use, perhaps, the 1/2 acre tract was not deeded by Felix G. Greene and wife to the Trustees of the New Salem Regular Baptist Church until 1840, but the log building had been there even before 1829. It continued to be used by the church until at least the mid to late 1850's, or as long as the church continued to hold services. It was evidently used as a school for a period of time after the church closed, but a later school was built nearby. An 1838 map shows all the main roads leading to and from New Salem, a very prominent point at that time. The New Salem Church was alongside the road from Springfield to New Salem, which intersected with the road from Clary's Grove to New Salem, a short distance north of the Church.

The Sangamon Association minutes list the church as "Salem" until 1832, after which is it listed as "New Salem," until 1860, when it was reported as having ceased to exist as a church. The location of the church is confirmed in numerous sources, which we have gathered, with title and page references.

Misinformation abounds regarding the beliefs and practices of the church. We have assembled a list of reference materials which give erroneous information about the true, biblical positions of the church. We invite honest historians and current authors to communicate with us, to avoid copying the propaganda, slander, and outright lies which have been published in the past.

For information on the Lincoln family connection with the Primitive Baptists in Hardin and Larue Counties, in Kentucky (research on this is still in progress)

For information on the Lincoln family connection with the Little Pigeon Creek Primitive Baptist Church, in Spencer County, Indiana (research still in progress).

For information on the Lincoln family connection with the Primitive Baptists after they came to Coles County, Illinois (research on this is still in progress)

For more information on the history of New Salem Church, go to this page for our research on Menard County

The date of constitution of New Salem Baptist Church was unknown until recently, when records of a church in Morgan county were found, which reveal that Elder William Crow and others were sent to organize the church on August 19, 1829. For more detailed information on this subject, click here.

Names of Members of New Salem Church

As many as a hundred people or more may have held membership in the New Salem Primitive Baptist Church during the period of its existence from 1829 to 1860. The following names can be substantiated from the records of the Sangamon Association: Elder Thomas Plasters; Elder Robert Bagby; Elder James H. Senter; Hugh Armstrong; David Brunk; Felix G. Green; Tarleton Loyd; E. Sheppard; John Watkins; William Watkins; Thomas Wynne; Henry Griffin; James Hinds; Elijah Potter; Edward Potter; Thomas Elmore; and James B. Goldsby. The total membership in 1830 was 51. The membership then declined until 1841, when 25 new members were received by baptism, raising the total number to 57. Surprisingly, New Salem village itself, by this time, was rapidly declining. Mentor Graham, Lincoln's schoolteacher, and Joshua Miller, the village blacksmith, were also reportedly among the members of the church.

Other Nearby Churches of the Same Faith

Nearby Primitive Baptist churches included the following: Sangamo (Richland) Church (organized in September 1820); Lick Creek Church (organized in July 1821); Indian Creek Church (organized by 1822 or earlier); Spring Creek Church (organized in January 1826); Liberty Church (organized in June 1826); Salem Sugar Creek Church (organized in 1830); Clary's Grove Church (possibly organized in October or November 1830); Springfield "Bethel" Church (organized in 1826); Springfield Church (organized in July 1830); Horeb Church (organized in 1829); and Horse Creek Church (organized in 1831). Other Primitive Baptist churches also existed nearby, and in the surrounding counties.

"Signs of the Times" Came to New Salem Village While Abraham Lincoln was the Postmaster

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, in that part of Hardin, which is now Larue county, Kentucky. He was taken by his parents, in his eighth year, to Spencer county, Indiana. There his father, Thomas, mother, Nancy, his sister, Sarah, his step-mother, Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, and other members of the Johnston family, were members of the Little Pigeon Creek Primitive Baptist Church, which still meets in the beautiful "Lincoln State Park," near the site of the Lincoln's crude log home. In 1830, the family moved to Macon county, Illinois, and spent the winter of the "deep snow" there.

In March 1831, Abraham Lincoln, twenty-two years old, left home; and after a flatboat journey to New Orleans, in July he returned to New Salem, about eighteen miles northwest of Springfield, and worked as a store clerk. In March 1832, he became a candidate for the legislature, but in April he became captain of a company of Black Hawk War volunteers from New Salem. He finished his stint in July, and returned to New Salem to campaign, but lost. In May 1833, he was appointed postmaster at New Salem, and served until May 30, 1836; he also ran the Berry and Lincoln Store. In 1834, he began surveying work, and ran for the Illinois House again, and was elected. On August 25, 1835, Ann Rutledge, legendary sweetheart of Lincoln, died.

Lincoln's name appears in the list of Receipts in the June 1835 issue of the "Signs of the Times," an Old School Baptist paper. The receipts chart shows that A. Lincoln remitted $3.00 for subscriptions. Whether he subscribed to the paper himself, or whether he, as postmaster, was simply remitting the subscription payments for three local residents, is unknown. The subscription price at that time was $1.00 per year.

Lincoln moved from New Salem to Springfield in April 1837, to become a partner in a law firm, and continue his political career.

The lives of the members of New Salem Church of which anything is known, in many cases reveal close friendships with Abraham Lincoln.

New Salem Church and the Sangamon Association

The Sangamon Association was the first Baptist Association in the area now encompassing Springfield and surrounding counties. Almost all the new Baptist churches organized from the beginning of pioneer days united with this body, until after an association was formed by the Missionary Baptists. The growth of the Sangamon Association was rapid: it increased from seven churches in 1823, to 39 churches in 1830. That year it was agreed to divide the boundaries of the association, and create five new Associations (including the Sangamon). The new organizations formed in late 1830 or during 1831, were the Spoon River, Morgan, Apple Creek, and Kaskaskia Associations.

New Salem Church hosted the annual meeting of the Sangamon Association in 1832, 1842, and 1852. The first of these was during Lincoln's residence in New Salem, and it convened only a few weeks after he returned from the Black Hawk War. The meeting was held on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, September 8, 9, and 10th, 1832. These annual meetings were attended by the whole community, and were held in a grove. New Salem Church, that year, presented a request that the Association change its name from United Baptist to Regular Baptist. This request was taken up, but the final decision was not made on the matter, until several other churches also made the request in 1836.

Minutes of the Sangamon Association reveal part of the conflict over the introduction of the modern mission system, which was taking place at that time. The leading advocates of the pro-mission position, John Mason Peck, and the anti-mission position, Daniel Parker, both attended this association during the controversial period. Parker preached on Sunday, with Richard Newport and Aaron Vandeveer, in May 1831.

One crucial moment of decision on the issue occurred during the session of 1832, held at New Salem Church. An important portion of the 1832 minutes are given verbatim below.

Journal Kept by Lewis B. Wynne of the Emigration from Green County, Kentucky, to New Salem, Has been Found and Published

A Journal kept by 17-year old Lewis B. Wynne gives more light on life at New Salem, and the people who composed the Baptist Church. Lewis B. Wynne, son of Thomas Wynne (first justice of the peace), was later appointed to a position in the Treasury Department in Washington D. C., by President Abraham Lincoln.

Excerpts from the Minutes of the Sangamon United Baptist Association, begun and held at Salem Meeting House, Sangamon County, Illinois, September 8th, 9th, and 10th, 1832.

Saturday, September 8th, Elder Charles Vandeveer preached the introductory sermon from Luke 19th ch., 10th vs., For the Son of Man, &c.
2nd. Elder John Morris chosen Moderator and William Kendoll, Clerk.
7th. Received a friendly letter from Spoon River Afsociation, praying a correspondence by brethren Nathaniel Harris and Richard Black, and they were invited to seats with us.
8th. Committee of arrangements, Elders Charles Vandeveer, Thomas Plasters, Willis L. Mitchum, with the moderator and clerk.
9th. Brethren Newport, Conlee, Morris, appointed to fill the stand tomorrow. On Lord's Day, September the 9th, Elder John Morris preached from 1st John verse 20th. Elder Alexander Conlee, from Isaiah 37th, v. 13th. Elder R. M. Newport, from John 3rd and 36th, to a large and well composed congregation.

Met Monday, Sept. 10th, pursuant to adjournment, and after praise, proceeded to business.
1st. The committee of arrangements made their report and was discharged.
7th. Received a letter by brethren Nathaniel Harris and Richard Black praying of a correspondence with us. The subject was taken up, but as it appeared the corrupting errors of the modern mission system, and some of its kindred institutions are making some confusion in that body, we decline opening of a correspondence with them for the present; yet believing that there are sound and precious brethren who stand united with us in opposing the above errors, we agree to send them a friendly letter, and brethren, to inform them that, So soon as they can cleanse themselves of the above errors, we are willing to open a friendly correspondence with them, and we are willing in the meantime to afford all the assistance we can. Appointed to bear the letter to Spoon River Afsociation, brethren William Kendoll, Charles Vandeveer, John Watkins, William Armstrong, Thomas Plasters.

For a complete transcript of the minutes of Sangamon Association which are known to exist, from 1823 to 1837, click here

Records of Little Pigeon Creek Church, near Lincoln City, Indiana

The Primitive Baptist Library has a copy of the transcript of the records of the Little Pigeon Creek Church from 1816 to 1840. The original deerskin covered manuscript record book is in the Abraham Lincoln Historical Library. Thomas Lincoln (and probably also Nancy Hanks Lincoln) joined Little Mount Church, in Kentucky, and was baptized by Elder William Downs; but I do not have the date they joined. I believe Thomas's father, Abraham, was killed by Indians and was buried at the original site of Long Run Church, in Jefferson Co., Kentucky. It is possible that Abraham was a member there, but I do not know. Thomas and Nancy moved to Spencer Co., Indiana, in June 1816. Nancy died in 1818 of milk sickness. Thomas remarried Sarah Bush Johnson in 1819. They joined Little Pigeon Creek Church on June 7, 1823, Thomas by letter, and Sarah by experience and baptism, the same day. Others of President Abraham Lincoln's family who joined at Little Pigeon Church were Elizabeth Johnson Hanks, his step-sister, who joined by experience and baptism in March 1824, and his sister, Sarah "Sally" Lincoln (who later married Aaron Grigsby and died in childbirth), who joined by experience and baptism in April 1826. Hannah Bush also joined Little Pigeon Church, and it is possible she is either the Hannah who was a sister of Sarah Bush Lincoln, or her mother, who was also Hannah, and died in 1835. At any rate, in March 1825 a Hannah Bush was "received under the watch care of Little Pigeon Church." In July 1825 Sister Hannah Bush was received by letter. This same Hannah Bush was later dismissed by letter, possibly to return to Kentucky, as there is a Hannah Bush who was a member of Severns Valley Church, in Hardin Co., Kentucky.

Elder Stanley B. Walker, whose name is mentioned as having been Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln's pastor, in Illinois, was a member of Rolling Fork Church, Larue Co., Kentucky, by 1812, and he appears as a messenger to the Russell Creek Association several times between 1812 and 1819, along with Elder David Elkins, from the same church. William Downs was also a member of the Rolling Fork Church for a period of time. The records of Little Pigeon Church, in Spencer Co., Indiana, December 13, 1823, item 6th. A request from Mount Gilead Church concerning the ordination of Bro. Stanley Walker taken up and attended to. The church say they believe that he has a gift and grace of God so as to be a blessing in the ministry ...." Elder Stanley Walker was requested to be the pastor of Little Pigeon Church in 1830, but declined, but said he would attend them as much as possible. Elder Stanley Walker appears in Clark County, Illinois, as a charter member of Good Hope Church, in 1832.

For the record. Elder Charles Harper, a member of Little Pigeon Church at the time, performed the wedding for Sarah "Sally" Lincoln and Aaron Grigsby. Aaron's parents, and Sarah and her parents were all members there. Sarah died in childbirth at age 21 in 1828. Aaron remarried in 1830, but he died in 1831. Dennis Hanks' wife, Elizabeth Johnston, was a step-sister of President Lincoln.

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