Abraham Lincoln and the Primitive Baptist Church
at Lincoln's New Salem, Menard County, Illinois

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

The Primitive Baptist Church at New Salem Village

The pioneer village of New Salem, Illinois, which has been reconstructed and is now a State Historic site, was made famous by Abraham Lincoln having lived there, and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The village was surveyed in October 1829, 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 greatest mystery in the reconstruction and history of the village has been the history and location of the Primitive Baptist Church. A few years ago, we discovered that Salem Church was organized in August 1829. Very recently we discovered proof of the exact location 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.

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.

For information on the Lincoln family connection with the Primitive Baptists after they came to Coles County, Illinois

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 Plaisters; Elder Robert Bagby; Elder J. H. Senter; Hugh Armstrong; David Brunk; Felix G. Green; Tarleton Loyd; E. Sheppard; John Watkins; William Watkins; Thomas Wynne; Henry Griffin; J. Hinds (or Hines); Elijah Potter; Thomas Elmore; and J. 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. Strangely, New Salem village itself, by this time, was rapidly declining.

Mentor Graham, Lincoln's schoolteacher, and Joshua Miller, the village blacksmith, were also reportedly members of the church. The loss of the records of this church is a great tragedy to historians.

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, his sister, Sarah, and his step-mother, became 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 several cases reveal close friendships with Abraham Lincoln. But without the records of New Salem Church, much of the history of this church, and of the village, must forever remain clouded in mystery.

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.

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.

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