A Loving Tribute to the Memory
of Elder William Bradley

Elder William Bradley was one of the earliest pioneer ministers in Hancock County, Illinois. His name appears in the earliest county records as performing some of the first weddings, and as a trustee of the first school land in Carthage township. He was instrumental in organizing the first church of any denomination in the county, Middle Creek Church. It is possible that the church was organized at his home, which was very near the site later selected for the "Old Brick" meeting house and cemetery. Elder Bradley was very active in organizing churches, not only in Illinois, but earlier in Kentucky, and later in Iowa. The churches which he helped organize, of which we are aware, are mentioned in the time-line below.

William Bradley's Date of Birth: March 11, 1774, probably in Louisa County, Virginia.

Marriage: Nancy Gray, November 10, 1795, in Campbell County, Virginia. She was born August 22, 1772, and died in March 1836 (death date is from a notation in the records of Middle Creek Primitive Baptist Church, Hancock County, Illinois, which we have in our collection).

William Bradley was one of the earliest known teachers in the Cerulean Precinct of Trigg/Christian counties, Kentucky. He taught school in 1806, in the old log church, the same year it was built. No record has yet been found to substantiate when or where (in Virginia or Kentucky) he first united with the Baptist church, but it is probable he joined Muddy Fork of Little River Church not long after it was organized.

William Bradley is shown as a licensed minister from Muddy Fork of Little River Church, in Trigg County, Kentucky, and was chosen by the church as one of her three messengers this year, 1812, to the Red River Association.

In 1818, William Bradley was still listed as a licensed minister and as a messenger from Muddy Fork of Little River Baptist Church, Christian (later Trigg) Co., Kentucky, in the minutes of the Little River Association this year. Muddy Fork church was organized in 1805/1806 as an arm of Eddy Grove Church in Caldwell County. The Little River Association was organized in 1813.

In 1819, William Bradley is listed in the table of Little River Association from Sinking Fork of Little River Church (county not stated), with an "l" after his name (may mean licensed preacher). In the text of the 1819 minutes "E William Bradley" (E meaning Elder) was appointed to write the circular letter from 1820. (We have transcribed this circular letter, but it is partly illegible.) Therefore, it is probable that William Bradley was ordained to the ministry at Sinking Fork of Little River Church, in either late 1818, or 1819.

In 1819 Elder William Bradley was appointed to attend as a help from the Little River Association, at the constitution of the Muddy River Association of Illinois, in October 1820. His name still appears in the 1821, 1823, 1824, and 1825 minutes (1822 and 1826 are missing) of Little River Association, as a messenger from Sinking Fork of Little River Church. He served as clerk of the association in 1823 and 1824, and preached the introductory sermon in 1824.

Elder William Bradley, his wife Nancy, and Elizabeth D. ("Betsy") and Nancy S. (two of their daughters) all joined Union Church in Morgan County in December 1827. Elder Micajah B. Rowland and his family had already joined there in January 1826. Both of these men assisted in organizing several churches while living in this area (including New Salem Church at Lincoln's New Salem, Clary's Grove, and others).

Elder William Bradley was a charter member of Middle Creek Church in Hancock County, Illinois, in August 1832, along with his wife, Nancy, their daughter Elizabeth D. (Betsy), and his son James W. Bradley and his son's wife Ruth. (However, the minutes of Union Church, Morgan County, show that Elder William and Nancy Bradley were dismissed by letter at their request in March 1833.) In July 1832 Elizabeth "Betsy" D. Bradley was given a letter of dismission from Union Church, at the same time a request for helps was received and granted to organize a church in Hancock county. Nancy S. (Bradley) Findley (another daughter) evidently joined Middle Creek Church shortly after it was organized.

Elder William Bradley performed the third wedding ceremony in Hancock County's early history.

Elder William Bradley was chosen pastor of Union Church near Middletown (Fandon), in McDonough County, Illinois, in 1832. Source: History of McDonough County, Illinois. It was common for the pioneer preachers to serve more than one church, as the churches met once a month, so one minister could serve as many as four churches simultaneously.

Elder William Bradley was active in opposing the modern mission system, and was successful in saving some of the churches which Elder John Logan attempted to lead away. Elder Bradley, in company with Elder John Miner, attended Henderson Church in November 1833, and composed the following certificate:

Fulton County, Ill., November 8, 1833. By request we the undersigned Elders give the following Certificate.

Being two of the Members that were appointed by the Spoon River Association, to visit Henderson church, in Knox County, and inquire the reason why said church did not represent herself in the Association last year, and this present year. It being represented to the Association that said church had followed after John Logan in the Mission system. We do certify that we did visit said church agreeable to appointment, and the church informed us, that she non-fellowshiped the Mission system, and all its various branches, and that she would not suffer those preachers that were engaged in the Mission system to preach in the church, and the reason she did not represent herself in the Association last year, was on account of sickness, and the reason she did not represent herself this present year was that she was informed that the Association was in disorder, and in confusion, on account of the two-seed doctrine, and eternal reprobation, with the Mission system; and while the church was in session, the question was taken, Will this church represent herself in the Association next year by Letter and Messengers, or not? And the church said by a very large majority that she would represent herself. We think not more than three or four were opposed to the question. Of all that the Association appointed, only two brethren met.


Elder William Bradley was elected moderator of the Spoon River Association in September 1834 (the fourth annual meeting), the oldest minutes presently known to exist. (He may have been chosen as moderator in 1832-1833.) Middle Creek Church, in Hancock County, Illinois, was a member of the Spoon River Association at this time.

In September 1835 Elder William Bradley was in the presbytery which organized Providence Church at the home of Daniel Cain in Hancock county, Illinois.

Elder William Bradley was elected moderator of the Salem Association when it was constituted in October 1835.

Elder Bradley's wife Nancy died in March 1836. A deed dated May 1836 shows him still a resident of Hancock county, Illinois. Elder William Bradley probably moved to Van Buren County, Iowa, later in 1836, and helped organize Lick Creek and Little Cedar Churches there. The minutes of Middle Creek Church show that he was dismissed by letter in 1836. His son James Bradley became a member of Little Cedar Church. Elder William Bradley joined Lick Creek Church in Van Buren County. A deed for disposition of land in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1840, shows that he had become a resident of Van Buren County, Iowa territory.

Elder William Bradley served as moderator of the Des Moines River Association in 1840-1842. We have a copy of the 1840 minutes.

Elder William Bradley helped constitute Sugar Creek and Providence churches in Lee county, Iowa, in 1843. Moved his membership to Sugar Creek Church near Galland, Lee Co., Iowa, probably that year, and was chosen as a messenger to the association as late as 1849.

Elder William Bradley died February 26, 1850, of lung fever. Minutes of the Des Moines River Association chronicle his death. The place of Elder Bradley's death, and of his burial, have not been determined. (Note: "The Western Evangelist" contains a letter from Elder William Bradley dated sometime in January 1850, regarding the death of Samuel Lee, a member of Sugar Creek Church near Galland. "Western Evangelist," Rockwell, Ills., March, 1850, Vol. 5, No. 9, first page of issue. Elder Peter Long, editor. Quote: "From Iowa. Brother Samuel Lee, of Hancock, Ills., departed this life on the 13th inst. (Jan.) after a short illness. Since my acquaintance with him in 1836, he has been a constant Regular Baptist, in doctrine and practice, sound in faith, orderly in conversation. I have mourned my loss, as he went with me very much to see the churches. He has left a widow and numerous relations and friends to mourn their loss. He delighted much to visit the children of God, and to converse of the good things provided for them that love him.- William Bradley. [Note. I have sent Br. Bradley's son (James) the paper, ever since directed. Ed.]" The same paper also contained the following letter:

"State of Iowa, March 16, 1851.

DEAR BROTHER PETER LONG: - After a long delay and neglect on my part, I take my pen in hand to write to you on business. You have desired me to act as agent for your little "Messenger," and the "Primitive Preacher;" they are truly messengers to me, for we have had no church meeting except one, in a little over one year. The death of our much beloved pastor, William Bradley, has left us entirely destitute of preaching. Please insert in the "Evangelist," for some of the professors of the Old School Baptists, there are two churches in Lee county, Iowa, Providence eight or nine miles above Keokuk, at Nashville, and Sugar Creek, near the center of Lee county, which are entirely destitute of a preacher; we would be very happy that any of the ministering brethren passing through Lee county would give us a call. "The harvest truly is plenteous and laborers few."

Yours truly,
George Judy

Children of Elder William and Nancy Grey Bradley: 
John Nov. 30, 1796 Jan. 26, 1806
Samuel Aug. 06, 1798 1825
James W. Nov. 29, 1799 ?
Elizabeth D. Jan. 09, 1801 ?
Collins D. May. 06, 1802 ?
William G. Mar. 01, 1804 Aug. 17, 1834
Hezekiah P. Mar. 15, 1805 Jun. 16, 1842
Lucy May. 01, 1806 May 13, 1806
Nancy S. May. 04, 1807
Sally P. Jun. 22, 1810 Aug. 3, 1833
Ann Gray Jul. 10, 1812 ?
George Collins Feb. 28, 1815 Nov. 28, 1886
Louisa P. Oct. 25, 1816 Nov. 19, 1816

Copyright c. 2004-2010. All rights reserved. The Primitive Baptist Library.

This page maintained by: Robert Webb - (bwebb9@juno.com)