A Sketch of Early Primitive Baptist History
for the State of Illinois

The Primitive Baptists were the first to organize a church in about half the counties in Illinois, as well as several other midwestern states. They were very early in all the eastern states.

Settlement of the Territory

Two brief years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the way was opened for settlement in the Northwest Territory, following its conquest by the soldiers of General George Rogers Clark and the organization of a civil government in Virginia. By 1786 a number of pioneer families had left their homes in Virginia and North Carolina, and coming by covered wagon or by keel-boat through Kentucky and Tennessee, arrived in the wilderness land known as Illinois territory. The first permanent white settlement was given the name of New Design, southeast of present-day St. Louis.

The First Baptist Minister in the Territory

The first non-catholic Christians to enter this region, now the great State of Illinois, were Baptists. In 1787 Elder James Smith, a native Virginian Baptist minister whose name appears on the first Baptist Association minutes in Kentucky in 1785, visited New Design. Nearly all the white population of the whole territory lived in New Design at this date, and Elder Smith is said to be the first minister of any faith to set foot in Illinois territory. Three years later, on a second visit, he was captured by Indians, but his life was spared when the superstitious natives saw him kneel in prayer and supposed him to be a god. He was finally ransomed by settlers on the Wabash River for the large sum of $170.00, and he returned to Kentucky. Elder Smith visited the settlements in Illinois three times, and his preaching was well received, but no church was organized.

First Baptisms in Illinois Territory

In 1794, a year after the formation of a Methodist church in New Design, Elder Josiah Dodge, another Baptist minister from Kentucky, visited the settlement and found several of the Baptist persuasion. Elder Dodge administered the first baptisms in the territory, the persons being John Gibbons, Isaac Enochs, James Lemen, Sr., and Catharine Lemen. This was a solemn and impressive scene, during the winter season; and the streams being frozen over with thick ice, a place resembling a grave was cut out of the ice in order for the candidates to be immersed.

The First Baptist Church and Association in Illinois

On May 28, 1796, the first Baptist Church in Illinois territory was formed with twenty-eight members, and took the name New Design Baptist Church. The founder was Elder David Badgley, (1749-1824) a native of Virginia, who had arrived at New Design in early May 1796, and during the same month baptized fifteen persons. Elder Badgley soon returned to Virginia, moved his family to Illinois the next spring, and took the pastoral care of the New Design Church. Several other churches were soon formed, which remained in an isolated condition until 1807. In that year Elder Badgley became the first moderator of the "Illinois Union"Association, the first Baptist Association west of the Ohio River. The brief "Memoirs of Elder David Badgley," written by his close friend and fellow-labourer, Elder William Jones, have been preserved. Records of the Illinois Baptist Association have been microfilmed.

Some of the Earliest Baptist Churches in Illinois

Other early Baptist Churches included the Mississippi Bottoms Church, organized April 28, 1798, near Chester, Illinois, by Elders Badgley, Chance and Simpson; Richland (later called Ogle's Creek, near present-day O'Fallon), led by Elder John Baugh, came as a body to St. Clair County, having a "traveling constitution," which had been prepared in November 1801 by Elders Jacob Locke and Robert Stockton, under the authority of Mt. Tabor Church in Barren Co., Kentucky; Silver Creek (later called Turkey Hill), an arm of New Design, was organized in about 1805; Big Creek Church was organized by Elders Stephen Stilley and William Jones on July 19, 1806, near Elizabethtown in Hardin County; Wood River Church, Madison County, was organized in May 1807 by Elders William Jones and David Badgley (another source gives 1806 as the date of constitution of this church); Richland Creek Church was constituted with seventeen members on September 12, 1807, about two miles north of present-day Belleville, Illinois, by Elders Joseph Chance, Robert Brazil, and Edward Radcliff (this church had met as an arm of New Design beginning June 14, 1806); Looking Glass Prairie Church was organized in St. Clair County, in 1808, with ten members, by Elders Joseph Chance, John Baugh, William Jones and David Badgley; Shoal Creek Church was organized in Bond County by 1810 or earlier; Lamotte Church was organized at Fort Palestine in Crawford County in 1812.

Other Baptist churches organized prior to Illinois Statehood included Prairie de Long (later called Horse Prairie), St. Clair County, 1814; Little Wabash, White County, 1816; Burnt Prairie, White County, 1816; Little Village, Crawford County, 1817; East Fork, Franklin County, 1817 or earlier; Canteen Creek, Madison County, 1817; Bethel, Washington County, 1818; and Hurricane Creek, Montgomery County, March 1818. Grand Prairie Church, in Crawford County, was organized in 1819.

Thus we have an account of the formation of the first twenty Baptist Churches in Illinois territory of which any record is now available. All of these churches became members of one of the following three associations: The Illinois Association (1807); the Wabash District Association (1809); or the Muddy River Association (1820). All of these were Primitive Baptists in faith and practice.

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