A Sketch of Early Primitive Baptist History in Kansas

Early Kansas History

Although the territory which became Kansas was explored half a century earlier, and was inhabited by Indian tribes, including the Kansa tribe from which its name is derived, it was not officially opened for white settlement until it became a territory on May 30, 1854, with the enactment of the Kansas - Nebraska Bill.

Because of organized efforts to control the economic, social, and political institutions of the embryo state, the people of Kansas became deeply involved in the controversy over slavery, which finally led to the Civil War. Before statehood was achieved, the territory passed through a period of violence in which it became known as "Bleeding Kansas." Kansas was finally admitted to Statehood, as a "free state," on January 27, 1861, the 34th State in the Union.

The last of seven territorial Governors was George M. Beebe (1860-61), a son of Elder Gilbert Beebe, of New York, founder of the Signs of the Times. Governor George M. Beebe's portrait hangs in the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas.

"Bleeding Kansas" and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, approved by Congress in 1854, was the last of three compromises between the opposing forces on the issue of slavery. It is famous because it precipitated the organization and rapid growth of the Republican party, and especially incited the radical abolition sentiment of the North to aggressive action, thus hastening the secession of the Southern states and resulting in Civil War.

The Minutes of the Little Wabash Association of Illinois, for 1854, provide an interesting commentary on Primitive Baptist thinking at that time:

"Whereas, three thousand clergyman said to be ministers of the gospel of the different religious sects and orders of the New England states did present a petition in the name of Almighty God against the proceedings of the United States Congress in the case of the [Kansas]-Nebraska Bill; therefore, we, the Little Wabash Association, of Old School Baptists, agree that in behalf of our ministers and churches, we do hereby make known that we are opposed to all ministers or churches meddling or interfering with the business of the U. S. Congress in their deliberations."

The Minutes of the Fishing River Association, when convened in Ray County, Missouri, in September 1855, disclose the following similar resolution:

"WHEREAS, three thousand clergymen of the United States, for whom it is claimed that they embrace the ministers of all the several denominations of our country, have, in the name of Almighty God, protested against the passage of what is called the Kansas and Nebraska bill, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, and threatened Congress with the vengeance of God, if they should pass the said bills; therefore,

RESOLVED, That we consider it due to the churches and ministers of this Association, to the Regular Baptist denomination of professed Christians, and to the cause of God and truth, in which we are deeply interested, to disclaim in the most unequivocal and emphatic manner, all or any participation in, or fellowship for the said protest; and while we wish not, as a religious body, to meddle with the political bearing of that, or any other subject before Congress, we cannot withhold a declaration of our decided disapproval of the presumption, and, in our judgment, blasphemous desecration of the sacred name and divine prerogatives of the Almighty God, by the self-styled Clergy, as developed in the aforesaid petition to Congress.

RESOLVED, That we protest against our ministers leaving the field of the gospel to become Congressmen or Legislators, as such a course is in strong sympathy with, and is an approximation to an amalgamation of Church and State. Our motto has always been, and is now, that the members and ministers of our churches should yield obedience to the powers that be. All we have ever asked, in any age, of any human government, is to guarantee to us our privilege of liberty of conscience, that we may not be molested in regard to our mode of worship. We hold that it is our bounden duty to obey the laws of our government with promptitude, payment, and subjection. HENRY HILL, moderator. L. W. TRUE, clerk."

The first Primitive Baptist Church in Kansas Territory, of which we have found any record, was organized in Atchison County, sometime before August 1857. It was called Slough Creek (pronounced "Slue" Creek), and Elder Terry Trapp was the first pastor. The second church was organized on the second Saturday in August, 1857, about twelve miles southwest of Atchison, in Atchison County, K. T., and was called Pleasant Grove. There were nine charter members, including Brother A. M. Townsend, who moved to the territory in the Spring of 1849. His son, Elder William E. Townsend, united with the church in April 1858, and was ordained to the ministry in 1860. The church had increased to thirty-three members by May 1858. The first pastor was Elder William F. Jones, who came to this church by letter from Missouri. Several other churches were organized in the northeast corner of Kansas within a few years, but very little information regarding them has presently been located.

A letter from Elder John E. Goodson, Blooming Grove, Kansas Territory, published in the Signs of the Times, February 1858, p. 53, states: "We have churches here composed of Baptists, who have been members of different churches in the States. I have not moved my membership from Missouri, but have tried, in my feeble manner, to preach to the brethren here what I understand the Bible to teach as the plan of salvation, which, so far as I am able to judge, is well received; although the churches with whom I am acquainted in Kansas, have been constituted by New-School preachers, and are called United Baptists." Brother A. M. Townsend replied to Elder Goodson's letter, requesting him to visit them at the churches mentioned above.

Elder William C. Garrett moved from Missouri to Jefferson County, Kansas, in 1861. He was born in Palaska, Kentucky, and died in Grantville, Kansas, in 1894. He became the first moderator of the Kaw River Association in 1869. A copy of his Memoirs are in our collection.

Further progress of the Primitive Baptists in Kansas is disclosed by the following words of Elder Achilles Coffey: "My field of ministerial labor has been in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. In 1856-7 I spent three months in the last named State, while it was yet bleeding, and in 1859-60 I spent eighteen months in said State. Bethel's Creek Church clothed me with authority to receive and baptize members and constitute churches if necessary, and in company with Elder Chester C. Taylor, constituted the first Regular Baptist Church in the State south of the Kansas River." - A Brief History of the Regular Baptists, Principally of Southern Illinois, Paducah, Ky: 1877, pp. 85-86. This church was named Coal Creek, and was first organized at Humboldt, in Allen County, Kansas.

The Christian experience of Elder Rice Harris, published in the Messenger of Peace, Vol. 1, pp. 60-61, states the following concerning his labors in Kansas: "I will here state that my ordination took place in November 1863. In the fall of 1866, feeling and believing that I never could bear the awful thought of preaching, I thought I would leave all my friends who were insisting for me to preach; I would make a sale and leave the State, and go to Kansas. My wife consented to my persuasion, and by my persuasion promised never to say anything about it. I settled in Allen County, Kansas, and bought us a farm, believing that I was measurably free from the task of preaching. I became hungry for gospel food. I visited the different places and heard, but not what my poor soul wanted .... There were three Baptists in the neighborhood where I settled. One knew me before I went to the State. He insisted for an appointment. I submitted, and commenced trying to hold up salvation by grace; the first appointment, I well remember the text, "His name shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." After I was done and meeting was dismissed two brethren came up with dripping tears, and saying, "that sounds like the old bell." It had been seven years since that doctrine had been preached there. There had been a church constituted there by Elder Coffey, but it had gone down. He had left the state, and the old church had been reorganized and numbered seven. I learned there was a church on Drywood, Bourbon County, Kansas. I visited them; they had a licensed preacher, and by their request I laid hands on him. Shortly after, a church was constituted on Turkey Creek, in the same county, also one near the Osage mission in Neosho County; also one in Greenwood County, making in all five churches, three elders, and one licensed preacher."

A letter from Elder Ansel H. Mahurin, of Fort Scott, in the Messenger of Peace, Vol. 1, p. 291, describes some of his experiences: "I was born in Macon County, Illinois, February 4, 1837 .... In the fall of 1859 I came to this country. There was no church, nor Old School Baptist preacher in Kansas, south of the Kaw River. The war soon came on, discouraging all the churches in Southwest Missouri. Thus isolated, my past disobedience [running from impressions to preach] became my chief sorrow. I attended a night meeting by invitation and found a few Old School Baptists and their friends assembled to hold a prayer meeting. After singing, Daniel Huddleston arose and said he felt like a sheep without a shepherd, then kneeled and prayed that God would raise up one from their midst, one to declare the truth as it was in Jesus." Drywood and Turkey Creek Churches were soon organized in this area.

An article by Elder Ira Turner, in the Primitive Monitor, Vol. 1, 1886, p. 274-277, states: "I was soon on my way to Kansas. I was soon there, and thought that I had just found the place I was seeking. Wide, extensive plains, beautiful mounds interspersed with valleys, and large herds of cattle, greeted the eye; and farther away from the sparse settlements, deer, and antelope, and now and then a straggling bison, were to be seen of native delusion, how did my heart ache even to the panting of my soul with daily longings, to just see the face of an Old Baptist, and exchange a few words with him. On the third Sunday in June, 1868, there was a Missionary Baptist who had an appointment some fifteen miles up Fall River, about ten miles from where the city of Eureka now is, and I fixed, and mounted my pony and went. When I arrived at the place it was time for meeting to begin; and there were quite a number of people collected. The man of the house seeing me, came out, and told me that the preacher had failed to come, and that the people were waiting; and he wanted me to preach. I readily answered him that I was willing to try. From this my name was heralded everywhere as a preacher, though the very name preacher being applied to me would make me feel abashed. My name was soon heralded all over the county, and in different parts of the State, and eventually in other States. Letters of correspondence came to me, inquiring of the country. I soon found nine or ten Old Baptists in the county, and got them all together. We drew up a constitution, articles of faith, etc., and organized ourselves into a church. We soon heard of another church about fifty miles away. We called upon them for council, and were constituted into a church. This church was called Little Zion, and was located on little Walnut Creek, Greenwood County. We soon constituted Rich Valley Church, on Fall River, and in this church I was ordained to the ministry." These two churches became members of the Elk River Association, which was organized in 1873.

Numerous other Primitive Baptist ministers soon appeared in the gospel field in Kansas.

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