Church and Family History Research Assistance for Primitive Baptist Churches in Putnam County, Illinois



Sandy Creek Church was organized at Ox Bow (later called Caledonia), Illinois, on Saturday, September 3, 1836. The first pastor was Elder James B. Chenowith (1800-1866), a native of Berkeley County, Virginia, who settled in the area of Tiskilwa in May 1835. He served Sandy Creek Church, with great success, for many years. An interesting tribute to Elder Chenowith, including an account of the unusual events which led him to serve the church, appears on pages 197-198 of Bradsby's History of Bureau County, Illinois, 1885.

The charter members were William E. Larkin, John Brumsey, Joseph Ash, Joel Corbell, Isaac D. Glenn, Rachel Larkin, Elizabeth Ash, Miriam Graves, and Sarah Glenn. They were organized into a church by Elders James B. Chenowith and Jeriel Root, and Deacon Jesse Sawyer. [Note: The obituary of Olive Winn Haley says she was a charter member of the church, in 1834.]

Membership statistics of Sandy Creek Church, as recorded in association minutes, show that the Church grew gradually from its original nine charter members, until it reached a membership of 62 in 1877. The small membership, however, was not indicative of the influence of the church in the community. Sandy Creek Church hosted the Sangamon Association in 1845, the annual meetings of which in those days were considered community events, and the attendance was always several thousand people. This continued to be true after the Sandy Creek Association was formed. The association meetings were usually held in a large grove of trees. A wooden platform and pulpit was erected for the preaching, and log planks for the audience. Visitors by the hundreds camped out in the homes, barns and other buildings of the members. Some of the ablest Primitive Baptist ministers in the country, e.g., Elder Sylvester Hassell (1842-1928) of North Carolina, (a noted historian, editor, pastor, and professor of Greek and other languages) attended the Sandy Creek Association during the fifty years of its existence.

The worship services of Sandy Creek Church were conducted according to the simple new testament pattern, i.e., singing of hymns, prayer, preaching, and fellowship. The preaching has been described by some who have written about the church in recent years as being "long and boring," or "two or three hours in length, rambling, tiresome and inclined to ranting." No doubt by the standards of many today that would be considered true; but many today want "preacherettes delivering sermonettes to Christianettes." This certainly would not have been true of the Apostles, and it was not true of the ministers who preached at Sandy Creek Church and Association.

Presumably the early meetings of Sandy Creek Church were held in the pioneer homes of the members, or in schools, or even more likely, in the fort at Caledonia. The early members were pioneer settlers who experienced first-hand the terrors and privations of living in a frontier wilderness with a temporary fort for protection during the Blackhawk War days. On February 13, 1856, George Hiltabrand, Hiram Allen, and Nathaniel Harris, trustees of the church, entered into an indenture whereby Lots 3 and 4 in Block Number 1 in Caledonia were purchased for $25.00 from Asahel Hannum and his wife Catherine. According to one account, the meeting house was erected on the northeast corner of Block 1. This building has been described as "a frame structure, painted white, which resembled the old New England meeting houses."

As stated above Elder James B. Chenowith was the first pastor. He was followed by Elder Robert F. Haynes, who was living at Ox-Bow and serving the church as pastor in 1858. Still later, Elder William A. Thompson (1831-1911) was chosen pastor. During the period of his pastoral care, the church reached its peak numerical strength. Several ministers held membership in Sandy Creek Church, including Elders William E. Larkin, Bonham Kester, Jesse Kester, Ezra Stout, Isom Cranfill, Robert F. Haynes, Oran S. Thompson, and James W. Thompson. Elders Larkin and Cranfill moved to Clackamas Co., Oregon, in 1847; Elder Ezra Stout moved to Oregon in 1852; Elder Bonham Kester had moved to Iowa by 1852; Elder Jesse Kester died in 1856.

When the Sandy Creek Association met at Hope on September 9, 1887, two letters were presented, each bearing the name of Sandy Creek Church. Both letters were read, but "by unanimous vote received the letter read by I. M. Stansell as the letter from Sandy Creek Church.

Shortly after 1900 the faction of the church in Caledonia ceased to function as a Primitive Baptist Church. In about 1905 the meeting house was repaired for use as a "union church." Later it was moved to the northwest corner of the crossroads, where it stood until 1936, at which time it was sold and torn down for lumber.

The "Hope branch" of the church, which continued to represent in the Sandy Creek Association, held their services in a meeting house on the farm of Simeon C. Hiltabrand (1826-1909), in Hope township, LaSalle County (See LaSalle County). It was called "Uncle Sim's Church," as he built it and owned it, but allowed the church to use it for their meetings. There was no separate deed for this reason. This building still stands, although it has not been used for regular church services for eighty years. Elders Thomas Gill, Robert F. Haynes, John Downey, Smith Ketchum and perhaps others, preached there. No records of their meetings have been located. The building was also used by the Hiltabrand family for reunions from 1896 until 1936. Later, the pews were given to a church in Magnolia, which burned in 1955.


Allen, Ash, Bobbitt, Brumsey, Chenowith, Christie, Conrad, Corbell, Cranfill, Ford, Fulmer, Gill, Glenn, Graves, Hailey, Harris, Hartenbower, Haynes, Hiltabrand, Kester, Lambert, Larkin, Lippert, McElhon, Needham, Newton, Ransom, Rushton, Stansell, Stewart, Stout, Thompson, Tomlinson, Wood (incomplete due to loss of records).


Minutes of the Sangamon and Sandy Creek Associations; obituaries in The Signs of the Times.

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