Category Archives: Mississippi

The controversy that almost moved Mississippi College to Meridian

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

     Few Mississippians are aware that in the 1890s, there was a huge controversy among Baptists over an attempt to remove Mississippi College from Clinton to a more prominent location, ultimately favoring Meridian. Those in favor of relocating the school were nicknamed “removalists.” The removalist movement began sometime in the mid-1880s, as it was first suggested publicly at the State Convention in 1885, and the issue came to the forefront in 1891.1

     The trustees of Mississippi College tried to stop the movement by making changes in the administration of the college. The president, W. S. Webb, had served faithfully since 1873 but he appeared physically incapable of continuing as the administrator of the college. On August 11, 1891, after a closed-door meeting with the faculty, the trustees encouraged Dr. Webb to retire, which he agreed to do, and he was made an emeritus professor. Webb was succeeded by his son-in-law, Robert A. Venable, who left the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Memphis to become the college’s president. Two younger professors, R. M. Leavell and S. C. Mitchell, resigned in objection to these changes. Historian Z. T. Leavell implied that the changes involved a conflict between older and younger generations, writing that “the surging of young manhood, with progressive ideas opposed the staid thoughts of wise old age.”2

     At the same time that it was making administrative changes, Mississippi College was having financial problems. More than half of all Mississippi Baptist gifts went to the college in 1891, yet the college operated at a loss. The buildings needed repairs, and the finance committee was behind in paying professor’s salaries. The school reported these deficits to the Convention from year to year, but the deficits continued to increase. The trustees urged an increase in the college endowment from $40,000 to a “minimum” of $100,000, if the school were to compete with rival institutions. It was because of these challenges that the “removalist” movement arose. Some leaders contended that the removal of Mississippi College to a larger city would give it added prestige, thus furnishing an incentive for larger gifts for its endowment. Clinton was still a village of only 354 people in 1900, whereas Meridian had 14,050 citizens, making it the second-largest city in the State after Vicksburg’s 14,834.3

     At the State Convention meeting in 1891, a committee was elected to study other possible locations for Mississippi College. There was widespread interest in relocating the college, even some support among the college’s closest friends, as the study committee included two trustees of the college, and former college president W. S. Webb presided over the meeting, as he was serving as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention at the time.4

     When the State Convention met again in 1892, the committee reported an offer from the city of Meridian to donate 20 acres of land and erect a building by October 1893, if the college would relocate there. Immediately after the report, W. H. Hardy proposed that the offer of Meridian be accepted. Hardy was a resident of Meridian, former State Convention president, and one of the most prominent businessmen in the State. However, there was fierce opposition to the proposal. Walter Hillman of Clinton delivered a well-prepared speech against the relocation. Hillman was the former president of Hillman College and Mississippi College, and he had given financial aid to the college during the Reconstruction period when no one else could. Both Hardy and Hillman were respected, influential leaders. Sharp lines were drawn, but those favoring removal were in the majority. Speeches, motions and counter motions were made on each side. J. S. Solomon of Meridian raised the offer to 80 acres of land and the “removalists” guaranteed $50,000 from business men of Meridian, to remove the college to Meridian, while the opposition could only offer to repair the buildings at Clinton. Debate continued until 1:30 in the morning, when the exhausted messengers finally voted, 96-66 in favor or removing the college to Meridian. Mississippi College was to be removed from Clinton.5       

     While the question was settled by a vote of the Convention, it was not settled in the minds of Mississippi Baptists. The State Convention of 1892 was “the stormiest of the 19th century.” Central Association, where Clinton was located, was discontented, and the people of Clinton were determined to exhaust every resource before giving up the college. The State was deluged with circular papers condemning the removal. The debate was so heated, that editor of The Baptist Record decided to stop printing letters and circulars on the subject. W. H. Hardy pointed out that the Convention had already voted, and it was a moot issue.6

     At this point, a lawyer for the Mississippi College trustees dropped a bombshell. On January 11, 1893, Judge David Shelton presented his opinion to the trustees that the college charter from the legislature fixed the name, and location of the college at Clinton, and that the Baptists took control of Mississippi College identified by name and location. Therefore, removal of the college would be a breach of the charter and the Baptists would forfeit control. The trustees took no action, but this legal opinion ultimately became the death blow to the removal movement. The committee appointed by the State Convention to supervise the relocation of the college did nothing. Meridian became impatient by the inaction and gave the Baptists a deadline of March to begin the removal. When nothing happened, Meridian withdrew its bid. As powerful as William H. Hardy was, he could not win this battle. Hardy built a railroad from Meridian to New Orleans and built another railroad from Jackson to Gulfport, Hardy established the towns of Hattiesburg and Gulfport, and Hardy had even persuaded reluctant Baptists to organize a more efficient State Convention Board, but Hardy could not move Mississippi College.7

SOURCES:

1 Richard Aubrey McLemore and Nannie Pitts McLemore, The History of Mississippi College (Jackson: Hederman Brothers, 1979), 95.

2 McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 111;  Z. T. Leavell, Baptist Annals or Twenty-Two Years With Mississippi Baptists, 1877-1899, 76, 78-79; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 39.

3 Leavell, 77-78; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 38-39; U.S. Census of 1920, “Mississippi: Population of Incorporated Places: 1920, 1910 and 1900,” 17-18.

4 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1891, 31; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 118-119.

5 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1892, 11-12, 15-16; Boyd, 191; Leavell, Baptist Annals, 82-83; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 120.

6 Boyd, 171; McLemore, The History of Mississippi College, 123.

7 Leavell, Baptist Annals, 85-92; Minutes, Mississippi College Board of Trustees, January 20, 1893; The Baptist Record, February 2, 1893, March 2, 1893; Boyd, 249-251.

The racial segregation in Mississippi Baptist churches after the Civil War

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    One the most significant social changes among Mississippi Baptists after the Civil War was the racial segregation of churches. Before the war, African slaves constituted a substantial portion of Mississippi Baptist congregations, as I have discussed in previous blog posts. In the decade after the war, black Baptists gradually celebrated their new freedom by separating into independent, self-governing churches. In some areas this happened suddenly, and in other areas of the State it was more gradual. The First Baptist Church of Clinton, for example, had a membership of 283 in 1860, including 113 black members. In 1866, with the absence of college students and withdrawal of black members, the Clinton church was reduced to 36 members, and worship was only held once a month, led by a pastor from Raymond. In 1864, Jerusalem Baptist Church had 65 black members, but all of them were gone by 1866. Bethesda Church in Hinds County agreed in 1867 to allow blacks to hold a separate revival meeting, and later in the same year the church granted the following request: “The colored members signified a desire to withdraw from the church to organize an independent church and asked permission for the use of the church house one sabbath each month.” Likewise, black members of Academy Church in Tippah County met separately after the war, and had a black preacher, but used the Academy church building until the 1870s. Charles Moore, a former slave and preacher after the war expressed the common desire of black Baptists, “I didn’t spec’ nothing outten freedom septin’ peace an’ happiness an’ the right to go my way as I please. An’ that is the way the Almighty wants it.”1  

     In other areas, black members continued to worship alongside whites in the same churches for a decade or more. Ebenezer Church in Amite County continued to refer to “colored” members frequently through 1874, and then there was one more mention in 1877 of a “colored” member who asked to be restored so that he could join New Hope Church. Although most churches remained integrated for several years, tensions began to arise, sometimes fueled by resentment over events of the war. For instance, in September 1865, five months after the war ended, “Eliza a colored woman” joined Sarepta Church in Franklin County by her experience of faith, and “it was moved and seconded that the right hand of fellowship be extended which was done with the exception of one brother who refused to give the right hand of fellowship to the colored woman Eliza.”2

     Despite this occasional white resentment, most white Baptist leaders expressed goodwill to black Baptists. In 1870, Salem Association in Jasper County recommended that if black members “wish to form churches of their own, that they should be dismissed in order and assisted in doing so, but where they wish to remain with us as heretofore and are orderly, we think they should be allowed to do so.” Black membership in Salem Association declined from 206 in 1865 to 122 in 1870. As late as 1872, 81 blacks continued to worship in biracial churches in the association, and blacks continued in the records of Fellowship Church as late as 1876. The Mississippi Association reported 131 black members in 1874.3

Segregation of Mississippi Baptist churches started out as a celebration of freedom for blacks, but by the 1890s, it had also become an expectation of whites. The Mississippi Baptist Convention assumed that their churches were made up of white members only. For instance, the 1890 State Convention referred to itself as: “The Mississippi Baptist Convention… representing a denomination of 80,000 white Christians…” However, the State Convention maintained friendly relations with “colored” Baptists, as they were politely called. When the General Baptist Convention of Mississippi, made up of African-Americans, met at the same time as the Mississippi Baptist Convention, they frequently exchanged telegrams of Christian greetings. Mississippi Baptist pastors frequently led Bible institutes for black Baptist pastors and deacons, and the State Convention encouraged white pastors to donate their time to teach at these institutes across the State.4

SOURCES:

1 Charles E. Martin, A Heritage to Cherish: A History of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi, 1852-2002 (Nashville: Fields Publishing, Inc., 2001), 36; Randy J. Sparks, Religion in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 139.

2 Minutes, Ebenezer Church, Amite County. November 1, 1873, May 2, 1874, October 3, 1874, July 1, 1877; Minutes, Sarepta Church, Franklin County, September 1865.

3 Sparks, 139-140; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Association, 1874.

4 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1890, 31; 1891, 14; 1897, 20-21.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

The first Baptist missionary to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, John B. Hamberlin

Oyster Fishing in Biloxi, MS. Source: Library of Congress.

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Although Baptists were well-established in the rest of Mississippi, they were late getting started on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In 1868, the Mississippi Baptist Convention listed the names of the Baptist ministers in Mississippi and their post offices, nearly all of which were in north or central Mississippi. Not a single Baptist minister resided on the Mississippi Coast. In 1873, W. H. Hardy of Meridian called attention to the lack of Baptist churches in Jones, Perry, Greene, Harrison and Hancock counties, and “the populous towns along the sea shore.” He called for the Convention to send missionaries to Pascagoula or Pass Christian “or some other convenient point.”

In 1875, the Mississippi Baptist Convention sent John B. Hamberlin as a missionary to the Mississippi Coast, where, he reported, there was “only one little Baptist church, and that in a disorganized state.” This church was located three miles in the country from Ocean Springs, and he relocated it in the town. He also started a church in Moss Point, which built a house of worship. Next, he targeted Biloxi, where “Roman Catholicism overshadows everything.” He found “a poor old widow” who was the only member left of a small Baptist congregation that once had a house of worship there. “He got possession of the old house, made some repairs upon it; has conducted two special meetings, and has recently organized a church of seventeen members.” Sadly, a yellow fever epidemic in 1876 took the life of Hamberlin’s wife while they were in Biloxi, and he sent his small child inland to get away from the epidemic, while he returned to his mission work on the Coast. Hamberlin wrote, “My wife is dead; my home is broken up; my child is gone, and my heart is desolate; but I hope in the future to be a better man, and to do more and better work for Christ than ever before.”

SOURCE:

Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1868, 22-23, 29-30; 1873, 17-18; 1875, 12; 1876, 24-25. 

Rev. T. C. Teasdale’s daring adventure with Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

One of the most amazing but lesser-known stories of the Civil War is how a Mississippi Baptist preacher got both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln to agree to help him sell cotton across enemy lines in order to fund an orphanage. Although the plan collapsed in the end, the story is still fascinating.

Since over 5,000 children of Mississippi Confederate soldiers were left fatherless, an interdenominational movement started in 1864 to establish a home for them. On October 26, 1864, the Mississippi Baptist Convention accepted responsibility for the project. The Orphans’ Home of Mississippi opened in October 1866 at Lauderdale, after considerable effort, especially by one prominent pastor, Dr. Thomas C. Teasdale.1

     Rev. Teasdale was in a unique position to aid the Orphans’ Home, because of his influential contacts in both the North and South. A New Jersey native, he came to First Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi in the 1850s from a church in Washington, D.C. When the Civil War erupted, he left his church to preach to Confederate troops in the field. In early 1865, he returned from preaching among Confederate soldiers to assist with the establishment of the Orphans’ Home of Mississippi. He launched a creative and bold plan to raise money and solve a problem of donations. A large donation of cotton was offered to the orphanage, and the cotton could bring 16 times more money in New York than in Mississippi, but how could they sell it in New York with the war still raging? Since Teasdale had been a pastor in Springfield, Illinois and Washington, D.C. and had preached to the Confederate armies, he was personally acquainted with both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (from Illinois) and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and many of their advisers. In February and March 1865, he set out on a dangerous journey by horseback, boat, railroads, stagecoach and foot, dodging Sherman’s march through Georgia, crossing through the lines of the armies of both sides, and conferred in Richmond and Washington, seeking permission from both sides to sell the cotton in New York for the benefit of the orphanage.2

     Confederate President Davis readily agreed, and on March 3, 1865, Davis signed the paper granting permission for the sale. Next, Dr. Teasdale slipped across enemy lines and entered Washington, a city he knew well, since he was a former pastor in the city. He waited in line for several days for an audience with President Lincoln, but he could not get in, since government officials in line were always a higher priority than a private citizen. Finally, he sent a note to Mr. Lincoln, whom he knew when they both lived in Springfield, Illinois, saying that he was now a resident of Mississippi and that he was there on a mission of mercy. Lincoln received him, and he listened to the plea for cotton sales to support the orphanage, but the president was skeptical. Why should he help Mississippi, a State in rebellion against the United States? In his autobiography, Teasdale records Lincoln’s words: “We want to bring you rebels into such straits, that you will be willing to give up this wicked rebellion.” Dr. Teasdale replied, “Mr. President, if it were the big people alone that were concerned in this matter, I should not be here, sir. They might fight it out to the bitter end, without my pleading for their relief. But sir, when it is the hapless little ones that are involved in this suffering, who, of course, who had nothing to do with bringing about the present unhappy conflict between the sections, I think it is a very different case, and one deserving of sympathy and commiseration.” Lincoln instantly said, “That is true; and I must do something for you.” With that, Lincoln signed the paper, granting permission for the sale. It was March 18, 1865. However, a few weeks later, on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army to Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant. By the time Teasdale returned home, the war was over, the permission granted by Jefferson Davis no longer had authority, Lincoln was assassinated, and Teasdale abandoned his plans. Teasdale said, “This splendid arrangement failed, only because it was undertaken a little too late.” Undaunted, Dr. Teasdale volunteered as a fundraising agent for the orphanage and staked his large private fortune on its success. Rarely has there been a more daring donor to a Christian cause!3

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1866, 3, 12-17; 1867, 29-31.

2 Jesse L. Boyd, A Popular History of the Baptists in Mississippi (Jackson: The Baptist Press, 1930), 131.

3 Thomas C. Teasdale, Reminiscences and Incidents of a Long Life, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: National Baptist Publishing Co., 1891), 173-174, 187-203; Boyd, 130-132; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1866, 3, 14-16.

M.P. Lowrey, Mississippi’s “fighting preacher” in the Civil War

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    One of the most interesting Mississippi veterans of the Civil War was M. P. (Mark Perrin) Lowrey. Lowrey was a veteran of the Mexican War, then a brick mason who became a Baptist preacher in 1852. When the Civil War began, he was pastor of the Baptist churches at Ripley in Tippah County and Kossuth in Alcorn County. Like many of his neighbors in northeast Mississippi, he did not believe in slavery, yet he went to Corinth and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was elected colonel and commanded the 32nd Mississippi Regiment. Lowrey commanded a brigade at the Battle of Perryville, where he was wounded. Most of his military career was in Hood’s campaign in Tennessee and fighting against Sherman in Georgia. He was promoted to brigadier-general after his bravery at Chickamauga, and played a key role in the Confederate victory at Missionary Ridge. In addition to fighting, he preached to his troops. One of his soldiers said he would “pray with them in his tent, preach to them in the camp and lead them in the thickest of the fight in the battle.” Another soldier said Lowrey “would preach like hell on Sunday and fight like the devil all week!” He was frequently referred to as the “fighting preacher of the Army of Tennessee.” He led in a revival among soldiers in Dalton, Georgia, and afterwards baptized 50 of his soldiers in a creek near the camp. After the war, Lowrey founded Blue Mountain College in Tippah County, and the Mississippi Baptist Convention elected Lowrey president for ten years in a row, 1868-1877.

SOURCES:

John T. Christian, “A History of the Baptists of Mississippi,” Unpublished manuscript, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission Archives, Clinton, Mississippi, 1924, 135, 197; Robbie Neal Sumrall, A Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College (Nashville: Benson Publishing Company, 1947), 6-12.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

Preaching and “spit-boxes:” what worship was like in Baptist churches of antebellum Mississippi

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    What was it like to worship in a Mississippi Baptist church in the years before the Civil War? A survey of church minutes from various churches around Mississippi tell the story. Sunday services were commonly referred to as “divine worship,” “divine service,” or simply “preaching.” Many Mississippi Baptist churches in this time only had a “preaching” service once a month, as their pastor often had to preach at other churches on the other Sundays during the month, and sometimes they had to adjust their schedule to that of the pastor and his other churches. For instance, in 1855, after calling a new pastor, Hephzibah Church in Clarke County voted to move their monthly worship was “from the second to the fourth Sabbath.” Likewise, in 1853, after Bethesda Church in Hinds County called a new pastor, they changed their monthly meeting for the first Sunday to the third Sunday, and “we grant him the privilege to preach for us one Sabbath each month.”1

   Baptism was generally done in a natural body of water near the church building. For example, Hopewell Church in Lafayette County recorded in their minutes in July 1857, that after their business conference, they “adjourned and repared [sic] to the water to attend to the Ordinance of Baptism and Sister Sarah Couch was Baptized.” Bethesda Church in Hinds County constructed an outdoor baptismal pool at a natural spring not far from their meeting house, and built a “dressing house at the pool” that was 10 by 12 feet. A member also furnished a “suit of clothes” to wear for baptisms.  Not only was baptism only for believers by immersion, but the Landmark movement influenced Baptists to reject “alien immersion” by non-Baptists. In 1853, “Phebe, a servant of Francis Martin” wanted to join Bethesda Church in Hinds County. Phebe had been immersed as a believer by a Methodist minister. The examining committee was “satisfied with her Christian walk” and recommended that her “former baptism” be accepted, but the church rejected the recommendation at their Saturday business meeting. The next day, after the Sunday preaching service, Phebe was accepted as a candidate for baptism and the congregation “repaired to the water and Phebe was baptized.”2

    The Lord’s Supper was usually distributed by deacons. Clear Creek Church in Adams County served the Lord’s Supper every three months. Sarepta Church in Franklin County also observed communion about once every three months except when something unusual caused a postponement. They used real wine during that time. Bethesda Church in Hinds County recorded expenditure of $2.00 for a gallon of wine in 1851. They also considered it a duty for every member to partake of the Lord’s Supper “when not providentially hindered.” Besides the Lord’s Supper, foot washing was also commonly practiced. Sarepta Church’s minutes in August 1846 referred to “the duty of foot-washing” to be observed the next month in worship. Although foot washing was called a “duty,” only baptism and communion were referred to as “ordinances.” 3

   Music was important in Mississippi Baptist church life. The very first entry in the minutes of Sarepta Church in 1810 said they “opened by singing and prayer.” The Pearl River Association mentions closing their meeting “united in singing a hymn.”  Hephzibah Church ordered a “dozen hymn books (Dossey’s Choice) for the use of the church and congregation to be paid for by voluntary contributions.” The hymnal they referred to as “Dossey’s Choice” was The Choice: in two parts, compiled by William Dossey, and published in 1833 by Charles De Silver & Sons in Philadelphia. It was called The Choice: in two parts, because it offered a choice of two types of songs. Part One contained traditional hymns, such as “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and Part Two contained songs based on the Psalms of the Bible, set to rhyme, such as one based on Psalm 46 which began, “God is our refuge in distress, a present help when dangers press…”   Bethesda Church voted to get a new hymnal, and ordered 24 hymnals called “Psalmody,” but also “earnestly recommended that the present practice of lining the hymns be continued.”  This likely means they ordered The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God. This was a 794-page hymnal published in 1850 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, edited by Southern Baptist leader Basil Manly. The practice of “lining the hymn” meant that a song leader chanted or sang a line of the song a capella, and then the congregation repeated the line, and this continued through the song, line by line.4

   Mississippi Baptists were a praying people. Church minutes frequently made mention of prayer meetings and times of fasting and prayer. Ebenezer Church in Amite County met on a Monday in 1846 to “fast and pray to the Lord that he would send more faithful Laborers into his Harvest, and Call their Pastor.” In 1847, Ebenezer Church met on a Friday “to fast and pray for the peace and prosperity of the churches.” Throughout the 1840s, it was the practice of Hephzibah Church in Clarke County to meet for an hour of prayer before having their Sunday worship service.5

Some practices that were commonly accepted then would be considered unusual today. For example, it was normal for Baptists to chew tobacco while sitting in worship. In fact, in 1850, Bethesda Church in Hinds County voted to put 71 “spit-boxes” (spittoons) in their meeting house, at a cost of 3 cents each.6

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, January 27, 1855, June 27, 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1846, December 1852, January 1, 1853.

2 Minutes, Hopewell Baptist Church, Lafayette County, Mississippi, July 1857; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, October 1851, April 1853, December 1854.

3 Minutes, Clear Creek Baptist Church, Adams County, Mississippi April 10, 1847, July 26, 1847; Minutes, Sarepta Baptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi August 1846, June 1847, September 1847, December 1847; Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, December 1851; September 15, 1860. Grape juice that did not ferment was not invented until 1869.

4 Minutes, Sarepta Bptist Church, Franklin County, Mississippi, October 1, 1810; Minutes, Pearl River Baptist Association, 1860, 9; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, August 28, 1851; “The Choice: In Two Parts,” accessed on the Internet on 25 April 2022 at http://hymnary.org/hymnal/C2P41833?page=6; Minutes, Bethesda Church, Hinds County, June 15, 1855; The Baptist Psalmody: A Selection of Hymns for the Worship of God, review on Goodreads, accessed 8 May 2022 on the Internet at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50587023-the-baptist-psalmody.

5 Minutes, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Amite County, Mississippi, November 14, 1846, October 16, 1847; Minutes, Hephzibah Baptist Church, Clarke County, Mississippi, June 1847.

6 Minutes, Bethesda Baptist Church, Hinds County, Mississippi, August 1850.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

How Mississippi Baptists nearly split over Landmarkism in 1860

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

 

William Carey Crane was one of the most influential leaders of Landmarkism in Mississippi.

    The influence of Landmarkism, particularly in north Mississippi, nearly led to a split in the Mississippi Baptist Convention in 1860. J.R. Graves was the leader of the Landmark movement, which taught that Baptists were the only true churches, and the only true baptism was baptism done in a Baptist church. Graves’s newspaper, The Tennessee Baptist, enjoyed a wide circulation in northern Mississippi, and siphoned off potential subscribers to The Mississippi Baptist, which had failed in 1849 but restarted by the State Convention in 1857. J. T. Freeman, editor of The Mississippi Baptist, spoke out against the efforts of William Carey Crane in north Mississippi. William Carey Crane of Hernando had established Semple-Broadus College at Center Hill, De Soto County, which he hoped would rival Mississippi College, the school in Clinton newly affiliated with Baptists. Crane had an opportunity to be president of Mississippi College in 1850 when it was taken over by the State Convention, but he had not taken the position. Crane was in “close allegiance” with J. R. Graves. This was apparent as early as 1855, when Crane was president of the State Convention, and the circular letter from the Convention promoted Landmark views. The circular said, “Baptist churches are the only Gospel churches in Christendom.” This circular repeated the Landmark version of Baptist history, claiming the first Baptist church was organized in the upper room in Jerusalem. Ironically, despite these views, Crane preached at the Methodist church in Lexington, when churches of other denominations provided use of their buildings for Baptist preachers during the 1857 Mississippi Baptist State Convention. Crane went so far as to organize a rival State Convention at Oxford in November 1859, called the General Association of Baptists in North Mississippi. Instead of representation based on financial contributions, it based representation on the local church, an approach favored by Landmark Baptists. Delegates were chosen from member churches and associations based on one delegate for every one hundred members.1

   The Landmark controversy dominated the 1860 meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in Natchez. Resolutions on the subject were introduced, and recognizing deep feelings on the subject, it was referred to the Committee on Resolutions, chaired by Isham Harrison, Jr. The committee reported a revised resolution to the Convention, which was approved. The resolution began to stating agreement with Landmarkers that a church is a congregation of immersed believers and autonomous in governing itself. However, it stated, “the issue presented and known as ‘An Old-Landmark Reset’ is not a just or sufficient cause of denominational or personal contentions… but is one of those questions about which differences of opinion and practice ought to have the broadest Christian toleration.” Having said that, the State Convention clearly came down on the side of those opposed to Landmarkism, by defending the use of mission boards and agencies: “Resolved, That the Baptist denomination of this State are emphatically a missionary people; and… we are not prepared to abandon those organizations which the wisdom of the experience of the denomination have adopted for that purpose, but will, as heretofore, heartily co-operate with them…” The resolution also affirmed the publication and use of Baptist “Sabbath School Literature,” which some Landmarkers attacked since it came from a board rather than a local church. Concerned “that these controversies, if they have not already, will… degenerate into a personal character mainly” they asked the State Convention President to appoint a committee of ten men as “to offer their mediation” and seek to reconcile the parties involved.2    

The Mediation Committee named by the Mississippi Baptist Convention included people on both sides of the controversy, including J. T. Freeman of Jackson, editor of The Mississippi Baptist, and Moses Granberry of Grenada, who was treasurer of the north Mississippi splinter group. This “Peace Committee” met with resistance, as they gave a report at the 1861 State Convention, but “after remarks from a number of brethren, the Convention refused to adopt the report.” Nevertheless, Mississippi Baptists were able to avoid a split over Landmarkism, as Crane, it’s most influential leader, moved to Texas, and the outbreak of the Civil War turned their attention to more urgent issues of survival. However, the influence of Landmark ideas would continue to linger in Mississippi.3

SOURCES:

1 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1846, 16; 1855, 37; 1857, 8-10; Jesse L. Boyd, A Popular History of the Baptists in Mississippi (Jackson: The Baptist Press, 1930), 108-109.

2 Ibid, 1860, 17-19.

3 Ibid, 1860, 1861, 8; Boyd, 108.

FBC Columbus, MS: One of the finest antebellum Baptist church buildings in the South

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Columbus, Mississippi had one of the finest antebellum Baptist church buildings in the South.

First Baptist Church, Columbus, MIssissippi, in Lowndes County, built a magnificent brick house of worship before the Civil War. Construction began in 1838 and was completed in 1840. The building was demolished about 1905 for a new sanctuary, so descriptions are based upon existing photographs. Richard J. Cawthon, author of Lost Churches of Mississippi, says “it must have been the most elegant house of worship in Mississippi and one of the largest and finest Baptist meeting houses in the South.” The annual meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention was held in this building on November 10-13, 1853, and the Southern Baptist Convention was scheduled to meet in this building in 1863, but the meeting was cancelled due to the Civil War. It was located at the northeast corner of Seventh Street North (originally Caledonia Street) and First Avenue North (originally Military Street).  Facing westward, it was a rectangular temple-form building, had a tetrastyle portico with four fluted columns in front. Above the triangular arch near the front, was an eye-catching, unusual steeple that appeared to copy the five-tier octagonal spire that Sir Christopher Wren placed on St. Bride’s Church in London in the late seventeenth century. The steeple had a square base, which ascended with five tiers of eight-sided drums, each tier proportionately smaller as it rose higher. The windows indicated that it had a split-level interior with stairs to an elevated auditorium and stairs down to another level below, perhaps for classrooms. Its similarity to the Lyceum at the University of Mississippi, designed by architect William Nichols, indicate that the Columbus Church could have also been designed by Nichols, who was also the designer of the Old State Capitol in Jackson.

SOURCES:

Richard J. Cawthon, Lost Churches of Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 41-46; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1853 Annual, Southern Baptist Convention, 1861, 13.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

How Baptists acquired Mississippi College

Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

    Mississippi College had been founded at Clinton in 1826 as Hampstead Academy, by a group of local citizens interested in education for their children. Thirty students enrolled for the first time in 1827. Its founders were influential people; they included H. G. Runnels, who was to become governor of the State. In 1827 the legislature changed its name to Mississippi Academy, and then in 1830 the name was changed to Mississippi College, with the authority to grant “such degrees in the arts, sciences and languages, as are usually conferred in the most respectable colleges in the United States.”1

    Mississippi College was divided into a female and male department, each with its own faculty. The female department prospered better than the male department, and in 1831, the college became the first coeducational institution in America to grant degrees to women: Alice Robinson and Catherine Hall. The curriculum for women in 1837 included Latin, Greek, French, music and fine art. Supporters of Mississippi College hoped it would be adopted by the legislature as the State University, especially since the legislature allowed it to be financed by public land monies. However, in 1840 the legislature established the University of Mississippi, and began to select a location (eventually choosing Oxford), which ruled out a possibility of Mississippi College becoming the state’s university. At this point, the trustees looked for a religious denomination to sponsor the school. They offered the college to the Methodists, who accepted but then quickly rescinded their decision in 1841, since they had created their own school, Centenary College, not far away in Brandon Springs. The trustees then turned to the Presbyterians, who accepted, and in 1842 the Clinton Presbytery of the Mississippi Synod assumed control of the college. The Presbyterians operated the institution from 1842 to 1850 with considerable success. However, the Presbyterian denomination was suffering theological and political schisms between “Old” and “New” schools, dividing between North and South, much as Baptists had divided. These struggles, along with competition for funds from with another Presbyterian school, Oakland College, forced the trustees to offer Mississippi College to the State in 1848 a “normal” college to educate teachers. The legislature refused, so in 1850 the Clinton Presbytery severed ties to the college, and the trustees surrendered the school to the citizens of Clinton.2

     Clinton was not able to manage the college by itself. Although Hinds County in 1850 was a prosperous, growing county, with a population of over 25,000, and a railroad line had been completed from Vicksburg, through Clinton to Jackson, Clinton itself was still only a village of a few hundred people. The citizens of Clinton could not support the college by themselves, and the enrollment of the school was not yet large enough to support the college on its own. Even the faculty selected for the 1850-51 session, which included a Baptist as president, William Carey Crane, were unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility. At this point, a Methodist pastor suggested giving Mississippi College to the Baptists, and a wealthy Baptist leader seized on the opportunity. Rev. Thomas Ford, minister of the Methodist Church in Clinton, suggested that the Mississippi Baptist Convention sponsor the college. Benjamin Whitfield, a wealthy planter and pastor in Hinds County, and one of the founders of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, was elected a trustee of the college on August 12. If the transfer was to be made to the Baptists, quick action was needed, because there was a rival proposal for the Baptists “of building up a college at Raymond,” which was going to be presented to the State Convention in November. A committee that included Whitfield negotiated the deal on November 1, and when the Mississippi Baptist Convention met in Jackson on November 7, the committee recommended that the project at Raymond be rejected as “impracticable, because of the expense it would involve the Convention.” Then the committee said, “The Trustees of the ‘Mississippi College,’ located at Clinton, Hinds county, offer control of the College, unincumbered by a cent of debt…  The property is understood to be worth eleven thousand dollars. It is recommended, that the tender be at once accepted.” The resolution passed, and the dream of Mississippi Baptists for a college of their own was realized.3

SOURCES:

1 Board of Trustees of Mississippi College, Minute Book I, 3, 5, 7. Also see Isaac Caldwell to John A. Quitman, April 11, 1828, in Jesse L. Boyd, Good Reasons for a History of Mississippi College, 6-7. These materials are in the archives, Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, Leland Speed Library, Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi.

2 Aubrey Keith Lucas, “Education in Mississippi from Statehood to the Civil War,” in A History of Mississippi, vol. 1, Richard Aubrey McLemore, ed. (Hattiesburg: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973), 360-361; “Mississippi College Timeline,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at http://www.mc.edu/about/history/timeline; W. H. Weathersby, “A History of Mississippi College,” Publications of Mississippi Historical Society, Centenary Series, V, 184-219. Also see Minute Book I, 51, 56.

3 U.S. Census, “Population of the United States in 1850: Mississippi,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1850/1850a/1850a-34.pdf. The population of Clinton is not even listed in 1850. In 1860, Clinton is listed as having 289 citizens.  U.S. Census, “Population of the United States in 1860: Mississippi,” accessed on the Internet 30 April 2022 at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1860/population/1860a-22.pdf; Board of Trustees of Mississippi College, Minute Book I, 88-90; Clinton News, Dec. 1967; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1850, 27.

Dr. Rogers is currently revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.

How Mississippi Baptists came to oppose alcohol in the early 1800s

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Baptists have not always been as adamantly opposed to alcohol as they are today; rather, their view developed over several decades in the early 1800s. This can be illustrated in the story of how Mississippi Baptists gradually took a stronger stand against liquor during the decades from the 1820s through the 1850s. In 1820, Providence Baptist Church in what is now Forrest County discussed the question, “Is it lawful, according to scripture, for a member of a church to retail spiritous liquors?” The church could not agree on a position in regard to the matter. This attitude would begin to change in the 1820s, however. In 1826, the influential Congregationalist pastor Lyman Beecher began a series of sermons against the dangers of drunkenness and urged the necessity of abstinence from the alcohol. He called on Christians to sign pledges to abstain from alcohol, igniting the temperance movement in America. The question came before the Mississippi Baptist Association in 1827, and it was stated that it “considers drunkenness one of the most injurious and worst vices in the community.” In 1830, the Pearl River Baptist Association admonished any churches hosting their meetings, “provide no ardent spirits for the association when she may hereafter meet, as we do not want it.” In 1831, Pearl River Association thanked the host church for obeying their request, and in 1832, the association humbly prayed “the public, that they will not come up to our Association with their beer, Cider, Cakes, and Mellons, as they greatly disturb the congregation.” Likewise in 1832, Mississippi Association resolved, “That this Association do discountenance all traffic in spirituous liquors, beer, cider, or bread, within such a distance of our meetings as in any wise disturb our peace and worship; and we do, therefore, earnestly request all persons to refrain from the same.”1

It had always been common for Baptists to discipline members for drunkenness, but as the temperance movement grew in America, Mississippi Baptists moved gradually from a policy of tolerating mild use of alcohol, toward a policy of complete abstinence from alcohol. A Committee on Temperance made an enthusiastic report in 1838 of “the steady progress of the Temperance Reformation in different parts of Mississippi and Louisiana; prejudices and opposition are fasting melting away.” In 1839, D. B. Crawford gave a report to the Mississippi Baptist Convention on temperance which stated, “That notwithstanding, a few years since, the greater portion of our beloved and fast growing state, was under the influence of the habitual use of that liquid fire, which in its nature is so well calculated to ruin the fortunes, the lives and the souls of men, and spread devastation and ruin over the whole of our land; yet we rejoice to learn, that the cause of temperance is steadily advancing in the different parts of our State… We do therefore most earnestly and affectionately recommend to the members of our churches… to carry on and advance the great cause of temperance: 1. By abstaining entirely from the habitual use of all intoxicating liquors. 2. By using all the influence they may have, to unite others in this good work of advancing the noble enterprise contemplated by the friends of temperance.” Local churches consistently disciplined members for drunkenness, but they were slower to oppose the sale or use of alcohol. For example, in May 1844, “a query was proposed” at Providence Baptist Church in Forrest County on the issue of distributing alcohol. After discussion, the church took a vote on its opposition to “members of this church retailing or trafficking in Spirituous Liquors.” It is significant that in the handwritten church minutes, the clerk wrote that the motion “unanimously carried in opposition,” but then crossed out the word “unanimously.” In January 1845, Providence Church voted that “the voice of the church be taken to reconsider” the matter of liquor. The motion passed, but then tabled the issue, and did not come back up. In March of that year, a member acknowledged his “excessive use of arden[t] spirits” and his acknowledgement was accepted, and he was “exonerated.”2

. In 1846, the Mississippi Baptist Association’s leadership was opposed to alcohol, but was still attempting to prohibit the use of alcohol at its own meetings. The Association passed a resolution saying, “We respectfully request the brethren and friends who may entertain this body at its future meetings, to refrain from presenting ardent spirits in their accommodations.” By the 1850s, the State Convention was calling not only for abstinence, but for legal action, as well. In 1853, the Convention adopted the report of the “Temperance” Committee that said, “The time has arrived when the only true policy for the advocates of Temperance to pursue, is… to secure the enactment by the Legislature of a law, utterly prohibiting the sale of ardent spirits in any quantities whatsoever.” They endorsed the enactment of the “The Maine Liquor Law” in Mississippi. Two years before, in 1851, Maine had become the first State to pass a prohibition of alcohol. Thus during the antebellum period Mississippi Baptists gradually came to favor abstinence and prohibition of alcohol.3 

SOURCES:

1 Aaron Menikoff, Politics and Piety: Baptist Social Reform in America, 1770-1860 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 162-163; T.C. Schilling, Abstract History of the Mississippi Baptist Association for One Hundred Years From its Preliminary Organization in 1806 to the Centennial Session in 1906 (New Orleans, 1908), 50; Minutes, Pearl River Baptist Association, 1830, 1831, 1832.

2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1838, 1839; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, May 11, 1844, January 11, 1845, March 8, 1845.

3 T. M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 250; Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1853, 26; “The Unintended Consequences of Prohibition: Introduction,” Washington State University, accessed online 17 April 2022 at http://digitalexhibits.wsulibs.wsu.edu/exhibits/show/prohibition-in-the-u-s/introduction.

Mississippi Baptist church discipline in the 19th century

   During the 19th century, Baptist churches in Mississippi maintained strict discipline over their members. Henry Nichols was excluded from Sarepta Church in Union Association “for drawing his knife and offering to stab his brother and for spitting in his face.” Benjamin Brown was excluded from Ebenezer Church in Amite County for “attending a horse race and wagering thereon.” James Dermaid was excluded from Providence Church in what is now Forrest County “for “disputing, quarreling, and using profane language, and absenting himself from the church.” Providence Church also excluded “brother Alexander Williams and sister Leuizer Maclimore upon a charge of their attempting to go off and cohabit together as man and wife.” In 1828, the African Church at Bayou Pierre had a query for Union Association: “Is it gospel order for a Baptist church to hold members in fellowship who have married relations nearer than cousins?” The association answered that it was not. Jane Scarborough, wife of Rev. Lawrence Scarborough of Sarepta Church accused “Sister Harris” of being drunk at a wedding and for hosting “Negro balls” (debutante balls for blacks). Instead, the church charged Mrs. Scarborough of gossip without evidence, and excluded her for making the accusations!1

Mississippi Baptists moved gradually from a policy of tolerating mild use of alcohol, toward a policy of complete abstinence from alcohol. A Committee on Temperance made an enthusiastic report to the Mississippi Baptist Convention in 1838 of “the steady progress of the Temperance Reformation in different parts of Mississippi and Louisiana; prejudices and opposition are fasting melting away.” In 1839, D. B. Crawford gave a report to the Convention on temperance which stated, “That notwithstanding, a few years since, the greater portion of our beloved and fast growing state, was under the influence of the habitual use of that liquid fire, which in its nature is so well calculated to ruin the fortunes, the lives and the souls of men, and spread devastation and ruin over the whole of our land; yet we rejoice to learn, that the cause of temperance is steadily advancing in the different parts of our State.” Local churches consistently disciplined members for drunkenness, but they were slower to oppose the sale or use of alcohol. For example, in May 1844, “a query was proposed” at Providence Church in Pearl River Association on the issue of distributing alcohol. After discussion, the church took a vote on its opposition to “members of this church retailing or trafficking in Spirituous Liquors.” It is significant that in the handwritten church minutes, the clerk wrote that the motion “unanimously carried in opposition,” but then crossed out the word “unanimously.” In January 1845, Providence Church voted that “the voice of the church be taken to reconsider” the matter of liquor. The motion passed, but then tabled the issue, and did not come back up. In March of that year, a member acknowledged his “excessive use of arden[t] spirits” and his acknowledgement was accepted, and he was “exonerated.”2

The Mississippi Baptist Convention heard frequent reports on how to defend against desecrations of the Sabbath. In 1840, M. W. Chrestman reported, “The Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, is an institution of Divine Origin, and is therefore of universal obligation… On the Lord’s Day all manner of servile labor is positively prohibited, with the exception of works of necessity and mercy… Every necessary arrangement and sacrifice should be made; every carnal pleasure and sensual gratification should be denied… Resolved, That we recommend that our ministering brethren with greater zeal and diligence explain and enforce the proper observance of the Lord’s Day.” Local Mississippi Baptist churches considered violation of the Sabbath a serious matter. In March 1837, William Dossett, a member of Providence Church in what is now Forrest County, confessed to the church “that he had been hunting a deer on the Sabbath, which he had wounded on the preceding evening.” After “considerable discussion of the subject,” the church was satisfied with his explanation.3

SOURCES (All available at the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission Archives, Leland Speed Library, Mississippi College, Clinton, Mississippi):

1 Minutes, Sarepta Baptist Church, Jefferson County, Mississippi, August 1815, June 1828, July 1828; Minutes, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Amite County, Mississippi, February 6, 1813; March 6, 1813; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, December 10, 1842, September 2, 1843; Minutes, Union Baptist Association, 1828.

2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1838, 1839; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, May 11, 1844, January 11, 1845, March 8, 1845.

3 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1840; Minutes, Providence Baptist Church, Forrest County, Mississippi, March 4, 1837.

The first Baptist missions to Native Americans in Mississippi

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Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Native Americans were an area of concern for Mississippi Baptists. The white man wanted the Indian lands, and but the Baptists desired the conversion of their souls. In 1817, the Mississippi Baptist Association began an aggressive policy by sending Thomas Mercer and Benjamin Davis to visit the Creek Indians and see what cold be done to establish the gospel among them. The missionaries started out on their mission, but the project collapsed when Mercer died. Baptists in Kentucky started an academy for Choctaws in that State in 1819, but it closed in 1821. Richard Johnson, a Baptist leader in Kentucky, then opened an academy for Mississippi Choctaws in 1825 in the district of Choctaw chief Mushulatubbee, which was approximately the area between the modern cities of Columbus and Meridian. This school’s curriculum was secular, but the teachers hoped to “civilize” the Choctaws and lead them to faith in Christ. They met with some success among students, but the missionaries had little impact on adults in the tribe. A young female student wrote: “I do not know that one adult Choctaw has become a Christian. We all pray for them, but we cannot save them; and if they die where will they go? May the Lord pour out his Spirit upon the poor Choctaw people.” It would be many years before missions to the Choctaw tribe would have much impact.

This is one in a series of blog posts about Mississippi Baptist history. Click the links on this blog to read other posts on Mississippi Baptist history. More stories to come.

(Source: T. M. Bond, A Republication of the Minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association (New Orleans: Hinton & Co., 1849), 60, 71; Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818-1918 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 100-113.)