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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.

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.

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.)

The first African-American Baptists in Mississippi

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

From the start, many of the Baptists of Mississippi were African-American. Only a few of the white Baptists owned slaves, but slaves who belonged to non-Baptist slaveowners were welcomed to worship as fellow members alongside whites in Baptist churches. From 1806 to 1813, Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County listed four “Africans” who joined, out of about 50 members. For instance, on December 8, 1815, the minutes of Ebenezer read, “Received by experience an African Ben belonging to Samuel Harrell.” (Samuel Harrell does not appear in the list of church members.)  In 1821, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek had 28 white members, listed by full name, and 32 “black” members, listed by first name only, under the names of their owners. None of the slaveowners were members of the Salem church. The common practice was for slaveowners to give a written pass for slaves to attend worship. For example, the minutes at Salem on May 3, 1816 read, “Captain Doherty’s Phil came forward with his master’s written permission to join the church by experience.” (Doherty was not a member of the church.) Although slaves were bought and sold and transported from state to state, Baptist churches still received them by letter from their former churches. In November 1816, the minutes of Sarepta Church in Franklin County read, “Bob & Ferrby servants of Walter Sellers presented letters from Cape Fear Church in N. Carolina & was received.” Slave members were disciplined, as well, as Sarepta minutes of December 1822 read, “Bro. Prather’s Rose (a servant) excluded by taking that which was not her own.” From this wording, it is likely that Walter Sellers was a slaveowner but not a Baptist, whereas “Bro. Prather” likely was a member of the Sarepta church, who had a slave named Rose.

   During the antebellum era until the end of slavery, most African-Americans worshiped with whites. However, there were a few Baptist churches that were exclusively for blacks. One such church was in the Mississippi Association. Called the “African Church,” it first appeared in the minutes of the association as a member church in 1813. It met at a sawmill belonging to Josiah Flowers, pastor of Bayou Pierre Church. In 1814, the African Church sent a letter to the association, and in 1815 the association called on the various white pastors to take turns preaching to the African Church, which was then using the meeting house of Bayou Pierre church. Every year from 1816-1819, the African Church sent two messengers to the associational meeting, by the names of Levi Thompson, Hezekiah Harmon (messenger twice), E. Flower (messenger three times), William Cox, S. Goodwin, J. Flower and W. Breazeale. They never appeared in the associational minutes in any leadership position, but they did attend as duly registered representatives of the African Church, and they were given a seat alongside their white brothers in Christ. There were other African churches, as well. In 1818, members of Bogue Chitto Church granted “the Request of the Black Brethren to be constituted into a church.” In 1822, members of Zion Hill Church in Mississippi Association considered licensing Smart, a slave, to “exercise his gift” to preach, but delayed their decision “in consequences of an Act passed in the legislature.”

   The situation had suddenly changed. Fearing a slave insurrection, the new state of Mississippi’s legislature enacted a law prohibiting slaves or even free people of color from assembling except under certain restricted conditions. This brought the Mississippi Baptist Association into conflict with the state legislature. When the law was applied to the African church, it forced them to discontinue meeting for a time. The association took up the cause of the African church and appointed a committee to prepare a memorial to be “laid before the next legislature of this State, praying the repeal of such parts of a state law thereof, as deprives the African churches, under the patronage of this association, of their religious privileges and that Elder S. Marsh wait on the legislature with said memorial.” The legislature did not agree with the association, and the African stopped meeting for a time, although the members were still welcome in the other churches led by whites.   

In 1824, the state legislature heeded the complaints of the churches, and revised the code to permit slaves to preach to other slaves, as long as the service was overseen by a white minister or attended by at least two white people appointed by the white church. Thanks to this revision in the law, African churches could meet again, and in 1826, Zion Hill Church allowed Smart to preach. The African Church at Bayou Pierre joined the new Union Association after 1820, meeting as a separate congregation from Bayou Pierre church. In 1828, the African Church reported 75 members (its sponsor church at Bayou Pierre had 48 members). The African Church was tied with Clear Creek Church in Adams County for the largest church in the association.

The Mississippi Baptist revival during the War of 1812

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

   On December 16, 1811, the New Madrid earthquake, with its epicenter in New Madrid in southeast Missouri Territory, was felt over a million square miles, including Natchez, where clocks stopped, houses were damaged, and the river rose and fell rapidly. A New Orleans writer said, “the shake which the Natchezians have felt may be a mysterious visitation from the Author of all nature, on them for their sins.” It would seem that many people were truly shaken to their core, not only by the earthquake, but also the War of 1812. The United States declared war on Great Britain in June 1812. In Mississippi the focus of the conflict was on the Indian tribes, especially the Creeks, who were supported by the British. In 1813, the Creeks attacked Fort Mims, north of Mobile, and massacred at least 250 people. The Creeks were eventually crushed by an army under General Andrew Jackson, but these dramatic events shook the souls of Mississippians. The annual Circular Letter of the Mississippi Baptist Association of October 1813, was on the subject of “The War.” It was a circular letter received from Ocmulgee Association in Georgia, republished with edits made by Mississippi pastors Ezra Courtney and Moses Hadley, because of “the distressed situation of our territory, and the nation in general.” It warned readers that perhaps “Divine Providence” had allowed Europe to “invade our rights” because of “our ingratitude, our avarice, and abuse of the rich blessings we have enjoyed.” It declared the war to be “a war of just and necessary defence [sic]; justifiable on every sound political and moral principle.” It called for unity to defend “the rich inheritance of freedom we possess,” and stressed how American liberty was unlike that of France, which had fallen into ungodly apostasy and lost its freedoms. “If history ever proved any one truth clearly, it is this: that no nation, without public and private virtue, ever retained its freedom long.” The message was clear: their freedoms were in danger, and if they wanted to keep their freedoms, Mississippians needed a fervent devotion to both God and country. It is not known how many people in the town of Natchez were shaken from their sins, but we do know that the territory experienced a religious revival. In 1813, 246 people were baptized into membership in the churches of the Mississippi Baptist Association, far more than any year in the decade before or after, and the total membership nearly doubled that year, from 494 to 914!

The first Baptist churches of Mississippi

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

   During the two decades prior to the Second Great Awakening that began about 1800, there had only been one Baptist congregation in the Natchez District, Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek in Jefferson County, which met informally in the 1780s, then organized in 1791 under the leadership of Richard Curtis, Jr. But the triple blessings of religious liberty, population growth and spiritual renewal certainly aided in the formation of five new churches from 1798 to 1806. The second Mississippi Baptist church was on Bayou Pierre, which was the river near the town of Port Gibson in Claiborne County. This location was the same river where Richard Curtis, Jr. and his friends had first hid from Spanish arrest in 1795. How appropriate that in the same year of his return, 1798, Curtis, along with William Thompson, John Stampley, Benjamin Curtis, Jacob Stampley, Joseph Perkins and William Thomas assisted in the constitution of the new church on Bayou Pierre. It is interesting to note that most of the members of this committee were among the arrivals in the 1780s. The Bayou Pierre church was organized in the home of Thomas Hubbards. It is unclear whether Richard Curtis left Salem to pastor Bayou Pierre, or whether he preached at both churches.

In 1800, two more churches were organized: the third Baptist church was New Hope on Second Creek in Adams County just south of Natchez, and the fourth was Bethel on Bayou Sara, four miles southwest of the town of Woodville in Wilkinson County. The fifth was New Providence in Amite County in 1805, and the sixth was Ebenezer in Amite County, near the Louisiana line, started by Richard Curtis in 1806. Curtis was likely involved in starting many, if not all of these new churches, for the records show that after Curtis started Ebenezer in May 1806, he then turned over the pastorate of Ebenezer to a South Carolina friend, Ezra Courtney, in November 1808, and Curtis became pastor of New Hope until the year of his death in 1811. Ebenezer Baptist in Amite County is the only one of these churches that continues to exist to this day, making it the oldest continually meeting Baptist church in Mississippi.

How a Baptist preacher helped America take Natchez from the Spanish

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

(In previous posts, I told the stories of how Baptists from South Carolina settled the Natchez District about the same time that the Spanish took control of the area from the British, and how the Baptists started Salem Baptist Church on Cole’s Creek, 20 miles north of Natchez.)

Concerned about so many English-speaking American emigrants to the Natchez District, who were not Catholic, the Spanish issued a religious edict in 1795. It declared “that if nine persons were found worshiping together, except according to the forms of the Catholic Church, they should suffer imprisonment.” They sent a man named Ebenezer Dayton to spy on the Baptists, pretending to be in sympathy with them as he was Presbyterian, and Dayton reported that their pastor, Richard Curtis, Jr. continued defend his right to preach the gospel and obey God rather than man. The Spanish Governor, Manuel Gayoso, arrested Curtis in April 1795, and forced him to sign a pledge not to preach. At the urging of his congregation, Curtis continued to preach, so Gayoso sent an armed posse to break up the house church in August 1795, but this time Curtis fled to South Carolina.

Meanwhile, the American government began the process of taking control of the Natchez District. The months between the signing of the Pinckney’s Treaty of San Lorenzo in October 1795, until the surrender of the area to the United States on March 30, 1798, were a period of turbulence and disorder in the Natchez region. The Spanish authorities controlled the government and exercised the legal authority that existed. The control of the Spanish was weakened by a large influx of American settlers and by the knowledge that the Spanish authority was of a temporary nature.

    In February 1797, Louisiana’s governor sent orders to Gayoso to prepare dismantling the fort at Natchez in compliance with the treaty, but soon afterward, Gayoso received orders from Spain to postpone the departure, as Spain hoped to talk to the Americans about alterations to the treaty. The same month, Andrew Ellicott arrived with a commission from the American president to mark the southern boundary of the United States at the 31st parallel, which was about 30 miles south of Natchez, in accordance with the treaty to give to America all lands on the east side of the Mississippi River, north of the 31st parallel. He had a small army escort under Lieutenant Percy Smith Pope, and two dozen woodsmen from Fort Pitt. Ellicott, Pope and their party of Americans docked at Natchez on February 24, 1797. They camped on a knoll overlooking the town. At Patrick Connelly’s tavern atop the hill, the Americans boldly raised the United States flag, so that it could be seen by the Spanish in their fort. Gayoso and his garrison of 60 Spanish soldiers refused to leave. Ellicott and Gayoso wrote letters back and forth, neither party willing to give in, as the standoff continued for months. Lt. Pope preferred a direct attack, and even recruited 200 men from Cole’s Creek, which likely included some of the Baptists, to assault the Spanish fort, but Gayoso arrested the leaders and broke up the plot. Commissioner Ellicott, who was a Quaker, preferred negotiation and political maneuver to get the Spanish to leave. He counted on the loyalty of the majority of the American settlers, since it was only a few wealthy landowners who were solidly loyal to the Spanish. He got the leverage he needed from a Baptist preacher.

   The Baptist preacher whom Ellicott needed was named Barton Hannan, who had previously been active at Salem Church on Cole’s Creek. Hannan arrived in Natchez preaching fiery words, damning the pope and recruiting volunteers for a revolt. Hannan got into a drunken brawl with some Irish Catholics on June 9, 1797, and the irate Irish Catholics mauled him. Governor Gayoso arrested Hannan for disturbing the peace, which only led to more disturbances. His wife marched to Natchez, baby in her arms, and demanded that Governor Gayoso release him. Gayoso tried to calm her by caressing the baby and giving her presents. “I don’t want your presents; I want my husband,” she said. He replied, “I cannot grant your request, madam.” She answered, “I will have him before tomorrow morning, or this place shall be deluged in blood; for there are men enough who have pledged themselves to release him before morning, or die in the attempt, to overcome any force you have here.” She was not making an idle threat, for on June 12, over 300 armed men assembled at William Belk’s tavern on the Natchez Trace to organize a rebellion. The governor released Hannan, and from that point forward, the Spanish lost real control of Natchez. In December 1797, Captain Isaac Guion arrived in Natchez with a large unit of American troops, and put greater pressure on Gayoso to leave. The Spanish finally departed on March 30, 1798.

   Immediately after the Spanish had withdrawn, the American officials raised the “Stars and Stripes” over Natchez, and invited Bailey E. Chaney preach. He was the son of William Chaney, the deacon who, in Richard Curtis’s absence, was leading Salem Baptist on Cole’s Creek. Chaney preached before a large gathering, the very first sermon under the United States flag in the new Mississippi Territory. At long last, religious freedom was allowed in Natchez, and a Baptist was called on to celebrate it with God’s Word.

The first Baptist church in Mississippi

Painting by Joyce C. Rogers, based on Charles D. Terrell’s concept of how the Cole’s Creek church may have looked.

Article copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

(In a previous blog post, I told the story of how a group of Baptists emigrated to the Natchez District in 1780-81. This post tells how they started the first Baptist church in Mississippi.)

  The Spaniards had taken control of the Natchez District from the British in October 1779, shortly before the emigrants arrived, but the Spanish had not established an efficient government or any control over land sales or occupation by adventurers. The first objective of the newly arrived settlers was to earn a livelihood. In this new land they were dependent upon themselves for supplying all of their needs. As they had likely arrived in the spring of 1781, they began to plant crops, as well as devote themselves to the construction of houses. They built for their protection the usual log houses from the abundant materials that were available. The experience of one of these settlers has been described by a descendant of John Jones:

“He found rich land… a plentiful supply of game in the woods and fish and water-fowl in the creek, with plenty of spring and creek water convenient for man and beast. He soon put up a log cabin, cut and burned the cane and undergrowth… and by doling out a scanty supply of seed-corn by the grain, soon had it planted… For a time, bread was not to be had, but Mr. Jones, with his trusty rifle… kept his family supplied with game, principally venison and wild turkeys.”

   This patriotic band of Americans was living in an area conquered by Spain during the Revolutionary War but which was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 with Great Britain. Spain was determined to hold the territories she had captured, because of their intrinsic worth and because they afforded protection for her holdings south of the 31st parallel and the great Louisiana territory west of the river. The basic Spanish policy was to win the loyalty of those who resided in the territory and to increase the migration of Americans into the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. The Spanish modified their traditional colonial policy by permitting the toleration of “heretics,” the admission of foreign immigrants, and the granting of a considerable degree of commercial freedom. These policies failed to win the ultimate allegiance of the settlers in the Natchez region.

   Meanwhile, on Cole’s Creek, the group of settlers, most of whom were Baptists, met privately in their homes for Bible study and prayer, but did not worship publicly, thus avoiding attention from the Roman Catholic authorities. They lost their patriarch, Richard Curtis, Sr., who died on November 10, 1784, at age 56, but the embers of his faith were fanning to flame in the next generation. His young son Richard Curtis, Jr., was already a licensed preacher, though only 25 years old when they left South Carolina. Young Richard was 29 years old at the time of his father’s death; however, he was becoming known as a good preacher, and his brothers-in-law, John and Jacob Stampley, were also gifted at teaching the scriptures. Richard’s older brother William and step-brother John Jones were known for their prayers. By 1790, other American settlers were inviting them to visit their homes and share their faith. Whatever they may have lacked in education, they seemed to make up for in zeal.   The conditions prevailing in 1791 thus were favorable for the establishment of formal Baptist religious worship. A group of seven people met at Margaret Stampley’s home on Cole’s Creek in what is now Jefferson County to organize themselves for religious worship. The members of this group of pioneers were: Richard Curtis, Jr., pastor; William Thompson, recording clerk; William Curtis; John Jones; Benjamin Curtis; Ealiff Lanier; and Margaret Stampley. Ealiff Lanier is the only name of this group whose name does not appear in the list of those making the journey from South Carolina in 1780-81. Notably missing are several male members of the first settlers, including Margaret Stampley’s husband, who may have died. The church was informally called Cole’s Creek Church, as late as 1806. They finally settled on the name Salem Baptist by the time the church name appears in the minutes of the Mississippi Baptist Association in 1807.

The Baptist pioneer trek to Mississippi

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

(In a previous post, I told how a group of South Carolina Baptists decided to flee the devastation of the Revolutionary War and make a new life in Mississippi. This post tells the story of how they got to Mississippi.)

   The Curtis family decided to establish their new homes along the Mississippi River near Natchez, in what was then called West Florida. After the French and Indian War in 1763, the British took Florida from Spain, (West Florida included the panhandle of modern Florida and the areas now in southern Mississippi and Alabama), and Englishmen from the colonies had begun to settle there. The stories of productive farmlands that were free to all settlers and the peace they would have from the turmoil of the fratricidal strife in South Carolina must have made the prospects of beginning again very enticing. In 1779, Spain took advantage of the British distraction with the American Revolution, and Spain conquered the Natchez district from the British and added it to West Florida. Despite this, the emigrants did not anticipate any difficulty from this source. As we shall see, they were wrong.

  The route the migrants followed to their new homes was the familiar one used by many who were a part of the great westward migration, but it was not an easy trek. Our source for this journey is John Griffing Jones, a direct descendant of one of the travelers, John Jones. He writes that they left their homes in South Carolina early in 1780, loading their horses with their clothes, furniture and tools, and traveled north by land, crossing the Appalachian Mountains, and arrived on the banks of the Holston River near the present location of Kingsport, Tennessee, a trip of about 300 miles. Primitive roads and mountains made the trip difficult, as they carried their supplies on pack horses, the men traveling by foot. They arrived on the Holston River in the early spring and immediately began the task of raising a crop of corn, hunting game to salt and preserve, while building flatboats for the river journey that lay ahead.

   In the fall of 1780, the travelers were ready to begin their voyage downriver. The party included Richard Curtis, Sr., and his wife Phoebe; two brothers William and Benjamin Curtis and their wives; Richard Curtis, Jr. and his wife Patsy; John Courtney and John Stampley and their wives (Hannah Curtis Courtney and Phoebe Curtis Stampley, respectively, daughters of Richard Curtis, Sr.); John Jones, his wife, and son William; and others whose names are unknown.  On the second boat were Daniel and William Ogden and their families, and a Mr. Perkins and his family.  The records do not reveal the names of the occupants of the third boat.

   The emigrants knew from the experience of other travelers that they might have trouble with the Indian tribes. After all, they were planning to take lands formerly occupied by the Indians and make permanent homes for themselves. The natives did not want to give up their lands. The French had virtually exterminated the Natchez tribe in 1732, although other tribes such as the Choctaws were still in the area, but they knew they would encounter other tribes along the way, especially since the hostility of the Indians was encouraged and supported by the British against Americans during the Revolutionary War. In order to protect themselves, the emigrants always traveled in as large groups as possible.

    The migrants’ travel took them down the Holston River for 87 miles to what is now Knoxville. There, they entered the Tennessee River. The three boats had only traveled about 40 miles downriver, when they faced their greatest danger. This was the country of the Cherokees, who had been faithful allies of the British during the Revolution. These Indians attacked the flotilla on a bend in the Tennessee near the mouth of the Clinch River, near present-day Kingston. The Cherokee attack focused on the first flatboat, occupied by the Curtis and Jones families. Some of the women and children took over the oars while the men fired their rifles in defense. Hannah Courtney was grazed on the head by a ball, and Jonathan Curtis was slightly wounded on the wrist. While John Jones fired his rifle, his 12-year-old son worked the oars and his wife held up a thick stool made of poplar wood as a shield. A bullet hit her stool, and later Mrs. Jones laughingly remarked that “their guns were very weak, as they did not make a very deep impression on the stool.” The second boat floated by the point of attack unharmed, but the third boat was far behind, and became an easy target for the Indians. The occupants of the third boat had contracted smallpox, and so they were floating in the rear and camping at a separate place each night. The Cherokees killed everybody on the third boat except one woman whom they captured, thereby also contracting smallpox, which took the lives of many in the tribe.

   The survivors made the rest of their trip without further molestation. They traveled about 600 miles down the winding Tennessee River, riddled with rocky shoals and swift currents, until they met the Ohio River near the city of Paducah, Kentucky. A short trip of 44 miles on the Ohio River brought them to the mighty Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. Then they traveled another 450 miles down the Mississippi River. They landed near the mouth of Cole’s Creek, about twenty miles north of Natchez, settling 3.5 miles eastward on the creek at “Curtis Landing,” and established a village known as Uniontown, west of the present town of Fayette. Given the distance they traveled, at the mercy of the flow of the rivers and resting each night, the trip should have taken several months. Jack Curtis, a descendant of Richard Curtis who has done extensive research on the family, estimates that they arrived in the Natchez District about March, 1781. By the grace of God, they had survived a trek through the mountains, an Indian attack and navigated over 1,000 miles of rivers to reach their new home.

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