How Mississippi Baptists nearly split over Landmarkism in 1860
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
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
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.
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.
Guest post: The Saints robbed of the Super Bowl and the unfairness of life
Article copyright by Larry Robertson.
(Below is a guest column written by my friend Larry Robertson, senior pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tennessee.)
Perhaps you’ve heard by now that the New Orleans Saints got robbed of a chance to go to the Super Bowl, during the closing moments of the NFC Championship Game on January 20, 2019. Even the NFL admits that pass interference should’ve been called on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and that the call would’ve most likely led to the win for the Saints…and a trip to the Super Bowl. But after the Rams player virtually assaulted Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis at a critical point in the game, no yellow flag was thrown.
This is not opinion; it’s a verifiable fact. Robey-Coleman even admits that the refs missed the call. But, per league rules, judgment calls like pass interference are not subject to video review.
Life’s not fair.
That’s one of the most basic life lessons that parents should teach their children, because they’re going to experience it soon enough on their own. At least if you’re expecting it (as much as you can expect the unexpected), the reality of it all won’t knock the breath out of you when you get kicked in the gut.
Life’s not fair.
In Genesis 39, Joseph was falsely accused of sexual assault by his employer’s wife but only because he refused her relentless sexual advances. Joseph did the right thing. Yet he was thrown into prison by his employer, Potiphar, who understandably believed his wife’s false narrative.
Life’s not fair.
“…But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him…” (Genesis 39:20-21). Life’s not fair; that’s true. But the LORD is faithful: He’s faithful in His presence…He’s faithful in His providence…He’s faithful in His promises.
I really believe that one reason some folk “lose faith” is that they mistakenly think that God’s will is always to manipulate circumstances for people of faith so that they get to eat cotton candy while riding unicorns through rainbows. And certainly no one will ever be able to push you down without a penalty! But that’s as false a narrative as Potiphar’s wife’s.
Read Romans 8:31-39. Read the list of hardships that Paul detailed. Take note, though, of verse 37. “…in all these things we are more than conquerors…” Not “in THE ABSENCE OF all these things,” but “IN all these things.”
Listen, life’s not fair. But the LORD is faithful. So, count on that…