Early Baptist Churches
Presbyterians and Methodists, according to Isaac McCoy, had each organized a church in the Territory prior to the organization of the first Baptist church; the Presbyterians among the Cherokees in 1830, at the Union Mission; the Methodists near Port Towson among the Choctaws, in 1831. Catholics began work among the Osages in 1832.
Among the men whom McCoy met on his visit to the Creeks in 1831 was John Davis, a full-blood Creek Indian who had been a member of a Baptist church east of the Mississippi and had there been commended to exhort and preach although he was not then ordained or licensed. He had emigrated with his people to the Territory. In December, 1830, the Baptist Board of Missions took him under its patronage and gave him $200 a year.
Here is Isaac McCoy's account of the organization of the first Baptist church:"On the ninth of September, I constituted the Muscogee (Creek) Baptist Church, consisting of Mr. Lewis and wife, Mr. Davis, and three black men who were slaves to the Creeks. In the afternoon we worshipped in another place in the neighbourhood. This was the first Baptist church formed in the Indian Territory and I felt thankful to God that He had allowed me the satisfaction of witnessing the constitution of one church in this land toward which some of us had looked with solicitude. The first act of the church after organizing was to order a written license as a preacher to be given to Mr. Davis, the Creek missionary, and I was directed to prepare the same. Mr. Davis was interpreter for others in preaching and also preached and exhorted himself in his mother tongue. On the 16th of September two Indian men were baptized, after which the Lord's Supper was administered and we retired under a happy impression that another meeting
of ten days had been profitable to many."On the 14th of October, 37 persons were baptized at a meeting of the Muscogee Baptist Church, eight or ten of whom were Creeks, and the rest nearly all colored slaves. On the 10th of November nine more were baptized, three of whom were Indians. On the same day a Sunday school was commenced. Not all who applied for membership in the church were received. They were all examined carefully and the church was satisfied of their conversion.
Under date of January 18, 1833, McCoy wrote to the Baptist Weekly Journal:"Among the Creeks a church was established last September to which about fifty persons have been added by baptism. Many of these were Indians; — a majority were blacks who were slaves to the Indians and one was a white person. At this station are two missionaries with their families, one of whom is a full Indian. Among the Cherokees is one missionary and a small church. To the Choctaws a missionary has lately been sent, and in that tribe also we have a few names of our order who were baptized east of the Mississippi."Concerning Ebenezer Mission we find a letter to Isaac McCoy from John Davis, dated June 18, 1833, in which he says:"The Board" has added $50 to my salary, and I suppose agreeable to your request the Board sent me a coat and piece of cloth for pantaloons and vesting which cost me twenty-two dollars. Yet that coat is entirely too small and I expect I have to sell it . . . . Great many people disapprove of our teaching the black people to read . . . . We have large congregation which fill house every Sabbath . . . . Since you were here the members of our little church increased to sixty or more . . . . But Sister Lewis she is not satisfied to be here and I am afraid her heart is not with Brother Lewis in the cause . . . . Even in her conversation she is rather cold to attend or see the Indians about her. I have seriously talk[ed] with her and she informed that her heart is in New York."John Davis was ordained October 20, 1833 [Letter from Duncan O'Bryant dated October 21, 1833].
Later the wife of John Davis died and he remarried before 1839 at which time (September 15, 1839) he wrote McCoy:"The people in the settlement appeared some years ago to pay attention to preaching; but I have not been able to attend preaching regular and there have been no religious people among them; their attention is entirely drawn to dancing and whiskey drinking at this time."John Davis' second wife was not religious and gave him no encouragement. McCoy wrote in 1841:"Since the church among the Creeks has been destitute of ministry, the poor blacks, slaves of the Indians, have not forgotten their Master in Heaven. They have kept up public worship."The last word we find in McCoy's papers (May 23, 1844) concerning Ebenezer is, "It is destitute of the regular ministrations of the pulpit."
We visited recently the site of the old Ebenezer Mission, three and one-half miles southwest of Porter, 18 miles west of Fort Gibson, and three miles north of the Arkansas River*. The buildings are gone, although stones and other evidences of the old buildings are still there. We talked with three people in the community who remember the old building which was known that day as the Ebenezer Mission. A large map in the State Historical Building, Oklahoma City, locates Ebenezer Mission at the same point.
Among the Cherokees a Baptist church was constituted on the Illinois River, November 19, 1832, two months after the Creek Church was organized. This church had first been organized December 10, 1825, at Tinsawattee, in North Georgia, and had been removed West and "reopened" on the date indicated; of the original twenty members, twelve were still in the old Nation. Duncan O'Bryant who had come West with the Cherokees was pastor.
In 1832 the work was begun among the Choctaws with Rev. Charles Wilson as missionary. One of the workers
* In the report of the Secretary of War, November, 1832, we find the following statement ("Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest," by Grant Foreman): "A school which the [Baptist] Convention commenced in 1823 on the Chattahooche River among the Creeks was transferred in 1830 upon the arrival of the tribe to a point about 20 miles above Fort Gibson on the Arkansas."
among the Choctaws for several years was Sampson Burch who had come from the Choctaws east of the Mississippi.
Burch had attended Choctaw Academy, [Scott County - jrd] Kentucky, and his first letter to Isaac McCoy is preserved. In that letter he wrote (November 4, 1832):"Since I go down to Choctaw Nation (Mississippi) I have baptized twenty-three persons but have not constituted a church in my own nation the reason Choctaw my people have sold own nation also called Baptist preacher is only nation and then presbyterian and methodist are great many my nation and plague me so much and I cannot [speak] the English language real well. I have part Scripture translated from the English language but not all I like very much preach to my people. I am sorry for these people have sold our nation and have [gone] to wilderness again."According to the records preserved by McCoy the first Baptist church constituted among the Choctaws in the Territory was at Providence in 1837. In the "Annual Register of Indian Affairs", published to 1838 by Isaac McCoy, he lists under the head of Baptist mission stations in the Choctaw Nation "2nd station. Missionaries Ramsay D. Potts, Mrs. Potts and Miss Taylor. Church constituted in 1837. Post office, Fort Towson." In "Poor Lo!" by Wyeth, October 15, 1837 is given as the date of the organization of the first Baptist Church in the Choctaw Nation. The church was organized with four members by Ramsey Potts who was ordained that year. By 1843 the membership of this church had increased to 83. Chief Peter Folsom was a worthy member.
The first church among the Seminoles, later known as the Ash Creek Church, was organized in 1860 by J. S. Murrow. John Jumper was one of the first to join the church.
Prof. W. B. Morrison, Professor of History, Southeastern Teachers' College, Durant, had an article some months ago in the Baptist Messenger concerning Ramsay D. Potts and the old Philadelphia Church."About eight miles east of Durant on Highway 70, the traveler may notice a modest white frame building on his
left just before he crosses Blue River. It is the present home of the Philadelphia Baptist church.
"Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay D. Potts arrived in Oklahoma in 1835 and opened a mission school, which they named Providence, at a point in what is now Choctaw county about six miles north of the Red River and twelve miles west of Fort Towson. Two years later, Mr. Potts was ordained to the ministry and began a career of missionary and educational service throughout the western portion of the Choctaw Nation that continued through more than seventeen years.
"In 1844, when the Choctaws decided to found an academy in the western portion of Pushmataha District, Rev. R. D. Potts was invited to take charge of it, the Indian Mission Society of Louisville, Kentucky, paying a portion of the support of the school. For ten years Mr. Potts operated this school, which under the name of Armstrong Academy, became a center of Choctaw educational and political life, and for many years the most important place in the Nation, with the possible exception of Fort Towson.
"However much Ramsay D. Potts was interested in the educational progress of the Choctaw people, there is no doubt that he was still more interested in their spiritual development, so we find him riding a great circuit from the Blue River on the west to the Kiamichi on the east, and preaching the Gospel wherever a group of people could be gathered to hear it.
"As long as Mr. Potts conducted Armstrong Academy he continued to preach at other points farther east, receiving members into this church from time to time. One of these preaching places, whose location Has since been lost, was known as Winchester. It was probably somewhere near the district court ground, in what is now Choctaw county. Students of Oklahoma history will remember that the Choctaw Nation was divided into three districts, the western division being named after the great chief, Pushmataha, and at first presided over by his nephew, Nitakechie, who led a band of Choctaws from Mississippi over the "Trail of Tears" to their new home. It is not now definitely known where Nitakechie
and his family made their home, but it was somewhere within the eastern bounds of Mr. Potts' circuit. There is no evidence to show that Nitakechie was ever reached by the missionaries — he was opposed to them in Mississippi. It is also known that he returned to the old country on a visit and died there in 1846. However, at least two of Nitakechie's sons were converted under Mr. Potts' preaching. One of them, who had taken the name of Henry Graves while at school at the Choctaw Academy in Kentucky, was converted at a meeting held at Winchester in the autumn of 1849. He became a very earnest and faithful Christian, and in July, 1851, by a vote of the church during a meeting at Winchester, was called to ordination and became a native helper of Mr. Potts, serving faithfully until his death in February, 1854. His wife, Mary Graves, it is interesting to note, was converted and baptized at her husband's funeral. Another member of Chief Nitakechie's family, Captain Jackson Nitakechie, united with the church at Winchester in 1851.
"In the year 1883 the site of the church was moved from its original site to a point about three miles east of the town of Blue, in what is now Bryan county. This structure was burned in 1887, and rebuilt near the river west of Blue. This situation did not prove satisfactory, so in 1905, Philadelphia Church made its last move and erected the present building on ground donated for the purpose by Mrs. Adeline Patterson, one of the members. The bell now in use in this church was brought from the old Choctaw court-house near Armstrong Academy."
Go to Chapter 4
[From E. C. Routh, The Story of Oklahoma Baptists, 1932. - jrd]
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