Rev. Alvin Peter Williams, D. D.The subject of this sketch was born March 13, 1813, in that part of the Missouri Territory, which, on December 31, 1813, was organized into St. Louis county. He was a son of Lewis Williams, a Baptist minister. The father was born in North Carolina. Mav 19,
Early Missouri Frontier Baptist Minister
By Hon. D. C. Allen.
Religious Activity in Missouri 1830-1868.
1784, and came with his parents in 1797 to the subdivision of Missouri now known as St. Louis county. That was during the Spanish regime.
The father was married in 1806 to Miss Mary Jump, united with the Baptist church in 1810 and died in 1838. He was ordained as a Baptist minister, June 22, 1811. The Rev. Thomas R. Musick, of Fee Fee church, signed the certificate of ordination.
In 1795 or 1797 — perhaps, 1797 — Daniel Boone removed from Kentucky and settled in the area now known as St. Charles County, Missouri. I am inclined to think that Dr. Williams was a kinsman — perhaps a nephew — of Ezekiel Williams, who was a noted hunter among the Indians and voyageur to the upper reaches of the Missouri river, as far back as 1810 and earlier.
So, it is seen that Dr. Williams sprang from the strictly pioneer stock in Missouri. Of these pioneers I may truly say that as a body of men and women, they have never been surpassed in endurance, courage, tenacity of purpose, common sense, or loyalty, in companionship. These qualities he inherited and they were of priceless "ilue to him in his after days of battle for the Baptist denomination in Missouri.
Dr. Williams was precocious in body and mind. He was converted and united with the Baptist church in his sixteenth, and was ordained as a Baptist minister, in his seventeenth year. The presbytery, at his ordination, consisted of his own father and the Rev. David Stites. On August 21, 1831, in Franklin county, Missouri, he was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth Armour.
A true conception of Dr. Williams as a man and minister of the Gospel, or of his labor for, or his value to, the Baptist denomination in Missouri, can not be
formed without some knowledge of Baptist history and some acquaintance with ecclesiastical conditions in Missouri during the period of his ministry. I give these in brief:
Their laws make of every people a peculiar one. Among religious bodies their tenets and usages make of each a peculiar people. Throughout their history this has been more distinctly true of the Baptists than of any other Christian organization. They have ever been a "peculiar people." During many ages their advocacy of immersion as the only mode of Christian baptism and their rejection of pedo-baptism differentiated them from all other Christian bodies. Since the origin in America, under the leadership of Alexander Campbell, of the religious movement, spoken of in earlier days as the Current Reformation, the difference between the Baptists and the Disciples — those who accept the religious tenets advocated by Mr. Campbell — on the question of a creed and close communion, and certain other questions indicated by theologians, makes of the Baptists a peculiar people, as distinguished from the Disciples.
In 1834 a momentous fact occurred in the Baptist ranks in Missouri. Prior to that date they had been a unit in faith. In that year the larger number of the Baptists in Missouri declared in favor of missions and an educated ministry. These formed the Baptist General Association of Missouri. The successors of the minority division are now termed the Primitive Baptists.
At the time of Dr. Williams' entry into the Baptist ministry, the religious movement inaugurated by Mr. Campbell was in progress in Missouri and the middle west. He was a great man, full of energy, and
possessed in the highest degree, of the gift of communicating his spirit and plans to his subordinates. He was, above all, an organizer, and from Bethany College his ideas radiated far and wide over the country. All newly-born organizations — particularly when in earnest and full of enthusiasm as the Disciples were — are attackers. Human nature is so constituted. The Disciples, at the beginning of their movement, drew into it great numbers from the Baptists. This fact had no tendency to increase the kindly feeling of the Baptists who remained in their church towards the Disciples. After the division of the Baptists in 1834, the Primitive Baptists did not feel any addition of love towards their former brethren.
The line of cleavage between the Baptists and the Protestant denominations other than the Disciples and the Primitive Baptists remained as before; but the Baptists were subjected to the ecclesiastical fire of the Disciples on the score of their written creed, close communion, and some other doctrinal points.
It will be seen, therefore, that after the inauguration of the movement spoken of as the Current Reformation, by Mr. Campbell and the division of 1834, the Baptists of Missouri, and, indeed, those elsewhere in the west, were in a position of danger; a position which demanded their ablest men along the firing line. This condition of danger continued until the Civil War, when it was lessened by a fact remarkable in every way. Strange as it may seem, the cannon became adjuvant of peace between those Christians of Missouri — Catholic and Protestant — who were in sympathy with the South. It must be remembered that the federal government dominated in Missouri, during the Civil War, except in the western, central and southwestern
portions, in the early period of the struggle.
This domination compelled communion in secret among those Disciples, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, of both kinds, Episcopalians and Catholics who were in sympathy with the South and rejoiced in victories won by Lee and his Confederate compeers. Drawn together by a common sympathy and sharing in the like danger in secret communion, their religious differences were in a degree forgotten and asperities greatly softened.
This softening influence continued throughout the Civil War, and never since that period has the repulsion among the Christians of Missouri, of all denominations, approximated what it was before. All this is clear to the mind's eye of any one whose memory extends in vigor to a time prior to the Civil War, and who continuously since then has lived in Missouri.
I may now resume the thread of my narrative of Dr. Williams. Inasmuch, however, as he left no autobiography of himself, and those who were intimate with him in life have passed away during the forty-six years since his death, I must premise that the facts known of his life are far fewer in number than any of us would wish. His father was a poor man with a large family. The financial condition of Dr. Williams was strained throughout his life. He never knew affluence. In his youth and early manhood, as historians of education in Missouri know, the opportunities to secure it in this state were meager save in St. Louis and some of the larger towns. Except in those centers it was limited to spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and grammar. He and his father, both, appreciated the value of education — above all to a minister of the Gospel.
In the earlier days of his ministry, Dr. Williams split rails at 50 cents per 100 to support his family and purchase a few books. The term, "self-made man," intellectually, is as applicable to him as it is to any one whom I have known. By nature, he was gifted with a memory of extraordinary tenacity and power. It retained all that he read, as well as that which came within his observation and hearing. He meditated upon what he read. Scriptural texts, especially those of the New Testament, were at his tongue's end. He was heard to say that if the Bible were destroyed he could replace the New Testament from his memory. Armed with such a memory and reinforced by a fixed determination to equip himself properly for his ministerial work, he conquered circumstances.
He prepared his sermons with great care. If he lacked time to do so at home, he studied them out on horseback en route to his appointments for preaching. The Bible was his constant companion and the subects of his sermons were invariably taken from it.
Early in his ministry he saw that a knowledge of the Greek language was essential to the full and clear understanding of the New Testament. In the midst of a large and increasing family, and burdened by many labors, he resolutely took up the Greek grammar and applied himself to acquiring the Greek tongue. He so far made of himself a Greek scholar that he felt connscious within himself that he understood the New Testament so far as to give it a just and true interpretation.
Men who read must think, and men who think, by some mysterious force of the mind, are impelled to the expression of their thoughts in writing. He was by nature, a combatant, a warrior, and his writings were
nearly always controversial, and whether in attack or on the defensive they were intensely Baptistic, ever in advocacy or defense of the tenets of his denomination.
For years prior to 1860, he was constantly writing articles in the form of pamphlets or communications in the Baptist papers of Missouri. The chief of all of his writings was his famous and quite able work, entitled "Exposition of Campbellism," which appeared in 1860. His last work in extent beyond a pamphlet or communication, was a volume entitled, "The Lord's Supper."
His last pamphlet was written in 1868, at the request of the Missouri Baptist General Association, on the test oath required of ministers of the Gospel and others by the constitution of Missouri, adopted in 1865. It was written in defense of the Baptist ministry and people in Missouri against an attack on them by the Rev. Galusha A. Anderson, at one time a pastor in St. Louis, Mo., which had appeared in the Baptist Quarterly. Mr. Williams himself had been indicted at the November term, 1865, of the Saline county circuit court, for preaching the Gospel without taking the test oath. The case never, as I understand, came to a trial. The decision of the U. S. Supreme Court, rendered January 14, 1867, adverse to the constitutionality of the test oath as to ministers of the Gospel terminated all prosecutions for preaching the Gospel without taking the test oath.
Dr. Williams' writings gave him a very high position as a writer among the Baptists of Missouri and the United States. Dr. John Hill Luther, of Missouri and Texas, wrote thus of Dr. Williams' writings: "As a contributor to the Baptist literature of the nineteenth century, Dr. Williams had no superior. He has been
styled by one of the most polished scholars and eloquent divines of our country, 'the Andrew Fuller of America.'"
Immediately upon his ordination as a minister of the Gospel, he took up the cross of his Master and began his career in Missouri as an evangelist and pastor — a career which in the amount of work done, the privations endured and the difficulties encountered and overcome, is without a parallel in the history of Missouri Baptists. It was here — in the pulpit — that he came in contact with individuals and obtained from the Baptists that enviable respect and affection and secured that influence which no one ever surpassed. Others, during the period of his ministry — Hinton, Jeter, Thompson, Harris, Dulin, Owen, Thomas, and Rambaut — were more eloquent, learned or cultured, but none of them was closer to the hearts of the masses of the Baptists in the state or was more thoroughly felt to be their battle-captain.
The field of his labors embraced the counties bordering on the Missouri River from St. Louis to Buchanan county, with excursions to outlying counties. An example of these excursions is shown by the following extract out of a recent letter to me from the venerable Francis M, Williams, of Kansas City, Mo., viz: "In the year 1857, the Antioch Association met with the Antioch church, Cedar county, Missouri. On the Monday of that meeting, I, with several others, was baptized by Alvin P. Williams. He was regarded by the Baptists as one of the greatest of men." An example is also shown by an extract from a letter to me of recent date written by the venerable Townsend Wright, of Kansas City, Mo., viz: "Dr. A. P. Williams baptized my mother, who joined the Bethlehem church, Boone
county, Mo., in 1838. At the same time he baptized many others in that neighborhood." There is no known data by which any succession of his pastorates, or, even their number, can be ascertained. He established many churches and, so far as they are known, in no instance of a church established by him has its "candle been removed."
His first pastorate was that of St. John's church in Franklin county, Missouri. Succeeding this, he held pastorates for some years in Cooper county, Missouri. Following these were pastorates at High Hill (Saline county), Lexington, Richmond, Liberty, Pleasant Ridge (Platte county), again at Liberty, Warrensburg, and lastly in Saline county, where he resided during the last eight years of his life. He was pastor at Pleasant Ridge for some years, and while there did, perhaps, in Platte and surrounding counties, his most valuable work in evangelizing. He was often pastor of several churches at the same time.
No complete list of the churches established by him can now be obtained. Of them I will mention these: First Baptist church, Richmond, Ray county, on the third Saturday in March, 1842. Second Baptist church, Liberty, Clay county, May 2, 1843, assisted by Rev. Wm. C. Ligon; Pleasant Ridge church, January 27, 1844. The church at Liberty was named the Second Baptist church by his advice, out of deference to the Primitive Baptists, who had a church at Liberty, established many years prior to 1843. Immediately on his establishment of the church at Liberty, he was chosen to be its pastor. He forthwith, upon this choice, followed it up by very energetic and acceptable effort in his pastorate at Liberty. As a consequence, he built up in the Second Baptist church at Liberty
one of the strongest and most valuable of the Baptist churches in Missouri. It was energetic and enthusiastic in all of the Baptist work in the state — particularly in the cause of education. It was because of its energy, high character and remarkably strong social influence in the community of its location, that a sufficient alliance was obtained in other counties than Clay to secure the location of William Jewell College at Liberty.
It will be permitted me to say that under the preaching of Dr. Williams, in 1844, my aunt, Mrs. Elizabeth Trigg Thornton, my cousin, Mrs. Caroline Margery Moss, and my mother, Mrs. Dinah Ayres Allen, were converted and were baptized by him into the fellowship of the Second Baptist church at Liberty.
Dr. Williams was present on April 27,1844, at New Hope church, in Clay county, Missouri, at the organization of the North Liberty Baptist Association, and preached the first sermon before that body. His text was: "But we desire to hear of thee, what thou thinkest; for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against." (Acts 28:22.) He is usually spoken of as the father of that Association. It was and is one of the finest and noblest of his works. In its strength, unity, and soundness in the Baptist faith, it remains a monument to his ability and Christian devotion.
He was noted as a pastor. As to this, all authorities and traditions agree. Dr. John Hill Luther, in the Central Baptist said this of him: "As a pastor Dr. Williams was unsurpassed. In the pulpit, at the fireside and in all of the relations of life, he carried himself as the affectionate shepherd, dignified bishop, the persuasive teacher, winning the affections of every
class and fortifying the churches against every form of error." The writer of this sketch can well remember, as a youth and young man, the admiration and affection of the Baptists of Liberty and vicinity for Dr. Williams, as well as their expressions of pleasure when they heard that he would visit Liberty and preach to them.
There was no frivolity with him in the pulpit, nor attempt in language or action to create theatrical effect. He was profoundly in earnest and seemed to feel that he was God's embassador to men.
Any one who saw him in his prime, in his days of fullness of thought, knowledge of men, and ripeness of expression, might justly speak of him in the lines of Cowper:
"I would express him simple, grave, sincere;There was an impressiveness in his manner which attracted and riveted attention. As conveying this idea, I give the following extract from a recent letter written to me by the venerable and Reverend, John A. Freeman, of Norfolk, Calif.: "The next and last time I saw Elder Williams was at the Blue River Association, held with the Baptist church in Lexington, Mo., in September, 1843. He preached the introductory sermon. His text was: 'Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you.' (1 Samuel 12:24.) The time, the occasion, his melodious voice, and splendid presence all conspired together to make an impression on the mind that has journeyed with me through all these years."
In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain,
And plain in manner; decent, solemn, chaste,
And natural in gesture; much impress'd
Himself, as conscious of his awful charge."
There is no sufficient information remaining to enable any one to make an accurate statement of his vast pastoral work and labor in evangelizing. It is known that before 1857 he had preached 984 sermons. The conversions under his preaching, during his life, were over 3,000, and the baptisms by him near 3,000. He united in marriage at least 168 couples.
He loved debate, and, in my opinion, welcomed it. An echo of this, in the far away times, comes to us through the letter, before mentioned, from the Rev. John A. Freeman. I quote from it as follows: "The first time I heard him (Dr. Williams), was in the neighborhood, about three miles northwest of the town of Harrisonville in Cass county, Missouri, in 1842. He had a debate with Dr. Knox, a Methodist preacher, on the mode and subject of baptism. That was a long time ago and I can't give you arguments on either side; but, suffice it to say, that the Baptists were entirely satisfied and the Methodists and Presbyterians were very much displeased."
Other debates I am quite sure he had; but time refuses to yield up the times, places, subjects and opposing debaters. I will allude to an anticipated debate at Liberty, Missouri. I do so rather to give some idea of the stormy ecclesiastical conditions in Missouri prior to the Civil war. It was in 1851. At the time Rev. Elijah S. Dulin and Prof. Thomas F. Lockett were professors in William Jewell College. The late Moses E. Lard had recently graduated, with high honors, at Bethany College. The Disciples' church in Liberty, Mo., upon his graduation chose him as its pastor. He was a brilliant man, gifted in many ways, and was himself in spirit, perhaps, something of a warrior. I give what ensued in the language of Prof.
Lockett (now dead), and from a manuscript account by him, written years ago, of events at Liberty in 1850-51. Says he: "Mr. Lard attacked the doctrines of the Baptist church every Sabbath and challenged the professors of the college to dispute the differences with him. We gave him a terrible letting alone, for the patronage of his church was worth a thousand dollars a year to the college; but when he persisted until the attention of the entire community was aroused, we wrote to Brother A. P. Williams, then in Platte county. 'Mr. Lard is spoiling for a fight, come down and gratify him.' He came and preached several nights, and on Sunday at 11 o'clock, before a crowded house, attacked the doctrines of Alexander Campbell; and, before he closed, alluded to the repeated challenges of Brother Lard to the Baptist school teachers, and said that if he wishes to debate, let him meet a Baptist minister, not a school teacher. 'I am ready to meet him at any time and place.' The debate never occurred; but it lead to a short written controversy which soon broke down."
During near thirty-two years of his life he was one of the most conspicuous and honored men among the Baptists of Missouri. Four times the General Association of this state elected him its moderator, and four times it chose him its annual preacher. When first chosen as annual preacher (1837), he was in his twenty-fourth year. That is signal evidence of the early period in his life when his ability became recognized and esteemed by the Baptists of Missouri.
On June 14th, 1866, Bethel College in Ky., conferred on him the degree of D. D. It is said that one or two other colleges conferred on him the same degree.
In person, Dr. Williams was something above the middle height, and in figure symmetrical. He was
strongly knit. His limbs and body were full and rounded, but without obesity. His walk was smooth, calm, even, firm, and without haste. His movements impressed a beholder with the idea that he had much "physical strength and was capable of great endurance. His face was somewhat oval, features regular, eyes blue, complexion rather fair, and hair a darkish brown. The poise of his head was fine without haughtiness, and threw his face very slightly upward, giving his expression something of a look over and beyond. There was no gloom in his countenance — all there was cheery and smiling.
He was a very affable man, companionable and ready, at all times, for friendly conversation. Few men could more quickly or easily place themselves on easy terms with those whom they meet.
I will add that in appearance and manner, Dr. Williams' grandson, the Rev. A. H. Barnes, of the St. Louis Conference, M. E. church, South, bears a good deal of resemblance to his grandfather. Of the union of Dr. Williams with Miss Elizabeth Armour, there were born ten children. Two of these died in childhood. Of the children, one only now survives, Robert Hall Williams, who is an inmate of the Confederate Home at Higginsville, Mo. His wife survived him a number of years.
He died November 9, 1868, from an accidental fall from his horse which he was mounting to return to his home. He was buried in the cemetery at Good Hope church in Saline county, Missouri, with the honors of Masonry and his beloved church. A modest monument to his memory has been erected at his grave.
[From J. C. Maple and R. P. Rider, editors, Missouri Baptist Biography, Volume 2, pp. 270-283. The book is from the St. Louis Public Library. — Scanned by Jim Duvall]
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