The first settlers in the territory that became Missouri were primarily Catholic since Spain and then France controlled this area of land. After the Louisiana Purchase of these Western lands in 1804, religions became more diverse as settlers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas moved in to claim the virgin land. The first Baptist Church was formed in Cape Girardeau County in the Missouri Territory. It was in the Tywappity Bottom and was organized with only 10 members. In 1806, the Bethel Church became the Second Baptist Church, also in Cape Girardeau County, with 15 members, men and women. Bethel Church became the first permanent mother church of the Baptists in Missouri.
The early Baptist churches were formed around St. Louis, St. Louis County, Cape Girardeau and Perry counties; but at the beginning of the 19th century, Baptists started moving into the central part of Missouri.
In April 1812, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was organized in Boone's Lick country with 24 members. Bethel Baptist Church in the western part of Boone County near Rocheport,and the Baptist Church at Bonne Femme Creek in Howard County were founded in 1817.
Salem Church in Callaway County was organized in 1818, then Concord Church in Cooper County and Pisgah and Providence churches shortly after.
Cole County was originally part of Cooper County but broke off and became a separate county in 1820. Moniteau was originally part of Cole County, and the earliest Baptist churches were in the Moniteau part of Cole County. On June 19, 1819, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church was formed with 21 members.
With Missouri being admitted into the Union in 1821 as a slave state and many of the early settlers coming from southern states with slaves, many of the Baptist churches were anti-slavery. As early as 1817, members of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church split over the question of slavery. In 1827, the Mount Pisgah Church took a stand against slavery.
Originally, these churches were governed by the Mount Pleasant Baptist Association, which formed in 1818 in Howard County, but in 1823, the Concord Baptist Association formed with eight churches south of the Missouri River. At the first session of the Concord Baptist Association, it was recorded there had been 41 baptisms and a membership of 359.
By 1834 there were more than 150 Baptist churches organized in Missouri with almost 100 ministers and 11 associations.
The driving force behind the establishments of Baptist churches in Mid-Missouri was John B. Longan. Longan moved with his family from Virginia to Kentucky in 1805. He preached throughout Cumberland County, Kentucky, but in 1816, he explored the Missouri territory. In 1819, one year before Cole County was created and two years before Missouri became a state, he helped organized the Pisgah Baptist Church in Cooper County and became their pastor. In 1821, he moved to a farm in Jamestown in what was then Cole County. In August 1822, he organized the Big Lick Baptist Church in Cooper County with 16 members, and on Aug. 31, 1822, he established the Union Baptist Church in Cole County. Longan and Snelling Johnson were the pastors of these churches, and they traveled miles on horseback. Their vestments were leather hunting coats and buckskin trousers.
In his lifetime, Longan led or helped organized nine Baptist churches in Cole County, which included Moniteau County in its boundaries until 1847. After the creation of Union Baptist Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church north of Jamestown was in 1823, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church northwest of California in 1823, Liberty Baptist Church in 1825, Sardis Baptist Church in Elston in 1827, Mount Gilead Baptist Church in California in 1833, and Cole Spring Baptist Church near Russellville in 1835.
Longan was born in 1777 and passed in 1852, and he cast a long shadow.
As Baptists settled in Cole County, pastors traveled throughout the county holding services in meeting houses and people's home. Edward Ward, the founder of Wardsville, was a Virginia Baptist, and a meeting house existed there before St. Stanislaus Catholic Church. In fact, Ward donated the land to build St. Stanislaus and, later, more land for their school.
Jefferson City was selected as the site of the Missouri Capitol in 1825 by the Missouri Legislature. Twelve years later, the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City was founded with 11 white and three black members, and by the end of the year, it had grown to 46 members. The first pastor was the Rev. Martin D. Noland. In the beginning, services were held in private homes, but in 1839, a lot at the corner of Monroe and Miller streets was purchased for $5 and a church was built. Blacks attended the First Baptist Church, but events leading up to the Civil War plagued Missouri, which entered the Union as a slave state. By 1860, black members were allowed to break off from the First Baptist Church and create their own church. The Rev. Silas Woodson came from St. Louis to be their first pastor, and after many hardships, they elected five deacons and trustees and held services at many different locations. When the First Baptist Church moved to a lot on Monroe Street, where the present day News Tribune building stands, the location at Monroe and Miller was transferred to the Second Baptist Church. Black soldiers who helped create Lincoln Institute were also active in this church. On Sept. 15, 2019, the Second Baptist Church celebrated its 159th anniversary.
The First Baptist Church moved to its present day location at the corner of Monroe and Main streets (Capitol Avenue) in 1888. Three other churches — Immanuel Baptist, Calvary Baptist and Concord Baptist — were spawned from the First Baptist Church. They are affiliated with the Concord Baptist Association and the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Churches — Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodists and many others — have played an important part in the creation of our communities of Cole County. Religious freedom and plentiful land drew immigrants to the United States and Missouri. Our churches were often established first, and our communities grew up around them.
I attended the 150th/175th anniversary of St. John's Lutheran Church in Schubert, and the 150th anniversary of the St. Thomas Catholic Church. I can see how important these churches are to their communities. They are the "gathering places of the people."
As we prepare to celebrate Cole County's bicentennial in 2020, we need to appreciate our churches, temples and religious centers that have made us what we are today.
Sources: "History of Missouri Baptists," by R.S. Douglas, 1934; "History of the Baptist in Missouri," by R. Duncan, 1883; "What is a Church?" by First Baptist Church of Jefferson City; First Baptist Church: Sharing Christ With the Capital City and the World; Second Baptist Church: 159th Church Anniversary Program; and Calvin Brown, Concord Baptist Association.
Sam Bushman is the presiding commissioner on the Cole County Commission in Mid-Missouri. He shares his perspective each month on county issues. He can be reached at [email protected]