Church and Family History Research Assistance
for Hardin County, Illinois

BIG CREEK

Big Creek Church was the fourth Baptist Church organized in Illinois territory. It was in extreme southern Illinois, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. Big Creek Church was constituted on July 19, 1806, at which time the region now known as Illinois was still considered a part of Randolph County, Indiana territory. Elders William Jones and Stephen Stilley formed the presbytery. The charter members names were Benjamin Rogers, James Lee, Priscilla Lee, Jacob Self, Isham Clay, Aaron Neal, Nancy Neal, Joseph Eubanks, and others not recollected. In May 1833, the church agreed to write to Elder Stephen Stilley and request him to appear at the June meeting of Big Creek Church, to certify as to the constitution of the church. In June 1833 Bro. Hamilton reported that Elder Stilley said he could not attend before he laid by his corn, but would attend if able after it was laid by. In August 1833, Elder Stilley appeared in person and attested to the date of constitution and the names of the charter members to the best of his recollection.

The early members, living in this remote wilderness country, desired fellowship with other churches of the same faith, and for that reason, they united with the Red River Association (it is possible that Big Creek Church may have been a charter member of this association, on Saturday before the second Sunday in August 1806). David Benedict's General History of the Baptist Denomination, 1813, Vol. 2, p. 537, lists Big Creek Church as a member of the Red River Association of Tennessee and Kentucky, in 1812, and the accompanying table indicates that Big Creek had 33 members at that time, and confirms 1806 as the date the church was organized. Big Creek was one of the original members of the Little River Association of Kentucky, which was organized in November 1813, by churches dismissed from the Red River. In 1820, Big Creek and East Fork of Muddy River churches (both in Illinois) were dismissed from the Little River Association to go into the organization of the Muddy River Association of Illinois. In 1821, Big Creek Church hosted the second session of the Muddy River Association.

Big Creek Church reported 41 and 31 members to the Little River Association in 1818 and 1820, respectively, even though 9 were baptized in the latter year (which indicates some members were probably dismissed by letter to form a new church, late in 1818, or in 1819). The membership of the church, while a member of the Muddy River Association, was as follows: 1820, 32; 1821, 43; 1822, 38; 1823, 39; 1824, 40; 1825, 47; 1826, 52; 1827, 51; 1828, 25;1829, 29; 1830, 19; 1831, 14; 1832, 16; 1833, 16; 1834, 13; 1835, 13; 1836, 11. These statistics suggest the possibility that Big Creek Church dismissed members to organize Bankston's Fork (or maybe Lusk Creek) in about 1818 or 1819. In December 1824 the church granted the request of the arm on Big Bay in Pope County to organize a new church. In 1827, Big Creek Church dismissed twenty members by letter to organize Grand Pier Church, in Pope County. At least 150-200 people held membership in Big Creek Church during the 31 years of its existence.

Pastors of Big Creek Church included Elders Stephen Stilley, John Hamilton (ordained by this church in August 1827), and Charles H. Clay (ordained here in August 1829). Elder William Rondeau was also a member of this church, and was ordained here in July 1824. Elder Stephen Stilley was serving Bethel Church (near Jackson, in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri) as pastor, from about 1810-1812, so other brethren (whose names are unknown to us) must have served Big Creek Church as pastor during that time.

Elder Achilles Coffey wrote, "In 1832, at the April term of Big Creek church meeting, the following query was asked: 'Is it agreeable to the word of God to fellowship a preacher that is called a brother, when denying the faith?' Answered, 'not right.' During the same year several charges were preferred against Elder [Adam] McCool, who was a member of the Island Ripple Baptist Church at the time. Among the rest he was charged with having denied their articles of faith and the doctrine of special atonement. He was called upon to answer to those charges, plead guilty, and that church finally excluded him. About the time of the division among the Baptists, he joined the Reformers, or Campbellites, and preached for them as long as he remained in this country." Elder McCool and four others who went with him formed a Campbellite Church near Elizabethtown, on July 28, 1833, and named it Stone Chapel (after Barton Stone of that movement), which was the first "Church of Christ" in Hardin county.

In 1837, the Association "took up the request of Island Ripple Church with regard to Elder Stephen Stilley, who has been excluded from that Church, for utterly refusing to fill his seat in conference and retaining his letter of dismission from the Church at Big Creek, Pope County, Illinois, contrary to good order." According to Coffey's History, Stilley was loathe to take sides when the strife arose over missions, and had joined Island Ripple Church informally, requesting them to allow him to hold his letter of dismission from Big Creek, which he had received in August 1832. Elder Stilley was chosen and served as a messenger to the Muddy River Association from Island Ripple Church in 1834. However, after his exclusion, he sided with the missionary cause to the extent that he helped organize Mill Creek, a Missionary Baptist church, in 1840, but according to Elder Coffey, he died shortly afterwards.

The exact location of the first meeting house of Big Creek Church has not been determined (the earliest records of the church which have been located are dated 1823, so the first meeting house was built prior to that time), but it was somewhere in the northeast part of Pope County which was set off as Hardin County in 1839. It was probably near the waters of Big Creek. The minutes of August 1826 refer to the meeting being held at "our meeting house." In November 1827 the church took under consideration the removal of their meeting house, but a decision was not made until February 1829, when they chose a site for a new meeting house to be built near the Saltpetre Cave Spring, near Big Creek. The meeting house was to be 24 feet by 24 feet, and the roof was to be nailed on. The church also met part of the time at the home of Bro. James Lee before the new meeting house was completed.

Big Creek Church dissolved in August 1837, and Brother James Womack was instructed to present the books and papers that formerly belonged to Big Creek Church, for safekeeping, with the clerk of Grand Pier Church. These records were intact as late as 1885, as Thomas J. Carr, the clerk, referred to them in writing a history of Grand Pier, quoting from pages 112-113 of the Big Creek Church record book, dated September 1827 (the date when members were dismissed from Big Creek to organize Grand Pier Church).

Another reference to the records of Big Creek appears in the early minutes of Big Creek church itself, which still exist (from 1823-1837), dated June 1835: "Whereas the church purchased a record book for recording all acts since her constitution, there is at present two old record books and the new one in possession of the present clerk. The mind of the church before the new book was purchased was to transcribe the old books into the new book, but finding a difficulty existing in the first book as it respects the record being omitted or neglected for several years, the church considered the case and voted and ordered all the books in their present form be kept in safety by the clerk and not transcribed."

There were nine members of Big Creek Church when it dissolved, viz., Elder Charles H. Clay, James Womack, George Hamilton, Lorenzo Womack, Polly Clay, Nancy Hamilton, Patience Lee, Elizabeth Steele, and Elizabeth Cowsart. A presbytery was called to formally dissolve the church, composed of Elders James Gholson and William Gholson, and brethren Spencer Edwards, Reese Shelby, and Asahel Durham. The nine members were given letters of dismission in good standing, and six of them soon thereafter joined Grand Pier Church. Copies of the meeting of dissolution, and some of the letters of dismission, are in our possession, as well as the records, complete from 1823 to 1837.

It has been claimed by Missionary Baptist historians, in recent years, that Big Creek Church divided over missions, and that the "First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown" is a successor or continuation of Big Creek Church (and hence, that it is the oldest active Baptist church in Illinois); but the records of Big Creek Church which exist prove conclusively that this is not true.

SURNAMES OF MEMBERS:

Alexander, Ashford, Aydelott, Baker, Blair, Brown, Clay, Collier, Cowsert, Crawford, Eubanks, Ewell, Fulkerson, Glass, Hamilton, Harper, Henson, Hollomon, Joiner, Jordan, Kesterson, King, Lackey, Lee, Lowther, Modglin, Morris, Mott, Neal, Pankey, Parkerson, Potter, Reader, Richardson, Rogers, Rondeau, Scroggins, Self, Sellers, Shelby, Skinner, Steele, Stilley, Story, Teague, Thacker, Walker, Wallace, Watkins, Williams, Womack (this list is very incomplete due to loss of part of the earliest records).

REFERENCE SOURCES IN THE PRIMITIVE BAPTIST LIBRARY:

Manuscript records of Big Creek Church (which exist); manuscript records of Grand Pier Church (Pope county); records of the Muddy River Association (organized in 1820); microfilm records of the Little River Association of Kentucky; History of the Regular Baptists principally of Southern Illinois, by Elder Achilles Coffey (this book has been reprinted and is available for sale - see our main webpage, and go to the link for material available from us).

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