A Sketch of Early Primitive Baptist History
in the State of Iowa

The territory which now comprises the State of Iowa became property of the United States of America as a result of the "Louisiana Purchase," in 1803, nearly thirty years after the American Revolution. The first permanent white settlement was at Keokuk, on the banks of the Mississippi River, in 1829. The "Territory of Iowa" was created in 1838, during the Presidency of Martin Van Buren (1837-1841). Finally, in 1846, Iowa was admitted to the Union as the twenty-ninth State.

Although the numbers and influence of the Primitive Baptists in Iowa have been very small, by comparison to other religious denominations, they have contributed in various ways to the welfare of the state and its people. The Primitive Baptists were the first people of any faith to organize a church, or preach, in several counties in the state. They were among the earliest pioneers in the territory and in the state.

According to the best information available, Big Creek Church, at Mt. Pleasant, was the first orthodox Regular Baptist Baptist Church planted in the territory which is now the State of Iowa. Elder William M. Morrow (1805-1883), who helped establish Big Creek Church, was the first true Baptist minister to settle in the territory. We make this statement notwithstanding the fact that a religious organization calling itself Regular Baptist was "loosely formed" at Danville, Iowa, on October 20, 1834, because its founder, Elder John Logan, had been excluded from Crane Creek Regular Baptist Church, in the Spoon River Association of Illinois, in 1833, for advocating false doctrines and practices. Detailed information regarding this action is available from The Primitive Baptist Library.

The First Regular Baptist Church in Iowa

The following words of Elder William M. Morrow describe the beginnings of the Regular (Primitive) Baptists in Iowa:

"In June 1835, I and Elder James Gholson, then on an exploring expedition from Illinois, commenced ministerial labors in this new country; some of my relatives, with others of the Baptist order, had settled here early in the spring of that year; in the autumn following, I removed and settled in that place. Elder Samuel Hutton soon followed me, and in August 1836, at the house of Brother C. Jones, we, with others, were constituted into a church, by the name of Big Creek; our number at first was sixteen." - History of the Baptist Denomination, by David Benedict, 1848, p. 845.

The early records of Big Creek Church are in existence. The Oak Grove Cemetery, about four miles north of Mt. Pleasant, is the site of the last meeting house occupied by this church, which was the first regularly organized Baptist church in Iowa, and the first church of any faith in what is now Henry County, Iowa.

The First Baptist Minister to Settle in Iowa

Elder William M. Morrow (1806-1883) was the first Baptist minister to settle in the territory now comprising the State of Iowa. Both he and Elder Gholson had been members of churches in the Muddy River Association of Regular (Primitive) Baptists in southern Illinois before coming to Iowa. Elder Morrow later labored for a time in the bounds of the Western Association of Iowa, after which he moved to Oregon, where he was a highly esteemed minister in the bounds of the Siloam Association until his death. Elder James Gholson later returned to southern Illinois. In 1845 he moved to Jo Daviess Co., Ill., where he united with Little Flock Church, in the First Northwestern Association. He died in Lafayette Co., Wis., on April 22, 1850, where he lived and worked in the lead mines.

More Churches Organized

In August 1838, Little Cedar Creek Church was constituted in Van Buren County. It became a member of the Salem Association of Regular (now Primitive) Baptists of Illinois the same year.

In March 1839 a church called "Fairfield" was organized in Jefferson County. Here, Elder Samuel Hutton preached the first sermon in the county, at the home of Brother James Lanman, who was the first white settler in Jefferson County and a charter member of the Fairfield Church. It is possible that a church was established here as early as August 1837, but if so, it ceased to exist; however, the records of Round Prairie Church prove it was constituted in March 1839, as stated above.

In February 1840, West Liberty Church was organized in Des Moines County, near Sperry; in 1847 a stone building was erected by this church, which is still standing.

On the third Saturday in May 1840, Lynn Creek Church was organized, near Trenton, in Henry County.

Lick Creek Church, in Van Buren County, was organized in or before June 1840, as it became a charter member of the Des Moines River Association at that time.

The Des Moines River Association

Big Creek, Little Cedar, Lick Creek, Lynn Creek, and Fairfield churches, with one in Mercer County, Illinois, constituted the Des Moines River Association of Regular Baptists on June 6, 1840. It was the first association of Regular or Primitive Baptists in Iowa. West Liberty and Des Moines River churches joined the association the next year.

The Western Association

Seven churches, to wit, Village Creek, Oak Hill, Rock Creek, Oskaloosa, Little Flock (Marion Co.), Little Flock (Wapello Co.), and Providence (Polk Co.), were dismissed from the Des Moines River Association in 1852, for the purpose of forming a new association called the Western Association. Its first session was held October 2, 3, and 4, 1852, at the Oskaloosa Church, and Elder John M. Evans was the first moderator. Elder Evans was the first minister of any faith to preach in Madison County, Iowa, in 1846; he preached the first funeral, performed the first marriage, and helped constitute the first church in that county.

Of the churches which once composed the Western Association only two are still active, viz., Mt. Pleasant at Grinnell, and Middle River, at Winterset.

The Hazel Creek Association

The Hazel Creek Association was organized at Hazel Creek Church, Schuyler Co., Missouri, on Saturday before the third Sunday in October 1854, by six churches in southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri. The Iowa churches were Fox River and Oak Hill. Elder Isaac Blakely was one of the first men to preach in Davis and Appanoose Counties, and he helped organize the first churches. The churches in Missouri were in Schuyler, Adair, and Putnam counties of northeast Missouri. Hazel Creek Church, near Greentop, Mo., now hosts the association each year.

The Mt. Pleasant Association

The Mt. Pleasant Association was organized at New Bethel Church on "Keokuk Prairie" in Polk Co., Iowa, on September 14 and 15, 1855, with three churches, to wit, Des Moines, New Bethel and Mt. Pleasant. It had grown to thirteen churches by its tenth session. Liberty Church in Grinnell joined at the sixteenth session in September 1870. Mt. Zion Church, near Chariton, was also a member of this association.

The Turkey River Association

The Turkey River Association was constituted on the second weekend in June 1859. The only minutes known to exist, for 1874, 1875, 1876, 1880, 1887, and 1889, show churches in Fayette, Franklin, Bremer, Blackhawk, Floyd, and Cerro Gordo Counties.

The Siloam Association

The Siloam Association was organized in 1860. Some of its churches were in Missouri, but it had churches in Decatur, Wayne, and Ringgold Counties in Iowa. After this association ceased to exist, some of its churches united with Hazel Creek Association, in 1892.

The Missouri Valley Association

The Missouri Valley Association was organized in November 1877, by three churches, viz., Council Bluffs, Liberty, and Pacific City. These were in Pottawattamie, Fremont and Mills Counties, in the western part of Iowa. Later, several churches in Nebraska also united with this association. The records of the association are now being kept in The Primitive Baptist Library. The ministers at first were Elders Thomas Jenkins, Anthony E. McKnight, William L. Jones, and Isaac Skelton.

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