History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Baptists in Kansas

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First Baptist Church, Topeka, KansasThe name Baptists was given to members of congregations who had withdrawn from the dominant churches of England and restored what they believed to be apostolic precept and example of immersion. This name was first applied in England about 1644, and the people forming the organizations maintained that immersion upon confession of faith was necessary for valid baptism, rejecting infant baptism as incompatible with regenerate membership. Other religious bodies had practiced immersion without such teaching.

From the first, there were two branches of the English Baptists; those who followed the teaching of Calvin and those who adopted the theology of Arminius. The Arminian, or General Baptists, formed first under the leadership of John Smith, who established the first General Baptist church in London in 1611. The Calvinistic or Particular Baptists originated from a congregation of Separatists established in London about 1616. One of the first principles of the Baptist organizations was that the church as a spiritual body should be entirely separated from the state and that spiritual liberty be extended to all -- Catholic, Jew and Protestant.
The first Baptist church in America was established at Providence, Rhode Island by Roger Williams. He was a minister of the Church of England, but soon after leaving the University of Cambridge adopted separatist principles. He sailed for America in 1630 hoping to find entire religious liberty in the new world. Landing at Boston, Massachusetts, he was invited to preach in the established church, but refused as it was unseparated. After some time, he finally located with the separatists of Plymouth colony. Because of his teachings, Williams became a disturbing element, and he was condemned to banishment and deportation to England in 1635. He managed to escape and made his way through the wilderness in midwinter to the Narragansett Indians of whom he bought land, upon which he founded the colony of Providence on the principle of entire civil and religious liberty. He advocated the most complete separation of church and state at a time when such ideas were almost inconceivable.

In 1639, a small band of only twelve believers originated baptism and the first Baptist church. About 1640, a Baptist church was formed at Newport, and in 1655 a church of this belief was established at Boston and maintained in spite of opposition. A colony of Welsh Baptists came to America in 1665, and after some difficulty located at Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in 1667. By 1750 there were eight Baptist
churches in New England.

The Baptists began to locate in the Jerseys and Pennsylvania after 1682, and, as there was tolerance of religion, a large number of Quakers and Baptists emigrated from England to these localities. In 1686 several Baptist families from Wales located on the Pemepek River, where and a year later a company organized a church. The same year a church was organized at Middletown, New Jersey, and by 1770, twelve such churches existed. Services were held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under the auspices of the Pemepek Church from 1687, but, the first church was not organized until 1698. The Philadelphia association was organized in 1707, and the New York colony churches sought admission to it as did the churches of Virginia and the Carolinas. Gradually, the church became firmly established in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, North and South Carolina and Connecticut, and a few congregations were organized in Virginia. During the Revolutionary War the progress of the church was not materially checked and it is estimated that in 1792 there were 1,200 organizations with a membership of 100,000.


German Baptist Brethren Church, Portis, KSThe great westward migration after the American Revolution was an opportunity quickly improved by the Baptists. Missionary preachers were sent into the new western country and Baptist societies formed in the fringe of civilization. In 1845, differences arose over the question of slavery and the churches of the slave states formed the South Baptist convention, while the northern churches organized the American Baptist Union. At different times, branches have separated from the two original Baptist organizations, or new congregations were formed until the church included the following bodies: Northern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention (Colored), General Six Principle Baptists, Seven-day Baptists, Free Baptists, General Baptists, Separate Baptists, United Baptists, Duck River and Kindred Associations of Baptists (Baptist Church of Christ), Primitive Baptists, Colored Primitive Baptists in America, Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, Freewill Baptists (Bullockites), and United American Freewill Baptists (Colored).




The Baptist church was one of the first religious organizations to begin work in Kansas, for as early as 1831, Baptist missionaries were sent among the Indians. In July of that year Dr. Johnston Lykins came to the Indian Territory, and, at his own expense, bought a small tract of land contiguous to the Shawnee, who were at that time, located on the Neosho River. The next year, 1832, he was authorized by the Baptist board to erect mission buildings, and 1833, Lewis Cass, the Secretary of War, authorized him to visit various tribes west of the Mississippi River and report upon favorable sites for missionary establishments. In 1835, he was ordained, and given special charge of the Shawnee and Delaware. In June, 1837, the Ottawa Baptist Mission was established about five miles northeast from the present site of the town of Ottawa, in Franklin County, by Jotham Meeker and his wife, who had been missionaries to the Shawnee. In 1842, a large mission house was erected and a school established for the Indian children. The first missionary to the Potawatomi Indians in Kansas Territory was the Baptist missionary, Robert Simerwell. In 1837, as soon as this tribe located at their new reservation on the Osage River, Mr. Simerwell and his wife located among them and when the Potawatomi removed to their reservation on the Kansas River, the Baptist mission was established in what is now Mission township, in Shawnee County. This became one of the largest and most prosperous missions in the territory. In 1840, another Baptist mission was established among the Miami on Wea Wreek by David Lykins. Nearly all of the missions were maintained until the territory was thrown open to white settlement and the Indians were transferred to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).

When the Territory of Kansas was organized and thrown open to white settlers in 1854, most of the first immigrants were men who had belonged to churches in the east, and one of the first things they did upon establishing their homes was to organize
churches where there were people enough to form congregations. Being among the first as missionaries, the Baptists were among the first to form permanent organizations. Less than a year after the first settlers located in the town of Lawrence, the Baptist Church was organized there by William W. Hall. The services were held in private residences and halls until 1870, when a church building was erected. The Baptists were among the pioneer religious organizations to become established in Nemaha County and probably the first sermon preached in the county was by Elder Thomas Newton, who came from Illinois in 1854. He ministered at Central City and later at Seneca.


Baptist Church, Clay Center, KansasThe first church society was organized at Central City on August 1, 1857, and the first pastor was T. R. Newton. A small church was soon erected, which was used as a school house during the week. The first religious services held by the Baptists in Doniphan was in 1855. A church was erected within a short time and Mr. Anderson became the first minister. As early as 1856, John Williams, a Baptist preacher, held outdoor services at Trading Post in Linn county, where a church was organized at an early date. In Shawnee County, a church was organized at Topeka on March 1, 1857. R. M. Fish of Urburn preached until C. C. Hutchinson came as a permanent pastor on June 18, 1859. The first Baptist church in Osage County was organized on August 6, 1857. During the first year the church was served occasionally by R. C. Bryant and J. B. Taylor, but, no church building was erected until 1869. In Atchison, a Baptist church was organized on August 1, 1858, and the first minister called was a Mr. Anderson. A Baptist organization was formed at Manhattan, Riley County, on August 14, 1858, and it was incorporated on November 13, 1860, with M. L. Wisner as the first pastor. In the fall of 1858, the Tabernacle Baptist church was organized at Leavenworth by a Mr. Kermot. The First Baptist church was organized in 1860, and in 1864 the two were merged to form the Baptist church for which a building was erected in the early 1860s. In October, 1859, a Baptist congregation of seven members, one of the pioneer religious organizations in Lyon County, was organized at Emporia by R. C. Bryant. The Baptists were the first to effect a church organization in Clay County at the Huntress' cabin, and the Clay Center church was organized in August, 1868, with twelve members. The first Baptist church in Miami County was started there on Feb. 25, 1860, by Elder A. H. Dean, with twenty members and became the leading church of Paola, a building being erected five years later. H. S. Tibbits organized the Baptist congregation at Hiawatha on August 18, 1860, with fifteen members, and it soon began to be one of the leading religious organizations of the locality. The work of the Baptist church was started in Franklin County by the Indian mission in 1837 but the first church was organized in 1864 at Ottawa. This church adopted the New Hampshire Confession of faith and held meetings in a building until a church was erected the following year. Religious services were held at Fort Scott, Bourbon County, while it was a military post, but, the Baptists did not effect an organization there until February 18, 1866.


In 1868 a church was organized at Salina by J. R. Downer with 15 members and a church erected within a short time. An organization was perfected in Neosho County in 1869 with seven members by Elder A. C. Bateman, who was chosen pastor. Services were held at the Erie school house until a church was erected in 1871. Cherokee County was not opened to white settlement until 1870, when a Baptist church was organized at Columbus with 12 members on March 20th, by Elder A. C. Bateman and the first pastor was a Mr. Maver. According to the census of 1875, there were 286 church organizations in the state, with 36 church edifices and a membership of 12,197. By 1878 the organizations had increased to 334 with 69 churches and 16,083 members, and by 1890 there were 358 organizations, 263 churches and 32,689 members. In 1906, the Baptist church ranked third in Kansas in number of members of all denominations both Protestant and Catholic, having 46,299 members.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.



About the Article: The text in this article comes from Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, published  in 1912. However, the story as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been edited for clarity and for the modern reader.


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