Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bethel Baptist Church Centennial Celebrated in 1917

From the 2 July 1917 issue of the Columbia Missourian.  Submitted by Mary Helen Catlett Allen.  Bethel Baptist Church was the first church and meeting house in what is now Boone County, Missouri.  At the time it was begun, in 1817, the land was still in Howard County.  The only remnants of the church site today are a few tombstones from the cemetery.

Bethel Baptist Church Centennial


Notwithstanding a downpour that made the newly worked roads almost impassable, a crowd estimated at 1,500 persons gathered on the old Rollins homestead, sixteen miles west of Columbia yesterday to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bethel Baptist Church, the first church established in Boone County. Although practically all the gathering was from Boone, Callaway and Howard counties, in all of which the Baptist churches suspended services for this occasion, persons came from as far away as Marshall in Saline County.

The roads leading to the Rollins homestead were marked by flags and signs. The spot where Bethel Church was founded on June 28, 1817, one hundred years ago last Thursday, was marked by a flag. This flag, floating on the summit of a hill, which is now the center of a cornfield, could be seen from the porch where the Rev. John P. Greene, president of William Jewell College, and Judge John F. Philips of Kansas City, the only man living who attended services in the old Bethel Church, appeared as the leading speakers of the day. The flag also marked the location of the cemetery where many of the pioneers who helped found the first church in Boone County were buried. When the automobiles of E. W. Stephens, who had charge of the celebration, and several other Columbia families on their way to the celebration reached the point on the Rocheport road where it was necessary to turn off into a newly worked dirt road, it was found that a hard rain had made the road very muddy. Notwithstanding the risk of a mishap, four automobiles continued on the journey and reached the scene without further trouble than slipping from one side of the road to the other. Although rain continued to fall at intervals until late in the afternoon, automobiles and buggies continued to arrive until the large space reserved for them was full. It is estimated that 250 automobiles and 100 buggies were on the ground.

Tarpaulins Keep Off the Rain.

Several large tarpaulins had been stretched overhead in front of the house, and the program was not delayed or interrupted by the rains. The celebration was opened with a prayer by the Rev. G. W. Hatcher of Columbia, followed by the reading of scripture by the Rev. B. F. Heaton of Centralia. E. W. Stephens, as head of the celebration, explained the historical setting for the event and recalled historical facts from a book published by himself from information gathered over a period of many years. Mr. Stephens said in part:

“The first settlement in Boone county is said to have been made in this locality in 1812 and 1813 by John and William Berry, William Baxter and Reuben Gentry. In the same neighborhood are said to have lived James Barnes, Robert and Mitchell Payne, John Denham, David McQuitty and Robert Barclay. They were said to have lived here prior to the war.

“James Harris was the first constable for this county and John Copeland drove the first wagon over the Boon’s Lick trail. The first deed recorded in the county was on January 22, 1821, for the transfer of 320 acres of land from Taylor Berry to Jesse Cophe(r). The settlers of Thrall’s Prairie after the war in 1816 were August Thrall, Oliver Parker, Anderson Woods, Dr. J. B. Wilcox, Clayton Herne, Tyre Harris, Sampson and Stephen Wilhite, Henry Lightfoot, James Ketchum, William Boone, William Goslin, John Slack, Wilford Stephens, Jonathan Barton, Robert Barclay, James Cochran, Zadoc and James Hatton and Charles Laughlin.

Bethel Church Used for 40 Years.

“The constituent members of Bethel Church were Anderson Woods, Betsy Woods, David McQuitty, James Harris and John Turner. The church was organized on June 28, 1817, by William Thorp and David McClain. It stood until some time in the fifties, when it disappeared and was succeeded by the Walnut Grove Church. The other members of Bethel Church the first year of its existence, in addition to those already named, were Joshua Barton, Lazarus Wilcox, William Throp (Thorp) and Edward Turner.”

After prayer by the Rev. S. F. Taylor of Columbia, Dr. John P. Greene, president of William Jewell College at Liberty, was introduced as the speaker for the morning. Doctor Greene based his address on the thirty-seventh verse of the fourth chapter of St. John, “And herein is that saying true, One sowth, and another reapeth.” Showing how the descendants of the pioneers of Boone County had prospered by having reaped where their ancestors sowed, Doctor Greene urged the people of today to be benefactors as well as beneficiaries. His speech in part, follows:

Doctor Greene Praises Pioneers.

“We are beneficiaries in two respects: In the material and in the spiritual blessings that we have. We do not know how great our material benefits are. One of the greatest labors man assumed was attacking the wild country and subduing it. Sure, our forefathers did not build us any roads, or great buildings or schools or railroads, but they plowed up these prairies, cut down the great trees and subdued the soil—and they did that in the face of wild beasts and wild men. We have inherited this beautiful country that they opened for us. They made trails where we now have roads, and a good road is a great blessing. But a trail is a great blessing when there is no road.

“But I want to show you what the pioneers did for us spiritually. Some brought their religion with them from the Carolinas and Kentucky. A few preachers came along. The pioneer preachers came along. The pioneer preacher was a man of the people. He had an axe as well as the other pioneers and he had a plow and a rifle also and he knew how to shoot. He was right with the people, and was one of the main factors in the organization of settlements, townships and counties.

“Anderson Woods stands out before us today as a preacher of pioneer days. Judge of the county court, he would have also acted as sheriff, if necessary; plowman, axeman, rifleman, preacher, all in one. He did not preach for money. One thing certain in that day was that he never got any money, but everybody was full of courage and unselfishness, and willing to do his level best for everything.

County is Home of Baptist Education.

“Boone County is the home of Baptist education. Dr. William Jewell was a pioneer here and he advocated the starting of a school several years before they took hold of it. Boone County has done a world for education and you people have a lot to pay to this spot on which you now are. But if they gave $50,000 then, I do not think I am missing it now if I say the Baptists today can give $5,000,000 for education. If we catch the same spirit we ought to see that those who come after us will have something to thank us for.

“I should glory in the Baptists more if they should rise to the situation. I want to have a hand in making good roads for clean politics and in abolishing the saloon. There is nothing to keep a church but religion, and when that is gone it should die. I do not believe in education unless it is in harmony with the spirit of Christ.

“Let us see that in all our schools we have unselfish persons who will teach our children to go out into the world to do something good for the sake of the future. Jesus said “If you give a cup of cold water, you shall in no way lose the least.’ You and I are reaping--shall we sow for fullness of light have turned to death, reminding me of the continents and seas that lie between my being dead and present. Whole generations of people have come upon the stage of action and played their part and passed behind the curtain. I have not visited this neighborhood since 1876 and then only for a day, and I discovered then in passing around that many of the old homesteads that I knew as a boy had crumbled.

Judge Philips’ Parents Here in 1817.

“In 1816 my grandfather, John Copeland, came from Kentucky and pitched his tent one mile south of where I stand. The next spring my father, in company with the ancestors of David Harris, followed in a two-horse wagon with my mother. It was their bridal trip and, just adjoining my grandfather’s farm, they pitched their own tent in the unbroken woods.

“The Baptists outnumbered the Cumberland Presbyterians and Methodists, but they were kind enough to allow other denominations to worship with them. I have in my mind a vivid picture of that old Bethel Church as I saw it 77 years ago. It was built of huge ash logs, and if the hand of man would have left it alone, it would have defied the rages of time. It had one door in front that was strong enough to resist a battering ram. It had two windows, one on each side of the door. The pulpit was constructed after such a fashion that when the preacher entered the door leading to it, it looked like he was afforded shelter from without, and it was a veritable sweatbox within.

Pioneers Used Plenty of Lumber.

“The benches in that old church had timber enough in them to build a two-masted frigate. They built the pews on a rising scale so that the rear seats in the church were at least four feet from the floor and you had to climb like getting into a berth without a stepladder. One of those rear seats was my favorite place because I could see everything and also could slip out the windows without being seen by the old folks on the front benches.

The church was used, after the Baptists had gone to their new church, by the Cumberland Presbyterians until it was finally abandoned. The preacher then was known as Father Barnes. His face was not a thing of beauty, but seemed to be a joy forever to the old people of the congregation. I recollect he wore the conventional high black stock, whether it was winter or summer, over which peaked timidly a piece of limp shirt collar.

“The most notable preacher I ever heard in the Baptist Church was Dr. William Thompson. He was a man of transcendent power, not in polished rhetoric, but he was tremendous in his expounding of the scriptures and was overpowering in his eloquence.

Judge Philips Only Bethel Survivor

“All of these men have one by one gone their way and I am about the only keeper of their early traditions. But such men and women as settled this country and lived in this community do not cease to live when they cease to breathe. Their deeds of valor, their virtues, their fidelity to truth and society put in motion waves of influences that vibrate to the uttermost limits of time and although the rude winds of winter and the storms of summer may knock over their tombstones, and these marks be ground to dust, their spirits live on in the souls of the people Like indestructible material that reproduces itself, such men and women as these bear fruit even from the grave.”

The Rev. G. O. VanNoy, pastor of the Baptist Church at Fayette, was the final speaker of the day. He eulogized the pioneer settlers who, by their untiring and fearless efforts in settling this section of the country, made the present benefits enjoyed by their descendants possible.

The centennial celebration ended with the benediction by the Rev. S. F. Keith of the Walnut Grove Baptist Church.

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