History of Indiana from the Exploration to 1922, Vol 1 by Logan Esarey - transcribed by J.S.
CHAPTER XII - RELIGION AND EDUCATION IN EARLY INDIANA
There was periodical preaching among the Indiana settlers from the earliest years of the nineteenth century. The log houses and barns of the settlers were used as meeting houses. Occasionally a rough pulpit was erected in the grove and more or less regular services held in the shade of the trees. Itinerant priests and preachers were pressed into service. Many of these were merely accidental visitors, others were traveling under the direction of eastern missionary societies.
The earliest church organization in Indiana was the Catholic at Vincennes. The records of this parish church date back to 1749. From this date to 1834, when Bishop Gabriel Brute became the bishop of Vincennes, thirty priests had served in succession. The earlier priests, particularly Bishop Flaget, had traveled over Indiana, ministering to the Catholic settlers, revalidating marriages, administering sacraments, and receiving converts into communion. Much traditional evidence remains of the ministrations of the clergyman.
With the appointment of Bishop Brute, Vincennes, which had formerly belonged to the diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, became an independent see. His jurisdiction included Indiana an much of Illinois. As soon as the new St. Francis Xavier cathedral church at Vincennes was dedicated Bishop Brute and the resident priest, Lalumiere, started on a tour of the State.
The Catholic settlers were gathered into congregations at suitable places and priests sent them as soon as possible. Bishop Brute was a man of remarkable activity, and by the time of his death, June 26, 1839, had the State well organized. Catholic missionaries worked among the Indians as well as among the white settlers. Fathers Bessonies and Kundeck are remembered with gratitude by many Protestants as well as Catholics.
The first session of the Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church was held at New Albany in 1832. There were represented in the conference five presiding elders' districts. These were Madison, Charlestown, Indianapolis, Vincennes and the Missionary district covering the whole northern part of the State. There were reported at this time 19,853 white members and 182 colored. There were sixty preachers appointed and four charges left unsupplied. These were under the direction of five presiding elders. There was scarcely a nook or corner of the State nor reached by the famous circuit riders of this church.
As early as 1804 Peter Cartwright and Benjamin Lakin, who were then riding the Shelby and Salt River circuits in Kentucky, crossed over and preached in Clark's grant. The principal gathering places of the early Methodists were at the homes of the Robinsons and Prathers near Charlestown.
Mr. Cartwright also organized the first Methodist church in southwestern Indiana, in teh Pusroe settlement, about this time. These converts were organized into a class in 1808. Whitewater circuit, in western Ohio, was organized in 1806, soon after, including among its charges Brookville, Liberty and Connersville. In 1807 the Silver Creek circuit, in Clark county, was organized and placed under the charge of Rev. Moses Ashworth.
In 1808 Indiana district was organized, including part of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. Among the noted preachers who devoted their lives to this work were Moses Crume, Josiah Crawford, Samuel Parker and William Winans. The latter is said to have been the first Protestant preacher to visit Vincennes. On one of his early visits he preached in the fort to the officers, a few English and French settlers, and a small number of Indians. Governor Harrison held the candle, by the light of which he read his text.
In 1816 the Western Conference, of which Indiana circuit had been a part, was broken and the Missouri conference established. The Whitewater valley was placed in the Ohio conference and the rest of the State in the Missouri conference. All told, there were seven circuits in the State at that time.
In 1824 the Illinois conference was established, to include Illinois and Indiana. It held its first annual meeting at Charlestown, August 25, 1825. There were then four districts, with thirty-one circuits and stations. At the next meeting, which was held at Bloomington, September 28, 1826, the reports showed a membership in Indiana of 10,840.
No other church grew so rapidly during the pioneer period. A succession of able preachers, such as Jay C. Smith, Allen Wiley, Peter Cartwright, John Schrader, Richard Hargrave, William Cravens and scores of others, left evidence of their power not only in the remarkable organization of the church but on the political and educational institutions of the State. Among early Methodist laymen were such as Dennis Pennington, Ezra Ferris, James Scott and Isaac Dunn.
Unclean politics had headquarters at this time in the bar-rooms of the taverns. On these the Methodists made ceaseless war. On the other hand, many circuit riders preached frequently in bar-rooms, the tavern keepers maintaining excellent order during the time. It is said the first sermons heard in New Albany and Rising Sun were thus preached in bar-rooms.
The Baptist was the pioneer Protestant church in Indiana. The first church of this denomination was organized at Owen's creek, near the Falls of the Ohio, in Knox county, November 22, 1798. There seems to have been four members. The congregation met either at Owen's creek, Fourteen Mile creek and Silver creek. At the meeting of August 8, 1801, they chose delegates to the Salem, Kentucky, association and thus became a regularly organized church. March 21, 1812, the allied churches of Silver Creek, Mount Pleasant, Fourteen Mile, Knob Creek, Indian Creek, Upper Blue River, Lower Blue River, Camp Creek, Salem and White River formed the Silver Creek association.
However, this was not the first but the third association formed by this church in Indiana. The first had been organized over at Vincesses in 1809, and had been named the Wabash. Besides a few Illinois congregations it included the Bethel, Patoka, Salem, Wabash, and the famous Maria Creek congregations in Indiana.
The second Indiana association was an offshoot of the old Miami association,and taking its name from its own local Jordan, was called the Whitewater. Loughery association was organized in 1818; White River in 1821; Flat Rock, Little Pigeon and Salem in 1822; Liberty and Union in 1824; Lost River in 1825; Indianapolis in 1826; Coffee Creek and Danville in 1827; Madison and Tippecanoe in 1833; Curry's Prairie in 1834; Brownstown and White Lick in 1835; Northern in 1836; Bethel in 1837; Freedom and Salamonie in 1840; Northeastern in 1841; Bedford 1842; Sand Creek 1843; Judson 1848; Evansville and Long Run 1850; Whitewater Valley 1852; Weasaw Creek 1853; Mount Zion 1855; Friendship 1856; Indiana (colored) 1858. this list shows at a glance the heroic work these men and women were doing. By 1840 every part of the State was reached by their ministers.
In April 1833, representatives of twenty-one of these associations met at Brandywine church and organized the Indiana Baptist association or convention. Its purpose was to unite all the Baptist churches in Indiana and thus conform to the spirit of the time. No early church was more energetic than the Baptist until internal dissensions over such questions as the origin of evil, missions, education, and ceremonials in a measure disrupted the organization and dissipated its zeal and resources.
Like the other Protestant churches, the Presbyterian made its entrance into Indiana form the neighboring charges in Kentucky. Members of the Kentucky churches were continually crossing the Ohio into Indiana. Nothing more natural than that the preachers would occasionally visit their former brethren on the north side of the river, or that the Transylvania presbytery should retain an interest in its people in their new homes in the wilderness. As early as 1804 such preachers as Samuel Rannels, James McGready, Thomas Cleland and Samuel B. Robertson crossed over from their stations to visit old friends in Clark and Knox counties. From earlier in 1803, Transylvania presbytery, sitting in Danville, Kentucky, determined to send missionaries to Indiana. The records of the presbytery show frequent applications by Indiana settlers for "supplies" as visiting preachers were called. One of these came to the presbytery, in 1805, from Knox county. In response Thomas Cleland visited Vincennes and prached in the council house. The youthful preacher was entertained by Governor Harrison, whose young wife was a Presbyterian.
Two years later Samuel Thornton Scott came to "Indiana" church as the first residing Presbyterian pastor in the State. This church has been organized in 1806 by Samuel B. Robertson. The meeting house was the barn of Colonel Small, two miles east of Vincennes. A short time later Mr. Scott had a pulpit built in the grove, and her at "the Presbyerian Stand" the Presbyterians of Vincennes and vicinity worshipped for many years.
The life of such a preacher differed little from that of other pioneers except that on Sundays he preached and performed other official duties of the church. He received no salary worth mentioning for this, but had to depend on the produce of his farm and shop for a living.
In 1807 Palmyra church, near Charlestown, was organized, but no resident preacher was stationed there till after the War of 1812. In fact this church did not take on a permanent organization till 1812. During the winter of 1812 and 1813 John McElroy Dickey visited the State, preaching in Clark and Daviess counties, a church near the present city of Washington having been organized a few years previously by Mr. Scott, of Vincennes. In May 1815, Mr. Dickey moved to Washington and soon became the most active worker in the Presbyterian church of Indiana. For a third of a century "Father" Dickey traveled over southern Indiana, preaching and teaching and helping his wife incidentally to rear their eleven children.
In 1816 there came to Indiana a number of Presbyterian missionaries sent by the New England societies. As a rule these men accepted no regular charges but traveled over the State somewhat after the manner of the Methodist preachers. The most noted of these missionaries were Issac Reed and William W. Martin. Until 1823 the Indiana churches belonged to the Louisville presbytery. By an act of the Kentucky synod, October 1823, most of the Indiana churches were organized into the Salem presbytery, which held its first meeting April 1, 1924 at Salem. Within the next two years Madison and Wabash presbyteries were added to the list. These, together with the Missouri presbytery, were organized into the Indiana synod, which met the first time October 18, 1826, at Vincennes. This conference constituted the Presbyterian church in Indiana. The meetings for church organization were as truly State conventions as the meeting held at Corydon in 1816.
The Christian (Disciples) church had its origin in Indiana early in the nineteenth century. It was a result of the protest against creeds in the church. It gained its membership largely form the Baptist and the Dunkard socieites, though many Presbyterians and Methodists became members. It is impossible in many instances to tell at what point a Baptist church became a "New Light" and then a Disciple or Christian.
John Wright, a Baptist of the Blue River, Washington county, church, is frequently given as the first Christian preacher of the State. He began his work as a "Reformer" in 1819. The Dunkards, then quite numerous in south central Indiana, joined the movement in large numbers - fifteen churches joining in a body. The Blue River and Silver Creek associations of the Baptist church became almost entirely "New Light," and then Christian.
Somewhat later, but independently, what were known as the Calvinistic Baptist churches of Rush and Fayette counties, under teh lead of John T. Thompson, became Christian. The Flat Rock Baptist congregation was the first to go over. Some of these were called "Reformers" and some "New Lights."
Michael Combs, a "New Light" convert of Wayne county, moved to Montgomery county in 1826 and organized the new church in that section. Beginning with 1826, the teaching of Alexander Campbell reinforced the movement in Indiana. The Christian Baptist, the organ of the new church, circulated widely in the State. By 1840 the church was well organized and prosperous.
The earliest Quaker church in the State was organized in a log hut on the present site of Richmond in 1807. A large number of Quakers had come to Eastern Indiana and Western Ohio where they organized the Miami Monthly Meeting, to which most of those in Wayne county belonged. The first Yearly Meeting for Indiana was held at the log church in Richmond in 1821. At this meeting they made arrangements to build a more commodious house. Many Quakers lived also in Washington, Parke and Hendricks counties. Like the other denominations they soon established their church schools. Bloomingdale Academy dates from 1845 and Earlham college its doors two years later.
Besides the regular work of the church many auxiliary societies were organized. At Charlestown, August 2, 1826, delegates met and established the Indiana Sabbath School Union. Preliminaries for this had been arranged at a meeting held in Charlestown in the preceding October. The purpose of this was the promotion of Bible study, especially among the children. The society established three depots, one at Madison, one at New Albany, and one at Indianapolis, where religious tracts, suitable for use in the Sunday schools, could be had. The Indiana Union was a branch of the American Sabbath School Union.
The American Bible Society, organized in 1816, sent its agents into the State to organize auxiliary societies. In 1826 there were six such societies in Indiana. Their mission was to supply Bibles to any one at cost, and to all who could not pay, they were given free. On the boards of these societies were found the most substantial citizens of the day. One of their Bibles not infrequently made up of library of a pioneer family. In 1832 M. Fairfield, agent for Indiana, reported that he had visited forty counties and given away about $15,000 worth of Bibles.
Closely allied with the church was the Indiana Temperance Society - organized December 9, 1830. There were twenty-five subordinate societies in the State. Each of these sent delegates to the State meeting held at the capital every winter while the General Assembly was in session. Bethuel F. Morris was its first president.
In close connection with the above was the Anti-Gambling Society, organized at Indianapolis June 1834, with branches in the principal towns of the State. Isaac Coe, Superintendent of the Indianapolis Sabbath School, was the leader in this movement. Its purpose was to rid the State of the professional gamblers. The success of this society is a proof that Indiana had passed the pioneer period.
The Indiana Colonization Society was organized at Indianapolis, November 4, 1829. Like its kindred societies, it was State wide, composed of small local subordinate societies in the various counties. It collected, chiefly through the churches, money to pay the expenses of sending free negroes to Liberia. Mr. Findley, the society's agent, reported that he had a band of eighty liberated negroes ready at that time of the second anniversary meeting to go to Liberia. The leading officers of the State were connected with the society, which enjoyed a long and worthy career.
There was considered effort put forth during the period from 1825 to 1840 toward improved agriculture. Centers of this work were Wayne, Washington and Marion counties, in each of which a county society was formed. An agricultural journal made its appearance also in each county. This work was summed up in the law of February 7, 1835, providing for a county society in each county affiliated with the State society. County fairs were held, at which all the various lines of agricultural produce were shown. The greatest good came from the association of farmers and the resulting discussion. Farmers' picnics were held in the groves, where clever handiwork was inspected or addresses by prominent farmers listened to. By t his time the early settlers had succeeded in clearing up suitable farms and were beginning to enjoy a small amount of leisure. Their first thoughts were naturally turned toward relief from their hard life. As a result many of the hardships of pioneer life disappeared.
In the Indianapolis papers, December 8, 1830, appeared a
card calling for a meeting of all citizens interested in forming a
State Historical Society. The society was organized, December 11, with
Judge Benjamin Parke as the first president. Its stated purpose was to
collect and preserve the documents of our history and besides to
establish a museum in which the relics might be kept for show. The
General Assembly later provided that the society should be furnished
with duplicate copies of all papers and books printed by the State.
However, no permanent home was ever provided and the work so well
begun was not kept up. The large and priceless collection was loaned
and lost until at present the society, though still alive, has no
library at all.
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