Mississippi Baptists' Missionary Identity

and Relation to William Carey

 

 

Early Baptists in Mississippi and Their Churches

 

Baptists from the Pee Dee region of northeastern South Carolina arrived at Cole's Creek near Natchez in the Mississippi territory beginning in 1780, almost forty years before Mississippi became the twentieth state in the United States of America on December 10, 1817.  These Baptists had served the American colonies in their opposition to the British in the Revolutionary War.  Simultaneous with the Baptists' arrival to Mississippi in 1780, the English were losing their control of the area to the Spanish. 

 

Among the Baptists who left South Carolina were Richard Curtis, Sr. (died November 10, 1784), his step-son John Jones and his wife Anna, his sons Benjamin Curtis and family, Richard Curtis, Jr., and family, William Curtis and family, Jonathan Curtis, his daughter Hannah and her husband John Courtney, his daughter Phoebe and her husband John Stampley, Daniel Ogden and family, William Ogden and family, and a Mr. Perkins and family.

 

Enforcing Roman Catholicism on the newly acquired area, the Spanish did not recognize non-Catholic forms of religion.  Problems started for the Baptists when Richard Curtis, Jr., a licensed Baptist minister, began to attract attention with his preaching ability.  By 1790, various people in the area had asked Richard Curtis, Jr., to preach for them.  Later, Curtis officiated at the baptisms of a prominent man William Hamberlin and Stephen De Alvo, a Catholic-born Spaniard, who had married an American woman, and Curtis led worship in private homes.  In 1791, the Baptists established a small church at Cole's Creek approximately eighteen miles north of Natchez near the corner of contemporary Stampley Road and 4 Forks Road in Fayette, Mississippi.

 

The Spanish governor, Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, wrote a letter to Curtis in 1795 ordering him to stop preaching contrary to the laws of the Spanish province, and went so far as to have Curtis arrested April 6, 1795.  Gayoso threatened Curtis, Hamberlin, and De Alvo with the penalty of working the the silver mines of Mexico, especially if Curtis failed to stop preaching contrary to the provincial law. 

 

Curtis provoked the Spanish further when he officiated at the wedding of Phebe Jones (John Jones's daughter) and David Greenleaf in May 1795.  Later, on August 23, 1795, the Spanish issued an order for the arrest of Curtis, Hamberlin, and De Alvo.  That day, Curtis, Hamberlin, and De Alvo left their families and escaped Cole's Creek and began their travel to the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, where the group had lived prior to 1780.  While in South Carolina, Richard Curtis, Jr., was ordained into the Baptist ministry by Benjamin Mosley and Matthew McCullars, both of whom were Baptist leaders in the Charleston Baptist Association.

 

On March 30, 1798, the Americans, under the rule of Andrew Ellicott, took control of Fort Rosalie, Natchez, away from the Spanish, though the Spanish maintained their control of Spanish West Florida (lands south of the thirty-first parallel) until 1812.  The Baptists communicated the news to Curtis, and he, Hamberlin, and De Alvo returned to Cole's Creek.  In the summer of 1798, the Baptists formed their church at Cole's Creek and named it Salem, the Hebrew word for "peace." 

 

On October 28, 1811, Curtis died in Amite County, Mississippi, east of Cole's Creek, and he is buried near the Ebenezer Baptist Church in that county.

 

Ebenezer Baptist Church

Amite County, Mississippi

Ebenezer Baptist Church

Amite County, Mississippi

Ebenezer Baptist Church,

Historical Marker,

Amite County, Mississippi

 

Richard Curtis, Grave,

Amite County, Mississippi

Richard Curtis, Grave,

Amite County, Mississippi

Richard Curtis, Grave,

Amite County, Mississippi

Photographs, courtesy, Dr. Daniel P. Caldwell, Professor of Religion, and Dean,

Cooper School of Missions and Biblical Studies, William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

 

 

The Mississippi Association

 

Baptist associations function as autonomous bodies in an advisory role with individual church congregations, though individual churches retain autonomous governance.  Baptist associations had formed in England during the 1640s, and the Philadelphia Baptist Association formed in the Pennsylvania Colony in 1707. 

 

Between 1791 and 1836, several Baptist churches were established in southwest Mississippi.  These churches followed the traditional Baptist pattern of forming an "association of like-minded churches." 

 

At its founding 1806 at Salem Church, the Mississippi Association of five Baptist churches declared that it had "no power to lord it over God's heritage, nor infringe upon any of the internal rights of the churches."  Regrettably, seven years later in 1813, the first Baptist church in Mississippi, Salem Church, had disbanded after sharp difference of opinion within the congregation.  In addition to the Salem Church, the other four churches included Second Creek Church, Adams County; Bethel Church, Wilkinson County; and New Providence Church and Ebenezer Church, Amite County. 

 

At its October 14, 1815, meeting, the Mississippi Association acted on a letter from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions by collecting and donating money toward the cause "to preach the Gospel to the heathen nations."  The Association sent $20, but in 1816, it sent $80.93 thus demonstrating the growing support of missions by Mississippi Baptists.  In the October 17, 1818, meeting of the association, the groups passed a resolution affirming "that the churches have a sermon preached in each year with a special relation to missionary concerns, and at the same time make a collection for the support of missionaries, and on forwarding the money to this Association state whether the contribution was for Foreign or Domestic Missions."  In 1825, the Association collected $90 for missions, "that pious object," but by 1870, the Association collected $877 for its Missionary and Benevolence Fund.

 

Coupled with its missionary focus, in 1817 the Mississippi Association approved a resolution "that this Association recommend and support a plan for raising a find, for the special purpose of promoting the proper education of pious young men called to the great and important work of the gospel ministry."  In short and among other concerns, the Mississippi Association established Baptists in Mississippi as ardent supporters of missions and ministerial education.  The 1819 Mississippi map illustrates the developing area in south Mississippi.

 

Ashley Vaughan, a pastor in the Natchez area, started publishing the Southwestern Religious Luminary at Washington, Adams County, in September, 1836.  At its annual meeting on October 15, 1836, the Mississippi Association adopted the following resolution:  "Resolved, That we recommend the Southwestern Religious Luminary, edited by the Rev. Ashley Vaughan of Washington, Miss., to the confidence and patronage of the churches and friends of religion and morality in general, it being a paper disseminating the doctrines of the gospel, and one altogether suited to the pressing wants of our denomination in the South."

 

 

Founding of a Mississippi Baptist Convention

December 23-24, 1836

 

An attempt to form a State Convention of Baptist churches occurred in 1824-1829 but failed.  In 1836, the Mississippi Association passed a resolution for the formation of a State Convention.  Prior to this meeting, the Pearl River and Union Associations had been in contact with the Mississippi Association regarding the need for organized efforts of Baptists in the State.  Rev. Ashley Vaughan, a native of South Carolina and now serving in the Clear Creek Church, Natchez, was elected as the president of the Convention of the Baptist Denomination of the State of Mississippi.  The resolution concerning Vaughan read:

Ashley Vaughan has been denominated the "Father of the Convention.'' That he was very active in having the enterprise projected, is beyond question. He was editor of the Southwestern Religious Luminary, and was in a position to be heard in the projection of the new undertaking. In an editorial in his paper, September, 1836, three months before the constitution of the convention, he said: "A convention formed on suitable principles, and having in view suitable objects, could not fail to have a most salutary and beneficial influence on the interests of the Baptist denomination in Mississippi. Such a thing is eminently needed to combine the counsel, concentrate the energies, and unite the efforts of the denomination."

Vaughan was a strong support of the individual congregation, and opposed the view that the State Convention should have any authority over the local church or any association of churches.  In its formation, the organization of the Convention followed the pattern expressed in its foundational resolution: 

"Resolved, That we deem it expedient to form a convention of the Baptist denomination of the State of Mississippi, for missionary purposes [emphasis added], and other objects connected with the Redeemer's kingdom on earth—particularly in the State of Mississippi.''

The Convention appointed committees on "Education, Publications, Lord's Day, and Home missions and Foreign missions."  The committee on Foreign missions (including Rev. Ashley Vaughan) recommended "that the churches observe the first Monday evening in each month in prayer to God for the spread of the gospel throughout the world." 

 

 

Mississippi Baptists, the Judsons, and the Southern Baptist Convention

 

From as early as 1836 onward, Baptists in Mississippi supported the the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions, which met in a Triennial Convention starting 1814.  In the Southwestern Religious Luminary, Ashley Vaughan often praised the work of Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann Judson, missionaries in Burma supported by the General Missionary Convention.  Through the General Missionary Convention, Mississippi Baptists contributed liberally to the Judsons' work of Bible translation and education.

 

Though the Judsons went to India as Congregationalists, they changed their minds about baptism on their voyage, and on September 6, 1812, they were baptized (i.e., immersed) by William Carey in Calcutta.  Being harassed by the East India Company, the Judsons finally settled in Rangoon, Burma (modern day Yangon, Myanmar) where they worked together on Bible translations and the establishment of schools parallel to the practice of Carey, Marshman, and Ward in Serampore.  The Judsons and the Serampore Missionaries maintained a close fraternal friendship.

 

Despite the singularity of its missionary vision focused rhetorically through "The Judsons," Baptists in the South and North separated from each other concerning the slave issue (i.e., whether the Mission Board would approve a slaveholder as an appointed missionary).  On May 8, 1845, three hundred and seventy-seven Baptist representatives from the states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, and the District of Columbia met in Augusta, Georgia, and established the Southern Baptist Convention.  A year later, this new Baptist group formed a Home Mission Board and a Foreign Mission Board, and Baptists in the North had parallel missionary boards.

 

Mississippi Baptists did not send messengers to the 1844 Triennial Convention after having some discord with the American Baptist Home Missionary Society since 1842.  And, according to some interpreters, because of their allegiance to and support of the mission of Adoniram and Ann Judson since 1814, Mississippi Baptists ironically and independently did not attend and participate in the vote to separate and form the Southern Baptist Convention.  However, six weeks after the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Mississippi Baptists sent a letter signed by Chairman William Carey Crane, later president of Baylor University (1864-1885), dissolving all connection with the Triennial Convention with "deepest regrets" and hope for resolution to the American Baptist Home Mission Society.  In addition, Mississippi Baptists appointed a representative committee to attend the Southern Baptist Convention in June 1846.

 

 

The Carey Association

 

Over fifty Baptist associations were formed in Mississippi during the nineteenth century, but one of special notice is the "Carey Association."  In the 1884 meeting of the Mississippi Association, some churches in the Mississippi Association, the Union Association, and the Mississippi River Association thought a new association designed along the new railroad line from Harriston, Mississippi, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, would be needful.  Meeting in November, 1884, the new "Carey Association," named so in honor of the English missionary, William Carey, was formed and $96.40 was received for the support of missions.  At its meeting 1886, $101.35 was received for missions, and urgent pleas for quarterly sermons on missions were put forward.  "The Women's Union of the Carey Association" likewise was formed in 1886. 

 

In 1889, there were twenty-seven churches in the Carey Association, and $375.95 had been raised for the support of missionary outreach.  In addition, the Carey Association vigorously argued for prohibition because "The liquor traffic is doing more to stultify our government, to hinder civilization, to oppose Christianity and to retard the progress of the gospel than all things else besides. It acts like a vampire upon the government, a canker upon civilization, an ulcer upon society, and a blight in the home."

 

Some key figures in the Carey Association included J. B. Gambrell, J. T. Christian, Z. T. Leavell, J. T. Barrett, and Mrs. Kate Rogers.

 

 

Contemporary Mississippi Baptist Historical Markers

Adams County, Mississippi

 

Photographs, courtesy, Dr. Daniel P. Caldwell, Professor of Religion, and Dean,

Cooper School of Missions and Biblical Studies, William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

 

 

Carey Center Home Page

Created:    April 23, 2010            Updated:    July 7, 2010