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Early Presbyterianism In East Central Illinois
Rev. Iba W. Allen, A. M., D. D., Paris, Illinois.
Let me ask you to call upon your historical imagination and
paint in the inner chambers of the mind a picture, indeed, a
A farm in Kentucky is the background of the first scene.
A missionary has just started for the New Purchase in In-
diana. It is September of the year 1822. The day is one of
golden sunshine and almost summer warmth. The pioneer
sits upon the driver's seat of a covered wagon, holding the
reins that guide four horses, and beside him sits his wife hold-
ing a two-year-old girl in her lap. From the rear an older
girl looks out.
Within are the supplies usual for a migration to a home in
the wilderness, but in addition to these are a few books and
some missionary reports as well as the minister's Bible.
Scene second: A lovely autumn day is coming to a close.
Not by the roadside, for their is no road, but in a glen stands
a covered wagon. Not far away four hobbled horses are
eagerly biting the half dried grass. A camp fire is burning
beneath a giant hickory, and near it sits the missionary's wife.
A large iron kettle is suspended by a long pole sloping high
enough above the fire not to burn. The pole's lower end is
under a log. It runs upward supported by a forked branch
driven in the ground. The older child is feeding the fire. The
father is picking the feathers from a wild turkey . A rifle lies
on the ground beside him. The youngest child is asleep in
her mother's arms.
Scene third: It is raining steadily. The horses are sink-
ing every step into a miry road. Their sweaty coats steam
in the rain as they struggle slowly onward. In great coat
and coonskin cap the missionary sits on the driver's seat. The
back flaps of the wagon are drawn down tight. He is the only
human being visible. The wagon wheels sink, sometimes
sharply and deeply. Then the smoking horses strain against
their collars and the wheels give curious sucking sounds in
the water and mud. Around a curve the wagon disappears.
Scene fourth: A log cabin stands where great trees have
been cleared away. Near it are some stumps, testifying by
their size to the forest giants that fell before the missionary's
axe. Between the logs of the cabin walls appear the chips
that await the plaster to make them firm and keep the wind
away. The rough stone chimney is unfinished, but smoke is
coming from it. Little patches of snow are on the ground.
The clearing is shut in on every side by mighty trees.
Scene fifth: The cabin is finished. White plaster, flush
with the outside of the squared logs, shows in all the cracks
and crevices. The chimney is up to its full height. A door
squarely fills in the doorway, with a leather thong hanging
out through a small hole where the knob of a modern door
would be. The clearing is much larger and in one place young
corn is growing and bean vines are showing themselves. On
one log of the cabin is roughly carved: "Cottage of Peace.' '
Scene sixth: Under the trees of a grove near a small set-
tlement are gathered some scores of people. Of homespun
goods are their clothing, rough and clumsy their shoes. They
are all brown from the sun and wind. They all face one way
and their heads are bowed, for with uplifted face the mis-
sionary is praying. On many cheeks are tears, but it is very
still in the grove. The only sounds are the missionary's voice
and the stirring of the leaves.
Scene seventh: In the corner of a room so small as to
seem a toy room, a chamber of a child's playhouse, is a bed
of poles and skins. On it lies an emaciated, white haired
woman. Beside it sits the missionary. A Bible is open in
his hands. To the dying woman he reads the words of Jesus :
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow
And I give unto them eternal life ; and they shall never per-
ish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."
Mr. President, unless some such pictures illustrate the text
which is to follow, it will seem dry and juiceless, as lifeless as
a surveyor's description. To understand at all what a farm
is, after we have read a legal designation of its metes and
bounds, we must picture its fields and meadows, its spring and
its woodlot, its fertility and lush life. These last indeed give
the farm its value and make its legal description worth the
So is it in this paper. The real religion, the desire for God,
the longing for eternal life, the aspiration for noble living,
the craving for some assurance of acceptance with God, the
hunger of the heart for the divine sympathy and compassion,
and the complete satisfaction of all these desires in the simple
gospel preached by the missionary, — these give the real mean-
ing to the accounts which follow.
Further, the hardships and struggles of pioneer life did not
smother these desires, nor the dangers of river and wilder-
ness deter the missionary. Sacrifice and courage on his part
and on theirs, faith, prayer, trust and persistence in relig-
ious duties on his part and on theirs, must be understood to
get the real significance of the organization of Illinois' early
The Presbyterian history of eastern Illinois really begins
with the coming of isolated members of that church from
eastern states, principally Ohio, Virginia, and east Ten-
nessee. Here and there a communicant could be found in one
of the log cabins, in the forests or on the edge of the prairie,
who longed for the coming of a missionary, desiring to hear
the gospel preached and to partake of the sacrament of the
How real that longing was in many breasts may be judged
from the fact that often a man or a woman would walk eight
or ten miles to attend a meeting, would ride or drive twenty
or thirty. But the formation of churches began when the
Eev. Isaae Reed, a minister of a little pioneer church in Owen
County, Indiana ,and a missionary of the Connecticut Mission-
ary Society crossed the Wabash river on a journey to Paris,
111. There he organized the first church in this section of our
state. I quote from a report he made and from his diary.
"The Cottage of Peace, Ind., Nov. 24, 1824
Good News from the Frontier.
"I have just returned from a short missionary tour across
the Wabash. I was as far out as Paris, Edgar county, Illi-
nois. Indeed this was the point of my principal aim. I went
by the particular and earnest solicitation of some people, in
that vicinity, (who had removed there from Ohio and from
East Tennessee, but whom I had never seen) that I would
come and bring them into church order. They had been
about two years there with their families, and no minister had
yet found his way to their settlement. The appointment had
been a good while made, and I was therefore expected.
Brother D. Whitney also went with me. We crossed the Wa-
bash three miles above Fort Harrison the fourth inst. That
night we had a meeting two and a half miles from the river.
There were present three female members of our church, all
of them from the state of New York. One had been seven
years there, and the others four years; neither had been at
communion since they came into the country, nor had they
heard a sermon for almost two years — and this purely be-
cause they had no opportunity. The next day at evening we
began our meeting in the neighborhood of Paris. Nothing
unusual appeared. The people seemed pleased to receive us,
and in the prospect of a church and the sacrament."
"On the sixth we preached in town. It was a new and
small place, though the seat of justice of Edgar county. The
services were performed in a school house. Whilst preach-
ing, a very uncommon solemnity and deep attention seemed
to prevail. Numbers were affected to tears. After sermon
the church was constituted out of the members present. They
were twelve ; three elders were chosen. An examination then
commenced of persons who desired to become members ; and
on the following day, thirteen were admitted on examination,
and another by letter, making twenty-six. Four adults were
baptized. And a very deep and tender impression seemed to
exist in the minds of many of the hearers — many shed tears,
and confessed, when enquired of, that their minds were
awakened into concern for their souls. It seemed that a re-
vival of the Lord's work was begun. They had for nearly
two years kept up society meetings on the Sabbath, and
seemed to have desired and hoped and prayed for a preacher
to come and see them, until they were prepared, when he
came, to receive him as sent them of the Lord; and they
seemed to wish to attend to his message and to follow the
Lord's will. The eighth we constituted a Bible Society auxi-
liary to the American, and left them. But we did not so soon
leave the traces of the Lord's work. Where we held a meet-
ing that night, a woman convinced of sin, when repentance
was the subject of discourse, wept aloud.
The next day we had preaching seven miles further toward
the Wabash; here also members seemed concerned, and at
night, in another part of the settlement, five miles distant, it
was yet more manifest. There were several children baptised ;
one household of eight ; and two days after, six persons were
admitted on examination to the communion of the church.
"In short in five days we examined and admitted nineteen
persons to communion, constituted a church in a settlement
beyond the point to which any of our ministers before had
travelled — administered the sacrament twice, baptized four
adults and nineteen children"
Now I read an extract from the Eev. Isaac Reed's diary:
"A Macedonian call had been sent me at Vincennes, the
first week of August, from Paris, Illinois; I had returned
word I would come."
"Sept. 14th, 1825. — I left the Cottage of Peace on my way
to preach the gospel to them. Rode 25 miles and preached
at 5 o'clock P. M. Baptised 5 children. This was the house-
hold of one of the members of the new formed congregation
of Greencastle. "
"15th. — Started at sunrise, and went on to Greencastle, 5
miles to breakfast ; found my friend Mrs. — , very sick of a
fever. Prayed with her. Hope she may recover. Stopped
only for breakfast and went on. Passed through 17 miles
woods with only a single cabin. Met and passed numbers on
the road. Though very new, it is the leading way from Ohio
to the upper parts of Illinois, and near where the national
road is expected to pass. Eode this day 31 miles, and stopped
with Mr. Samuel Adams; found the woman ill. Spent the
evening in reading loud to the family a printed missionary
report, and part of two sermons.' '
"16th. — Started at sunrise, and rode to Mr. TVs, 4 miles.
He is an elder of our little church, on Big Eaccoon creek. It
was formed near three years ago, by a missionary of the
General Assembly, but has no minister nor meeting house,
nor meeting, except when a missionary comes along. Went
on through a very lonely and wet tract, 10 miles to the Wa-
bash river. Crossed it 12 miles above Fort Harrison, a place
famous in the late war. Rode 14 miles further to Mr.
M'C — *S' where I had appointed to preach. This is on an arm
of the Grand Prairie in Illinois. ' J
"On my way I met a man whom I had known 6 years ago
at New Albany. He had been used to attend my ministry, but
I had not known anything of him since. Enquired of him re-
specting his mind — found it troubled and dark, without a
Christian hope; but uneasy. Exhorted him, and requested
him to come to the meeting at Paris. This prairie has a grand
and beautiful appearance. It is dry, grassy, and flowered.
Preached — the attention was good. Had an interesting con-
ference with the man of the house, his wife and another wo-
man. They are zealous Christians in their first love ; each has
united with the church in less than a year."
"17th. — Rode into Paris 8 miles. Met the congregation
at the court house. Preached immediately. Text, Act 16 :10.
A large number of hearers and very good attention. Or-
dained a ruling elder and gave a charge to him, and another
to the congregation. Held a meeting with the session; ex-
amined and received 2 persons, both young converts.
Preached again at night to a numerous and solemn assembly."
" Paris is the county seat of Edgar county, but is a very
small place of about 8 cabins. It lies on the prairie. The
church here was formed by my ministry, last November, with
twelve members. It seemed in a state of revival, and I left
it with 26. Sixteen had been added — now 42."
"18th. — Sabbath. Held prayer meeting at the court house
half after nine A. M. Baptised one adult. Preached and ad-
ministered the Lord's Supper. There were three tables. A
large number of hearers, very well behaved. Rode 4% miles
to lodge. Read aloud to the family a missionary report.
"19th. — Rode to Paris and preached at 11 A. M. The ser-
mon was a funeral one for Mr. John Young, missionary, who
died at Vincennes, Aug. 15th, aged 28 years. He had spent
some months with these people, where his labors appear to
have been greatly blessed. Dined and took leave of these in-
teresting people. They are anxious to obtain a minister, and
I hope they can soon support one. Rode 10 miles and
preached at night."
"20th. — Rode 9 miles to New Hope meeting house. Met the
congregation and preached the same funeral sermon as yes-
terday. Here, too, Mr. Y. had labored — been successful, and
was much beloved. It was a feeling time. Baptised 1 adult
and 1 infant. This is a wonderful society. It has grown up
from 9 to 70 members in 10 months, and there seems still a
reviving influence. They subscribed $10 toward printing the
funeral sermon. They have built a new meeting house.
Preached again at night, and baptised four children."
"21st. — Found where there is a pious lad, now a scholar of
the Sabbath school; anxious to learn and makes great pro-
ficiency. I expect he is to be called to the ministry. Rode 11
miles to the village Terre Haute. This is a singular place —
has about 200 population and much mercantile business. It
has no religious society of any order. But at present a great
disposition to hear preaching. And its gentlemen have
formed a Sabbath reading meeting at the court house. They
read printed sermons. There is also a new-formed Bible so-
ciety and there is a small Sabbath school. I am told, $300
salary might be raised here for a preacher. Preached to a
large congregation at night. In the afternoon, visited and
prayed with the school."
"22d. — This day was rainy. Eode 21 miles — rested for the
night; but not without being solicited to preach."
' i 23d. — Preached a funeral sermon for the death of a mar-
ried woman — she has left children. Rode 13 miles and lodged
at D 's on Raccoon creek — this is a Presbyterian family
"24th. — Repassed the long woods to Greencastle, 18 miles
— preached at night. My friend appears recovering from her
fever, but is very weak. ' '
"25th. — Rose early and retired to the woods. Visited and
prayed with a sick woman. Met the congregation — prayed —
ordained a ruling elder, and gave him and the congregation
a charge. Preached and administered the Lord's Supper, in
the new church at Greencastle. There were few to commune,
but many to hear — went home with the elder. When we en-
tered his house, his son was weeping aloud. The Bible lay
open on the table — and the first words he spoke were, "The
Lord has found me." He seemed greatly agitated and dis-
tressed. I endeavored to direct him to the Savior and read
and explained to him and the family the parable of the Prodi-
"26th. — The young man was still serious but more calm.
Left him a reference to some chapters. Rode home about 24
miles and found my family in peace. I had been absent 13
days — rode 222 miles — preached 13 sermons — administered
the Lord 's Supper in 2 churches — ordained a ruling elder in
each church — baptized 2 adults and 6 children."
And now the account of the organization of the Paris
church from the minutes of the meeting:
"At a meeting held in the school house at Paris, Illinois,
November 6th, 1824, after public worship, the following per-
sons, members of the Presbyterian church were by prayer
solemnly constituted into a church, by the name of the Pres-
byterian church of Paris :
Samuel Vance, John Bovell, and William Means were then
unanimously elected Buling Elders, — they each having held
that office in other congregations. ' '
"The Session then held a meeting to examine persons for
membership, when, at a meeting on Sabbath morning, Nov.
7th, the following were examined and admitted to communion :
Four of these, viz: Mrs. Means, Miss Ashmore, Mr. Ives
and Mrs. Ives, his wife, were baptized ; and the communion was
Isaac Reed, Moderator.
(Copy from the Original, abridged May 22, '27. Sam'l
Vance, Clerk).' '
Here are further records of early Presbyterian activity in
* ' The Records of New Providence Church, Edgar Co., 111. ' 9
"According to previous notice a number of people of the
settlement of Sugar Creek met at the house of Mr. Martin
Ray on the 15th of May, 1829 for the express purpose of or-
ganizing a Presbyterian Church. "
"The Revd. Clayborne Young being present opened the
meeting with prayer, presided and by appointment acted as
temporary clerk. Motion being made, an election was held,
for two persons to serve as Ruling Elders and the votes be-
ing counted it appeared that Messrs. Alexander Ewing, 2nd.
and John W. McNutt were duly elected and this election was
publicly announced and the meeting then adjourned until
Saturday the 16th. Concluded with prayer."
"Saturday, May 16th, 1829 Messrs. A. Ewing and J. W.
McNutt having signafyed their willingness to serve and pre-
sented certificates from New Providence church (E. Tenn.)
were sollemnly ordained of this church according to the Pres-
byterian form of government. A door was then opened for
the admission of members — the following persons were then
received as members of this church. ' '
"See Tabular form No. 1, Page 112.
Alexander Ewing, CPk.
Sabbath, May 17th. They sacrament of the Lord's Supper
was administered. ' '
"Monday, 18th. Session convened, Revd. C. Young, Mod-
erator and reed, on Profession &c."
"See Form No. 1, Page 112.' '
Turning to page 112 of the same book we find ruled columns
extending across the two leaves of the opened book. It is the
"Form No. 1," referred to in the minutes. Across the tops
of the extended pages is written :
"Form No. 1. Acts of the Session.' '
The columns from left to right have the following head-
"Names, When Eecd., How Eecd., Baptised, Dismissed,
Suspended, Excommunicated, Restored, Died."
Here we find the names of the charter members :
Thomas Art, Mary Art, Elven Tucker, Elisabeth Tucker,
Margaret L. Ewing, Elisabeth McNutt, George Ewing, Elen
Ewing, Martin Ray, Jane Ewing, Rachel Ewing, Eliza I.
Tucker, Nathaniel Ewing, Elisabeth Ewing, Margaret Ray.
To these names must, of course, be added those of Alexan-
der Ewing and John W. McNutt, the elders elected. Thus the
church was organized with seventeen members.
The following records of historic value explain themselves :
"At a meeting held in Palestine, Crawford County, Illi-
nois, on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May, Anno Domini 1831,
attended by the Revd. Isaac Reed and the Revd. John Mont-
gomery, the following persons, members of the Presbyterian
church from different parts, gave in their names and re-
quested to be set apart and constituted into a Presbyterian
church, to be called the Palestine church. And after due en-
quiry and examination they were set apart by prayer and con-
stituted into a church, (viz:) John Houston, (sen.) and Nancy
Houston, Nancy Ann Logan, Jane Houston, Eliza Houston,
Wilson Lagow and Nancy Lagow, Alfred Gr. Lagow, James
Eagleton, James Caldwell, Phebe Morris and Anna Piper.
These were constituted into a church on the 14th and on the
next day there were added Margaret Eagleton, John Malcom
and Ann Malcom and Hannah Wilson (Sen.) "
"The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered
and an election held for two ruling elders when John Houston
and Wilson Lagow were duly elected. John Houston being
already an ordained elder, Wilson Lagow was ordained on the
16th and a charge was given to both the elders and to the
Isaac Beed, Missionary of B. M. G. A."
The little village of Grandview, ten miles southeast . of
Paris, has a history of idyllic flavor. A foresighted pioneer
named John Tate gathered a party in Augusta County, Va.,
and led them to Illinois, where they arrived in September,
They came in wagons and by families. In this spot on the
Grand Prairie they settled, giving it a name it well deserved.
West and north they had as boundary to their view only the
horizon. East and south they looked to great woods. Fer-
tility and beauty combined said to them: "Here shall ye
The thoughtfulness of these emigrants and their high valu-
ation of religion and education appear when it is known that
they brought with them their minister and school teacher, the
Bev. John A. Steele, and their doctor, a brother of the clergy-
Immediately divine service was held after the simple Pres-
byterian fashion in their houses, but the following year a
church building was erected. The congregation was consti-
tuted a church in proper ecclesiastical form on the twenty-
seventh day of July, 1838.
The record follows :
"Grandview, July 27, 1838.
Notice having been previously given that a Presbyterian
church would be organized at this place on this day, immedi-
ately after sermon, the Bev. John A. Steele, a missionary of
the Board of Missions of the General Assembly, having re-
ceived certificates or other satisfactory evidence of church
membership from the following persons, viz : James Hite, Ann
W. Hite, John Tate, Nancy Tate, Bobert M. Tate, Susan
Tate, Margaret I. Tate, Jacob S. Brown, Ellen B. Brown, Wm.
A. Cale, Sarah Cale, John Shultz, Susan Shultz, Catherine
Steele, Bachel France, Matthias Snapp, proceeded to orga-
nize them into a church. On motion Joseph Brown was chosen
secretary of the meeting. On motion it was resolved that
four persons be elected ruling elders in this church and the
following persons being nominated to that effect, to-wit:
James Hite, Wm. A. Cale, John Tate and Joseph Brown were
elected. On motion it was resolved that this church be known
as the Presbyterian church of Grandview.
On motion Robert M. Tate was elected treasurer.
Adjourned with prayer.
Joseph M. Brown, Secretary of the meeting.' '
These, Mr. President, are the names of the early Presbyter-
ians of East Central Illinois and these are the records of meet-
ings that meant much to the organizers of the churches and
were influential for good then and to the present day.