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Cantrall, Illinois

The First Church of Sangamon County, Illinois

Organized May 15 1820
Stephen England


The Cantrall Church of Christ has a remarkable history. Its founders were typical pioneers. The church has been a substantial organization since its very beginnings. Its service to the brotherhood of Central Illinois has been more than any other congregation in existence. From it have sprung most of the older churches in this part of the state.

The church was established by Stephen England on May 15, 1820. So important has been the part Mr. England played in the early history of this church that a few words of his life will not here be amiss, in fact it will not be possible to give the history of the church without an account of this great man of God. He was born June 12, 1773, in Virginia. His parents moved to Bath County, Kentucky when he was quite young. He was there married about 1791 to Anna Harper, who was born September 1, 1772, also in Virginia. They had ten living children in Kentucky. The family moved in March 1813 to Madison County, Ohio, where they had two children. In the fall of 1818 they moved to Madison county, Illinois. The following winter Stephen England, with two of his sons-in-law, came up to the Sangama country to explore it. After much difficulty and hardship they found a suitable place to build their houses. They cleared the land, planted their crops and returned to Madison county for their families, bringing them to their new homes about June 1, 1819.

Stephen England was not to enjoy his new home long for it was on September 26, 1823, that he died of a cancer in one of his ankles. Mr. England was a Baptist minister in Kentucky, but I have it on reliable authority that he was acquainted with Barton W. Stone before coming to Illinois. He was familiar with Stone’s effort to have men be Christians only and was never known as a Baptist in Illinois. His first effort to plant the seed of the gospel was very soon after he brought his family to the new settlement. The people, having planted their crops, wished to have religious services, so Mr. England announced that he would preach at his own house late in June or early in July 1819. Everybody in the entire settlement came. Two women walked five miles through the grass, which was almost as high as their heads. The husband of one of them walked and carried their babe. That was the first sermon ever preached north of the Sangamon river in Sangamon county, and probably in Central Illinois.

Mr. England organized the church May 15, 1820, at his own house, in what is now known as Fancy Creek township. There were eight members besides himself. The names of the persons constituting the church were Stephen England and Anna, his wife; Jechoniah Langston and Nancy, his wife; Levi Cantrall and Fannie, his wife; Mrs. Adelphia Wood, Mrs. Sarah Cantrall, the wife of Wyatt Cantrall, Mrs. Lucy Scott (daughter of Mr. England), afterwards Mrs. Cline. This was the first church organized in Sangamon county and the writer doubts very much if there was any other church of Christ organized in Central Illinois before this time. Mr. England’s widow died June 1, 1841, both near where they first settled in 1819, in what is now Fancy Creek township. His last years were spent in much suffering, but he preached the gospel as long as he could stand and delivered his last sermon sitting.

For a number of years after the organization of the church they were without a church home and were compelled to worship at their homes in barns and in groves. The first church house was a log structure, built at a point one and one-half miles southeast of the present church in Cantrall, near what is now known as the Brittin cemetery. This, of course, was a simple old-fashioned log meeting-house and it was used until about the year 1846, when a frame church was erected a few rods east of the present church. In 1873 the present church building was dedicated. It was then considered one of the best country church houses in this part of the country. It is built west across the street from the old frame house on a beautiful piece of ground. From the beginning of the church until the laying out of the present village of Cantrall in the sixties it was known as the Antioch Christian Church, but with the coming of the town and the new church the name Antioch was dropped and the name Cantrall substituted.

In the beginnings of the reformation in Illinois the Antioch congregation was the headquarters of many of our pioneer preachers and debaters. The writer has not been able to learn the names of all the men who deserve a place on this list, but the following are a few of them:

Bro. Stephen England was the first minister of the church and served in that capacity until the time of his death in 1823. His son David united with the church about one year after his father’s death. He was first elected deacon, then elder and continued in that office to his death in the early eighties. Stephen England solemnized the first marriage in his home county. On one occasion a couple came to Mr. England from Fort Clark, now Peoria, to avoid the trouble of going to Edwardsville for license. It was lawful to advertise their intentions for ten days, and then marry without a license. The couple were married in the latter way.

In concluding this short history of one of Illinois’ oldest country churches, a word that is quite deserving may be said in behalf of some of the congregation’s present personnel. Any one who know the congregation and has had the privilege of visiting with them will not forget George T. Sayles. He has been a member of the church for 54 years and has served them efficiently as elder for 40 years. During these years he has been temporarily away for a short time but his membership and support have been with the Cantrall congregation. He is now 76 years old, but attends regularly every Lord’s day and his mind is as suggestive in the monthly official board meetings as the ordinary man’s at 30. The church loves him and reluctantly awaits the time of his call to the heavenly world.

Another one of the congregation’s consecrated servants is Henry H. England, one of the younger sons of David England. He was born May 19, 1847, on the farm acquired by his grandfather in 1819. At the age of about 22 he became a member of the Antioch church and has served the church faithfully for 40 years, the last 25 of which have been spent in the eldership. Mr. England has raised a large family and now owns and lives on the old England homestead.

About 20 years ago, President E. V. Zollars (E. U. Zellars) held a meeting for the church, which was the gathering in of a number of strong, earnest men who have been loyal supports of the congregation since. John Grant, at present the able Bible school superintendent, has been, with Robert his brother, and John S. Lake, of invaluable service in maintaining the present healthy condition of the church. The Grants were among the first students of the Illinois State Normal University, at Normal, Illinois. They taught school for many years in their young manhood. The brethren at Cantrall count themselves very fortunate indeed in having a man of Bro. John Grant’s like to lead them in their Bible school. Both Brother Grant and John S. Lake are elders.

The congregation at present has a membership of 125 and a growing Bible school. They are loyal to every missionary enterprise and are anxious to progress with every movement that will preach the Christ and save men. The official board consists of five elders and six deacons. All are well qualified for their work.

In the few months of the present ministry the writer can only count himself exceedingly fortunate in being called to a church of such large and fruitful experience. We are looking forward to greater things. We have just begun an evangelistic campaign. William G. McColley, of the Pontiac Church, is assisting the minister and does the preaching. The field seems ripe for a great meeting.
Lewis P. Fisher

(Also on page 1173 there is a picture of the Cantrall church of Christ-the third building, and pictures of Lewis P. Fisher, Pastor of the church at the time of his writing this article, John Grant, Henry H. England, George T. Sayles, and John S. Lake.)


Antioch Table of Contents
Sangamon Index

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