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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The First Baptists In Ohio And Warren County

Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Organization of the people and the church was the first attempt to form some sort of stability in the Miami Valley once the migration started arriving. The writer will now attempt to profile some sort of history involving the first Baptist organization in Ohio and the Miami Valley. Material for this article was taken from the very distinguished writer, Josiah Morrow.
Evolving of the first Baptist Church in Ohio was formed at the house of Benjamin Davis at Columbia (now a part of Cincinnati) on the last Saturday in March 1790, some five years before the Indian peace treaty. The membership was made up of nine people. The following Sunday, Rev. Stephen Gano, a prominent Baptist minister from Providence, R.I., preached at the home of Major William Goforth, one of the pioneers of Columbia. The sermon created three new converts which were baptized in the Ohio River.
The Baptists built the first house of Christian worship built in Ohio, except for the Moravian Missionaries, who preached among the Indians in the northeastern part of Ohio before the Revolution, in the years 1792 and 1793 at Columbia. The building was thirty-six feet long by thirty feet wide. It is believed that the first structure was made of logs. A sketch of the church was given by O.M. Spencer when a boy living in the area about 1790. It goes as such: "Fresh in my remembrance is the rude log house, the first humble sanctuary of the first settlers of Columbia, standing amidst the tall forest trees on a beautiful knoll where now (1834) is a grave-yard and the ruins of a Baptist meeting house of later years.
"There, on the holy Sabbath, we were wont to assemble to hear the word of life; but our fathers met with their muskets and rifles, prepared for action and ready to repel any attack of the enemy. And while the watchman on the walls of Zion was uttering his faithful and pathetic warning, the sentinels without at a few rods distance, with measured step, were pacing their walls."
A.H. Dunlevy, son of Francis Dunlevy, tells that on the opening day for the new house of worship, that Col. Spencer, the father of O.M. Spencer, visited the service and afterwards addressed the militia present on the importance of the presence of arms at the gatherings.
At a later gathering at the church, two men appeared carrying an Indian's scalp they had just taken. Still within the same period two members of the church, the Indians killed Francis Griffin and David Jennings, and the boy, O.M. Spencer, was taken prisoner.
A meeting was held at Columbia on September 23, 1797. Attending were seven ministers and twenty-three lay members of the Baptist Church. (Two of the ministers were from the Kentucky area.) The purpose of this meeting was to form some type of organization of associations of churches. Francis Dunlevy, his place of residence being at the time the Miami Island, was one of the laymen attending.
A second assemblage was gathered on November 4, 1797, with the same body of men, and an additional ten more in attendance. A further exchange of organization was discussed, the conclusion being that the first meeting of the Miami Baptist Association be held June 2, 1798. At this time four churches were represented, viz: Columbia, Miami Island, Carpenter's Run and Clearcreek.
A third meeting was held at the Miami Island on Saturday, October 20, of the same year.
The first Baptist body in the area of Ohio was formed in 1798, regardless of whether the membership was called association, conference, council, etc.
he first meeting, with statistics being recorded by the association, was begun at Columbia on Friday, September 6, 1799. Six churches were represented and reported their membership. These churches were: Columbia, 35; Miami Island, 62; Carpenter's Run, 32; Clearcreek, 20; Middle Run, 15; Straight Creek, 21; total, 185. Elder James Sutton was moderator and Francis Dunlevy, clerk.
A great majority of the churches in the new country took their names from streams, not towns. The increase in population of the towns caused most of the churches to move to these areas, and consequently new names were chosen. When Columbia's population started to decline, the church was moved about two miles north. In 1808, the church was named Duck Creek.
The State of Ohio was not formed until 1803, but the Baptist organized a church in what is now Warren County in 1797. It was named Clearcreek Baptist Church. It is said to have been the first church organized in the County, and the fourth Baptist Church in the Miami Country. Its first building stood a little north of the present site of Ridgeville. Elder James Sutton was its first pastor, later being succeeded by Elder Daniel Clark. In 1798 James Sutton, Ebenezer Osborn, Thomas Kelsey and Francis Dunlevy represented the church in the Miami Association.
Fergus McLean, father of United States Chief Justice John McLean, was an early pioneer in the Clearcreek area. He was a declared Presbyterian, but his wife was a Baptist; their three sons all became Methodists. It is a possibility that Mr. McLean assisted in the building of the church.
At this early time in the State's history, transportation to and from the new Clearcreek Church was a chore to say the least. Members traveled from great distances to attend the services. Many members lived in the Turtlecreek area and they had themselves created a church service on a once-a-month basis.
In 1798, the Turtlecreek members organized a branch of the Clearcreek Church. They secured land and constructed themselves a meetinghouse of hewed logs. It was located just east of the present site of Lebanon. The building stood near the northwest corner of the Baptist Cemetery. The new Baptist-meeting house was being used before construction was completed. Its floor was not laid and the log joists on which the floor was to be placed was being used as seats by the worshipers. Leaders of the new church were: Matthias Corwin, father of Governor Thomas Corwin, his two brothers, Ichabod and Joseph; Francis Dunlevy, Col. Lewis Drake, Peter Drake, John Osborn, Thomas Lucas and Peter Yauger.
The Turtlecreek branch was solvent with the Clearcreek branch until 1802, when it was declared an independent congregation. The now independent Turtlecreek Church held its first official meeting on Saturday, December 11, 1802. Minutes of the first meeting show the choosing of Brother Daniel Clark, who was formerly pastor of the Clearcreek Church, as its first pastor. Brother Matthias Corwin was chosen as its first Deacon. The minutes stated that the time of the meetings shall be "On the Saturday before the second Sabbath in each month and the Sabbath following." Elder Daniel Clark continued in the capacity of pastor until 1830. His dedication to the church came to a halt in 1834 due to his death.
In 1815, Elder Stephen Gard was called upon to be assistant pastor. In 1819, he tendered his resignation and Elder Wilson Thompson assumed the position of assistant pastor for a five-year term. Elder Thompson later became pastor of the Turtlecreek Church. Elder Hezekiah Stites was also assistant pastor for a time.
Meetings at the new site continued until 1811 when a new brick meeting house was erected on the West side of Lebanon. The name of the new church was changed from Turtlecreek to Lebanon. Organization of the Turtlecreek Church seemed to surpass its parent church in membership. It soon became one of the largest and most important churches of the Baptist denomination in the Miami Country.
Before being organized into an independent church, the membership, in 1800, held a meeting with the Miami Association. Elder John Smith was the moderator and ten churches were represented. From 1798 until 1835, when the church was undergoing changes from the Old School and the New School branches, the Miami Baptist Association held seven of its annual meetings at the Turtlecreek/Lebanon Church, the most held at any other given place. Clearcreek only hosted one meeting of the organization, this being in 1825.
The Miami Baptist Domestic Missionary Society was organized in 1816. The Ohio Baptist Education Society was conceived in 1830. Lebanon had the distinction of hosting both meetings. This small town had within its ranks some very influential people in the Baptist organizations. Not quite so fashionable now as back in the early beginnings of the church, the pastor received for his compensation basically the fruits of the land. Salary compensations for the pastor were not noted in the Lebanon Church until 1827, when Elder Wilson Thompson's salary was fixed at $500 annually.
The pastors generally had some other means of support other than preaching. Some of them were farmers or farm hands. Elder Thompson practiced medicine during his tenure as pastor. Responsibility for the division into branches of the Old School and New School appears to have been a publication entitled "Simple Truth," authored by Elder Thompson.
Another book written by Elder Thompson was entitled "Triumph of Truth." He became a leader of the Old School Baptists and opposed all religious and moral associations except the church. A meeting of the Lebanon Baptist Church was held on Saturday, October 1, 1836. With this gathering a decision was made to divide the church into two distinctive branches. The Old School branch with sixty-one members formed the West Baptist Church. The New School branch with forty-two members formed the East Baptist Church.

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