Presbyterians and Presbyterianism
By the Rev. John F, Cowan, D. D., Fulton

The first preaching of the gospel of Christ by Presbyterians in Missouri was in the year 1814, in the town of St. Louis, nearly a century ago. The Rev. S. J. Mills and the Rev. Daniel Smith, Bible agents from the East, visited the little city, sold Bibles and preached as they had opportunity.

The first organized body of Presbyterians in Missouri was the Church of Bellevue in Washington County. This church was organized by the Rev. Salmon Giddings on the 3rd of August, 1816. There were thirty members.

The second church organized was also by Mr. Giddings. The organization took place on October 6, 1816. It had sixteen members. This was in St. Louis County and it was given the name of Bonhomme.

The third church organized in Missouri was in the city of St. Louis on November 15, 1817. It had nine members and the organizer was the Rev. Salmon Giddings.

The fourth church, also organized by Mr. Giddings, bore the name of Union Church of Richwoods. It was organized in Washington County on April 17, 1818, and was composed of seven members.

The fifth church was called the First Church of St. Charles and was organized on August 29, 1818, by the Rev. Salmon Giddings and the Rev. John Matthews. The organization of this church marks the date and act of Presbyterianism entering Northeast Missouri.

The beginning of Presbyterian Church courts in Missouri was on this wise. The Presbytery of West Tennessee petitioned the Synod of Tennessee, meeting in Nashville October 4, 1817, that a new presbytery to be called the Presbytery of Missouri be erected and that it hold its first meeting in St. Louis the third Thursday of November following; that the Revs. Thomas Donnell, John Matthews, Salmon Giddings and Timothy Flint be its initial members; and that the dividing line between the Presbytery of West Tennessee and the Presbytery of Missouri be the Mississippi River. When this set time came Donnell and Giddings were present, with Ruling Elder John Cunningham from Bonhomme Church, but Matthews and Flint, remote and busy at their work, had not even so much as heard that there was to be a Presbytery of Missouri. So the time was postponed to the third Thursday of December and word was sent to these absent brethren. Mr. Donnell had ridden eighty miles to attend the meeting and was, no doubt, greatly disappointed, but four weeks later he was back again. He and my father were neighbors, only seventy-five miles apart, and helped each other on communion occasions and protracted meetings, unterrified by rain or mud and swam boldly the swollen, bridgeless streams that opposed their progress. Brother Matthews was present, with Mr. Giddings and Elder Stephen Hempstead of St. Louis church, and then and there the Presbytery of Missouri was constituted and organized Presbyterianism made its entrance into Missouri.

The presbytery as thus constituted embraced territorially not only the whole of Missouri but also the western half of the state of Illinois. The presbytery, as appears from the records, was a constituent part of the Synod of Indiana and later of the Synod of Illinois. As a matter of fact, the Presbytery of Missouri grew for a time eastward and not westward. Its meetings not un-frequently were held in Illinois and at least twelve churches in Illinois were on its roll, having been organized by its ministers. In 1828 the Synod of Illinois was erected by the General Assembly, the Presbytery of Missouri being a constituent part of it.

In 1831 the Presbytery of Missouri was erected into a synod and divided into three presbyteries, the Presbytery of St. Louis, embracing all the state south of the Missouri River; the Presbytery of St. Charles, embracing all the state north of said river to the Iowa line and all east of the eastern boundary of Callaway county and a line running from it north to the Iowa line; and the Presbytery of Missouri, embracing all west of the eastern line of Callaway county and north of the Missouri River.

By agreement at the first meeting of the little presbytery, November, 1817, it was agreed that the Rev. Mr. Giddings should spend half his time at Bonhomme, Florissant and Bellfontaine during the winter and the other half in St. Louis. The Rev. Thomas Donnell agreed to spend his time in Bellevue and Mine a Burton. The Rev. John Matthews was to spend half his time at Buffalo in Pike, where his home was, and the other half in the neighboring settlements.

A church was organized in Pike County in 1818. As it is not on any list kept in the records of this little presbytery, it is evidence that it was organized by the Cumberlands. It was still in their keeping until their union, in 1907, with the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. Its name is Antioch.

In April, 1819, while the little presbytery was meeting at the house of the Rev. Mr. Matthews in Pike County, they were joined by the Rev. David Tenny and the Rev. Charles S. Robinson, missionaries sent out from Philadelphia. Things that are cheering and those that are discouraging are close together in this life. At this presbytery the Rev. Mr. Flint asked for his letter of dismission to Illinois and it was given.

The Rev. C. S. Robinson was asked to take charge of the church at St. Charles and the surrounding country. He soon organized the Dardenne church, which has been a shining light ever since, save in a very few dark days, as shown by the records. The writer would like to blot out the records of all church trials. The next move of the little presbytery was down into Washington County to Richwoods church and to worry through a disagreeable trial in which a woman was accused and acquitted.

It will be noticed that for several years no other churches were organized in north Missouri, but the records show that these men were at work over in Illinois. The church of Auburn in Pike County was organized in 1822. The Rev. Jesse Townsend, from the Presbytery of Geneva in New York, joined the presbytery in 1824. John A. Ball was, at his request, taken under the care of the presbytery as a licentiate. This man was a Virginian, an educated lawyer. He had commanded a Virginia regiment in the War of 1812 and was always called Colonel. In 1815 he had settled in the Bonhomme neighborhood and was at one time a representative in the state legislature. Mr. Ball was licensed and ordained as an evangelist. He organized the church at Salem on Big River and also took part in the organization of the church at Troy in Lincoln County. He was stated supply in several churches and was a good and useful man. He died near Buffalo in Pike County, April 12, 1849. At the same meeting of the presbytery in which Mr. Ball was made licentiate, William S. Lacy, a licentiate from Virginia, was received and ordained. He took charge of the Dardenne church and was a useful man. He was the father of the Rev. Beverly Tucker Lacy, D. D., who came to St. Louis to become pastor of one of its churches and afterward was for several years synodical evangelist and still later was pastor of the Mexico church and later of California church.

In 1828 the church of Ashley, in Pike County, was organized. Cyrus L. Watson offered himself as a candidate for the gospel ministry. His first examination was in English grammar, arithmetic and Latin. The subjects assigned him for study were: Thesis, on the Being of God, geography, rhetoric, church history, natural philosophy and evidences of Christianity. He was later dismissed to Illinois. The criticism made on the presbytery's book at synod was that it contained "bad orthography'' and then the critic wrote the word "corryspondingly" (correspondingly).

In 1828 the Rev. Salmon Giddings died and later in the year the Rev. Charles S. Robinson died. The presbytery ordered crepe to be worn on the arm for one month. With Giddings and Robinson dead, with Hollister and Flint and Birch over in Illinois, with Ball and Donnell and Tenny in south Missouri, matters began to look discouraging. But just then new and splendid workers began to come in. W. P. Cochran, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Huntington, was received and ordained as an evangelist. He was a man of great energy, who did a vast amount of evangelistic work, organized many churches and lived long after his early fellow-workers had passed away. The Rev. Thomas P. Durfee also was a man who was not afraid to work. In this year came also licentiate William S. Potts, who was installed as pastor in St. Louis and later was made president of Marion College.

In Northeast Missouri the churches belonging to the Synod of Missouri, U. S., number fifty-two. In this same part of the state the churches belonging to the Synod of Missouri, U. S. A., number 118, that church having gathered into its fold the churches of the former New School and the churches of the former Cumberland body. These churches shall be given with no distinction, except as to the date of organization, and the name of the county in which they are situated.

In 1829 the working force of ministers was increased by the arrival of the Rev. R. L. McAfee from Kentucky, of the Rev. David Nelson from Tennessee, of the Rev. Benjamin F. Hoxie from New England, of the Rev. Alfred Wright, the Rev. Cyrus Nichols and the Rev. George Wood from the East.

June 1, 1828, the Rev. Thomas P. Durfee organized Auxvasse church in Callaway County. He was its pastor for three years.

In June, 1828, the Rev. W. P. Cochran organized Fayette church in Howard County. Because there was no one to look after it, it soon died. In February, 1843, the Rev. W. W. Robertson and the Rev. R. L. McAfee visited the town, preached and reorganized the church. The church was put under the care of the Rev. David Coulter, who gave it half of his time and the other half he gave to Rocheport. There was no growth, but 8 loss of members, and the Rev. Mr. Coulter was compelled to go elsewhere for support. The church was then put under the care of the Rev. C. D. Simpson, who preached to it once a month for a while. Again the church died. Four times after this the presbytery appointed a committee to reorganize the church, if the way was clear. It was always reported that the way was not clear and so it remains to this day.

The Rev. W. P. Cochran, Pioneer Presbyterian

Between the years 1830 and 1840 quite a number of able and distinguished ministers entered Northeast Missouri. In Callaway and Boone counties were:

R. L. McAfee
Thomas Durfee
Benjamin F. Hoxie
J. L. Yantis
F. R. Gray
Luther H. Van Doren
R. G. Barrett
Joseph Anderson
Hiram Chamberlain
Job F. Halsey
Allen G. Gallaher
Thomas Lafen
Charles W. McPheeters
James Gallaher
Ezra S. Ely
Harvey H. Hays
John H. Agnew
Charles W. Nassau
F. B. McElroy
J. M. C. Inskeep

The Rev. J. J. Marks was supplying Hannibal church and a number of the professors in Marion College were applying nearby churches.

Presbyterians have ever boasted of their zeal for education. So the handful of men in the sparsely populated country felt they must have a college or university. They procured a charter for Marion College from the Missouri legislature of 1831-1832. A five thousand acre tract of land in Marion County, not far from Palmyra, was secured through the zeal and generosity of Colonel Muldrow, temporary buildings were erected and agents sent for students and money. The Rev. Hiram Chamberlain was one of the agents.

The college faculty was as follows:

The Rev. William S. Potts, president;
Rev. Job F. Halsey, professor of mental and moral philosophy
Rev. Sam C. McConnell, M. D., professor of natural philosophy and mathematics
John Roche, professor of Latin and Greek
Samuel Barschell, professor of German, French and Hebrew
Allen Gallaher, principal of the preparatory school.

The theological faculty was as follows:

Rev. Job F. Halsey, professor of pastoral theology
Rev. James Gallaher, professor of didactic theology and sacred eloquence
Rev. Ezra Styles Ely, D. D., professor of polemic theology, biblical literature and sacred criticism
Rev. Charles W. Nassau, assistant professor of Oriental languages.

As Dr. James A. Quarles has written: ''This enterprise had connected with it some of the grandest men who ever trod the soil of Missouri and labored for the salvation of souls, Nelson, Potts, Ely and Gallaher.''

The tottering foundation on which this magnificent superstructure was reared soon gave way and let it fall into utter ruin, but not until some men had been educated who did great good in Missouri and elsewhere.

It may be doubted whether this great educational failure was due entirely to financial causes, for just at this time there occurred a widely felt ecclesiastical earthquake that shook the Presbyterian church apart. This was the division caused by the New and Old School differences. Northeast Missouri held to the Old School.

The great war of the states, which began in 1861 and lasted three years, had the effect of bringing the Old side and the New side to see eye to eye as they read the Old Confession of Faith and they became one again in 1869.

But the assembly of 1866 had ordered that, if any synod or presbytery admitted to a seat any minister or elder who had signed a paper called Declaration and Testimony (which set forth the spirituality of the church) before such minister or elder had appeared at the bar of the assembly and had been tried, such synod or presbytery was dissolved, ipso facto.

The Synod of Missouri, meeting in Boonville, October, 1866, refused by a strong majority to carry out the order of the assembly. The adherents of the assembly could not therefore carry off the records as they had been told to do and were obliged to walk out themselves. That left the Synod of Missouri independent, which position it held until the year 1874, when by vote of presbyteries it decided unanimously to unite wilt the Southern church. Not a minister nor a church in Northeast Missouri, so far as known to the writer, objected to this union. The Cumberland Presbyterian ministers were early in Northeast Missouri. The Church of Antioch in Pike County, organized in 1818, was the first of these churches. Missouri is one of the states in which their work had been abundantly rewarded. Only two other states, Tennessee and Texas, show a more abundant ingathering of souls. In the territory of Northeast Missouri they counted at the time of their union with the Presbyterian, U. S. A., 102 churches and 6,469 members; while the Presbyterian, U. S, A., counted but thirty-three churches and 2,683 members. The Cumberland church has not failed in the matter of Christian education. For a good many years they maintained McGee College, but when Missouri Valley College was put forward as the college of the synod, they did not hesitate to transfer their work and their gifts to the school in which the better education could he given and better fitted for the greatest degree of usefulness. It would be easy to mention many men in the Cumberland church who, in education, oratory, influence and piety, are the equals of any to be found in the other churches, but we are not here to praise the living and the work which has been done by those who have passed on is their adequate praise and is left to be spoken by those who knew them personally or who knew those who knew them.

Westminster College, Fulton

Prior to 1850 there had been a few schools organized for classical and advanced education. One of these was in Marion County in the neighborhood of the Big Creek church. From this school came many fine students to enter Westminster as soon as it was chartered and manned with a faculty. Another school was the Fulton College, started in 1849, at the head of which was Prof. William H. Van Doren. When synod located Westminster at Fulton, largely through the influence and energy of the Rev. W. W. Robertson, pastor of the Fulton church, this Fulton College, with Prof. Van Doren, was merged into it. Westminster was chartered by the legislature of 1853 and sent out its first graduate, the Rev. James G. Smith, a Baptist preacher. Up to the present time, 1912, it has sent forth four hundred graduates, among whom are many ministers, lawyers, doctors and teachers. It survived the war of the states and when, in 1909, its main building was burned it erected, as soon as possible, Westminster Hall, a fine science hall, a commodious dormitory, and an elegant president's mansion. It has a beautiful campus, which together with Priest Field, the grounds for athletics, amount to thirty-six acres. The endowment is $222,149.77.

Presidents of Westminster College

Dr. Samuel Spahr Laws, 1855-1861
John Montgomery, D. D., 1864
Nathan L. Rice, D. D., 1868-1874
M. M. Fisher, D. D. (Acting) 1867-1868; 1874-1877
C. C. Hersman, D. D., 1881-1887
W. H. Marquess, D. D., 1888-1894
E. C. Gordon, D. D., 1894-1898
John H. McCracken, Ph.D., 1899-1903
John J. Rice, LL.D. (Acting) 1898-1899, 1903-1904
David R. Kerr, Ph. D, D. D., 1904-1911
Charles B. Boving, D. D., 1911

During the administration of Dr. McCracken the Synod of Missouri, U. S., offered a joint interest in and control of the college of the Synod of Missouri, U. S. A., which was accepted. Each synod elects twelve trustees. The student body numbers this year, 1912-13, one hundred and fifty-five.

The Synodical College for young ladies was located in Fulton by the Synod of Missouri, meeting in Cape Girardeau October 10, 1871. The college secured its charter and the board of trustees named by the synod was made a corporate body in December, 1871. The Rev. W. W. Robertson was the man by whose influence and zeal the college was located in Fulton. He had managed a college for girls in Fulton for ten years and his zeal for this work had never flagged. He was the president of the board as long as he lived and his zeal has descended to his grandson, W. Frank Russell, who has managed the local and financial interests of the college for a number of years. Daniel M. Tucker gave a special piece of ground, nearly four acres, as the site of the college and the citizens of Fulton and Callaway County gave the money for the building, which was completed in the summer of 1873.

The Presidents of College Synod of Missouri

T. Oscar Rogers, 1873-1874
Rev. W. W. Hill, D. D., 1874-1875
Rev. B. H. Charles, D. D., 1878-1889
Rev. H. C. Evans, D.D., 1889-1894
Rev. J. W. Primrose, D.D., 1894-1896
Rev. T. Peyton Walton, 1896-1901
Rev. J. M. Spencer, 1901-1906
Rev. Colin A. McPheeters, 1906-1909
Miss Mary Allison, 1909-1912
Prof. L. J. McQueen, 1912

At Rensselaer, in Marion County, is a school under the care of the Rev. J. E. Travis, which gives to boys and girls the educational work which fits them for entering college. The Rev. Mr. Travis, a Presbyterian minister and pastor of Big Creek church, has been, with a competent corps of teachers, carrying on this academic and preparatory work for several years. His school is one that is recognized by the Synod of Missouri as one of its valued educational helps. Mr. Travis not only teaches and trains the youth in that immediate neighborhood, but canvasses Northeast Missouri for boys and girls and is prepared to take care of them in his students' boarding house.

Lindenwood College for young ladies is located in St. Charles, but can hardly be reckoned a Northeast Missouri school. It is under the care of the St. Louis Presbytery and its scholars are largely from St. Louis, south Missouri, and Illinois. It has recently erected a $40,000 dormitory, which enables it to care for one hundred boarding pupils. Arrangements are being made for other improvements. The local attendance of seven or eight girls is scarcely appreciable. Dr. George P. Ayres is a Northeast Missouri man and a son of Westminster. He makes a successful president and all Presbyterians will rejoice in his success and in the immense good he is doing in sending out so many educated Presbyterian Christian girls.

Before this history is brought to a close, there is one feature of the planting and growing of Presbyterianism, often lost sight of, that deserves to be spoken of, and that is the work of the men who cultivate the small fields in the country. It is from such fields that, later on, much of the best material in the churches of the cities and larger towns has drifted. This was the kind of work which filled up the evening of the life of Dr. W. W. Robertson, a work that gave him delight, organizing churches such as Ebenezer in Callaway, Laddonia and Vandalia in Audrain, caring for them almost free of cost to them and like a grandfather spoiling the children by failing to develop in them the thought that they were able to take care of themselves.

And if I may for one time go over the line that separates the dead workmen from the living workers, I will mention the Rev. Franc Mitchell, who for years fed the weak churches of Callaway County, with one break in his life when synod made him one of its evangelists, then falling back into the same sort of work in Chariton County, feeding its half dozen weak churches with the gospel of God's grace. This is the sort of men, not rare, that silently, like corals of the sea, create the foundation work on which, later on, other men rear strong and mighty churches.


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913