Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Different religious orders claim to have held the first services in what is now the State of Iowa. Catholics are generally given this credit, with their services first held in Dubuque, in 1833. Methodists claim the honor of having the first church building in 1834, also in Dubuque.

Several churches had ministers and missionaries west of the Mississippi in the 1830s. Many denominations were at work, and soon churches were established. Included among them were Quakers, Moravians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Dunkards, Mormons and Lutherans.

Methodists were the first religious order in Keosauqua, with a circuit rider minister visiting the community by 1836. Early services were held in people's homes, in stores and in Hadden’s School House. Outdoor meetings were held when possible.

In August, 1837 a Baptist circuit rider conducted services under the Old Church Tree north of Pittsburg, termed "the first religious service west of the Des Moines River." Mr. And Mrs. Black Hawk were among an estimated one hundred red men who attended.

Elder William M. Morrow once described the introduction of the Primitive Baptists in Iowa, in this manner: "In June 1835, I and Elder James Gholson, then on an exploring expedition from Illinois, commenced ministerial labors in this new country--some of my relatives, with others of the Baptist order, had settled here early in the spring of that year; in the autumn following, I removed and settled. Elder Samuel Hutton soon followed. And in August, 1836 at the home of Bro. C. Jones, we (with others) were constituted into a church, by the name of Big Creek. Our number at first was sixteen." (from History of Baptist Denomination, David Benedict, 1848, p. 845.)

William Morrow was the first Baptist minister to settle in territory now comprising Iowa. The first Baptist Church in Henry County was at Oak Grove Cemetery, four miles north of Mt. Pleasant, built in 1836.

Little Cedar Church was the first Baptist Church in Van Buren County, established in 1838. Lick Creek Church was formed in 1840. These were apparently the first two Baptist congregations in Van Buren but by the end of 1840 there were five or six active congregations. Bonaparte Baptist, the oldest continuous Baptist church in Van Buren County, had its beginning in the late 1840s, but is not Primitive Baptist.

Bonaparte Baptist is an independent church, and is not part of any association. An offshoot of Bonaparte Baptist, Heritage Baptist east of Keosauqua is another independent.

Of the early pioneer Primitive Baptist churches in Iowa and Missouri, the Hazel Creek Association, organized in 1854 near Greentop, Adair County, Missouri is the only one that still meets. Others exist that were once part of five associations in the region, but have not maintained the order of Primitive Baptists.

Each Baptist congregation seems to have a unique church history of its own. Probably the most unique was the Baptist Church on the north side of the river in Douds. Built in 1869 as a Baptist Church, it moved back and forth as Methodist or Baptist ownership and congregation tilt, until it burned in 1952.

(Some of the material in this article was contributed by Larry White of Keosauqua.)

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick