Union Regular Baptist Church of Bethel Township
While the Old School, Regular Baptists, are strong in numbers, influence and respectability in some other parts of this state, and more particularly in some of the other states, and have some very ably edited papers, yet, in all McDonough county they make but a poor show as to numbers, and as to their standing and influence in civil society they claim only their proportionate part with the rest of the community.
In the month of November, 1831, Elder Logan and Elder Stephen Strickland constituted a Baptist church in Bethel township, named Union, composed of 10 members, four males and six females: John Gibson, Nancy Gibson, William Stephens, Sarah Stephens, James Edmondston, Polly Edmondston, Richard Morris, Abigal Ferguson, Cassanda Morris and Sarah C. Palmer. Elders Logan and Strickland do not appear to have met with this little church often after they organized her, but in July, 1832, Thomas H. Owen, a licentiate, visited and preached to them. Owen located in Hancock county, and was afterward ordained a minister, and became a man of ability. He respresented his county in the general assembly of Illinois one or more terms, then emigrated to Zem Zem, California, where he still lives, and is able to preach and write some to the edification of the saints. John Gibson, one of the constituents of this church, was one of the early settlers in the county, and located at an early date on the road from Macomb to Quincy, where he resided till his death, April 22, 1869. Uncle John Gibson was as well known among the Baptists of the surrounding country as any other private members. He had much intercouse with them, his doors always open to receive them, and on two occasions of the annual associations being held near him, he fed over 200 persons, and also lodged them in his house and in his barn, often telling his brethren, in his jovial way, that the "soft side of a board was good enough for a Hardshell Baptist."
In 1832 the church called Elder William Bradley to the pastoral care of the same. Early in the fall of 1832, this church sent messengers to the Spoon River Association, and was received into her correspondence and fellowship, although she was composed of "Regular" Baptist churches, associated together for mutual edification and correspondence. The little church of Union, in November of the same year, considered the propriety of changing the name by which she was known from United to Regular Baptist, and the change was made by unanimous consent. Her reasons for dropping the named United, and assuming the name, Regular, she believed to be of sufficient importance to warrant the change of this qualifying appellative attached to what was originially the Baptist church. First, she found that the articles of faith of the Association of the Regular Baptist churches were substantially the same as her own; secondly, she had learned to her deep sorrow and grief that many bearing the name of United Baptist churches had, as she verily believed, departed from the faith and practice of the gospel, and hence she, for the sake of consistency, harmony and good order, took the name of Regular Baptist by mutual consent. In doing this, however, she did not change a single article of her faith, or a single clause in her rules of decorum. And what is here said of the Union church in dropping the United and assuming the name Regular Baptist, may be said of many similar ones throughout the south and west, and even elsewhere.
In 1833, Elder Micajah B. Rowland joined the Union church by letter, and soon became pastor of the church, and was released from it in 1835. He afterwards removed to Iowa and continued to preach until he was worn out with old age.
In 1835, Samuel L. Dark, a licentiate, was received by letter, and was ordained in 1840. He now resides near Brooklyn, Schuyler county, and is still busily engaged in proclaiming the gospel far and near. There is something very peculiar in the conversion of this man. In 1831 he was in the Black Hawk war under General Duncan, and being from Schuyler county, and being unsurpassed for wit, humor and fun, he was called the "Schuyler County Fool-Killer," generally among the camps; and having a wonderful memory and a great tact at mimicry, he was frequently engaged in preaching the funeral of dead horses and mules. While encamped in the bottom where the city of Rock Island stands, he was engaged in the funeral services of a defunct mule; and during his solemn appeals to heaven, amidst a crowd of soldiers, he was suddenly seized with strong convictions for his sins and blasphemies, and never found rest until he found it at the feet of Christ. Elder D. has preached so much in this county, and for a while resided in it, that we feel justified in giving this remarkable incident in his life. The little band steadily increased in numbers, holding their meetings in private houses, until finally they were enabled to build a house a few miles southeast of Middletown.
In 1838, Elder Robert Mays, joined them by letter, and was for a while pastor of the church.
In 1838, Elder John Driskill joined them by letter and became their pastor, and remained with them til his death which occurred in 1857 or 1858.
Elder George Tracy, of Hancock county, was pastor of the church for a few months, and on the 27th of May, 1858, he dropped dead at the saw mill at Tucker town. He was a worthy man, and much missed after his decease.
In September, 1858, Elder J. N. Van Meter became the pastor of this little band of christians, and sustained that relation for nearly a score of years, assisted, however, for the last few years by Elders Jacob Castlebury and T. N. Frazee.
Elder Frazee, who was an able and worthy brother, died in March, 1873.
The church has met in the village of Middletown for many years, and in 1875 built a new house of worship. It has never numbered at any one time, perhaps, over 35 or 40 members, but has dismissed by letter, from time to time, enough members to form another respectable church or two, who have moved out of its bounds. Enough of its members have left the militant state and gone to the church triumphant to form a good sized congregation, as it has been organized over 50 years. It has now 37 communicants, all in peace.
The building of this denomination is located on section 8, and was erected in 1875, at a cost of $2,200 and is 36x52 feet in size. It is a good, substantial structure, and was dedicated in 1876 by Rev. Harry Taylor, of California. The present pastor is Rev. J. Saunders, of Littleton, Illinois, who holds services every two weeks.
Source: The History of McDonough County, together with sketches of the towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent individuals, and biographies of the representative citizens, 1885, pages 469-473. Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen