History of First Baptist Church

Written by Mrs. Juanita Hight

"The State of Mississippi, Winston County: We enrolled names are hereunto subscribed of the United Baptist Church having been dismissed from our several churches in the different states of our United States from whence we are emigrants to the county and state aforesaid and have agreed to call a presbytery for the purpose of examining their standing in the several churches, and if found in good order to establish a Church in the town of Louisville this the 3rd of August, 1835."

This group was composed of men and women, both white and black, and they chose to call their church Hepsibah. This early church was constituted on September 5, 1835, into a regular Baptist Church on the abstract adopted by the Choctaw Association of which they were affiliated. Early members were accepted in two ways: by letter of good standing from a sister church or by experience (profession of faith) which involved their being examined and found to be orthodox. Those who came from a sister church without a letter were placed under the "watchcare" of the Church until which time a letter could be requested and received.

One Susan GREEN stayed under such care from May 1838 until 1840. Their procedure was quite different. First there was divine service preached by the pastor (or elder as he was then called); then the Church went into conference and the door of the Church was opened at which time members were received. This was followed by the reading and approval of the minutes. Lastly, any business was brought before the Church. The first moderator and pastor was Elder Silas DOBBS, and Elijah TABOR was the first clerk. On Saturday, before the Lord's Day in January 1836 a committee comprised of Notley GILMORE, Benjamin PRESTRIDGE, Elijah TABOR and Felix ELLIS was appointed for arranging for the building of a meeting house on the edge of town (where what is now known as the old Baptist Cemetery on Park Street is located). This committee, along with the second committee, went the way of many committees. It was the third committee that finally got things moving. It was a log structure built by Mr. Andrew WEBB at a cost of $324.00 and was completed in October 1836. The cost was divided among the male members and took quite some time to be collected (April 1838 to be exact).

In August 1836 on Sabbath before service, the ordinance of Baptism was performed by Elder Silas DOBBS on Sister Susanah BERRY and a black brother named Adam belong to Mr. Henry FOX.

Much of the minutes of the first eighteen years were devoted to dealing with church members about their conduct. The problems included absenteeism, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, gross immoral behavior, and base and un-Christian conduct. A committee was usually appointed to confront the offender after which he was allowed to defend himself, repent of his waywardness, and allowed to continued church membership. However, if he failed to present himself before the Church, etc., he was then excluded from membership. It was possible to become a member once again at a later date. There was one recorded instance in which a member was excluded on the spot because of his continued misbehavior.

In August 1838, the Church petitioned the Choctaw Association for a letter of dismission to form a new one, the Louisville Friendship Association. This association began sometime in the winter of 1838 or 1839 and had ten churches and was cultivated by Rev. Silas DOBBS, Joel HARVEY, G. E. Nash, J. J. MOREHEAD, and J. H. HOLMAN. In 1839 the member churches were Mt. Zion, Noxubee County; Hepzibah, Winston County; Liberty, Choctaw County; Hebron, Attala County; Ephesus, Noxubee County; Good Hope, Winston County; Bethlehem, Choctaw County; and New Hope, Neshoba County.

In September of 1838 a table for the Church was furnished by Bro. Isaac LEATHERWOOD (later a member of the Enon Baptist Church of Winston County) at a cost of $4.00. During the same year the first baptizing pool was built in the town at a cost of $20.00. As with other things, it was contracted, subscribed, collected and paid for.

Pastors (or Elders) were elected on a year-to-year basis. The Louisville Association in 1861 declared this custom of extending yearly calls to ministers un-Apostolic and not advantageous to Church or pastor. How-ever, Hepzibah continued this practice for many years.

There were many protracted meetings throughout the years. One such meeting began on Thursday night previous to the first Lord's Day in August, 1841 and continued until Thursday night afterwards under the labors of ministerial Brethren SMITH and MICOU of the Baptists, SMITH, WOLFORD, and GILL of the Methodists, MARTIN of the Presbyterians, and REEVES of the Cumberland Churches. "The spirit of the Lord was poured out upon Louisville and its vicinity. Sinners were convicted and converted. Christians were blessed and com-forted. Thirty souls were happily converted to God and many added to the Church by Letter and experiences."

In September of the same year Benjamin B. SMITH and Nelson SANSING were licenced to preach. During the conference it was reported that $3.00 worth of candles had been purchased during the protracted meeting and needed to be paid for. In December 1841 conference a committee of brethren, Nelson SANSING, P. R. McCLANAHAN, and Burr H. HEAD were appointed to draft a plan for a meeting house and to ascertain what it would cost to build one in accordance with said plan and to report at the next meeting. In January 1842, this group reported that the meeting house of the proposed plan could be built for $700. It was ascertained that $500 had been subscribed. Brethren P. R. McCLANAHAN, Burr H. HEAD, and Uriah BERRY were appointed to let out the building on the best terms they could get by private contract.

Later a Church building was built on West Main Street where during recent past times, Dr. Richardson had his office. Then the First Baptist Church moved to the corner of Park and Church Street. And finally the present day sanctuary was built.

As the years passed the old Baptist Cemetery on Park Street fell into disarray, paupers from the Poor House were buried there without markers and livestock, which were allowed to roam free everywhere during this time period, knocked down stones and trampled them into the soil. In later years the city of Louisville took over the cemetery, as they did the other cemeteries inside the city. As time passed many markers were broken beyond repair, graves were not marked and as time passed their location was lost, and probably the last burial took place in the late 1920s. If any of the readers know the exact date of the last burial, I am sure that everyone would like to know. Today the remaining stones of the cemetery reflect the names of many of the early settlers of Louisville and early members of the Hepzibah Baptist Church, which evolved into the present day First Baptist Church of Louisville.

Winston County Kin

published in the Winston County Journal by Louis Taunton

At some time in the past, Mrs. Juanita Hight, wrote the following concerning the history of the First Baptist Church.  The first duly organized Baptist Church in Louisville, Mississippi, was established in 1835 on land which only five years earlier had been ceded by the Choctaw Nation to the government at the Treat of Dancing Rabbit Creek.  The following is an excerpt from the minutes:





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