I have found it nearly impossible to secure anything of the early history of the church in this county, having actually failed to get a word of information from any of the present membership. The following meager facts I have gathered from the memoirs of brother Creath, and church news published in different periodical, supplemented by the little I knew personally, of our cause there in an early day.
Brother Creath says: “In the latter part of October, 1841, I changed my place of residence to Palmyra, Mo., and continued to preach in the surrounding counties. I planted our church in Hannibal, New London, and St. Louis. I commenced my labors in Hannibal in the month of January 1842. The weather was intensely cold; our place of worship was an old log out-ho use, with no seats, no fireplace, and. a loose puncheon floor. My hearers were all men, and. yet while standing and. hearing “the word” they trembled like an aspen leaf. At that time we had but one member in the town. That was sister Bowen, the daughter of Barton W. Stone, who inherited a large portion of her father’s loveliness. On one occasion in Hannibal, I preached in the lower story of an old house, while in the upper part of it they were dancing and fiddling.” In brother Mien’s diary for 1842, May 18th, Wednesday, we went to Hannibal on the Mississippi River, to see our relatives, cousins, S. A. Bowen and family; we reached their kind mansion late in the evening. It rained very hard today. 20th. Another day’s rain. I spoke at night to a small congregation. 21st. Started for Palmyra; Cousin Amanda Bowen with us. Met brother J. Creath, Jr., and. brother Morton in Palmyra. There was a large congregation in attendance. I addressed then in the morning and evening. 22 & 4th Lord’s day. A vast crowd, more than could get in the court-house. I spoke twice again today. Brother Creath spoke at 3 o’clock P. M. while attending to the Lord’s Supper. 23d. Monday. I spoke again to a crowded house at 11 o’clock A. M. The celebrated Dr. Ezra Styles was with us and spoke to a good congregation at 3 o’clock P. M. He was very friendly. I addressed a crowded house again at night. We had seven additions; three by letter and. four by confession and. baptism. The congregations were large and attentive throughout. The “Sects” of the place were generally in attendance and seemed much pleased. I shall ever remember with affection the kindness and friendship shown me by the citizens of Palmyra and vicinity. If it were not invidious I would mention brothers Creath, Sallee, Errett, Young, Peaks, General Curd and Judge Allen.
But all, all were truly kind and as friendly as they could be.” In his journal for 1843, July 20th, brother Allen says: “Becca, myself and Spottswood Russel started for Palmyra; crossed the Grand prairie, and spent the night with Dr. Cunningham in Paris. 21st. Set out and reached Palmyra late in the evening. Stopped with old sister Curd. 22d. Met a large congregation at Palmyra. Brother Creath present. I spoke twice today 23d, 4th Lord’s day. I spoke, and brother Creath, once today; very numerous assembly. 24th and 25th. I spoke twice each day in Palmyra. Congregations still good. Two made the good confession, and were immersed. Brother Hatchett present during the meeting. The brethren were kind and attentive and engaged as usual 26th. Wednesday. We left Hannibal accompanied by General Curd and lady; I spoke at noon and candlelight. 27th. I spoke at 11 A. M. Two united by letter, and one made the good confession. Brother Morton (the Doctor), was with me.” It will thus be seen, that as early as the year 1842, there were congregations in both Hannibal and. Palmyra. Soon after the organization of the church at Hannibal, Dr. David T. Morton, of the celebrated Kentucky family, located there and. commenced the practice of medicine. He was an elder before coming to Missouri, and was at once made elder of the congregation there. He magnified his office. He was a man of line sense and liberal education. He was an easy and. graceful speaker. For a number of years the church in Hannibal did not feel the need of any other minister, since Dr. Morton preached the gospel, baptized the converts and was pastor of the flock.
When his practice became so large that he did not feel himself equal to the preaching and. the care of the congregation, they proposed to employ a preacher, but it was distinctly stipulated that the preacher should be the evangelist of the church, and should have nothing whatever to do with the disciplinary over sight of the membership. After a few years the congregation erected a comfortable brick church which they occupied till after the war. As early as the year.1850, it was one of the most promising churches in the State. It was about that time Dr. W. H. Hopson held a debate with Rev. W. G. Caples there, the baptismal question being the issue. After the church began to employ a preacher regularly, brother L B. Wilkes was chosen pastor and resided there and preached for them for a number of years. Subsequent to the war Dr. J. R. Lucas, H. H. Haley and C. B. Edgar were each for a time pastor. Brother J. H. Hardin is now the efficient and popular pastor. Since the war they disposed of their old church property and purchased the convenient and commodious house which they now occupy.
Of the early membership I recall the names of Mrs. Bowen and family; Judge Gore and family; Dr. David. T. Morton and family; Captain A. S. Robards and family; Brother Smith, father of Mrs. Morton, and his family. Of the later membership I recall the names of Daniel M. Dulaney and family; William H. Dulaney and family; Humphrey McVey and family; Thomas Hixon and family; Roberbt Bridgeford (now dead) and his family; brothers Ganaway and Johnson, with many others that might be mentioned, equally faithful and zealous for the cause of primitive Christianity.
Palmyra church has been known for nearly fifty years as the home of that eminent servant of God, Elder Jacob Creath. This fact alone would have made Palmyra famous; but they have always had a good strong membership of the very best citizens of the community. Brother Lewis Bryan, father of Mrs. L B. Wi1kes, a most admirable man, resided there for a great number of years prior to his death, and was a pillar in the church. He has left a most worthy representative in his son, brother Thomas Bryan, who resides on the old homestead. About the year 1852, Dr. W. H. Hopson and Mrs. Hopson established a first class female school in Palmyra; and during its continuance Dr. Hopson preached for the church there. The Doctor had as an assistant for a time Elder L B. Wilkes, who frequently preached for them. Brother James A. Meng also taught in this institution for a time. Elder John Lindsey of Illinois, was also at one time the preacher of this congregation. In later years Elder P. Donan resided there, and for sometime past they have had the services of the very faithful and efficient E. C. Browning, who is known and highly esteemed for his work’s sake, throughout northeast Missouri.
Mount Zion, a church organized many years ago, in the country, midway between Hannibal and Palmyra. To this church Dr. Hopson, L. B. Wilkes, Dr. D. T. Morton and Elder Jacob Creath often preached. in the long ago. For many years now brother James N. Wright, of Macon City, has been their preacher.
Houston, in the northeastern part of the county, is also one of the old congregations. It was built up largely through the labors of Elder Ballinger, but he was assisted at different times by nearly all the ministers who labored in that part of the State. In church news published in the Millenial Harbinger, I find that Elder Henry Thomas, of Paris, at one time, held a most successful meeting there. It was, I think, in the neighborhood of this congregation and. under the preaching of Elder Jacob Creath, that the late President Joseph K. Rogers was led to Christ. He was baptized by Eider Eastham Ballinger.
Source: Historical and biographical sketches of the early churches and pioneer preachers of the Christian Church in Missouri Kansas City, Mo.: J. H. Smart & Co., 1888