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Collection Title: Bethel Baptist Church (Newton Co.) Minutes

Collection Number: M 342

Dates: 1839-1945

Volume: 1 item

Provenance: Transferred from the Genealogy Collection, October 31, 1990.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

Bethel Baptist Church was constituted in Newton County, Mississippi, February 1839. The church's articles of faith were written and dated January 27, 1839. Newton County was created from the southern half of Neshoba County, February 25, 1836 and was a part of the extensive region ceded to the United States by the Choctaws in the treaty of Dancing Rabbit, 1830.

The Baptist religion began in Mississippi with the efforts of an early Protestant settler, Richard Curtis and his friends of Cole's Creek in 1780. The Baptists' evangelistic fervor brought protests from Catholic priests in the area, which was still under Spanish rule. When Spanish rule ended, and the territory became a province of the United States in 1817, the Baptist church developed rapidly throughout the territory because the religion had a particularly strong appeal among independent farmers who were settling there. Two of the strongest characteristics of Mississippi Baptists are evangelicalism and the promotion of a missionary spirit. The pioneer preachers were typically zealous, earnest and energetic men.

Early Baptist churches had difficulty in finding ministers to serve their congregations. Most churches were small congregations with usually less than fifty members and limited financial resources. The ministers were male members who rotated responsibility, or itinerant ministers who traveled among many congregations and rarely received money for their services.

Early Baptists recognized the need for a permanent record and authorized a person to record membership and church officer meeting minutes in a large, blank book not unlike a ledger. The first printed minutes of Baptist meetings date back to 1808. Today, the Baptist denomination is the largest organized church group in Mississippi.

Scope and Content:

This collection consists of one folder containing a photocopy of the handwritten minutes of Bethel Baptist Church (Newton County, MS) with copies of membership lists through 1944. The first page of the minutes has an inscription dated 1930 that reads, "These are the women and the men who, long ago, kept house for God."

Over the years, membership rolls were recorded with notations for deaths, baptisms and members who were received into and dismissed from the church "by letter." Bethel Baptist accepted African Americans into the church from its inception and early records indicated a member's race as black or white until 1895. Notations were made to the right margin of names except for one instance in 1935 where the person's name was completely crossed out with horizontal lines and tagged with the comment "Joined the Methodist." There were also "exclusions" and annotations of controversies regarding what were considered to be moral issues, among them " drunkeness," "sin of dancing," and "want of chastity." Occasionally, excluded members were later restored to the fold. A haunting 1902 notation reads simply "Lost."

One item of special interest is a handwritten poem titled "In Memoriam" dedicated to the church clerks who recorded the meeting minutes in service to their faith. It is signed J.W.P., 1934. There is also a touching two-page tribute to Rev. and Mrs. J.E. Chapman, who both died that same year.

This collection would be of interest to genealogists, social scientists, historians interested in Mississippi and Mississippi church history, calligraphers, and, of course, other Baptists.


Created by: Bobs M. Tusa
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Revised: December 17, 2004