The Earliest Beginnings--Our Pioneers
J. Whitcomb Riley.
What is the origin of the German Baptist work in our country?
As in the case of all modern Baptist movements, we cannot confine the origin to any one man nor to any one locality, for within a certain period of time beginnings were made in several widely separated localities by men and women who, at the time when they started their enterprises, scarcely knew of the existence of another similar body. There is no German Baptist church in our country that can rightly claim to be the "mother" of all the churches in the sense that from her alone the truth spread first in other directions; and there is no one man of whom it can be said that he alone originated the movement. In one locality Baptist immigrants from Germany made a beginning, in another a German convert from an English speaking Baptist church, in still another a German missionary, not a Baptist and not sent to Am6rica by any Baptist society, but sent by devout, God-fearing friends to preach to his German countrymen here, became the instruments in planting German Baptist churches.
In a certain sense the founding of new churches in outlying districts has never ceased. An aggressive missionary spirit is always pushing forward into new fields. The pioneer period we have in mind, however, is the time when there was little or no organization outside the new interests planted.
1. New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Earliest in point of time were the beginnings made in Newark, N.J., in the region about Blooming Grove, Pa., and in the city of Philadelphia, and these center about Konrad Anton Fleischmann,[Jugendfreund, January, 1922.] a man highly esteemed by all who knew him. He deserves more than a passing notice because the story of his pioneering is so closely interwoven with the early history of the groups of churches which he planted.
Fleischmann was born in Nurenberg, Bavaria, in 1812, and converted in Geneva, Switzerland, when nineteen years of age. He joined a Separatist church where believers' baptism was practiced but not deemed essential to church membership-a so-called "mixed" church after the pattern of early Separatist churches in England. Becoming convinced of the scripturalness of immersion, he received that ordinance at Basel some time later. He entered the theological training school of Karl von Rodt in Bern in 1885, where he spent a short time and then became pastor of a small church of believers in Emmental, where be would have remained had not Providence called him to a larger field. In 1888 he received a letter from George Mueller of Bristol, England, requesting him to go to America to preach to German immigrants there. The request was not supported by assuring promises of financial help. It was a plain matter of duty and faith, and after much prayer Fleischmann consented to go, landing in New York in March 1839. He looked for opportunities there, but there seemed to be no opening for him at the time.
A request to become pastor of a small German Protestant church at Newark, brought him soon after to New Jersey, but his ministry here was a failure. He would not baptize their infants nor would he administer the ordinance of the Lord's supper; in fact he told them very plainly that they lacked the essential of a Christian life-a personal experience of faith. Of course the pastoral relation was severed, only a few clinging to him. In October of that year (1839) he baptized three persons on profession of their faith, the first fruits of his labors in America, and these were advised to join an English speaking Baptist church. In the course of a few years other German converts were added and, in 1849, a German church was organized with thirteen constituent members. This church is now called the Clinton Hill Baptist Church, one of the strongest and most efficient of our Eastern churches.
After the Newark experience Fleischmann longed for a field of labor, where his countrymen were more receptive to the deeper spiritual truths of Christianity and turned his attention to Pennsylvania, the eastern and middle portions of which had been settled by large numbers of Pietists from Wurttemberg, by Mennonites from Southern Germany and by "Tunkers." [The latter are usually called "Dunkards" or "German Baptists." They immigrated to America in a body about 1819 and settled in Lycoming and Berks counties.] Baptist ministers in Philadelphia with whom Fleischmann came in contact likewise urged him to go there and some-what later the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention made him an offer of financial support (twenty dollars a month) if he would become their missionary. Fleischmann accepted this proffered help with the reservation, that he should be perfectly free to relinquish their assistance in case he would deem it advantageous for his work. Like George Mueller in Bristol, he had conscientious scruples about accepting a stipulated salary. He made his headquarters in Reading, preaching in the city and in the neighboring villages wherever he met with a favorable response. He was a hard worker, usually preaching three times on Sunday and many times on every week-day evening, distributing tracts, selling Christian books and travelling extensively.
He spent three years in this kind of pioneer work with its usual trying experiences but with marvelous success, especially in Blooming Grove, Fairfield, Hepburn and Anthony. An extensive revival followed in the fall of 1840 and in the winter months of 1841, and upwards of two hundred believers were baptized by immersion. It may seem singular to us that these groups of brethren were not immediately organized into churches, as is the custom of Baptists in our day. But Fleischmann, like all German Separatists, did not lay the emphasis upon organization at the time. He induced them to meet regularly for prayer and to select a capable brother to lead in the preaching services in the absence of the pastor. There appears to have been no fuller organization for at least twelve years, when, in 1858, these churches were more firmly organized and admitted into fellowship with the churches of the Eastern Conference which meanwhile had been organized. Their combined membership at that time was seventy-two. They have since increased to six churches but have discarded the German language in their church services.
Fleischmann did not limit his labors to the parts of Pennsylvania just described, he sought rather to establish preaching stations wherever there was an opening. He occasionally visited Newark, New York City and Philadelphia and, meeting with much success at this latter place, he resolved to make it his headquarters. The beginning here was indeed small and the outlook for a German church of baptized believers was not flattering. His followers, moreover, were poor in this world's goods and from these his main financial support was to come, as he was still reluctant to receive outside aid for his services. But his zeal lost none of its ardor and his faith weakened not, He continued to preach, and on the twentieth of March 1848, he baptized five persons, his first fruits in Philadelphia, and a little later eight more. On the 9th of July he read before his followers a series of "Articles," drawn up by himself, a kind of confession of faith, and requested all who could do so to sign them and thereby consider themselves members of the organization which he styled "The German Church of the Lord that meets on Poplar Street." This "Confession" is very brief and makes the Scriptures the sole rule of faith and practice. It demands a personal faith in Christ as a prerequisite to church membership, but is silent concerning baptism and the Lord's Supper. It shows Fleischmann's doctrinal position at the time. While he was at one with the Baptists in very many positions, he was not prepared for close communion, This last step followed in the natural course of events, for when the unbaptized ceased coming to the Lord's table, the church came to practice communion with only the baptized.
With this church Fleischmann remained until his death in 1867. To describe the twenty-five years of his ministry lies beyond the scope of this book. He needs no better monument than the church he founded which even today bears the impress of his mind, heart and soul. Nor was his work confined to his church. No other man did so much for organizing the German Baptists in those early years as did he. He was the prime mover in the organization of the first Conference in 1851, and he was the first editor of the "Sendbote," to which we shall have to refer later.
The Philadelphia center has prospered greatly. Let a few figures suffice. The nineteen members of 1843 have grown to 835, the one church to three, representing a property value of $104,000. The contribution of these churches for benevolences last year (1922) amounted to $9,172.87 and for local church expenses $14,505.89.
2. New York.
While Fleischmann was laying foundations in Pennsylvania, others were doing a similar work in New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and Brooklyn, to which we must now turn our attention.
A German Mission was begun in New York City in 1845 by John Eschmann who had been pastor of a church of Immersionists (not affiliated with the Oncken movement) in Zurich, Switzerland. Aided by the American Baptist Home Mission Society, he organized a church of sixteen members in 4846. This church grew rapidly in numbers, owing partly to the fact that it was planted in a strategic center where Germans were settling in large numbers, and partly owing to the uncommon ability and missionary zeal of its leader. In 1851 this church was numerically stronger than any two other German Baptist churches in the country. It was called upon to endure severe trials and much hardship; there were internal dissensions caused by doctrinal differences; yet there were additions year by year. In the course of the years, seven other churches have gone out from this one church to continue the work in other sections of the Metropolis and in the cities nearby, and no less than twenty-two of its members have entered the ministry. This is
surely a splendid record. In latter years the work at this First Church has declined. There are now five churches in the city with a combined membership of 752, their contributions for missions and benevolences last year amounted to $5,824.28 and for local church expenses $10,142.88. Their church property is valued at $l85,000.
A beginning was made in Buffalo in 1848 by Alexander von Puttkamer [Jugendfreund, March, 1922.] who had come to America in 1835 to gratify, as he himself stated. his "Wanderlust." He had held an officer's position in the Prussian army, but felt dissatisfied with the life he was leading. Being left penniless and friendless in a foreign land, seeking employment for which his station in life had fitted him and not finding any, he went through some of the experiences of the prodigal son. He was converted in Lawrenceville, near Corning N. Y., and baptized in November, 1837, into the fellowship of the English speaking Baptist church at that place. Some years after he entered the services of the American Tract Society and was sent to Buffalo, N. Y., as a colporter, where he soon found a circle of friends among the Germans of that city. He had become an earnest Christian and a consistent Baptist and, of course, made propaganda for these views. The rules of the Tract Society, however, forbade their colporters to engage in any distinctively denominational work and von Puttkamer was obliged to resign. He entered the services of the American Baptist Publication Society, returned to Buffalo and became a Baptist missionary. The result of this wise change was soon apparent, for in 1848 nine persons, the first fruits of his labor, were baptized into the fellowship of the Washington Street Baptist Church. Others soon followed, and in 1849 a German church was organized with twenty-three members-the present Spruce Street Church. Some of these members had come with letters from Germany. Von Puttkamer was ordained at this time and remained with this church until 1852. After an unsuccessful venture in Cincinnati, 0., he went to Albany, N. Y., where he founded another German church in 1854, which was highly successful. After serving creditably in the Civil War, he came back to his work in Albany, but shortly after began to preach in English, serving several churches in Wisconsin and Ohio He died at the Baptist Ministers' Home in West Farms, N. Y., at the age of 88.
The small beginning in Buffalo, like those in Philadelphia and New York City, has grown to large proportions. When at its height, the German Baptists had five churches there, all of them growing out directly or indirectly from the original church. At the present time there are three flourishing churches with a combined membership of 587 and church property to the value of $89,000.
Rochester, N. Y.
At various times in the years 1848 and 1849, members from the New York church settled at Rochester, which was beginning to attract a large German immigration in those years. In accordance with an almost universal practice among these German brethren at that time, they held meetings in private houses, waiting for an opportunity when they should be able to afford a larger and more suitable place of worship. They succeeded in obtaining a room, centrally located, over a blacksmith's shop on Allen Street, near State, where, in 1851, they organized themselves into a church. They had the encouragement and active support of Deacon Orin Sage a member of the First Baptist who took more than a fatherly interest in the new undertaking, Their first pastor was Andreas Henrich [Baptist Herald, August 1928.] who had come to them from Buffalo, N. Y., where he had been baptized in 1849, just after that church had been founded. He was ordained to the ministry in Rochester. Henrich was one of the early pioneers of our German cause, a wise leader, an eloquent preacher and a gifted writer. He remained with the Rochester church until 1858. Subsequently he was pastor of several German churches and, while pastor at Louisville, Ky., he founded the German Baptist Orphanage there. For a few years he was also editor of the "Sendbote" and in the later years, he published some books and tracts which have had a wide circulation. He died at Platte Center, Neb., in the year 1895.
The Rochester church has had a slow but steady growth. Among its pastors during the past seventy years have been the choicest and most capable men which the German churches sent into the service. Planted in a city where the German Baptists had established their theological seminary, it has had the support of the professors and the student body almost from the day of its founding. Consequently, it has had a great and lasting influence upon the religious life of large numbers of students in the most critical years of their lives. The Rochester church has been a home and foreign mission church, sustaining for many years several missions in various parts of the city and sending out from their membership some of the most efficient missionaries into the foreign field.
Brooklyn, N. Y.
In 1852 Jeremias Grimmell, a lay preacher, baptized by Oncken in 1840, made his home in what was then called Williamsburgh, now a part of the city of Brooklyn. He had been a martyr-witness for the Baptist cause in the Fatherland, a type of Christian to whom a change of location simply meant a continuation of witnessing and bringing others to Christ in the only way that could be done. Grimmell soon began his aggressive work by organizing a Sunday school in his own home and then moved into larger quarters. He had the preaching gift and under his successful preaching, supplemented by that of other men from the New York church, several men and women were converted and baptized. In 1854 these, together with others who came by letter, to the number of 32, organized the present First Church in Brooklyn. For almost twenty years the new interest had a slow growth but from the seventies onward, under the leadership of Julius C. Grimmell, the membership increased greatly and became one of the leading churches in the East. There are at present two splendidly organized German churches in Brooklyn with a membership of 634.
3. Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois.
We must now turn our attention to the western sections of our country where several successful beginnings were being made at about the same time in such centers as Milwaukee, Wis., St. Louis, Mo., and Chicago, Ill., and in several] smaller cities in these three states
The city of Milwaukee had been a strong center for German immigration even before the out-breaking of the German revolution in 1848, the disastrous outcome of-which brought thousands of revolutionary exiles to that place. To this center of German life and activity there came in 1847 a company of German Baptists, fourteen in number, from the city of Memel, in East Prussia, with their pastor, William Edward Grimm. [Jugendfreund, July, 1922. Baptist Herald, February, 1924.] Like the New England Separatists, they had suffered much from an intolerant government and from thoughtless mobs of their native city, and they were glad, poor as they were, for an opportunity to- begin life over again. The circumstances in which they found themselves were such, that the major portion was obliged to penetrate
Further westward into the "bush" to take up land where it still was cheap; only those who belonged to the artisan class remaining in the city. These men, being carpenters by trade, erected a building on Fourth Street, near Chestnut, the lower floor of which was used for their church services, the upper story serving for their own dwelling. The "bush" brethren settled near Watertown, in Wayne Township, and later also in Kossuth, near Manitowoc. In this way a number of preaching stations were afforded the pastor who was not 4ow to make use of the opportunity, for German preaching was seldom known in those outlying farming districts. The success which attended the efforts of pastor and people, may be seen from the fact that five years later these groups had a membership of 145.
Much of the success was due to the untiring zeal of their leader. Grimm was in some respects a very extraordinary man. If he had enjoyed a fuller scholastic training in his earlier years, and if he had been willing to adopt methods which have proved successful in missionary work in this country, he would have had no superior among the early pioneers of our churches. Born in Memel, in 1808, he was converted among the Separatists in Switzerland, but had received baptism there by effusion. Returning to his native city in 1841, he founded a small church introducing the mode of baptism he bad himself submitted to. When this church later on heard of the Oncken Movement at Hamburg and Berlin and had become convinced that believers' baptism ought to be performed by immersion, he and his church called Oncken to receive the ordinance, as it was enjoined in the New Testament. This incident shows the stamp of the man and his followers. His courageous preaching brought much opposition, he himself suffering imprisonment no less than ten times. Once he was obliged to flee from an infuriated mob in the disguise of a sailor and seek refuge on an English ship lying in the harbor of Memel.
Grimm was every inch a Baptist, and for the defense of the distinctive truths of Baptists, as he understood them, he waged a warfare such as scarcely any one of the early pioneers was capable of. He was aggressive to a fault and a speaker of great power. It was a great misfortune that a man like that should have been obliged to work at the carpenter's trade, making wash boards and wooden shoes and peddling them on his long missionary journeys, in order to defray his household expenses. But such were the days of the pioneers.
The "bush" churches Grimm founded about 1848 are still in existence, but the Milwaukee church was rent in twain by reason of an unfortunate controversy over the doctrine of Predestination, about the year 1856, and finally became extinct. The present Immanuel Church has had a continuous corporate existence since 1856, in spite of many local disturbances and changes. The present membership of the Milwaukee churches is 661 and their church property is valued at $128,000.
St. Louis, Mo.
It must have become apparent from our sketches of the earliest beginnings of our German churches thus far, that the stories center largely around the men who were instrumental in making a success of the opportunities afforded them. Without these men there would have been no stories to relate.
It is not otherwise when we approach the record of the founding of another center in the city of St. Louis. Here the pioneer is a Hollander, Christopher Schoemaker, [Jugendfreund, September, 1922. Baptist Herald, May, 1924.] who came to St. Louis with a company of his countrymen in 1847. They were a devout, God-fearing people, largely of Pietist extraction. It had been their custom in Holland to meet together for prayer in private homes, and they continued this in their new American home, selecting Schoemaker as their leader. They succeeded in getting the use of a Sunday school room of a large English speaking church in the heart of the city for their Sunday afternoon meetings to which they invited strangers. Their meetings were well attended. After the custom of Dutch Pietists, they celebrated the ordinance of the Lord's supper at the Sunday services. But the question of believers' baptism never even entered their considerations until in the fall of 1848, when Schoemaker and a few of his followers witnessed the baptism of a few adults in the Mississippi river. It caused them to search the Scriptures with the result that in March, 1849, Schoemaker with fifteen of his members were baptized by Dr. John M. Peck, at the time pastor of the Second Baptist Church of St. Louis.
It appears from the records that there were a number of German Baptists in the city who had not become affiliated with any Baptist church, because of the difficulty of understanding the English language, but who had intimate relations with some of these Dutch families. These German Baptists now also joined the Second Church. The next step was surely a wise one: the "foreign brethren," who were very desirous to keep up the Sunday afternoon meetings and who, moreover, were unable to enter into full communion with their English speaking brethren on account of the language barrier, were united into a branch church and given an opportunity to preach to their countrymen in their own tongue. A leader was designated for each nationality, Shoemaker for the Dutch and Gladfeldt for the German segment. Out of this "branch" church there developed, in June, 1850, a separate organization, bearing the name "The Dutch-German Baptist Church," which maintained preaching in two languages for a number of years. This church became German exclusively, because the new accessions were largely from their nationality and because a majority of the Dutch brethren removed to other parts of the West. Schoemaker was ordained in 1850, preaching in both languages for a time, but left the church in 1852 to become pastor of the German church in Buffalo, N. Y. The church at that time had sixty members. Its present name is "St. Louis Park Church." It has had a honorable record among its sister churches extending over a period of more than seventy years. Its founder, Schoemaker, died at Muscatine, Iowa, in 1906, at the ripe age of eighty-eight, having served his Master in a successful and worthy ministry of more than fifty years
The western section of Missouri received a great influx of German immigration during the forties of the last century, and among these a German Baptist colporter, Carl Kresse, was instrumental in gaining converts and establishing a church in 1851, near Concordia, which is still in a flourishing condition.
About the year 1845 a number of German Baptists from Oldenburg, who had been baptized by Oncken, came to Springfield and joined the English speaking Baptist church at that place. They were encouraged by the pastor of the church to hold meetings in their own language, which they did. Their efforts were attended with such success that a German speaking church was organized in 1849 which has held forth until this day.
The beginnings in Peoria are traced to a German Baptist missionary, named J. H. Krueger, who came from Germany to this city in 1851 and succeeded in establishing a small church of only eight members in the following year. The early years were full of discouragements and the outward growth of the church was very slow, but after the Civil War the church grew in numbers and influence. It is still doing a very creditable work for the Master's Kingdom.
There were German Baptists in Chicago as early as 1851, for in the Conference reports of that year mention is made of a group of brethren, to the number of fourteen, who were meeting for prayer in a rented hall. They seem to have made little headway, for a church of sixteen members was not organized until 1858, and even then their meetings were held in a small frame chapel on Hastings Street, rented for the Sunday afternoon service. A man by the name of A. Becker, a medical doctor and an ordained clergyman, was their pastor for a number of years, but he could give little time to aggressive missionary work. The extreme poverty of the members, the unfavorable location of their rented chapel and a much scattered membership seem to have been very discouraging factors. It was not until after the Civil War that the little band, with the aid of the Home Missionary Society, began to make substantial progress.
To describe their progress with any degree of fullness lies beyond the scope of our present paragraphs. We can give a few figures and let them tell the eloquent story of an advance which has not been duplicated in our German Baptist Zion. Including the church at Oak Park, the one church of 1858 with its sixteen members has grown to eight churches with a membership of 1417; and these churches have given in the year 1922, for missionary purposes outside of their own local interests, the sum of $18,939.90. The value of their church property is $172,000. Much of this grand showing is due to the untiring efforts of Jacob Meier, [Baptist Herald, October, 1923.] for twenty-eight years (1878 to 1906) pastor of the mother church, and for the succeeding fifteen years (1906 to 1921) superintendent of the Missionary and Benevolent Society of the German churches of Chicago, the founder of the Old People's Home and the Deaconess Institute.
4. Ontario, Canada.
There is one other center to which we must turn for our short survey of this initial period of our history--to the Province of Ontario, formerly called Canada West. The beginnings here are closely associated with a name that is well known in our country and in Europe. We refer to Augustus Rauschenbusch [Jugendfreund, April, 1922.] who, for thirty years, was at the head of the German Department of Rochester Theological Seminary, and consequently has had such a large share in preparing an entire generation of German Baptist ministers for their life's work. He was born in Altena, Westphalia, in 1816, and, after receiving a most liberal education in several German universities, succeeded his father as pastor of the large Evangelical Protestant church in the city of his birth, where he remained for four years. He came to America in 1846 and settled with other German immigrants in Missouri where he became an itinerant preacher. After a few years of this kind of pioneering, he entered the services of the American Tract Society where he became the superintendent of its large number of German colporters and the editor of its German monthly paper, "Der Amerikanische Botschafter." He also prepared tracts and books for publication. It was while holding this position, that Rausehenbusch made the acquaintance of Drs. C. G. Somers and W. R. Williams, which resulted in his determination to be-come a Baptist. He was baptized in 1850 by Sigismund Kuepfer and joined the German church at St. Louis, Mo., which had just been organized.
Among the colporters whom Rauschenbusch had sent out, was Heinrich Schneider, [Jugendfreund, May, 1922.] who had been converted in Germany through his instrumentality and who was laboring among the Germans in Waterloo Co., Ontario, where the spiritual destitution at this time was very great. He was meeting with much success in the meetings he was holding, but he needed advice and asked Ranschenbusch to come and visit him, which he did. Rauschenbusch informed Schneider of his own views on believers' baptism and there followed much searching of the New Testament with the result, that in the month of August, 1851, Schneider and some others were baptized by Rausehenbusch. A revival of considerable depth followed the preaching, many were converted and upwards of twenty were baptized. These were organized in September, 1851, into a German Baptist church at Bridgeport. Schneider was ordained and became their pastor. On a subsequent visit, the Bridgeport church was divided into three churches, Berlin, Wilmot and Woolwich, over all of which Schneider became pastor.
From this center the interest was spread west ward, eastward and northward. Just prior to the World War, there were eight German churches in the Province with a membership of 965, since then three of the strongest churches have ceased using the German language in their church services.
In this way the foundations of our German churches were laid in various parts of our country, in what may be called the earliest or initial period of their history. How meager and insignificant these beginnings appear when measured by an arithmetical rule alone. And still the brother who compiled the very first statistics for us in 1851, seems to glory in the fact that he could catalogue eight churches with a membership of 405, and that there were possibly two hundred brethren more scattered the land over, some in connection with English speaking churches, others meeting in small groups in private houses for prayer and worship. Yes, the eyes of a robust, missionary faith are microscopic and telescopic, and with such eyes small numbers become big with future meaning
It is significant also that the earliest of our churches, with but few exceptions, were planted in important and growing centers-Philadelphia, Newark, New York, Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Milwaukee, Chicago, Springfield, Peoria and St. Louis-where missionary contact with the Germans was easiest and the needs greatest.