In the year 1832 the American Baptist Home Mission Society was organized in the city of New York, and among the first of its appointments was that of Rev. Allen B. Freeman, to labor as a missionary in Northern Illinois.
In August, 1833, when Chicago was a wilderness--when the Indian roamed wild and free where now are paved streets and marble palaces, Mr. Freeman arrived upon the field of his labors, and reared here, upon the shores of Lake Michigan, as much to the wondering gaze of the savage as to the gratified vision of the few disciples then dwelling here, the banner of the Cross. Thanks be unto God, that banner has never been lowered, but, full high advanced, has waved above every ensign of commerce, arts and learning, gathering under its crimson folds the emigrant Christians of every clime.
Mr. Freeman found a hospitable home in the family of the esteemed Dr. John P. Temple, then residing in Chicago, now of St. Louis. He prosecuted his mission work from house to house, and seeking out the few sheep that had strayed into this far-western wilderness, gathered them together, and broke unto them the bread of life.
The erection of a meeting-house by the few Baptists in Chicago, and those sympathizing with them, was commenced soon after Mr. Freeman began his missionary labors. It was an humble edifice, designed both as a place of religious worship and as a school-house, and cost, when completed, the sum of six hundred dollars, one hundred and fifty dollars of which was in arrears, and remained a debt upon the property.
On the 12th of October, 1833, a meeting was called of those claiming to be Baptists, with a view to the organization of a church. Six persons were assembled, holding letters from different churches ; and the meeting adjourned to the 19th of the same month, for the same purpose, In the meantime others of the wandering had been found, increasing the number from six to fifteen, and it was at this meeting that the First Baptist Church of the city of Chicago was organized. Not only was it the First Baptist Church of the city of Chicago, but, as is believed, it was the First Baptist Church of the North-West, north of Peoria. At this meeting Peter Worden was elected clerk, and Martin D. Harmon deacon. The right hand of fellowship was given by Mr. Freeman to the fourteen surrounding him, and articles of faith, covenant and practice were adopted.
On the 12th of January following, Mr. Freeman was chosen pastor of the church for one year from the first of that month; but, alas ! before that period terminated, on the 15th of December, 1834, while prosecuting with unremitting toil his missionary work -- seeking out, not only among the people coming to this place, but also upon the prairies around, the straying disciples, and endeavoring to organize them into churches, the good man ceased from his labors and entered upon the rest that remains for the people of God. He passed away amid his usefulness and promise, sending the comforting message to his revered father: " I die at my post, and in my Master's work."
During his brief connection with the Church, there were added to its membership of fifteen, twelve by letter and four by baptism. The ordinance of baptism was administered by Mr. Freeman, in the waters of Lake Michigan. The administrator and the candidate going down into the water, amid the quiet of the Sabbath -- not broken then, as now - people of all sects gathering upon the shore, and little groups of wondering Indians looking on from afar, presented a scene of touching solemnity and interest.
Five churches had sprung up on the surrounding prairies, as the immediate fruits of Mr. Freeman's untiring labors; and the fatigue and exposure attending a journey to one of the outposts was the occasion of his early death.
In July, 1835, the Rev. I. T. Hinton was installed as the second pastor of this Church, and a worthy successor his labors proved him to be. Previous to-this time efforts had been made to secure a more convenient place of worship, and two members of the-Church had been sent east to solicit aid. A lot was procured on Madison street, between La Salle and Wells, and the foundation of a house laid, thirty-five by fifty feet. Subsequently this location was abandoned, mainly on the ground of its remoteness from the center of population, and a lot was donated by the State from the canal lands, under the provisions of the law for dedication of lots, in the towns situated on those lands, to public purposes. This lot was located at the corner of Washington and Lasalle streets, being one hundred and eighty by eighty feet.
In the year 1836, Mr. Hinton was sent East, to solicit aid for the erection of a house of worship, and on his return, reported the net proceeds of his mission to be $846.48. Encouraged by this assistance, the foundation of a building was laid on the front part of the lot given to them, and some of the wood-work prepared for the designed edifice; but the disastrous financial revulsion of 1836 and 1837 occurring, the church was unable to proceed with its contemplated building, and a very rude structure on the rear of the lot, originally put up as a temporary workshop for those engaged on the proposed church, was fitted up-with some additions and improvements, and was used as the place of worship until 1844. One of the additions was for a time occupied by the colored brethren of the Methodist church on Jackson street.
In 1841 the Rev. Mr. Hinton closed his pastoral labors with the church, and removed to St. Louis. He was succeeded, after an interval of some months, by the Rev. C. B. Smith, who became pastor of the church in September, 1842. The next year the pastorate became vacant, and a number of members, in all thirty-two, withdrew, and formed the Second Baptist, called the Tabernacle Church.
In August, 1843, the Rev. E. H. Hamlin was called to the pastorate; and in January, 1844, the church resolved to undertake the erection of a new house of worship, and through many difficulties and sacrifices on the part of the members, succeeded in erecting a brick edifice fifty-five by eighty feet, at the cost of about $5,000, which was occupied until it was burned in 1852. The Rev. E. H. Hamlin having resigned in July, 1845, in October following the Rev. Miles Sanford was chosen his successor. Mr. Sanford continued his ministerial labors about two years, when he resigned, to take the oversight of a church in Massachusetts.
Rev. Luther Stone began in Chicago, August 10, 1847, the publication of the Watchman of the Prairies, a weekly Baptist paper, which, after nearly six years, was succeeded by The Christian Times, now The Standard. From about July 1, 1847, to September, 1848, a period of about fourteen months, the duties of acting pastor of the First Baptist Church were discharged by him.
He was succeeded in September, 1848, by the fifth pastor of the church, Rev. Elisha Tucker, D.D., who came direct from the Oliver Street Baptist Church of New York city -- a man than whom, without disparaging others, none more noble, more devoted, or more beloved ever adorned the pastoral office of this church. Tall, and well-developed physically, with a lofty brow, a prominent and pleasing eye, and a genial Countenance, Dr. Tucker impressed favorably all who came into contact with him. In the street, in pastoral visitation, and in the social circle, he was accessible, cordial and affable, without lowering the dignity of his office or rendering himself obnoxious to the reproach of inconsistency between his daily walk and conversation, and the gospel he sought to inculcate. Of lofty bearing in the pulpit, having a well-trained and harmonious voice, earnest in manner, eloquent in discourse, speaking from behind the Cross, he enchained the attention and carried conviction to his hearers. But alas, the arduous and responsible labors of his office in connection with the Oliver Street Church, had undermined the foundation of his constitution; and although laboring with great energy and success in connection with this church for two and a half years, he was at length obliged to yield to the encroachments of a disease which, culminating in paralysis, removed him to the spirit-land.
In the spring of 1851 Dr. Tucker offered his resignation. This the church unanimously declined to accept, but proffered him a leave of absence for six months, in the hope that by travel and relaxation he might regain his declining health and be enabled to resume his ministerial labors. But vain hope ! the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he had so much loved to commend to dying men, was his to proclaim no more. During his connection with the church, two years and a half, as many had been added to her membership as in the nearly eighteen years of her previous history.
For the year and a half succeeding the resignation of Dr. Tucker, the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Mr. Page, Rev. W. C. Brown and Rev. J. R. Balme, until October, 1852, when Rev. J. C. Burroughs was chosen pastor. Immediately thereafter, on the twentieth day of the same month, the church building was destroyed by fire, while workmen were employed in repairing the roof. This occurred at noon; and so rapid was the progress of the flames, that, before efficient aid could be obtained, all hope of saving the house was lost, and it was soon a smoldering heap of ruins. The next evening a special church meeting was called, at which it was resolved to take immediate measures to build a house of worship on the same ground, and a committee of twelve was appointed to procure subscriptions for this purpose. Subscriptions were raised, and such progress made as to enable the church to lay the foundations and place the corner-stone 011 the 4th of July, 1853, and on the 12th day of November following the house was dedicated to the cause of Christ. The cost of the edifice was about $30,000.
Rev. J. C. Burroughs remained pastor of the church until May, 1856, when he resigned the office, and entered upon the great work of founding a University in our city. It was to his careful management and unremitting labors that a large tract of land, comprising some ten acres, in the suburbs of the city, the gift of the lamented Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, was secured to the Baptist denomination, after it had been proffered to another ; and by the united efforts of Rev. Dr. Burroughs and Rev. J. B. Olcott, large subscriptions of money were obtained, and the south wing of the University building was erected.
1. "History," History of the First Baptist Church, Chicago, with the Articles of Faith and Covenant, and a Catalogue of Its Members, December, 1889, pages 11-21.