Baptists and the American Civil War: June 9, 1865

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi Map 1861Louisiana is in the news this day.

The Union ship Kentucky leaves Shreveport late in the day with some 800 passengers aboard, many paroled Confederate soldiers, some with their families. Plying the Red River, the overloaded ship strikes a snag that rips a gash in the vessel. Two hours pass before the leak is noticed. The ranking Federal officer orders the captain to continue onward, and by the time the boat finally turns toward shore, it is too late. The ship sinks in the middle of the river, sending up to 200 passengers to their death. Bodies are pulled from the wreckage for days. It is a terrible chapter in the immediate post-war days.

Yet not all is terror and sorrow this day.

The Emancipation Proclamation is now two-and-a-half years old, while nearly two months have passed since the surrender of General Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia. Yet not until this day do blacks in Athens, Louisiana learn that they have been freed.

Among the freedmen are a number of Baptists. Upon learning of their liberation, they began exercising their liberty by holding their own worship services:

They bound themselves together with love, faith, and prayer, and began to have prayer meetings in their log cabin homes.  Soon the congregation out grew the log cabin so they built a brush harbor on the Aubry place, and continued to grow.  When they out grew that place they built a second brush harbor on the Thump Hampton place.

They so badly wanted a church but they didn’t have the land to build it on.  So they kept praying, believing and trusting in the Lord till one day their prayers were answered.

A man by the name of Mr. Beasley was putting the L.N.W. Railroad through Magnolia, Arkansas to Gibsland.  At this time the Holy Spirit moved Mr. Beasley to give the church 40 acres of land and deed to build the church.  The land being close to the railroad crossing in Athens and Gibsland on Highway 154 North, known as Dollie, Louisiana.

St. Matthew is the first colored Baptist Church built in Claiborne Parish, Ward 5, Athens, LA.  The church was built on the land in 1870 under the leadership of Rev. Louis Desear, and three deacons:  Gus Wade, J.M. Frazier, and Henson  Walker.

The three deacons and Sisters Essie and Ludia Wade named the church Saint Matthew after the first book of the New Testament, the generation of Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham.

The church of the 1870 made rules and regulations for the members to be guided by so they would know how to work in love and unity for the progress of the church.

Saint Matthews Missionary Baptist Church is one of many black Baptist churches formed this month in the South by freedmen.

Sources: Russell Cappo Jr., “Disaster on the Red” (link); “History,” Saint Matthews Missionary Baptist Church (link)