Baptists and the American Civil War: October 20, 1861

Texas Map 1861In the midst of a southern war effort that is rapidly stunting Baptist mission work at home and abroad, the first German Baptist congregation in Texas is organized today. The Ebenezer (now Greenvine) German Baptist Church in Burton is led by pastor J. Frank Kiefer, who serves the congregation until 1867.

Born in 1833 in Prussia, as a young man Kiefer emigrated to America in the footsteps of his older brother, settling in Texas in 1851. Three years later, Kiefer, raised Catholic, joined the Independence Baptist church and was soon licensed to preach. Enrolling in Baylor, Kiefer did not finish his degree, but in 1858–59 served as a missionary to German Texans for the Baptist State Convention of Texas and was ordained at Independence Baptist Church in 1858.

While pastoring the German Baptist congregation during the war years, Kiefer, realizing that Southern Baptist mission work was being decimated by the war and anticipating difficult times upon the conclusion of the conflict, enrolls and studies at Galveston Medical School. Receiving his diploma in 1867, Kiefer practices medicine while he continues to preach. Yet his medical practice soon consumes much of his time, and Kiefer feels compelled to give up his practice to refocus on missions. In 1868 he serves as a missionary for the Union Baptist Association, and the following year helps organize the Cedar Hill Baptist Church in Washington County. His efforts do not go unnoticed outside of Texas. In 1876, the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, yet recovering from the war, provides Kiefer’s salary in 1876, assisting in his work among Indians, Germans, and Mexicans.

Yet Kiefer does not entirely abandon his medical knowledge and skills. Around 1880, the Baptist minister invents the Kiefer Pill, a purgative. He opens the Kiefer Pill Company at Independence, using the profits to support missionary trips to Europe. In 1884 Waco University grants Kiefer an honorary doctorate, and he remains active in ministry and mission efforts for most of the remainder of his life, dying in 1909.

Source: “Kiefer, J. Frank,” Texas State Historical Association (link)