Baptists and the American Civil War: December 30, 2014

Montana Territory

Montana Territory

On what is a rather quiet winter’s day in terms of military activity, far to the west of the theaters of war the Legislative Assembly of Montana Territory incorporates Virginia City, creating the first municipal government in the territory that had itself only recently been incorporated the preceding May 26.

The first clergyman to preach regularly in the Montana Territory, excepting Roman Catholics, is Rev. A. M. Torbett, an American (Northern) Baptist minister.

Under Torbett’s leadership, a multi-denominational Union church is built in Virginia City and dedicated on January 22, 1865. Within this congregation are Confederates and Unionists alike, representative of Montana’s earliest settlers at large. Tensions between Southerners and Northerners flair often enough that following the Civil War, in nearby Bozeman a second Masonic lodge is formed in order to serve Unionists, the first (formed in 1862) having restricted membership to men with personal or familial ties to the Confederacy.

By the summer of 1867 in Virginia City, Torbett, like so many other early settlers in western territories, moves on. His transitory ministry notwithstanding, a lasting Baptist presence follows in his wake.

Sources: Contributions, With Transactions, Montana Historical Society, Vol 2, Helena: State Publishing, 1896, p. 85 (link); Granville Stuart, Forty Years on the Frontier, Arthur H. Company, 1925, Bison Books, 2004, p. 268 (link); Pat Hill, “Bozeman’s Early Masons, and Those of Today,” Montana Pioneer, December 2010 (link)