Notice two entrance doors – one for men, one for women. Segregated seating.
Adapted from “Discover Cooper County” by Ann Betteridge
The settlement of the County and the organization of the first churches took place at the same time. Throughout the centuries, missionaries often accompanied the first advance of civilization, and such was their coming in Cooper County. The first Americans who rushed into the Boonslick area were predominantly Protestant, and it was a race between the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians. Later, by steamboat, came the Episcopalians, the German Catholics and Evangelicals. By arriving in family or neighborhood groups from various “Old Countries,” they continued their old community in the new.
The pioneer considered his church to be of primary importance. When a new settlement was established, a church would usually be organized. The pioneers lived humble lives and many practiced their faith each day. The early churches were held in the people’s homes, which were log cabins and huts. The early preachers preached the same gospel that is preached today in huge magnificent buildings. They had a faith that was earnest and simple like that of the early Christians.
An interesting story about an early minister named Reverend Pennywell Peter Woods, who was one of the first ministers of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, organized in 1820 just north of Bunceton. He grew up as a Presbyterian, believing Baptists were unworthy of respect from honorable and high-minded persons. His brother joined the Baptists, disgracing the family.
Peter read the New Testament to learn about the true church and the true baptism, placing a red string at each mention of sprinkling and a blue string for each mention of immersion in the Bible. All the strings were blue and he threw his Bible down in disgust. But soon he was a pioneer itinerant Baptist preacher.
It is not known when Peter first visited the Boonslick. Samuel Cole, the youngest son of Hannah Cole, stated the first preacher in the area was Peter Woods, and the Cole family history states that Peter Woods conducted the first worship service on the south side of the river in Hannah Cole’s cabin in 1811.
THE FIRST ORDAINED BAPTIST MINISTER IN COOPER COUNTY
Luke Williams was the first ordained Baptist minister in Cooper County. He preached without fee or reward as the early settlers had nothing with which to pay him. Cooper County was little more than a wild territory. He used to say, “I need no money to travel among brethren and friends.” He traveled on foot over a large part of the territory when visiting the members. When he was not engaged in preaching, he supported himself and his family by working on his farm.
An early settler recalled a church meeting she had attended before statehood, at which Luke Williams was the minister. Luke Williams was dressed in a complete set of buckskin clothes. Many of the worshipers were likewise attired. The lady was new to the area, having just moved there from North Carolina. The appearance of the congregation so upset her that she cried during the entire service. Also, at the service, grease from bear meat stored in the loft of the house where they were worshiping, dripped down and spoiled her shawl. At that time, in the wilderness, the shawl could not be replaced.
THE FIRST CHURCHES IN COOPER COUNTY
In 1817, the first church building in the County was built. It was named Concord Church, and was located about six miles south of Boonville near Bunceton. It was a Baptist Church and the first minister to preach there was Luke Williams. Later, Luke Williams was pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church from 1820-1823. When he died, the church members gratefully provided for his widow.
About the same time, in the same area, a small group of Baptists were meeting in various homes. Eventually, in 1837, the Vine Church was constructed across the road from the Concord Church.
The Concord Church and the Vine Church merged in 1847. The Church celebrated their Centennial anniversary in 1917, and disbanded in 1919. The cemetery is still there, but no trace of either church remains.
Other early church congregations that were founded were:
1818 Nelson Memorial United Methodist - Boonville
1819 Pisgah Baptist - Pisgah
1820 Cumberland Presbyterian – New Lebanon
1820 Mt. Nebo Baptist - Pilot Grove
1821 First Presbyterian – Boonville
1821 Otterville Presbyterian Church
The Nelson Memorial Church was the first Methodist Church in the Western Conference in Missouri, and held the very first religious service in Boonville in 1817. It built its third church at the same location in 1915.
Early churches were held in homes until sufficient funds were raised and the actual church could be built. Most of the early churches were built from logs, similar to the way early homes were built. Later, many churches were also built from wood, but the logs still had to be cut, sawed into planks and smoothed with planes - all by hand. Some were built using bricks that were usually made on site. Building a church without modern tools was a true labor of love. Often, churches also served as early schools until rural one-room schools became available.
Sadly, many of the early churches are gone without a trace of where they had once been. Some were torn down and a new one built, and if the congregation dwindled down in size, or a new church, closer to town claimed the congregation, the original church was abandoned or used for another purpose. A few churches were damaged or destroyed during the Civil War. Abandoned churches were often torn down and the materials used elsewhere by thrifty settlers, leaving no trace as to where the church had been. Some churches were destroyed by tornadoes or lightning, and others by fires.
Churches then and now were not without serious disagreements between the members.
The Mt. Nebo church was very prosperous until about 1826, when there arose a division due to a difference of opinion on the question of paying ministers and sending missionaries among the “heathen” nations. After considerable excitement, and several stormy meetings, the two factions separated. John B. Longan, who was leader of the faction who favored paying the ministers and sending abroad missionaries, drew off a large majority of the members of the congregation, and built a church at Henry Woolery's mill, which was called "New Nebo” Church. The opposing faction continued in possession of "Old Nebo” Church," and still holds services. There seems to be no record of what happened to the “New Nebo” Church.
The Civil War caused divisions within the churches. Many of the early parishioners were originally from the South and favored secession, while others strongly favored staying with the Union. Many churches did not hold services during the Civil War as members feared for their safety. Small towns flourished during the heyday of railroads, but once the railroads left the area or bypassed the towns, businesses closed, populations moved and the membership of churches suffered a reduced number of parishioners.
Several of the early churches in Cooper County were founded by German immigrants. It was very common for these immigrants to conduct their services and teach their schools in German only. This changed quickly once World War I started.
It is wonderful that so many of the early County churches are still in existence, and that they are still ministering to the needs of their parishioners.
(See chart below for church name, date of founding, when the latest church was built, if it is still active, the location, plus if a church is associated with a cemetery (If the congregation built more than one church, the most recent date is listed.) Unfortunately, dates of the construction of a 2nd or third church seem to vary, depending upon which early history book you read. Founding dates are believed to be fairly accurate. Also, many of the records of the early churches, and some not so early, are cannot be found. If a church no longer exists, it is not listed.
LISTING OF ALL PAST AND PRESENT CHURCHES & Their History
Name, location, date established and cemetery, church information and records: Cooper County Churches
Blackwater Church of Christ - 307 Scott Ave. 660-846-2821
Blackwater United Methodist Church - Established 1887, Not Active
Unincorporated town: Billingsville
Christ Episcopal Church – Established 1835, Active, No cemetery
First Baptist Church - Established 1843, Active, No cemetery
First Christian Church D.O.C. - Established 1887, Active, No cemetery
First Presbyterian Church – Established 1821, Active, No cemetery
Morgan Street Baptist Established - 1865, Active, No cemetery
Mt. Hermon Baptist Church - Established 1868 , 13394 B Hwy. Active, Cemetery
Nelson Memorial Methodist Church - Established 1817 Active, No cemetery
St. Johns United Church of Christ Billingsville - Established 1855 Active, Cemetery
St. Mathew AME Church - Established, Active, No cemetery
Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church - Established 1851, Active, Cemetery
West Boonville Evangelical Church - Established 1893, Not Active, Cemetery
Unincorporated towns: Clark’s Fork and Lone Elm
Zion Lutheran Church, Lone Elm Established 1896, Active, Has Cemetery
Trinity Lutheran Church - Clark’s Fork Established 1863, Active, Has Cemetery
Pleasant Green Methodist Church - Established 1825, Active; Cemetery
St John’s Catholic Church Clear Creek - Established 1850, Active; Cemetery
Link to general information
Federated Church of Bunceton - Established 1871, Active, No Cemetery
Bunceton Baptist Church - Established 1887, Active, No Cemetery
Bunceton United Presbyterian Church - Established 1860, Active, No Cemetery
5 additional cemeteries listed-Chilton, Hopewell, Howard, Masonic and Woods.
Old Lamine Church of Christ - Established 1843, Active, Large cemetery
Peninsula Baptist Church - Established 1873, Active, Large Cemetery
Herndon Family Cemetery, Higgerson Family Cemetery, Hoke Family Cemetery, Samuel McMahan Family Cemetery, Thomas McMahan, Jr. Family Cemetery, Thomas McMahan, Sr. Family Cemetery Schuster Family Cemetery, Turley Family Cemetery
New Lebanon Cumberland Presbyterian Church- Established in 1820. Stopped holding services in 1968. A cemetery is associated with this church
NORTH MONITEAU TOWNSHIP
No map exists, but Pisgah is on Missouri Route O, 8 miles east of Bunceton
Pisgah Baptist Church-organized June 19, 1818
present building erected 1926-Active membership
Pisgah Baptist Cemetery nearby
SOUTH MONITEAU TOWNSHIP
Otterville-First called Elkton, organized in 1836
Otterville Methodist Episcopal Church South, organized in 1869 Active; No Cemetery
First Baptist Church of Otterville-organized in 1866, Active, No cemetery
Otterville Presbyterian Church organized in 1882, Active, No cemetery
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church established in 1882 Clifton City, Active, Cemetery
Otterville Methodist Episcopal Church South organized in 1869, Active, No Cemetery
More information about Otterville Presbyterian Church
Other cemetery Shackleford
Bell Air Methodist Church established 1860 Rt. 5 Bellaire, Not Active, No cemetery
Speed Bethel A.M.E. Church organized 1887, Not active, No cemetery
Speed Union Church organized 1891, Active, No cemetery
Concord Baptist Church established 1817, Disbanded 1919 – demolished
Earliest church in Cooper County Large Cemetery
Briscoe Cemetery on Highway 5 Monument to Hannah Cole, first woman settler in Cooper County
Tuscumbia Free Will Baptist Cemetery-located near Ravenswood on a locked property-Charlie Leonard has to unlock it.
Other Family cemeteries: Eweing Family, Lowery Family, Charlie Leonard has to unlock the gate. Waller Family Cemetery
Chouteau Springs extinct town
Mt. Nebo Baptist Church established 1820. Located 3 miles northeast of New Lebanon Active;
Cemetery associated with this church
Pilot Grove Baptist Church organized in 1876, Not Active, No Cemetery
Saint Joseph Catholic Church organized in 1883, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church organized 1866, Active, Cemetery is associated with this church
One church with 4 name changes
St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church-1873
St. Paul Evangelical and Reformed Church-
St. Paul United Church of Christ: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Death records located at this site
Pilot Grove Community Church, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
Other Cemeteries - Mount Vernon, Pleasant Hill, Saint Joseph, Saint Martin’s in Chouteau Springs
PRAIRIE HOME TOWNSHIP
Prairie Home United Methodist, 544 Hwy. Dr.-660-841-5226 Unincorporated towns organized 1881, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
Prairie Home Baptist Church-organized 1890s, Active, No Cemetery
St. Peter’s United Church of Christ organized 1877, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church year established unknown disbanded 2019, still standing. Cemetery is associated with this church
5 Additional Cemeteries- Ellis, Harris, New Salem, Providence and Robison
Wooldridge Baptist Church, organized 1900, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
Pleasant Grove Lutheran church was organized 1855, Active, Cemetery associated with this church
St. Peters Pleasant Grove organized 1848 Active, Cemetery associated with this church
REFERENCES: Church Histories
TRAVELING MISSIONARIES AND CIRCUIT RIDERS
Before there were churches and ministers, and when weather permitted, a traveling missionary would preach to the settlements. People would come in wagons or by foot to hear the message of God. This would also be a time to exchange the news and visit with others. “Brush arbors,” where protracted meetings would be held, were assembled from branches of trees for shade from the hot sun. The meetings would sometimes last for hours and lead to the organization of a permanent church. Later, when funds were available, churches would be built. Revivals would be held in the summer, fall, or spring. At this time many new members were added to the church. The Revivals sometimes lasted for several days.
The traveling missionaries, often called “Circuit Riders” would travel on foot or on horseback, stopping at homes as they went. This was a very strenuous and hard life and many of the circuit riders died in their 30’s or early 40’s. They were dependent on food and shelter at the homes that welcomed them, and in the early days of Cooper County, homes were few and far between. They were subject to bad weather, getting lost on the open prairie and had no protection from those who would cause them harm or rob them.
In later years, Revivals or Camp Meetings were held in tents, but the goal was always bringing folks back to or into the church. Pilot Grove Township was distinguished in the early years by the number and variety of camp meetings which were held there. The Presbyterians and Methodists were rivals for the honor of conducting the biggest and best camp meeting each year. People attended from great distances, as it was a social event as well as a religious one.
Methodist Circuit Riders
Methodism became prominent in Missouri in the early 1800’s through “circuit riders” who were lone preachers on horseback who spread the Word of God to rural settlers, and relied on these same settlers for food and shelter. These early preachers had no church or congregation of their own, as all preachers were itinerants. Their circuits were of varied sizes, depending on the number of settlers in their circuit area. In the new Territory of Missouri, on the south side of the Missouri River, their circuits were very large, and it usually took the preacher about six weeks to complete. The circuits varied from 200 to 600 miles.
Circuit Riders were usually young, single men with an agricultural or artisan background. They could read and write, but were normally not well educated. However, when they felt called to preach, they received a course of study in the Bible, the Methodist Hymnal, and were well versed in the theology of John Wesley. They were paid a salary of $80 per year. They had to supply their own horse, saddle and bridle and all their clothing. Some complained that the food they received was poor and they often had to sleep on the floor of a shed. But, homes at that time were very small and already crowded.
In 1816 there were only eight preachers to cover the entire area that was to later become the state of Missouri. They ministered to those who lived on scattered farms or in small villages that would be unable to support a full-time minister.
If possible, the circuit rider preached every day in what ever building was large enough – barns, taverns, homes, under trees or in “brush arbors. They often started as early as 5 AM in the summer so that farmers could get out to the fields to work, or were done in the evening after farming work was done.
Wherever there were enough people in an area, the preacher would start a class and appoint a lay person to conduct classes in order to keep the people together until the circuit rider made his rounds and returned. These classes became a basis for a new church to be established. The preacher was not looking for Methodists, he was looking for anyone who wanted to hear the word of God and eventually become a Methodist.
Camp meetings and revivals were held at least once each year and often lasted for week. People would come from miles away for these revivals and a for a chance to meet friends they had not seen for a year or more. Many new members to the church would be added at this time, plus weddings and baptisms performed.
“Sermons were practical, moral, and dramatic. Methodist doctrine fit well with the spirit of the frontier. The emphasis of free will, and grace, unlike to the limited grace and predestination preached by the Presbyterians and Baptists appealed to those independent souls who had moved to the frontier and who felt
They were in control of their destiny”. (1)
Boonville was incorporated into a circuit in 1818 by a local preacher, Justinian Williams, and by 1840 became a station and became the second largest in the state of Missouri. Stops for the early circuit riders included Boonville, Pilot Grove and a German settlement 12 miles south of Boonville.
Reference: Circuit Riders to Crusades by John O. Gooch, Ph.D.
Circuit Riders to Crusades pages 10, 11
During the first five years of settlement in this area most services were held in homes by a passing missionary or circuit rider. In 1815, Luke Williams, who later preached at Concord and Mt. Nebo, held services at Hannah Cole’s Fort. He was born in Virginia, in 1776, and settled in Cooper County in 1816. The other missionary who preached in the Fort was James Savage. Both of these men were of the Baptist denomination, which was the prevailing one in early Cooper County.
In early Boonville, Missouri, there was no "German Church" where first- and second-generation immigrants could worship in the custom familiar to the then fewer than forty families who had migrated Westward during the early 1800's.
In 1849 two German circuit riders, the Reverends Rauschenbach and Kroenke, were in Boonville on a regular but infrequent basis for the Evangelical United Church of Christ. Then, in 1850, the Rev. Hoffmeister, an Evangelical minister serving Moniteau County, agreed to conduct services twice a month at Boonville. His ministry at Boonville was brought about as a result of the amount of $250 annually provided by the Presbyterian Church Mission Board's decision to support a church for their German friends.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church of New Lebanon established a seminary in that trained young men to become circuit riders and ministers
EARLY CHURCH DISCIPLINE
The discipline of the early church was strict. Instances of discipline involved: card playing, drinking liquors in excess, fights between members (pulling off their coats in an “affray”), marriage troubles, dishonesty in horse trading, making false statements against the pastor and non-attendance at church. No servant or servants were allowed to sell beer, cakes, cider, melons, or anything of that kind within one mile of the church.
Churches were affected by the Civil War. Some churches were destroyed or burned, and congregations had to work together to heal the wounds of war. The healing in most cases came slowly. Black members, who had before worshiped with the white members (blacks were forced to sit in the back of the church building), formed their own churches and cemeteries.
Some of the early churches had two entrance doors. Some also had a partition through the center section of the building separating the men and women so there would be no “distractions” during worship.
Some of the churches conducted baptismal services at a nearby creek. After the Sunday morning service, the congregation would go to a nearby creek and after a service of prayer and singing at the water’s edge, the pastor immersed the candidate for baptism.
An amusing incident was told in connection with an early baptismal service. A crowd of people had gathered on the banks of the stream where the baptism was to take place. Simons climbed up a small sapling which stood on the edge of the creek. John Hutchison, thinking that this would be a fine opportunity to have some fun, took out his pocket knife and began cutting away on the little tree where it was bent over by the viewer’s weight. Lower and lower bent the tree but the victim was so interested in the baptism he did not notice what was happening. At last the tree was cut in two and Simons fell into the water with a loud splash. The crowd laughed so long and loud that the minister almost dismissed the crowd, but finally they became quiet and the service was finished. Although the church was noted for its strictness, this illustration shows the members could also enjoy a good laugh.
The grasshopper invasion of 1875 caused much concern. Tuesday, May 18th, of that year was set aside as a day of prayer to God for his blessings upon the local churches and the nation in the removing of the insects that were devastating the land. People from different churches met together on that day to pray.
CHURCH PROGRAMS WERE SUCCESSFUL
Churches began to have Sunday Schools in the early 1900’s. At this time the women of the churches were forming missionary and prayer societies and they began to become active in their churches’ programs.
Vacation Bible School started in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many people in the county reflect with happiness upon their experiences at Bible School. Many of the churches in the County continue to have Bible Schools each summer. Some of the churches have a day each week set aside for church instruction.
Three churches in Cooper County have their own church school. A history of these schools can be found in the website section on schools.
Name, location, date established and church information and records: A list of churches will come up. Click on the one you wish to read about and watch for a blue arrow in the upper right had corner. If you do not see the arrow, click again. If you wish to study several churches, close the one you were just looking at and click on a new name.
Resources at the CCHS Research Center – (listed in genealogy section of this website)
List of all Cooper County Churches we have information on in our files
list of all church history books at the Center
List of all church Centennial books
“Cooper County Church Sketches” by Florence Chesnutt available at CCHS Research Center $9
Map of Churches in Church Sketches
At one time there were three Black churches in Boonville: Sixth Street Church, which has been razed, Saint Mathew’s A.M.E. Church (1881) and Morgan Street Baptist (1865). Pisgah also had a Black church which was formed after the Civil War. Prior to the war Blacks and Whites worshiped together. There is a small Black Church near Prairie Home (Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church) which was disbanded in 2019.
LISTING OF ALL PAST AND PRESENT CHURCHES in Cooper County
Name, location, date established and church information and records: Missouri Genealogical Website Church Records in Cooper County
A list of churches will come up. Click on the one you wish to read about and watch for a blue arrow in the upper right had corner. If you do not see the arrow, click again. If you wish to study several churches, close the one you were just looking at and click on a new name.
Resources at the CCHS Research Center – (listed in genealogy section of this website):
List of all Cooper County Churches we have information on in our files:
List of all church history books at the CCHS Center
List of all church Centennial books
“Cooper County Church Sketches” by Florence Chesnutt available CCHS Research Center $9
See below – History of some of the oldest Cooper County churches and a Tour Map