Rev. Charles Edwin Brown’s Baptist Missionary Work in Iowa, 1842-1851

Rev. Charles E. Brown
Rev. Charles E. Brown

 In 1842, the 29-year-old Rev. Charles Edwin Brown (my maternal second great-grandfather) along with his wife, Frances Lyon Brown (my maternal second great-grandmother), and their two young sons, Benjamin Perry Brown and Charles Perry Brown, left their home in upstate New York and traveled to the eastern part of the Iowa Territory. A prior post described their month-long journey by horse carriage, Erie Canal pack boat and Great Lakes steamer.

Only a few days after their arrival in Iowa, Rev. Brown and his wife left by horse and wagon to go 100 miles south to Iowa City to help organize a Territorial Missionary Convention. Four months later, the two of them journeyed to Davenport for another meeting to organize an association of the eight Baptist churches in that part of the Territory. For the latter meeting they arrived in a one-horse “cart, constructed out of hind wheels and axle of an old lumber wagon, with a couple of old rails for thills [the long shafts between which an animal is fastened when pulling a wagon] and a bundle of oats for a cushion.” [1]

In Maquoketa, Iowa with the help of neighbors they built a log cabin home. Much of their furniture was constructed out of the boxes that had been used to bring their household goods from New York.

Their new log-cabin home was not yet suitable for their first winter in the Territory (1842-1843), and the Brown family relocated to Davenport for the season where Rev. Brown served a church in that town and another in Rock Island, Illinois. An ice bridge across the frozen Mississippi River enabled Brown to walk between the two towns.

The people of Maquoketa also built a log school-house/church. In addition to preaching there, Rev. Brown also preached in other nearby east-central Iowa towns (Marion, Tipton and Andrew).

In the Spring of 1844 the family moved to Le Claire, Iowa on the Mississippi River, where a brick Baptist church was built with money raised in New York by Mrs. Brown. The next Fourth of July Brown was chosen to give the speech to the town on the meaning of this national holiday.

As a Baptist, Brown’s speech appropriately commended fellow Baptist, Roger Williams,for his defense of the freedom of conscience and for his saying, “No one should be compelled to worship, or maintain a worship against his conscience.”

Brown went on to say that society violates personal liberty “by restricting or coercing religious faith and forms of worship.” Indeed, Brown continued, “each and every person, so far as his fellow men are concerned, has a perfect right to believe what he has a mind to; to worship what, and in what form he is disposed to; provided, he leaves the same right to others unimpaired, and none must molest or make him afraid. To connect church with state, or establish a specified form of religion by law is a gross and palpable violation of the most sacred rights of men and should be sternly and persistently resisted.”

Brown concluded his Fourth of July address with the following list of “domestic enemies:”

  1. “Intemperance . . . puts shackles on a man so effectually he cannot stir and unfits him for all business.”
  2. “Avarice, insatiable avarice, which leads to bribery and corruption.”
  3. “The reign of the mob is the reign of anarchy and terror.”
  4. The “system of slavery. . . . Because slavery and liberty are opposites–they are antagonistic and cannot live in harmony–the one must be subverted to the other sooner or later. One is based upon principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, the other a palpable denial of those principles . . . . God speed the day when another declaration shall be made in this land . . . which will proclaim the emancipation of a race now held in bondage, triumphantly vindicating the [1776] declaration, that ‘all men are created equal.'”

On February 9, 1846, their third child (and my maternal first great-grandfather), James DeGrush Brown, was born in Le Claire.

"Buffalo Bill" Cody
“Buffalo Bill” Cody

One of their neighbors in Le Claire was the Cody family, whose young son, William F. Cody, later became famous as Buffalo Bill. (Today there is a Buffalo Bill Museum in the town.)

In the Fall of 1847 the family returned to Maquoketa when a public school (the Academy) was built and organized. The next summer, the Brown’s two youngest sons, Benjamin (“Benny”) (age 8) and Charles (age 7), went swimming with friends in the Maquoketa River. Benny, who had an “uncommonly amiable, winning disposition; loving and obedient, considerate and conscientious,” drowned. His death was a “terrible affliction,” especially for his mother, who “adored him.”

Rev. Brown remarked that Indians were frequent visitors during his early years in Iowa. “They were the genuine Aborigines, uncontaminated by contact with the whites. As a rule friendly but when game was scarce disposed to make free with the cattle and hogs of the settlers, and their presence always excited some fear of possible danger. They were savages and we never knew what they might do. These Indians were fine specimens of their race; stalwart, dignified, comely, active and fearless; well supplied with wigwams, ponies, robes and blankets, bows, arrows and guns.”

Prairie Fire
Prairie Fire

Prairie fires were phenomena of this time. They were “novel, exciting, and often dangerous . . . . In the fall when the heavy growth of grass on prairie and in sloughs was dead and dry they were frequent. Seen in the night, driven swiftly by high winds, extending for miles, and lighting the heavens with their lurid glow, the sight was something to remember.”

When the Brown family arrived in 1842 Iowa was a territory with a population of 43,000.

Iowa Capitol, Iowa City
Iowa Capitol, Iowa City

In 1846 Iowa became a State with its capitol in Iowa City. The original Capitol building, now known as The Old Capitol is still used by the University of Iowa as a Museum and as the Office of its President.

In the summer of 1850 Rev. Brown had an attack of “inflammatory rheumatism,” which confined him to bed for many months. By May of 1851 he decided to return to New York with his family to recuperate. When they left, Iowa was a State with over 192,000 people.

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[1] This post is based upon Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 and The Family Record 1767-1907 (Ottumwa, IA 1907). Another source in that book is J.W. Wendell’s “Lest We Forget,” a Memorial Discourse in Honor of Rev. Charles E. Brown, Oct. 6, 1901.