THE HISTORY OF THE BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH
The Bethel Baptist Cemetery,
Church Minutes Extracts
Membership Rolls of various years
The Robert Lemen Family History Included
Source: The Southern Baptist Historical Archives and Library
Bethel Baptist Church, New Design, Illinois.
Church Records 1806-1951.
"Souvenir Booklet, Baptist Bethel Church
1809-1959, Sesquicentennial Observance"
Sept. 12-13, 1959
©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
James Lemen , Sr. and his wife, six sons, Robert, James
Jr., William, Joseph, Josiah and Moses and two daughters comprised one of the first families
to form the settlement of New Design, Illinois, moving there from Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1786. He, with other
early settlers in Monroe County, organized the New Design Baptist Church which was the first Protestant Church
In the years that followed, seven other Baptist Churches were organized in the Territory of Illinois by James Lemen, Sr. and his followers. Named in order: Mississippi Bottom, Richland, Wood River, Silver Creek, Richland Creek and Looking Glass Prairie, all of which have been extinct for many years past.
On July 8, 1809, while services were being held in the Richland Creek Church, James Lemen, Sr. arose and denounced slavery as a practice in which he could not fellowship. This caused dissension among the members. After two conferences, the church agreed to a friendly division, and on December 10th, 1809, James Lemen, Sr. with four others, withdrew from the Richland Creek Church, and these five, with two others, composed Bethel Church. The church was established by Elders James Lemen, Jr. and John Baugh, under the name of "The Baptized Church of Christ Friends To Humanity." The name "Friends To Humanity" had fastened itself upon the mind of James Lemen, Sr., when he heard a Baptist preacher in the mountains of Virginia introduce a resolution against slavery in a speech, and this motto was also inscribed upon the flag of the flat boat, which brought him down the Ohio River to his home in Illinois.
The constituent members were James Lemen, Sr., Catherine Lemen, Robert Lemen, Hetty Lemen, Joseph Lemen, Polly K. Lemen and Benjamin Ogle. James Lemen, Jr. joined the evening after the constitution. At this time James Lemen, Sr., Joseph Lemen and Benjamin Ogle were licensed preachers, and James Lemen, Jr. was an ordained minister. The Constitution reads as follows:
"We, whose names are hereunder subscribed, agree to unite and be constituted on the Bible of the Old and New Testiments and be known by the name of The Baptized Church of Christ Friends of Humanity, denying union and communion with all person holding the doctrine of perpetual, involuntary, hereditary slavery"
On March 3, 1810, the church agreed to be called "The Canteen Creek Church." The minutes for this period as given in the records begin, "The Baptized Church of Christ Friends to Humanity at Canteen Creek Bethel Meeting House." The Church gradually by common usage came to be known as "Bethel Baptist Church."
The first five years of the Church was a time of Indian alarms and war; many families removed from the country; the population that remained was thin, the people scattered and for six years but few immigrants came to the country. The membership of the Church at the end of this period numbered 38.
The monthly meetings of the Church were held alternately in the settlement south of Canteen Creek, and at New Design, Monroe County. The places of their alternate meetings were about 36 miles apart. there was no regularly appointed pastor for many years. In February, 1810, James Lemen, Sr., Benjamin Ogle and Joseph Lemen were ordained to the ministry by the call of this Church, and also, James Garretson in 1813. These ministers supplied the preaching at the monthly meetings. Between the meetings they were engaged on the Lord's Day, and on week days preaching to the destitute in the scattered settlements on both sides of the Mississippi.
For 16 years, the church sessions were held in the homes of the members, and it was no unusual thing for one of these old farmers to feed 100 people, and 50 horses on such an occasion.
In 1824, the Church erected their first house of worship at a cost of $500.00. It was a frame building, 30 X 40 feet, which for several years was occupied in an unfinished state. Benches were used for seats. The first meeting in the new building was held in 1825, and immediately a revival was held which continued for several months, and 20 converts were baptized. At this time the church reported 86 members.
The deed to the church grounds dates back to a land patent by President John Quincy Adams. The valuable old church record books begin in 1806.
After 1830, the Church became prosperous and was making progress, so they adopted the practice of making contributions for Missions, and benevolent objects, and making some compensation for the services of their ministers, which at the time were: Elders Joseph and James Lemen, Jr., with casual aid from Elder Joseph Chance.
In 1838, the church adopted measures to erect a new meeting house. An encouraging amount of money was raised by subscription, and the plan for the new building was laid before the Church and adopted unanimously. The members pledged themselves to make up any deficiency on tis completion, according to their circumstances. A committee was appointed to superintend the business of building, and the contract was given to the builders. The materials used in construction of the building were hauled from St. Louis across the frozen Mississippi river, by groups of men with horses and wagons. The building is constructed (was constructed, it is no longer standing) of hand-hewn timbers held together with wooden pegs and the weather boards are walnut. The building was erected at a cost of about $4,100.00. Probably no difficulty would have followed the effort, had the financial interests of the whole country not experienced a sudden and unexpected decline. A debt of $1500.00 hung over the Church when it was opened for worship on September 5th, 1840. John Mason Peck preached the dedicatory sermon to a vast crowd. A revival continued for ten days during which 18 members were added by baptism, four by letter and one by experience. The remaining debt was not paid until 1846, and many sacrifices were made by members to meet the amount subscribed. It is said that one farmer even sold his only team of horses to meet his subscription. On opening the new church the name was changed from Canteen Creek to Bethel.
In 1851, Reverend Peck became pastor of Bethel and served until 1853, when he was forced to resign because of ill health and infirmities. At this time the membership was 183.
In 1854, the church bought nine adjoining acres of land from James Lawrence. A parsonage was erected and about three acres of land was set aside as a burying ground, with about one acre laid out in lots. A small section on the norht side of the burying ground was set aside as a Potter's Field.
Bethel occupies a prominent place in the history of the State of Illinois. The Church was really founded as part of a secret and confidential mission for Thomas Jefferson, undertaken by Rev. James Lemen, Sr. Reverend Lemen, a friend and confidante of Thomas Jefferson, was dispatched to the New Northwest Territory especially to oppose the introduction of slavery there. Jefferson even provided funds to meet any emergencies, if disaster should befall Rev. Lemen's family in his secret undertaking. In the south ailse of the Bethel Church, there can be seen the hole through which slaves were taken under the building to be hidden and cared for, until they could safely pass along on the "Underground Railway" to the north and freedom. James Lemen, Sr. and his six sons spent 39 years in constantly fighting against slavery, until the victory was finally won in Illinois in the election of 1824. Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, Thomas Jefferson and Elijah Lovejoy have all testified and expressed the opinion that had it not been for the work and influence of James Lemen, Sr. and his sons, Illinois would have been a slave state.
Church Membership Rolls:
Membership Roll from New Design
Membership Roll from 1828
Membership Roll from 1841
Membership Roll from 1845
Church Minute Extracts
1806 - 1815
Robert Lemen Family Data
Bethel Baptist Church Cemetery
For other LEMEN family information, be sure to visit Genealogy Park, a wonderful site with data on the LEMEN and allied families.
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