The Baptist Tradition

The first Baptist churches were formed by English-speakers in Holland (1609-1612). They believed, as did Martin Luther, that believers were capable of reading and interpreting the Bible on their own. The Baptists separated from the Church of England because they believed church membership should be voluntary and that only believers should be baptized. They rejected the parish structure of the Church of England where people were "born" into the church and baptized as infants. John Smyth led the first congregation; Thomas Helwys traveled back to England the founded the first Baptist church there in 1612. The first Baptist church in North America was established by Roger Williams in what today is Providence, Rhode Island; soon thereafter, John Clarke founded a Baptist church in Newport, R.I.


Arrival of Baptists in the Ozarks

Baptists came to Southeast Missouri in the early 1800's, establishing the Bethel Baptist Church (Cape Girardeau County) in 1806. Organized in 1838, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist congregation in Greene County. According to an 1883 History of Green County, Missouri, "For many years it was the only church in the neighborhood, and was attended by people from many miles around." Founded in 1852, Springfield's First Baptist Church gathered in homes and in Temperance Hall before completing a church building in 1882.

Rhode Island Charter

Rhode Island State Charter of 1663

Roger Williams and John Clarke together secured a charter from King Charles II in 1663 guaranteeing religious freedom in Rhode Island. The state government of Rhode Island became the first government in history to guarantee separation of church and state, and religious freedom.

(Source: Credit: Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons. 

First Baptist Meeting House

First Baptist Meetinghouse in Providence, Rhode Island

The first Baptists in Rhode Island met in the home of Roger Williams; later they met outdoors or in the homes of congregation members. The First Baptist Meetinghouse was erected in 1774-75, and is a National Historic Landmark.

Credit: Photo by Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. 

Choctaw Bible

The New Testament ... translated into the Choctaw language. Pin Chitokaka pi Okchalinchi Chisvs Klaist in Testament Himona, etc.

Translated by Alfred Wright and Cyrus Byington (New York: American Bible Company, 1848).

“This book was first owned by my grandmother, Grace Lenore Barnett Hill, in 1913 when she taught on the Choctaw Reservation, Oklahoma Territory.”

Lent by Juli Ives

Roger Williams

John M. Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul

(New York: Viking, 2012)

Many American Baptists looks to Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683) as the founder of the Baptist movement in the United States. A proponent of separation of church and state, he founded the colony of Providence Plantation in 1636.

Property of Meyer Library

Roger Williams

Roger Williams, On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams

Ed. James Calvin Davis

Cambridge, MA: Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Property of Meyer Library

Music text

The Broadman Hymnal

(Nashville, TN: The Broadman Press, 1940)

Choral and hymn singing is integral to the Baptist tradition. This hymnal was used at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, MO, in the 1940s and 1950s.

Lent by Reba Parker

music book

Songs of Faith

(Nashville, TN: The Broadman Press, 1933)

A hymnal used at University Heights Baptist Church. Contains hymns to be sung at “all religious meetings such as church, Sunday school, Prayer Meetings, Revivals, Assemblies and other occasions.”

Lent by Reba Parker

Baptist church plate

First Baptist Church, Springfield, Missouri

125th Anniversary 1852-1977 Commemorative Plate

Lent by First Baptist Church Library

History of the First Baptist Church

The History of The First Baptist Church, Springfield, Missouri (1977)

By Wayne C. Bartee, Professor Emeritus, Missouri State University

Lent by First Baptist Church Library

Music book

Harvest Hymns

(Dallas, TX: Robert H. Coleman, 1924)

A hymnal used at First Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, in the 1920s and 1930’s.

Lent by First Baptist Church Library

MLK fan

Martin Luther King, Jr. Church Fan. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was affiliated with the National Baptist Convention and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Lent by John Schmalzbauer

Baptist Church building

Second Baptist Church (Washington Avenue Baptist Church)

Founded in 1868, this historic African American congregation was originally known as Second Baptist Church. It was renamed Washington Avenue Baptist Church in 1886. This photograph is from 1951. Now located on National Avenue, the congregation changed its name to Turning Point Church in 2014.