Early Baptists in Louisiana
From Kentucky, John Coulter moved with his family to what would become Morehouse Parish in April 1797. They were the first known Baptists in Louisiana.
Accompanied by his horse and the Lord, David Cooper of Woodville, in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, often traveled the 30 miles — an eight hour journey — to the Felicana area near St. Francisville in Louisiana to minister.
Cooper, an ordained Baptist minister and a practicing physician, had been active in the Charleston Association in South Carolina, helping to constitute a church and ordain its pastor, before moving to Mississippi in 1802.
In Mississippi, Cooper not only helped organize the Mississippi Association, he was also active in evangelistic and pastoral work, serving as a missionary doctor in Mississippi and Louisiana.
He was married in his later years to the widow of Louisiana’s first elected governor, William C.C. Claiborne.
In an 1817 letter he wrote about the area in Louisiana where he was ministering: “It is a large and populous settlement, almost entirely destitute of the gospel, except the little attention they have received from your unworthy servant, and is, of course, good missionary ground.” Cooper died in 1830.
Ruby May Lewis
Born in 1890 at Lewiston in Tangipahoa Parish, not more than 20 miles from Half Moon Bluff Church, the first Baptist church in the state, Lewis served from 1925-1954 as a missionary of the Louisiana Baptist Convention to the Italians at Independence, her native parish.
Born sometime between 1758 and 1770, Willis grew up in South Carolina, and made a scouting trip to Louisiana in the fall of 1804. In November of that year, at the risk of his life, he preached at Vermilion – now Lafayette – the first sermon known to have been preached by a Baptist minister in Louisiana west of the Mississippi.
Willis also was the first Baptist to tour through French-speaking Louisiana; he suffered persecution for his efforts.
After his tour, he settled in Bayou Chicot, now in Evangeline Parish, about 35 miles south of Alexandria.
There, he began work as an itinerate missionary evangelist, traveling and preaching throughout the region and recording the details of his work in his journal, thus becoming the first Louisiana Baptist historian. In 1841, his papers were arranged into a manuscript titled History of the Early Baptists of Louisiana.
On November 13, 1812, Calvary Baptist Church – the second Baptist church of the state after Half Moon Bluff in present day Franklinton in Washington Association – was constituted in Bayou Chicot, and Willis was ordained as its pastor, where he remained for about 20 years.
The first resident Baptist pastor in the state, though Calvary was a quarter-time church, Willis also preached in other areas.
In 1833, Willis founded Occupy Church – now known as Occupy One in Pitkin in Vernon Parish – and served as its pastor for 16 years.
The church is still in operation. After he died Sept. 14, 1854, he was buried in the church cemetery.
Willis also helped found the first Baptist Association in the state – the Louisiana Association – serving as its moderator for several terms and often preaching at its annual meetings.
Born Sept. 8, 1878 in Brazil, a community in Henderson County, Tenness, Monroe Elmon Dodd, Sr., better known as M.E. Dodd, was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Shreveport, who became a pioneer radio preacher and the founder of the former Dodd College for Girls.
He is also believed to be the father of the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program for foreign missions.
He received two doctorates of divinity degrees … the first from Union University and the second from Baylor University. After serving in the Spanish-American War in 1898, he pastored churches in Fulton, Paducah, and Louisville, Kentucky, and Los Angeles, prior to accepting the pastorate in Shreveport.
He was an officer of the Foreign, Home, and State mission boards, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and the “75 Million Campaign” to reach the un-churched. That effort, established in 1925, is now known as the “Cooperative Program”. Dodd served as a president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention and was a member of the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance.
He began preaching on radio from Shreveport when the new medium first appeared in the 1920s. At the time, he was the First Baptist pastor, holding pulpit duties from 1912-1950.
He also opened Dodd College. For a year he hired future Louisiana Governor James Houston “Jimmie” Davis, a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville, as an instructor of history. Dodd wrote fourteen books.
The Southern Baptist Convention offers the M.E. Dodd Cooperative Program Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated continuous excellence in supporting missions at home and abroad through the SBC. The award is a bronze sculpture of a sower scattering seed around the world.
He died in August 1952 at the age of 74.
James Scarborough and the establishment of the Louisiana Baptist Convention
In the same year gold was first discovered in California, a different sort of enrichment was taking place almost halfway across the nation, when 13 Louisiana Baptists, most of them laymen, organized the first-ever convention of Baptists from associations across the state. This took place at Mount Lebanon, Bienville Parish, in November 1848.
James Scarborough, a pastor in Jackson Parish, presided over the meeting and was elected the group’s first president. Known first as the Baptist State Convention of North Louisiana, its name was changed in 1853 to Baptist State Convention of Louisiana. It was not renamed Louisiana Baptist Convention until 1888.
But from its beginning, the state convention was known to be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that had formed in 1845. Louisiana Baptists determined to take over the support of Southern Baptist missionaries in the state – most notably in the New Orleans area.
When the convention was organized in 1848, there were “about 88 Baptist churches, with about 3,650 members and about 65 ministers,” according to House Upon A Rock (cited above).
And Scarborough? After his pastorate in Jackson Parish, he became a missionary. He moved to Texas about 1863, “where he defected and embraced Campbellism,” according to House Upon A Rock.
– Compiled by Tammy Sharp from several sources