Elder joseph L. Bays, a pioneer texas baptist preacher

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SUBMITTED BY: WALTER LOUIS TUBBS, A CANDIDATE FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF THEOLOGY, Department of Church History, Dr. William W. Barnes, Professor. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. 1916


A biographical sketch is difficult enough when the subject is yet living and such information as will give justice is easily obtainable. But when the subject has been dead more than sixty years, and the material to draw from is meager at best, it is even more difficult. Having heard the things contained in this sketch, talked over since childhood, by those who knew the subject, and believing in the credibility, I give them in a brief sketch of Joseph L. BAYS for two reasons: First, to aid, if possible, in giving a true history of Texas Baptists and second, to give Joseph L.BAYS the credit due his memory as THE pioneer Texas Baptist preacher.

From Staffordshire, England there came over to America two sturdy Scotch-Irish non-conformists. They were Isaiah and John S. BAYS. They were brothers and came as did thousands in their day, for greater religious freedom. Isaiah came over in 1741; John S. in 1743 or 44 and settled in Halifax County, Virginia. Isaiah settled in what was then known as Pendleton District of North Carolina. He married a Miss Abigail MARSH. There were seven sons born to them. The youngest, Joseph L. was born December 28, 1786.

In the year 1794, the family emigrated to Kentucky, settling near Boonesborough. About this time, Isaiah died, leaving the burden of the family of seven boys, the youngest being only seven years old, to be borne by the mother. She was of a brave type, and met the hardships of a pioneer life with Christian courage. Being of deep religious convictions, she required all the chores to be rounded up on Saturday night, so no labor was performed on Sunday. After breakfast on Sunday morning, she took the Bible and as she read a chapter, each child was required to repeat it after her until it was memorized. Then marking the letters of the alphabet, she allowed them to learn them from the Bible, as it was the only book in the home. Dried birch bark furnished a white, smooth surface, and a willow twig charcoal a pencil, with which they reproduced these letters. In this was they learned to read and write. Joseph was quick to learn, and having a wonderful memory, he could soon read and memorize a whole chapter at a time. Young Joseph never went to school a day in his life, but the mother helped in this way to lay the foundation for future usefulness.

Just when Joseph was converted we do not know, but he often spoke of being able, by the grace of God, to lead prayer-meeting and preach some, when sixteen years old.

When Daniel BOONE grew restless under the progress of civilization, he emigrated to the "Big Missouri" as that country was then called. In a few years Joseph and his brothers John, Peter, and Isaac followed BOONE, leaving the mother and the triplet brothers, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego behind. (A study of the names of Joseph and his brothers is evidence of the piety of the parents.)

At the age of eighteen, Joseph was married to Miss Roseina WICHER. To them were born two boys and a girl, Henry, Peter, and Susan. About 1818 or 1819, there came through Missouri adventurers returning from the Filibustering Expeditions into Texas, then a Province of Mexico. These told of the rich soil and attractive climate of Texas, and many became interested in the far away land. Among those interested was Moses AUSTIN. He soon had a scheme to plant a colony in Texas.

About this time Joseph BAYS met AUSTIN. (Here begins a story not written in any History of Texas, so I must leave the reader to decide upon its credibility. I believe it). AUSTIN interested BAYS and thirty-two other heads of families in his immigration plan. These thirty-three families gathered on the Missouri River, and decided to make the trip overland to Texas. There being no roads, wagons for the journey were impossible; so investing in pack horses, cattle and oxen, the lighter goods were placed on pack horses, the heaver goods were packed on sleds drawn by oxen, and in this way the trip was made with safety to a greater part of their belongings. Joseph BAYS often spoke of this journey and its many adventures.
Their route was through a country infested with bands of Indians. These often gave them trouble. Soon the men of the party saw it would be necessary to keep a closer watch over the camp when they stopped at night, so they took turns in doing picket duty. Many serious and amusing incidents were related by Elder BAYS of these nights of vigil, and the safety of the party depended on the faithfulness of the watchman.
BAYS relates that these families reached the Texas line on the last day of June 1820. They camped across the river from Sabine County, Texas, at old Camp Sabine in Louisiana. Quite a population had already gathered in the "Neutral Ground", as the land, between the Sabine River and the Arroyo Hondo, was called. Already the more adventurous Americans, who had collected on the border, had crossed over and settled in Texas. As early as 1806, says Pennyback's History of Texas, "Hundreds of Americans were located throughout East Texas, and were prosperous. (Page 59, Edition 1900. IP on social).

Here Elder BAYS and his party waited for news from Moses AUSTIN, who had gone to San Antonio for a permit to plant a colony in Texas. While waiting for word from AUSTIN, at Camp Sabine, Elder BAYS preached to the campers and settlers in the surrounding country.

Something of the personal appearance and style of preaching of Joseph BAYS might be said here. He was more than six feet high and weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. His complexion was fair, and eyes were blue, the hair brown. His voice and memory were his most striking characteristics. It is said that in a still air he could be heard singing or preaching two or three miles. He never read his Bible in public, always quoting the lesson from memory. The hymn also he lined from memory, and led the singing himself, saying it was easier for people to follow him in song than for him to follow them.

His sermons were never more than thirty-five or forty minutes long. In this time he could deliver a powerful message and reap results. He often said, "I am not in favor of long-winded preaching, a man who can't tell all that is necessary in thirty-five or forty minutes, is not much of a preacher." How different from most preachers of his day, and good many of ours!

In camp Sabine were two other preachers, Martin PARMER, a Methodist, and "Billy" COOK, a Universalist. Elder BAYS was by far the most effective of the three. That he was a man of more than ordinary gifts as a preacher and evangelist was testified to by those who knew him. My mother and her brother mentioned elsewhere, remember him as a man of great address, and powerful deliverance in speech. As evidence of his convincing power in presenting the gospel, Billy COOK, his Universalist friend, was converted under his preaching and baptized by him.

Many "squatters" from the Texas side came over to Camp Sabine and heard Elder BAYS preach in these meetings. BAYS, PARMER, and COOK received invitations to cross over into Texas and preach. At least, one of these invitations was accepted, for they went over to the house of Joseph HINDS and held a three days meeting, BAYS preaching one day PARMER the next, and COOK the next.

Settlers came for miles around to these services, they being counted the first ever to be held in this part of Texas, by other than a Catholic priest. Elder BAYS' preaching was the most acceptable, evidently, for he was invited by Joseph HINDS and the settlers to keep up a monthly appointment at the HINDS residence. Joseph HINDS was the most prosperous settler in this region, having the best house in the whole country.
It was a double log two-story structure with a wide hall between and wide porches on each side. The HINDS mansion was some eighteen or twenty miles from the San Augustine Mission. Soon the priests heard of Elder BAYS' preaching here monthly, and on one occasion sent a detachment of the Spanish garrison from the Mission to arrest him. The assembled settlers showed fight, and the soldiers were routed by the "redlanders" as the settlers were sometimes called. But the persecution became so severe that the monthly preaching was soon discontinued.
Elder BAYS was a typical frontiersman. He loved the sports of deer, turkey, and squirrel hunting. Even when he was an old man the sport claimed him. A trusty rifle of year's use was his daily companion. He had a leather hunting suit which he always donned when going to the woods for game.
Most of the thirty-three families, who had halted at Camp Sabine, were waiting for word from Moses AUSTIN as to his success in securing a grant of land. On failing to hear, as soon as they expected, they crossed over on the Texas side, settling here and there. Then Moses AUSTIN did return from San Antonio. On his way back to Missouri for his family, he was taken sick at the home of Hugh McGUFFIN, who lived a few miles from the Camp. McGUFFIN was an Irishman who had settled in this region (now Sabine Parish), some years before. His house was a famous stopping place for travelers.

It was the most substantial residence in the country, being on the order of the HINDS residence. Here Moses AUSTIN was ill from pneumonia for some weeks. Joseph BAYS was the main nurse and doctor, being skilled in the frontier methods of treating diseases. Thomas G. BAYS of Dublin, Texas, remembers well, McGUFFIN; and the incident of AUSTIN's sickness was related to him by both Elder BAYS and McGUFFIN.

After the death of the elder AUSTIN, Stephen f., his son, took up his father's contract, and in 1821, made the first settlement in Texas under this plan of colonization. Elder BAYS was one of the number who went to San Feline, in the early days of Austin's Colony, and received a grant of land. A part of this grant is located in what is now Harris County, some eight or ten miles north west from Houston.
A letter written by Henry C. BREAKER of the Harris County Abstract Company, Houston, Texas to Thomas G. BAYS, Dublin, Texas, locates a part of this land. This letter was written on Jan 22, 1916, and was accompanied by a copy of an affidavit made by Mrs. Elizabeth FLOWERS, a grand-daughter of Joseph L. BAYS, relating to the heirs of the Joseph L. BAYS headright. This letter also gives the date of Elder BAYS' death.
In 1823, while AUSTIN was away in Mexico, looking after the interests of his colony, Elder BAYS was reported to the governor at San Antonio for holding religious services in San Feline, contrary to the Catholic religion, and the Spanish colonization law. He was arrested by order of the governor, and started under a strong guard of soldiers for San Antonio to be tried for heresy. When they reached San Marcos Springs, they went into camp for the night. Elder BAYS with a guard of three soldiers was sent to the springs to bring the water necessary for the night, as they were camped away from the springs for grazing purposes.
Two large leathern buckets were lashed together over his shoulders. On reaching the spring, two of the soldiers, leaving the third with the muskets as a guard, prepared to fill the skins. BAYS, seeing his opportunity, seized a musket and clubbed all three into the spring. Gathering the other muskets, he ran down the east side of the San Marcos River, following closely the margin of the river for fifteen or twenty miles. Then he struck out southeast across the country, hoping to reach the mouth of the Brazos River. After two days hard traveling, he came in sight of a settler's cabin. He cautiously waited and saw a white and a Negro woman come out of the cabin. So he called to them and told them who he was.
The man was not at home, and fearing recapture by a pursuing party, he hid in the nearby woods for two days longer, resting and hoping for the return of the settler. The women supplied him with food. When the settler returned he gladly took BAYS to the home of Joe KUYKENDALL near old Fort Bend on the Brazos. This KUYKENDALL was one of those who came with the thirty-three families from Missouri.
As an old-time friend, KUYKENDALL gave him a horse and a brace of pistols. The pistols were almost the necessary companions of a traveler in those days. These Elder BAYS cherished as mementoes of this thrilling escape. It was the delight of the children in the home of Elder BAYS' cousin, G. W. BAYS to get him to relate his experience with the soldiers on the way to San Antonio, and in this way, my mother and Uncle became familiar with it.
BAYS made his way back to Sabine Parish in Louisiana, where his family joined him. The family remained here until after the establishment of Texas Independence, when they again crossed the river and settled in San Augustine County. While living in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, Elder BAYS made frequent preaching tours into the Texas border settlements, going as far west as the Trinity and Brazos River.
Elder BAYS and his son, Henry, enlisted in the army of General HOUSTON, and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. He and General HOUSTON were fast friends, and in the early days of the Texas Republic, when trouble came up with the Indians, through HOUSTON's influence, BAYS was sent as a commissioner to deal with the Cherokee Indians of East Texas. He was greatly liked by this tribe and would perhaps, have been able to have made peace with them had not Mexican emissaries been at work.
After the cloud of Catholic persecution was rolled over Texas, and Elder BAYS was settled in San Augustine it seemed that he was to spend his last days in comfort and peace, but not so. At this time, 1848-40, the Mormons were establishing themselves at Salt Lake City, Utah.
Missionaries were going everywhere preaching the "revelation" of Joseph SMITH, or the doctrine of "The Church of the Latter Day Saints." Mormon elders came through East Texas preaching the new "revelation". Many were swept away by the story, and a large number went in 1848-49 to Utah, among this number were Elder BAYS' oldest son, Henry, and the wife of his youth and companion of many hardships.
The sadness which came into his life by this great disappointment never went away. His only daughter, Susan, had married a man by the name of Peter DeMOSS. They were living in Matagorda County. Here Elder BAYS made his home, after the destruction caused by the Mormon "Exodus." He made several trips back to East Texas, always stopping for a length of time at the home of his cousin, G.W. BAYS. When he arrived, the word was always sent out to the settlers around and they gathered in for preaching.
For even then at the advanced age of near seventy, Elder BAYS led the singing, always having a lengthy song service before preaching, saying it was a good way to prepare the people for the gospel. Sometime in the month of June 1854, at the home of Mrs. DeMOSS, Elder BAYS died. He was buried in Matagorda County. The grave is unmarked today. But does that take anything from the glory of his life: And should it lessen the reverence in which his pioneering for Christ, in Texas, should be held by every loyal Texas Baptist?

The material for the foregoing sketch has been gathered from various sources, but for the most part, the things contained in the sketch are matters remembered by my mother, Mrs. Frances TUBBS of Pilot Point, Texas, who enjoys the ripe old age of seventy-four, and her only brother, Thomas G. BAYS of Dublin, Texas, who is now turning into his eightieth year.

These both knew and remember well, Joseph BAYS, he being a first cousin to their father, who was a son of John S. BAYS, the brother settling in Virginia mentioned in the beginning of this story. They, together with my father, who also knew Elder BAYS well, have talked these things over since my earliest childhood.
During father's lifetime, I have heard the three talk these matters over far into the night. Mother and Uncle are now in possession of their full mental faculties, and I do not, for a moment, question the trustworthiness of the material of this sketch. Too many of these things I have corroborated by painstaking comparison with such information relating to Texas History, and Texas Baptist History, as I could secure.
I have consulted every Texas History extant, except Yoakum's which I am sorry, I was not able to obtain. Also, a great many of the incidents are verified by the widow of Jacob BAYS who was a grandson of Joseph BAYS. Mrs. BAYS now lives at Wortham, Texas, being in her ninety-third year. Pastor H. M. BENNET of the Baptist church at Wortham has placed me under lasting obligations to him for his kindness in visiting this venerable lady at her daughter's Mrs. Lucy ERWIN, who was very kind in aiding her mother in many matters.

In the light of the foregoing sketch, I can come to a consideration of some things counted as Texas Baptist History. Most histories of Texas Baptists give Elder Freeman SMALLEY as the first, and Elder BAYS as the second Baptist preacher to preach in Texas. It is not my purpose to question the date or fact of Elder SMALLEY's preaching in Texas. It is said by the authorities on Texas Baptist History quoted in this sketch that Elder SMALLEY crossed over Red River into Texas in 1822 or 1824, and preached at Pecan Point on Red River. Everything said by these I accept as true, but the fact of his being the first to preach in Texas is open to proof.

On page nine, of a History of the Waco Baptist Association of Texas, written by J. L. WALKER and C.P. LUMPKIN, published in 1897, it is said, "Elder Joseph BAYS was the second Texas preacher. He preached his first sermon in Texas at the home of Moses SHIPMAN, in 1825. He afterwards went to San Augustine, where he was for a time greatly hindered on account of opposition on the part of the authorities."
Upon this statement, DR. B.F. RILEY now of Birmingham, Alabama, who in 1907, while pastor of the First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, published A History of Texas Baptists, in this work says, on page fourteen, "The year following that of Mr. SMALLEY's arrival in Texas, in 1825, another Baptist Missionary, Rev. Joseph BAYS, came into Texas, and preached the first Baptist sermon preached by a Baptist on the west side of the Brazos River. He was seeking his way to the Mexican Settlement at San Antonio, and stopping at the home of Moses SHIPMAN, he preached to the pioneers in SHIPMAN's home. Proceeding thence to San Antonio, which was given up to worship of the Roman Catholics, it being the only creed recognized by the Spanish government, to the non-tolerance of all others.
Mr. BAYS began his missionary labors. He threw himself with consuming zeal into the work under the most discouraging conditions, but the impression made by him was so pronounced that he was intercepted by the Romanish priests, who, invoking the aid of the civil authorities, succeeded in having BAYS ordered away.

For a time, disregarding the peremptory order, he was threatened with imprisonment; with a hint of even direr punishment should he not heed the order to leave. He therefore decided to quit that region not so much on his behalf but on the behalf of those who befriended him, and who had no opportunity to leave, but should have to bear the consequences of his persistency to remain. He was released from arrest only on condition that he would quit Texas altogether."

When collecting the material for this thesis, I wrote Dr. RILEY for the source of this extract. He cited me to the quotation from WALKER and LUMPKIN's book. I, then wrote Rev J. L. WALKER, now of Buckner Orphan's Home, for the source of his material, and the gave me the following from "Texas Historical and Biographical Magazine," a monthly periodical published by J. B. LINK at Austin, Texas, in 1891 and 1892.
The quotation is from Vol I, page 23. "Rev. Joseph BAYS came to Texas in 1825 or 26, and was the first Baptist preacher known west of the Brazos, and perhaps the first in the State. At that time the Roman Catholic Religion was maintained by the state, and if laws were enforced no dissenting ministers could preach. Whatever preaching Elder BAYS, or any other Baptist or protestant preacher might do, might render them liable to punishment, and if persisted in, to imprisonment.
Some of the earliest troubles in Eastern Texas between Anglo-Saxons and Mexicans; grew out of religion rather than politics. It is said that the first contest in areas was brought on immediately on account of the imprisonment of one or two preachers by the Mexican authorities, at the instigation of the priests. Of course there were no houses of worship then, except Catholic, and others had to preach in private houses or in the open air.
In 1826, Elder Joseph BAYS, on his way further west, preached at the house of Moses SHIPMAN, and went immediately to San Antonio, where he labored until ordered away by the Mexican authorities. He moved to Eastern Texas and labored in the vicinity of San Augustine, where he met with violent opposition on the part of the authorities, and was for a time greatly hindered in his work."

A careful comparison of the several quotations shows their kinship, and leads to the conclusion that they have a common origin. Does it not appear unfortunate that LINK's magazine gives not authority for its source of information? Being evidently, the foundation of the other quotations, if it had shown its source, the task of establishing the claim of Elder BAYS' priority of ministry in Texas, might have been made easier.

Did the writer in LINK's magazine get his information from one who knew the family history of Elder BAYS, and so was qualified to give it right? In the light of what has been said in the carefully prepared sketch, I am willing for the candid reader to decide.

The several quotations as given are all that is said in Texas Baptist History concerning Joseph BAYS, so far as I can find. A careful comparison of this sketch with these excerpts will show that much of my material is in harmony with them. That Moses SHIPMAN knew Joseph BAYS, I am convinced. But was this the first time he preached in Texas? As to his ever preaching in San Antonio I find no statement in the memory of relative of BAYS, this thing is true, they are confident that he was never farther west than San Marcos Springs.

As the reader may take the quotations and see their variations, he can easily see the brilliancy of an Historical imagination as it works on a few unestablished facts. Too, he will be struck with the dogmatic tone of historical language.

In closing, I desire to express my deepest gratitude to the following parties for their aid in many ways, in the preparation of these pages: DR. J. M. CARROLL, Richmond, VA., DR. J. L. GROSS, Houston, TX., DR. B. F. RILEY, Birmingham, Al., REV. J. W. WALKER, Buckner Orphan's Home, TX., MR. HENRY C. BUCKNER, Houston, TX, REV M.M. BENNETT, Fort Worth, TX

Also to the relatives of Joseph L. BAYS, that are mentioned in the thesis; for had it not been for their kind help and willingness to impart the cherished memories of that good man, and brave pioneer preacher, the task of giving Elder BAYS the honor due him, would have been impossible

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