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About the Society

As an affiliate of the Wisconsin Historical Society, it is the Mission of the Wisconsin Freewill Baptist Historical Society to acquire, preserve, and disseminate information about Wisconsin's historic Freewill Baptist churches, as exemplified by the 2006 history of the Wrightstown church written by Ruth Roebke-Berens and John Berens of the Wrightstown Historical Society.

To become a member of the society, to contribute information about the churches and their members, or to enquire about them, contact Jack Copet at jbcopet@sbcglobal.net or Bob Schuster at rmschust@wisc.edu.

Board of Directors

Jack Copet, President
Libbie Nolan, Vice President
Shirley Sisk, Treasurer
Bob Schuster, Secretary
Monna Aldrich, Membership Coordinator

From the President

Photo of Jack Copet

Hello there. I wanted to add something of a more personal nature to those of you viewing the society’s website. My name is Jack Bingen Copet and I am the first President and co-founder of the Wisconsin Freewill Baptist Historical Society. Although I am not a Baptist (I’m actually Catholic), I am a historian and it is because of my own personal journey that I am where I am now.

In 1987, I began working on my family tree, gathering information from my maternal grandparents as I helped them organize their old photographs. By 1989, I had found an ancestor that was a minister, Reverend Comfort Babcock Waller. He was my great-great-great grandfather and my grandmother knew very little about him because he died 20 years before she was born and her father died when she was only four, so the Waller family intrigued me. I asked her if she knew what religion Reverend Waller was and she said she thought he was Methodist.

Further research showed me that he was actually a Baptist minister. Then I started to find just a few references of a Freewill Baptist faith. I needed to know more, but there was no organized collection anywhere in Wisconsin. I had nowhere to turn to learn more. However, the Internet changed that when I located Bob Schuster who had information regarding the Fairwater Freewill Baptist Church in Fond du Lac County, the same county where the Reverend Waller served. I needed a link, but did not find one. Instead, Bob and I collaborated and learned there was a much larger story than we ever had imagined.

The Internet revolutionized communication and research and showed me that there were others out there looking for answers in Wisconsin as well. Libraries and historical societies only had limited amounts of information because the faith merged with the American Baptist Conference in 1911, while most others dissolved into other Christian faiths, so the records were most likely scattered, or worst, lost.

The incredible Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine was a critical starting point in the recovery of statistical information about Wisconsin’s Freewill Baptists. Then, because of the message boards on Rootsweb.com, I was able to locate other people like Shirley Sisk and Monna Aldrich, as well as other researchers, who had local information about the old Freewill Baptist churches that were once in their community. The “network” of historians was forming, but then we hit the proverbial “ball out of the park”. Through the community of New Berlin, Wisconsin, I was put in touch with Elizabeth “Libbie” Faulkner-Nolan. Libbie is the direct descendant of the first Freewill Baptist minister in Wisconsin, Reverend Rufus Cheney of the Prospect Hill community.

Libbie is not only a historian and writer, but an octogenarian and has an infinite wealth of knowledge regarding the Freewills. Once the group was in communication on a fairly regular basis, Bob Schuster agreed to co-found the Wisconsin Freewill Baptist Historical Society with me. Everyone agreed that it was necessary to create an organization with the society’s goal and purpose being to unite the scattered records and resources and bring forth the immense raw data to the public and ensure that the thousands of stories to be told will be.

Now, 166 years after the Freewill Baptists stepped into the Wisconsin wilderness to spread the word of God, their stories can begin to be told on a larger scale. Little antidotes and stories can now be linked with other locations to tell a much larger and richer history.

If you have an interest in early Wisconsin history, the anti-slavery movement, the temperance movement, women’s fight for suffrage, you have found the right place. These progressive people lived fascinating lives and were in many instances ahead of their time. I hope everyone will view our new historical society as a tool to use in the discovery of the forgotten past. We are not here to preach, but to teach; we are not here to threaten other societies or congregations, we’ve been created to lend a hand in the convergence of an extinct part of our heritage.

I extend a personal invitation to each and every one of you to join us in our continuing discovery of such a great, important and influential people in the infancy of the state of Wisconsin.

Jack Copet's signature