|Home | Freewill History | Church Records | Prominent Figures | Collections | References | About | Events|
HISTORY OF THE FREEWILL BAPTIST CHURCH OF WRIGHTSTOWN
By Ruth Roebke-Berens and John Berens
The Wrightstown Freewill Baptist church looking west across the Fox River, undated.
Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptists selected land on the “highest spot” on the west bank of the Fox River for their church edifice. Construction on the church began in 1868 and continued through 1869, with church members (including Pastor Phillips) performing all the work.  The new church was finished and dedicated in February 1870, four visiting ministers assisting Pastor Phillips in the services. 
Surviving photographs show the Freewill Baptist Church to be a large, simple wood frame building with a belfry and steeple. Its dimensions are not known, but it appears to be comparable in size to the first wooden churches built by Wrightstown’s Catholics and Lutherans in 1868 and 1869 respectively.
Wrightstown’s Baptists maintained this church as much as time and means allowed. Only a few months after the church’s dedication “extensive preparations” were reported “in the way of fixing up the church.” In 1874 the church acquired an organ. Five years later the church was “nicely painted and grained” with “various internal improvements.” In 1881 the church was again repainted, and in 1886 the rear of the church property was enclosed with “a new barbed wire fence.” The church roof was reshingled in 1898; five years later the church exterior was again repainted and the interior painted and wallpapered. And again in 1914 the church interior was “papered and repaired.” Although they never replaced the original wooden church with a larger brick and stone edifice, as Wrightstown’s Catholics and Lutherans did, the members of the Freewill Baptist church expended considerable energy and resources to keep their church building an attractive and edifying facility. 
The Wrightstown church, on the hill above the grist mill, undated.
Since no archival records from Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptist Church are known to exist, the lay membership of the church must be constructed from contemporary newspapers and census records. This evidence provides some tantalizing glimpses into the church’s membership.
Fourteen people joined with Augustus Phillips in January 1866 to form the original Freewill Baptist congregation: brothers Harry and George Church; Nelson and Jane Childs; Truman and Phoebe Church; Irving and Mary Henry; John and Rachel Cardinal; Charles and Malvina Terwillegar; Jeanette Briggs; and Samuel B. Childs. Their collective geographic origin suggests that Wrightstown’s Baptists came predominantly from Yankee (New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern) stock: five of the founding members were born in Canada, five in New York, and three in Pennsylvania (the birthplace of one of the founding members, Charles Terwillegar, is not known). Thirteen of the fourteen founding members were living in northeastern Wisconsin in 1860; of these twelve lived in Sniderville or rural Kaukauna, with only one (Samuel B. Childs) an actual resident of Wrightstown. 
When Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptist Church incorporated in 1870, its members elected Ebenezer S. Johnson, Nathan W. Martin, Freeman Tuttle, and John Cardinal as its first Trustees. Cardinal, one of the original 1866 members, was a Sniderville farmer. Johnson, born in New York, was a Wrightstown resident in 1860, served in the Civil War from 1864-1865, farmed in the Sniderville area, and moved to Kansas in 1877. Tuttle, also a Civil War veteran (serving from 1862-1865), served the church as trustee and deacon; he farmed in rural Kaukauna until his death in 1884. Martin, born in Ohio, was a Wrightstown merchant who by 1880 had moved to Appleton where he was a lumber dealer. 
Among other Wrightstown residents known to be members of the Freewill Baptist Church, the following are particularly noteworthy:
John Arneill, Wrightstown merchant and superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School for much of the 1870s. Born in Scotland, he relocated to Appleton in 1886, then moved to California in 1888; his departure was a severe blow to the church. 
E.S. Kellogg, physician in Wrightstown in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Born in Vermont, his son Marcus was also a member of the Baptist congregation. 
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Joslin. Born in New York in 1845, Samuel W. Joslin came to Wrightstown in the late 1876. He taught school for eleven years, then entered the general merchandise business where he became one of Wrightstown’s leading merchants. Joslin clerked for John Arneill for seven years before establishing his own mercantile business. Active in local politics, he served on the Village Board and as Justice of the Peace for many years. His wife Emeline, born in Canada, taught in the Baptist’s Sunday School for thirty years. 
Finally, there is a possibility that one of Wrightstown’s most distinguished and well-known residents was a Baptist. Born in Vermont in 1799, Dr. David Ward came to Wisconsin in 1831, the same year as village founder Hoel S. Wright, and was the first resident physician in the Wisconsin Territory. He served as a surgeon attached to the U.S. Army detachment which built the “Old Military Road” from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien in the 1830s. Dr. Ward retired to his Wrightstown farm in 1843.
Ward’s father, also named David Ward, was a Baptist preacher as well as a Vermont farmer. When Dr. Ward died in 1889 at the age of ninety his funeral was held in Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptist Church. 
Since Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptist Church existed for more than fifty years, no single generalization can apply to all its members during those decades. Nevertheless, the most common denominator appears to be the “Yankee” origins of the church’s members.
Since, unlike their Catholic and Lutheran neighbors, Wrightstown’s Baptists built no parochial school, they quickly organized a Sunday School to provide religious and moral instruction to their children. As early as 1874, under the superintendency of John Arneill, the Sunday School was described as “prospering” with “attendance large and exercises interesting.” While no membership roster is known to exist, the Sunday School at times was quite large; “about 100 children” attended a Sunday School picnic in August 1902.  The Baptist Sunday School was in existence at least until 1918, an important portion of the church’s life for almost its entire history. 
During almost fifty years of existence, the children of the Baptist Sunday School participated in numerous entertainments and celebrations. Summer picnics, initially held in groves on members’ farms and later in Echo Park on Wrightstown’s west side, were an annual event.  In 1894 the Rev. E.H. Edmonds, a Sunday School Missionary, “delivered a very nice address” at the Baptist Church.  The following year the church’s members put on a free concert at the church “for the benefit of the Sunday School scholars.” This concert was “quite largely attended” and “a neat little sum of money was collected for the Sunday school.” 
A special event in the history of the Baptist Sunday School occurred on November 13, 1878 when a meeting of the Northern Wisconsin Sunday School Association met in the Wrightstown Baptist Church. Ministers and laypeople from Appleton, De Pere, Green Bay, Peshtigo, Oconto, and Marinette attended this meeting, which was organized into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Pastor Augustus Phillips and Sunday School Superintendent John Arneill from Wrightstown participated in the meeting, Rev. Phillips delivering “a very impressive address” in the opening session. Session presentations included “Present Status of S.S. Methods,” “How to Conduct S.S. Reviews,” and “Lesson Helps, and How to Use Them.” Another highlight was the singing of “Save the Boy,” an original composition by Rev. L.F. Cole of Green Bay, who was in attendance. The convention was judged “one of the most interesting ever held, and the business transacted by it, as well as the instruction imparted through the several discussions, will surely redound to the future welfare and prosperity of the association, and tend to enhance its usefulness.” 
Like their Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist neighbors, Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptists formed a Ladies Aid Society. This Society assisted the pastor and trustees in maintaining the church edifice and property and sponsored numerous social activities designed to raise money for church activities. The first mention of the Baptist Ladies Aid Society in local newspapers came in 1892. 
Among the recorded activities of the Baptist Ladies Aid were ice cream socials, pumpkin pie socials, and apron sales, held both at Mueller’s Hall and in Echo Park.  The Society met regularly at the homes of members, including Mrs. Samuel W. Joslin, Mrs. Earl Joslin, Mrs. George Jenkins, Mrs. Frank Eger, and Mrs. E. Selsemeyer.  On at least two occasions the Ladies Aid Societies of the Wrightstown and Greenleaf Baptist churches held a joint picnic at Ridge Point Park, a popular amusement park on the Fox River just north of Wrightstown with a large pavilion, dance floor, and amusement rides. 
The work of these Christian women inspired “W.B. McB.” to pen the following sonnet “Written for the Baptist Aid Society of Wrightstown”:
Again our ladies’ day has come
It’s the brightest of the year.
Again we gather at the home
Of the one we love most dear,
With thoughtful hearts in morning breeze
In our little home among the trees
We do the very best we can
To aid the weak and brother man.
We have our quilting parties
To bring the needy cheer
And reward our pastor on the work
He is nobly doing here.
No earthly cares shall bind us
To this soul destroying sod
But a golden hope shall find us
In the beautiful home of God. 
As with Wrightstown’s other denominations, Christmas was an important religious event for Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptists, and they celebrated the day with “entertainments” and special services. Often these services featured special concerts, with Christmas trees decorated with gifts to be distributed to the congregation’s children.  Several Christmas celebrations from the 1870s featured “the exhibition of pictures by means of magic lantern” (the magic lantern was the earliest form of a slide projector in which images were painted or printed on glass plates and projected onto a wall or screen), which was judged “a rare treat.” 
Thanksgiving and Easter were also marked with special services and prayer meetings in the Baptist church. 
One of the great moral crusades of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century was the temperance crusade. Led by America’s major Protestant denominations—in particular Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists—thousands of citizens organized, prayed, and contributed funds to rid the nation of the evils of “King Alcohol.” Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptists were eager participants in this reform movement.
There were close connections between Wrightstown’s Baptists and local lodges formed by the Independent Order of Good Templars, a secret society devoted to total abstinence from liquor. Formed in New York in 1851, by the 1860s Good Templar lodges had sprung up across the New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern states. A lodge of Good Templars—the “Fox River Lodge”—existed in Wrightstown at least by 1867. For more than thirty years this lodge, at times numbering more than sixty members, served as one focus for Wrightstown’s temperance advocates. 
In May 1874 a lodge of Good Templars was organized at Apple Creek, another unincorporated settlement north of Wrightstown, and Pastor Augustus Phillips was chosen the organization’s Chief Templar. In 1882 the Good Templars Hall in Wrightstown was the location for a “donation supper” for Phillips given by his congregation.  In March 1874 James Ross “waked the echoes of Wrightstown” with a temperance lecture in the Baptist church; as a direct result more than forty new members were admitted into the Fox River Lodge.  One year later John Arneill, the Baptist’s Sunday School superintendent, was credited with the “prosperity and usefulness” of Wrightstown’s Good Templar lodge. In May 1893 the newly-elected officers of Fox River Lodge included several Wrightstown Baptists: Earl Joslin as Chief Templar. and Mrs. H.T. St. Claire and Sarah St. Claire (wife and daughter of Baptist Pastor St. Claire) as Chaplain and Deputy Marshall respectively. 
Wrightstown’s Baptists made their church available for numerous temperance lecturers including a Universalist minister from Neenah, Rev. Isa Eberhard, a “zealous temperance man” who preached from the text “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”; a Mr. Wilson from Oshkosh who delivered “a masterly effort in behalf of temperance”; and W.B. Hazeltine, “the author of that beautiful piece of blank verse, ‘A five cent puff,’” whose lecture exerted “a powerful influence for correct principles.”  Theodore Dwight Kanouse, a tireless temperance lecturer who ran as a prohibitionist candidate for governor in 1881, spoke in the Baptist church on three separate occasions; in one of these presentations he lectured “on the subject of Monopolies—comparing the Rail Road Monopoly with that of Rum.” 
On at least two occasions local members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union met at the Baptist church, and in 1912 Prohibitionist candidates for state senator and sheriff spoke at a political rally held at the church. Even the Baptist Sunday School was involved in the temperance movement. For Christmas 1879 the Sunday School children gave a “temperance concert” at the church “which was greatly enjoyed by those present. The children deserve great credit for the part they took. One declamation, Old Rye’s Speech, was very entertaining, being delivered by a little boy, enveloped by a sheaf of rye.” 
Wrightstown’s Freewill Baptists had close working relations with the village’s Methodists. Cooperation was undoubtedly supported by each denomination’s heritage of revivalist preaching and camp meetings, and by their joint participation in the temperance movement (the Methodists were just as zealous as the Baptists in the campaign against alcohol). There is also evidence that ministers in both churches, like Augustus Phillips, placed more weight on correct religious thinking and action than on the fine points of doctrine or creeds.
Wrightstown’s Baptists and Methodists on several occasions joined in union revivals and prayer meetings. In the fall of 1874 the two congregations held prayer meetings every Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and in January 1875 the two societies observed a week of prayer by which “much good has been done . . . old personal animosities settled in a manner likely to be permanent, good resolutions made public.”  In December 1875 the pastors of both congregations preached from the same text, “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established.” In 1881 and again in 1891 Wrightstown’s Baptists and Methodists held union prayer meetings at Wrightstown’s Methodist church. 
In addition to these formal collaborations, other incidents suggest affinity between the two denominations. In 1869 Dr. Kellogg, a member of the Baptist congregation, donated $1.00 to a Methodist missionary society. In 1881 the Sunday Schools of the two churches joined in a picnic, and in 1911 the Methodists held their Christmas entertainment in the Baptist church since their own church was being renovated. 
Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Knuth were two of the most prominent members of Wrightstown’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Evidence suggests that notwithstanding their Methodist faith, the Knuths associated closely with Wrightstown’s Baptists. For example, in 1898 Lewis Knuth arranged for the funeral of his brother August to be held in Wrightstown’s Baptist Church, and in 1914 Mrs. Knuth entertained the Baptist Ladies Aid Society. 
In 1911 most Northern Freewill Baptist congregations merged with the Northern Baptist Convention. Presumably the Wrightstown Freewill Baptist congregation did also, although since all church records have been lost there is no direct confirmation of this.
Through 1917, local newspapers carried regular notices of the various activities of the Wrightstown Baptist church. The last such known notice appeared on April 5, 1918, and appears very straightforward: “The Sabbath school will open next Sunday in the Baptist church.”  And then—at least in the newspapers—silence until an article in July 1923 entitled “Removal of an Old Landmark.” The article announced that the Baptist church had been purchased by a local resident, Mr. Frank Ehnerd, who would soon raze the church and replace it with a modern home.
The article went on to say that Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Joslin were the only two remaining members of Wrightstown’s Baptist congregation. With the decline in membership, “no services had been held in late years.” Although the Joslins attempted to keep the church edifice in repair, local children had begun to vandalize the church, breaking windows and “otherwise destroying parts of the building.” “Seeing the building in its plight,” the Joslins contacted the Northern Baptist Convention, who ordered the church building sold. The church furniture and pews were removed, taken to Green Bay and sold. 
In September 1923 workmen began razing the church edifice. In a fitting tribute to the faith of the men who built the church in 1868-1870, who incorporated themselves “forever hereafter” as the First Freewill Baptist Church of Wrightstown, the workmen reported “that the building would have weathered the storms for another hundred years, because of the perfect state of the material and the good workmanship.”  Thus ended Wrightstown’s Baptist Church after almost sixty years.
It has been almost ninety years since services were held in Wrightstown’s Baptist Church. Unlike our knowledge of St. Paul Catholic and St. John Lutheran congregations, our knowledge of Wrightstown’s Baptist church is incomplete. It is to be hoped that in the coming years some of the remaining gaps in this knowledge will be filled in, so that today’s village residents will have a more complete picture of this once-active and vibrant Christian congregation. Like their Catholic and Lutheran neighbors, Wrightstown’s Baptists were active residents in the “Village on the Fox.” Wrightstown’s history will be more complete with the addition of this “lost church.”
(1) "1st F W Baptist Church of Wrightstown,” Brown County Clerk, Articles of Incorporation 1850-1870, Area Research Center, Cofrin Library, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The men were Augustus Phillips, pastor, and Ebenezer S. Johnson, a trustee.
(2) The history of St. Paul and St. John congregations from their foundings through 1970 is presented in Ruth D. Roebke, From Bridgeport to Wrightstown: The Story of a Wisconsin Community (Pulaski, Wis.: Franciscan Publishers, 1971), pp. 69-77. St. John’s history is updated in Ruth Roebke-Berens, “St. John Ev. Lutheran Church and School,” in Northward in Christ: A History of the Northern Wisconsin District of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1917-2000 (Manitowoc: Northern Wisconsin District, 2000), pp. 158-162. The most thorough history of St. Paul’s early history is still Rev. A.L. Buytaert, Diamond Jubilee, St. Paul Parish 1861-1936 (De Pere: Kuypers Publishing Co., 1936). An up-to-date history of St. Paul is needed.
(4) National Association of Freewill Baptists, http://nafwb.net (29 May 2006); Wisconsin Freewill Baptist Historical Society, “General History of the Northern Freewill Baptists” and “Records and Histories of the Wisconsin Churches,” http://freewillbaptist.wlhn.org/ (29 May 2006).
(5) History of Northern Wisconsin, Containing an Account of Its Settlement, Growth, Development and Resources (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1881), p. 687; Commemorative Biographical Record of the Fox River Valley Counties of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago (Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1895), pp. 874-875.
(6) Military Records of Individual Civil War Soldiers, accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006).
(7) De Pere News, 25 October 1905; 8 May 1907; History of Northern Wisconsin, p. 687. In 1864, 1865, and 1866 the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church listed Phillips as a “local preacher” from Wrightstown: Minutes of the Eighteenth Annual Session of the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held in Oshkosh, October 5th, 1864 (Milwaukee: Jermain & Brightman, 1865), p. 32; Minutes of the Nineteenth Annual Session of the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held in Summerfield Church, Milwaukee, Oct. 4, 1865 (Milwaukee: Jermain & Brightman, 1865), p. 31; Minutes of the Twentieth Session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held at Ripon, Wis., Sept. 6-10, 1866 (Milwaukee: Jermain & Brightman, 1866), p. 37.
(20) In March Phillips was still identified as Wrightstown’s pastor, but three months later the Wrightstown Baptists were circulating “subscription papers” to raise money for his successor: see De Pere News, 14 March 1885; 13 June 1885. Phillips’s advancing age and declining health were almost certainly the cause for these developments.
(22) See De Pere News, 18 September 1886; 17 November 1888; 20 April 1889; 2 November 1889; 6 March 1890; 11 October 1899; Brown County Democrat, 3 June 1897; 13 October 1899. In 1899 Phillips was described as “the oldest known resident minister of the gospel in the state”: Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, 6 January 1899.
(29) De Pere News, 2 September 1914; 16 December 1914; 27 January 1915; 14 April 1915; Brown County Democrat, 29 January 1915. Oelschlaeger’s Greenleaf Baptist Church may have been united with local Methodists, since an obituary identifies him as a member of the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and cites his service in Greenleaf: Year Book of the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Minutes of the Eighty-Second Session, Held in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Waukesha, Wisconsin, September 5 to 9, 1928 (Port Edwards, Wis.: C.H. Wiese, 1928), pp. 139-141.
(30) For examples of Freewill Baptist ministers from other cities preaching at the Wrightstown church see De Pere News, 9 May 1885; 27 February 1892; 8 April 1893; Green Bay State Gazette, 9 March 1887; 24 April 1889; Brown County Democrat, 10 November 1891; 25 September 1903; 3 March 1905; 12 May 1911; Green Bay Advocate, 12 November 1891.
(33) Green Bay Advocate, 6 October 1870; De Pere News, 8 August 1874; 22 May 1886; 22 July 1903; 19 August 1903; Green Bay State Gazette, 5 April 1879; 11 June 1881; Kaukauna Times, 22 July 1881; Brown County Democrat, 4 November 1898; 24 July 1903; 21 August 1903; 7 August 1914. The Baptist Church may not have had indoor restroom facilities; in 1910 the Church filed a claim with the village for damages done to their “outhouse” during Halloween, which the village board subsequently disallowed: Village of Wrightstown, Board of Trustees, Minutes of Meetings, 3 January 1911, Village Hall, Wrightstown.
(34) De Pere Journal-Democrat, 26 July 1923; 1860 U.S. Federal Census, accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006).
(35) Articles of Incorporation 1850-1870; 1860, 1870, and 1880 U.S. Federal Censuses, accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006); De Pere News, 13 October 1877; 25 April 1885; Green Bay State Gazette, 16 August 1884.
(36) 1880 U.S. Federal Census, accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006); De Pere News, 5 June 1886; 20 October 1888; Green Bay State Gazette, 12 June 1886. Three of Arneill’s sons, including two who died in an 1880 diphtheria epidemic, are buried in Wrightstown’s Riverside Cemetery: see De Pere Journal Democrat, 9 May 1929.
(37) 1880 U.S. Federal Census, accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006); Green Bay State Gazette, 13 December 1879; 3 January 1880.
(39) The Autobiography of David Ward (New York, 1912), accessed through http://ancestry.com/ (29 May 2006); Kaukauna Sun, 27 December 1889.
(42) Green Bay Advocate, 17 June 1875; 24 June 1875; ; 8 July 1875; 23 December 1875; 3 February 1876; 13 July 1876; De Pere News, 19 June 1875; 10 July 1875; 6 August 1892; 13 August 1892; 7 September 1898; 16 September 1903; 29 July 1908; 12 August 1908; 27 January 1915; Green Bay State Gazette, 14 September 1878; 20 August 1881; Brown County Democrat, 2 September 1898; 3 August 1906; 9 August 1907; 31 July 1908; 20 August 1909; 12 August 1910; 18 August 1911; 4 September 1914; 29 January 1915.
(46) While it might seem surprising that Wrightstown’s Baptists would not form a Ladies Aid Society for more than 20 years after the congregation’s establishment, this would not be unique; St. John Lutheran congregation was organized in 1869, but its Ladies Aid Society was not established until 1906.
(47) Brown County Democrat, 3 August 1906; 10 August 1906; 16 November 1906; 30 October 1908; 6 November 1908; 21 April 1911; 5 April 1912; 24 January 1913; 2 October 1914; 29 October 1915; 29 September 1916; De Pere News, 3 April 1912; 10 April 1912; 14 October 1914; 3 November 1915.
(48) De Pere News, 20 February 1892; 13 December 1911; 24 April 1912; 4 November 1914; Brown County Democrat, 16 October 1908; 26 January 1912; 4 April 1913; 29 May 1914; 6 November 1914; 15 June 1917; 29 June 1917; 19 October 1917; Kaukauna Sun, 25 April 1912.
(51) Green Bay Advocate, 24 December 1874; Green Bay State Gazette, 21 December 1878; 18 December 1880; De Pere News, 25 December 1886; 21 December 1889; 31 December 1892; 21 December 1895; 24 December 1902; 25 December 1907; 1 January 1908; 23 December 1908; 27 December 1911; Brown County Democrat, 26 December 1902; 23 December 1904; 30 December 1904; 22 December 1905; 29 December 1905; 21 December 1906; 20 December 1907; 27 December 1907; 4 December 1908; 18 December 1908; 24 December 1909; 31 December 1909; 22 December 1911; 29 December 1911; 20 December 1912; 27 December 1912.
(54) Wrightstown’s Good Templar lodge is first mentioned in the Green Bay Gazette, 7 March 1867; the text of this article suggests the lodge had been in existence for some years prior. The last mention of the Wrightstown Good Templars is from 1903: see Brown County Democrat, 8 May 1903.
(63) Minutes of the Twenty-Third Session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Held at Appleton, Wis., From Sept. 23d to Sept. 28th, 1869 (Milwaukee: Riverside Printing House, 1869), p. 56; Green Bay State Gazette, 20 August 1881; Brown County Democrat, 22 December 1911; De Pere News, 27 December 1911.