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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Baptists in Wisconsin


Although several Baptist groups had a devoted following in Wisconsin, the Northern Baptist Convention grew to numerical superiority. The Baptist faith found a devoted following among Scandinavians in Wisconsin, numerous enough to establish an independent Swedish synod. Among all Baptists, the formal denominational hierarchy is less important than the local church. Baptist pastors in Wisconsin often had meager formal education and received little compensation for their services. Using their farms as a base of operation, farmer-preachers traveled to neighboring communities and preached in meadows, barns, homes, schools, and public halls.  The Baptists began organizational work in Wisconsin in the lead region in the 1830s. The Brothertown Indians established the first permament congregation on the east shore of Lake Winnebago in 1834. Pastors and missionaries ministered to the Indians in the Lake Winnebago area as well as to the white population in Sheboygan and Kenosha. Richard Griffing led the missionary effort in Wisconsin and founded the first Baptist Church in Milwaukee in 1836.  The first Baptist Church building was constructed in Delavan in 1841. The American Baptist Home Mission Society supported and directed much of the effort to establish churches in Wisconsin. In 1838, the Wisconsin Association of the Northwestern Convention, an auxiliary branch of the Mission Society, was established in Milwaukee. By 1843, it reported 20 churches and 841 members. Wisconsin formed its own state convention in 1846. Baptist support for education provided the framework for the Wisconsin Education Society, established in 1854, to investigate prospective sites for schools. Wayland Academy at Beaver Dam and the Wisconsin Female College at Fox Lake were constructed in 1855. The church allocated much manpower and money to work in Scandinavian communities, despite some success among German populations. The first African American Baptist church appeared in Racine in 1857. Southern Baptists, nearly devastated by the Civil War and the withdrawl of African Americans, are now one of the fastest growing religious groups in the country, including in Wisconsin.

View pictures of Baptist churches at Wisconsin Historical Images.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]
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