Friday, March 18, 2011

A little Belinda Christian Church history

A cousin of mine asked the other day about one of our family churches, Belinda Christian --- and since the sun was shining Wednesday I set out to take a photo of its bell, now in use by the congregation of First Christian Church in Chariton. That accomplished, it seemed like a good idea to pull together other information about Belinda and try to do something constructive with it.

The photo here of Belinda is taken from Lucas County’s 1978 history. The building still stands, although extended and altered for non-church purposes --- and I don’t like the way it looks. So I didn’t take a current photo of it. It is located along the west side of Highway 14 northeast of Chariton at the Lucas-Marion county line and now is a toy museum.

Most of the Belinda records were sent off to Disciples of Christ headquarters when it closed a good many years ago, but for some reason a membership book, complete from 1849 through not long after 1946 (the final entries aren’t dated) wasn’t. It surfaced a few years ago among the belongings of a deceased former member, came into the hands of a friend and I borrowed it long enough to have all 150 pages copied. In addition to listing approximately 900 members, the book also contains transcriptions of both the congregation’s organizing covenants.

That record book is one of four sources I used. Others were Lucas County’s 1978 county history, writings of the late Elizabeth Tuttle and the 1872 “Pioneers of Marion County, Iowa."

This was a family church because my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary (Saunders) Clair, was a charter member. Other family members joined in later years. Although my immediate family was affiliated with Central Christian Church at Williamson, rather than Belinda, the funeral of my grandmother, Jessie (Brown) Miller, was held at Belinda in January of 1945, before I was born, primarily because it was located near Columbia Cemetery.

Grandmother was buried at Columbia on a day so miserable a county road grader had to precede the hearse and mourners from the church to and through the cemetery, according to my parents.

I only remember being inside the building once, among family and friends invited to witness the marriage there of my cousin, Ernest Miller, and Leona Pierschbacher on Sept. 20, 1953. I was quite young, so don’t remember much --- but do remember the bride, the groom and the best man --- Ernest’s younger brother, Warren.

One minor point about Belinda can be confusing. It was organized in Marion County to serve a congregation whose members lived on both sides of the Lucas-Marion line, then reorganized after the Civil War in Lucas County. The church building, constructed in 1871 and extended in 1915, is located on the Lucas side of the line, but barely.


The Belinda congregation was organized on June 23, 1849, as the Disciples in Christ, or Church of Christ, on English Creek in the log cabin of Hiram Moon, a Disciples preacher, and his wife, Martha, in Section 31, Washington Township, Marion County, just a little west of the current church location. (When the 1978 history book article about Belinda was written, the “1” and “3” in the section number were transposed, but the Moon cabin really was in Section 31 of Washington Township, right on the county line, not in Section 13, farther northeast).

The founding covenant reads in part as follows: “ We the undersigned met at the residence of Brother Hiram Moon on June the 23rd 1849. Organized a congregation of Disciples in Christ on English Creek ….”

The thirteen charter members listed are Hiram Moon, Martha Moon, Larkin Moon, Lavisa Moon, Jesse Atkinson, Elizabeth Atkinson, Tabitha Asher, Elizabeth Asher, Matilda Asher, John Asher, Isabel Asher, Leonard B. Feagins and Mary Clair. The Moons and the Ashers were neighbors. The Atkinson family lived just across the line in Lucas County. My grandmother, Mary Clair, as well as Leonard Feagins lived just east of the current site of Columbia --- not founded until 1857.

“On becoming a regular organized body or Church of Christ,” the covenant continues, “the Church made choice of Brother Hiram Moon as Elder of the congregation from his letter setting forth his discipleship and labor in the ministry of the word.

“The church chose Leonard B. Feagins for clerk. The church chose Larkin Moon and John Asher to serve as Deacons until they could be ordained.

“The Congregation or Church of Christ on English Creek, Marion County, Iowa: We as a body of baptized believers have agreed to have our names enrolled together as a congregation or Church of Christ, upon the Bible and the Bible alone as our rule of faith and practice, believing the scriptures of the Old Bible and the New testament to be the world of God, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We will try to keep the Unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.”

Thereafter follows the signatures of the first 13 members followed by the names of 97 others who signed the covenant between 1849 and roughly 1860, when Belinda became briefly inactive as the Civil War began. The other signatures are not dated, but notes follow the names to indicate what became of them. Some died, but most were “dismissed by letter,” meaning they moved on carrying with them to new territory proof of their Belinda membership.

If “English Creek” sounds familiar, it may be because Lucas County’s English Township is named after it. The creek rises in what now is called the Williamson Pond conservation area, just east of the Miller family farms, then meanders down through those farms before passing by the Belinda neighborhood on its route to the Des Moines River.

Here is a paragraph or two related to Hiram Moon and the church he founded from the Washington Township chapter of William M. Donnel’s 1872 “Pioneers of Marion County” (Des Moines: Republican Steam Printing House, pp. 326-7):

Hyrum (sic) Moon was born in North Carolina, August 22, 1818; moved to Indiana at an early age, and from thence to this township, arriving on the 12th of October, 1848, and settled on section 31, making what was then the frontier settlement in that part of the county. He was accompanied by his three brothers, Larkin, George W., and Simon P., and another man and his son, whose names have been forgotten, making in all a family of twenty-one persons; and these wintered together in a small cabin on Mr. M’s claim. Their nearest mill for procuring breadstuff was Haymaker’s, on Cedar (Creek), at which they had the good fortune to get a supply of corn ground before the commencement of that terrible winter. They also procured some wheat, of which they made an occasional substitute for corn bread, by grinding it in their coffee mill.

“The following is a verbatim copy of some manuscript left by Mr. Moon, narrating an adventure of his in one of those fearful snow storms in the winter of 1848-49:

“On the 1st day of January, I went fourteen miles for some corn, and on the second day, on my return, accompanied by my brother Simon P., it snowed on us all day, and we got within six miles of home. Next morning the snow was so deep, and drifted so hard against the axles and fore gate of my wagon, that we got only about three miles, and the horses became so fatigued that we unhitched them and tried to make our way home so. But we soon found the horses too tired to carry us, and being too tired to walk, I took my old horse by the tail and made him drag me home through the snow. Our wagon stood on the prairie seventeen days. By this time the snow had become so thickly crusted as to bear a team part of the time; and when they went to rescue the wagon and get it home, the animals would occasionally fall through the crust, cutting their legs so badly that their trail could be traced by the blood after their tracks had become obliterated by thaws.

“Mr. Moon was a minister of the Christian denomination, and preached his first sermon here, in his own house, on the first Sunday in March, 1849, and at John Asher’s on the same day. He organized a church in June, 1849, composed of 13 members.

“It is related that, in his public services, he used a large family bible, and, in the absence of a table on which to lay the cumbersome volume, he rested it upon the back of one of his brothers, who sat in a recumbent position in front of him.”

Although those first Belinda Christians were committed by covenant to cultivating the “bonds of peace,” that didn’t always work out, at least in the case of my family.

My ancestors, William and Mary (Saunders) Clair, and their youngest son (my great-great-grandfather), James Wayne Clair, had arrived in Washington Township from Illinois during 1847, a year earlier than the Moons. A year later, they were joined by another son, Zolomon Jones Clair, recently discharged from service after the Mexican War.

Uncle Z.J. arrived in Iowa without his wife, nee Sarah Ann Spidle, whom he had married in Illinois during 1843. Z.J. claimed that Sarah Ann had abandoned him in 1845 when he filed a petition to divorce her at Knoxville in May of 1849, just a month before the Church of Christ on English Creek was founded. That may be so, but since Sarah Ann, still living in Illinois, apparently did not respond to the divorce petition, we don’t know her side of the story.

One of the first things Z.J. had done after arriving in Iowa was to enter an adulterous relationship with Delilah (Hinkle) Feagins, wife of the unfortunate Leonard, first clerk of the new congregation. It’s not clear when the relationship began, but when Leonard filed for divorce from Delilah a year later, during May of 1850, he alleged that the relationship had commenced during the spring of 1849.

A wonderful story that descended among descendants of Z.J. and Delilah holds that Leonard worked out a trade --- Uncle Z.J. gave Leonard a gun and received Delilah and her infant son, William Milton, born perhaps in May of 1848, in return. That seems just too good to be true, however.

Whatever the case, as English Creek Christian was commencing, the son of a charter member, Mary Clair, and the wife of the congregation’s first clerk, Leonard Feagins, apparently were out there in the woods somewhere carrying on.

A little later, Z.J. and Delilah high-tailed it out of Marion County and landed in Henderson County, Illinois, just across the river from Burlington, Iowa, where they were enumerated with little William Milton during September in the federal census of 1850.

Of course we don’t know how this played out within the English Creek Christian congregation, but the records do show that Leonard was “dismissed for discord” on an unspecified date. It is the sort of situation almost bound to stir up a little discord.

Z.J. and Delilah had returned to Marion County by 1853, having produced a little boy named John Clair during May of 1852. They were married in Marion County on Feb. 12, 1853, less than a month after Delilah gave birth to a third child, Molly, on Jan. 15.

Sometime thereafter (these early membership records are not dated), Delilah was admitted to membership by the Disciples on English Creek by “confession and baptism,” so apparently the bonds of peace had been restored.

Z.J. and Delilah moved west soon thereafter, passing through Clarke and Ringgold counties in Iowa before landing at Alton in Osborne County, Kansas, then moved on to the state of Washington where both died, Z.J. at Mount Vernon on Nov. 27, 1894, and Delilah on June 7, 1901, in Benton County. There were a total of nine children, although the paternity of William Milton remains unclear.

Leonard went on to marry twice after divorcing Delilah, producing two families. He died June 27, 1909, at Hitchcock in Blaine County, Oklahoma, where he and his third wife, Louisa, are buried.

To be continued …

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