The Vagabond – Early issues with First Baptist Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

A reader recently asked The Vagabond when the First Baptist Church of Gadsden was organized and where the building was first erected. The reader also asked about an article about some trouble with the early pastors.

The congregation was first organized on August 23, 1855 and the first building erected in 1860 at a cost of $220. The church’s first pastor was the Reverend J.B. Appleton. The first pastorium was built on Chestnut Street in front of what used to be known as the Nowlin Apartments.

The congregation voted to allow the Etowah County Commissioners to hold their sessions in the pastorium. Church minutes show that on December 21, 1869, the church received $37.50 as rental from the county.

The Rev. W.B. Wynne was the church’s first Sunday School superintendent. The first Woman’s Missionary Union was organized in 1882. The church’s African American members withdrew from the congregation in 1868, believing that they would be better off with a church of their own.

Local attorney Walter T. Murphree who was chairman of the board of education at the time and who Gadsden High School’s Murphree Stadium was named after, related the following story.

When Murphree came to Gadsden in 1893 to practice law, the Rev. W.H. Henderson was closing his pastorate. As the First Baptist Church had not paid all of his salary of $60 a month, he proceeded to sue the congregation in the circuit court. For some time thereafter, there was no pastor, and the congregation began to listen to a series of sample sermons. After a number of preachers of various sorts had occupied the pulpit of Gadsden First Baptist, a strange looking man walked into town and stated that having heard of the “sampling process,” he wanted a trial.

Murphree recalled that the man wore a long, black broadcloth coat that was shiny and had begun to turn yellow. His baggy trousers were much too short for him and his patent leather shoes were so cracked that his toes were pressing through the openings.

The strange man needed a haircut and a shave, and his collar was soiled, but Murphree said that the man preached one of the best sermons he’d ever heard.

The men of the congregation decided to hire the strange man as pastor, but the women vetoed the plan, as they wanted a nice-looking man to head the church. The men began to look around for a “nice-looking” man and quickly found a candidate. He was tall and handsome but had an effeminate voice. He was immediately popular with the women because he was an expert at tatting. Few women could match the man’s skill in crocheting, embroidering and needlework.

When the State Baptist Association met in Gadsden, the crocheting parson reportedly delivered the best sermon heard in the convention, making a most lasting impression.

The men of the congregation eventually tired of the idea of a “sissy” occupying the church’s pulpit. The preacher soon sought other fields.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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