First Sunday School West of Mississippi

  Marker for First Sunday School
Founded by Sarah Barton Murphy

Submitted by J. Tom Miles, Farmington, Mo.

Through the courtesy of the Federal Writers Project, the Lead Belt News is releasing for several weeks articles pertaining to this section of the country. This material in brief will be compiled in the American Guide Book to be printed soon. A desire has been expressed to use some of this material locally, and the following is the first of the articles to be released.

A solitary obelisk of marble approximately seven feet high and at its base, twenty-four inches square, stands at the northwest corner of the Masonic cemetery, about five blocks south of Highway 61 in the county seat town of Farmington, St. Francois County, Missouri. The following words are inscribed on this small monument:

"On this spot the first Sunday School west of the Mississippi River was organized and taught by Sarah Barton Murphy in the year 1805 in the Old Log Meeting House, which was the first Protestant Church west of the Mississippi." Beneath this are the words: "Erected by her great-grandson, Hugh Long."

This unimposing stone stands in mute evidence of the Christian works of a courageous soul, in the person of Sarah Barton Murphy. This woman, of Christian heritage, while living in Tennessee, resolved to settle on a claim made in eastern Missouri to her deceased husband, Rev. William Murphy. To reach this pioneer community, she set out in a keel boat down the Holston River, accompanied by a crew of her three sons, Isaac, Jesse, and Dubart, her only daughter, Sarah, a grandson named William Evans, aged eight, a hired hand, a colored woman and a boy. They floated to the Tennessee River, and out into the Ohio to its mouth, and thence up the Mississippi with ropes and poles, to Ste. Genevieve, covering a distance of 1,000 miles or more. The country was then infested with Indians, and much of the journey was made at night, while they hid in the underbrush during the day. From Ste. Genevieve they traveled over land twenty-eight miles west to their destination, which they reached on the 18th day of June, 1802.

It should be remembered that at this early date, the territory west of the Mississippi River was under Spanish rule, and the worship of God after the Protestant faith was forbidden by law. But Mrs. Murphy frequently gathered a few, upon whom she could rely, at her home and held secret prayer meetings, first putting out sentinels to warn them of the approach of danger.

After the country passed under the control of the United States in 1803, and as soon as the fact was known by the settlers, they all met at the house of Mrs. Sarah Murphy, for the purpose of giving vent to their political and religious enthusiasm, and they all decided that Mrs. Murphy should have the honor of being the person to offer up the first Protestant prayer west of the Mississippi, and this she did.

Sarah Barton Murphy, who had been a Baptist before this time, put religion above creed, and the Methodist Church sent Rev. James Oglesby, an itinerant minister, out to the little settlement in 1804, and he preached for the people at the home of Mrs. Murphy.

It was she, who soon afterwards, went on horseback over the settlement asking the parents to send their children to her house on Sunday where she kept them all day; taught them Bible lessons, singing, reading and writing, and gave them a good dinner.

From these humble beginnings, a church was organized. Again, it was Mrs. Murphy who donated an acre of ground for church purposes, which is now a part of the Masonic Cemetery, and built on it a log house for worship about 22 feet by 30 feet in which all preaching was done for several years. This rude structure, now destroyed, was not only the first in the county, but one of the first Methodist, as well as Protestant Church west of the Mississippi River. Mrs. Murphy continued her Sunday School, which she organized and maintained, until her death in 1817. Her remains lie buried not far from the unimposing stone obelisk marking the spot of her most cherished endeavors.

Sarah Barton Murphy has not been forgotten, for today, in the town of Farmington, first known as Murphy's Settlement, is a church, and just to the left of the front entrance is a bronze tablet, with this inscription: "Murphy-Long M.E. Church, South, named in memory of Mrs. Sarah Barton Murphy, and grandson, and granddaughter, Dubart Long, and Mrs. Jennie A. Long Bisby, Sept. 25, 1927." Upon entering this church one will see, on the north side of the building, a large stained glass window, depicting "The Resurrection." This monumental painting was created by Mrs. Murphy's descendants.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. March 27, 1936.


By Roger Forsythe
Daily Journal Staff Writer

It was a daring move.

Not only was the St. Francois frontier as untamed as the natives, but the ruling Spaniards had expressly forbidden the worship of God after the Protestant faith.

But none of that bothered Sarah Barton Murphy. She had, after all, already braved the western wilderness during her travels from Tennessee with her three sons, Isaac, Jesse and Dubart; her only daughter, Sarah; a grandson, William Evans; a hired hand; and a black woman and her boy.

A stone marker still stands near Highway H in Farmington's Masonic Cemetery where that first worship service was held as part of a Thanksgiving prayer meeting conducted in her new home.

The year was 1802. After learning that the Spanish had ceded land rights to France, President Jefferson was at work initiating talks with Napoleon to find out if the French would be willing to sell New Orleans and West Florida.

In the quiet, pristine forests surrounding Murphy's Settlement, news of the outside world was as rare to come by as fellow Baptists among the natives.

For Mrs. Murphy, the trip from Tennessee had been difficult. Only a year earlier, her husband, William Murphy, and a friend, Silas George, had died while returning to Tennessee from their newly-claimed territory in southeastern Missouri.

The group traveled from the Holston River to the Tennessee River in a keel boat. From the Tennessee, they took the Ohio River to the Mississippi where they made their way to Ste. Genevieve with ropes and poles.

The 1,000 mile river journey ventured into country that had long been the home of Native Americans. Most of the traveling was done under the protective veil of night. Underbrush was used for cover during the light of day.

Mrs. Murphy and her small, pioneering band arrived at the site that would later become Farmington -- located 28 miles west of Ste. Genevieve -- on June 12, 1802.

Despite the Spanish rule, she gathered a few people she could trust at her home and courageously organized illegal prayer meetings. Sentinels were placed outside the cabin to warn of approaching danger.

From this humble beginning, Mrs. Murphy chartered a Sunday School which she maintained by herself up until her death in 1817.

In 1803 -- after Missouri was acquired through the Louisiana Purchase -- all the local settlers made their way to Mrs. Murphy's cabin so they could share in their celebration of religious and political freedom.

They agreed at that time that Mrs. Murphy should have the honor of being the person to offer the first Protestant prayer west of the Mississippi River.

According to the stories passed down from generation to generation, it was at about this time she organized a private school at Murphy's Settlement. Half a century later, in 1854, Eliza A. Carleton founded the Carleton Institute.

Although a Baptist, Mrs. Murphy set aside her creed when a Methodist minister, Rev. James Oglesby, moved to the settlement in 1804. He preached to the early settlers as they gathered in Mrs. Murphy's home.

Under the secure protection and religious freedom of American rule, so the story goes, Mrs. Murphy rode through the settlement on horseback to ask her neighbors to send their children to her home on Sundays.

What she proposed to do was to keep the children all day. During this time would teach them Bible lessons, singing, reading and writing, and then provide them with a good dinner before they returned home.

A church was then organized in a newly-constructed 22 foot by 30 foot log house on an acre of land donated by Mrs. Murphy. All denominations came to this log cabin to share worship services.

Not only was this the first church to minister to the spiritual needs of the community being born, but it was one of the first Methodist and Protestant churches founded west of the Mississippi.

Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. April 24, 1992 in a supplement "Myths...Legends...Tall Tales of St. Francois County and the Ozarks."


The Daily Journal, Flat River, Mo., Monday, March 19, 1979

              The religious atmosphere of Farmington that is still prevalent today may have been acquired in the early 1800s when Mrs. Sarah Barton Murphy, the widow of William Murphy, arrived with her family to make their home.  Murphy had made a claim on the site that later became Farmington, but he died before the return trip from Tennessee was made.

              Today, there are nearly 20 denominations represented in the city of Farmington.  There are four churches within four blocks on Columbia Street:  the Presbyterian, First Free Will Baptist, Christian, and Church of Christ. 

First mass in Farmington was in 1862

            The first mass celebrated in Farmington was at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Lang in 1862.  The house still stands at 233 E. Columbia and it is occupied by Koen Real Estate Co. 

            Through the efforts of Mrs. Murphy, a log cabin was constructed in which she taught the first Sunday school west of the Mississippi in 1805.  She also donated an acre of ground for church purposes, which is now part of the Masonic Cemetery. 

            A church directory dated Jan. 20, 1905 shows the following churches were in Farmington:  Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal South, Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Christian, Lutheran, and Catholic.   There are now these churches in existence:   Assembly of God, Calvary Temple, Christian Science, Church of Christ, First Church of God, Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, Farmington Christian Church, First Baptist Church, First Church of the Nazarene, First Free Will Baptist Church, First United Baptist Church, Grace Baptist Church, Memorial Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, and United Pentecostal Church.

 Five parochial schools located in the city

              Five parochial schools are located in Farmington.  St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and St. Paul’s Lutheran School have, for years, operated their own elementary schools.  They have been more recently joined by church schools operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Free Will Baptist Church, and the Pentecostal Church.

              The present site of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was accepted in 1869.  A frame church was originally constructed at the same site as the present one.  In 1890 donations were accepted for the building of a parish rectory, which was immediately constructed under the direction of the Rev. Fr. Shaw, the first resident pastor.

              Fr. Shaw was succeeded by the Rev. Fr. John M. Kern in 1892.  The Rev. Fr. James Toomey was appointed pastor on Aug 14, 1897 and to his untiring energy and zest the parish owes much of what it is today.  With a very small and scattered congregation he laid a very firm foundation for the future growth.  In 1897 he opened a school in the sacristy of the church, which he taught himself.  Around 1900, ground was obtained and the front section of the convent was erected.  The first nuns to teach at St. Joseph’s were Dominicans from New York who came in 1903.  They left after two years and Fr. Toomey resumed teaching the pupils, now numbering 100.  Fr. Toomey died in April 1906.  The Rev. Fr. Bernard Stolte succeeded Fr. Toomey and secured the services of two lay teachers from St. Louis to continue the school.  After 15 months, Fr. Stolte was transferred and was succeeded by the Rev. Fr. Joseph Collins in October 1907.   Fr. Collins procured the Ursuline Sisters to teach.  Parish enthusiasm grew and plans were made for a new church.  In 1911 a contract was signed for the building of the present Romanesque church.  Ground breaking took place March 17, 1912.  A total cost for the completed structure was $20,000.

             In 1914, Fr. Collins was succeeded by the Rev. Fr. John R. Morgan.   At this time there were so few children in school that it was closed the following year.  Miss Willa Ryan (now Mrs. William Meyer), Miss Effie Lawrence, and Miss Genevieve Huss instructed the children for First Holy Communion.  In 1918 Fr. Morgan joined the U.S. Army and the next pastor was the Rev. Fr. John Ryan who reopened the school, secured the services of the Loretta Sisters, and paid off the debt on the church property.  The Rev. Fr. John S. Kelley came to Farmington in 1922 succeeded by the Rev. Fr. Skaer in 1924.  A committee composed of Fr. Skaer, B.T. Gentges, Tom Burks, and Edward Effrein secured the present pipe organ.

            The Rev. Fr. Edward O’Toole was assigned to Farmington in 1934 and during his time the present New Calvary Cemetery was purchased.  Fr. O’Toole started drawing plans for a new school and rectory.  The Rev. Fr. William Glynn was assigned as pastor in 1939 by stayed only six months. The Rev. Fr. Robert McKeon was appointed in 1939 and through his efforts Carleton College at 606 Overton was purchased.  The Catholic school, which until then had been conducted in the convent building, was later expanded to include the high school grades.  The first high school graduation was held June 1, 1952 with the School Sisters of Notre Dame in charge.   Fr. McKeon was replaced in 1949 by the Rev. Fr. Joseph Gottwald and through his efforts the present grade school building was erected and dedicated on Oct. 2, 1960.

              Fr. Gottwald was replaced by the Rev. Fr. William Burke who assumed the responsibility of retiring the debt incurred by the new school building.

            The Rev. Fr. Jerome Buchheit was appointed pastor April 1, 1967.  During his tenure the church was carpeted and air-conditioned, and the present rectory was built.  Spiraling costs of education and dwindling student enrollment, especially from neighboring parishes, brought the operation of St. Joseph High School into an impossible financial situation; and in the spring of 1968 the decision was made to close it in June of that year.

           The Rev. Fr. Thomas F. Albrecht, along with the Rev. Fr. Robert H. Babka as associate pastor, was, on June 5, 1974, given the responsibility for the spiritual care of St. Joseph’s parish family.  During Fr. Albrecht’s administration, the Carleton College building was sold and the classes were moved from that building to the school building on Ste. Genevieve Avenue.  The seventh and eighth grade classes were moved to the convent building on the north side of the church.   The Sisters who were living in the convent moved to a house at 119 South Carleton, which was rented for them from Clarence Layton. 

            During Fr. Donald Rau’s administration, the convent building became unusable for holding classes and the seventh grade was moved to the grade school cafeteria and the eighth grade held classes in the basement of the rectory.  Because of the critical situation, Fr. Rau sought and obtained permission to add two rooms onto the present grade school building.  Before construction began, Fr. Rau was transferred to St. Louis.   He was succeeded by the Rev. Fr. Jerome O. Reisch on June 14, 1978.

            Though Fr. Reisch’s efforts, groundbreaking for the new addition took place on Nov. 12, 1978.  Funeral masses were celebrated here and in St. Louis and he was buried in St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery in St. Louis on Nov. 25, 1978.  Fr. Babka again resumed temporary administration of the parish until the arrival of the Rev. Fr. Robert L. Corbett, who took up pastoral duties on Feb. 14, 1979. 

Presbyterian missionary came in 1882

              To a tiny courthouse village came a Presbyterian missionary, Joseph M. Sadd and his wife.  They rented a two-room cabin where Sherman’s Store is now.  In it Mrs. Sadd taught Sunday School, a Subscription School the other six days, and prayer meetings were held each Wednesday evening.  When Mr. Sadd was not traveling through what are now Ste. Genevieve, Madison and other counties seeking out Presbyterians and converts, Worship was held in the log courthouse.

              The Presbyterian Church of Farmington was organized on May 18, 1832 with seven members and Alexander Boyd was elected the first Elder, May 21, 1832.  Four more members were added May 21, 1832. 

            During 1836, Luther S. Van Dorn, pastor, the first church building was constructed, at the corner of Columbia and “A” Streets.  After many rebuildings it is the Church of Christ today.  Thomas Donnell of Bellevue Presbyterian Church, Caledonia, preached the sermon of dedication.

              Under the pastorate of James A. Creighton the present sanctuary was constructed during 1884.

              Since 1832 Presbyterians have sought to set an example of Worship and work in Farmington.  Worship has been led by 24 pastors.  Work can be seen   in service to persons in need through Elmwood Seminary, and early girl’s school.  The Presbyterian Children’s Home, on the Elmwood grounds, and Presbyterian Homelife, each of which was begun under the leadership of the congregation.

Lutheran Church founded in 1873

             St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Farmington, was organized in 1873.  Around 1858 a Lutheran man by the name of August Gockel, moved to Pilot Knob.  He asked his former pastor, the Rev. J.F. Buenger, of the Immanuel Lutheran Church of St. Louis, to come and preach occasionally.  Rev. Buenger agreed to do so and, before long, organized a congregation with the Lutherans living in Pilot Knob and vicinity.

              The congregation grew so rapidly that it became necessary to call a resident pastor.  Candidate Carl Graeber, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary of St. Louis, received and accepted the call.  He was installed in 1864 as the first Lutheran pastor in this section of the state and served until 1866.

              Rev. Graeber did not confine his activities to Pilot Knob but preached also at Iron Mountain and near Farmington.  In the beginning, services for the Farmington people were held in a public school building two miles south of Farmington at a place called Copenhagen.

              From 1871 to 1875 Pastor F.C. Besel of Gordonville came to Farmington regularly, once a month, summer and winter, riding 12 miles in a wagon and sixty miles on a slow accommodation train to hold services.

              The first church was built in 1875 at a cost of $2,000.  St. Paul’s congregation was received into membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, and Other States in 1879.  Two years later the Ladies Aid of the Farmington church decided to pay 10 cents per month dues and they quilted to pay for the first organ in the church.   There were 300 members at that time.  The present building, dedicated in 1908, was erected at a cost of $16,000.

            A few weeks after the arrival of the first resident pastor, the Rev. C.F. Obermeyer, in 1874, a school was opened and 19 children were enr4olled the first day.   The number soon increased to 40.  From its earliest beginnings, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has supported and maintained its parochial school.

              The congregation erected its first school building in 1896.  The building that is now in use was built in 1926.  The first kindergarten in the history of the Farmington schools and of St. Paul’s congregation was started in 1943 with morning classes only.   Enrollment has varied through the years, the peak being reached in 1957 when 141 children were enrolled. 

              The Rev. Merlin Wegener, who serves the church as pastor, came to St. Paul’s as its twelfth pastor and was installed on May 6, 1973.

              A large tent revival led by the Rev. Damon Dodd (now the author of a book of the history of the Free Will Baptist denomination) attracted much attention, and many of the visitors to these services continued to worship with the growing mission.

 Christian Academy founded in 1977

              It became apparent that larger facilities were needed, and the possibility of chartering the mission into a church was considered.  About this time providence intervened; the city’s two Methodist churches located on West Columbia Street had combined congregations and were ready to move into their new building on North Street.  The mission’s leaders were contacted by the pastor of the Methodist Church, the Rev. Elbert Cole, about the possibility of buying the old facility on the north side of Columbia.  Details were worked out, the sanctuary building was purchased, and the church was chartered, under the leadership of the Rev. James Barker, now pastor of the Leadington Free Will Baptist Church.

              From this tiny group of dedicated Christians, today’s church pastured by the Rev. James McAllister has grown into two three-story education buildings, an average Sunday School attendance of 420, a full-time staff of six, a Christian school, kindergarten through 11th grade with 100 students, and a bus ministry with four busses and one van.

              A new ministry to the aged and shut-ins, the Golden Agers, was implemented in February under the direction of Richard Keys.

              A “Church on the Grow for Christ” is the motto on the modest sign in front of the 78-year-old sanctuary, and crowds of visitors each Sunday attest to this.

              The Church of Christ, Columbia and A Streets, is located on the original site of the Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1836, the year Farmington was incorporated into a village.  That building later housed the Farmington Christina Church.  The building was later rebuilt in 1868 and building funds were provided through the generosity of M.P. Cayce.  The pastor was the Rev. George Harian.  The building is now the home of the Church of Christ with a membership of approximately 40 people.

              Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the First Free Will Baptist Church of Farmington had its start as a tiny mission church in a rented store building in a secondary business area.

              Probably never dreaming that the desire of a few small families who wanted to worship together in their own denominational church would someday have one of the best-attended Sunday Schools in the area, these faithful few began attending worship services in half of a brick duplex building on Harrison Street.  Sunday School classes were so small that they were held in cars parked on the street in front of the building.

             Farmington Christian Academy was established in 1977 as a ministry of the First Free Will Baptist Church of Farmington.

            The school opened its first year with an enrollment of 63 for grades K-9.  The following year grades 10 and 11 were added, and enrollment jumped to 98.

 Religious Education Continues to Expand in Farmington

             F.C.A. emphasizes Christian training with a close relationship between the school, the home and the local church.  Self-discipline, Christian character, and patriotism are considered essential elements in producing Christian workers and responsible citizens.

              A dedicated and qualified staff provide a vital link between home and school.

              [text missing] . . . after years of disciples’ worship and activity in the area dating from the 1820s.  The congregation belongs to the denomination known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which came into being in the early nineteenth century.

               The congregation of the Church of God, Farmington, go by the name because they find that term often applied to the early church in the New Testament.   They say they like to get as close as they can to those early days and the teachings of Christ.

            But “Church of God” has other meaning for them.  To that congregation the term can apply to all Christians who have given their lives to Christ.  By using that name they feel they identify with all born-again Christians, no matter what barriers some of them may raise among themselves.

              They have Christian interests far outside local boundaries, and join with sister congregations across the country in carrying on foreign mission work in 14 countries, in sponsoring church colleges, in publishing Christian literature, in caring for aging ministers, in promoting Christian education, in extending work into new communities and among underprivileged people here in North America.

              It is apparent that the spiritual needs of Farmington residents are being met.  A history or summary was not available for each of the city’s many places of worship.

NOTE:  To view the foregoing article with pictures, click HERE

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Wed. Nov. 29, 1967.

The November meeting of the Sarah Barton Murphy Chapter D.A.R. was held at the home of Mrs. Bert Beal, Jr., Farmington, Missouri.

The meeting was called to order by the Regent, Mrs. C. E. Wade. Mrs. Hugo Cozean delivered a memorial service in remembrance of two faithful members, Mrs. Amanda Giessing, Farmington, Recording Secretary of the chapter, an office she has held for many years; and Mrs. Norma Alt, Fredericktown, also a past officer of the chapter. Both women had served as Regent in former years. A memorial book was presented to the Farmington Library in honor of Mrs. Giessing and to the Regional Library in Fredericktown in honor of Mrs. Alt.

One of the most interesting programs to be presented to the D.A.R. was given by Mrs. Beal, the hostess, whose husband is a descendent of the Rev. William and Mrs. Sarah Barton Murphy. On display for the Sarah Barton Murphy exhibit were many items from the family of Mr. Bert L. Beal, Jr., a great great great grandson of this pioneer settler.

The collection of kitchen and fireplace equipment consisted of many items, among them a nest of four brass kettles, the iron long handle waffle iron, a 2-legged covered oven for the fireplace, and a 4-legged iron pan used for baking corn bread. The huge maple bowls for kneading bread were displayed, in addition to the old dough and flour chest, constructed of a single pine board 15" by 1". Among the small items were old sad irons, descriptive in name, and a maple apple butter paddle, flat broad bowl for scraping apple butter from the sides of the kettle at the top. Maple was the close-grained, enduring wood so often used in kitchen equipment, although two old cedar churns survived in excellent condition.

Sarah Murphy's simple, Early American Style walnut desk was among her household goods on a flat boat, which she poled 1,000 miles to come to this wilderness. Her maple chair is particularly interesting because the soft part of the grain in the seat has long ago worn away. The size of the furniture gives us an indication of the small stature of the people of that day, and reminds us of the small size of the homes during the early period in contrast to those of today.

Uncle George Murphy, Sarah's grandson, left behind a beautiful set of Ironstone ware consisting of a large plate, cup, saucer, shaving mug, decorated with apricot, aqua and gold bands, "Uncle George" engraved in gold, which is extremely heavy for the hand of a modern housewife. Uncle George bore great respect for his grandmother, and when David Murphy won his first political victory as a delegate to the first Missouri Constitutional Convention in St. Louis, the Murphy Settlement celebrated with a dance for everyone in the area. Uncle George would not allow the dance in the old Murphy home, as Sarah was such a religious lady and had not approved of some of the antics and celebrations in which her children indulged. Uncle George left a description of this dance, where two men had a quarrel and one hit the other with a quarter of beef. One girl had a silk dress which was ruined when the young man offering her food was jostled from behind, and Uncle George comments that she happily asked a friend to lend her a calico, which proves how little he knew about women, and was no doubt the reason he remained a bachelor.

The most interesting item on display was a length of Redcoat wool which Sarah's father and brothers confiscated from the British Quartermaster during the American Revolution. Although nearly 200 years old, the fine quality of fiber, weave and dye are perfectly preserved. This is a symbol of America's freedom from the despotic rule of foreign powers. It gives pause to realize that all the comforts of home were purchased for us by the effort and sacrifice of people who established a tradition of strength and purpose, which will remain as long as we appreciate it with full understanding.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Wed. Nov. 29, 1967.