The following is a story of the first Choctaw Baptist – Peter Folsom.
A Choctaw Man’s Conversion and Purpose
Peter Folsom was a Choctaw born in Mississippi in 1812. At 17, Peter moved to Great Crossings, Scott County, Kentucky to attend the Choctaw Academy Nov. 19, 1829. This was the first Indian Academy in the U.S. to offer advanced studies beyond the elementary level, specifically in agriculture. It is interesting to note this Academy was sponsored by Baptist churches. Rev. Thomas Henderson, pastor of Great Crossings Baptist Church, was school Master and teacher. Peter was born again, baptized, and ordained to preach while at the Choctaw Academy and Great Crossings Baptist Church 1829. Records put Peter at the Academy and Church through August 1, 1832.
During Peter’s tenure at the academy and church he was well trained in Baptist doctrine.
What he learned in Kentucky by Providence, he took back to Oklahoma with Purpose.
The doctrines of grace were commonly accepted and widely taught among churches in Kentucky. The Great Crossings Baptist Church adopted the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith, 1742, as their statement of faith. This Confession is very clear on the Sovereignty of God in Salvation. Without doubt this is where young Peter first learned and fell in love with the teachings of Salvation by Free Grace alone. Peter would have also learned teaching on the local church; church perpetuity, succession, and authority. These truths he would practice and preach across the Choctaw Nation throughout his ministry. Peter’s faith was passed along to and embraced by the Choctaw Baptist churches he started.
Peter Folsom received authority to preach from God and to start churches from Great Crossings Baptist Church. Great Crossings Baptist Church was established on “May 28 and 29, 1785 in an upper room of a house not far from the subsequent meetinghouse site.” Elder Elijah Craig was the first pastor of this church and a faithful Baptist minister. His brother, Lewis Craig, was pastor of the “Traveling Church” from whence Great Crossings church received authority. The Traveling Church traces her roots back to Spotsylvania County, Virginia where she has her beginning under the ministry of James Read. James Read was a Baptist minister from North Carolina “ordained to the administration of the ordinances.” Mr. Read was converted, baptized, and ordained under the ministries of Daniel Marshall and Shubael Stearns. History proves both doctrinal and direct succession from Shubael Stearns to Peter Folsom. Mr. Folsom would be a part of God’s gracious Purpose to bring Baptist churches to the Choctaw Nation.
After Peter’s time in Kentucky he moved to the Choctaw Nation I.T. (Indian Territory). He was greatly used of God in 56 years of ministry. It was said that
Peter “battled for our Master in our pulpits.”
“He organized the Rock Creek Baptist Church of Red Oak, I.T. 1847, the Boiling Springs Baptist Church in 1852, and 5 other churches in the northern part of the Choctaw Nation. Peter led the churches in forming the Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association. Also ‘five preachers were raised up under his ministry’ among them were William and Louis Cass, Simon Hancock and James Williams, “all of them exceptionally useful men in the work of the Lord.”
Peter Folsom by God’s grace “preached more sermons, baptized more converts, aided in organizing and the ordaining of more churches and preachers than any other minister in his nation. He has been the means of leading more Choctaws from darkness to light than any other one of all denominations and nationalities.”
Peter Folsom Goes To Choctaw Reservation in Mississippi at the age of 70 or 71, 1879-1880.
Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association minutes of 1879-1880 read thus; “Folsom learned that among the 2,000 Choctaws that remained in Mississippi there was not one professing Christian, and that no younger Choctaw could be found who would take the gospel to them,” “although N. L. Clark, president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, disqualified Folsom as a missions Employee because of this age, he purposed in his heart that he must go.” “He cut loose from his beloved children here and went back… (to Mississippi) where God blessed his efforts.”
“Feeble in body but strong in the Spirit of the Lord, rejoicing in the God-given success of his labors, the old warrior, affectionately called “Uncle Peter” came back to the Indian Territory.”
Upon leaving Mississippi in 1883, Peter, age 74, had started 4 churches and baptized 700 converts in three years of ministry.
At the age of 76, Sept. 15, 1885, Peter took his final triumph in death to eternal life. “His life and labors would fill a volume, and a good size one at that. He was baptized as he quaintly stated it once, ‘since 1829, years ago’…
He was a very eloquent and effective preacher in his own language.”
By one who knew him well, he is described as a man who was a “close student of the word of God and sound in faith and doctrine. He was a born leader. He had a sweet gentle disposition, extremely hospitable and often imposed upon. In council and business affairs of his nation, he was also a leader and his impress upon its welfare was large and good. His character in every regard is unimpeached and unimpeachable.”
The churches, the Choctaws, the nation have lost few better and more useful men than Peter Folsom.
The First Choctaw Baptist Goes From Complacency To Preaching
Peter Folsom was not always so brave. What was it that made him dedicate his life to bringing the Gospel to his Choctaw people? What happened in his life that would provoke one man to say of him,
“he consistently endured every inconvenience, braved every hardship and danger for a half a century, in his long struggle to bring his people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
It was the grace of God, a rebuke from the Lord, a burden for his people, and a vision for the kingdom of God.
“Following his conversion, Peter Folsom had become a zealous, active Christian, but upon returning to his new home in the West, he found himself almost alone. There is no evidence, as far as we know, that he resorted to drinking or any other vice as many around him did. But in a spiritually unfriendly environment, he became lax and indifferent to his Christian duty.
Chief Folsom, (Peter’s Uncle, Peter was not yet chief) wishing to make a trip to a distant part of the Nation, took young Peter along. At night, after building their campfire and eating supper, Peter wrapped himself in a blanket and lay down by the fire to sleep. But the chief and his older companion sat by the camp fire discussing many things. Thinking the young man was asleep, the companion asked the chief what he thought about Christianity, the “white man’s religion.” They had learned that some of the tribesmen had become the coverts of Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries. The chief replied that he had indeed given the matter much thought, and that his nephew, referring to Peter, had become a Christian while away in school. But, because the boy had been silent about the whole matter of his new religion, the chief had simply concluded that there was no great value in the new religion.”
But by the campfire that night, Peter supposing to be fast asleep heard every word spoken by these men. Lying there he was thoroughly chastised by his conscience and convicted by the Holy Spirit. Suddenly Peter rose to his feet asking forgiveness of the men for his disobedience to his Master. He assured them that he would never again cowardly betray his Lord and Savior, then he preached to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, and coming again!
From that night Peter Folsom consistently endeavored to take the gospel to his people, the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.
“At first he stood as the only Baptist of his tribe or that ever had been, but by the power of God they were rapidly made until he could count 2,000 of his faith.”
Only eternity will tell the countless number of lives touched by this Choctaw Baptist preacher.
A Call and Plea To Our Baptist Churches
That no Choctaws became Baptists until after Choctaw Removal in the 1830’s seems incredible. There were Baptist churches in Mississippi as early as 1797. How could those churches have been so neglectful in their missionary duty? Did these Baptists have no sense of missionary duty or compassion?
Does their testimony of selfishness echo from history and point out our own indifference as Baptists today? Will we learn from their mistakes? Will we rise above their folly? Indeed we MUST! How is it that throughout our nation we see the evidence and fruit of Baptist work in every state; from major cities to little towns, from the mountains to the prairies, from sea to shining sea yet many Indian tribes still sit in darkness right now, still un-evangelized! How could we have been so prejudice? How could we have been so neglectful of our missionary duty? We hoard up in our Baptist churches, comfortable for two or three preachers to fight over pulpits and popularity within the religious arena. We want a life of luxury and comfort, of ease and prosperity, while all around us the Indian Nations sit in darkness. Is there no one with a burden, no one with a vision, is there not a cause? Perhaps God is calling you.
Are we bashful Baptists like Peter Folsom was at first? May this simple reminder and testimony of a faithful servant stir our hearts to go to the unreached masses in America’s Samaria.
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” – Isaiah 6:8
“With a face full of smiles and his heart filled with exquisite joy, quietly threw aside his armor and retired from the field of battle to be rewarded with that crown sparkling with many stones.”
– B. M. W.
Ann Bolton Bevins & J. Robert Snyder, Scott County (KY), Church Histories: A Collection, 1979, pp. 4-72 ↩ David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848, p. 648. ↩ Minutes of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association, 1885. ↩ Indian Missionary, February – October 1887, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, Ok. ↩ Indian Missionary, May 1885, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, Ok., p. 1. ↩ Minutes Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association, 1880, p.8. ↩ Ibid., 1879, p.9. ↩ Ibid., 1883, p.6. ↩ Indian Missionary, December 1889, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, OK., p. 8. ↩ Minutes Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association, 1885, p. 10-11. ↩ Ibid., 1885, p. 11. ↩ Hamilton, Robert, Gospel Among the Red Men, 1930, Sunday School Board, SBC., p. 102. ↩ Ibid. ↩ Indian Missionary, May 1885, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, OK. ↩ Indian Missionary, May 1885, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, OK., p. 1. ↩
- Foreman, Carolyn Thomas. Chronicles of Oklahoma: The Choctaw Academy. 1928. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v006/v006p453.html (accessed March 2013).
- McMillan, Ethel. Chronicles of Oklahoma: First National Indian School, The Choctaw Academy. Year Unknown. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v028/v028p052.pdf (accessed March 2013).
- Pierce, Herbert M. Peter Folsom, The First Choctaw Baptist, 1829. Wilburton, OK: Herbert Miner Pierce Historical Collection, 1967.
- West, C. W. “Dub”. Missions and Missionaries of Indian Territory. Muscogee, OK: Muscogee Pubishing Company, 1990.
- Minutes of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Baptist Association, 1872-1885.
- Indian Missionary, Oklahoma Baptist University Library, Shawnee, Ok.
- David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848, p. 648.
- Ann Bolton Bevins & J. Robert Snyder, Scott County (KY), Church Histories: A Collection, 1979, p. 4-7.