We will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders.
Psalm 78:4 NLT
Timeline of Events
The Work Begins
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized in 1863 but had virtually no presence in the South until several years after the Civil War. Although the denomination sent its first foreign missionary in 1874, no official work was done by the General Conference in the mission fields of Arkansas until 1877, or in Louisiana until about 1880 (Beeler, 1996).
Challenges of the Work in Arkansas and Louisiana
When the work began, Adventists faced numerous challenges. Many battles of the Civil War had been fought in both Arkansas and Louisiana, devastating homes and crops. Reconstruction was slow, and most of the residents were poverty stricken. Workers sometimes heard of a family who had studied their Bible or read tracts and had begun keeping the Sabbath. Often, however, the Advent Sabbath faith was entirely new here, and much speculation surrounded it. Many in the South were suspicious of strangers coming with what they called “new teachings,” especially if these were brought by Northerners. Many people were concerned that these were Mormons, impostors, false prophets, or worst of all, their souls were asleep (Cook, 1877c). This of course led to strong opposition, ridicule, and more stringent Sunday laws in both states, often leading to imprisonment.
The Life of a Colporteur
Colporteurs, or canvassers as they were first called, encountered these and other challenges. Except for New Orleans, the territory was sparsely settled and rural. In Arkansas it was rugged and travel was often along rough trails. Even railroads had very few miles of track in our territory until the 1900s. Colporteurs loaded a tent, bedroll, some provisions, and as many books as they could carry, planning to be away from home for a few weeks at a time. They traveled by foot, horseback, or wagon through rain, heat, mosquitoes, or even snow. Bridges were almost non-existent, so these faithful workers waded many a creek or river. Throughout much of winter and spring, these waterways became impassable until the flood waters receded. Colporteurs sometimes had to walk miles out of their way to get to their destination. One couple, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Peabody, lived in a boat for many months, to reach areas in Louisiana that were only accessible by water (Worker, 1914). Colporteurs never seemed to lose their sense of humor and adventure, however. One colporteur in Louisiana wrote, “A couple of miles above where we were at this time, we had crossed a large bayou in which boats sometimes run. This was between us and the railroad, and there was no ferry boat, so we had to swim out to a rowboat. Thus, you see that it is not a bad thing to know how to swim when you are out in the colporteur work” (Leavelle, 1914a). Because of the dire poverty in this part of the country, colporteurs did not always receive money for the books they sold. At times, in exchange for a book, they were given a place to sleep for the night with one of the families they had visited. Sometimes payment was something the colporteur could eat or sell. This colporteur also told of climbing a tree where the chickens were roosting and grabbing a thirty-five cent hen in order to claim his payment for books. Another time he received a two-mule load of corn and other produce (Leavelle, 1914b). In 1907, the conference president, Elder V. B. Watts, stated that, “the canvasser reaches more people and puts the truth in more homes than any other conference laborer, for the time he puts in. Since this is true the canvasser is one of the most important laborers of the conference, in building it up and helping to finish the work” (Watts, 1907).
The Life of an Evangelist
Evangelists faced many of the same travel challenges as colporteurs. Evangelistic meetings usually lasted several weeks. Crowds at times were small but could often number in the hundreds and up to a thousand. One evangelist described an area in Louisiana where there were no roads, only waterways. He loaded a tent, lumber for benches, and even a piano, onto a stern-wheeler to be taken out to an island to hold meetings. Each night those attending came by boat. The evangelist and his wife spread a sheet over moss, and that was their bed every night for six weeks. In these early days there were no churches yet, so of course all the work of visiting and encouraging, in addition to the meetings, fell on the evangelist and his wife. Debates were popular in those days and evangelists were often asked to debate preachers from other denominations. As the people listened and studied, many signed a covenant to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and a Sabbath school would be organized. Baptisms were held in a lake, a creek, or even a stock pond, and these new members were organized into companies and small churches throughout Arkansas and Louisiana.
Laying the Groundwork
In spite of these challenges, these early Adventist men and women gladly sacrificed and gave of themselves to spread God’s word to this new territory. They trusted in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and found their work very rewarding as they saw many souls accepting the message. Earlier than the Bible workers, colporteurs and evangelists, however, committed Adventists were faithfully laying the groundwork, one family at a time.
Events below are listed chronologically by state until Arkansas and Louisiana are joined as a conference in 1932.
Arkansas Seventh-day Adventist History Begins
the Work Begins With Publications
James White began the work of publishing in 1849. By 1872, Seventh-day Adventist publications included The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (weekly), The Health Reformer (monthly), and Youth’s Instructor (weekly) (Yearbook, 1884). By 1874 Signs of the Times (weekly) had been added to the list of publications. The Seventh-day Adventist message was introduced in Arkansas at least as early as 1872, by publications sent by Adventists in other states to family members and friends in Arkansas. One early Adventist was Allen Meeks of Star of the West, near Glenwood, Arkansas. He and his wife, Nancy, had moved to Arkansas from Mississippi in 1859 and later became Seventh-day Adventists. Allen’s 1902 obituary read: “As far as we know he was the first one to embrace the truth in this State . . . through reading, about twenty-eight years ago, when the message was preached in this country” (Field, 1902). This would indicate that he joined the church in 1874, however, in 1886 Elder J. G. Wood was visiting the Meeks and said that Mr. Meeks had been an Adventist for seven years, which would mean he joined the church in 1879 (Wood, 1886).
In about 1871, Andrew Barnabas McAlexander and his wife, Elizabeth, moved from Missouri to Hindsville, Arkansas (Ancestry, 2005). In 1872, DeWitt C. Hunter, founder of the town of Nevada, Missouri, and the Seventh-day Adventist church there, began sending Adventist publications to his friend, Andrew B. McAlexander. Andrew and his wife began keeping the Sabbath in the spring of 1873, making the McAlexanders quite probably the first Sabbath keepers in Arkansas (Norwood, 1910). The McAlexanders also laid the groundwork for the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Arkansas.
Tract and Missionary Society
In 1874, the General Conference set up a denomination-wide Tract and Missionary Society. Two of its goals were to “systematically canvass the country with books, tracts and pamphlets,” and to “seek out openings and supply calls for help” (Encyclopedia, 1976). The Tract Societies also served as the headquarters of the work and were the forerunners of Adventist Book Centers. Appeals were made in church publications for money and for workers willing to go to Arkansas. One of the workers willing to go was Elder John Horatio Cook from Parsons, Kansas. While working in Kansas in the spring of 1877, he reported that some Sabbath keepers had moved to Arkansas and were calling for help (Cook, 1877a).
Kansas sends an Evangelist to Arkansas
In mid-October 1877, Elder J. H. Cook, along with Andrew and Nancy Stover, began visiting people in the vicinity of Elm Springs, Arkansas, where they met the Olivers, who had moved there from Kansas. Elder Cook and the Stovers spent one of their first Sabbaths with the Olivers and with Mr. and Mrs. Eastman. The Eastmans had begun keeping the Sabbath because of the Oliver’s influence. Elder Cook made his temporary headquarters in Fayetteville and traveled to Goshen, about ten miles from Fayetteville, to visit the Joseph Draper Powers family. There they found six Sabbath keepers who had started observing the Sabbath from reading publications that had been sent to the area. Elder Cook held meetings in several small communities over the next two to three months (Cook, 1877b). In Fayetteville, near the end of October, Joseph D. Powers held a public discussion on the Sabbath question with a Disciples of Christ minister. Then another Disciples minister felt like he had to exhibit his skill as an antagonist, but in the end he gladly accepted some reading materials about the Sabbath. As a result of these discussions, five people kept the next Sabbath (Cook, 1877c). During this time, Elder Cook and Joseph Powers spoke with the commonwealth attorney in Fayetteville about the Sunday laws that were making things difficult for Sabbath observers. They received promises of fairness for all conscientious observers of the seventh day but they had to be members of a Sabbath-keeping church. Because of this, Elder Cook and J. D. Powers realized they would need to organize temporary churches as soon as they in good conscience could do so (Cook, 1877b), which resulted in many of the early churches being organized with very few members.
The General Conference sends an Evangelist to Arkansas
In the year 1879, Zachariah Swearingen and his family moved to Arkansas from Michigan, and settled near Elm Springs. They had been keeping the Sabbath since 1862, and they began at once to disperse literature, which aroused more interest in that area (Norwood, 1910). In December 1881, the General Conference placed Arkansas under the watchcare of the Kansas Conference. Elder Joseph Garner Wood was sent for an evangelistic tour of Arkansas. Elder Wood traveled first to Hindsville, a town of about 100 residents nearly twenty miles east of Springdale. He met Mr. and Mrs. Andrew B. McAlexander and reported that “their consistent Christian life had a good influence on their neighbors. Some had nominally commenced to keep the Sabbath” (Wood, 1882).
First Seventh-day Adventist Church Organized in Arkansas in 1882
That winter Elder Wood held a nine-week meeting at Hindsville. At the end of the first two or three weeks of meetings, Elder Wood reported, “[A]bout thirty arose to testify that they believed all the commandments of God ought to be kept just as the Lord wrote them including the Seventh-day Sabbath. Ten signed the covenant. Some others are keeping the Sabbath…I baptized three” (Wood, 1882). Soon after, “from the result of this meeting nine persons took their stand for the truth, after which they were organized into a church, — the first Seventh-day Adventist church in the State” (Norwood, 1910; Rouse, 1906). A new, unoccupied log house with a fireplace at one end was arranged as a church. In March 1885, thirteen more members were baptized following a week of meetings held by J. P. Henderson (Henderson, 1885).
Several years later, W. T. Martin and L. C. Sommerville, both canvassers, spent Sabbath, February 10, 1894, with the church at Hindsville. They stated that they “had, a pleasant time with them. . . . While this church has a good-sized membership, the attendance at meetings is small, as most of them live at quite a distance from their place of worship. We were detained here on account of high water” (Martin, 1894).
Elder Cook returns to Arkansas
In March 1882, Elder John H. Cook returned to the area and visited in Springdale with Zachariah and Rachel Swearingen. Accompanied by Zach Swearingen, Elder Cook “went to Hindsville where Elder Wood had raised up a small body of believers last winter” and remained with them over the Sabbath. Cook and Swearingen continued on to Star of the West in Pike County, where they found twelve people keeping the Sabbath, probably from the influence of Allen Meeks. They remained there for ten days, holding fifteen meetings, which greatly encouraged the believers. A Baptist minister was baptized and joined the group. Traveling to Ola in Yell County, Cook and Swearingen expected to find a company of Sabbath-keepers there. Instead, there were only four families and they were so scattered that they were not able to hold meetings with them. Elder Cook did hold one meeting and about three dozen people came and “listened with almost breathless silence to his discourse on the Sabbath and the advent.” They held one other meeting in Yell County, then had to return home. Elder Cook reported that “the old feeling of antipathy against Northern people is almost, if not entirely, gone, especially in the central and southern part of the State” (Cook, 1882).
Elder Wellman comes From Michigan
In the spring of 1883, Enos Washington Crawford, who had been born and raised in Fayetteville but had moved to Texas where he accepted the Adventist message, returned to Arkansas and began canvassing in Fayetteville and Springdale. As a result of his work, quite an interest was awakened, and he appealed to James White in Battle Creek to send help. In the spring of 1884, Elder Dolphus Austin Wellman, was sent from Michigan to Arkansas. Elder Wellman decided to begin in the center of the state and approached the town of Argenta (North Little Rock) hoping for conversions (Record, 1915). Argenta was a train town, so nearly all of the town’s 500 residents were employed by the railroads (Beeler, 1996). One of the first three converts to the Seventh-day Adventist message in Argenta was quickly fired from his railroad job since all railroad employees were expected to work on Saturdays (Wellman, 1884a). When Elder Wellman left in mid-May, one person had been baptized and several others had begun keeping the Sabbath.
The Rock Island-Argenta Depot is a well-preserved reminder of the importance of the railroad to the city’s growth. Photo courtesy of U. S. National Register of Historic Places.
FIRST SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH BUILT IN ARKANSAS IN 1885
Elder Wellman’s next stop was Springdale where he was joined by James Watson Scoles, a very talented musician and singer, who was also from Michigan. On June 10, 1884, a forty-foot tent that seated about 200, was pitched about four miles south of the Swearingen’s home, on the ground where the church building later stood (Wellman, 1884b; Baxter, 1915). In early July 1884, thirty-one Sabbath keepers met at Springdale and signed a Covenant to “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” and “to help sustain Sabbath School and Sabbath meetings” by their “presence and influence” (Wellman and Scoles, 1884). By August 12 there were fifty-two signatures (Scoles, 1884) and eventually seventy-eight had signed the covenant (See also, Springdale Church). Elder Wellman had planned to organize a church on August 2, 1884, but contracted typhoid fever the day before, which was followed by pneumonia. Elder Wellman died at the Swearingen’s home on September 2, 1884 (Scoles, 1884; Review, 1884). It wasn’t until the following year that Elder Joseph G. Wood’s evangelistic tour brought him to Springdale on Friday, January 2, 1885 (Wood, 1884). He baptized five new members, taught practical duties such as health reform and tithing, and held two business meetings. On or about Sabbath, January 10, 1885, Elder Wood organized a church of thirty-nine members, ordained an elder and two deacons, and appointed a church clerk (Wood, 1885). The Springdale church was the second church organized in Arkansas, and is the earliest organized church that is still in existence. The group had been renting a building in the northwest part of town and services were held regularly, but by this time, the members had already laid the foundation and assembled most of the lumber for a twenty-six foot by forty foot church building, and it was soon completed. This was the first Seventh-day Adventist church built in Arkansas (Kilgore, 1886). According to an article in the Springdale News dated July 1, 1979, this was only the second church of any denomination to be built in the city of Springdale (Springdale News, 1979).
Arkansas Joins the Missouri Conference in 1885
Meanwhile, to strengthen the small, scattered churches in Arkansas, when the twenty-third annual session of the General Conference met on November 9, 1884, it was voted “that Arkansas be united to the Missouri Conference, and that Elder Joseph G. Wood labor for a time in that field” (GC Proceedings, 1884). At the tenth annual session of the Missouri Conference held on October 4, 1885, letters had been received from Springdale, Robinson (reorganized as the Mt. Pleasant church in 1888), and Cincinnati churches of Arkansas, asking to be admitted to the Missouri Conference. The request was granted and delegates were admitted to seats in the conference. At the same session, Missouri welcomed Arkansas into their conference (Missouri Conference Proceedings, 1885). At the suggestion of the General Conference, the Missouri conference appointed Elder James Power Henderson as leader of all the work in Arkansas (Henderson, 1888). At the October 1888 General Conference session held in Minneapolis, the “Conference of Arkansas presented a petition to be admitted into the General Conference. After some questions had been asked by different delegates concerning the condition of the conference, and answered by Elders Henderson and [Dan T.] Jones [president of the Missouri Conference], the Arkansas Conference was, by unanimous vote, received into the General Conference, with Elder James P. Henderson as delegate” (Bulletin, 1888).
Arkansas Conference Organized in 1888
Seventh-day Adventist church organization was set up so the churches in a state combined to form a state conference, adopting a constitution to regulate their action. All the ministers in the State, were, by virtue of their office, members of the state conference, and each church was entitled to delegates according to its membership. At each annual meeting an executive committee of three was elected by vote of the delegates, of whom the president of the conference was chairman. This committee had supervision of all the ministerial and religious work of the conference between the yearly meetings, and appointed the delegates to the General Conference (Yearbook, 1884). By 1888 there were ten Seventh-day Adventist churches in Arkansas. These were Brentwood, Cincinnati, Hilltop (Harrison), Hindsville, Little Rock, Malvern, Mount Pleasant, Siloam Springs, Springdale, and Star of the West. In May 1888, an organizational meeting was held in Springdale for the purpose of establishing a state conference (Butler, 1888). The Arkansas Conference was officially organized by the General Conference on May 21, 1888, with ten churches and 226 members (GC Session, 1888). The conference organization consisted of a president, a secretary, and a treasurer, plus a small committee. For several years, the president was the only regular employee (Beeler, 1996).
Conference Office Locations
Prior to the organization of the conference, the Tract and Missionary Society, which served as the headquarters of the the work in Arkansas, had been in Springdale. In February 1889, the office was set up in a room of a member’s home in Argenta (Henderson, 1889), in an attempt to centralize the conference headquarters in the capital city of Little Rock. Then, following a very successful camp meeting in Van Buren in 1890, the conference office was moved to that city (Buck, 1890) because the strongest part of the work was still in the northwest part of the state. In 1896, the conference office was located in Fayetteville (Supplement to Review, 1896) and by 1901 was back in Springdale (Review, 1901). In 1904, the conference was moved to Little Rock (Record, 1905), but in 1908 was back in Fayetteville (Musselman, 1908).
Although the conference office was often operated in someone’s home, on October 11, 1909, it moved into its own quarters at the corner of Block and Meadow Streets in downtown Fayetteville. The Fayetteville members provided the labor to repair the building, which helped lower the rent (Record, 1909). In 1913 the conference built a new building with four offices on the lot adjacent to the Fayetteville church at 424 Walnut Street (Smith, 1913). At the twenty-seventh conference session which was held in Hot Springs, it was resolved for the conference office to be moved from Fayetteville to Little Rock, so in 1915 it was moved to the second floor of a three-story building in Rooms Two and Three of the Martin Building at 321 West Second Street, across from the Post Office (Record, 1914; Haynes, 1915). On January 2, 1919, a fire broke out on the third floor of this building, with the entire floor being swept away. The conference’s offices sustained a severe loss, mainly from water damage to books, and all the fixtures in the main office were ruined. Valuable papers and books of records and accounts were all saved. The office was moved to the Donaghey Building on Seventh and Main Street, which was supposed to be fireproof (Taylor, 1919). The office remained in Little Rock from 1915 until 1960.
This house at 1215 Marshall Street in Little Rock, near the center of the city’s population, was purchased in the fall of 1921 and remodeled to serve as the conference office (Record, 1921). This building served as the conference headquarters until the move to Shreveport in 1960. In 1940, a two-story storage building was built next to the office, with the first floor used for conference equipment such as evangelism tents and chairs, and the upstairs providing space for serving meals when delegates and workers were in Little Rock for meetings (Record, 1941).
In 1902, the number of Sabbath keepers in Arkansas was 449 whereas Oklahoma had 1,346. That year when the Southwestern Union Conference was organized, Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma) north of the Arkansas River and east of the MK&T railroad which ran through Vinita and Muskogee, was transferred to the Arkansas Conference. There was one organized church with seven members at Miami and one company at Afton (Bender, 1902). At the Oklahoma Conference Session in 1906, Oklahoma asked to have this territory returned to them (Record, 1906). Although this would cause a loss of tithe dollars for Arkansas, they really didn’t have enough workers to work the territory effectively, so the 1908 Arkansas Conference session voted to transfer the territory back to Oklahoma, effective October 1, 1908 (Record, 1909). During those six years, the Arkansas conference had organized churches at Afton, Ketchum, and Sallisaw.
Church membership in the Arkansas conference grew from 273 in 1890 to 550 in 1909 (Watts, 1909b). At this time there were nineteen churches and three companies, in addition to 120 isolated Sabbath keepers. Conference employees included three ordained pastors, two licensed ministers, four Bible workers, a state canvassing agent, and an office secretary (Yearbook, 1909; Watts, 1909a). At the 1911 conference session held in Fayetteville, it was noted that a large number of Sabbath keepers throughout the state did not live close enough to attend a local church. It was recommended that a conference church be organized that would consist of the isolated members and that the conference officials keep in touch with them (Record, 1911).
Organization Needed for the Black Work
By the 1890s, separation in terms of race was on the increase, and opposition — both by local Whites who opposed the education of Blacks, and by Blacks who did not trust Whites and feared exploitation — made the work of evangelism in the South increasingly difficult. If a minister tried to preach to both races in his meetings for the general public either the white or black listeners and sometimes both would desert the meetings. There was no continuous method of organization for carrying the Seventh-day Adventist message to the black Americans in the South until 1902, when some efforts were being made to do so (SDA Encyclopedia, 1966b).
Arkansas Conference Negro Department
The General Conference divided the United States into districts and the Southwestern district included the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Southwestern Union Conference was organized April 15, 1901, and reorganized at Topeka, Kansas, April 18, 1902. Its new territory was Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Indian Territories (Rupert, 1903) In 1904, the Southwestern Union took over the administration of the work among the blacks in Arkansas and Texas (Nelson, 1904). At that time, there was one ordained black minister and two licentiates, one organized church, one company in Arkansas, and one school. However, in 1908, the black churches and schools in Arkansas were again part of the Arkansas Conference (Watts, 1908). By 1910, there were three black churches in Arkansas, and these were turned over to the new Afro-American Union Mission in February 1910 (Norwood, 1910).
First Seventh-day Adventist Black Church in Arkansas Organized in 1903
A 1901 report from Sydney Scott, a black minister, tells that after two months of Bible work by Scott and Elder S. S. Ryles in Catcher, Arkansas, just southeast of Van Buren, a group of eight accepted the truth and kept their first Sabbath. Scott also reported the acceptance of the Sabbath by an entire black non-Adventist congregation in Monarch, Arkansas, about twelve miles from Yellville, and they became a Seventh-day Adventist church (Scott, 1901). However, the first Seventh-day Adventist black church to be officially organized in Arkansas was DeValls Bluff. The church, organized by Elder S. S. Ryles, was accepted into the Arkansas Conference at the conference session held in Van Buren in July 1903 (Heermann, 1903).
Concern for the Cities
In 1910, conference president, J. W. Norwood, expressed his concern for the lack of work that had been done in the cities. No tent meetings had ever been held in Pine Bluff, there was no organized work in Texarkana, the work in Little Rock was much too small for the size of the city, some evangelism had been tried that summer in Fort Smith but it hadn’t progressed very far, and the work in Hot Springs was far too small to reach the 150,000 visitors from around the world that flocked to the spa city of Hot Springs each year (Norwood, 1910).
Louisiana Seventh-day Adventist History Begins in 1884
The first known Sabbath-keeper in Louisiana was Mary A. Nugent in New Orleans who was keeping the Sabbath at least by January 1866 (Review, 1866). She was subscribing to the Review and Herald and The Youth’s Instructor as early as February 1865. In 1866, a letter Mary wrote to a friend was published in the Review thanking her for the “Prophecy of Daniel” and other books, and wishing she could be with others of “like faith” (Review, 1866). New Orleans is also the site of the organization of the first church in the state (SDA Encyclopedia, 1976).
Photo: Mary A. Nugent ca. 1870 (Ancestry, 2019).
First Adventist Meeting in 1880
In contrast to the rural beginnings of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Arkansas, the early efforts in Louisiana centered mainly in the city of New Orleans. Elder Charles O. Taylor of New York had been asked by the General Conference to work in the south. The first public discourse ever given by an Adventist in New Orleans was by Elder Taylor in 1880 (Review, 1905). No further work was done in this area until 1884.
First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Louisiana Organized in 1885
Upon learning of the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition that was to be held in New Orleans in 1884 to 1885, and seeing the opportunity to contact many people with the gospel, the General Conference sent Texas Conference president, Elder Robert M. Kilgore, to open a city Mission in New Orleans (Haskell, 1884). The Mission served as an International Tract Society, and included a free reading-room and a book depository which served as a distribution center for books and publications. It was located at Pitt Street between Valmont and Leontine Streets, but the following year moved to Magazine Street (Yearbook, 1887, 1888). Unlike most city missions, the New Orleans Mission had no sponsoring conference (Beeler, 1996). A few Adventist laymen came from other states and busily visited ships, depots, and hotels, distributing literature, and giving Bible studies (Owen, 1885a). When the Exposition opened, people came from all over the world to this busy port city, and an exhibit booth for Seventh-day Adventist publications was rented with hopes of spreading the gospel. After the Exposition, some who had started keeping the Sabbath left, but a few converts remained, were baptized in Lake Pontchartrain, and were organized into a church by Elder G. K. Owen. By August 1885, about fifteen people had begun to observe the Sabbath and hold regular Sabbath services in New Orleans (Owen, 1885b).
Challenges of the Work
Meanwhile, an interest was growing in Marthaville, a small city in the west central part of Louisiana (Beeler, 1996). Word of this reached Elder Thomas H. Gibbs, who had come from Kansas and at this time was leading the Mission in New Orleans. He immediately went to Marthaville and preached for about six weeks (Review, 1886). Sixteen adults took a firm stand for the Sabbath. Elder Gibbs did report some challenges, however. He said, “Pork is the principle article of diet, and tobacco—oh how the people are bound by this monster—men, women, young ladies not excepted, and small children!” (Gibbs, 1886). Another challenge in developing the work was the instability of the membership. After joining a small church, people might lose employment or suffer a crop failure and move elsewhere. Almost everywhere, the new Adventist churches with inexperienced members and infrequent pastoral visits, faced fierce anti-Adventist propaganda, which resulted in a loss of members (Beeler, 1996).
The principal factors contributing to church growth were annual camp meetings, canvassing, and tent crusades and the few workers in Louisiana were constantly involved in one of these methods of spreading the message. By 1887, there were two churches, New Orleans and Marthaville, neither of them very strong. Although there were only two canvassers, I. Q. Reynolds and his wife, for the entire state, they reported 1,073 visits, 124 Bible Readings given, and 116 sermons preached over a one-year period ending June 1888 (Yearbook, 1889). By the end of 1889 there were three successful companies, which were located at Shreveport, Hope Villa, and New Orleans. These were the direct result of the canvassers (Eldridge, 1890). At the General Conference proceedings in 1889, six more canvassers were asked to go to Louisiana (Yearbook, 1889). Other early churches that were established in Louisiana by 1901 when the Louisiana Conference was organized, were those in Mansfield (The Daily Signal, 1901) and New Orleans No. 2, a black church. Sabbath schools and companies included Bastrop, Hammond, Lake Charles, Shreveport, and Welsh.
First Seventh-day Adventist Church Built in Louisiana in 1890
The first Seventh-day Adventist church built in Louisiana was at Hope Villa in 1890 on some land donated by the Broussard family (Evans, 1958; cf. Encyclopedia, 1996). This later became the Hobart church, and in 1958 the congregation became the Gonzales church.
First Seventh-day Adventist Black Church in Louisiana Organized in 1892
The first black church in the area of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference was organized at New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 4, 1892. This was the result of the work of Charles M. Kinny, a pioneer black minister, who had found six black SDA’s in the city on his arrival the preceding October (Kinny, 1892). He later reported the newly founded church as the fourth black church in the denomination and the oldest church in the Southwest Region Conference, when it was organized in 1950 (SDA Encyclopedia, 1966a). For many years this was known as the New Orleans Church No. 2. In 1946, it was voted that the term “Colored” be used in church names instead of the No. 2 designation, so this became the New Orleans Colored Church (Minutes, 1946). Black churches in Louisiana were part of the Louisiana Conference, then the Louisiana-Mississippi Conference, and later the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference until 1947.
Louisiana Conference Organized in 1901
The first Louisiana SDA camp meeting was held in a grove outside the city limits of Alexandria in July 1898. A second camp meeting followed in 1899 at Welsh, Louisiana, and a third in 1900 at Marthaville. Louisiana was listed as a mission field of the General Conference until the fourth camp meeting, held in Crowley in 1901. Crowley was chosen because the Adventist message was new to the area, so meetings continued after camp meeting ended. Members came from Welsh, Marthaville, Mansfield, Shreveport, Hope Villa, Lake Charles, and New Orleans. It was at the conference session at Crowley that the Louisiana Conference was organized and became part of the Southern Union Conference. The conference headquarters were in New Orleans, with the official beginning date August 1, 1901 (Horton, 1901). At that time there were six churches and one company, 178 members, and two ordained ministers (Statistical Report, 1901). Camp meeting continued to be held every year except in 1902 when it was thought best to postpone camp meeting and the conference session until after harvest, and in 1905 when it was cancelled due to an outbreak of yellow fever (Review, 1905).
(Daily Signal, 1901)
Headquarters for the Work
The General Conference recognized that New Orleans, as the “commercial and cultural center of the South” and the “gateway to Central and South America” needed to have a stronger denominational presence than just a local conference office and a couple of small churches. In 1905, the General Conference, the Southern Union Conference, and the Louisiana Conference joined together to purchase a two-story twelve-room house at 810 Jackson Avenue in New Orleans. The building was to house offices for the General Conference Transportation Department for missionaries arriving and departing, and the Religious Liberty Department. Southern Publishing Association maintained a book depository there and a missionary training class used part of the building (Beeler, 1996). The local church met there from 1907 to 1912 and both a black school and a white school met in the building from 1916 to 1920 (Times-Democrat, 1907; Yearbook, 1917-1920).
Louisiana-Mississippi Conference Organized in 1920
On December 8, 1920, delegates of both Louisiana and Mississippi met for an organizational meeting at which they voted to unite the two states into a new conference beginning January 1, 1921, with headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi (Cole, 1920). Louisiana brought thirteen churches, 673 members, four ordained and two licensed ministers, eight teachers, and seven church schools (Encyclopedia, 1996). Mississippi brought seventeen churches, 471 members, four ordained ministers, and four teachers (Yearbook, 1921). Elder W. R. Elliott was called from the Tennessee River Conference to the presidency of the new Louisiana-Mississippi Conference (Worker, 1920). Most of the growth over the next eleven years was in the city churches. Small town and rural church growth fluctuated frequently with very little significant change in number of members.
Arkansas-Louisiana Conference Organized in 1932
In the 1930s, the church’s work was suffering from severe reductions in tithe and other income brought about by the Great Depression. The 1931 Fall Council of the General Conference Committee that met in Omaha, Nebraska, suggested extensive administrative and territorial changes in several unions across the United States. These changes reduced the number of Union conferences in North America from twelve to eight and the number of local conferences from fifty-eight to forty-eight (Record, 1932). It was at this time that Louisiana and its members and churches were transferred to the Southwestern Union Conference and joined Arkansas on February 23, 1932 (Ruf, 1932). Leaders in the Southern Union had visited about eighty-five percent of the Louisiana members, explaining the change to them. Although the members said they were willing to accept it, the change was still very difficult for them (Review, 1932). Elder R. P. Montgomery who was the Arkansas Conference president was designated president of the new organization until he took a call to Texico in June 1932, and Elder W. H. Heckman was called to take his place. Elder Heckman presided over the process of making the two states into one conference. In the new Arkansas-Louisiana Conference there were thirty-three churches, with 2,078 members, nine ordained ministers, three licentiates, eighteen teachers, and eleven colporteurs (Yearbook, 1933).
Arkansas-Louisiana Conference Rally Song
Arkansas-Louisiana Conference Negro Department
The Southern Union Conference was organized April 9, 1901, with the headquarters at Nashville, Tennessee, until 1932. In 1909, the Southern Union set up the Southern Union Mission. The black churches and schools in Louisiana, which included two churches and thirty-five members, were surrendered to the new Mission (Maxwell, 1910). When Arkansas and Louisiana were joined as a conference in 1932, the black churches in those two states came under leadership of the Southwestern Union Conference Negro Department. This continued to be the method of organization until the Regional Mission, comparable to the Regional Conferences in several other unions, was set up in 1946 (SDA Encyclopedia, 1966b) and took over the black work in 1947.
Japanese Relocation Camps in Arkansas
Southwestern Mission Organized in 1947
On December 16, 1946, the Black constituency of the Arkansas-Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Texico conferences were combined and organized into the Southwestern Mission, effective January 1, 1947. This new mission was comparable to a conference, with its own officers, committee, and departmental secretaries, and headquarters in Dallas, Texas (Baker, 2010). W. W. Fordham was the newly elected superintendent (comparable to a conference president). When the Southwestern Mission was organized, thirteen black churches and 829 members were subtracted from the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference. Elder Wells referred to this separation as “divorce proceedings” (Wells, 1947).
Southwest Region Conference Organized in 1950
On January 17, 1950, the Southwestern Mission constituency met in Dallas, Texas, to hold its first biennial session. J. C. Kozel, secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Union, who served as chairman for the session, was so pleased with the progress the mission had made during the short period of existence, that he entertained a motion to change the organization from a mission status to that of a conference. The change was approved and the new organization was named the Southwest Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Elder W. W. Fordham was elected as the president of this new conference. The period following the conference organization showed growth and progress (Encyclopedia, 1966b).
Conference Office Moved to Shreveport in 1960
The conference office had been located in Little Rock, Arkansas, since 1921, but in 1959 land was purchased in Shreveport, a more central location. It was 350 miles from the Gentry district, and 320 miles from the New Orleans district. Plans and drawings for the new headquarters were approved in September 1959 (Minutes, 1959), and by January 22, 1960, a new 6,000 square-foot conference office building had been completed at 333 Southfield Road in Shreveport, with an Open House held on February 22, 1960 (Record, 1960). By this time, membership had grown to over 3,400, with forty-four churches and four companies (Evans, 1959).
First Seventh-day Adventist Spanish Church in Louisiana Organized in 1971
In 1970, our conference began the first sustained work for the Spanish by Spanish workers. In August 1970, Pastor and Mrs. Sergio Ortiz were welcomed to our conference. Pastor Ortiz served as the associate pastor of the New Orleans St. Charles Avenue church, to lead out in the work among the Spanish-speaking people in the New Orleans area (Sherrill, 1970a). On Sabbath, January 9, 1971, forty-two individuals became charter members of the New Orleans Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church five months after the work began among the Spanish speaking populace of the city. More than seventy people had begun worshiping together and the number continued to increase. Members had come from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. They continued to meet in the youth chapel of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church but began making plans for a building that would more adequately serve their needs for Sabbath school and growth (Sharpe, 1971).
Southwestern Union Appoints First Spanish Advisory Committee in 1972
In 1972, it was estimated that 2,000,000 Spanish-speaking Americans lived within the territory of the Southwestern Union. In an effort to reach them with the gospel, the Southwestern Union established a Spanish Advisory Committee to help guide the future growth and evangelistic work of the Spanish-speaking churches. The newly appointed Spanish Advisory Committee met January 24, 1972. One of the recommendations that was made, which was then voted by the Southwestern Union executive committee and became policy, included “that union and local conference committees give study to the possibility of employing an evangelist for the Spanish work” (Record, 1972).
In 1977, the Review & Herald was available in Spanish. The Revista Adventista was subsidized so a subscription was only $2.00 per year per family (May, 1977).
New Wing Added to the Conference office
L to R: Slab being poured for the new conference office wing; the new wing takes shape; front view of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference with the new Book and Bible House wing completed. Photos courtesy of the Southwestern Union Record.
In 1970, ten years after the conference office was built in Shreveport, the conference purchased the property next door at 339 Southfield Road (Minutes, n.d.). A forty-foot extension was added to the existing offices, but toward the end of the 1970s, the office building was hopelessly outgrown (Elder, 1982). The June 10, 1979, Arkansas-Louisiana conference executive committee approved the purchase of a prime twelve-and-a-half acre plot of ground on Interstate 20 in Shreveport as the site for the new Arkansas-Louisiana conference office building (May, 1979).
New Conference Office Building in 1980
On Sunday, April 27, 1980, ground was broken and construction began (Hancock, 1980). The old office sold for more than had been budgeted and the new office was built for less than budgeted, thanks to many hours of volunteer labor. The beautiful 15,000 square-foot office at 7025 Greenwood Road was designed inside and outside to look like an old colonial home. The move to the new building was made in the fall of 1980. An open house was held December 20, 1981, followed by a dedication service (Griffin, 1981). Meanwhile, the northeast corner of the property had been designated for the Book and Bible House (later Adventist Book Center). It opened for business in 1981. The northwest corner of the property, which was not part of the original land purchase, was offered for sale by the owner. In 1981, it was voted to purchase the house on eight-tenths of an acre (Minutes, 1981).
Arkansas Conference Celebrates 100 Years
Freedom 92 Debt Reduction
Growth and Celebration
In 1992, the conference celebrated sixty years since the February 23, 1932, organization of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference. This event was commemorated by creating a Presidential Photo Gallery that was installed in the conference office. Elder Charles Beeler, editor of the Southwestern Union Record, was asked to write a book about the history of the conference (Minutes, 1990). On February 27, 1992, the conference executive committee enjoyed a dinner at which Elder Beeler gave a brief account of the merger of Arkansas and Louisiana. A bronze commemorative plaque was unveiled and was placed by the most-used entrance of the conference office. There were also special features at the five camp meetings that year (Minutes, 1992). In 1932, there had been thirty-three churches, 2,078 members, nine ordained ministers, three licentiates, eighteen teachers, and eleven colporteurs (Yearbook, 1933). In 1992, the Arkansas-Louisiana conference had grown to eighty-one churches, 7,708 members, forty ordained ministers, six licentiates, sixty-five teachers, and twelve literature evangelists (Kostenko, 1992). In October 2019, the conference had ninety-two churches, fifteen companies, and seven groups; 13,399 members; thirty-four ordained ministers, six licentiates, five volunteer pastors, and forty-four teachers.
FIRST SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST SPANISH CHURCH IN Arkansas ORGANIZED IN 1994
On June 18, 1994, the Springdale Spanish church was organized with fifty-four charter members, becoming the first Seventh-day Adventist Spanish church to be organized in Arkansas (Orian, 2004).
A New Headquarters Sign
With some renovations and a new sign added in the fall of 2016 after the original one was destroyed in a tornado, the office building on Interstate 20 still serves our conference today.
*Note: Colporteur and canvasser were both terms used for those who sold Adventist books and publications.
(1866, Jan. 30). Review and Herald, p. 71.
(1884). Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, pp. 9, 11.
(1884, Nov. 18). General Conference Proceedings. Review and Herald, p. 728.
(1885, Nov. 10). Missouri Conference Proceedings. Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, (hereinafter Review and Herald), p. 701.
(1886, Oct. 5). Review and Herald, p. 615.
(1887). Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 12.
(1888). Ibid., p. 15.
(1888, Oct. 19). General Conference Daily Bulletin, p. 1.
(1888). Transcription of Minutes of General Conference Sessions. pp. 370, 371.
(1889). Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, pp. 60, 64.
(1896, Sep. 1). Supplement to Review and Herald, p. 2.
(1901, Jan. 29). Review and Herald, p. 79.
(1901, Jul. 8). 7th-Day Adventists to Meet in Crowley. The Daily Signal, p. 5.
(1901). General Conference Statistical Report.
(1905, Jan. 17). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
(1905, Nov. 9). Review and Herald, p. 16.
(1906, Feb. 13). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
(1907, Oct. 19). Seventh Day Adventists. Times-Democrat, p. 16.
(1909, Jan. 5). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
(1909, Oct. 12). Ibid., p. 2.
(1910, Jan. 4). Ibid., p. 1.
(1910) Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
(1911, Nov. 21). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.
(1914, Apr. 9). Southern Union Worker, p. 115.
(1914, Sep. 22). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.
(1915, Jun. 29). Ibid., p. 5.
(1920, Dec. 23). Southern Union Worker, p. 1.
(1921, Nov. 29). Southwestern Union Record, p. 7.
(1921) Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
(1922, May 30). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.
(1924, Sep. 18). Review and Herald, p. 57.
(1932, Mar. 2). Southwestern Union Record, pp. 1-4, 9, 12, 14-20.
(1932, Apr. 7). Review and Herald, p. 17.
(1933) Yearbook of the Seventh-day Adventist Denomination. Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
(1941, Jan. 8). Southwestern Union Record, p. 8.
(1946, Mar. 26). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
(1959, Sep. 3). Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Conference Association. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
(1960, Feb. 10). Southwestern Union Record, p. 6.
(1966a). Regional Department and Conferences. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Washington D. C.: Review and Herald, pp. 1191-1195.
(1966b). Southwest Region Conference. Ibid., pp. 1246, 1247.
(1970, Mar. 28). Southwestern Union Record, p. 4.
(1972, May 27). Ibid., p. 3.
(1976). Arkansas-Louisiana Conference. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Washington D. C.: Review and Herald, p. 75.
(1976). Southern Missionary Society; cf. Southern Union Conference. Ibid. pp. 1398, 1403.
(1976). Tract and Missionary Societies. Ibid., pp. 1495, 1496.
(1979, Jul. 1). Springdale News. p. 3.
(1981, Apr. 11). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
(1988, May 28). Adventists to Celebrate Centennial. Arkansas Democrat, p. 14.
(1990, Oct. 18). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
(1992, Feb. 27). Ibid.
(1996). Arkansas-Louisiana Conference. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Washington D. C.: Review and Herald, pp. 108, 109.
(1996). Southwest Region Conference. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Washington D. C.: Review and Herald, p. 683.
(No date). Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Conference Association. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.
Ancestry.com. (2005). U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.
Ancestry Family Trees. (2019, Feb. 4). Mary Nugent. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
Baker, Benjamin. (2010). Charles Kinny (1855-1951). Retrieved from blacksdahistory.org.
Ibid. (2010). Sydney Scott (1874-1934). Retrieved from blacksdahistory.org.
Baxter, W. E. (1915, Jun. 29). Southwestern Union Record, p. 1.
Beeler, Charles R. (1996). A History of Seventh-day Adventists in Arkansas and Louisiana 1888-1996. Keene: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, pp. IX, 18, 33, 47, 78, 81, 89, 90.
Bender, Urbanus. (1902, May 26). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.
Buck, Emma J. (1890, Sep. 2). Review and Herald, p. 541.
Butler, G. I. (1888, Apr. 10). Ibid., p. 240.
Ibid. (1896, Jan. 7). p. 9.
Cole, V. O. (1920, Dec. 16). Southern Union Worker, p. 7.
Cook, J. H. (1877a, May 10). Review and Herald, p. 150.
Ibid. (1877b, Nov. 1). p. 142.
Ibid. (1877c, Nov. 8). p. 142.
Ibid. (1877d, Dec. 6). p. 182.
Ibid. (1882, May 23). p. 330.
Elder, W. H. (1980, Jun. 12). Southwestern Union Record, p. 12E.
Ibid. (1982, Apr. 15). p. 2.
Eldridge, C. (1890, Feb. 1). The Home Missionary, p. 39.
Evans, I. M. (1958, Apr. 16). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.
Ibid. (1959, Feb. 18). p. 18.
Field, E. A. (1902, Sep. 22). Ibid., p. 2.
Find a Grave. (2001, Jan. 15). F. Zachariah Swearingen. Retrieved from findagrave.com.
Gibbs, T. H. (1886, Oct. 19). Review and Herald, p. 652.
Griffin, W. J. (1981, Nov. 26). Southwestern Union Record, p. 12F.
Hartwell, Mrs. H. C. (1936, Feb. 19). Ibid., p. 3.
Haskell, S. N. (1884, Dec. 16). Review and Herald, p. 793.
Haynes, H. G. (1915, Jun. 29). Southwestern Union Record, pp. 8, 9.
Hearthstone Legacy Publications. (2017). My Genealogy Hound. Retrieved from mygenealogyhound.com.
Heermann, F. E. (1903, July 27). Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
Henderson, J. P. (1889, Feb. 12). Review and Herald, p. 108.
Horton, S. B. (1901, Aug. 13). Ibid., p. 526.
Kilgore, R. M. (1886, Aug. 31). Ibid., p. 551.
Ibid. (1888, Jun. 5). Ibid., p. 7.
Kostenko, Pete. (1992, May 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 14.
Lane, S. H. (1905, Sep. 7). Review and Herald, p. 19.
Leavelle, H. D. (1914a, Jul. 9). Southern Union Worker, p. 220.
Ibid. (1914b, Dec. 24). p. 404.
Martin, W. T. (1894, May 1). Review and Herald, p. 284.
Maxwell, E. L. (1910, Feb. 10). Southern Union Worker, p. 40.
May, B. (1977, Nov. 3). Southwestern Union Record, p. 4.
Ibid. (1979, Jul. 12). p. 4.
Musselman, Mrs. R. D. (1908, Jan. 28). Ibid., p. 2.
Nelson, N. P. (1904, Feb. 29). Ibid., pp. 1, 4.
Norwood, J. W. (1910, Jan. 4). Ibid., pp. 4, 5.
Nugent, Mary A. (1866, Jan. 30). Review and Herald, p. 71.
Orian, Stephen. (2004, Mar. 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 8.
Owen, G. K. (1885a, Mar. 24). Review and Herald, p. 189.
Ibid. (1885b, Aug. 25). Ibid., p. 535.
Rouse, J. S. (1906, Nov. 20). Obituary. Southwestern Union Record, p. 2.
Ruf, A. F. (1932, Feb. 24). Ibid., p. 2.
Rupert, G. G. (1903, Apr. 13). Ibid., p. 2.
Scoles, James W. (1884, Sep. 2). Review and Herald, pp. 572, 573.
Scott, Sidney.* (1901, Oct. 22). Ibid., p. 692.
*Scott’s first name is interchangeably spelled Sidney or Sydney.
Sharpe, S. G. (1971, Feb. 27). Southwestern Union Record, p. 14.
Sherrill, E. Frank. (1970, Mar. 28). Ibid., p. 2.
Smith, C. E. (1913, Apr. 8). Ibid., pp. 2, 6.
Spring, L. A. (1912, Aug. 20). Ibid., p. 2.
Taylor, J. I. (1919, Jan. 21). Ibid., pp. 3, 4.
Watts, V. B. (1907, Mar. 5). Ibid., p. 3.
Ibid. (1908, Mar. 17). p. 2.
Ibid. (1909a, Aug. 24). p. 3.
Ibid. (1909b, Aug. 31). p. 2.
Wellman, D. A. (1884a, Apr. 22). Review and Herald, p. 140.
Ibid. (1884b, Jun. 24). p. 412.
Wellman, D. A. and Scoles, J. W. (1884, Jul. 22). Ibid. p. 476.
Wells, Frank D. (1947, Feb. 12). Southwestern Union Record, p. 5.
Whitney, Leonard. (2017, Aug. 16). Joseph Draper Powers. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
Wood, J. G. (1882, Feb. 21). Review and Herald, p. 123.
Ibid. (1884, Dec. 16). p. 799.
Ibid. (1885, Jan. 27). p. 60.
Ibid. (1886, Feb. 23). p. 125
Woodruff, Sam L. (1906, Dec. 27). Ibid., p. 23.