My grandfather, David Cummins, had several great passions during his life — my grandmother Mary, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the local church. Just below his relationships with his wife and his Savior was his love for Baptist history. His books, each entitled This Day in Baptist History, can be purchased here, here, and here (3 volumes). He had completed much research for his final volume before the Lord called him home this summer. I loved my Papa dearly, but regret that my interest in his research, i.e. Baptist history, is a recent phenomenon.
Since I’m from Tennessee originally and then from Michigan until I went off to college, I have little knowledge regarding the history of Wisconsin, where I now reside. My wife Emiley, a native of our incredible state, is presently teaching her 4th grade class a unit on Wisconsin history. That being said, I have a learned a great deal about Wisconsin in the past few weeks as a result of her preparations and teaching.
As I understand it, our first city, Green Bay, was established in 1764. Almost three quarters of a century later (72 years), a missionary named Richard Griffing was used of God to establish the first Baptist church in Milwaukee in 1836. To put this in perspective, the first Baptist church on American soil was founded in 1639 in Rhode Island, of course. That puts the development of Baptist churches in Wisconsin roughly 200 years behind the development of such churches in at least one other state, and roughly 150 years behind the development in many others. Each of these states: RI, MA, ME, SC, PA, NJ, DE, CT, VA, NY, NC, MD, NH, GA, VT, WV, TN, MS, OH, IL, IN, AK, MO, AL, LA, MI, and IA had Baptist congregations before WI did!
That aside, Baptist churches were started in WI and eventually began to thrive. The following is a copy of the obituary of Julia Griffing, Richard’s wife (found here), which indicates that Griffing did not just plant in Milwaukee, but was used of God to reach many in this state:
Pewaukee, April 21.—The death of Mrs. Grifflng occurred on Wednesday morning April 15. In better health than usual through the winter, a short time ago she took a severe cold, which was followed by pneumonia. After a short illness, she peacefully left us. Her daughter, Mrs. Edward B. Smith, of Howard Lake, Minn., was with her through her illness and has the satisfaction that she was with her through the winter.
Mrs. Griffing was a woman of remarkable strength of mind and character and in a marked degree retained her mental powers until the end of her earthly life. She came to Wisconsin when the Indian trails were the only highways and has lived in our village in the same house for fifty-five years. In these days of change, this fact is worthy of note.
Julia Bacon was born in Granville, Mass., Jan. 8, 1816. She became a Christian at twenty and was baptized by Rev. Richard Griffing, to whom she was married in August 1836, 67 years ago. They came directly to Milwaukee, when it was only a hamlet. Mr. Griffing was sent as a missionary by the Baptist Mission society, his field extending to Green Bay on the north and as far west as he could reach. He organized the first Baptist church in the state, once the first Baptist church of Milwaukee, now the North Greenfield church, of which Mrs. Griffing was the only surviving original member.
After one year there and four in Prairieville, now Waukesha, they returned east for one year, came again to Wisconsin, lived nearly three years in Washington Co., and about two years in Lisbon, before settling in Pewaukee.
Twenty-seven years ago April 10, Elder Griffing died. Mrs. Griffing was the mother of six children. Only two survive her, her daughter and one son, Sherman B., of Dakota; also twelve grandchildren and one great grand child.
A history of early life in the wilds of Wisconsin would make an interesting tale. Sometimes Mr. Grifflng was necessarily absent on his preaching tours for three months at a time. Meanwhile his wife bravely did her part, whether encountering the frequent visits of roving Indians or listening to the howling wolves by nights. To relieve her loneliness she taught her nearer neighbor’s children, thus earning the distinction of being the first school teacher in Waukesha.
Despite the late start of the Baptists in our state, this thanksgiving season, I want to thank God for using Richard Griffing to establish a Baptist work in Milwaukee!