The First Congregational Church Of Peoria Illinois 1834-1936

My Cousin Delia Miller Is the 6th Person In This Photo


Matilda Miller, “Aunt Till”

Aunt Till

My Cousin Delia Miller Is the 11th Person On The Back Row 


Have you ever heard of a Congregational church before? Neither had I until one day I found this book on The History of The First Congregational Church Of Peoria, Illinois 1834-1910, Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Book. I have thumbed thru its pages and read it thoroughly often wondering why I had the possession of it. Mom has a book shelf with many old books on it and since I am very interested in rare and antiquarian books I frequent it when I am visiting. She didn’t know why she had the book, but after noticing my interest in it told me I could have it. After researching my family history and finding old obituaries and other documents on the internet with family names in them I realized why I now possess this book and I have discovered that many of my family members belonged to that church Matilda Miller, “Aunt Till” and her daughter, my cousin Delia Miller and several Fash’s which I believe are relatives. I have commenced going thru the pictures contained in the book and found several of Delia Miller and one of Matilda, Aunt Till. I never had a problem spotting photos of Delia Miller as she bore a remarkable resemblance to My Great Grandmother Elizabeth Ann Fash Willis Ingersoll. I am blessed to have found such a remarkable treasure and will keep it always.

First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church Of Peoria, Illinois got its beginning in December of 1834. It was first known as The Main Street Presbyterian Church.  Peoria was mostly an uninhabited Prairie at that time and was a small village of not more than twenty or twenty five log cabins and eight or ten wood frame houses. In the center was the courthouse which was a mere 14 by 16 feet in size. During the week the law was dispensed. The prisoners were kept in the cellar and when there were no prisoners the cellar was overtaken by sheep, cattle and horses. On Sunday the courthouse became the place for preaching and worship. Split logs standing on pegs were the first pews. Jonathan Goodenough Porter, a Calvinistic Methodist was the first preacher. The citizens of Peoria desired a different kind of Pastor one who would not only preach to them but one who would care for them and administer regularly the ordinances of the church marriages, baptisms, communion, dedications, funerals, and things of that nature. These desires were stirred in them by the fervent preaching of two young missionaries Reverends Flavel Bascom and Romulus Barnes. The church was organized on December 28, 1834. Moses Pettengill and Enoch Cross were the first Elders. The original church was compromised of a mixture of Congregationalists and Presbyterians, the Congregationalists being in the majority. In spite of that fact the church took on a Presbyterian form of government. The church was sometimes referred to as the “Abolitionist Church” as most of the abolitionists in Peoria at that time were members of the church. The church suffered considerable hardships because of their anti slavery veiws and the membership dwindled down to a precious few, but still the church went on and remained a Presbyterian church until 1847 when by vote it became a Congregational Church and was renamed The Main Street Congregational Church. In 1875 the church was reorganized and renamed The First Congregational church and flourished greatly until 1936 when the church was totally destroyed by the massive fire that consumed it. After considerable time was spent in thinking on what to do the church was invited to worship with the Second Presbyterian Church. Not long after that the two churches began talking of uniting and a federation agreement was drafted the two churches merged and in 1937 became The First Federated Church bringing together the best of the Congregational Church and the Presbyterian Church.

Anti Slavery Bell

One thing I found of interest while researching the churches history was the old anti slavery bell which had first been used for many years for the signaling of the opening of the draw bridge for passing boats. Afterwards it had been in the hands of the Peoria Bridge Association. M. M. Aiken realized the historic value of the old bell and donated it to the church where it was mounted and placed on The Congregational Church in 1836 with the inscription “The First Bell Heard In Peoria For God, Freedom And Native Land.” The old bell was destroyed in the same fire that destroyed the old church. These old church bells remind me of the Jewish “Shofar”, the rams horn which was used to signal the people for many things one of which was a call to worship God. We should find and restore these old bells and place them on our churches and ring them every Sunday morning as a reminder to us of the old principals which the founding fathers of our country lived by and our call to worship the one true and living God!

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