Mississippi Church Records

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This entry was originally written by Kathleen Stanton Hutchison for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Mississippi Family History Research series.
History of Mississippi
Mississippi Vital Records
Census Records for Mississippi
Background Sources for Mississippi
Mississippi Maps
Mississippi Land Records
Mississippi Probate Records
Mississippi Court Records
Mississippi Tax Records
Mississippi Cemetery Records
Mississippi Church Records
Mississippi Military Records
Mississippi Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Mississippi Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Mississippi Immigration
Mississippi Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Mississippi
Mississippi Provincial Records
Mississippi County Resources
Map of Mississippi

The Spanish Dominion brought the strong influence of Catholicism into colonial Mississippi, but Mississippi as a territory witnessed the development of other organized religions that were predominantly Protestant faiths. In actuality, the priest left with the Spanish when the U.S. officially claimed Mississippi Territory, leaving only a handful of Catholic families in the area. For a general interpretation of this period, see James J. Pillar, “Religious and Cultural Life, 1817–1860,” in McLemore, A History of Mississippi, vol. 1, 378-410, cited in Background Sources.

In 1798 the remaining Roman Catholic populace was occasionally administered to by priests from Louisiana and Mobile. More specific information about Catholic records in colonial and territorial times may be found in Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Spanish Records: Locating Anglo and Latin Ancestry in the Colonial Southeast,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 73 (December 1985): 243-61; and in Records of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas, 1576–1803, 12 reels (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Archives Microfilm Publications, 1967).

There was no real growth in the church until after the 1840s when there was a rush of Irish immigrants into the state. A separate diocese was created in 1837, located in Natchez, but ultimately was moved to Jackson. Archival material housed in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson Archives (P.O. Box 2248, 237 East Amite St., Jackson, MS 39225-2248) includes clipping files (1850-present); papers of all prior bishops of the Mississippi Catholic Church (1837-present); property deeds and microfilmed sacramental record books of all parishes in the diocese; national Catholic directories (1843-present); and books dealing with Mississippi history and Southern church history.

Although no churches experienced rapid expansion during territorial and early statehood days, the Methodist Church became the largest antebellum religious group. See Gene R. Miller, A History of North Mississippi Methodism, 1820–1900 (Nashville, Tenn.: Parthenon Press, 1966) for a general history of this denomination. The J. B. Cain Archives of Mississippi Methodism (Millsaps-Wilson Library, Millsaps College, Jackson, MS 39210) contains an archival collection that features the history and development of the Methodist Church in Mississippi from the Methodist Episcopal Church to the United Methodist Church. The materials include church histories, manuscript items from the early nineteenth century, various conference minutes beginning in 1817, and some periodicals. Most of these materials do not circulate, but photocopy services are available depending on the condition of the item. The Archives and History Center of the United Methodist Church, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940, also holds a significant records collection.

In October, 1791, settlers organized the first Baptist church in the Southwest Mississippi Territory. They met in the home of Margaret Baird Stampley (wife of Henry Stampley) in the village of Stampley. The church was called Salem Baptist Church and was commonly referred to as Cole's Creek Baptist Church. Mississippi Baptist Church

Beginning in 1791 the Baptist Church in Mississippi showed early signs of strength after the preacher Richard Curtis brought together the first group of Baptists at Coles Creek near Natchez. The Mississippi Baptist Association was formed as early as 1806 with a total of six churches and 706 members. Now it claims the largest membership in the state. For a broad overview, see Richard A. McLemore, A History of Mississippi Baptists, 1780–1970 (Jackson, Miss.: Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, 1971), and Gordon A. Cotton, Of Primitive Faith and Order: A History of the Mississippi Primitive Baptist Church, 1780–1974 (Raymond, Miss.: Keith Press, 1974). Historical materials focusing on the development of the church are housed at the Mississippi Baptist Historical Commission, Mississippi College Library, P.O. Box 4024, Clinton, MS 39058. The collection contains minutes of churches, a clipping file that includes some biographical data relating to preachers and other church leaders dating to the late eighteenth century, local histories, association minutes, Baptist convention minutes, newspapers and newsletters, photographs, and other select church-related records. There are no restrictions on use of the materials.

The formation of the Presbyterian Church in 1800 is attributed to three missionaries who were sent by the Synod of the Carolinas to preach: James Hall, William Montgomery, and James Bowman. The first established Presbyterian Church in Mississippi was Bethel at Uniontown in Jefferson County. The Synod of Mississippi was formed in 1835. For information on the synod, see Walter B. Posey, The Presbyterian Church in the Old Southwest, 1778–1838 (Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1952), and “Documentary Material Relating to the Early History of the Presbyterian Church in Mississippi,” Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 21 (December 1943): 196-200. Some historical records may be found in the Belhaven College, Hood Library, 1500 Peachtree St., Jackson, MS 39202. There are no restrictions on the use of the materials. Other records may be located through the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, Assembly Dr., Box 849, Montreat, NC 28757.

Episcopal Church services were held in the Mississippi region in 1790. However, the first church, named Christ Church (at Church Hill in Jefferson County) was not organized until 1815 when it was founded by Adam Cloud. The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi was organized in 1826 with churches located in Church Hill, Natchez, Port Gibson, and Woodville. No central repository exists for these church records. For more detail, see Nash K. Burger and Charlotte Capers, “Episcopal Clergy of Mississippi, 1790–1940,” Journal of Mississippi History 8 (April 1946): 59-66.

The Lutheran Church was the last Protestant church to organize in the state. The New Hope Lutheran Church was first formed, in 1846, near Sallis in Attala County. However, in 1855, when there were nine Lutheran churches, the Mississippi Synod was assembled as part of the United Synod of the South. The repository for the Southern states is the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, 4201 N. Main St., Columbia, SC 29203-5898.

In addition to records found in local churches, researchers should look at the WPA publication Guide to Vital Statistics Records in Mississippi, vol. 2, Church Archives (Mississippi Historical Records Survey, 1942). Compiled by Donna Pannell, Church Records in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (1986), a bound computer printout, lists available materials such as manuscript papers, journals, minutes, and organization records found in both the library and the manuscript section of the department. The manuscripts index is also available online at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website.