History of the First Universalist Church
New Madison, Ohio

Compiled and Written by The
Reverend Wells E. Behee

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1811---It is reported in the Greenville Advocate, “the beginning of the Universalist Church started as early as 1811, when “the first Universalist sermon was held in a cabin.” This date may be a dubious claim by over zealous advocates of Universalism in Darke County. It is undocumented at this time.

1819—Judson Jaqua, born April 1, 1781 in Columbia City, Columbia County, N.Y. on the Massachusetts border, is the first documented Universalist family in this region ---He with three CT Yankee families came to Yankeetown just 2 miles south of New Madison. His father was from Litchfield, CT, and his mother from New London, CT He came to Darke County in the Spring of 1819. Judson was an accredited agent for the Universalist publications Sentinel and Star of the West.

Yankeetown was the central location of all Universalism in this region of Ohio. Then it branched out to New Madison, Eldorado, New Paris, and Palestine. 
During these early years, services were held in homes as well as the first school house in Harrison Township, the next lot south of the present Yankeetown Church.Universalist preacher John Purviance, lived in a log cabin north Rte 121 near the east branch of the Whitewater River southwest of Braffetsville.His house was a dwelling, a school, and a church.

Judson Jaqua was associated and committed to the New Madison Universalist Church by signed documents (1) April 1863, a donation pledge to employ The Rev. T. S. Guthrie for services two Sundays per month for one year commencing April 1863, and (2) April 1, 1869 a donation pledge to purchase an organ.

Judson’s son, Charles, did on December 22, 1860 (1) subscribe for the purchase of a bell, (2) in April 1862 subscribed to employ T.S. Guthrie for two Sundays per month commencing April 1862, (3) and subscribed the following year for the same.

Universalism by the aid of many occasional Universalist preachers continued through the years until 1840.

 None of these evangelists are known.

1840—Jonathan Kidwell, the renown champion of Universal Salvation in Ohio and Indiana was bodily threatened while preaching by the side of the road probably on the property and farm wagon of Judson Jaqua at Yankeetown 2 miles south of New Madison. This event greatly advanced the development of Universalist Churches in New Madison and Eldorado.

The Rev. Jonathan Kidwell was born in Kentucky in 1779 and lived for a while in Madison County. In 1804, he became a Universalist and moved to Ohio. In 1825, he lived in Eaton and 1829- 1833 in Cincinnati.
He was a freethinking Universalist active in Indiana Universalism in the late 1820/30's.Kidwell, like Judson Jaqua, he was an accredited agent for the Universalist publications Sentinel and Star of the West when he came to Yankeetown.

He could think for himself to the point of imagining that some theory like Darwin's much later ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES might account for the world that he experienced. He was outspoken in speaking against ministerial support.

Early 1850’s ---there was some preaching “once in a while” in a school house near Yankeetown.

1855—Isaiah Wenger, one of the charter members of the New Madison Church and its leader through many years, was converted along with thirty others by some preacher who “came through the woods” to a schoolhouse in New Madison. Isaiah, a young gouly fellow and teacher, walked into town after hearing that the preacher was going to be “egged.
The people were so impressed by the preaching that nothing unkind was done. Then about 30 rose at the call of the Preacher to declare themselves Universalists.

1857---The Universalists were grievously insulted by an orthodox revival in 1859.
As a result they called the Reverend Henry Gifford to serve this religious fellowship. Mr. Gifford was sorely abused by many.He came from the East.
Died in 1887; preached in more than seven Ohio churches.

****April 3, and May 8, 1859---The first Universalist Church was organized to preach:

John Murray in the 1780s stressed REASON in religion as he preached that since God was a loving God, he reasoned that  it was inconceivable that He could condemn anyone to everlasting torment, and as there is no Biblical  foundation for a Hell; all   people  would  eventually be saved. His advocacy of Reason  was  important to reject  those verses in the  Old  and New Testament  which  pictured God  as wrathful, violent, a tormentor, and  less  than a Universal God of Love to ALL  his children,  a belief in an unconditional Universal Salvation of every person and ultimate union of all souls with God.

Under the leadership of Mr. Gifford, 34 charter members organized and elected a Board of Directors. The church site of 85/100ths of an acre was purchased from John Shriver for $75.

December 1859---The new church of wooden frame construction 40 x 60 feet was completed.
The Reverend Thomas Sandor Guthrie D.D. delivered the first sermon.

January 1860---The new church was dedicated. Mr. Guthrie delivered the dedication sermon.

Large View

We do not know how long Thomas Guthrie was with the New Madison Church as he does not mention the church in his memoirs.  He may have been an occasional guest speaker for these ceremonies.

Sometime in 1860--- a Rev. Cyrus F. Wright preached in our church.

Other ministers: Having researched Universalist Churches in Darke, Miami, Champaign, Preble, and Butler counties, we can say is that New Madison was blessed with the services of the following named ministers listed in our annals at such times as they were available. Some of these ministers and probably other unknowns overlapped each other; some serving two Sundays a month and other ministers serving one or two of the other Sundays, if there were any services at all.  In the 1880’s, Beer states in his book on the History of Darke County that our church had no services for two years up to the date of his writing the book.

Named leaders in our records were:
Elihu Moore---dedicated to organizing new churches; he assisted in organizing on June 18, 1868 the Palestine Church.  He was a Baptist of Miami who became a Universalist.
William Tucker D.D.---author of a short book in exposition of prominent teachings of the UNIVERSALIST CHURCH, and the moral and religious obligations of believers.  His treatise on the Atonement was one of 11 short books published by the UNIVERSALIST PUBLISHING HOUSE.   The writers were selected for their ability to present in brief compass an instructive and helpful Manual on the subject undertaken. He invited the Reverend Dr. J.S. Cantwell speaker at Dedication 1901, to write one such book. He had been minister at Camden, Ohio and served other churches at the same time. Born Oct. 7,1820— died Dec 21, 1905; buried Jackson township, Ripley County, Indiana.  He was a member of the Academy of Anthropology (New York) the Victorian Institute (England) and the Medico-Legal Society.
J.H. Blackford was a “regular” preacher at various times.
(Char)lotta Davis Gath Crosley (first known woman minister in Darke County) b. Hamilton County, Ohio, March 9, 1848, died 1917. (photo on a later page with her husband)
Henry N. Brown returned at a later date.  So he was probably an itinerate preacher who came, stayed for a period, moved on to other churches, and returned for another visit of unknown length.
Nathan Rice Quackenbush born New York City, April 4, 1837. He became a Universalist about 1872; educated at St. Lawrence University, ordained 1874.
Ebon Mumford Moorman 

and others we know not of

The Reverend Sara Smeltzer Stoner

The Reverend James A Stoner

Sara L. Stoner, born November 26, 1853 in Union County, Indiana; died April 1, 1937 age 83 at Prospect, Ohio; buried in Springfield Cemetery, New Paris, O.; Pastorate in New Madison--September 1898 to August 1903. 
An educated guess tells us that she was the first settled Universalist minister in New Madison.  She taught school in Preble County, Ohio in 1877.  She became a very educated person by attending Smithson College but received a Bachelors and Masters degree in Science from Buchtel College, founded by the Universalists. She was probably the second woman minister in Darke County, (Char)lotta Crosley being the first).   Sarah Stoner married James A. Stoner April 24, 1878 in Miami County, Indiana. Ordained by the Universalist Church at Blanchester, Ohio October 25, 1896.

This has to be the first photograph of the church taken soon after construction.
The Good Shepherd window and the Parable of the Sower windows are not present.
It doesn’t appear that the window of Jesus with the children has been installed.
Note the fence picket fence around the graveyard, the wooden steps and plank walkways, the ladders on either side of the church yard, the small street lamp.

Large View

[This photo and those of the Reverend James and Sarah Stoner is from the memorabilia
of Mrs Carol Retterer Skinner, great granddaughter of our former ministers]

August 11, 1901---The cornerstone for a new brick church was dedicated in a service under the leadership of its minister, the Rev. Sarah Stoner. The Fort Black Masonic Lodge 419 laid the stone and Charles Mikesell, Sr. placed the stone in position.  The Reverend Marion Crosley, Grand Chaplain of Indiana delivered the address.   The Rev. Marion Crosley was the husband of (Char)lotta Davis Gath Crosley.  So New Madison was familiar grounds to him. He served as minister of the Muncie Ind. church from 1869-1873.  Crosley had been known as an eloquent circuit-riding preacher.



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