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The Missionary Bands

We have grown up with the image of the little prairie church perhaps without even considering where they came from. Beginning in the mid-1840's, young graduates from East Coast schools of theology began a movement that established both churches and colleges in the new frontier.


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The concept of the Yale Bands originated with an 1827 essay written by Theron Baldwin, of the Yale Divinity School. The concept developed into missionary bands, consisting of seminary students setting out to start churches and colleges in the West. It took until 1843 for the idea to become a reality.

There were several Yale Bands. The first was the original Yale Band of Illinois. This group of seven young men, under the guise of Friends of Education founded Beloit College, in Beloit, WI, in 1846. At the time, Wisconsin was still a territory. The Yale Band also founded Illinois College, in Jacksonville, IL. Not only did Theron Baldwin conceptualize the Yale Bands, he was a member of the first group. Baldwin was a grandson of John Davenport who established a colony in New Haven, CT, also known as "Davenport's Colony." Baldwin, along with his cohorts, was born and raised in the East. The band consisted of:

  1. Theron Baldwin - Connecticut
  2. John F. Brooks - Westmoreland, NY
  3. Mason Grosvenor - Ashfield, MA
  4. Elisha Jenney - Fairhavens, MA
  5. William Kirby - Connecticut
  6. Julian M. Sturtevant - Warren, CT
  7. Asa TURNER - Templeton, MA
In 1843 the Iowa Band had set to work establishing churches and education. The Band founded Iowa College in Des Moines, IA, in 1846. Later it moved to Grinnell, IA, and was renamed Grinnell College. There were 12 members of the Iowa Band. As the frontier expanded westward, so did the birthplaces of the band. Yale Band member Ephraim Adams documented the young seminarians' travel in his diaries now available online in "The Iowa band." These members were, as follows:
  1. Harvey Adams - Vermont
  2. Ephraim Adams - New Hampshire
  3. Ebenezer Alden, Jr. - Massachusetts
  4. William Hammond - changed his mind and didn't go
  5. James J. Hill - Maine
  6. Horace Hutchinson - Massachusetts
  7. Daniel Lane - Maine
  8. Erastus Ripley - Connecticut
  9. Alden B. Robbins - Massachusetts
  10. William Salter - born in New York
  11. Benjamin A. Spaulding - Massachusetts
  12. Edwin B. Turner - Illinois
There was also a Dakota Band consisting of nine members. By now, few band members were from the East.
  1. Aden B. Case - Illinois
  2. Pliny B. Fisk - Vermont
  3. Philip E. Holp - Ohio
  4. William B. Hubbard - Illinois
  5. George Lindsey - Scotland
  6. John R. Reitzel - Pennsylvania
  7. Charles W. Sheldon - Connecticut
  8. William H. Thrall - Kewanee, Illinois
  9. George W. Trimble - Ohio
Following the migration of the Yale Bands can help genealogists trace these families. Some of the Bands eventually worked in Washington state. Knowing the history of the Bands also tells a clearer story of the lives of earlier settlers and what churches and schools existed on the prairies. Not only does the work of the Yale Bands document early churches but their work in establishing colleges indicates there were educational opportunities in the New West from early on, well beyond the one-room schoolhouse.

For further reading, explore these texts online:

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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