Elder James Smith
James Lemen, Sr., his wife and several of his neighbors, having been converted to the Baptist faith by an itinerant preacher from Kentucky, organized themselves into a Baptist church at a meeting held in the south room (of Lemen’s home) on May 24, 1796.
Lemen, who had served as an American soldier in the Revolutionary War, arrived in Illinois in 1786, having come from Virginia. Soon he and his family were introduced to the sterner side of frontier life. “The very summer of their arrival Mrs. Lemen’s sister and her husband, James Andrews, were killed by the Indians, and their two little daughters carried captive to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
It was into that environment that in 1787 Elder James Smith, of Kentucky, visited New Design; the first Baptist preacher and the first preacher of any denomination to enter the present state of Illinois. He held a series of house meetings which were abundantly blessed. Among those who believed the word and confessed Christ were James Lemen and Joseph Ogle and their wives, and Shadrach Bond. And a goodly number of others!
Three years afterwards, in 1790, Elder Smith again visited New Design, and through his preaching others were added to the converts.
In the midst of the work Elder Smith was captured by the Indians. In the party was a Mrs. Huff with her little child. She had been under spiritual concern for some time, and while the savages were putting her to death Elder Smith fell on his knees praying for her, and in that attitude he was taken. On this account, and because of his praying and singing while they traveled, the Indians were afraid of him. He was taken to Vincennes, from whence word came through the traders as usual that he would be returned for a suitable ransom. Thereupon $170 was collected out of the poverty of the settlers, and Elder Smith was set free.
Dr. Dale R. Hart, adapted from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I. Thompson/ Cummins) pp. 212-213.