‘Father’ of Alabama Baptists leaves legacy of church planting, cooperation

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

In 1835, First Baptist Church, Montgomery, was not in a good spot. Church members were not getting along with their pastor, James H. Devotie, and they’d written letters to five pastors to see if anyone would come help them with some good old-fashioned conflict management.  Only one person responded — Alexander Travis.

“He was a skilled peacemaker,” said Lonette Berg, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission. “He made his way from Conecuh County up to Montgomery, and in order to maintain neutrality, he refused to stay at the home of either group. He stayed in a hotel.”

When Travis got there, he called a meeting to let everyone share his or her side of the story. But when that was done, the arguing was over — it was time to talk to God.

“He called a prayer meeting, and James Devotie said he wasn’t going to go to that meeting — but he did,” Berg said. “He went and he stood behind the door and listened as Travis prayed a passionate prayer for repentance and unity. Devotie was so moved that he came out from behind that door and walked down the aisle with tears in his eyes and prayed for a restoration of fellowship.”

And that’s just one way Travis helped change Alabama’s spiritual climate. In fact, in a lot of ways he helped mold it from the ground up.

Settled in Alabama

Alabama wasn’t even a state when Travis first arrived in 1817 from South Carolina. It would be two more years before that happened. He settled into south Alabama as a farmer, circuit riding pastor, church planter and associational moderator. When he made his rounds to preach on the weekend, he would strike out on foot if he could — his horse needed to rest from the week of plowing.

“He was one of the messengers at our first state convention and was appointed as one of our first state missionaries,” said Berg, who told his story to those present at the Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting in Daphne on Nov. 12.

Travis started at least nine churches, including Murder Creek Baptist Church. It’s now called Belleville Baptist Church, Evergreen, and it celebrated its 200th anniversary last year.

When Travis died in 1852, he had been a minister of the gospel for 40 years, and he was buried in the old cemetery of Beulah Baptist, another church he had served as pastor.

He’s now known as the father of Baptists in Alabama, and his story is told on a historical marker right outside the Conecuh Baptist Association office.

“Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were influenced for Christ because of Alexander Travis’ life and his legacy,” Berg said.

‘Solid foundation’

Joey Rodgers, associational missions director for Conecuh Association, said the legacy of a man like Travis is “a solid foundation for our present-day ministry.”

“Some may think of church planting as a new concept, and yet that is what Alexander Travis did 200 years ago,” Rodgers said. “He found dark places that needed light and started a church to provide that light. I have heard that the past is the foundation of the present, and that may be true; but I also believe that the past is the inspiration for our future.”