Rebel Quakers with a Cause

Members of the Religious Society of Friends, usually called Friends or Quakers, migrated from the Carolinas to southern Grant County in the late 1820's and the early 1830's where they settled along both sides of a creek. Having come from a local meeting in North Carolina called Back Creek, they named the creek and their new home Meeting Back Creek. The Meeting was first established in 1831 by the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends and has remained in continuous operation since then. Presently it is the oldest Friends Meeting in Grant County and is the oldest worship group of any denomination in the county.

From the onset, Back Creek Friends were “rebels.” First and foremost, they were Quakers – having a tradition and worship style that was far different from others in society. Some of the earliest members, such as Thomas and Lydia Baldwin, as examples, were staunch abolitionists, even participating in the Underground Railroad. Back Creek also invited well-known abolitionist Charles Osborn to visit in 1838. While many Quakers may have supported abolition, this political view, as well as the then-illegal participation in the Underground Railroad, could have easily been viewed as “rebellious” by other members of society.


But Back Creek didn’t stop by only rebelling against social norms – they slowly but steadily rebelled against the wishes and traditions of the Indiana Yearly Meeting and the Society of Friends. The best illustration of Back Creek’s rebellious nature can clearly be observed in their activities during the Civil War. Far from maintaining a “testimony of peace,” Back Creek sent more members off to war than any other meeting in the State of Indiana – 66 in total. 5% of all Hoosier Quakers fighting in the Civil War came from Back Creek. Back Creek’s membership was around 400 during this period. 66 men would have represented 16.5% of the total membership. 66 men may have been near to, if not exceeding, 50% of all able-bodied men in the meeting! Sending that many men off to war clearly sends a signal that Back Creek was rebelling against the traditional Quaker stance on pacifism.


Back Creek always placed an emphasis on education – educating students as early as 1831. The very first teacher in Fairmount Township was a Back Creeker - Susannah Baldwin Dillon. A new primary school was constructed in 1874, and in the early 1880s, as many as 300 students were attending this school. Back Creek helped to create the Fairmount Academy for secondary education in 1883. And Back Creek has always been a supporter of White’s Institute, now named Josiah White’s.


The biggest event to come to Back Creek was the June Quarterly Meeting. During the years it was held here, 1839-1893, attendance grew every year until possibly 10,000 people assembled on the grounds. Excursion trains brought people on the tracks to the "Wilson crossing" one half mile east of the grounds. Nearby Friends opened their homes to overnight stays by Friends coming from a distance. The atmosphere of a County Fair prevailed, as six to eight out-of-door pulpits accommodated all who wanted to preach. Neighbors complained that horses tied to their fences pulled down the rails. Young men raced each other with their horses and their horses and buggies up and down the road beside the grounds. Believing that crowd control would be improved, June Quarterly Meeting was moved to Fairmount Friends Meetinghouse beginning in 1894. The membership of Back Creek Meeting at this time was near 440.


Back Creek rebelled against traditional Quakerism in other ways, as well. She became an “early adopter” of many mainline, non-Quaker, Protestant concepts and trends. For example, Back Creek started the first Sunday Scripture School (what we now refer to as Sunday School), a very Protestant-driven concept, in 1863. In 1900, Back Creek embraced another non-Quaker standard - the pastoral system. Unprogrammed worship was left to a small time period in worship, as regular pastors would present planned messages each week.


Early on in her history, Back Creek was on fire to establish new meetings. They assisted in creating numerous meetings, including Fairmount, Center (Jonesboro), Oak Ridge, Little Ridge, East Branch, and North Grove. Much of this focus on creating new meetings may have been required due to the organic growth in Back Creek membership: “Records indicated that the most common families had between eight and twelve children.” (Reflections of Back Creek Friends 1829 – 1966)


Unfortunately, that growth rate dwindled over time. Back Creek suffered heavy losses in membership between 1925-1935, and in terms of membership, Back Creek did not benefit much from the “boom” of the Baby Boom from a membership perspective. The last big “boom” for Back Creek was probably when her most famous “rebel” started attending in 1940 – Hollywood icon, James Dean.


Back Creek had a missions-mindset during the latter half of the 20th Century. Member Ron Wood became the pastor at Kickapoo Friends Center, Pastor Phil Hoffman, Back Creek’s longest-tenured pastor, and his wife Esther, had previously served for decades as missionaries in Burundi, Africa. Former Back Creek Pastor Eddy Cline in the 1960s founded Christian Service International – later to be renamed CSI Ministries – a short-term missions organization, that Back Creek continues to supports.


Our little band of rebel Quakers are trying to revive the Spirit that Back Creek once had. We are striving to make a bigger impact for the Kingdom. We regularly support local and foreign missions organizations, and are major contributors to a local food pantry. Back Creek would best be described as an evangelical Friends church, Christ-focused, Bible-believing and Spirit-led. In an era where it is not “cool” or trendy to go to church, we continue to be on the “rebellious” side of society.


Today, our “rebel cause” is to “Love God. Love others. Reach the lost. Make disciples.”