The Baptism of White County’s First Judge


1903 North Main, Searcy, AR 72143

I happened upon a journal that had been placed on the Internet by Brigham Young University and was surprised to find a White County connection with the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Mormon missionary traveled this area in 1840 and while here baptized at least one person - Lewis Kirkpatrick. From my understanding, he was the first White County judge, appointed when the state and county were formed. I am not aware if he was still the judge at the time of his baptism.


In the spring of 1804 we all moved over to Nauvoo, and I got my license as an elder, bearing the date of April 20, 1840, which I now have in Hyrum Smith’s own handwriting, which I intend to always try and preserve. Soon after this, I set out on foot towards the south with the intent to try to preach the gospel, young and unlearned as I was, but I had never spoken in public in my life. When I got to Louisiana [Missouri], 40 miles below Quincy, I went to the captain of a steamboat, and told him I wanted to get a passage on his boat but had no money. I also told him my business. He said I was very young to be on such an important mission but he granted my request so I rode on his boat to Herculaneum, 25 or 30 miles below St. Louis, and then went on foot to Washington County, Missouri, where Uncle Jacob Stout and family lived. I there gave out an appointment to preach in Mr. Buford’s schoolhouse. At the appointed hour, I arose and opened by prayer and then spoke on the first principles of the gospel for about three-quarters of an hour. I was somewhat embarrassed, not being used to speaking in public, but I did call on the Lord for strength and wisdom to enable me to perform my duty with an eye single to His glory. I then gave leave for remarks, but none was made, so I gave out an appointment 10 miles up the river at the widow McNeil’s house and on the next Sabbath I attended to that and after I was through with my discourse, Benjamin McNiel, whose wife was my cousin, made some remarks. He was a Methodist class leader.

I then went 50 miles further south to John Rounds, who also married my cousin, and there preached five times in Randolph and Lawrence counties. I then went on to Batesville, where I was threatened to be hanged and burned by an old doctor, but the landlord of the tavern made him stop his noise. So I went on to White County and held a meeting at Thomas Royas’ then went 10 miles to Gabriel Baker’s, whose wife was a Stout. I there preached once and then went on to the city of Little Rock and gave out an appointment to preach in the city hall, at early candlelight, but as soon as I arose about 40 or 50 men arose on their feet and began to ask impertinent questions, and then began to stamp on the floor and swear. I tried to call the house to order three times and this only made them worse. So I started downstairs and one man said to me, “If you are not out of this city by sunrise, you will ride out on a rail.” I told him that I had never yet rode in that manner, nor I was not afraid of having to do it. I then returned to the hotel where I had stopped, and several of the citizens came to me and asked me if I would preach if they would call out the police and keep order. I said I would. So they deliberated on the matter, but finally said that they would have to kill some of those ruffians to keep order. So they gave it up, but they were anxious to hear a Mormon preach. I then returned to White County to Baker’s and he gave me a chance to go to school free of cost. So I stopped awhile and still preached in that and adjoining settlements until fall, but the school did not get under way, so I returned to Nauvoo to the fall conference on the 6th of October, 1840.

I stayed in Nauvoo until about the 20th of November [1840] and then set out on foot through the swamps towards Little Rock. The first day I traveled 14 miles and stayed all night and in the morning, the man of the house would not let me go until he had searched me and my valise for money, though I told him I had none in the evening before. I then went on and had to wade through mud and water and some ice until I came to Gabriel Baker’s in White County, Arkansas. I there found a trial on hand before Baker and another esquire. They were trying Henry Stacey for the crime of murder, which was not uncommon in that country. I stayed there through the winter and went to school some of the time, worked some and preached the gospel in several of the adjoining settlements. I baptized Lewis Kirkpatrick when I was there.

And on or about the 4th of July, 1841, I got a letter from my brother Hosea in Nauvoo stating that the mob was about the act of kidnapping Joseph and taking him to Missouri. So I wrote a letter and put my elder’s license in it and directed it to Nauvoo, then left my books and journals at Brother Kirkpatrick’s and set out on foot for home.

Judge Lewis Kirkpatrick is buried at Stamps Cemetery, along with members of the James Walker family who helped found the Royal Colony some 170 years ago. White County Historical Society researchers continue to search for the precise location of this early settlement. The Walker home, built in 1832, (illustration below) was located four miles south of Floyd. These comments are from White County Historical Society president Bill Leach:

“About two years ago there was a lengthy article in the White River Journal (Des Arc) which was a reprint of a journal from the 1880s in which a Mormon missionary told of a large group of Methodists being converted to the Mormon Church, and their meeting on the banks of the Bayou Des Arc. According to the article, this group eventually moved in mass to Utah. Also, a few years ago in the same paper, in the Looking Back section, there were a couple of articles about the Mormons having their state meeting at McBee School House south of Des Arc. The public was invited to come and hear Mormonism explained. This date was from around 1900, so there may have been a remnant left. South of Quitman and north of Enola is little community called Barney. According to Ken Slade, who was the bishop of the Mormon Church here in Searcy, the first Mormon Church in Arkansas was at Barney, and it mostly consisted of a Baker family, which would fit the history. This church was divided about 1960 and the members used to start the Mormon Churches at Searcy and Conway. I had the impression that the Barney Church had started in this century, but it may go back to the 1840s.

“There is some confusion over where the White County line was on the western edge, before Faulkner County was formed. For example the ‘Humorous History’ [by Claude Johnson] lists Muddy Bayou as a White County post office in the 1850s. Muddy Bayou is the earlier name of Mt. Vernon, which is now barely out of the county. Another example is a minister's credentials for the Liberty Church of Christ are on file in the White County Courthouse, with the implication that the Liberty Church of Christ was in White County in 1867. I think that this refers to the Liberty Church of Christ the other side of Vilonia. Hence, the Barney area may have been considered part of White County.

“The Baker Family may have moved, or there may not even be a connection. Could the ‘Thomas Roya's’ be ‘Thomas Royal’ of the Royal Colony? Claude Johnson states that Royal Township, which is the area where the Royal Colony was, was named for the Royall Family.”