Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Workday Wednesday: Thomas Smiley, Missionary and Minister

White Deer Batist Church, Allenwood, Pennsylvania
photo by Miranda,

When I  last posted about my 4GGrandfather, Thomas Smiley, he had suffered the indignity of being tarred and feathered by those opposed to his peace efforts during the Yankee-Pennamite Wars in Pennsylvania.  At the time of that event, Thomas was the minister of the Chemung Baptist Church on Towanda Creek in eastern Pennsylvania.(1)  To learn what happened to Thomas and his family after they left the Towanda Creek area, I ended up finding a lot of information in books of Baptist church history.  And once again, HathiTrust provided the access to this type of historical information.

Interestingly, Thomas Smiley had been raised in a strict "Seceder Church", an offshoot of the Presbyterian Church, and his beliefs had earlier caused controversy within his own family.  When Thomas became a Baptist, "he became a stranger to the rest of the family and so remained behind when [his parents and siblings] crossed the mountains to ... Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1785".(2)  Until the tar and feather incident, Thomas had remained in the Towanda Creek area where he farmed and served as both a missionary and a Baptist minister.

After leaving the Towanda Creek / Wyoming area, Thomas and his family moved to the White Deer Valley in central Pennsylvania.  There Thomas Smiley founded the White Deer Baptist Church, a church which is still active today.  According to an article in the Williamsport SunGazette, "White Deer was the second Baptist church established in the area, but is the oldest existing church along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.  It was founded Oct 23 1808, with just 10 members."(3)

In 1810 this area of Pennsylvania was still considered to be part of our country's western frontier.  The Philadelphia Baptist Missionary Society listed Thomas Smiley as one of its frontier missionaries in 1810 and recognized his work along the western boarders of the Susquehanna River.(4)  In a letter to the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society written in 1814, Thomas told the group, "I do not entertain a doubt but that if it were in our power we would be among the first to assist in the propagation of the gospel among the heathen".(5)  It sounded as if Rev. Smiley considered himself to be both a  minister to the Native Americans as well as to others who had settled in that area.

Between 1820 and Thomas' death in 1832, the number of Baptist churches was growing in that area of Pennsylvania.  The churches began holding yearly associational meetings in which Thomas Smiley often played an important role.  For a number of years he give the opening sermon for the meetings, as well as sometimes serving as moderator and / or clerk for recording the meeting's activities.  The chart below, taken from a book on the history of this part of Pennsylvania, lists Thomas' part in these annual events.

Thomas Smiley's role in the Northumberland Baptist Association, 1821-1832 (6)

Elder Smiley, as Thomas was referred to, remained  the pastor of White Deer Baptist Church until his death in 1832.  Shortly before his death, Thomas wrote a history of the Chemung Baptist Association.(8)  His manuscript had a daunting title, History of the Chemung Baptist Association: containing an account of the rise of the churches, a sketch of their travel, together with the cause of some of them disappearing, including also, a Narration of the Association, the substance of the circular letters and other business done.  A copy of the Chemung manuscript remained in the Smiley family for a number of years.  According to WorldCat, the University of Wisconsin in Madison today holds a copy of the manuscript on microfilm.

Following his death, Thomas was buried in the White Deer Baptist Church Cemetery.  Later a marker was placed there in memory of the church's first minister.  Although parts of his earlier life had been tumultuous, once Thomas Smiley and his family come to the White Deer Valley section of Pennsylvania, he founded a new church and apparently found a more peaceful and rewarding life.

Elder Thomas Smiley grave marker
White Deer Baptist Church Cemetery, Allenwood, Pennsylvania
photo by Dave on

(1) Vedder, Henry C.  A History of the Baptists in the Middle States.   Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1898; accessed through www,
(2)  Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania: Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and of Manh of the Early Settled Families.  Chicago: J H Beers, 1893. 
(3) Long, Eric.  "White Deer Valley Baptist Church Observing Bicentennial Year", Williamsport SunGazette,  17 Mar 2008.
(4) Spencer, David.  The Early Baptist of Philadelphia.  Philadelphia: W Syckelmoore, 1877; accessed
(5) American Baptist Foreign Mission Society.  Proceedings of the Baptist convention for missionary purposes: held in Philadelphia, in May, 1814.  Philadelphia: Printed for the Convention, by A Coles, 1814; accessed
(6) Meginness, John Franklin.  Otzinachson: Or, a History of the West Brance Valley of the Susquehanna ...  Philadelphia: H B Ashmead, 1857; accessed
(7)  Bailey, Edward L.  History of the Abington Baptist Association: From 1807-1857.  Philadelphia: J A Wagenseller, 1863; accessed

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