History of

Nelson Memorial

United Methodist Church

Using resources from "History of Howard and Cooper Counties Missouri", 1883; "History of Cooper County, Missouri" by W. F. Johnson, 1919

"History of Cooper County, Missouri" by E. J. Melton, 1937; "Memorabilia of Cooper County", 1990

by Dr. & Mrs. Wiley McVicker, edited by Dr. Nick Campbell


Additional information is added at the end of the page, from “Methodism in Missouri, volume 1” written in 1881 by d. R. M’Ananlly


Pioneer Preacher Built and Ran Steamboats

JUSTINIAN WILLIAMS, born in Bath County, Virginia, married in Kentucky and then settled in Howard County, became a resident of Boonville in 1818, and that year established the first Methodist church in this locality. It is now Nelson Memorial Church. He worked at his trade, cabinet-making, and preached and organized churches during his spare time. He was the Boonville Methodist pastor for several years. In 1834, he built the first steamboat constructed in this community, about two miles above the mouth of the Bonne Femme creek in Howard County. He became its captain and operated it on inland waterways. The same year he built the "Far West", he died in Tennessee.


Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church, 407 Spring Street, Boonville, has the distinction of being the oldest Methodist congregation in the former Missouri West Conference of the United Methodist Church


In 1817 the first Methodist services were conducted by Reverend John Scripps in a private home. The demand for these services was so great that in September 1818 a class was formed under the leadership of Reverend Justinian Williams, brother of the first Mayor of Boonville. Williams was a cabinetmaker by trade and a preacher by avocation. He became the teacher of the internationally renowned artist, George Caleb Bingham, who was an apprentice in Boonville and struggled whether to pursue art or become a minister due to the influence of Williams. Art fortunately won.


By the late 1820's the church was well enough established for agitation for a building. Accordingly, Justinian Williams purchased Lot 233 of the Original Town of Boonville in February 1829, for the sum of $50.25. The present church is on this lot as were the two churches preceding this building. In 1832 the first sanctuary was erected upon the site. It was the first church built in Boonville. Showing Federal stylistic influences, the building had a typical double front entry, a second story gallery and a square cupola on the front. In 1844, the Methodist Church split over the issue of slavery. Each congregation voted whether to support slavery or abolition. The Boonville congregation voted to support slavery and became a Methodist Episcopal Church, South. This split remained on a national level until 1939 when both branches merged to form one Methodist church once again. The War Between the States caused great hardship in the Boonslick, and the Methodist Church suffered as well. Because so many Methodist Episcopal Church, South, ministers were killed by Federal troops because they officially espoused slavery, the Boonville church was not sent a minister in 1862. During this time three sisters, Mrs. James M. Nelson (Margaret Jane Wyan), Mrs. Thomas Nelson (Mary Gay Wyan) and Mrs. George Nelson (Pauline Wyan) donated a Bible to the congregation which is the oldest item now in possession of the church. These sisters had married two brothers and a cousin showing how extended family ties were during this period.


By 1880 the War Between the States was in the past and the country was booming. The congregation decided to construct a new church reflecting the new times. The Victorian structure had only one central entrance door and no gallery reflecting the changing social patterns with men and women sitting together during services and the abolition of slaves who had sat in the gallery. The new building measured 36 by 28 feet and contained a 57 foot tower on the west side for the church bell. Over $6,000 was spent to build the structure and the building was totally paid for by the time of completion.


By 1915 agitation was occurring for a larger building. This third church which is still in use was named in honor of Margaret Jane Wyan Russell Nelson of Boonville and her husband, James M. Nelson. At the time of construction in 1916, she was in her late nineties and was the oldest Methodist alive anywhere in the world and had been a Methodist longer than anybody alive, joining the Boonville church at the age of 8. Margaret was one of the sisters who gave the Bible during the War Between the States. The daughter of Jacob and Nancy Shanks Wyan, she grew up in a family noted for its devotion to the Methodist Church. Her parents gave the church bell to the congregation and also started Sunset Hills Cemetery in Boonville which was originally to be under the control of the Methodist Church. Two of Margaret's three children, Louis Nelson and Nadine Nelson Leonard of Ravenswood, donated $10,000 each toward the erection of the building. A third child, Margaret Nelson Stephens, a former First Lady of Missouri, gave $5,000 when the building was erected and then $5,000 for the church organ in 1924 in memory of her late husband, Governor Lon Vest Stephens and his parents, Joseph Lafayette and Mary Gibson Stephens. No expense was spared on the building and when dedicated the total cost was revealed $39,000. For 1917 that was a great deal of money.


Since Margaret's children had donated $25,000 and the local congregation had raised only $6,000 on the day of dedication there was a debt of $8,000. At the conclusion of the Dedication Address, Bishop Eugene Hendrix announced that nobody was leaving for dinner until the debt was cleared! He ordered the doors locked! The necessary money was pledged within an hour and the building was debt free.


By 1965 even this church had been out grown and an education wing was added to the rear at a cost of $160,000. During the construction project, the partitioned Sunday School rooms in the original building were added to the sanctuary thus doubling it in size.

A parsonage was constructed to the left of the sanctuary building in 1960. The former parsonage was demolished and the area made into a lawn west of the church.


On January 24, 1983 Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church was listed in the prestigious National Register of Historic Places as part of a historic district in Boonville. The congregation has a building fund for the upkeep of this historic structure. Today, the congregation seeks to serve the spiritual needs of the community and region just as it has for the past 170 years.


Record of pastors

1818 W. R. Jones, preacher and Jesse Walker presiding elder

1819 by John Scripps, Jesse Haile, presiding elder

1820, Levitt Green, Samuel H. Thompson, presiding elder

1821, John Blaisdell, Samuel H. Thompson, presiding elder

1822, Frederick B. Leach, David Sharp, presiding elder

1823, Stephen R. Beggs, David Sharp, presiding elder

1824, Benjamin S. Ashby, Jesse Haile, presiding elder

1825, Uriel Haw, John Dew, presiding elder

1826, John Harris, A. Monroe, presiding elder

1827, Cassell Harrison, A. Monroe, presiding elder

1828, W. W. Redman, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1829, E. T. Heery, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1830, William Crane, Alex. McAllister, presiding elder

1831, Justinian Williams, Joseph Edmondson, presiding elder

1832, W. W. Redman, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1833, John K. Lacy, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1834, John L. Irwin, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1835, J. Prior, W. W. Redman, presiding elder

1836, Ben R. Johnson, W. W. Redman, presiding elder

1837, R. H. Jordan, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1838-39, Thomas Wallace, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1840, Lester James, Jesse Greene, presiding elder

1841, John Thatcher, James Jamison, presiding elder

1842, Thomas Johnson, James Jamison, presiding elder

1843, N. Westeman, Thomas Wallace, presiding elder

1844, Thomas T. Ashby, Thomas Wallace, presiding elder

1845, George C. Light, Thomas Wallace, presiding elder

1846, Joseph Boyle, Thomas Wallace, presiding elder

1847, Joseph Boyle, Elijah Perkins, presiding elder

1848, James Mitchell, Elijah Perkins, presiding elder

1849, John Henning, Joseph Boyle, presiding elder

1850, J. F. Truslow, John A. Henning, presiding elder

1851-52, W. H. Lewis, James Mitchell, presiding elder

1853, W. M. Prottsman, James Mitchell, presiding elder

1854, Warren Wharton, James Mitchell, presiding elder

1855, Warren Wharton, D. A. Leeper, presiding elder

1856-57, A. A. Morrison, D. A. Leeper, presiding elder

1858, J. W. Lewis, D, A. Leeper, presiding elder

1859, J. W. Lewis, W. M. Prottsman presiding elder

1860-61, J. R. Hall, W. M. Prottsman, presiding elder

vacant for a while

1863, W. M. Pugh, Josiah Godbey, presiding elder

1864, W. M. Pooh, Josiah Godbey, presiding elder

1865, W. C. Godbey, Josiah Godbey, presiding elder

1866, W. J. Brown, J. A. Murphy, presiding elder

1867, G. W. Horn, M. M. Pugh, presiding elder

1868, M. G. Williams, M. M. Pugh, presiding elder

1869-70, C. P. Jones, M. M. Pugh, presiding elder

1871, W. F. Camp, W. M. Prottsman, presiding elder

1872-73, C. C. Woods, J. R. Bennett, presiding elder

1874, John A. Murphy, J. R. Bennett, presiding elder

1875, John A. Murphy, C. C. Woods, presiding elder

1876-78, C. H. Briggs, C. C. Woods, presiding elder

1879, C. H. Briggs, P. Philips, presiding elder

1880, W. M. Poague, P. Philips, presiding elder

1881-82, G. W. Horn, P. Philips, presiding elder


1883, R. S. Hunter

1885, C. M. Hawkins

1889, L. P. Norfleet

1892, J. M. Boon

1893, A. G. Dinwiddie

1896, J. W. Howell

1899, A. R. Faris

1901, O. G. Halliburton

1902, W. A. McClanahan

1906, W. H. Hinton

1909, J. E. Alexander

1913, J. W. Smith

1915, L. F. Clark

1918, O. E. Vivien

1920, W. A. Frazier

1921, L. F. Shook

1922, O. M. Richman

1926, H. J. Rand

1930, F. R. Poague

1934, J. E. McDonald

1938, P. P. Taylor

1941, W. A. Tetley

1942, F. R. Chapman

1947, Ross Fulton

1951, Arthur Hinnah

1959, Wilber Denney

1962, Mark Horn

1967, Charles Burner

1976, H. Lewis Johnston

1978, John Pfister

1985, Steve Cox

1989, George Kingore

1991, Russell Maggard

1997, Dan Faust

2004, Roger Metscher

2007, Elmer McClaflin

2011, Nick Campbell



(additional notes from “Methodism in Missouri” volume 1, by D. R. M’Anally , published in 1881)


1816 Missouri Conference is formed by action of the General Conference.  The Missouri Conference was bounded by the Ohio conference on the north, by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on the east, and by the Arkansas River on the south (no western boundary was given).  This included Illinois, Missouri, part of Arkansas, and a part of Indiana.


22 preachers are assigned to the conference: 12 in Illinois (which included part of Indiana), and 10 in the Missouri Territory (which included part of Arkansas).  Joseph Piggot was assigned to the Boonslick Circuit, which was north of the Missouri River and included the town of Franklin.  The Boonslick Circuit increased its membership from 14 persons to 200 persons that year, with most of the increase likely coming from settlers moving west from Saint Louis and Cold Water (about 40 miles north of Saint Louis).


October 1817 John Scripps (full connection pastor) and William Townsend (on trial pastor) are appointed to the Boonslick Circuit.  On his way from conference to Franklin, they stopped in Boonville, and Scripps decided to make this a regular preaching place, “procur(ing) a preaching-place in a private house.”


September 1818 Alexander McAlister was appointed to the Boonslick Circuit. Justinian Williams was likely the “the local preacher” for the Boonville congregation, responsible for the work of the congregation when the appointed preaching elder was not present.  It was under Williams’ leadership that the property at 4th and Springs Street were purchased in 1829, and the first Methodist Church was built in 1832, moving from the private house where they worshiped.  Williams was responsible for territory in “Cooper, Cole, Boone, Howard , and Saline counties. He was above mediocrity, and was counted a fine preacher in that day” (p. 354).  “The Methodist was the first church-edifice erected in Boonville” (p. 362).  A camp meeting was held, with 21 persons “enlisted . . . under the Redeemer’s banner and rallied to our colors.”


September 1819 John Scripps and John Harris were appointed to the Boonslick Circuit.  The Boonslick Circuit had asked John Scripps to return, even though there was a rumor that he would be “torn to pieces” by the advocates of slavery.  Scripps accepted the challenge, and often insisted that both slaves and slave owners meet together for worship.  On a few occasions, Scripps had Brother Tom, a slave who had been elected unanimously by both slaves and whites as their class leader, lead the worship services and issue the invitations to repentance. [This was at General Ramsey’s Settlement, located in Callaway County.  General Ramsey was “a member of the first convention that formed the first constitution of Missouri.”]


The duel of Rector and Barton, which took place on Bloody Island, June 30, 1823, led to the death of David Barton after the first shot.  Barton was at the time a United States senator representing Missouri.


Issues facing the church included temperance, the Blackhawk War, relations with the native people, the spread of cholera, tensions over slavery, and the supposed plot of Mormonism to rally “the Indians” to Joseph Smith’s leadership in a war to establish his own country.  The Missouri Annual Conference passed a resolution in 1832 that the music sung in church be of a high standard, and unlike the “wishy-washy” tunes to which the people were accustomed (pp. 431-432).


The report in 1836 was not encouraging for Boonville.  The presiding elder of the Palmyra District wrote, “But we have pleasant sailing in every circuit, compared with Boonville.  This is surely ‘Satan’s seat.’  B. R. J. [Ben R. Johnson, Boonville’s pastor] has his difficulties and trials, of various kinds.  Out of five hundred and fifty members, as returned by J. L. Irwin, about two hundred and seventy or eighty only can be found in any way. . . . Three or four preaching places have been given up for the present, and Brother Johnson says that he has never had such trials in all his life (pp. 499-500).”


The 23rd Annual Conference met in Boonville Sept. 26, 1838.  This was the first conference that included a pastoral address, in addition to the regular business work of appointments and finances.  It was also at this conference that the Shawnee School and Mission was approved (pp. 538-541).  Thomas Wallace was the pastor at Boonville, popular with the people of Boonville, and considered one of the most highly regarded pastors in the conference (p. 547).  During the Bishop’s address to the conference, a large creaking sound was heard (likely the shifting of the make-shift extra pews brought in for the conference), and many thought the building was about to come crashing down.  This led to a rush to the doors and windows, and a few persons were injured.  The conference continued only after the bishop assured the people the church building was safe (pp. 547-548).