Joseph Chance: Baptist Pioneer in Illinois

Joseph Chance was born October 11, 1763 in Delaware. Little is known of his childhood, except that his father died when he was very young, and his mother remarried and moved the family to North Carolina. At some point, he moved “to Kentucky, where he professed religion, was baptized, and commenced public labors as an exhorter” (Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer, 28 May 1840). He was ordained as a lay elder by the Lunies Creek Baptist Church in Kentucky in 1776.

He married Jemima Morris around 1790, and together they raised a large family (seven children). They moved to the banks of Silver Creek River in 1794, and it was there that Chance assisted the Rev. David Badgley in organizing the first Baptist church (one of the very first Protestant churches) in Illinois territory in New Design, IL. The church met in the home of James Lemen in 1796.

lemen_home-New Design
The Home of James Lemen

Chance preached alongside Badgley at the new church, and only a few years later helped begin a new church in the American Bottom, just outside of Harrisonville, IL. With Badgley, Chance helped plant more than ten churches. In these efforts, Chance became one of the most trusted voices among Baptists in Illinois, where he (alongside the other Baptist ministers with whom he was associated) was known to be an advocate for religious liberty and an ardent opponent of slavery. In 1807, he signed the Baptist “Principles for Articles of Union on Principles of Faith,” opposing slavery and served as the moderator in Richland Church which banned members from owning slaves in 1808.

He had a “very limited” education, but found success in preaching, which was described as “chiefly exhortative, but useful” (Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer, 28 May 1840). He was finally ordained as a Baptist minister in 1806 while on a preaching trip to Indiana. He is described in the History of St. Clair Co., Illinois as having “preached the Baptist faith . . . ‘at every man’s house’ as he was always welcome” (History of St. Clair Co., Illinois, 362).

Chance is remembered as having “spent much time in traveling and preaching at his own expense, and in visiting and conversing with families. Like most other men, he had his failings—but he had also many good traits of character. He loved to attend meetings, and was always punctual in filling his appointments. Though doubtless he loved the Gospel of Christ, and felt and labored for the souls of his fellow-men, he did not enter as warmly and fully into missionary and other benevolent societies as some of his brethren, yet he never took the anti-mission ground of declaring non-fellowship with those who did. Still, he was often a missionary in his labors, by devoting much time and service where no earthly recompense was to be had. . . . [H]e seemed to delight in doing his Master’s will, and doubtless has joyfully finished the work given him to do” (Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer [28 May 1840]). It is fitting, then, for this Baptist exhorter to have died in the manner he did—doing what he knew God had called him to do and traveling to preach another sermon to another congregation.

Chance was ordained as a lay-preacher in the very same year that the nation was founded, and his efforts in Illinois helped shape not only Baptist life, but Christianity itself in the young territory. Yet, as interesting as his story is, I had not heard of Chance until a distant family member pointed out that I am a descendant of Joseph Chance.

My mother is the daughter of Charles Collins. His father was Homer Collins. Homer Collins’ mother was Florence Johnson. Florence Johnson’s mother was Texas Chance (yes, that was her real name. Texas pride runs deep in my family). Texas Chance was the daughter of the Rev. Newton Chance, who was the son of the Rev. David Robinson Chance. David Robinson Chance is the son of the Rev. Joseph Chance.

The Chance family Coat of Arms says it all.

Deo non fortuna (God, not chance).

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