Religion In The Neutral Strip

Churches were real important ‘cuz they gave us pioneers a foundation for our faith. Settlers started havin’ baptisms, weddings, funeral services, and revivals, but they needed someone holy enough to do ‘em. Well, there was these traveling preachers, known as “circuit riders,” and the most famous of all of ‘em was Joseph Willis.

Joseph Willis, a slave turned free minister, was the first Baptist preacher to preach west of the mighty Mississippi. In the early 1800s, he came to Louisiana with nothin’ but a horse, bridle, and saddle, then got ordained in 1812 and set up Calvary Baptist Church in Bayou Chicot.

As he traveled, Willis faced many dangers and prejudices, but he persevered and became pastor of Occupy Baptist Church near Pitkin, where he preached until his last breath. There’s now a monument to him in Occupy Number 1 Cemetery.