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Joseph Willis Institute
Dr. Rod Masteller
Directer of Joseph Willis Institute for Great Spiritual Awakening
Tel. (318) 426-1512
Joseph Willis Institute
1140 College Dr.
Pineville, LA 71359
Twice a Slave Web Site:
Joseph Willis Archives, an online Repository of Research
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Story Number 1 of 2) A "Trail of Tears"...
Over 30-years after Joseph Willis crossed the mighty Mississippi River into the Louisiana Territory his maternal ancestors would be driven out of North Carolina on the "Trail of Tears."
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which directed the executive branch to negotiate for Indian lands. This act caused the Cherokee Nation to bring suit in the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for the majority, held that the Cherokee Nation was a "domestic dependent nation," and therefore Georgia state law applied to them.
President Jackson refused to enforce the court's decision stating "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."
The Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died.
Story Number 2 of 2) A "Trail of Blood"...
In 1829 George Wilson was adjudicated guilty and given the death sentence for murder. But Wilson had some friends who petitioned President Andrew Jackson for a pardon.
Jackson granted the pardon, and it was brought to prison and given to Wilson. To everyone’s surprise, Wilson said, "I am going to hang."
There had never been a refusal to a pardon, so the courts didn’t know what to do. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Marshall (the same Justice that ruled against the "Indian Removal Act," that Jackson ignored) gave this ruling: "A pardon is a piece of paper, the value of which depends upon the acceptance by the person implicated. If he does not accept the pardon, then he must be executed."
God loves you and has provided a pardon for you and I, paid for with His Son Christ's own life-blood, but you have the right to refuse the pardon.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One thief said yes to Jesus and one said no to Him. One accepted the pardon and one refused it.
The question to you and I today is the same as it was 2,000 years ago: which "thief" on the cross are you? The one that said yes to Christ or the one that said no to His pardon?
I have chosen to be like this thief? "Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
Which "thief" are you? The one that said yes or the one that said no to God's pardon? Will you say yes...to Jesus...today?
Years ago, Dr. Sue Eakin, asked me to speak several times at (LSUA) Louisiana State University at Alexandria about Joseph Willis. Dr. Eakin was doing extensive research on the book "Twelve Years a Slave," about the slave Solomon Northup. She wanted to know what I knew about William Prince Ford (see attached three letters).
William Prince Ford was the man that bought the slave Solomon Northup. In the new movie "12 Years a Slave," with Brad Pitt, and others, Ford quotes the Bible as his right to beat Northup. I'm not an apologists, but it should be noted that Ford's actions were not reflective of our early Louisiana Baptist founders.
My 4th great-grandfather Joseph Willis (1758-1854) kept a diary. He entrusted Ford with his diary. Notes from the diary were arranged in, 1841, by Ford (a Louisiana Baptist pastor, too) into a manuscript and copied by early Louisiana Baptist author, W. E. Paxton, in 1858, for his book "A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present," (1888). Paxton admits most of his facts concerning Louisiana Baptists are from Joseph Willis' diary and Louisiana Association Minutes. Joseph's diary and Ford's manuscript are both lost today.
Ford also made remarks in his manuscript based upon the diary. One of Ford's observations, made in 1834, is recorded by Paxton and is very revealing concerning Joseph Willis.
"Nearly all the churches now left in the association were gathered either directly or indirectly by the labors of Mr.. Willis." Ford added : "‘It was truly affecting to hear him [Joseph Willis] speak of them as his children; and with all the affection of a father allude to some schisms and divisions that had arisen in the past and to warn them against the occurrence of anything of the kind in the future. But when he spoke of the fact that two or three of them had already become extinct, his voice failed and he was compelled to give utterance to his feelings by his tears; and surely the heart must have been hard that could not be melted by the manifestation of so much affection, for he wept not alone.'"
Years before, Joseph Willis was a member of the Bethel Association, in 1797, in South Carolina. Ford was also a member. Ford then, like so many others, followed Joseph Willis to Louisiana.
Ford was later excommunicated from Spring Hill Baptist Church that Joseph Willis founded. Ford is buried in Cheneyville, Louisiana, in the Old Cheneyville cemetery near the prison .
On March 7, 1984, Dr. Eakin wrote me: "We had a wonderful experience dramatizing 'Northup' and I think there could be a musical play on Joseph Willis. It seems to me it gets the message across far more quickly than routine written material."
My original idea for a play on Joseph Willis came from Dr. Eakin.
Feel free to view the trailer of "12 Years a Slave" with Brad Pitt is of interest
Dr. Eakin's son, Frank Eakin (see add below) and I have been in daily contact this past week. He and his film team will be in Austin working on a documentary in two weeks. Sammy Tippit and I hope to meet with them while they are in Austin.
Please note that at the bottom of the letter #3, dated March 7, 1984, Dr. Sue Eakin writes to me: "We had a wonderful experience dramatizing 'Northup' and I think there could be a musical play on Joseph Willis. It seems to me it gets the message across far more quickly than routine written material."
Joseph Willis Biography - The Apostle to the Opelousas
Twice a Slave a novel
Twice a Slave is a historical fiction novel based upon the life of Joseph Willis, a Native American slave who faced tragedy and great difficulty to launch Evangelical Christianity west of the Mississippi River. ~ Samuel C. Tippit with Randy Willis
News: Twice a Slave, the novel, will be available by May of 2014!
Pre-production has already begun on two additional Twice a Slave projects! Twice a Slave, the documentary, and Twice a Slave, the dramatic play.
Both are being produced at Louisiana College's Department of Mass Communication and Theatre. The documentary will be shot at numerous locations. Selected scenes from the play will also be filmed. Students will receive college credit for their participation in the various art forms and production. Twice a Slave is a historical fiction novel about Joseph Willis, a Native American slave who faced tragedy and great difficulty to launch Evangelical Christianity west of the Mississippi River. ~ Samuel C. Tippit with Randy Willis
Joseph Willis preached the first Gospel sermon ever preached west of the Mississippi River...
"According to his testimony, his father was of English and his mother of Cherokee Indian ancestry; he was born in 1758 in Bladen County, North Carolina, and was a 'Marion' man." (John Pinckney Durham and John S. Ramond, Baptist Builders in Louisiana, Shreveport, Louisiana, Durham-Ramond Publishers, 1934) p15.
A contemporary of Joseph Willis and the greatest Baptist historian of his generation, David Benedict wrote, in 1813, that "...Joseph Willis... has done much for the cause, and spent a large fortune while engaged in the ministry, often at the hazard of his life, while the State [Louisiana] belonged to the Spanish government." That date would place Joseph Willis in Louisiana, west of the Mississippi River, before October 1, 1800, the date Napoleon secured Louisiana from Spain.
Benedict's statement also establishes Joseph Willis as preaching the first Gospel sermon by an evangelical west of the Mississippi River. (David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Other Parts of the World, Boston: Printed by Lincoln and Edmonds,1813)
Joseph Willis had become accustomed to great obstacles. Decades before his first venture west, in 1798, his family (which included 5 of the 20 wealthiest plantation owners, in North Carolina) took him to court, in 1777, to deprive him of his vast inheritance - a battle that involved the first governor of the newly formed state of North Carolina.
Joseph Willis, never daunted, fought in the Revolutionary War, as a Patriot, under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox."
After the Revolutionary War, Joseph Willis, along with Richard Curtis and William Thompson, constituted a church, called 'The Baptist Church on Buffaloe' [sic] near Woodville, Mississippi, in October of 1798. (W.E. Paxton, A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present, 1888) p 33.
Joseph Willis was greatly affected by First Great Awakening preacher's George Whitefield and Shubal Stearns and crossed the Mississippi River at the very beginning of the Second Great Awakening, between 1798 and 1800, thus becoming the first evangelical foreign missionary to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ west of the Mississippi River.
According to his son, Joseph Willis Jr., Joseph Willis crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez, to preach the Gospel, riding only a mule and at the peril of his own life.
Joseph Willis entered this most hostile land, the Spanish claimed Louisiana Territory, before October 1, 1800, and was there too from October 1, 1800, to April 30, 1803, while it was the French claimed Louisiana Territory. The dreaded Code Noir, the "Black Code," was in effect during this time, which forbade the coming of any ministers into the territory except Roman Catholics. Joseph Willis defied this most terrifying rule of law by traveling into the heart of the Black Code, as far south as Lafayette, Louisiana, preaching the Gospel, at the risk of his own life.
The message that Joseph Willis brought with him would cause them to try to kill him! He would live for another 58 years, establishing churches, preaching Jesus, and over coming obstacle after obstacle.
The 200th Anniversary of Calvary Baptist Church (Establish by Joseph Willis on November 13, 1812) in Bayou Chicot, Louisiana
Evangelist Dr. Sammy Tippit, Randy Willis, Dr. Rod Masteller (Director of the Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies), and Dr. Joe Aguillard (President, Louisiana College)
The Joseph Willis Family
Dr. Rod Masteller speaking to audience members of the “Return” convention on the importance of Louisiana College and the Joesph Willis Institute
Dr. Hankins praying over Dr. Joe and Judy Aguillard and the “Return” Convention