Faith, Family and Friends: The Foundations of Fouke

Faith, Family and Friends: The Foundations of Fouke

Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten

Director of Education and History

In the October 13, 2015, edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, there is an article by Frank Fellone about recent restoration efforts in Fouke, Arkansas, to beautify and improve life in the town. The article makes clear that the people of Fouke have banded together to cooperate in recent years to purchase and renovate historic sites throughout the town under the auspices of a group called Citizens for a Better Community. The group was founded in 2006 by ten unpaid volunteers who took matters into their own hands and mobilized an entire community behind their efforts. The article highlights Fouke’s Seventh Day Baptist roots, noting that the founder of the town in 1890 was James Franklin Shaw, an SDB preacher in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as the distinguishing tenets of SDB life — especially the seventh-day Sabbath. As part of the restoration efforts in Fouke, a mural was commissioned which prominently includes Shaw’s image. The heritage of the town is being acknowledged even as the residents make a better future for themselves and their community.

As it turns out, the values which underpin this new effort may not be a new phenomenon in Fouke’s history. Fouke’s founder, J. F. Shaw, was pastoring the Baptist church in Texarkana in 1883 when he encountered The Sabbath Outlook, an SDB publication edited by A.H. Lewis. Upon reading the publication, he became persuaded of the truth of the Sabbath and the next year withdrew from his church with 13 others to found the Texarkana, AR, SDB church. After a short time, however, it became clear that remaining in Texarkana was not an option for the little band of Sabbathkeepers as finding work became very difficult. In response, Shaw and his congregation moved to an area 16 miles south of Texarkana and founded the town of Fouke.

Soon after the little colony was founded, trouble struck as economic difficulty gripped the entire region. Compounding the difficulty, SDB settlers from elsewhere had arrived to the area just before the economic stress arrived, raising tensions. Shaw wrote to the Sabbath Recorder in 1889 about the difficulty his group was facing, noting that he had expended his own personal finances to ensure the well-being of the fledgling church. Around that same time, he reported extreme exhaustion and ill health (including a bout of paralysis) that nearly led to his death. Still, the group managed to hang together.

A meetinghouse for the church and a school for the education of the children were the first orders of business for the new SDB town. Both were achieved in short order, with the school taking the name of Francis Bampfield, an early SDB leader in England. However, despite the quality of the teachers, the school ran into difficulties and quickly closed. The second attempt at a school began in 1891, under the leadership of Gideon H. Fitz Randolph, called the SDB Fouke Missionary School. Later changing its name to the Fouke Academy, the school stayed in operation until 1927, when public schools were ready to shoulder the burden of education in the community. The legacy of the Fouke school is a proud one and includes the training of leaders for the Conference and the nation.

Despite dealing with a seemingly constant stream of complications and difficulties, including squabbles inside the congregation itself, the Fouke group continued to work together to survive and demonstrate the Gospel in their worship and their lives. Ultimately, the Fouke church merged with the current Texarkana church in the late 1980s. The legacy of the church lives on in the work of Seventh Day Baptists. Today, if you drive into Fouke on I-49, you will be greeted with a sign that touts Fouke as a place of “Faith, Family and Friends.” That’s a sentiment that could be true of every Seventh Day Baptist church, and is amply demonstrated through the Fouke church’s story.

1 Seed Sown: A study of SDB Work in the Southwest, by Paul V. Beebe, published by the Southwestern Association in 1972.

2 Sabbath Recorder, volume 45, issue 15, page 227. (April 1, 1889)

Clip to Evernote