Florida Baptist Historical Society’s Gallery of Historic Baptist Leaders
The story of Florida Baptists is a saga of God’s people who migrated to the Florida Territory and brought with them their missionary Baptist perspective of Christianity. It is also a story comprised of native born Floridians, who as God-called men and women used their talents, skills and resources to share the claims of Jesus Christ to a spiritually lost world. The following person is representative of those men and women that comprise the great multitude of historically significant Florida Baptists.
Historic Florida Baptist: FRANK
Frank James Fowler (1870 – 1933) was the first native Floridian to be appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board.
Fowler was born November 13, 1870 at Melrose, Florida, on an orange plantation. His parents were Hugh J. and Polly Baldwin Fowler who had ten children. They were faithful members and leaders in the Eliam Baptist Church in Melrose.
After a spiritual conversion and a call to preach at age 16, Fowler preached his first sermon at the Baptist church at Ochwilla. He attended Mercer University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After his first year in the seminary, Fowler married his first wife Mattie Aiken of Branesville, Georgia, December 23, 1897. The couple returned to Florida where he served as pastor of the Baptist churches at Waldo, New Hope, Orange Heights, LaCrosse, Lake Butler, and Starke. While at Starke, his wife Mattie died leaving a young daughter Elvie, who lived until 1922.
In the fall of 1902 Fowler returned to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to finish his studies in that he felt called as a foreign missionary. He became pastor of Trenton Street Baptist Church in Harriman, Tennessee. While there he met and married Daisy Cate Fowler on October 26, 1903.
Before completing his seminary training, Fowler was challenged to the mission opportunities that existed in Argentina, South America, which had no Southern Baptist missionaries. Following acceptance by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board the couple was appointed as missionaries to Argentina in May, 1904.
In the ensuing years the Fowlers had three children: James, Margaret and Franklin, Jr. Two of the Fowler children followed in their parents footsteps as missionaries. Margaret, upon graduating from Tift College, returned to Argentina and taught in the mission school established by her father. Franklin earned a medical degree and in 1947 became Southern Baptists’ first medical missionary to South America.
During the ensuing 30 years, the Fowlers served in the Argentina states of Buenos Aires (1904-05), Santa Fe (1906-10), Rosario (1911-17) and Mendoza (1917-33). In their missionary service the Fowlers shared the gospel, established churches and missions, and trained local church leaders. In Rosario and Mendoza they started Christian schools and taught local children basic reading, writing and math skills, in addition to teaching the Bible. Fowler is credited with starting 67 churches in Argentina and nine churches in the Andean Mountains border region. Because of his commitment to the Argentine people, he was called “Don Francisco, Apostle of Love.”
Growing health problems and an eventual blood clot resulted in Fowler’s death on his birthday November 13, 1933. Mrs. Fowler, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, continued in missionary service until 1936, when she retired as an “Emeritus Missionary.” Having returned to the United States in 1934, Mrs. Fowler was bedridden most of her remaining years until she died in 1953.
The Florida Woman’s Missionary Union undertook in 1943 the special project of raising $15,000 for the construction of a church in Mendoza, Argentina, in memory of Frank Fowler’s missionary efforts. Proposed was a brick structure to replace a small abode structure Fowler had originally built with mud and straw for the congregation he started in the Godoy Cruz neighborhood. Although over $18,483 had been raised by December, 1943, working through the bureaucracy of the Foreign Mission Board delayed the actual erection of the building for many years. Finally in 1948 the stone building located in the Godoy Cruz section of Mendoza was completed and a dedication service was held.
Primary and Secondary Sources:
Mark A. Rathal, “Frank Fowler: Apostle of Love,” The Journal of Florida Baptist Heritage,
Vol. 4, Fall, 2002, pp. 37-55.
Martha P. Trotter, Faithful Servants.
Elizabeth Provence, God’s Troubadours.
Correspondence and interviews in the Florida Baptist Historical Society files.
Florida Baptist Witness.