THE history of American Baptists naturally divides into three periods or movements. The first coincides nearly with the colonial period of our secular national history. It is marked by faithful witness to the truth on the one hand, and by bitter persecution on the other. The second period also corresponds with an era of secular history, the time of territorial expansion, and is marked by unexampled growth and missionary activity (1776-1845). The third period, extending from about the time of the Mexican War to our own day, may be called the period of evangelism and education. These divisions are largely arbitrary, of course, and there are no well-marked lines of division, the periods designated overlapping each other. The division has, however, a certain mnemonic value; and as we proceed the characteristics attributed to each period will be seen to be justified by the facts.
The historians of Puritan New England assert that among the early immigrants to their colony were some tainted with Anabaptism. One of those suspected of this offense was Hanserd Knollys. Of the details of his stay in America little is known save that it was barely three years. He arrived at Boston in 1638, and very soon after became pastor of a church at Piscataway (now Dover), N. H. There is no evidence that Knollys held Baptist views at this time; as we have already seen (p. 216), he was ordained pastor of a Baptist church in London (England) in 1645, and all the circumstances of his life up to that time compel the conclusion that he had only recently become a Baptist. While he was pastor at Piscataway his church was rent by a dispute regarding infant baptism (this we know from an Episcopalian visitor to the colony in April, 1641), which warrants the conclusion that though there were people of Baptist sentiments in the church it was not a Baptist church. To escape persecution the church in large part removed in 1641 to Long Island, and thence to New Jersey, where they formed a Baptist church (probably in 1689) and gave to it the same name the New Hampshire colony had borne. This is the story of the origin of the oldest Baptist church but one (Middletown, formed in i688) in New Jersey. If we conclude that Knollys and his church were not Baptist, then the first Baptist church organized in America was that of Providence. But before speaking of that we must consider the previous history of its founder.
Much obscurity hangs over the early life of Roger Williams, but he was probably the son of a merchant tailor of London, James Williams, and his wife Alice. He was born about 1607, and Sir Edward Coke, the great English lawyer, attracted by his promise, secured for him entrance to Sutton’s Hospital. Here he completed his preparatory studies and then entered the University of Cambridge, where he took his bachelor’s degree in 1627. He was offered several livings in the Church of England, but it does not appear that he was ever actually beneficed, lie was apparently ordained, since he is described on his arrival at Boston as “a godly minister.” He embraced Puritan principles, and it is even probable that he was a Separatist in principle before leaving England. He determined to leave England, and in 1631 landed in Boston, where he hoped to find greater religious freedom. He found the Puritans fully as intolerant as Laud, and was by no means satisfied with the half-way reformation that they were disposed to make. He saw the inconsistency of the New England theocracy, in which the functions of the Church and State were so interblended that the identity of each was in danger of being lost. He had grasped the principle that the Church and the State should be entirely separate and independent each of the other. It is not at all probable that Williams had imbibed these notions from the English Baptists, or that he even knew of their holding such doctrines. At this time he was not, at any rate, an Anabaptist. He found no fault with the Congregational doctrine or discipline, but denounced the principle of a State Church, and upheld the right of soul liberty on natural and scriptural grounds alike.
In spite of his heterodoxy, Williams was called to be minister to the church at Salem, where he was highly esteemed for his zeal and eloquence. The Salem church had acted against the will of the Massachusetts authorities, and to prevent trouble Williams went for a time to Plymouth. He returned to Salem as pastor again, but was soon summoned before the court in Boston and condemned to banishment. The first (and no doubt the chief) charge against him was, “That the magistrate ought not to punish the breach of the first table, otherwise than in such case as did disturb the civil peace.” This was also stated in the decree of banishment as the chief cause: “Whereas, Mr. Roger Williams, one of the elders of the church of Salem, bath broached and divulged new and dangerous opinions against the authority of magistrates.” Nothing can be clearer, as a matter of historical record, than that the chief cause of the banishment of Roger Williams was his teaching with regard to religious liberty, that the magistrate has no right to punish breaches of the first table of the law—those commandments, namely, that relate to the worship of God.
After his banishment, Williams made his way, in the dead of winter, to Narragansett Bay. While at Plymouth he had learned something of the Indian dialects, and he was kindly received. At what is now Providence he founded a settlement, many of his former Salem charge removing to this place. The original settlers in 1638 entered into a compact reading thus: “We whose names are hereunder written, being desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to submit ourselves in active and passive obedience to all such orders or agencies as shall be made for the public good of the body in an orderly way, by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others whom they shall admit into the same, only in civil things.” A similar agreement was signed in 1640; the principle was embodied in the code of laws adopted by the colony in 1647, and was finally incorporated in the royal charter given by Charles II. in 1663: “Our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences of opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of the said colony.” Thus was founded the first government in the world, whose corner-stone was absolute religious liberty.
It is true that a few other countries had before this, and for periods more or less brief, tolerated what they regarded as heresy; but this was the first government organized on the principle of absolute liberty to all, in such matters of belief and practice as did not conflict with the peace and order of society, or with ordinary good morals. And though this government was insignificant in point of numbers and power, it was the pioneer in a great revolution, its principle having become the fundamental law of every American State, and influenced strongly even the most conservative European States. Though he did not originate the idea of soul liberty, it was given to Roger Williams, in the providence of God, to be its standard-bearer in a new world, where it should have full Opportunity to work itself out, and afford by its fruits a demonstration that it is of God and not of man.
Up to this time Williams was not a Baptist; but his continued studies of the Scriptures led him to the belief that the sprinkling of water on an unconscious babe does not constitute obedience to the command of our Lord, “Be baptized.” Having arrived at this conviction, he wished to be baptized; but in this little colony, separated from other civilized countries by an ocean or a wilderness, where was a qualified administrator to be found? In the meantime, other converts to the truth had been made, whether by his agency or by independent study of the word. They resolved to follow the precept and example of Christ in the only way possible to them. Some time about March, 1639, therefore, Williams was baptized by Ezekiel Holliman, who had been a member of his church at Salem; and thereupon Williams baptized ten others, and the first Baptist church on American soil was formed. It is highly probable, though not conclusively established, that this baptism was an immersion. No other baptism is known to have been practised, in a single instance, by American Baptists. There are a number of other instances in the history of American Baptists of the formation of a church after this manner—the constituent members either being ignorant that there were other Christians who agreed with them, or being so far distant from any other Baptists that the procurement of an administrator was out of the question.
Williams was, however, one of the most erratic and unstable men of his time; and a few months later he came to the conclusion that this baptism by one who had not himself been baptized in an orderly manner was not valid baptism. He withdrew himself from the church, and for the rest of his life was unconnected with any religious body, calling himself a “seeker.” He seems to have been misled by an idea that, if logically carried out, would unchurch every church, by making all administration of ordinances invalid.
Whether the present First Baptist Church of Providence is the lineal successor of this church founded by Roger Williams is a difficult historical question, about which a positive opinion should be expressed with diffidence. Tradition maintains that the line of succession has been unbroken; but the records to prove this are lacking. The facts appear to be that after the departure of Williams, one of those whom he had baptized, Thomas Olney, became the head of the church, to which was added soon after a number of new-corners, chief among which were William Wickcndon, Chad Brown, and Gregory Dexter. The original members were of Puritan antecedents and Calvinists; the new-corners appear to have been Arminians, and inclined to make the laying on of hands after baptism an article of faith. It has been conjectured that the three men named were associated with Olney in a plural eldership, but all these matters are doubtful since the earliest records of the Providence church begin with the year 1775,1 and back of that we have only tradition and conjecture. All that is certain is that controversy began and continued until it reached the acute stage in 1652, when the church was divided. A part, the smaller, apparently, adhered to the original faith of the church, and remained under the pastoral care of Thomas Olney. This wing of the church became extinct somewhere about 1720. The larger part of the members adhered to Wickendon, Brown, and Dexter, and became a Six-principle church, remaining such until a comparatively late time in 1771, through the influence of President James Manning, the majority adopted a Calvinistic creed, whereupon the Six-principle minority seceded. Both these branches still survive, the format now bearing the title of the First Baptist Church of Providence.
There is another church that disputes with this the honor of being the oldest Baptist church in America Its founder, Dr. John Clarke, is one of the most interesting characters of his time, but his early history is much involved in dispute and obscurity; the true date of his birth even is unknown. According to one authority. perhaps the best, he was born in Suffolk, England, October 8, 1609. We know that he was a scholar in his manhood, with a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew such as men seldom gained in England outside of the universities; but which university he attended, and what degree he took, are facts not as yet discovered by investigation. An extant legal document bearing date of March 12, 1656, is almost the only relic of his life in England in that he describes himself as a physician of London There seems no room for doubt that he was of the Puritan party, and that he left England to escape persecution and enjoy the greater freedom of the new world.
When he reached Boston, in November, 7637, it must have seemed to him that he had truly jumped from the frying-pan into the fire. There had been trouble among the Puritans there, and Sir Henry Vane and others had been deprived of their arms and ordered to leave the colony. Clarke became the leader of certain of these in establishing a colony elsewhere. A constitution was drawn up and signed in March, 1638, which made the law of Christ the law of this new community. An experiment was made in New Hampshire, but the climate was thought too cold, and a location was sought farther south. This led to the purchase from the Indians of the island of Aquidneck, which was renamed Rhode Island. Two settlements were formed, the northern one called Portsmouth and the southern Newport. The original code of laws has not been preserved, but in 1641 it was “Ordered that none be accounted a delinquent for doctrine, provided that it be not directly repugnant to the government or laws established.” The Providence compact limiting the authority of the magistrate to civil things was made in 1639, and is the older instrument, but Newport divides with Providence the honor of first establishing this principle in civil government.
In the same year in which the colony was founded, a church was organized in Newport, and Mr. Clarke became its teaching elder, apparently from the first. What sort of a church this was we do not positively know.2 There is no evidence at present known to exist by which the religious opinions and practices of Clarke up to this time may be determined. He may have been imbued with Baptist doctrine before coming to America, but there is nothing in his conduct inconsistent with the theory that he came here simply a Puritan Separatist, like Roger Williams. Our first definite knowledge of this church comes from the report made in March, 1640, by the commissioners from the church in Boston. Of the faults they allege, Anabaptism is not one, whence it seems a safe conclusion that at this time this was not a Baptist church. When and how it became such we do not know. The date 1644 is purely traditional, and the first positive knowledge we have is October, 1648, when we know3 that a Baptist church existed in Newport, having fifteen members. In 1654 or 1656 a controversy arose in this church, as in that in Providence, and with a like result—a Six-principle church was constituted, under the leadership of William Vaughn, who had previously received the rite of laying on of hands from Wickendon and Dexter at Providence.
Doctor Clarke retained his connection with the church he founded until his death, though much of his time was absorbed by public duties. In the autumn of 1651 he was sent by the colonists to England, to obtain a new and better charter. He remained there twelve years, finding it impossible to gain his end during the Protectorate. Shortly after his arrival he printed his “ Ill News from New England,” which shares with Roger Williams’ “Bloody Tenet of Persecution,” the praise of advocating liberty of conscience at a time when that doctrine was decried even by those who called themselves friends of liberty. Finally, what he could not procure from the Cromwells he succeeded in obtaining from Charles II., who on July 9, 1663, set his hand to a charter that secured civil and religious liberty to the colony of Rhode Island—a charter under which the State was governed until the year 1843.
Returning to Newport in 1664, Clarke became one of the chief citizens of the colony. He was deputy governor in 1669, and again in 1671, having declined the office in 1670. Soon after he retired to private life, and died suddenly April 20, 1676. His services to his State, and to the cause of liberty, were quite as great as those of the better known Williams. But for him the charter of 1663 would never have been obtained; and there is good reason to infer, from internal evidence, that a good part of that instrument was drawn by him. He was the most eminent Baptist of his time in New England, and his name deserves to be held in the highest honor.
The formation of Baptist churches in Massachusetts was greatly impeded by the resolute opposition of the colonial authorities. A theocratic government had been established, in which all rights of citizenship were denied to those who were not members of the churches of the Standing Order.4 From the first there were individuals who came into collision with this government, by reason of their Anabaptist convictions. These the magistrates proceeded to deal with sharply. In 16445 one Thomas Painter, of Hingham, refused to have his child baptized, and stoutly protested against such a ceremony as “an anti-Christian ordinance,” whereupon he was tied up and whipped. In the same year, and for several years following, there are records of several presentments to the Salem court of men who withheld their children from baptism or argued against infant baptism. These men were proceeded against on general principles, without authority of law, but in November, 1644, the General Court enacted a statute that whoever “ shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the ministration of the ordinances, or shall deny the ordinance of magistracy, or their lawful right and authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the court wilfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.”
The most prominent among the violators of this law was Henry Dunster. A native of Lancashire (born about 1612), he was educated at Magdalen College, Cambridg where he took his baehelors degree in 1630 and the master’s in 1634. He probably took orders in the Church of England, but his advancement was made impossible by his adoption of Separatist ideas, and he decided to seek a career in the new world, lie arrived at Boston toward the end of the summer of 1640, and in the following year he was chosen, almost by acclamation, to be the president of the new college established by the Massachusetts colony. For this post his learning, his piety, and his skill in affairs combined to make him an ideal occupant, and for twelve years he discharge the duties connected with his important office with universal satisfaction and applause.
In the year 1653 the birth of a fourth child brough to an issue doubts that he appears to have entertaine for some time regarding infant baptism. He now definitely made known his conviction that oniy believer should be baptized, and set forth his reasons in sevem sermons. Great excitement was at once provoked by this procedure of Dunster’s, and no wonder. The deniof infant baptism was a blow at the very foundations a the Puritan theory of Church and State, and Dunster had become a dangerous enemy of the Commonwealth. Either he must be suppressed or the whole social fabric of Massachusetts must be remodeled. We need not be surprised that the former alternative was chosen. Dunster was virtually compelled to resign the presidency at the college, but it is possible that no further proceeding would have been taken against him save for his own in discretion. He insisted on being heard during a service of the Cambridge church, and set forth his views a length. For the offense of thus disturbing worship, he was indicted, tried, and condemned to receive an admonition from the General Court. He was also presented for refusal to have his child baptized, and required to give surety for his further appearance in court at Boston, in September, 1657. No record of further proceedings against him remains, and his (leath in 1659 removed him from the jurisdiction of the General Court of Massachusetts.
What he thus escaped may perhaps be inferred from the treatment of John Clarke, the founder of the Newport church, and Obadiah Holmes, who was destined to be Clarke’s successor. While they were spending the Lord’s Day with a brother who lived near Lynn, it was concluded to have religious services in the house. Two constables broke in while Mr. Clarke was preaching from Rev. 3 10, and the men were haled before the court. For this offense they were sentenced to pay, Clarke a fine of twenty pounds, and Holmes one of thirty pounds, in default of which they were to be “well whipped.” A friend paid Clarke’s fine, and he was set at liberty whether he would or no; but on September 6, 165!, Holmes was “whipped unmercifully” (the phrase is Bancroft’s) in the streets of Boston, for the atrocious crime of preaching the gospel and of adding thereto the denial of infant baptism.
These repressive measures were quite unavailing; Anabaptist sentiments continued to increase among the Puritans, and in addition, immigrants began to come who had been Baptists in the old country. John Myles, who, as we have seen, was the founder of the first Baptist church in Wales, was one of the victims of the Act of Uniformity, and soon after it went into effect he and a number of the members of the Ilston church came to the new world and at first settled at Rehoboth. Here, in 1663, they organized a Baptist church, which was in 1667, removed to a new settlement, named Swansea, it memory of the city near which they had dwelt in Wales This church, the first formed in the Massachusetts colony, has had an uninterrupted existence to this day. A became its origin, it was a strongly Calvinistic body, but second Swansea church was formed in 1685 that was strongly Arminian.
The time was now ripe for an organized protest agains the errors of the Puritan churches, by the formation a Baptist church in Boston itself. The leader of this enter prise was Thomas Goold, or Gould, a friend of President Dunster, a resident of Charlestown. Influenced, nodoubt, by his friend’s teaching and example, Goold refused, in 1655, to present an infant child for baptism, and was duly admonished therefor by the Charlestown elders A course of warning, expostulation, and discipline continuing for ten years so far failed to convince Thomas Goold of his error, that on May 28, 1665, a Baptist church was organized in his house, where meetings of Baptists had been held more or less regularly for several years. A storm of persecution at once broke upon this little band of nine, of whom two were women. The Swansea church, being situated on the borders of Rhode Island, was comparatively undisturbed; not so the church in Boston. At the time of its organization the Puritan churches were torn by the dissensions that finally resulted in the adoption of the Half-way Covenant; but, as in all family quarrels, both parties to the contest were ready to pounce upon any intruder. Such they consicdered this new Baptist church to be, and a determined effort was made to suppress it. Shortly after its organization the members were summoned before the court and ordered to “desist from such theire meeting, & irreligious practises, as they would Answer the contrary at theire peril.”
They were not the desisting kind, however, and persisted in teaching their “damnable errors,” and holding meetings, whereupon nearly all of them were at one time or another, and several more than once, imprisoned or fined, or both. Thomas Goold, who had become the first pastor of the church, was the severest sufferer, though he had several companions; and his health was so broken by his frequent and long imprisonments that he died in October, 1675. In 1670 he removed to Noddle’s Island, and the church met in his house there, coming from Boston, Woburn, and other places for the purpose.
In the latter part of the year 1678 the church began to build a meeting-house in Boston, on what is now Salem Street, a modest frame building, on ground owned by two of the members. This was indeed flying in the face of the Puritan State, and by order of the General Court the marshal nailed up the doors and posted the following notice upon them:
All Psons are to take notice yt by orde of ye Court ye dores of this howse are shutt up & yt they are Inhibitted to hold any meeting therein or to open ye dores thereof, without lishence from Authority, till ye gennerall Court take further order as they will answer ye Contrary att theire p’ill, dated in boston 8th march 1680, by orde of ye Councell
EDWARD RAWSON Secretary.
This was, however, the last serious persecution of the church. The court did not venture to enforce its order beyond a single Sunday; on the following Lord’s Day the doors were found open, and there was no further interference with the worship of the church. Before 1671, while the persecution was at its height, twenty-two (including eight women) had united with the church. After persecution ceased the growth was naturally still more rapid. Much indignation had been caused, both in the colony itself and in England, by the Puritan persecutions of Baptists and Quakers—the iatter suffering even more than Baptists, some even to death—and there was great danger that the charter would be lost. This, in fact, befell a few years later. The Puritan theory had broken down—a theocracy had been proved an impossible form of government in New England. In 1691 a new charter was given by William and Mary; Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were consolidated into the one colony of Massachusetts, and the charter assured “liberty of conscience to all Christians, except Papists.” Baptists were henceforth exempt from persecution, but not from taxation to support a State church.
For a long time the growth of Baptists in New England continued to be slow. The next church to be established was that at Kittery, Me., the Province of Maine then being part of the Massachusetts colony. Two settlers at that place, William Screven and Humphrey Churchwood, came to hold Baptist views, made their way to Boston, and were baptized into the fellowship of the church on June 21, 1681. Mr. Screven was licensed to preach, and on his return to Kittery, organized a church. He was imprisoned and fined ten pounds by the provincial authorities for pronouncing infant baptism “no ordinance of God, but an invention of men.” Finding that there was no prospect of their being permitted to serve God in peace, the little church of seventeen made preparations for removal. They settled near the site of the present city of Charleston, S. C., and reorganizing in 1684, established the First Baptist Church of that town. Not for more than fourscore years was another attempt made to plant a Baptist church in Maine.
Aside from a church formed among the Indians at Chilmark, in Martha’s Vineyard (1693), these were the only Calvinistic Baptist churches formed in New England during the seventeenth century.6 There were, however, two churches of the Arminian or Six-principle order in Rhode Island—the North Kingston (1665), and the Tiverton (1685). There was also a Seventh-day church in Newport that had been founded in 1671. In all, therefore, there were ten small churches, with probably not more than three hundred members, in the year 1700.
The only direction in which any considerable progress was made for about half a century was in Connecticut. There some Baptists, probably removed from Rhode Island, were found early in the eighteenth century, and a church was organized in 1705, at Groton, of which Valentine Wightman became the pastor. This was a Six-principle church. But the churches formed at New London (1710), Wallingford (1731), Southington (1738), and North Stonington (1743) were either Calvinistic churches from the beginning or soon became such.7
This slow progress is by no means surprising. The atmosphere of New England was not favorable to spiritual vigor in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the policy pursued toward Baptists there had prevented immigrants of that faith from turning their faces in that direction.
In the Middle States the conditions of growth were, on the whole, more favorable. The only persecution experienced was in the colony of New York, and that was for a brief time under the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant. Misled by the liberal promises of the Dutch West India Company a number of Baptists had settled on Long Island, in what are now Gravesend and Flushing. One of the most prominent was John Bowne, who had come to this country from England in 1635, first settling at Salem, Mass. He may not have been a Baptist at this time, but he was a dissenter both from the Church of England and the Established Church of Massachusetts. He offended the Dutch authorities by his tenderness towards the “abominable people called Quakers,” who were then being punished in New Amsterdam with little less severity than was shown in New England. Bowne was arrested and fined for giving aid and shelter to these people, and on his refusal to pay his fine, he was banished and sent by ship to Holland.
He at once appealed to the directors of the company. and they promptly condemned their agent. The Dutch were too hearty lovers of religious liberty, and had experienced too much of the horrors of the Inquisition, to play for any length of time the role of persecutors. The choleric and tyrannical Peter soon received orders from Holland: “Let every man remain free, so long as he is modest, moderate, his political conduct irreproachable and so long as he does not offend others or oppose the government.” But before the policy could be thus changed Baptists had suffered considerably, and later under the English rule the same difficulty was experienced. The first Baptist minister to labor in New York City, so far as is known, was Rev. William Wickendon, of Providence, in 1656; and for these labors he was heavily fined but after an imprisonment of some months, being too poor to pay the fine, he was released and banished from the colony. Whether he had succeeded in gathering a church is uncertain, but if he did, it was soon scattered by persecution, for an ordinance of 1662 imposed a severe fine on anybody who should even be present at an illegal conventicle.
The next trace of Baptists in this colony is at Oyster Bay, L. I., where one William Rhodes, a Baptist minister from Rhode Island, began to preach and baptize converts about 1700. By 1724 a church had been organized, and Robert Feeks was ordained pastor. Before this, however, a Baptist church had been organized in New York, where Rev. Valentine Wightman began to preach about 1711. One of his converts was Nicholas Eyres, a wealthy brewer, in whose house the meetings were held. He was baptized in 1714, a church was formed, and Eyres soon became its pastor, at the same time continuing in business. In spite of some persecutions and many discouragemcnts, they continued to flourish until internal dissensions wrecked them, and not long after 1730 the church became extinct.
The most important and influential of the early Baptist centers was the group of churches in the vicinity of Philadelphia. In 1684 Thomas Dungan gathered a church at Cold Spring, Pa., but it became extinct about 1702. In i688 the church at Pennepeck (Lower Dublin) was organized. This church, of twelve members at the beginning, had as its first pastor Elias Keach, son of the well-known Baptist minister of London, Benjamin Keach. The First Church of Philadelphia was founded in the following year, but its members were connected with the Lower Dublin Church until 1746, when they were formally constituted a separate and independent church. The Welsh Tract Church was constituted in 1701.
The liberal offers of complete religious liberty in New Jersey drew Baptists to that colony as early as 1660. The first church organized was that at Middletown in 1688, composed mainly of those who had fled from persecution in New York and other colonies. Piscataway (1689), Cohansey (1690), Cape May (1712), and Hopewell 1715), were the next to follow. Congregations were also gathered at Salem, Burlington, Scotch Plains, and other places, that in later years were constituted separate churches.
The nucleus of each of these churches, so far as their history is known, appears to have been a few men and women who had been Baptists before coming to this country. Others had held Baptist beliefs for some years, but had never before connected themselves with a Baptist church, possibly for lack of opportunity in their old homes. The major part of these people were English; in and about Philadelphia there were many Welsh Baptists; a few came from Ireland. The affiliations of American Baptists are thus directly with our brethren of Great Britain. It is the fashion in some quarters to call the church founded by Roger Williams “the venerable mother of American Baptist churches.” She is then that anomaly in the world, a mother who never bore children, for no church now existing can be shown to have been established by her labors prior to 1800, if thereafter. The part played by Roger Williams and his church in the history of American Baptists is ludicrously small, when the facts are compared to the ink that has been shed on the subject.
All these churches last described were in intimate fellowship, the Philadelphia group being by common consent the center of interest. For their mutual convenience and edification, almost from their origin, a custom grew up of holding “general meetings” from time to time for the ministry of the word and the gospel ordinances. From being held once a year, these meetings came to be semi-annual, in the months of May and September. These were for many years what their name implied—general meetings—being attended by as many as could make it convenient, and were wholly devotional and evangelistic. In 1707 the meeting was for the first time a delegated body, five churches appointing delegates, and this is the beginning of the Philadelphia Association. From the first the New Jersey churches were members, and as the body increased in age and strength it attracted to itself all the Baptist churches within traveling distance of it, having as members churches in southern New York and Virginia. Its adoption of a strongly Calvinistic Confession in 1742 (or possibly earlier) was a turning-point in the history of American Baptists, as it ensured the prevalence of that type of theology. Up to this time the Arminian Baptists had been the stronger in New England, and the colonies of New York and New Jersey, and it was at one titne probable that they would control the development of the denomination. It was the Philadelphia Association that turned the tide, and decided the course of American Baptist history. The Association speedily became the leading body among American Baptists—a position it has not wholly lost to this day. Pretty much everything good in our history, from 1700 to 1850, may be traced to its initiative or active co-operation.
During this early period little progress was made in the founding of Baptist churches in the South. The story of the origin of the First Church of Charleston has already been told. In 1733 a schism in this church caused the organization of a General Baptist church—the original body being Calvinistic—and in 1736 a church was formed at Ashley River, which, while a symptom of growth, still further depleted the strength of the mother church. In 1737 some members of the Welsh Tract church went southward and established the Welsh Neck church. Here, then, was a promising little group of churches in one Southern colony.
The only other region where promise of growth had seen manifest was in Virginia. There were probably some Baptists, certainly some people opposed to the baptism of infants, early in the history of the colony, for as early as i66t the Assembly provided that a fine of two thousand pounds of tobacco should be imposed on parents who refused to have their children baptized. By 1714 there had come to be a number of this persuasion in the southeastern part of the State, probably English immigrants and probably General Baptists in their old home, since they appealed to this body in England for help. Two ministers were sent out to them from England, one of whom lived to reach the colony and founded a church at Burleigh. Another church is known to have existed before 1729 in Surrey County.
In the neighboring colony of North Carolina, a church was formed by Rev. Paul Palmer in 1727, consisting of thirty-two members, at a place called Perquimans, in Chowan County. In all, therefore, there were forty-seven Baptist churches, of which we have certain knowledge, before the Great Awakening, of which all but seven were north of Mason and Dixon’s line.
1 Callendar, “R. I. Hist. Coll.,” Vol. IV., p. 117.
2 A majority had beer, members ef Cotton’s church in Boston. Winthrop’s Journal shows that from September, 1638. Clarke was their preacher.
3 Callendar, “R. I. Hist. Coll.,” Vol. IV., p. 117.
4 Order of the General Court, quoted by Wood, ‘History of the First Baptist Church of Boston,” p. 6.
5 Baclctls (Vol. I., p. 93) shows there was an attempt to organize a church at Wevmouth in 1639.
6 There were but eight, all told, in Massachusetts at tire beginning of the Great Awakening (1740).
7 How Connecticut felt toward Baptists may be seen from this early statute: “Nor shall any persons neglect the public worship of God in some lawful Congregation, and form themselves into separate companies in private Houses, on Penalty of Ten Shillings for every such Offense each person shall be guilty of.” (“Colony Law Book.” p. 139.)
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