It is our profound conviction, and we should, on all occasions, manifest the same, that we should venture our all for the Protestant religion and the liberties of our country. - “Protest of the Messengers of one hundred Baptist churches in London, in 1689.” - Ivimey's History of the English Baptists, III., 335.
THE American Revolution secured a fund of glory sufficiently large to give an ample portion to every one who shared in its struggles and sacrifices. Men of nearly every Christian creed, and the author of “The Age of Reason,” and “The Rights of Man,” aided in obtaining for our country its best temporal blessing, and for the world the richest gift of a beneficent Providence. All Christian communities in the “Thirteen Colonies” labored with quickened zeal to secure our liberties, and they achieved unbounded success.
Denominations, whose principles to-day accord with universal liberty, are not responsible for the persecutions inflicted by their religious ancestors in Colonial times. Nor are modern Baptists entitled to any credit for the glorious doctrines and practices of their fathers in Revolutionary days. But we naturally take a special interest in our sainted and heroic predecessors, whose sacred worth and patriotic deeds have justly earned for them a respectable share of the admiration of mankind. Moved by this consideration, we propose to examine
THE RELATIONS OF THE BAPTISTS TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
When William Pitt stated, in the British House of Commons, May 30th, 1781, that “The American war was conceived in injustice, and nurtured in folly, and that it exhibited the highest moral turpitude and depravity, and that England had nothing but victories over men struggling in the holy cause of liberty, or defeats which filled the land with mourning for the loss of dear and valuable relations slain in a detested and impious quarrel,” and when, six months later, in the same assembly, and two days after Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown had been published in England, the eloquent Fox adopted the words of Chatham, uttered at the beginning of the Revolution, and said: “Thank God that America has resisted the claims of the mother country”a and when Burke and others, in the same legislature, spoke words of kindred import, full of peril to themselves, they expressed the sentiments of the Dissenters of England, and especially of the Baptists. When Robert Hall, the future eloquent preacher, was a little boy he heard the Rev. John Ryland, of Northampton, a man of commanding influence among the Baptists, say to his father: “If I were Washington I would summon all the American officers, they should form a circle around me, and I would address them, and we would offer a libation in our own
a History of England by Hume, Smollett and Farr, III., pp, 155, 162.
blood, and I would order one of them to bring a lancet and a punch-bowl and we would bare our arms and be bled; and when the bowl was full, when we all had been bled, I would call on every man to consecrate himself to the work by dipping his sword into the bowl and entering into a solemn covenant engagement by oath, one to another, and we would swear by Him that sits upon the throne and liveth for ever and ever, that we would never sheathe our swords while there was an English soldier in arms remaining in America.a
Dr. Rippon, of London, in a letter to President Manning, of Rhode Island College, written in 1784, says: “I believe all our Baptist ministers in town, except two, and most of our brethren in the country were on the side of the Americans in the late dispute. * * * We wept when the thirsty plains drank the blood of your departed heroes, and the shout of a King was amongst us when your well-fought battles were crowned with victory; and to this hour we believe that the independence of America will, for a while, secure the liberty of this country, but if that continent had been reduced, Britain would not have been long free.”b This was the spirit of the British Baptists during the Revolution, whose representatives in Parliament, though of another creed, breathed defiance in the ears of the king's ministers.
BAPTISTS SET THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AN IMPRESSIVE EXAMPLE OF DISOBEDIENCE TO WICKED LAWS,
When the Baptists in Virginia were “forbidden to preach the Gospel of the Son of God,” they went about more zealously than ever proclaiming Jesus over the entire Old Dominion. When threatened with imprisonment and scourging they defied the fetters and the lash; and when they were placed in confinement with the worst criminals they proclaimed the word of life to the eager throngs that hung around the doors and windows of the jail, and though evil-disposed persons, in some instances, erected a wall around the prison to keep away the anxious multitudes,c and employed half drunken outcasts to beat a drum, that the voices of our honored brethren might not be heard, still they continued to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ, and the Spirit, as in apostolic times, blessed the jail witnesses for Jesus. Nor would the offer of immediate liberty, on condition of silence for a year, open the cell and close the lips of these grand old preachers.
In New England they were frequently arrested for not paying taxes to support the Congregational clergy, and womend were honored with this privilege as well as men. Their property was seized, and generally sold for a mere trifle to pay the church dues of their neighbors of the “Standing Order.” The sacred tax collectors at Sturbridge, according to an unimpeachable witness, “took pewter from the shelves, skillets, kettles, pots and warming-pans, workmen's tools and spinning-wheels; they drove away geese and swine and cows, and where there was but one it was not spared. A brother, recently ordained, returned to Sturbridge for his family, when he was thrust into prison, and kept during the cold winter till some one paid his fine and released him. Mr. D. Fisk lost five pewter plates and a cow; J. Perry was robbed of the baby's cradle and a steer; J. Blunt's fire place was rifled of andirons, shovel and tongs, and A. Bloice, H. Fisk, John Streeter, Benjamin Robbins, Phenehas Collier, John Newel, Josiah
a Robert Hall's Works, Harper, vol. IV., pp. 48-9.
b Backus' History of the Baptists, Newton, II., p. 198, N.
c [John] Leland's Works, p. 107
d Backus' Church History, Newton, II., 97.
Perry, Nathaniel Smith and John Cory and I. Barstow were plundered of spinning-wheels, household goods, cows, and their liberty for a season.e This case is but a specimen of what was occurring all over New England, except in Rhode Island. But our fathers submitted to robbery and loathsome prisons with foul associates rather than render willing obedience to iniquitous laws. In the East and in the South Baptist witnesses, from prison windows, and sometimes with scourged shoulders, and in a voice as holy as ever floated on the lips of martyrs, announced to multitudes of men that “Unrighteous laws were conspiracies against God and the best interests of our race, plots of the Evil One, to be met by exposure and stern resistance, disobedience to which was loyalty to Jehovah.”
Bordering on Revolutionary days persecutions were more general than ever before, and the testimony of Baptists against the crime of obeying sinful laws was in the very air and floating on the sunbeams of every morning, and when George III. resolved on taxation for the Colonies without representation, the example of the Baptists became contagious, and resistance to this despotical theory became the engrossing thought of the Colonists of America.
RHODE ISLAND IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE RELATIONS OF OUR BAPTIST FATHERS TO LIBERTY AND THE REVOLUTION.
Many of the noble sons of Rhode Island, in the “times that tried men's souls,” were of other creeds, but a much larger number followed the people, the stream of whose denominational life you can trace through every age till you see it issue forth from the heart of the Great Teacher, stepping up out of the Jordan. Morgan Edwards, a man of great historical learning, who died in 1795, says: “The Baptists have always been more numerous than any other sect of Christians in Rhode Island, two-fifths of the inhabitants, at least, are reputed Baptists. The governors, deputy governors, judges, assemblymen and officers, civil and military, are chiefly of that persuasion.f “The first work of the Rhode Islanders,” says Edwards, “after their incorporation in 1644, was to make a law that “Every man who submits peaceably to civil government in this Colony shall worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience without molestation.’”g Rhode Island, as early as 1764, foresaw the coming Revolutionary storm, and to secure co-operation among the colonists established a “Committee of Correspondence,” whose special duty it was to stir them up to maintain their liberties with spirit and to concert methods for united effort.h On the 4th of May, 1776, just two months before the adoption of the “Declaration of Independence,” Rhode Island withdrew from the sceptre of Great Britain, and repudiated every form of allegiance to George III.i Scarcely had the retreating troops of General Gage reached Boston from Concord and Lexington when the nearest Rhode Island towns had sent recruits to their Massachusetts brethren in arms; and the Legislature soon after voted fifteen hundred men to be sent to the scene of danger. The people of Newport removed forty pieces of artillery from the royal fort to a place of security, where they might be ready for the
e Backus' Church History, Newton, II., pp. 94-5, note.
f Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, VI., 304.
g Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, VI., p. 304.
h Bancroft's History of the United States, V., 218.
i Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1831, I., 374; Arnold's History of Rhode Island, N. Y., 1860, II., 374.
defence and not the destruction of patriots. When the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed at Newport, East Greenwich and Providence, it called forth the most enthusiastic outbursts of delight, and shouts for “Liberty o'er and o'er the globe.”j A British historian says: “The Rhode Islanders were such ardent patriots that after the capture of the island of Rhode Island by Sir Peter Parker, it required a great body of men to be kept there, in perfect idleness, for three years, to retain them in subjection.”k “Governor Green, in a dispatch to Washington, in 1781, says: “Sometimes every fencible man in the State, sometimes a third, and at other times a fourth part was called out upon duty.”l But the little State that had declared its independence while other Colonies were hesitating, and thirty-two daysm before the brave and patriotic Virginians had renounced allegiance to the English king, never halted for a moment in her courageous efforts. Her sons, with the blood of Roger Williams and his valiant friends in their veins, showed their American brethren that liberty was the sovereign of their hearts.
Before the Revolution Rhode Island was the freest Colony in North America, or in the history of our race. Her Baptist founders had made their settlement a Republic complete in every development of liberty, even while under the nominal rule of a king; they created a government with which there could be no lawful interference by any power in the Old World or the New. Rhode Island had no viceroy; before the Revolution the king had no veto on her laws. In March, 1663, it was enacted that “no tax should be imposed or required of the Colony but by the act of the General Assembly.n In 1704, Mompesson, the chief justice of New York, wrote Lord Nottingham that “when he was in Rhode Island the people acted in all things as if they were outside the dominion of the crown.o Bancroft speaks of Rhode Island at the Revolution “as enjoying a form of government, under its charter, so thoroughly republican that no change was required beyond a renunciation of the king's name in the style of its public acts.p “Rhode Island,” says her historian, Arnold, when the United States Constitution was adopted, “for more than a century and a half has enjoyed a freedom unknown to any of her compeers, and through more than half of that period her people had been involved with rival Colonies in a struggle for political existence and for the maintenance of those principles of civil and religious freedom which are now everywhere received in America.q The State of Roger Williams had more at stake in the Revolution than any other Colony; founded by men who loved a wider liberty than their fellow-settlers elsewhere, its people were accustomed to enjoy higher privileges than their neighbors, and the destruction of American liberty by the king threatened them with heavier calamities than any British plantation on the Continent. With scarcely fifty thousand people of all ages and of both sexes, the Baptist State supported three regiments in the Continental army throughout the entire war;r an immense number for her, when it is remembered how many men she had to employ for local
j Bancroft's History of the United States, IX., 36,
k History of England by Hume, Smollet and Farr, III., 99.
l Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, VI., 290.
m Howison's History of Virginia, II., 133.
n Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia. 1831, I., p. 341.
o Sabine's American Loyalists, Boston, 1847, p. 15.
p History of the United States, IX., 261.
q Arnold's History of Rhode Island, II., 563.
r Biography of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, I., 373.
defence. Rhode Island began the struggle early and continued inflicting her heaviest blows till victory rested upon the banners of the United States all over their widespread territory. And when the Constitution of the United States was adopted, requiring each State to sacrifice some of its independence to form a strong General Government, Rhode Island hesitated long before she would accept that grand instrument. The other States, except North Carolina, readily received the plan of government devised by the Convention of 1787, they had, however, never enjoyed full liberty except during the brief period of the war, but to Rhode Island full freedom was an inheritance possessed for many generations, to sacrifice the smallest part of which inflicted great pain. As Baptists we have reason to thank God for the Revolutionary deeds of our heroic brethren in Rhode Island.
THE BAPTISTS WERE AMONG THE FIRST RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES TO RECOGNIZE THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS AS A LEGITIMATE BODY.
On the 5th of September, 1774, in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, the first Continental Congress assembled. The eyes of the whole American people rested upon it, and so did the hearts and hopes of a vast majority of them. Eight days after Congress first met the Warren Association of Baptist Churches solemnly recognized it as, in a sense, the Supreme Court of the American Colonies, and sent it this appeal:HONORABLE GENTI.EMEN: As the Baptist Churches in New England are most heartily concerned for the preservation and defence of the rights and privileges of this country, and are deeply affected by the encroachments upon the same which have been lately made by the British Parliament, and are willing to unite with our dear countrymen to pursue every prudent measure for relief, so, we would beg leave to say, that, as a distinct denomination of Protestants, we conceive that we have an equal claim to charter rights with the rest of our fellow-subjects, and yet we have long been denied the free and full enjoyment of those rights, as to the support of religious worship.s * * * * *Then follows an appeal for such relief as Congress, by legitimate means, may be able to secure.
The Philadelphia Baptist Association, the oldest body of this character in America, sent a large committee to Congress to aid the appeal of our New England brethren. Dr. Samuel Jones, in his Centenary Sermon before the Philadelphia Association, at its meeting held in this city in 1807, says: “On the assembling of the first Continental Congress I was one of the committee, under appointment of your body, that, in company with the late Rev. Isaac Backus, of Massachusetts, met the delegates in Congress from that State in yonder State House, to see if we could not obtain some security for that liberty for which we were then fighting and bleeding at their side. It seemed unreasonable to us that we should be called to stand up with them in defence of liberty if, after all, it was to be liberty for one party to oppress another.”t These two Baptist bodies formally recognized the Revolution and the Continental Congress, and they were among the first religious communities in the Colonies to give the sanction of their influence to that great Revolutionary Legislature. Nor does it detract from their recognition that they wanted Congress to assist them in securing relief from persecution. The conscientious Baptists who would preach, though imprisoned and scourged for it, and who refused to pay taxes to support the State clergy, though certain to be thrust into jail for their disobedience, and to have their property seized and sold
s Backus' History of the Baptists, Newton, II., p. 200, note.
t Minutes of Philadelphia Baptist Association, p. 460.
for less than half its worth by the officers of the law, would have borne the worst penalties ever endured by saintly sufferers rather than have recognized a body tainted with usurpation. The true Baptist will bear any outrage before he will accept relief by unholy means. Never were Baptists more cruelly used than by James II. King of England. He was the most defective sovereign in moral worth that ever polluted a throne. Becoming a Romanist, he issued a decree dispensing with all penal laws against Dissenters and Catholics.u James had no authority to alter any law of England. To secure himself from the vengeance of the next Parliament he abrogated the charters of several cities and that of London among the rest, that he might appoint borough magistrates who would return pliant members to the House of Commons. William Kiffin was the most influential Baptist minister in England, and he was a wealthy London merchant. James sought to bribe him by making him an alderman of London, an office then held in high esteem and still regarded with great favor; he supposed also that by this act of royal favor the Baptists would be disposed to support his usurpation, even though they well knew that he had only ceased to be persecutor for the special benefit of the Papal Church. Kiffin was brought to the palace, and James made his proposition with as much grace of manner as his natural rudeness permitted, and Kiffin immediately and absolutely rejected it. He knew that James had the might but not the authority to make him an alderman, and he repulsed an honor that came from usurpation. John Bunyan had spent twelve years of his life in prison for preaching Christ; the laws were still in force that had handed him to the jailer, and James might put them in execution any time, but James needed Bunyan's popularity to aid him in his assault upon the liberties of his people and upon the established Church, and he intimated to him that he had an office for him that would show the world the king's estimate of the illustrious dreamer. But Bunyan turned his back upon the hand that offered him liberty and an office, because it was the hand of the regal burglar who stole the gifts which he offered.v The representatives of one hundred congregations of Baptists met in London in 1689, and adopted the Confession of faith which was subsequently known in this country as the Philadelphia Confession, and they issued a protest against a small number of obscure Baptists who had been persuaded by royal favors to express approval of the dispensing power which James had wickedly assumed, and in this document they declare that : “To the utmost of their knowledge there was not one congregation that gave consent to anything of that nature, nor did ever countenance any of their members to own an absolute power in the late king to dispense with the penal laws and tests, being well satisfied that the doing thereof, by his sole prerogative, would lay the foundation of the destruction of the Protestant religion and of slavery to this kingdom.w Kiffin, Bunyan and the English Baptists of James' day, were worthy predecessors of our American brethren in the Revolution. They would have burned with unutterable indignation and turned away in wrath from any American James II. or from any Congress of Colonial usurpers who would have ventured to offer them deliverance from legal wrongs on a principle that would justify the abrogation of any enactment without the intervention of the lawful representatives of the people. In seeking relief from the Continental Congress the two most influential Baptist
u Neal's History of the Puritans, Dublin, 1755, IV., 46.
v Macaulay's History of England, Boston, 1852, II., 177, 178.
w Ivimey's History of the English Baptists, III., 335.
organizations in the land gave that Assembly their formal approval. And there is reason to believe that the sanction of two such respectable bodies, publicly given at a time when doubt and alarm prevailed everywhere, had a powerful influence in confirming the faith of patriots in and out of the first Continental Congress, in the righteous character of its deliberations.
THE BAPTISTS OF THE REVOLUTION WERE MEN OF GREAT EARNESTNESS.
They had walked through the furnace of persecution frequently, and they received such sustaining grace from the Great Saviour that they were afraid of nothing. The timid and lovers of ease turned from the Baptist fold. Thousands of them had been recently converted, and they were fired with a first and a glowing love. The whole denomination was overflowing with the same enthusiasm which made the early Christians reckon nothing dear to them but the triumph of truth. On the arrest of several Baptist ministers in Spottsylvania County, Virginia, the prosecuting attorney charged them before the justice as disturbers of the peace. “May it please your worship,” said he, “they cannot meet a man on the road without ramming a text of Scripture down his throat.” And as they would give no pledge to quit preaching, they were sent to prison, cheerfully singing as they marched along:
Broad is the way that leads to death,
And thousands walk together there,
But wisdom shows a narrow path
With here and there a traveler.x
These men would give anything in love, labor, money, or even in violent sufferings, to gain success for their principles. Their aid in securing Revolutionary freedom was of the highest importance; difficulties to such men were trifles, opposition only stirred up greater power in them than it controlled. The Baptist, by the inspiration of his renewed nature, and by his heaven-given principles, is a lover of universal liberty. He will not rob a child of its freedom by making it a church member through infant baptism before it has exercised its choice or the Spirit has bestowed his grace; he will not force any man, by law, to give pecuniary or other support to his own religious opinions, nor will he inflict punishment for any supposed heresies. He who holds these doctrines is necessarily in favor of unfurling the flag of freedom over every quarter of the earth, and over every human being who can be safely set at liberty. And this is specially true where any one has suffered for his opinions. When the Virginia Baptists were hunted like wild beasts and denounced as wolves in sheep's clothing, they answered that if they were “wolves and their persecutors the true sheep, it was unaccountable that they should treat them with such cruelty; that wolves would destroy sheep, but it was never known till then that sheep would prey upon wolves;y and they went forth eager for fresh opportunities to proclaim Jesus and to suffer for him.
In 1775 the General Association of Virginia Baptists announced to the world their conviction that British oppression should be resisted in the Colonies, and that “to a man they were in favor of the Revolution.z This action, there is reason to believe, had great weight in guiding the convention whose delegates voted the next year for the Declaration of Independence, and in extending and confirming the Revolutionary sentiment all over the State." “Preachers and people,” says Semple, “were
x Cramp's History of the Baptists, p. 532.
y Semple's History of Virginia Baptists, p. 21.
z Idem, p. 62.
m In Idem, 35.
engrossed with thoughts and schemes for effecting the Revolution.” Large numbers of brethren joined the army. The Rev. David Barrow, a brother of spotless character, and of extensive usefulness, held in universal esteem, not only commended patriotism to others, but when danger pressed he shouldered his musket and performed good service against the common foe, and he obtained the same reputation in the camp and in the field which he enjoyed in the happy scenes of ministerial toil elsewhere.a The Rev. Daniel Marshall was so strongly identified with the cause of his struggling countrymen that the British arrested him, and kept him under guard until he had an opportunity of exhorting and praying in the presence of the officers and men, and they at once set him at liberty.b
But the same spirit governed our brethren everywhere, ministers of the highest culture and piety and laymen of all ranks were swept away by the whirlwind of patriotism. The Rev. Oliver Hart was appointed by the Council of Safety, then the executive of South Carolina, with William H. Drayton and the Rev. William Tennent, to travel through the State and expound the principles and claims of patriotism to the people.c The Rev. Dr. Richard Furman was one of the most active and useful patriots in the South, and in recognition of his services he was appointed by the Revolutionary Society of South Carolina and the Society of the Cincinnati to deliver discourses commemorative of Washington and Hamilton, and he was elected a member of the convention that framed the Constitution of South Carolina.d The Rev. Dr. Stillman, though a man of great gentleness and spirituality of mind, stood in the front rank of Boston patriots. In eloquent terms he advocated Revolutionary doctrines in a sermon preached in 1766, on the repeal of the Stamp act, and in another in 1770, before the Honorable Artillery Company of Boston. He was among the most popular patriotic orators and preachers in Massachusetts.e The Rev. Dr. Manning, president of the college now known as Brown University, rendered services to the cause of liberty which made him an object of intense regard to his countrymen everywhere. In Rhode Island he was the most prominent man among the friends of freedom. Once entering the Legislature while it was in Session, without any special motive, the members, without concert, on the motion of Commodore Hopkins, elected him to fill a vacant seat in Congress. This grateful tribute to his eminent worth was greatly enhanced by its unanimity,f and the well-known fact that Dr. Manning aspired to no secular position, however exalted.
John Hart, a member of the Baptist church of Hopewell, New Jersey, was one of the famous signers of the immortal Declaration of Independence. That document was published at first with only the names of John Hancock, as president, and Charles Thompson, as secretary. It was issued on the 4th of July, 1776, and on the 2d of that month the British landed on Staten Island, and soon after removed to Long Island. To give greater weight to the Declaration of Independence it was signed by all the members on the 2d day of the succeeding August, and circulated extensively throughout the Colonies. g
John Hart owned a valuable farm, grist, saw and fulling mills; he had a wife and family, whose happiness and safety were dear to him; he was
a Semple's History of the Virginia Baptists, p. 359.
b Semple's History of Virginia Baptists, p. 372.
c Sprague's Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, pp. 48–9.
d Idem, p. 162.
e Sprague's Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, p. 78.
f Idem, p. 92.
g Biography of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1831, III, 236.
just at hand, with a large army of the enemy likely in a week or two to destroy everything he possessed except the soil, and to scatter his dear ones if their lives were spared, and to kill him if by the providence of the Evil One, they could seize him, and yet he did not hesitate to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, though it might prove his own death warrant, and could hardly fail to inflict the heaviest losses and the sorest sufferings on him and his. Mr. Hart was a man of great intelligence, and, consequently, was generally chosen to decide the disputes of his neighbors, and he was universally recognized as a man of remarkable integrity, this feature of his character made thousands speak of him as “Honest John Hart.” The enemy soon reached the Delaware and the home of Mr. Hart. His children fled, his property was wasted, and though an old man, tottering with the burden of years, he had to fly for his life. He was pursued with unusual vindictiveness, he could not sleep in safety twice in the same place, he concealed himself in caves and thickets and endured every hardship. To add to the intensity of his anguish he was driven from the couch of his dearly cherished and dying wife. But the venerable patriot never despaired, and never repented, and he lived to see the Revolution triumphant and the Colonies free. Mr. Hart had no taste for political life, nor a desire beyond the happiness and prosperity of his country. h In Congress he expressed himself by noble deeds rather than by eloquent speeches. In the social relations of life he was a man of great gentleness and benevolence. He built the Baptist church of Hopewellh, and he gave it its graveyard. In that meeting-house he and his family worshipped God till he was called to the church in glory. John Hart, the Baptist of Hopewell, in brave deeds and saintly worth, left a name fit for the illustrious document that ushered in our independence.
John Adams, of Massachusetts, was, on some occasions, the bitterest enemy the Baptists had in the Revolutionary days, and yet he gives them considerable credit for bringing Delaware from the gulf of disloyalty, to the brink of which he declares “The missionaries of the London Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts” had brought her,j to the platform of patriotism.
On the 19th of October, 1781, the American army entered Yorktown, having received Cornwallis and his troops as prisoners; on the 23d the Philadelphia Association was in session; that night the tidings of the great triumph came, the next morning at ‘‘sunrise” the Association met, and overwhelmed with the glorious news, praised God for the victory, and recorded their grateful feelings in appropriate resolutions.k To some Americans in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the capture of Conwallis was a terrible blow, it meant the loss of everything, including country. But the oldest Baptist association in the land got up by sunrise to celebrate the best news that had reached them for six long years - tidings for which their inmost souls blessed God.
Baptist ministers were eager to go to the army as chaplains, that they might encourage their brave brethren who thronged its ranks, and patriots of every creed. Our leading ministers from the East, from the Middle States and from the South, were with their armed brethren in all the tolls, privations and perils of the Revolutionary struggle. In A.D. 603, when
h Biography of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1831, II., 295-8.
i The Book of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1861, pp. 35-6.
j Life and Works of John Adams, by Charles Francis Adams, X., 812.
k Minutes of Philadelphia Association, p. 174.
Brockmail put his army in order of battle in front of Chester, in Old England, to defend his people against the heathen king of Northumbria, the ministers in large numbers stood by themselves praying for Brockmail, in full view of pagan Ethelfrid. When he saw them and learned what they were doing, he commanded them to be killed first, because they had already commenced the battle by praying to God against him.l So Baptists ministers fought for freedom in our great struggle. The Rev. Charles Thompson, of Massachusetts, a scholar, an eloquent preacher and a man of great piety, was a chaplain for three years in the army, and was recognized as such a warm friend of freedom that he was counted worthy to be taken a prisoner by the British and placed on board a guardship for a month, when he was released.m In 1775 the Baptist General Association of Virginia applied to the Convention of their State for permission to preach to the army encamped in their bounds. Their petition was granted, and they sent the Rev. Jeremiah Walker and the Rev. John Williams to address the soldiers. These were the most popular preachers in the Baptist ministry of Virginia.n The Rev. Dr. Hezekiah Smith, of Haverhill, Mass., a man of culture and refinement, and full of courage in a just cause, was a chaplain in the army during the greater part of the war. This brave man frequently exposed his life while encouraging the soldiers in the heat of battle and soothing the wounded and dying."o The Rev. John Gano, of New York, was a chaplain in the army, and his services gave him a warm place in the hearts of officers and men, and in the affections of all who loved the good cause.p When Pennsylvania raised three battalions of foot soldiers the Legislature appointed Dr. Rogers their chaplain. Subsequently he was made a brigade chaplain in the Continental army. Dr. Rogers served with great distinction for more than five years.q This good man had no superior in the Baptist ministry. The Rev. David Jones, grandfather of the Hon. Horatio G. Jones, of this State, was one of the ablest chaplains that ever ministered to soldiers. Full of genius, eloquence and patriotism, and with a heart of fearless courage, he was a power in the Revolutionary army. General Howe, learning his worth, offered a reward for his capture, and a plot was unsuccessfully laid to secure his person.r But it is needless to refer to other preaching and praying heroes who followed the standards of the Revolution through hunger and cold and nakedness, through retreats, diseases and wounds, through danger and blood and victory; men whose faith and prayers brought success from heaven upon our cause, notwithstanding discouragements and disasters; men whose names shall be held in everlasting honor by their Baptist brethren and by American patriots while human history preserves the records of generous sacrifices and holy worth.
l Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, II., p. 2.
m Sprague's Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, p. 134.
n Semple's History of the Virginia Baptists, p. 62.
o Benedict’s History of the Baptists, 403.
p Sprague's Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, p. 64.
q Idem. P. 145.
r Sprague's Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, p. 86.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1875, pp. 55-64; via U. of Chicago digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More American Baptist History
Baptist History Homepage