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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
SOME ACCOUNT OF MY PUBLICATIONS. — OLD BAPTIST HISTORY. — BY WHOM PUBLISHED. — DIFFICULTIES IN CIRCULATING IT BY THE WAR. — OTHER WORKS. — ALL RELIGIONS. — INTERVIEW WITH LEADING MEN OF ALL PARTIES. — THE SHAKERS OF NEW LEBANON.
THIS chapter and a few succeeding ones will contain brief sketches of the works which from time to time have been published with my name, as well as those which are now nearly ready for the press. And I prefer the plan of naming them all at once, to that of noticing them in connection with other matters; and as I became an author somewhat early in life, the narratives pertaining to my publications will run through all the decades of these reminiscences.
The History of the Baptists, now called my old work on this subject, has already been referred to, as has also some account of the circumstances under which, at an early age, my mind was led to engage in those historical pursuits which have been continued for more than half a century. This old history was brought out by Lincoln & Edmunds and Manning & Loring of Boston, in 1813. These two houses carried through the press one volume each, at the same time, and as but a small part of the work was fully prepared when the
printing was commenced, to supply two presses with copy, and all the while maintain an extensive correspondence with men in all parts of the country, was not a small undertaking, as those who are acquainted with such labors well know. Rev. G. H. Hough, now in India, copied my first draughts, and at the end of two years the work came out. And all this time frequent visits to Boston, a distance of about forty miles, must be made, in the slow, old-fashioned way. And how often have I thought of these toilsome journeys, while since passing over this same ground with railroad speed, which then occupied two days, going and coming.
As this work was published on my own account, to superintend the sales and settle all the bills required a good deal of care for a new beginner in business of the kind, which, unfortunately, was thrown on my hands in the midst of the war with England, in 1812, and onward. For a long time the usual communication by water, from one end of the country to the other, was cut off, and whether the books were to be sent down East or far South, all must go by land. Public conveyances of this kind were generally employed, but much of the transportation was done by men in my employ, whom I fitted out for the purpose. The largest expedition of this kind was one through the southern States to Georgia, to which regions no
books could then be sent by water; andit consisted of one team of five horses, one of two, and a single one for myself to superintend the whole concern. The large team took a straight course for its final destination, while I and my companion circulated in different directions, but mostly through the lower regions of Virginia and the Carolinas, often meeting on the route; and soon after I arrived in Savannah, the ringing of bells, and other joyful demonstrations, announced the news of peace. A little delay would have been greatly to my advantage; but at the time the expedition was fitted out, there were such strong indications of a long continuance of the war, that the measure was thought advisable by my friends at home, and the distant subscribers to my work, who generously bore a part of the expense, by paying an extra price for the books. In these times, denominational publications were more eagerly sought for and more readily purchased than at present. Most of the five thousand copies of the work now under consideration were subscribed for, and the main business of the undertaking above described was to carry parcels of various quantities to the men who had sent in the lists, for them to distribute and collect the pay. The amount collected by the late Dr. Mercer of Georgia, and his associates in the business, was upwards of fifteen hundred dollars. Bat one man did a larger business in
this line — that was the late Deacon George Dods of Providence, whose sales alone amounted to over two thousand dollars. In this way, or something like it, Backus disposed of his books of Baptist History, and some of his old letters show how much trouble he had in effecting his sales, especially in remote regions, where his agents were not as successful in their efforts as he expected.
As stereotyping in that day was very little in use, the size of an edition must be determined in the outset, and as a prudential measure subscribers were oh-rained beforehand. In this way all my works of any considerable size were published up to my late History of the Baptists, which was stereotyped and worked off by the thousand at a time.
In 1817 the house of Lincoln & Edmunds of Boston published my abridged edition of Robinson's History of Baptism, in an octavo volume of between five and six hundred pages.
This work was first published in England in a quarto volume of six hundred and fifty pages, but it had become so scarce and dear that but few persons could obtain it. My volume, which I purchased of Dr. Wilson, a Presbyterian minister of Philadelphia, cost me ten dollars. In 1806 the Philadelphia Association, by a vote of that body, designated Dr. Samuel Jones to prepare an abridgment of this history in
a cheap volume for general circulation. This service the Doctor did not live to accomplish. Others had made preparations for the work, which, on the failure of them all, I was induced to undertake. My edition is the one, which, for the most part, is referred to by modern writers on the baptismal controversy.
In 1820 Lincoln & Edmunds published an abridgment of my old Baptist History in a dollar volume, which contained a complete list of our associations as they then stood, and which brought down the statement seven years later than my first account.
My All Religions was published in Providence on my own account, in 1824. This work came out in two forms, one for one dollar, which was according to my original plan, the other for double that sum. After the printing was begun I was induced by a publisher in New York to purchase a set of plates, which he had then lately imported from England, describing the customs of All Religions, and a work to correspond, and thus I enlarged my first plan.
One of my principal objects in this publication was to describe the different denominations of Christians as they now actually exist, instead of making out an extended list of varying sects, many of which were rather nominal than real, and multitudes of these for ages have been extinct.
In giving the outline of the history of the parties
whose names I placed on my list, I resolved to use the precise language of each in exhibiting their peculiar dogmas and rites, and let them speak for themselves in all that pertains to their distinctive characters. The Religious World Displayed, in three volumes, by Rev. Robert Adam, of Scotland, was my model in this respect. Had I made my compilation from other works on the same subject, according to the custom of most authors on All Religions, my task would have been comparatively light; but in addition to the examination of a large number of books pertaining to the matter in hand, I encountered much conversation with different men in a wide field of research. As we have in this country the counterpart of nearly all the churches and sects in Christendom, I took it upon myself, as far as possible, to seek personal interviews with some of the leaders, that thereby I might gain from them, in their own language, a definition of their primordial principles of belief, or rise obtain from them a reference to such documents as described these matters to their satisfaction. This was a laborious work, but it was full of interest and information. With scarcely one exception I found the men on whom I called, whether Catholics or Protestants, affable and open, and ready to afford me all needful information respecting their faith and forms, and at the same time they were often glad of an opportunity to
correct any erroneous opinions or misrepresentations which common fame had ascribed to them. Having attended as far as practicable the religious services of the different parties, I of course became somewhat familiar with their doings, both at their alters and their firesides, and on the whole I found my charity in some cases enlarged by this operation, and while my attachment to my own people was not at all diminished, I became more and more convinced that amidst the various forms which I observed, there was not so much difference in the feelings and purposes of good men of every name, as many suppose.
A brief Account of the Interviews above referred to.
In one of these visitations I spent a number of days among the Shakers at New Lebanon, New York. As I had corresponded beforehand with one of their principal men, and had expressed a desire to witness the interior of their system, my arrival on the ground was not unexpected, and soon I found myself at home, so far as the hospitality of the neat and flourishing establishment was concerned; and in my free conversations with its more intelligent members, I was not a little surprised to find how well they were informed of all passing events in the world, and how conversant they were with them all. In my intercourse with this peculiar people the greatest
freedom was allowed me. I could go anywhere alone, if I chose to do so, into all the departments of this sacro-secular confraternity and make what observations or inquiries I pleased of any of its members. I found them good livers, very industrious, and apparently well contented with their singular mode of life. One of my sons, a mere lad, was with me in this visitation. I found the settlement of six hundred divided into families, as they called them, of different sizes, all of whom came to the same tables for their meals; the males and females associating by themselves. The quarters assigned us was in a family of about one hundred members; a young woman, who bore the title of deaconness, waited on us at the table, and was very attentive to all our wants while we were at our head-quarters. This woman, as I learned from her own account, was niece of one of the sisters of my church at home, having been carried into the establishment while a child by her widowed mother.
The elder with whom I had the freest intercourse, and to whom I looked for general directions among this people, in my examinations as to their internal affairs, and with whom I had previously corresponded, informed me that there was nothing in their rules to hinder visitors from eating at their common tables, but that the policy was adopted for the purpose of
saving their own people from embarrassment, especially in their religious services at their meals, which are somewhat different from others.
The public worship of the Shakers is of course open to all; but as it was known what was the object of my visit, I was permitted to witness some of the more retired performances of this people, and among them the marching exercise, which was practiced in the night. I well remember being conducted into a large hall, which appeared to have been fitted up for the purpose, and at a given signal a large company, in single file, of males only, began to march around the hall, which performance, with some intervals, was continued about an hour. As the procession went round, the leader recited the peculiarities of the faith of the community, which was often repeated in full chorus by the whole company, with a shouting so loud and long, as to startle those who were not accustomed to it. The company, however, seemed much to enjoy this sonorous and exhilarating exercise. In the recitations above referred to, and, indeed, in the general conversation of the Shake, they dwelt much on the celibacy of their community, and uttered high commendations of their self-denial in this respect.
The Millennial Church is the term the Shakers apply to their community; and while they repudiate
baptism, the Lord's Supper and the rites generally of other communities, they still practice the auricular confession of the Catholics, or something that nearly resembles it, and to me recommended it as a very useful institution.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 241-250. -- jrd]
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