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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MY EARLY EFFORTS FOR THE COLLECTION OF MATERIALS FOR A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS IN ALL AGES AND COUNTRIES. — BAPTIST MINISTERS OF DISTINCTION IN THE DIFFERENT STATES.
IN 1802, as near as I can recollect, while I was engaged in classical studies, I first entertained the idea of becoming a Baptist historian; but my youth, inexperience and want of pecuniary means, for some time, stood in the way of all my desires in the business. While meditating on this new project, I examined the histories of Crosby and Ivimey, four volumes each, Rippon's Register, Robinson's Ecclesiastical Researches and History of Baptism, with some minor publications from the pens of our British brethren. On the American side, I found Backus stood almost alone, as a standard author in Baptist history, of any considerable magnitude. Beside his work, we had, indeed, Callender's Century Sermon, which was confined to the early history of Rhode Island, and a few other productions of a local character. The writings of Morgan Edwards being in MSS., were then but little known. I have now enumerated the historical works which constituted the main dependence
of our people, in both the mother country and at home, for information concerning their denominational concerns in all ages and conditions. But most of these works were hard to be obtained at any price, and beside, they abound in matter in which common readers of this age will take but little interest.
All these researches convinced me more and more of the need of a work which should be wholly Baptistical in its character, which would embrace the substance of all those above referred to, and most of all, bring down our history to the present time, and in such a condensed form, that all classes of readers might be able to procure it. And as the Baptist churches in America, in which were found more members of the denomination than all other parts of the world, were generally of a comparatively late formation, and as our people in all times had been exceedingly neglectful in preserving the records of their doings, whether ancestral or modern, I soon became convinced that if I pursued my undertaking to any considerable extent, I must travel, for it, and at the firesides of aged people, and all from whom I could obtain oral testimony, gather up the facts which were needful for the accomplishment of my plan. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1809, I commenced my historical explorations, in which, in the end, I traveled about seven thousand miles, in seventeen
States, the number then of the American Union. With very few exceptions, the journeys now had in view were performed on horseback, and alone. So new were many of the regions which I visited, and so circuitous were many of the routes which I had to pursue to visit the persons and places needful for my designs, that this was the only mode of traveling for me then. Indeed, I thought of no other, and never complained of this part of my labor. It was the way in which nearly all our ministers traveled in that age, in all parts of the country, except some few of the abler class in a few locations in the old States.
I do not pretend to be much of a backwoodsman, nor to have been much of a pioneer in frontier regions, nor yet to have been exposed to many perils in the wilderness; but still I obtained some glimpses of what is meant by these terms, in the limited travels and the scanty explorations, which, in my early historical researches, I was compelled to perform.
In the journeyings thus referred to, I crossed the whole range of the Alleghany mountains, first in Pennsylvania, and in the next place in North Carolina, on my way from Tennessee to the southern Atlantic States. On some parts of my route large tracts of country were then in their native condition, where wild animals were often to be seen. In one large tract through which I passed, in the mountainous
regions of Tennessee, the Indian title had but lately been extinguished, and a few of the natives, in their peculiar dress, still lingered on the soil. For the most part the roads, even in the wildest regions through which my lonely travels were performed, were so far designated, according to the custom of new countries, that I had but little trouble in finding them. The custom here alluded to, is to mark a sufficient number of the trees on the route which is ulti-mutely designed for a highway, to guide the traveler in his course. In this state of nature, the marks are generally a blaze and a notch, to use the language of the forest. A blaze is made by a stroke of the ax, by which a slice is taken from the tree. The nature of a notch all will understand. Two or more notches I sometimes found answered the same purpose as guide boards in older regions. These mere bridle-paths, in time, became the thoroughfares of the country. When there was danger of embarrassments, by the aid of friends, I would make a rough drawing of my road for the day, in regions where settlements were not often met with, to guard against mistakes in turn-outs where no dwellings were near.
I generally found some of the black people near the roads, both able and willing to give me the needful information, for greater or less distances ahead. "Me go wid you, massa," was their common reply, if
the turn-out was not far off, and a little change never came amiss to them. This part of the business I was careful not to forget, as a matter of encouragement for their useful officiousness. Log cabins of rude construction and appearance, in almost all cases, are the first edition of human abodes in new countries. Buildings, of the same materials, but more capacious and better made, or small frame houses, at length take the place of the first hastily-formed shanties; and finally, more spacious and well-formed mansions arise as permanent fixtures of the premises. But to log houses, of the real primitive model, was I indebted for shelter and comfort in many of my early joureyings in newly-settled regions, and soon I became so accustomed to their scanty accommodations, and was so well pleased with the hospitality of the people, as to feel quite at home among them.
Pleased or not, however, the traveler had no alternative in the ease; since for long distances no other houses could be found.
As to public houses, there were none, in the common sense of the term. The wagoners camped out at night, near some spring or dwelling, and with their camp-fires and their bustle about their teams, they made quite a social appearance.
Amidst all these inconveniences, I found the people generally happy and contented, and enjoying themselves,
probably, as well as at any subsequent period of their lives.
Baptist Ministers of Distinction in their Various Locations
in the Early Part of the Century
Then we had but few men of eminence for their literary acquirements or learned labors. We had no literary works of our own in progress, to be supplied with the productions of Baptist pens, and other societies did not look to our ranks for aid. The number of our able pastors was considerably large, while that of our zealous evangelists and gospel pioneers was larger still.
About this period, but more especially at a somewhat earlier age, the Baptists had a running fight in many locations with almost all the sects in the land, for their life, on gospel ground, and for their Claims to belong to the brotherhood of respectable Christians. A few of their ministers, in the principal cities and towns, were admitted to be men of some decency, but the sect as a whole was denounced as the dregs of Christendom, and was reproached with a wild and fanatical pedigree, or, in other words, as being descendants of the madmen of Munster, and as being in their terms of communion the most rigid and uncharitable sect in the land. And so incessant were the publications
against our people, that most of the writings of those who wrote at all were in self-defense. Fifty years ago, or about that time, amongst the ministers of our order, who were more or less distinguished for their talents, their locations, or their various services in the denomination, the following names may be recorded:
In Boston and vicinity, were Stillman, Baldwin, Blood, Paul, Collier, Grafton, Peckens, Boiles, Chaplin, E. Nelson, E. Williams, Peak, Batchelder.
To the north and west of Boston, were Robinson, Andrews, Leonard, Rand, Hartwell, Werden, J. Leland.
In a southerly direction, in the same State, were W. Williams, Read, Backus, Rathbun, Abbot, Coombs, Lovel, S. Nelson, the Briggses, Kendal, Glover, Bates, Lewis.
In New Hampshire and Maine, were Robinson, Hooper, Shepherd, Seamans, Crocket, Boardman, Wilmarth, Haines, Green, Tripp, Titcomb, Stearns, Case, Snow, Macomber, Pillsbury, Merrill, Roundy, Allen, Baker, Fuller.
In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, were Burton, Ainsley, the Mannings, the Chipmans, the Dimocks, the Hardings, the Crandalls.
In Providence and other parts of Rhode Island, were Gano, Messer, Pitman, Cornell, Baker, Bradley,
Eddy, Curtis, Northup, Allen, Babcock, the Palmers, Steadman, the Manchesters, and the author.
In Connecticut, were Babcock, Hastings, Cushman, Bulkley, Miller, S. Higbee, Wilcox, Phippen, Goodwin, Grow, Dodge, Crosby, Wells, Morse, Ferris, Miner, Brown, Cheesbro, the Bollses, the Wightmans, the Darrows, the Palmers, the Reeds, the Randalls.
In Vermont, were the Hendricks, the Sawyers, A. Leland, Howard, Butler, Going, Green, Mattison, J. Higbee, Haynes, Rowley, Hurlburt, Huntington.
In New York city and Long Island, were Parkinson, Williams, Stanford, Maclay, Hall, M. Earle.
On each side of the Hudson river, and at no great distance from it, to the northern boundary of the State, was a long space of country where Baptist churches were few and feeble at the date of these recollections. In traveling up this extended region, often remotely situated from each other, might then be found S S. Nelson, Fountain, Cole, Lathrop, Montanye, E. Ferris, Perkins, Davis, J. M. Peck, before he went to the West, Jenks, Henrick, Hull, Olmstead, Warren, Webb, Covel, Lahat, Sommers, A. Peck, Lee, Langworthy, Fox.
In the new and extended settlements of the State in a western direction, was found a large number of active ministers of our order, among whom we may name Douglass, Hosmer, Lawton, J. Peck, Bennett,
Furman, Bostick, Hurlburt, Vining, Brown, Lake, Robinson, Osgood, Card, Parsons, Eastman, Baker, the Butlers, Taylor, the Holcombs, Roots, Bacon, Spencer, Eddy, Handy, Holmes, Camp, Lamb.
These ministers all belonged to the Otsego Association, so called from a lake of that name, in 1806, and onward, for a few years, or until some of the number were embraced in kindred institutions, which were formed from the mother body, whose boundaries soon became widely extended.
Still further into the interior of this State, in different directions, about this period, were to be found Robertson, Cooley, Morton, Upfold, Freeman, Furman, Irish, Irons, Comstock, Rathbun, Lamb, Finch, Starr.
A. Bennett, above named, and who for a long time before he died was called Father Bennett, was licensed to preach in 1806.
All the men whose names are here recorded as active ministers in this State, I believe are now, 1856, dead, except Sommers, Perkins, and J. M. Peck, the pioneer of the West.
Dr. Peck has deceased since the above was written.
In New Jersey, belonging to the New York Association, were Brown, Edwards, Randolph, Vanhorn, Ellis, D. Sharp, then in Newark. Belonging to the Philadelphia Association, but in this State, were Allison, Smalley, McLaughlin, Wilson.
In Philadelphia, were Staughton, Rogers, Peckworth; near the city were S. Jones, D. Jones, H. G. Jones, Montanye, Mathias, Hough, Fleeson, Vaughn, Bennet, Carlile, Patten, Boswell, Sheppard, McGowan.
In the Redstone country, Pennsylvania, were Estep, Stone, Skinner, Phillips, Spears, Luce, Martin, Frey, Patterson, Smith, Brownfield.
In Delaware, were Dodge, Ferrell, Johnson, Jones.
In Baltimore, were Richards and Healey. In other parts of Maryland were Welch, Wilson, Green, Grice, Woodford.
In Washington city, was O. B. Brown.
In Richmond, Virginia, was J. Courtney. In other parts of the State were Semple, Broaddus, Ford, Clopton, Brame, Brice, Toler, Noel, Fitchet, Strauhgn [?], B. Watkins, Clay, Flourney, Richards, Dossey, Creath, Shelburne, Browne, Ritter, Mitchell, Shearwood, Chambless, Layfield, the Wallers, Pendleton, Purrington, Poindexter, Burghes, Dabbs, A. Watkins, Flowers, Jenkins, Kerr, Lovelace, Atkinson, King, Howard, the Fristoes, the Moores, Gilmore, Dawson, Munroe, Alderson, Osbourne, Lee, Wells, Patterson, Pritchard, Martin.
In North Carolina, were Burkett, Read, Bennett, Lawrence, Spivey, the Biggses, Lancaster, Biddle, Goodman, Thigpen, Cooper, Poindexter, Dossey, Wall, Ross, Daniel, Dobbins, Fuller, Purifoy, Gardnet,
Graves, Roberts, Brown, Moore, Pope, Slaughter, Culpepper, member of Congress, Brantley, father of the late Dr. B. Murphy, Posey, the Morgans.
In Charleston, South Carolina, was Furman; and in other parts of the State were Maxey, Botsford, Johnson, White, Ellis, McKellar, Reaves, Roberts, Cook, Collins, Woods, Coleman, Moseley, Scott, Thigpen, Simmons, Boyd, Youmans, Sweat, Landrum, Head, Marsh, Whatley, Greer, McCreary, Rooker, Golightly, Ball, Davis, Grace, Barnett, Lancaster.
In Savannah, Georgia, were Holcombe and A. Marshall, lately deceased at a very advanced age, and H. Cunningham. The two last were colored men, and pastors of large churches of their own nation.
In the lower parts of this State were then Scriven, Clay, Polhil, Goldwire, Wilson, Williams.
In the upper country, were A. Marshall, near Augusta, and in that city W. T. Brantley, then a young man; and at different distances from the older settlements, in southern and western directions, were Mercer, Sanders, Davis, Matthews, Reeves, Shackelford. Thompson, Rhodes, Franklin, Robertson, Hilman, Thornton, Goss, Baker, Williams.
Georgia was then a frontier State in a southern and western direction, and as yet there were but two States in what is usually denominated the valley
of the Mississippi, namely, Kentucky and Tennessee.
In Kentucky, were Dudley, Verdeman [Vardeman], Suggett, Hickman, Barrow, Creath, Price, Redding, Graves, the Craigs, Waller, Taylor, Scott, Noel, Tribble, Pierson, Stockton, Hodgen.
In Tennessee, near Nashville, were Whitsett, Wiseman and Racks; in other parts of the State, were McConico, Mulky, Ross, Ford, Adams.
In the Mississippi Territory, were E. Courtney and T. Mercer.
In Ohio, were J. Clark, Stites, and T. G. Jones.
In the Indiana Territory, were Ferris and McCoy.
We have now arrived at the outskirts of the Baptists, West and South-west, fifty years ago. These last accounts are not so full as they might have been, had the late J. M. Peck been able to answer my last letter to him, in which I sought information wherein I was deficient.
In the foregoing selections of names, I have had respect, in part, to men with whom I became acquainted in my travels, and who afforded me assistance in my historical pursuits. A large number of the letters of these friends and helpers are preserved among my epistolary documents.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 28-39. -- jrd]
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