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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF A FEW OF THE MINISTERS MENTIONED IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTER. — STILLMAN, BALDWIN, GANO, SHARP, CORNELL, STANFORD, PARKINSON, WILLIAMS, STAUGHTON, ROGERS, JONES, J. RICHARDS, J. HEALEY, FURMAN, BOTTSFORD, FULLER, MARSHAL, MERCER.
DOUBTLESS I have failed to mention many men in the above list, whose names ought to be recorded among our very worthy and useful ministers, who were actively engaged in the various affairs of the denomination about fifty years ago. Then the men I have named were in the locations I have assigned them. A few of them were quite young, and had not been ordained; but as they arose to distinction afterwards in the ranks of our ministerial brotherhood, I have thought it a matter of justice to enroll their names as I have done. In a few eases the men were near the end of their career, and were soon after called from their posts; but as they were in active service at the period now had in view, so I have reported them. Backus and Stillman of Massachusetts died about the same time that Bennett and Leonard of New York and Massachusetts were coming forward in the ministry. In 1806, A. Bennett was licensed
as a preacher by the church in Homer, New York, and soon after that date I find the name of L. Leonard in the minutes of the old Warren Association, with the designation of an unordained minister, in Backus' old church, in Middleborough, Massachusetts.
Any thing like biographical sketches on the most limited scale, of these Baptist laborers, would be incompatible with the brevity of these reminiscences; but still I will venture to say a few things respecting a limited number of them, and their locations at this time.
Dr. H. Smith of Haverhill, Massachusetts, was one of the most eminent ministers of our order in his day; but he, with Manning and many others of a former age, had ceased from their labors before I entered the stage of action, and of course, according to my plan, their names and characters must be omitted in these sketches.
In Boston and Providence, Drs. Stillman, Baldwin and Gano, in addition to their other laborious services, were often appealed to as counselors, by ministers and churches in a wide circuit around them. They were also very frequently called upon to assist in the ordination of ministers, in the formation of new churches, and in the adjustment of the difficulties which were very common in those times. The same may be said of our ministers generally in metropolitan
positions, who from their talents and largo experience in these matters, might have acquired the confidence of their brethren. But these ministers had larger fields of operations, in labors of this kind, respectively, for most of their lives, than any other three men in all the New England States. Their bishoprics were quite extensive, not only in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but also in a number of the neighboring States. Smith, and also Backus of the older class, had in their day performed a great amount of labor of this kind.
Mr. Blood, the first pastor of the church which was so long and ably served by the late Dr. Sharp, was a man of strong powers of mind, and of much experience in church matters; but his pastorship in Boston was of short duration.
Mr. Paul was a famous man among the people of his color — indeed, he was highly esteemed for his pulpit talents wherever he went.
Elder Cornell, the only Baptist pastor then in Providence, excepting Dr. Gano, although of an inferior education, was distinguished for his keen discernment of men and things, and for that sort of sayings which many were pleased to repeat. He had been a farmer preacher, or a missionary in new settlements, until he was somewhat advanced in years; and he came to Providence to officiate in a dilapidated concern,
of New Light pedigree, where the former Pedobaptist pastor was so tolerant toward immersion that it was difficult to tell under what head the body should be classed. Under Elder Cornell's labors an ingathering soon commenced; and as Baptist principles were fast gaining ground, it so happened that while he was away on a journey to his former home in Galway, New York, where he had a good farm, the Pedobaptist portion of the reviving interest rallied and put a minister of their own order in his place. "Yes," said the patient old man, "when I went out, I put on my boots, and when I came home I found another man in my shoes." The effect of all this was that the Baptist party went off by themselves, built a new house, and thus organized the Pine street, now Central, church, in Providence, which has lately entered a fine church edifice in a central part of the city.
Illiterate as Elder Cornell was, yet many of the students in college, of the religious class, were pleased to visit him to hear his sage advice and profit by his apt and shrewd remarks. One of these students was a good deal troubled with the blues, and had much to say against himself, of the badness of his feelings, etc.
"You are wrong, my brother," said the elder to the complaining young man; "you have got your sink spout in front of your house; put it at the back side, my brother, where it will be out of sight."
"Sister A., I wish you would ask me a question," said Elder Cornell to a friend at the close of a meeting, when away from home; "no one has tried me yet." "Well, elder, what is it?" said the friend. "If I will go home with you." "La me! why didn't I think of that before?" The point was now gained, and accommodations for the night were at once secured.
In the city of New York, to which I will now pass on, the churches and ministers of our order were very few, compared with the present time. Elder, afterwards Dr. Stanford, was somewhat advanced in years when I first knew him. The church of which he was then pastor, a long time since became extinct. To Dr. S. the old church in Providence, Rhode Island, is indebted for the brief account of its ancient pastors and general affairs, in early times. It was compiled in 1775, while he resided in the town, and officiated as the pastor of the church, as its temporary supply.
Elder J. Williams, father of the present Dr. Williams, a native of Wales, at the date of these recollections was laying the foundation of the large body now called the Oliver street church, under the pastoral care of Dr. Magoon. Mr. W. was a very plain but interesting preacher. Pathos and piety were distinguished traits of the character of his ministry, which I often attended in the early part of it: and well remember
some of his shrewd and forcible expressions. On one occasion, while going over in detail the afflictions of Job, he wound up by saying, with his then peculiar pronunciation, "and to add to all his troubles his wife began to scold because he was too religious."
Elder W. Parkinson came to this city in the beginning of this century, and settled with the first church, then in Gold street. As I then resided in the city, and was a somewhat attentive observer of all passing events in the then small circle of our people, the zeal and eloquence of this new minister, his out-door preaching in the Park and elsewhere, his adroit management, so as to preach like a New Light under the restraints of the strong Calvinistic creed, which was the test of orthodoxy among our old divines of that locality, at that time, are among the reminiscences of nay youthful days, while looking forward to the ministerial employment.
The now aged Dr. Maclay, the only survivor of the small company of Baptist ministers then in this city, commenced his labors in it about half a century since. Although he was a Baptist through and through, from the time he renounced the Pedobaptist creed, yet on account of his continued practice of weekly communion, to which he had formerly been accustomed, there was a little delay in his coming fully into our ranks.
In Philadelphia, Drs. Staughton and Rogers, and Elder William White, were the principal ministers among the Baptists, and near by were three of the Joneses, of whom Dr. Samuel, of Lower Dublin, the original seat of Baptist influence in this region, had long been distinguished for talents and usefulness. He was an old man when I first saw him in his own hospitable mansion.
Dr. Staughton, the pastor of the first church, was then in the zenith of his fame, as a popular preacher of our order in America; and from my own experience I can confirm all that has been reported of Dr. S. relative to his hospitality and kindness towards his brethren of all grades, and especially ministers of the younger class. Indeed, this may be said of our ministers generally of that age, however elevated their positions. Their houses were then the schools of the prophets, and they cheerfully became their gratuitous teachers and models.
At that time there was a harmony among our ministers in the city of brotherly love, which was sadly disturbed a few years later, when it was painful, instead of pleasant, to go from one house to another, of men who were full of complainings against each other.
Philadelphia, a half a century since, and for a long time before that date, and also many years later, both by the North and South, was regarded as the emporium
of Baptist influence. In its vicinity originated the project of founding a literary institution for Baptist use, which in the end was located in Providence, R. I., and now bears the name of Brown University; and here, also, was founded the convention for foreign missions in 1814, then the most important institution of the kind which existed among the American Baptists, and here for a long time after was the center of its operations. In the outset of this body, there was but one secretary for correspondence, both for home and foreign affairs; and this office was sustained by Dr. Staughton for many years, or until he became the President of the Baptist College in Washington, D.C.
The Baptist Philadelphia Confession of Faith, so called, because it went out from this city, was a document of high authority among all the old Baptist churches in this part of the country, and generally throughout the South and West, when I first traveled in those regions. This document was published here, and was printed by Dr. Franklin.
In Wilmington, Delaware, Elder D. Dodge was then located. He was the same plain, common-sense man that he always was through his long and useful life.
In Baltimore, were Elders S. Richards and J. Healey, both of British pedigree, and very useful men in their day. Mr. Richards was supported by his people,
while Mr. Healey supported himself by means of a dyeing establishment, in which, like Paul in tent making, his own hands were employed, as their completion gave ample proof.
Mr. Richards was originally of the Lady Huntington connection in England.
In Washington city, Elder O. B. Brown stood alone, as to his own order of ministers. He went to the capital about the time the United States Government was removed there from Philadelphia, and during the early part of his life he had governmental employments, mostly in the post office line. He also officiated as chaplain to Congress many years. By his invitation I sometimes, accompanied him, when he went to the old Hall, before the Capitol was finished, for the performance of his pro forma service. When he entered the Hall, all was bustle and talk here and there, but as soon as the chaplain ascended the stand down went the Speaker's hammer, and at once all were still, till the amen was pronounced, when the usual business of the body went on.
Dr. Furman, of Charleston, South Carolina, was then the principal minister of our order, not only in his own State, but in all the surrounding region; indeed, I do not know of any one in the Baptist ranks, at that time, who had a higher reputation among the American Baptists for wisdom in counsel,
and a skill in management, in all the affairs of the denomination. When I first visited him, in 1810, he was somewhat advanced in years, but actively engaged in his usual pursuits. Four years after, he became president of the Baptist convention for foreign missions, and as such, and by the appointment of that body, which, from the beginning, was deeply interested in Bible operations, Dr. Furman wrote a letter to Lord Teignmouth, then president of the British and Foreign Bible Society. A copy of this letter, in the handwriting of the author, with many others of his letters, is in my possession. By the courtesy of Dr. Furman's family, after his death I was permitted to take from the house many valuable letters, which were addressed to him by men of distinction from different parts. Among them were some from Dr. Rippon of London; others from Drs. Maxey, Backus, etc.
During my first visit to Charleston, I fell in with a custom which I think would be well for our churches if it more generally prevailed. When a visiting minister was invited to tea among the members, it was expected that he and all company would spend the evening at the house, and that a short off-hand discourse would be delivered. After I had gone on a number of nights in this way, the good Doctor, one morning, said to me, "My young brother, I fear our
people will tire you out. You must remember you have to preach for me next Sabbath; and beside this, you, as a visitor of the city, will be expected to address the Orphan Asylum early in the morning of that day."
"Perhaps the Doctor is afraid your pond will run out," said a friend slyly, to whom I gave the account.
This custom of family preaching, I believe, came from England; but wherever it came from, it pleased me much, although I abstained from it for the rest of the week, at the suggestion of my kind and much esteemed counselor and friend.
Beaufort, a handsome little island town, midway from Charleston to Savannah, Georgia, was then inhabited chiefly by people of wealth, whose landed estates were at different distances from their homes. Among them was Mr. Thomas Fuller, the father of Dr. R. Fuller of Baltimore, who was an unordained Baptist preacher of the local class. His splendid and hospitable mansion was my home while I was in the place. Mr. Fuller had property on some of the neighboring islands, and among his overseers was a Baptist preacher of his own grade. One day, after fitting off the man with a boat load of articles for the scene of his labors, and after his departure, brother F. said to me, "There goes a good man, and a good preacher, too. I am sure I know a great deal more than he
does, and yet in preaching he can far outdo me, so easy is his delivery, and so apt are his representations."
Dr. Johnson was then a sprightly young man, who had but lately left the profession of the law for the ministry among the Baptists.
Elder E. Botsford, of Georgetown, was somewhat advanced in years when I first saw him at his own home. He came from England in early life, and lived and labored in Georgia and South Carolina, but mostly in the latter State, to a good old age. This kind old minister was very helpful to me in my historical pursuits.
In Georgia, in early life, I became acquainted with a number of our ministers, who then were, or who afterwards became, quite distinguished in the denomination. Of only two of them shall I give my brief biographical accounts.
Elder, afterwards Dr. J. Mercer, and A. Marshall, were then conspicuous men among the Georgia Baptists, especially in the upper regions of the State, in which the denomination was rapidly increasing at this time, and where its numerical strength has now become very great. Mercer had not attained the meridian of life. His circumstances, as to property, were very moderate, and the wife of his youth was still lying. Both of them afterwards made me an agreeable
visit at my own home, and not long after their return, the good woman was called to her rest. By a second marriage, Dr. M. became quite wealthy, and after this, people seemed to think he was made of money, as he wrote me, while alluding to the numerous calls he received for pecuniary aid. Mercer University, an important Baptist institution in this State, was so named in consequence of the liberal donations made to it by this eminent man. This efficient coadjutor in my historical pursuits did more than any other minister in the country, in disposing of my old history of the Baptists, and until the close of his life a regular correspondence between us was maintained.
Abraham Marshall was considerably older than Mercer when I first visited his comfortable home, not far from Augusta, in 1810. This man, being descended from the New Lights of New England, through all his active life exhibited much of the zeal, the energy and independence of that peculiar people, in his earlier years he was much distinguished as a pioneer in a wide extent of country, both in the old settlements in the low country, and in the higher regions south and west of his residence, in what were then the new settlements of the State. The names of Abraham Marshall, moderator, and Jesse Mercer, clerk, appear in the minutes of the Georgia Association, the oldest body of the kind in
the State, for a long course of years. In one of his excursions down the country, in the suburbs of Savannah, not far from where once stood Whitfield's famous orphan house, Mr. M., in one day, baptized forty-five persons of color, formed them, with others previously baptized, into a church, and ordained Andrew Bryan as their pastor. This was in 1788. Thus arose the first African Baptist church in Savannah, which soon became a distinguished community of this people. Bryan lived to the age of ninety in this pastoral station. He was succeeded by his nephew, Andrew Marshall, who held this pastorship with good reputation to old age. He died lately at Richmond, Virginia, while on a visit to that city. Both these men were highly honored in their death, by large concourses of people, not only of their own race, but also of citizens of all grades and distinctions.
From the labors of these plain, colored preachers arose an important Baptist dynasty among the African race, in this region; and I have been thus particular in these details for the purpose of coming at a question of Baptist discipline which may appear of no little importance to some of our people. Abraham Marshall, in forming this now old church, a large account of which was published by Dr. Rippon, of London, in his Annual Register, in 1791, acted alone, as no ordained minister could be had to assist him. "I
acted the part of a bishop, in this case, from necessity," said he to me, in relating this story. His brethren, however, sanctioned the measure at the time. Whether the leaders of our church affairs would do so now is a question which I shall not attempt to decide, as I do not recollect having seen it discussed in any of our treatises on church discipline. It is the usual custom of our churches to convoke a council or presbytery, or eldership, in the language of our southern brethren, on such occasions, but in a case of necessity, why may not our ministers, as well as Titus, ordain elders alone?
When I was about to leave Mr. Marshall, among his various messages to his New England relations, "Tell them," said the aged man, "that I am yet in the land of the dying, but am bound to the land of the living."
"Then," said I, "you reverse the common form of expression on this subject." "There is no death there," was his reply, "while all things are dying here;" and as I started my horse he waved his hand and retired towards the old family mansion.* Before I visited this region again, this venerable man, as we may confidently believe, had gone to the land of the living.
* This was the home of his father, the famous Daniel Marshall, the Baptist pioneer of this part of Georgia. Some vestiges of the old log cabin, in which he first resided here, were still to be seen when I first visited the place.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 40-54. -- jrd]
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