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By Thomas Armitage, 1890

      In considering the introduction and spread of Baptist principles into the other colonies, it will be proper to take them up in the chronological order in which their first Churches severally were formed. First of all, then, we have Connecticut, which colony lived under the charter of Charles II, as regards religious privileges, until 1818. As early as A.D. 1674 some Baptists of Rhode Island occasionally crossed the borders and immersed converts in Connecticut, who united with their Churches in Rhode Island. These, however, were regarded as unwarrantable innovations; they attracted the attention of the Standing Order (Presbyterial-Congregational), and the secular power was invoked to suppress them. One of these invasions took place at Waterford, but they were not oft-repeated. The ministers of the State Church were supported by levying and collecting their salaries regularly with other taxes. Trumbull informs us that before 1706 the persons of the ministers were free from all taxation, but their families and estates were taxable; in that year the Legislature exempted these from taxation.1 The law made the State Church the lawful congregation, and subjected all persons who neglected attendance there on 'the Lord's Day' to a fine of twenty shillings. It also forbade 'separate companies in private houses,' and inflicted a fine of ten pounds, with 'corporal punishment by whipping, not exceeding thirty stripes for each offense,' on every 'person, not being a lawful minister,' who 'shall presume to profane the holy sacraments by administering or making a show of administering them to any person or persons whatever, and being thereof convicted.' Connecticut and New Haven were separate governments till the reign of Charles II, when they were united under one charter. But this basis of government did not contain a single clause authorizing the Legislature to enact any religious laws, establish any form of religion or any religious tests, and, properly speaking, the attempt to bind these on the colony was of itself a usurpation.

      A few scattered Baptists in the south-eastern part of the colony humbly petitioned the General Court in 1704 for liberty to hold meetings and establish a Church in Groton. Their prayer seems not to have been noticed, but, nothing daunted, the same band sent a fraternal request to Valentine Wightman, a gifted young preacher in Rhode Island, to become their leader, and in 1705 he came and organized them into the First Baptist Church of Connecticut. This pioneer body numbered less than a score, but they were firm, united and liberal minded. They presented their brave young pastor at once with twenty acres of land, and Deacon William Stark erected upon it a suitable parsonage. It is still a flourishing Church in the village of Mystic, after a life of one hundred and eighty-one years. Wightman was a descendant of Edward, who was the last martyr under James I, and whose ashes fell amongst the fagots of Lichfield marketplace in 1611. This first Baptist pastor of Connecticut was an extremely serene and quiet character, but his amiable soul flashed the fire of a true witness from his eye upon the bigots who would interfere with him. He possessed sound learning, great zeal and deep piety. A certain calm discretion made him symmetrical and consistent, and adapted him to cautious but intrepid leadership in his new and trying position. He was a close student of the Scriptures and a powerful preacher, caring tenderly for the flock of Christ. Then, he brought from his native commonwealth a mild tolerance of spirit for all men, with a love for their salvation which disarmed opposition. Yet no Church could legally exist without permission from the secular power; but it was doubly difficult to secure this tolerance for Baptists. Moreover, Wightman sought not the approbation of the neighboring clergy, for he contended that it was the right of every man to worship God as he pleased. His quiet firmness had much to do with that gradual relaxing of the law which at last permitted a man to show that he was a member in a Baptist Church and paid toward its support, and so could be furnished with a certificate of exemption from liability to distraint or imprisonment for refusing to pay the minister's tax of the State establishment.

      Mr. Wightman and his flock never were so severely oppressed as were some Baptists in the colony. His sterling worth commanded the respect of the neighboring clergy from the first, and the enlightened tact by which he led his people often silenced the clamor of the Standing Order in that vicinity. But in many other places nothing could prevent seizure of the property of Non-conformists for refusing to pay the clerical tax, enforced as it often was by fiery zealots clothed with brief authority. At one time a number of Baptists, including their minister, were taken in the very act of worshiping God. They were promptly incarcerated in the New London county jail for attending a religious meeting 'contrary to law on the Sabbath day.' One of the prisoners was a babe at its mother's breast; the prison was fireless and the weather bitterly cold, yet the child lived and grew up to be a successful preacher of the Baptist faith, for which he innocently suffered. Ebenezer Frothingham, of Middletown, wrote a book in 1767, in which he says that as a Separate he was confined in Hartford prison for nearly five months, for nothing but exhorting and warning the people after the public worship was done and the assembly dismissed. And while confined there five others were imprisoned for the same crime. He also says that

'Young Deacon Drake, of Windsor, now in Hartford prison for the ministers' rates and building their meeting-house, altho' he is a Baptist, is accounted a harmless, godly man; and he has plead the privilege of a Baptist through all the courts, and been at great expense, without relief, till at last the Assembly has given him a mark in his hand, and notwithstanding this, they have thrust him to prison for former rates, with several aggravations which I shall omit. But as to what the Constitution does to relieve the poor deacon, he may there die, and the cry of blood, blood, go up into the ears of a just God.'2
      In other cases, venerable ministers of the Gospel were whipped at the town-post, or at the tail of an ox-cart, as they were driven through the town. Sometimes they were placarded and placed on horseback, and otherwise ignominiously treated for preaching Christ. Nathan Jewett, of Lyme; a member of the Baptist Church there, was expelled from the Legislature because he was not of the Standing Order. Still, one Church slowly grew up after another. In 1710 a Baptist Church was organized at Waterford; in 1735 another in Wallingford; one in Stonington, one in Lyme and one in Colchester the same year, and one at Saybrook in 1744. The first Baptist meetings were not held in Norwich till 1770, and in other large towns it was much later still before Churches were formed. When the minister's tax was to be collected, the dissenting layman's cow or the contents of his corn-crib were seized and taken to the town post to be sold, and the contumacious delinquent considered himself fortunate if he escaped the stocks, always found hard by the signpost or the jail. Here follows one of the old forms under which these outrages were committed:


      To Samuel Perkins, of Windham, in Windham County, a Collector of Society Taxes in the first Society in Windham:
      'Greeting: By authority of the State of Connecticut, you are hereby commanded forthwith to levy and collect of the persons named in the foregoing list herewith committed to you, each one his several proportion as therein set down, of the sum total of such list, being a rate agreed upon by the inhabitants of said Society for the purpose of defraying the expenses of said Society, and to deliver and pay over the sums which you shall collect to the Treasurer of said Society within sixty days next coming; and if any person shall neglect or refuse to pay the sum at which he is assessed; you are hereby commanded to distrain the goods, chattels, or lands of such person so refusing; and the same being disposed of as the law directs, return the overplus, if any, to the respective owners; and for want of such goods, chattels, or lands whereon to make distress, you are to take the body or bodies of the persons so refusing, and them commit to the keeper of the gaol in said County of Windham within the prison, who is hereby commanded to receive and safe keep them until they pay and satisfy the aforesaid sums at which they are respectively assessed, together with your fees, unless said assessment, or any part thereof, be legally abated. Dated at Windham, this 12th day of September, 1794.'
'JABEZ CLARK, Justice of Peace.'

      The efforts of the Baptists to throw off this yoke are matters of well-attested history. They adopted resolutions in Churches and Associations, they carried up petitions from year to year to the law-making bodies, and sent the ablest counsel, at heavy expense, to seek the redress of grievances and demand complete equality before the law, for many years. Indeed, the 'Baptist Petition,' as it was called, came to be almost a by-word amongst the State officers, and when at last, in 1818, the rights of conscience were secured in the new constitution, it was a matter of surprise, and most of all were the Baptists themselves surprised, to find that the article which changed the fundamental law on that subject was drawn by Rev. Asahel Morse, one of their own ministers from Suffield. As in Massachusetts, so in Connecticut, the New Light or Separate movement under Whitefield and Edwards resulted in the rapid advancement of the Baptist cause. For about twenty years, from 1740 to 1760, perpetual excitement abounded and about forty Separatist Churches were established, taking the very best elements, in many cases, out of the State Churches. In process of time a number of them became Baptist Churches bodily, and in other cases they gradually blended with the Baptists, for their cause was one in essence. They demanded deliverance from the curse of the Half-way Covenant and freedom to worship God as regenerate people. So enraged did the State Churches and the Legislature become, that they repealed a former act under which Baptists and others of 'sober consciences' had enjoyed partial liberty, and then, as Trumbull says, there was 'no relief for any person dissenting from the established mode of worship in Connecticut. The Legislature not only enacted these severe and unprecedented laws, but they proceeded to deprive of their offices such of the justices of the peace and other officers as were New Lights, as they were called, or who favored their cause.' The two Clevelands, students, and their tutors were expelled from Yale College by President Clapp because they attended a private meeting 'for divine worship, carried on principally by one Soloman Paine, a lay exhorter, on several Sabbaths in September and October last.' These two young men pleaded that this was the meeting where their godly father went, and for this crime of bowing before God they were excluded from that honorable institution. The same spirit prevailed in the Congregational Churches. According to Whittemore, the Church at Middletown had for some years a few members in its fellowship who entertained Baptist views. But at a meeting held August 9th, 1795, it passed the following:

'When members of this Church shall renounce infant baptism and embrace the Baptist principles and practice baptism by immersion, they shall be considered by that act as withdrawing their fellowship from this Church, and we consider our covenant obligations with them as Church members dissolved.'
When it is remembered that their membership was not of choice but of law, we see the injustice of this act. 'Rev. Stephen Parsons, who had been pastor of the Church for seven years, announced one Sabbath morning that he had embraced the opinions of the Baptists and was immediately dismissed. . . . He with a number of his brethren and sisters withdrew, were soon after baptized, and on the 29th of October, 1795, a meeting was held in the house of a Mr. Doolittle for the purpose of recognizing the Church.'3 The venerable Judge Wm. H. Potter, an alumnus of Yale, thus eloquently sets forth the temper of the times. He says:
'The unfortunate Separates were pursued into every calling, hunted out of every place of trust, hauled before clergy and Church, dragged before magistrates, and suffered without stint and without much complaint countless civil and ecclesiastical penalties, as heretics or felons, but oppression only confirmed their faith and thrust them into a closer union with their Baptist fellow-sufferers who, as in duty bound, joyfully espoused the cause and rights of the Separates. And why should they not fraternize? The Baptists, upon whom persecution had well-nigh exhausted its impotent attempts, either to extirpate or seduce, were, to be sure, regarded by the hierarchy as impracticables, and had been invidiously permitted under the Act of the first year of William and Mary to organize Churches. But they were still laboring under many legal impediments and more prejudices. Their memories, if not their backs, were still smarting under the pungent discipline of the same hierarchy. Their preachers had been familiar with fines, forfeitures and prisons, and their people with distraints, odium and disfranchisement. Herein there must have been a common sympathy. Then, the soul-stirring doctrines of New Lights were already the cherished doctrines of the Baptists. The same annunciation of the rich, free and sovereign grace of God, and the doctrines of the cross which Whitefield and Wheelock made on a wider field and with such signal success, were identical with those of Wightman and the Callenders. The Separates, therefore, had little to sacrifice in coining to the Baptists.'4
      The law treated the Separates as malefactors and outcasts, and some of them were handled so much worse than many of the Baptists that the latter sympathized with them, succored them and threw open their doors to make them welcome as brethren in like tribulation.

      At first, when a Baptist and Separate Church became one, or when large numbers of Separates united with a Baptist Church, the chief difference between the two was found in the lax views of the Separates on the subject of communion. The Supper had always been grossly perverted by the Standing Order to ecclesiastical-politico uses, and these notions the so-called New Lights brought with them to the Baptists. They could not easily rid themselves of this relic of State Church life, but in process of time they adopted healthier views and, falling into Baptist line, fully embraced their principles. While the few Baptist ministers of that day were not men of learning, they commonly possessed a fair public school education, which they used with sound sense in laying broad foundations for their free and independent Churches. They had slight salaries or none at all, which, for the general good of Baptist interests, left them free to devote a portion of their time to other fields besides their own pastorates, doing the work of evangelists and planting new Churches in many places. Wightman did much of this work, extending his labors as far as New York city. Three generations of Wightmans succeeded to the pastorate of the First Church, Groton, covering, with short intervals, a century and a quarter. Our few and feeble Churches were thoroughly evangelical and simple in their utterances of divine truth, and their Declarations of Faith were little else than a succession of quotations from the Bible, whose text alone was their creed. Their general practice also was as consistent as their doctrines, but at one time they partook to some extent in their worship of the general excitement which attended the preaching of Whitefield, Davenport and the elder Edwards. No part of America was more deeply moved than Connecticut under the labors of these men. Whitefield's preaching, especially, agitated the Churches of the Standing Order to their center. They had foolishly closed all their pulpits against him, and multitudes assembled in the open air to listen to his preaching. A fair proportion of their clergy, however, sympathized with him and went with their people, nor were they alarmed at those physical and so-called fanatical manifestations which accompanied his preaching, described by Edwards. Often a subtile but irresistible influence would fall upon his congregations, somewhat resembling a panic on a battlefield. Multitudes would surge back and forth, would raise a simultaneous cry of agony, many would fall to the earth, remaining long in a state of unconsciousness, and then awoke as from a trance-like state enraptured with an ecstatic joy.

      The Baptists, with such of the Standing Order as co-operated with Whitefield and his immediate followers, all blended in his support, and wonderful things occurred through this new discipleship. It is stated on good authority that the parsonage at Center Groton was the scene of one of the most remarkable sermons of this great preacher. The upper windows of the house were removed and a platform raised in front, facing a large yard full of forest trees. When Whitefield passed through the window to this stand and cast his eye over the multitude, he saw a number of young men who, imitating Zaccheus in the sycamore, had climbed these trees and were-perched on their limbs. The kind hearted orator asked them to come down, saying: 'Sometimes the powder of God falls on these occasions and takes away the might of strong men. I wish to benefit your souls and not have your bodies fall out of these trees.' He expected to see them come down to the ground as birds that were shot; and choosing the valor of discretion they came down, only to be prostrated under the sermon. Great numbers of his hearers went home to lead new lives, and it is said that more than one of these young men became preachers of the new faith.

      No Baptist Church in Connecticut fought a nobler battle for life and freedom than that at Norwich. Dr. Lord was the pastor of the State Church there, and appears to have been a very excellent man. He was inclined at first to work with the revivalists, but the breaking up of the ancient order of things amongst what were known as the Old Lights alarmed him, and the bent of circumstances forced him into ultra-conservatism. Then he began to oppress and persecute those of his congregation who took the other side, and the result was that a large secession from his Church formed a new Separatist body. In due time a Baptist Church sprang chiefly out of this and Norwich became a large source of Baptist power. Poor Parson Lord had hard times generally in these contests and, in particular, was compelled to collect his own taxes.

      Denison tells us that he called upon a Mr. Colher, who was a barber, when the following dialogue ensued :

Dr. L. "Mr. Collier, I have a small bill against you."
Mr. C. "A bill against me, Dr. Lord? for what?"
Dr. L. "Why, your rate for my preaching."
Mr. C. "For your preaching? Why, I have never heard you. I don't recollect that I ever entered your meeting-house."
Dr. L. "That's not my fault, Mr. Collier, the meeting-house was open."
Mr. C. "Very well. But, look here; I have a small bill against you, Dr. Lord."
Dr. L. "A bill against me? for what?"
Mr. C. "Why, for barbering."
Dr. L. "For barbering? I never before entered your shop."
Mr. C. "That's not my fault, Dr. Lord, my shop was open!"5
      The Norwich Church prospered, and our brethren met for worship in their own houses until want of room compelled them first to gather in a rope-walk, and then to erect a meeting-house of their own. But they, as well as the Separates, were slow of heart to learn all that the Baptists taught them, and it is quite delicious to know that they burnt their own fingers in consequence. In those days, when the State Churches wanted to build a meeting-house, they commonly asked the Legislature for a Lottery Grant on which to raise money. The Norwich Baptists, thinking it no harm for them to be as ridiculous as other respectable folk, applied to the General Assembly for such a Grant. Whereupon, that august body refused: first, because the Baptists did not indorse the Ecclesiastical Laws; secondly, because they were not known in law as a denomination; thirdly, because Rev. Mr. Sterry, the Baptist pastor at Norwich, was the co-editor of a Republican paper.6 For these reasons, our brethren were informed that they could not be allowed to gamble like good, legal and orthodox saints. This word to the wise had a wholesome effect upon them, for although they have now built a number of excellent church edifices, and have liberally helped others to do the same, they have never once since asked for a State Lottery to help them in building houses for God. Few States in our Union can show a nobler list of pioneer Baptist pastors or a more illustrious line of successors than Connecticut. Amongst the first we have the three Wightmans, Valentine, Timothy and Gano; then follow the four Burrowses, Silas, Amos, Peleg and Roswell. The three Allens follow: Ichabod, Rufus and Stephen; and the two Bolles, David and Matthew, the Palmers and the Rathbuns; together with Backus and Baldwin and a list that cannot now be named. In later times we have had Knapp and Cushman, Swan and Hodge, Ives and Miller, Turnbull and Phelps, Palmer and Lathrop, their illustrious peers. Many of these have long since entered into their Master's joy, and over a few others the sheen of their holy Home begins to glow, falling softly on their scant locks. To these their departed brethren begin to look like shining ones sent back with lamps of Christ's trimming to escort them to the celestial gate. Heaven bless the waiting band, and when their work is done give them a triumphant entrance into the city of the great King. The Baptists of Connecticut now number 6 Associations, 122 ordained ministers; 124 churches. and 21,666 members.


1 Trumball, i, 451.
2 A Key to Religious Law of the Colony of Connecticut, pp. 51, 183.
3 History of Middlesex County, p. 142.
4 Frederick Denison's Notes on the Baptists, pp. 40-41.
5 Denison's Notes, pp. 30-31.
6 Denison's Notes, pp. 56-57.


[From Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 1890; reprint, 1988, pp. 739-745. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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