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Joseph Cook *
Early British and SC Baptist Preacher
Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, 1860
By William Buell Sprague
      Joseph Cook was born of pious parents in the city of Bath, England, and was hopefully converted, at an early period of his life, under the preaching of Whitefield, at the Chapel of the late Countess of Huntingdon, in his native city. Whitefield's attention seems to have been particularly drawn to him as a youth of much promise, and he sometimes asked him to ride with him, that he might have an opportunity of conversing with him on religious subjects. Lady Huntingdon also became specially interested in him; and, when he was in his nineteenth year, she sent him to her College, at Trevecka, in Brecknockshire, in South Wales. Here he was a diligent and successful student; and, by his kind and gentle spirit as well as his pious and exemplary walk, he endeared himself greatly to both his Tutors and fellow-students. While pursuing his studies, he occasionally went forth into the neighbouring villages to exereise his gifts in preaching the Gospel; and his labours in this way were always highly acceptable.

      In September, 1771, Lady Huntingdon received an anonymous letter, requesting her to send a minister to Margate, in the Island of Thanet,
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* Rippon's Register. — Benedict's History of the Baptists, II.


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which was represented to be a very dissolute place. She, accordingly, selected for the mission Mr. William Aldridge, one of her senior students, and gave him liberty to associate with himself any other student whom he might think best suited to such a work. He fixed upon Mr. Cook, who readily consented to accompany him. After making the requisite preparation, they proceeded to the place designated, as their field of labour; and, as they were entire strangers, they commenced preaching in the open air. Not a small number came to hear them, and several were supposed to be savingly benefitted; while they gradually extended their labours to other places on the Island.

      About this time, many persons in Dover, having become dissatisfied with Mr. Wesley's doctrine and ministers, and left his meeting, applied to these two young itinerants to come and labour among them. They accepted the invitation; and Aldridge preached there, for the first time, on Sabbath day, in the market place, but met with great opposition. The persons who had invited them, then procured the use of a Presbyterian house of worship, which, for some time, had not been occupied; and there the two continued to preach as long as they remained in Dover. It was now arranged that they should supply Margate and Dover, preaching alternately in both places. Mr. Cook's first sermon at Dover awakened great interest, not merely from its earnest, evangelical tone, but from its being delivered extempore, — a mode of preaching to which the people there had never been accustomed. The two continued to supply for some time at Dover, and occasionally also at Deal and Falkston, and, at the latter place particularly, their preaching was attended with a signal blessing.

      Two years after, Lady Huntingdon, having been informed that there were many favourable openings for the preaching of the Gospel in North America, resolved on forming a mission for that part of the world; and, with this view, called in the students from all parts of the country to the College of Wales, spread the case before them, and requested that they would seek the Divine guidance in respect to it, and that as many as thought it their duty to embark in the enterprise, would signify it. Mr. Cook and several others offered themselves for this service, and shortly after went to London, and, in the presence of many thousands, in the Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road Chapel, and elsewhere, made a statement of their views of the proposed work, which was printed. After taking an affecting farewell of their friends, they embarked for America with the Rev. Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Percy; but, as the ship was detained in the Downs by a contrary wind. Mr. Cook availed himself of the opportunity to pay a farewell visit to his friends at Dover; and, the next Sabbath, several of his fellow students also, who were coming with him to America, went thither to preach. A sudden and favourable change of the wind having taken place at night, the ship sailed, and they were all left behind. Two of them now wholly gave up the idea of coming; but Mr. Cook, with the rest, resolved to persevere, and actually came by the first opportunity.

      On their arrival in this country, they considered themselves authorized to preach, on their general plan, as they had done in England; and hence they travelled about, preaching among different denominations, as they found opportunity. Though they seem to have been generally regarded as belonging


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to the Episcopal Church, and were themselves apparently not unwilling to keep up that idea, yet it soon became manifest that their sympathies were increasingly with the Baptists; and it came out at length that they had received a leaning in that direction from the influence of a young man who had embraced those views in Lady Huntingdon's Seminary. Mr. Cook, however, seemed less disposed than the rest to mingle with the Baptists, though he ultimately became a Baptist, while they, with a single exception, joined other denominations.

     Soon after his arrival in this country, Mr. Cook was married to Elizabeth Bullein, of Baptist parents then deceased, at the village of Dorchester about eighteen miles from Charleston. Here, probably in consequence of this connection, he determined to settle. The congregation to which he preached was of a very mixed character — the greater part of them were professedly Episcopalians; a number were the children of the members of a Baptist Church, then extinct, which had once flourished under the ministry of the Rev. Isaac Chanler; and the rest were the remnants of an Independent congregation. With the latter Mr. Cook seems to have formed his closest connection, preaching, ordinarily, in the place of worship they had been accustomed to occupy.

     Though the Church of England, at the commencement of the Revolution, was the Established Church in South Carolina, some of the other denominations began to associate with the idea of civil independence the kindred idea of equal religious rights; and hence, early in 1776, an invitation was given to ministers and churches of various denominations, — originating, it is understood, with the Baptists,—to meet at the High Hills of Santee, at the seat of the Baptist Church there, to consult in regard to their general interests. To this meeting Mr. Cook came; and, the business being concluded, he remained till the next week. As the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was to be celebrated on the ensuing Sabbath, religious services were held. according to the usage of that period, on the two preceding days; and on Saturday Mr. Cook was invited to preach. Just before the service was to commence, he took aside the Rev. Mr. Hart of Charleston, who had staid to assist in the solemnity, and the Rev. Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Furman, then Pastor of the Church at Santee. and very young in the ministry, and acknowledged to them that he had for some time had increasing convictions in favour of the distinctive views of the Baptists, but had resisted them at the expense of his own peace of mind; that he had then recently examined the whole subject with great care, resolved to accept and submit to whatever might appear to be the truth and the will of God; and that, as the result of this examination, the previous tendencies of his mind had been fully confirmed. He stated that the address of Ananias to Paul, — "And now, why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord," had been brought home to his mind with great power, and suggested to him the importance of being baptized without delay, especially as a favourable opportunity then offered. "I have only to add, Gentlemen," continued he, "that I should be glad of your advice, whether to embrace the ordinance immediately, or defer it to be administered among the people where I live; and if I submit to it immediately, seeing my sentiments and intention have been hitherto


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unknown to the public, whether it would be proper to make Ananias' address to St. Paul, just now mentioned, and from which I have felt so much conviction, the subject of the discourse I am about to deliver, and just in the light I now behold it, as it applies to myself. This I confess is the dictate of my own mind; hut I would not wish to act unadvisedly."

     Having heard his statements, the ministers were both of opinion that there was no reason why the ordinance should not be administered to him at once, and that it was highly proper that he should preach on the subject which he had proposed. He, accordingly, did preach upon it; and, the next day, after having satisfied the church of his acquaintance with experimental religion, he was baptized by Mr. Furman, the Pastor. They then began immediately to contemplate his ordination ; and, within a few days, he was actually ordained by Mr. Hart and Mr. Furman.

     The Church in Euhaw, having become vacant by the death of the Rev. Francis Pelot, invited Mr. Cook to become their Pastor. He accepted the invitation, and preached there without interruption for some time; but, in consequence of the invasion of the State, the imminent danger incident to his situation, near the sea-coast, and the distress and losses to which he had already been subjected, he removed into the interior, and remained there till the close of the War. He did not, however, find a place of safety; for he suffered severely in the ravages of the State by the troops under Lord Cornwallis, and other commanders; so that, when he returned to his residence at Euhaw, at the commencement of the Peace, he was actually reduced to poverty. Previous to his leaving Euhaw, he had lost his first wife, and married a second. There were some circumstances attending this marriage, which gave pain to his friends, and which subsequently occasioned him much regret.

     The church of which Mr. Cook was Pastor had become considerably reduced before he took charge of it; and when he returned to it, after the suspension of his labours occasioned by the War, it had become almost extinct. But, on resuming his ministry there, he seems to have been greatly quickened, and proportionally blessed in his work. The Church gradually increased in numbers, spirituality, and influence; and, during the last five years of his life, he admitted, by Baptism, seventy-eight new members, some of whom were persons of great respectability.

     In September, 1790, he addressed a letter to Dr. Rippon, of London, in which, after giving an account of the Baptist Negro Church in Savannah, he writes as follows: —

"My sphere of action is great, having two congregations to regard, at a considerable distance from each other, exclusive of this where I reside; as also, friendly visits to pay to sister Churches and Societies of other denominations, who are destitute of ministers, frequently riding under a scorching sun, with a fever, twenty miles in a morning, and then preach afterwards. Our brethren in England have scareely an idea of what hardships we struggle with, who travel to propagate the Gospel. I have been in a very poor state of health for two months; but it has not prevented an attention to the duties of my station. O, what a blessing is health! We cannot be too thankful for it."
     But Mr. Cook had now almost reached the end of his journey. The feeble state of health to which he refers, as having been of two months' standing, had commenced with a dry cough, a stricture of the breast, and great lassitude, immediately after preaching, on a very sultry day, to a
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congregation about twenty miles from his residence. About two weeks before his death, he preached his last sermon from Ephesians i. 6, when he was so feeble that serious apprehensions were entertained that he would not be able to go through the service. It was delivered under the full impression that it was the last sermon his people would ever hear from him; and he distinctly stated this, and concluded a very pathetic train of remark by bidding them a solemn and affectionate farewell. On the Tuesday following, his symptoms became more decidedly alarming; and, from this time, both himself and his friends were convinced that the hour of his departure was near at hand. He evinced great tranquillity of spirit, during his remaining days, though he said that he had not those intense joys which he had sometimes experienced. He died on the next Sabbath, September 26, 1790, in the forty-first year of his age, and his remains were interred the same evening, immediately after the administration of the Lord's Supper, when a very tender Address was delivered, at the grave, to a deeply affected audience, by the Rev. Dr. Holcombe. The Funeral Sermon was preached, some time afterwards, by the Rev. Dr. Furman of Charleston, from II Timothy i. 12; — a text which Mr. Cook had himself designated for the occasion.

     Mr. Cook left a widow, and one son by his first marriage, — then about fifteen years of age. His widow survived him but a few weeks, being cut off by a short and severe illness. The son, Joseph B., was graduated at Brown University in 1797, became a Baptist minister, and succeeded Dr. Holcombe in the same church of which his father had been Pastor. Here he continued until 1804, when the Euhaw Church was divided, and the Beaufort Church was formed from it, with the pastoral care of which Mr. Cook was immediately invested.

     The following is an extract from a letter written by an intimate friend of Mr. Cook, to the Rev. Dr. Rippon, shortly after his decease: —

"Mr. Cook was of a middle stature, and slender make, but had acquired a degree of corpulency a few years before his death. His mental powers were good, and had received improvement by an acquaintance with the liberal arts and sciences, though his education had not been completed. His conversation was free and engaging. As a preacher, he was zealous, orthodox and experimental. He spoke with animation and much fervour, though his talent lay so much in the persuasive, that, at the end of his sermon, he frequently left the audience in tears. He was taken from his labours at a time when his character had arisen to considerable eminence, and a spacious field of usefulness was opening all around him, and at a time when he was greatly endeared to his people."

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[From William Buell Sprague, editor, Annals of the American Pulpit: Baptist, 1860, pp. 186-190. Document from Google Books. — Jim Duvall]


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