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History of the Early Baptist Churches
Wilmington, Delaware

History of Delaware, 1609-1888

First Baptist Church

      The First Baptist Church of Wilmington, founded October 8, 1785, was the pioneer of that denomination in that city. Prior to this date occasional services were held, and among the Baptists in Wilmington were Mrs. Ann Bush, who came in 1748; Mrs. Elizabeth Way, in 1764; and John Stow and family, in 1769. Rev. Philip Hughes preached in 1782. In April, 1783, Thomas Ainger, a Philadelphia Presbyterian, settled in Wilmington, and, his wife being a Baptist, he took a great interest in that denomination, of which he subsequently became a member, and it was mainly through his efforts that the First Church was established. Referring to him Edwards, the historian, says: "What Baptists could not do a Presbyterian did for them." Soon after his arrival Rev. Messrs. Fleeson and Boggs, by invitation held meetings at Mr. Ainger's house, and on May 25, 1784, Mr. Boggs administered the rite of baptism to Thomas Ainger, Rachael Ainger, Noah Cross and Mrs. Ferris. During the same year Rev. Mr. Hughes visited Wilmington to publish an original work on Baptism, and preached alternately in the First Presbyterian Church and the town's school-house. He baptized Robert Smith, John Redman, James McLaughlin and Henry Walker in Brandywine Creek. Nine of the original Baptists of Wilmington joined the Welsh Tract Church, in New Castle County and they, in conjunction with six others, organized the First Baptist Church. These were Thomas Ainger, James McLaughlin, Thomas Williams, Henry Walker, Joseph Tomlinson, John Redman, Robert Smith, John McKim, Curtis Gilbert, Sarah Stow, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Mattson, John Stow, Thos. Stow and Abigail Ainger, of whom Thomas Ainger, James McLaughlin, Henry Walker and Curtis Gilbert were subsequently ordained to the ministry. The organization of the First Baptist Church met with opposition from the other denominations, excepting the Presbyterians whose pastor encouraged the new congregation, placed his pulpit at the disposal of Rev. Mr. Hughes, the Baptist minister, and promulgated the doctrine of "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Baptists soon erected a brick church, thirty-five by forty feet, and joined the Philadelphia Association. The first regular pastor of the First Church was Rev. Thomas Fleeson, who laid the corner-stone of the edifice, accomplished its erection and remained in charge of it until 1788. He was succeeded by Thomas Ainger, who was elevated to the ministry April 25, 1786. He was ordained as pastor October 28, 1788, and continued his ministration until his death, in 1797. His successors were Revs. Joseph Boggs, Gideon Farrell, John Ellis and Joseph Flood. Rev. Flood was soon excluded from the pulpit for preaching polygamy. He subsequently went to Norfolk, Va., and created considerable trouble. From 1802 to 1819 Rev. Daniel Dodge was pastor of the church, and during this interval baptized two hundred and fifty converts. He was succeeded by Rev. Samuel R. Green, 1819 to 1824; Rev. David Lewis, 1824 to 1826; Rev. John D. Strumpter, 1826 to 1827; Rev. John P. Peckworth, 1827 to 1828. During Mr. Peckworth's ministry the Sabbath-school was organized. His successors were Revs. John Miller, Alfred Earle, Joseph Smart, Wilson Housel, Wm. Matthews, Samuel Earle and Elder E. Rittenhouse. From 1846 to 1858 the First Church was irregular in its connection with the Philadelphia Association, which it again joined in 1862, and remained until 1867, when it discontinued the connection, but in 1870 re-united with it. It was now in the Delaware Baptist Association. A portion of its members assisted in organizing the Bethany Church.

Second Baptist Church

      The Second Baptist Church of Wilmington1 was organized September 7, 1835, by thirteen members from the First Baptist Church, - Gideon F. Tindall, Susanna Boulden, John Haazlet, Susan Darby, Moses Bannister, Ann Bannister, Robinson Beckley, Margaret Springer, Sally Ann Todd, Sarah A. Graham, Margaret Sterret, Mary E. Stroud and Jane E. Cochran. In 1836 it united with the Philadelphia Association. The congregation worshipped first in a rented room on Sixth Street, and in the old Presbyterian meeting-house, and was originally supplied for three months by Rev. Jonathan Collom.
1 From a history by Rev. Richard B. Cook, D.D.
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Subsequently a church was built by them, corner of Walnut and Fifth Streets, now occupied by the German Baptist congregation. In 1840 the membership numbered eighty-one. On January 21, 1842, Rev. E. Andrews began a twelve weeks' meeting, during which one hundred and twenty-five converts were baptized, among them Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Wheaton, Thomas Milner, Eliza J. Cloward, Wm. Stevenson, Mary and Rebecca Slack, Mary Billings, Mrs. William Emmons, Charles P. Matlack, Mrs. Samuel Tindall, Mrs. J. Wollaston and Martha A. Jones. At this time Washington Jones, G. G. Lobdell and W. G. Jones were trustees, and Lydia P. Drew and Betsy P. Bonney were leading members. In 1843 thirty-four of the scholars in the Sunday-school were baptized. Elder Jacob Knapp assisted the pastor from December 1, 1843, to January 23, 1844, and one hundred and fifty-seven were baptized during the year, among them Joseph and Mrs. Gould, Edward and Mrs. Bodle, L. R. Findley and Mary Lowe. Anne Semple, Mrs. Sarah Coxe, J. M. Chalfant and Mrs. Chalfant united with the church by certificate. In March, 1849, John and Rebecca Bradford, Alexander Brattan and wife, James and Mary A. Richardson and Joseph and Mary Bonney were baptized; in 1847, Mrs. Washington Hayes and Mrs. Ann J. Eldridge; and in 1850, W. H. Gregg and Hannah E. Cloward. In 1844 the membership aggregated three hundred and sixty-nine, and three Sunday-schools connected with the church had three hundred and twelve scholars and thirty-seven officers and teachers. In 1853 a lot for a new church at the northeast corner Fourth and French Streets was purchased for two thousand six hundred dollars and a building committee was appointed, consisting of Rev. Frederick Charleton, pastor, Thomas Allen, J. M. Chalfant, Washington Jones, Jacob Rice and G. G. Lobdell. On May 3, 1855, the new church was dedicated at a total cost of $28,091.37. On May 29, 1865, fifteen members were, by request, dismissed to organize the Delaware Avenue Church and others subsequently followed them. An organ was added to the church, in 1867, at a cost of two thousand five hundred dollars, and the same year three thousand eight hundred and twenty-two dollars were expended in repairs. In 1870 the Baptist City Mission, the forerunner of the Bethany Church, was formed. The semi-centennial of the church was celebrated September 6 to 13, 1885, in the meeting-house corner of Fourth and French Streets. Revs. Wm. Cathcart, D.D., J. W. T. Boothe, D.D., H. L. Wayland, D.D., H.G. Weston, D.D., C. C. Bitting, D.D., L. Marks, D.D., C. W. Prettyman, W. L. S. Murray, C. L. Williams, R. W. Perkins, a former member of the church; R. M. Luther, Washington Jones, W. H. Gregg, Alfred Gawthrop and others took part. The historical sermon was preached by the pastor, Rev. R. B. Cook, D.D., and a semi centennial hymn composed by Rev. Prof. M. Heath, a member of the church, was sung by the congregation. The Trinity choir, under Prof. Rhoads, assisted, and Mr. Kurtz was musical director and organist.

      The several pastors of the church were: Rev. C. W. Dennison, September 9, 1836, to April 1, 1839; Rev. G. J. Carleton, September 15, 1839, to April 14, 1841; Rev. Sanford Leach, July 1, 1841, to June 17, 1842; Rev. Morgan Rhees, February 14, 1843, to July, 1850; Rev. J. G. Collom, August 1, 1850, to 1853; Rev. Frederick Charleton, July 28, 1853, to August, 1857 ; Rev. G. M. Condron, February 1,1858, to October 1, 1859 ; Rev. J. S. Dickerson, December 10, 1860, to May 1, 1865; Rev. W. H. H. Marsh, September, 1865, to March, 1871; Rev. James Waters, March 24,1872, to 1873; Rev. A. McArthur, 1873 to 1875; Rev. Richard B. Cook, D.D., December 1, 1875, and is the present incumbent. Dr. Cook has been prominent in his church at State and national meetings, as trustee and moderator of the Philadelphia Association, manager of the American Baptist Historical Society, secretary of the National Baptist Bible Convention, and in various other positions. He has also written and published "The Early and Later Delaware Baptists," and "The Story of the Baptists," a general Baptist history, which in three years has reached a circulation of twenty thousand copies.


The German Baptist Church

      The German Baptist Church of Wilmington was founded by Rev. Jeremiah Grimmell, 1 who in 1855
1 Rev. Grimmell was born in Marburg, and left his native place because of religious persecutions. He came to America in 1851 and labored as a colporteur, founding a church in Williamsburg, N. Y. In 1855 he visited his countrymen in Wilmington, and being without money, was befriended by John H. Mulhausen. He found employment as bookbinder, a trade acquired in his youth, and subsequently removed to Buffalo, N. Y., where he assisted his son in organizing a church. He returned to Wilmington, where he died April 4, 1871.

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devoted his leisure to fostering the religious interests of the German Baptists, whom he invited to meet at his house, where he conducted worship. At the first service there were thirteen persons present, and these comprised the original members of the German Baptist Church, which was organized in 1856. His house being too small to accommodate those attracted by his preaching, Rev. Grimmell was offered a room in the residence of John Swager, corner Fourth and Pine Streets, where services were continued for quite a period. Rev. Leonard Fleishman preached to the converts of Mr. Grimmell on several occasions and encouraged him in his religious labors. In March, 1856, nine of them were baptized in the Second Baptist Church. Through the efforts of Miss Annie Semple, who manifested a zealous interest in the work, the church corner of Fifth and Walnut Streets was purchased for three thousand dollars. Here the congregation was organized April 17, 1856, by Rev. Mr. Grimmell and his wife, Edward Austermuhl, John Muhlhausen and Sophia, his wife, John Swager and Elizabeth, his wife, Peter Braunstein and Susan, his wife, Frederick Neutze, Mrs. Elizabeth Kaiser, Mrs. Theresa Herzel and Catherine Braunstein. A Sunday-school was also organized the same year. The church has had the following pastors: December, 1856, Rev. F. A. Bauer, one and a half years; Rev. J. C. Haselhuhn, three years; Rev. H. Trump, four years; Rev. P. Piepgrass, one year; Rev. J. Fellman, five years; Rev. J. M. Heofflin, 1875 to 1881; Rev. Henry W. Geil, 1882, is the present pastor. The church has a membership of over one hundred, and is in a prosperous condition.

The Delaware Avenue Baptist Church

      The Delaware Avenue Baptist Church of Wilmington1 was organized June 22, 1865, by Miss Annie Semple, Alex. Brattan, Miss Mary Slack, Mrs. Mary A. Brattan, Mrs. Amanda Brattan, Mrs. Marian Moore, Mrs. Mary Smith, Thomas Hess, William H. Gregg, Mrs. Lucy V. Gregg, John Bradford, Mrs, Eliza J. Clowan and Charles Townsend, of the Second Baptist Church, at the residence of Miss Semple. The deacons elected were Wm. H. Gregg and John Bradford; clerk, Thomas C. Hess; trustees, Wm. H. Gregg, Thomas C. Hess and Alexander Brattan. The first services were held July 6, 1865. Rev. E. W. Dickinson, D.D., preached and Rev. Levi G. Beck delivered the charge. For awhile the Wilmington Institute and the Phoenix engine-house were used as places of worship. On April 1, 1866, Rev. G. W. Folwell entered upon the first pastorate of the church, and on June 27, 1866, ground was broken for a church building, which was completed and dedicated October 13, 1870, the lecture-room being finished and dedicated January 2, 1868. Mr. Folwell remained as pastor until December 31, 1874, when the membership was two hundred and forty-six. On April 1, 1875, Rev. Isaac M. Haldeman began a pastorate which continued until August, 1884. During his term the New Hampshire Confession was abandoned and pre-millenarian doctrine was adopted; two mission-schools were established, and about one thousand one hundred persons were baptized. In October, 1882, the membership of the church was one thousand one hundred and forty-five, but in 1883 declined to seven hundred and eighty-three, and subsequently to its normal number of three hundred and twenty-five, Rev. George C. Needham, the revivalist, succeeded Mr. Haldeman, but only remained about three months, and was succeeded by J. W. T. Boothe, in July, 1885. After the latter took charge about sixty members withdrew to form Grace Church. Under Dr. Boothe's charge the large debt of the church has been largely reduced.
1 From a sketch by Rev. J. W. T. Boothe, D.D.


The Shiloh Baptist Church

      The Shiloh Baptist Church of Wilmington, corner Twelfth and Orange Streets, was the first congregation for colored people of that denomination established in the State. It was an outgrowth of the colored Sunday-school of the First Baptist Church, Hiram Yeger, superintendent, which met in a hall on Twelfth Street, between Market and Orange Streets. In this hall Shiloh Church was organized May 31, 1876, by Annie M. Anderson, Thomas Anderson, John W. Jackson, George L. Hall, William M. Winston, Jacob Galloway, Maggie Mitchell, Maggie V. Miner, Rachel Brodus, Lucinda Brodus, Jefferson Crayton, Peter Saunders, Julia Parsall, John W. Gordon, Jennie Henderson and Sarah Elias. Thomas W. Jackson was clerk. Subsequently, the basement of the church corner Twelfth and Orange Streets was used. Rev. Benjamin T. Moore was made pastor November 15, 1876, and has officiated ever since. The church

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building was begun in 1881, and the basement was dedicated in September, 1885. The church has a membership of one hundred and thirty; Sunday-school, one hundred. The trustees are John W. Jackson, Arthur Thomas, Archie P. Hendley, Benjamin Landed, Tobias Whiten, Hiram Tate and Jeremiah Miller.

The Bethany Baptist Church

      The Bethany Baptist Church, of Wilmington, corner of Elm and Jackson Streets, was organized November 14, 1878, with eighty-eight members. It succeeded the Elm Street Baptist Church, which had grown out of a Sunday-school organized by William H. Gregg and others. The present membership of Bethany Church is about 225 and the Sunday-schools number 800. John Rumer and William H. Gregg are superintendents. A handsome brick church was erected in 1887. The pastors of Bethany Church have been Rev. Thomas M. Eastwood, Rev. E. J. McKeever, Rev. F. B. Greul, Rev. Harry Tratt and O. G. Buddington, present incumbent.


Grace Baptist Church

      Grace Baptist Church,1 of Wilmington, was organized October 1, 1885, with the following officers: Deacons, James J. Walker, George W. Sutton, George W. Hardin, John Gately, Julius Reed, Wm. Cloud and John A. Bennett; Trustees, Maris V. Pyle, Parke Mason, James Morrow, Jacob Melvin, J. Travers Jones, Philip Jones, Benjamin R. Connor, and William Crawford; Church Clerk, J. Travers Jones. Treasurer, James J. Walker.

      This congregation is an off-shoot from Delaware Avenue Baptist Church. The cause of separation from the mother-church is best described by an extract from Grace Church letter to the Baptist Council held in Wilmington, September 14, 1886: "A party of sixty members of the mother-church in this city met October 1st, last, and completed organization as a community of worshipers. Before undertaking the above, the brethren and sisters referred to made careful consideration of the matter, and at length came to the conclusion that a parting from the mother church was unavoidable, and, as recorded of Abraham and Lot, 'separated themselves.'" The Philadelphia Confession of Faith was adopted by special enactment. The church was incorporated March, 1886, and elected Rev. S. B. Hayward, of Milford, Del., as pastor. Mr. Hayward accepted the call October 1st.

      The Sunday-school of Grace Baptist Church was instituted November 16, 1885, with John W. Gately, superintendent, and J. Travers Jones, secretary. The church was recognized as a regular Baptist Church September 14, 1886, by a council of Baptist churches which convened in the old Baptist Church, South and King Streets. Seven churches from Philadelphia and vicinity were represented, in addition to the local Baptists.

      The present pastor is Rev. F. W. Overhiser, who commenced his term December 4, 1887. He is a graduate of Bucknell University, and also of Crozer Theological Seminary, Upland.
1 From a sketch by J. Travers Jones.


[From John T. Scharf, History of Delaware, 1888, pp. 722-725. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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