We are happy to find that there is a pleasing prospect of the revival of religion in this ancient church. The following are the only circumstances known of its history: -
The Baptist church at Dorchester appears to have existed among the very earliest communities founded upon the independent plan of church government. During the Protectorate, the justly celebrated Mr. Henry Jessey visited this church, together with many others in the west of England. Mr. Jessey had received episcopal ordination, but afterwards became pastor of an Independent church in London, which Wilson, in his History, oalls the first Independent Church in England. In the year 1645, Mr. Jessey embraced the opinions of the Baptists, which accounts for his visiting the church at Dorchester a few years afterwards.
When Charles II. came to the throne, it is well known that a series of most disgraceful and oppressive acts were rapidly passed. By the first of these acts, 2000 clergymen were ejected from their livings, among whom was Mr. Francis Bamfield, who held the living of Sherborne, and was also prebend of Exeter. He was a Baptist, and soon endured deeper afflictions under these persecuting statutes. At first he preached in his own house, but was speedily apprehended, and imprisoned for eight years in Dorchester gaol [jail]. About this period also, John Miller, who had possessed great wealth, but was ruined by fines and penalties, was shut up in the same prison for ten years.
In prison, Mr. Bamfield preached almost every day, and being encouraged by great success, he formed a church. Whether this church within the walls of the gaol was considered part of that of the same faith and order in the town, does not appear, though it is to be presumed they maintained as much intercourse as possible. About fifteen years afterwards, in 1685, Dorchester became a scene of still greater distress. When the blood-thirsty Jefferies pursued the work which his royal master was pleased to call "Jefferies' Campaign," Dorchester gaol was the prison-house of many saints; the two Hewlings, grandsons of Mr. Kiffin, an eminent Baptist minister in Loudon, were among the number. From 1689 to 1692, Mr. Thomas Cox was the pastor of the church, and represented it in each of those years at the general assembly in London. Little is now known of its subsequent history, as the records of the church are lost; but it is certain that the Baptists had
a small chapel (now converted into a beer store) and a burial ground (now used for gardens). For many years this was the only dissenting place of worship in the town, except the Unitarian chapel; and when the Countess of Huntingdon's ministers first visited Dorchester, they were accommodated by the Baptists with the use of their chapel. Long after the Baptist church declined, the few remaining members continued to have a sermon preached once a year. At what time and in what way both the premises, and a small endowment, were lost from the denomination, cannot be clearly ascertained.
An attempt has recently been made to revive this ancient church; prospects of success have continued very encouraging throughout one year, and could a place of worship be obtained more convenient than the large room now occupied, there is no reason to doubt of complete success, as several members of other Baptist churches reside in the town, and are desirous of uniting in church fellowship. This undertaking has received the sanction of several ministers and friends, who have long regretted the extinction of one of the oldest churches in the denomination, situated too in a county town, where there is so much room for the labours of a faithful pastor.
[From The Baptist Magazine, 1829, p. 164-165. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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