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Stephen Gano
Pastor of FBC, Providence, R.I.

      Stephen Gano (1762-1828) served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Providence, R.I. from 1792 until his death in 1828. His ministry was marked by the greatest growth in the history of First Baptist Church, and he presided over several major revivals and the planting of four daughter churches. A national Baptist leader, he travelled widely to mediate problems and to encourage new congregations and missions. He was one of the founders of the Triennial Convention and a founder and first president of the Rhode Island Baptist State convention. Under him First Baptist entered into the home and foreign missionary movements, the Sunday school movement, and the Bible and tract societies.

      In Providence, Stephen Gano presided over four major revivals, beginning in 1805 when there was added 152 members to the church (124 by baptism); in 1812 another 112 (110 by baptism), in 1816 another 114 (94 by baptism), and in 1820 another 157 (147 by baptism). By 1821 the First Baptist Church counted 648 members and was one of the largest in the nation.

      After baptizing 147 in 1820, Gano counted only nineteen more baptisms in the next eigth years. Moreover, decreases due to death, letters of dismissal, and expulsions caused the total membership to decline by 150 by the time Gano died in 1828.

      No general meeting of Baptists had occured prior to 1814 when the Triennial Convention met and established the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions. The First Baptist Church had a hand in this because Stephen Gano was there and was one of the committee to draft its construction.

      As distinguished as he was in the world at large, he once had a serious problem in his own home. Gano was the subject of the most bizarre episode in the entire history of the Providence church. This occurred in 1803 when his fourth wife, Joanna, denounced him and seven others for being Freemasons. Following the death in December 1800 of his third wife Mary (a daughter of Joseph Brown), Gano had remarried in October 1801 to Mrs. Joanna Latting of Hillsdale, New York, where he had once been pastor. Within months of her admission to the church, Joanna threw it into turmoil by accusing her husband and the others of worshiping idols and perverting the Scriptures. She said that the Masonic Society was the "Mystery of Iniquity," a "Covenant with Death and agreement with Hell." In a series of meetings, one lasting six hours, the church unanimously voted "that they will still hold in their fellowship those brethren who are Free Masons," acquitted Gano and the others of all charges, and excommunicated Joanna. Although she continued to live separately in the town, Gano never spoke to her again.


[From J. Stanley Lemons, The First Baptist Church in America, 1988, pp. 43, 44-45, 60, 66 and 48. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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