The Baptists churches of early America usually formed Associations and met at appointed times (generally on an annual basis) for preaching and to give reports of the work of their member churches. They usually printed records of these meetings and distributed them among their churches. Most associations used a Circular Letter, to communicate a message of doctrine or a practical spiritual matter to their churches. After the associations had for many years printed annual Circular Letters written by appointed writers on most of the theological and other subjects that were of interest to their churches, they began having pastors and clerks write histories of their churches. Most of them were published only in a limited number in their associational Minutes. Many of these discuss theological and social issues of their times. Also there are many entries about pastors and their labors, along with the mention of other prominent members. There is a wealth of information in these records concerning the beliefs and practices of those who generally referred to themselves as Regular Baptists.
There are a great number of these associational records buried in library special collections and archives. Many of these documents also were published in weekly or monthly Baptist newspapers or monthly journals. Baptists were prominent writers, but most of these histories were written by busy pastors, deacons or clerks from the area churches. There are details in them not found in other histories; the authors were often related to the people mentioned, or had been their pastor and this could have influenced how and about whom they wrote.
This section has mostly local church histories that were written in the nineteenth century; the earliest posted were primarily from the northern Kentucky area (Northbend and Campbell County Baptist Associations), the area where I live. So far there are more histories from my home state than any other. I recently located a number of Indiana Circular Letters and many of these had local church histories; some of them are short in length. Most of them came from Franklin (IN) College. There are a number of histories of early Baptist churches in New Jersey. I located these at the Princeton University Library a few years ago.
Histories of churches have been added on a regular basis. Only early histories will be posted on this site; usually those that have gotten little circulation. I also have some early facts about a few churches that are not complete histories.
Several of the essays are not histories of specific churches. The document on Columbia is the record of their organizational meeting. It is significant because this was the first church organized in the Northwest Territory (Ohio) and it specifically lists their doctrinal beliefs. The family of John Gano was involved in the early days of this church. I recently posted a "Recollections" article by Ezra Ferris, a 19th century Baptist preacher in southern Ohio and Southeastern Indiana, who with his family was there at the beginning of the Columbia church.
J. M. Peck, a Baptist missionary on the western frontier wrote in 1842 histories of Baptists in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. This long essay has been broken into three essays: one on each of the states' Baptists up until 1840. There is easy cross-referencing at the bottom of each essay.
From New England there are three histories from Maine; and the Warren Baptist Church history is the first we have posted from Rhode Island. This history gives information on James Manning, their pastor and the President of the first Baptist college in America. The North Springfield Baptist Church of Vermont is where J. R. Graves was baptized and had his membership before going to the southwest (Tennessee).
The Lower Dublin Baptist Church of Pennsylvania, the oldest Baptist church in that state, has been recently posted. Facts about the early experiences of First BC in Philadelphia are listed.
The History of the First African Baptist Church of Richmond, VA is in three essays. There are several other Virginia Baptist items: some in the "Various Subjects" section of the site.
Unexpected details appear in the histories. For example: John Gano, who pastored the First Baptist Church of New York City, was a chaplain in the Revolutionary War, then later went south as a missionary preacher from the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and then went to central Kentucky where he pastored for many years, was at one time associated with the Scotch Plains Baptist Church in New Jersey.
Also, the essay by John A. Broadus, delivered at Southern Baptist Seminary when it was still in Greenville, South Carolina, and published in 1875, is a survey of early American Baptist preachers and their significant contributions to the Baptist cause. Recently three interesting essays on "The Character of Early Baptist Preachers in America" have been posted.
There is a history of the eight churches of an English Baptist Association at the end of the British Circulars; I included it there since this is the only British church history posted so far and they are included in their Minutes as a Circular. The first part of a lengthy History of Bristol Baptist College (England) was recently posted.
This introduction is revised and updated as more histories are posted. I have tried to include all of the information I have concerning the documents. Care has been taken in scanning and editing these documents; however, errors still occur. If you notice any mistakes and will notify me I will be pleased to correct them. Thanks for visitng the site.James (Jim) R. Duvall
Revised in December, 2003
December 2016: The above essay remains, though I have posted a few thousand documents to the site. This continues to be a 'work in progress' and many have sent me documents to post, for which I say: THANKS.
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