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      Editor's note: The footnotes in this essay are changed to endnotes; the symbols to numbers.

Maryland Baptist History

By Rev. George F. Adams, D. D.

An Epoch in Maryland Baptist History

      THE history of the Baptist denomination in Maryland is marked by several epochs, from each of which it has progressed with increased importance. One of these was in 1836, when the Maryland Union Association came out from among the old unevangelical Churches, and declared for an aggressive missionary system. Another was in 1839, when the great revival took place under the vigorous preaching of Elder Jacob Knapp, who stirred the community like a John the Baptist, and was the means of bringing into the Churches many of their most sterling members. The settlement of Richard Fuller with the Seventh Church was another of the points, the building of the Eutaw Place Church another. The "Centennial Thank Offering," the erection of many church edifices, and the planning of a thorough and comprehensive policy for the establishment of Baptist principles in our midst, are all the outgrowth of the foregoing noted periods.

      It is interesting to recall the events of the past upon which so much depended, but which are now dying out in the memory of our people, with the lapse of a generation. Let us describe an episode which was in its results one of the most important in our annals.

     On the 28th of April, 1841, the General Baptist Convention of the United States met in the "First Baptist Meeting House," on the corner of Sharp and Lombard streets, Baltimore. It was a national assemblage of Baptists, and the last ever held in this city, for after the following meeting in 1844, the Southern delegates withdrew and organized the present Southern Baptist Convention.

      The First Church was then under charge of Rev. Stephen P. Hill; it had about four hundred and fifty members, and occupied the most prominent place in the denomination in Baltimore. As already stated, Elder Knapp had spent some time with this Church, a year or two previous, and aroused it to unwonted activity. The other Churches however, were few and weak; and all told, the Baptists were in a great minority, and not much regarded.

      When the General Convention met here, delegates came from all parts of the country, and the gathering attracted considerable attention. There were celebrated names among them. Spencer H. Cone, the honored president for nine years, called the body to order, but declined a

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reelection. He had spent some of his earlier years here, struggling for a livelihood as an actor, a school-teacher, a clerk, and a printer, and was now regarded as one of the most eloquent pulpit orators in this country, and drew crowds to hear him wherever he preached. The venerable William Bullein Johnson, of South Carolina, afterward president of the Southern Convention for several years, was elected to preside in Cone's place. He still wore the knee-breeches and shoe-buckles of his earlier days, and when he took the chair he impressed all the delegates with the dignity of his words and manner. The impassioned and brilliant Bartholomew T. Welch was there. He also had spent some years of his early life in Baltimore. Many other ministers, then or since prominent, from the North and South, occupied seats as delegates, representing large constituencies. Among them, (some venerable with age and others yet young.) were Daniel Sharp, R. H. Neale, Wm. Hague, Archibald Maclay, W. W. Everts, Pharcellus Church, John O. Choules, Oeorge B. Ide, J. H. Kennard, A. D. Gillette, O. B. Brown, J. B. Jeter, J. O. B. Dargan, James Furman, Addison Hall, Jas. B. Taylor, (who was elected one of the secretaries,) E. L. Magoon, Geo. F. Adams, Cumberland George, A. M. Poindexter, Thomas Hume, James Fife, Robert Ryland, Daniel Witt and Richard Fuller.

      Among the delegates representing Baltimore, were William Crane, and his son Fuller, then quite a young man, Fred'k A. Levering, Geo. W. Norris, (who with James C. Crane, of Richmond, acted as teller,) and Charles D. Slingluff. Of course, among the representative families who entertained the guests, were many other familiar names, such as the Wilsons, R. P. Brown, Levering, Patterson, Butcher, Baynard, Clark, Poulson and Kelly.

      The meeting was one of great interest, with a spice of that discussion on slavery, which afterward culminated in the rupture of 1844; but on the whole it was fairly harmonious, and comprehended a survey and preparation for reaching the entire home and foreign mission fields. The old "Round Top" church, although a fine and imposing edifice, was not the best in its acoustic properties, but its floor and galleries were crowded day and night to hear the many able addresses; and Baltimore Baptists began to realize that they had a valiant brotherhood elsewhere, if not at home. But that which rendered the meeting momentous to the Maryland Baptists, is yet to be described.

      The delegate representing the "Savannah River Association" had been appointed to preach before the Convention, and on the first night of the sessions, a crowded audience was gathered to hear his discourse. A heathen convert who was present, excited an increased interest in missions, by singing a plaintive hymn in the Karen language, and when Richard Fuller arose to speak, the congregation was prepared to listen

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with absorbed attention. He was then only thirty-six years old, tall, elegant in appearance, courteous in manner, and with a most becoming dignity and decorum befitting the pulpit. He had a full suit of dark hair, curling over a prominent brow, and a face kindling with emotion as he became animated. A portrait on the wall of his former home in Baltimore gives a fine representation of his appearance in the bloom of his manhood, about this period. When he announced his text, a solemn quiet pervaded the house, that remained until the last syllable of his sermon was reached: "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

      He began in his peculiar manner,1 so well remembered by those who heard him then and later: "That was a singular account given by Eusebius of the conversion of Constantine. He was marching, says the historian, at the head of his army from France, to encounter his rival Maxentius, in a conflict upon the issue of which his empire depended. Oppressed with anxiety, he prayed that some god would aid him, when in the heavens and higher than the sun, a luminous cross appeared, emblazoned with these words, 'By this sign thon shall conquer.' He did conquer, and ever after the cross was displayed as the banner of the Caesars. The truth of this narrative I, of course, shall not now examine. It is certain, fathers and brethren, and all-important for us to recollect, that in the noble enterprise in which we are engaged there is but one standard which can be upreared successfully - but one banner which must flame star-like above our ranks and lead us on to victory - and that this is the cross, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Having fixed the interest of his auditors, he first stated his arguments and described the power of the gospel, and then appealed to his hearers and plead with them to believe in it, with an earnestness, a force, a pathos and a grace of language, that moved and melted every heart. To this day the surviving listeners of that hour thrill with the emotion then excited. It is impossible to describe the sermon as preached. It comprised repeated climaxes of argument and description and pathos. It must be read, and read aloud, and read by one who has heard Fuller himself, and read with a believing heart, before its marvellous merit is fully realized. The Convention was electrified. As soon as Fuller had finished, the ministers on the platform, among whom were Sharp, Johnson, Cone and Welch, as by one impulse, crowded around

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him, clasped his hands, threw their arms around his neck, and some of them wept.

      Next day, the young preacher was honored by a vote of thanks and a request for the publication of his discourse, which from that day to this has ranked with the finest efforts of pulpit eloquence in any language.

      The effect of this sermon on the people of Baltimore was practical. In 1846-7, after the organization of the Seventh Baptist Church, there was a period of uncertainty, depression and discouragement, arising in part from the antagonism between that body and the First Church, as referred to in their history, and partly from the recent wrecking of several similar undertakings. Although there were many influential and sturdy men among all the Churches, yet there was no enthusiasm, and the cause seemed unpromising. The position of the denomination then, in our city, was quite different from its reputable standing at present. A leader was wanted, who could consolidate our sparse numbers and head a forward movement. A distinguished Virginia minister was commended for the field, but it offered no attractions for him and he declined it. In this emergency, the eyes of all were turned to a more distant State, and a unanimous call was extended to Richard Fuller. The elegant penmanship of deacon Aaron R. Levering on behalf of the Church, as well as the characteristic chirography of Fuller in his response2 are still preserved. Seeing in the opportunity a platform for a great work, he at once suggested a plan of action which was joyfully

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adopted, and he came to the rescue. A suitable house was built, and the Seventh Church at one step took a high position in the denomination. Fuller became the foremost preacher in the city, as orator, controversialist and evangelist. Hundreds were converted and baptized under his ministry. The Baptist cause rose into consideration among the people at large. Its leading Bible truths became more universally regarded. His discussions of Baptist principles with several opposing ministers (which were widely published in book-form) attracted ftnd convinced perhaps thousands of persons, and his many years of faithful pastorship over a constantly increasing Church made a wide impression
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for good on the entire community. Undoubtedly, his settlement in Baltimore was an epoch in our religious history.

      A few years after, in 1851, Rev. J. W. M. Williams, a man of enthusiastic yet practical and uncommonly energetic temperament, was called from Virginia, to fill the pulpit of the First Church, where he has remained preaching with notable success, like Fuller, for the third of a century. From about that same period, the name of Franklin Wilson becomes known as that of the laborious engineer of the Executive Board of our Association, toiling year after year for the welfare of Zion and the support of our feeble Churches. Previous to these, we recall the memory of George F. Adams, another earnest faithful planter of Baptist principles wherever the soil was most sterile. To them should be added many names less noted, but familiar in every Church, of men and women, who bore the brunt of pioneer advances, paid the never-ceasing and weighty expenses of our progress, and died in the harness - some of them leaving descendants to continue their work on a wider scale. Those who live now can rejoice that "the little one has become a thousand," and is beginning to feel strong enough for grander work - nothing less than the conquest of the State for Baptist principles!



1 Dr. Fuller's tone of voice is here referred to, not the illustration. He seldom used illustrations or anecdotes, so distractingly abundant in recent popular discourses. Many of his sermons have no reference to figures, characters or incidents outside of the text.

2 We cannot withhold this interesting letter. It was addressed to D. Chase, A. W. Poulson, A. R. Levering, A. A. Chapman, L. P. Bayne, J. G. Rons and A. D.Kelly, Jr., deacons of the Seventh Church, only one of whom is now living.

BEAUFORT, S. C. Feb. 4, 1846.
Dear Brethren: - Here is a strange thing. Over and over have I received calls from large and flourishing Churches, and this when we were here in a most cramped and uncomfortable house; yet all these calls have occasioned no debate in my bosom. Now, we have just finished a large and beautiful chapel, and revivals have filled it. and everything conspires to make me happy, when a call from you fills me with perplexity. It is however as it should be - your wants and afflictions move me when your prosperity would not. I am now (and have been for a month or more) painfully engrossed in trying to save the Second Baptist Church in Charleston, and to restore harmony there, and God I trust has blessed his work. Your communication found me thus absorbed. Yet I confess it has pressed me day and night to a degree strange and unaccountable, unless God be meaning something. The sacrifice of breaking up here would be to me and my family such as you little conceive. This however would, of course, not interfere. To be Christians is to feel practically that "living or dying, we are the Lord's," and all sacrifices were, I humbly hope, comprehended in the act by which, years ago, I became the Lord's. The salary, too, to which you allude, (or I would not here mention it,) could easily be arranged. Twelve years ago, I gave up a profession yielding me annually about $6,000, and have never received a dollar since for my labors. I would employ most of it, should I come, wholly for the good of the Church. But now, there seem to me insuperable difficulties to which you do not refer.

First, you say nothing of a house. Surely you do not mean me to come and both preacher and people do so suicidal a thing as occupy the shell in Calvert St. If you have bought it, I submit to you that you made a mistake, and whoever becomes your pastor, unless you rectify that mistake, I feel certain that your position will be the prophecy and anticipation of utter defeat. Let me know then your intention as to this. You will not understand me as at all promising to give a favorable answer, in any case. The whole thing is with God, and I only wish some worthier man would go. At the same time, my spirit is greatly stirred, my conscience crying, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" I love Baltimore - I love you - I confess, too, that if I should move, it would be just into a latitude like yours,as I wish to look at Slavery and other agitating topics with a calm and impartial judgment, and see what is our duty to our poor distracted country.

But I cannot come to Baltimore to do nothing. I am a practical man, caring nothing about what men talk, and regarding works as the only criterion of character. If I make sacrifices, I must have some to be with me in them. - For example: Out of the salary, suppose I subscribe $500 for five years, i.e. $2,500, what will you all do? Will you get a lot and right away begin a large house? Now is the time - your character and usefulness and happiness are gone if you identify yourselves with the past of any of the former Churches in Baltimore. Begin afresh - and at once take a high stand. Write me on this point. I only wish we could meet, as writing is to me a most wretched means of communication. God bless you. My love to all. Your affectionate brother in Christ,


P. S. - I repeat that you will regard my continuing this correspondence at all as simply the result of my conscientious solicitude about duty. I am informed that you have already called B. to you, and M., and both declined. Some say you are the noblest body of Baptists in the land - others have some grains of scruple as to that, and doubt if any pastor could please you. All this to me is moonshine - if you are Christians and feel that you and yours are Christ's, we could easily adjust minor things. We have the truth, and it is a shame that the advocates of truth should be depressed and downtrodden, as the Baptists have been in your city. What has become of Bro. C. M. Keyser? Where is Bro. Wm. Crane? Do, I implore you all, make noble sacrifices, resolve upon great and noble things, and you will yourselves rejoice now in the applauses of God and receive a crown of no common splendor.

R. F.


[From History of Baptist Churches in Maryland Connected with the Maryland Baptist Union Association, 1885, Appendix, pp. 211-216. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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