Institution and Development of the Biblical Recorder
The North Carolina Baptist Newspaper
The first child of the Baptist State Convention was the Baptist paper. While traveling over the State during the Conventional year of 1830-31, Dr. Wait was impressed with the deplorable ignorance of the Baptists concerning the destitution of their State, the plans of the Convention and the demands of the great commission, “Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” So, in a speech before the Convention at Rogers' Cross-Roads, 1831, he spoke of the need of a paper. During the next year he talked over the founding of a Baptist paper with many of the leading men of the denomination, and there was unanimity of opinion as to the importance of establishing such an enterprise. During the year 1832, for several months before the Convention met at Rives’ Chapel, Dr. Wait was taking subscriptions for a Baptist paper. He could not tell whether it would be a monthly or a weekly, what would be its name, where it would be published, or what would be its price. Still, he secured about 200 names to head the subscription list of the con- templated Baptist paper.
The formation of a company for its publication was discussed, but all the leading brethren quailed before the assumption of such a burden. They were not willing to incur a great debt, and no one was willing to advance the necessary capital for the institution and prosecution of the enterprise. When the Convention met at Rives’ Chapel, at last a noble-hearted, broad-minded man agreed
to undertake the great and glorious work. That man was Thomas Meredith, then pastor of the Baptist church of Edenton. The Convention projected the paper and appointed Thomas Meredith as its first editor. The paper was to be known as The Interpreter.
The man who took into his hands and upon his heart the work of giving the Baptists of North Carolina a periodical worthy of the denomination, merits more than passing notice from our pen. Thomas Meredith was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and was educated for the law. But God had a higher and nobler work for him. After he was converted, he soon felt impressed with the duty of preaching “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” So he gave up the law. But his legal education was not lost, for it made him a deeper thinker and a readier speaker. Early in life, in 1820, he came to North Carolina and settled as pastor of the Baptist church of Edenton. His early training and thorough course at the famous University placed him high in rank among the Baptists of the State, and qualified him for rendering them one of the greatest services done by any one of its early heroes.
Edenton was honored as the first home of the Baptist paper, whose name became the Biblical Recorder in 1833. It also began at this time to be published weekly. Edenton was well worthy of the honor of giving the Biblical Recorder its first home. It was long the capital of the State, the home of the early governors, and the seat of the State records. So it was only fitting that it should give our State the first Baptist records through the columns of the first Baptist paper.
Thomas Meredith, 1835, was called to the pastorate of the Baptist church in New Bern, and so this antique little town on the Neuse by the sea became the second home of the Recorder. But New Bern was not a central point, and, in order to increase the paper's circulation and use. fulness, Meredith moved to Raleigh in 1838. From that time our capital city has continued to be the home of the Biblical Recorder.
Thomas Meredith was a ready writer, as well as a fluent speaker. He successfully represented the paper in the associations and before the Convention by his clear and forceful speeches on its behalf. But more than this, he was an able and competent editor. He was thoroughly informed on all the topics of the day, and hence was ready to make a readable paper and meet any emergency. He had to measure pens with many of our leading Baptists of those days, but he was the match of any of his day. More than this, he successfully maintained the tenets of the Baptists in the columns of his paper when he was assailed by Pedobaptist pens.
For nineteen years he was the popular and efficient editor of the Biblical Recorder. In this position he probably did more for the Baptists of the State than did any other man during that same time, unless Dr. Wait be excepted. He was one of the greatest of North Carolina’s early Baptist heroes. He closed his useful life in 1851, in Raleigh, while still at his post of duty wielding the popular pen as the Recorder's editor. He now sleeps in the cemetery in Raleigh. A monument, the language of his brethren's love and praise, marks his resting place.
The two greatest results achieved by the Recorder were
agitation of missions and the unification of the churches. Just a few years before the Recorder was instituted, the Baptists of the State were agitated over the question of missions. Hardshellism had laid its clutches upon many of the churches, and they had folded their hands and sat down to let God save the world in His own good time, without “human institutions,” as they called modern organizations. This baneful “ism” had tainted the Kehukee Association, so that it was wholly given up to the “Primitive Baptists,” as the anti-missionary brethren delighted to style themselves. The missionary churches joined the Chowan, Tar River and other Associations, and so the work of missions moved on, while the anti-mission churches diminished in numbers, power and influence. The most potent agent for missions was the Biblical Recorder. Meredith and the other early editors were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of missions, and from the Recorder's columns flashed the glorious light of missions. They gave information about the destitute portions of the State, and early began to tell the sad story of China, Africa and Mexico, with their millions of lost and dying souls.
The Recorder was also a unifier of the churches and brethren. By reading the same paper, the brethren down by the sea were brought in touch with the brethren on the mountains. People of different sections naturally drift apart, unless there is some chain to bind them closer together. Our State is a large one, stretching 500 miles, from the Atlantic to the Smoky Range, with three naturally distinct sections—the Tidewater, the Piedmont, and the Mountainous. But the Recorder has helped to bring
the churches of the three sections into one united body. It has given the Baptists of the whole State the same information, led them to adopt the same inspiring principles, and induced them to adopt the same effective plans for the extension of the Master's kingdom. It has made them one in faith, one in practice, one in plans and purposes for the glory of God.
Another scarcely less important service of the Recorder was its friendly attitude toward education. From its infancy it advocated more light and less darkness, more intelligence and less ignorance. Its columns first announced the opening of the little school on the farm of Calvin Jones, in Wake County. From that day to this, the Biblical Recorder has been the staunchest friend of the College, and has ever pushed its interests with unabated devotion. Also, the public school system has received many a friendly lift from the Recorder. This paper has always been on the side of the people, and has advocated the enlightenment of the masses of the State. Moreover, the Recorder early began to advocate a more classical education in academies and high schools.
When death took from Meredith’s hand the editor's pen, the Convention handed it over to Dr. J. J. James. He proved his editorial ability, and put the paper on a sure financial footing, in addition to extending its circulation and increasing its literary merit. He was editor until the Civil War broke out.
During the war, and for some years after its close, the paper was very much crippled. It was edited in those days by Dr. J. D. Hufham and J. H. Mills, both men of power with the pen. But the Recorder had not yet found its man.
In 1875, C. T. Bailey became the editor, and in this capacity ably served the denomination till his death in 1895. He was an able preacher, and had served as pastor of Edenton church and many others; but the twenty years which he gave to the Recorder were his best and brightest years. These years told more for the advancement of the Master's kingdom than everything else he did. He was a deep thinker, a ready writer, and a wise planner. He made the Recorder the champion of State missions in that period when the modern development began. With his flowing pen he extolled the past and painted the future of Wake Forest College. In short, he made the Recorder the uncompromising champion of the Convention's every object.
In 1888, it was deemed necessary to put an agent into the field to increase the circulation of the paper. This new agent was J. C. Caddell, of Wake Forest. He was an alumnus of Wake Forest College, and largely increased the circulation of the Recorder. He visited the Associations and Conventions, and so stirred up the Baptists that he put nearly 7,000 names on the subscription list.
Edwards & Broughton, Raleigh, became the proprietors of the Recorder in 1895, and put the subscription down to $1.50 a year. They put new life into the paper, increased its circulation through the agency of Caddell and N. L. Shaw, and broadened its efficiency through the editorial talents of J. W. Bailey.
At the Raleigh Convention, December, 1900, it was decided best to put the Recorder into the hands of a stock company under the direct control of the Convention. The Recorder is now published by said company.
Two years before his father died, J. W. Bailey began the editorial work. Under the supervision of his father, he wrote the most of the editorials. On the death of his father, June 5, 1895, he assumed the responsibility of editor. Though young in years, he has proved old in thought and ripe with the pen. He has enlarged the sphere of the Recorder in its relations with the churches. He has grappled social, economic and educational problems, and usually he has led the Baptists of the State wisely. He has extended the horizon of a denominational paper, and has made the Recorder the peer of any religious periodical, South or North. Dr. Kilgo, President of Trinity College (Methodist), says: “The Recorder takes the lead in this larger sphere, and will, sooner or later, revolutionize the idea of religious journalism in these regions. Editor Bailey has a large task before him, but the end is worth the expenditure of all his talents. The Baptists will lose a supreme opportunity, if they do not sustain him in this work.”
Nor have the Baptists of North Carolina failed to recognize and endorse the extended sphere of the Biblical Recorder. Says Dr. Hume concerning the young editor: “More and more effective laymen are rising to meet the demand for practical help and leadership, and one young man of the number (J. W. Bailey) wields an incisive pen and a powerful influence through the leading denominational paper, the Biblical Recorder.”
[From Charles B. Williams, A History of the Baptists in North Carolina, 1901, pp. 78-84; via On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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