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The Baptists of New Jersey
The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881

A goodly number of those who came to the early settlements in the New England colonies held our views of Bible doctrine. They found on their arrival that freedom of conscience was only for Puritans. Persecutions led them to desire a better country, and they warned their friends in Europe to steer for another destination. When Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret obtained possession of "Nova Cesarea," or New Jersey, about 1664, they formed a "Bill of Rights," by which "liberty of conscience to all religious sects who shall behave well" was guaranteed. Speedy immigration followed. The Baptists of New Jersey, except a church or two in the northern hill-country, which sprang out of the religious reconstruction following the revivals under Edwards and the men of his time, came from the old country seed. While there may have heen isolated Baptist settlers elsewhere, the first companies of baptized believers located at Middletown, near the entrance of New York harbor, at the territory on the lower Delaware, and at " Piscataqua," on the Raritan River.

The churches at Middletown, "Piscataqua," "Cohansick," and Cape May are called original because they are the mothers of the other organizations.

in order of time, stands first. The date assigned it is 1688, but there are good reasons for believing that it originated earlier. In 1648 one Richard Stout and five others appear to have settled in Middletown. The Indian title was purchased previous to the patent from "Nicolles," about 1667. This title is said to have been made to thirty-six men, of whom eighteen were Baptists. They seem to have come from the west end of Long Island, and there is a strong probability that some of them were connected with the people who were dealt with in Massachnsetts for Baptist sentiments abont 1642, and took refuge at Gravesend, Long Island. Tradition states that they consorted for mutnal edification, but there is no church record previous to 1688, when they "settled themselves into a church state," after consultation with the brethren at "Pennepek," Pa., who had just taken that course. There were several gifted brethren among them, of whom John Brown, James Ashton, and George Eaglesfield are mentioned.

Thomas Killingsworth was at the constitution of the church, but there is no evidence that he became its pastor. Obadiah Holmes, who was whipped at Boston, Mass., for his Baptist sentiments, was one of the patentees of Monmouth County, but it is not known that he ever resided here, though his son Jonathan did, and in 1668 was a member of Assembly.

Very little is known of the church during the first generation of its existence, except that an unhappy division occurred, which resulted (in 1711) in each party excommunicating the other, and the silencing of two of their gifted preachers, - John Bray and John Okison. They agreed to call a
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council of neighboring churches, which met May 25, 1711. The ministers who convened were Messrs. Timothy Brooks, of Cohansey; Abel Morgan and Joseph Wood, of Pennepek; Elisha Thomas, of Welsh Tract, and six elders. The office of elder, in distinction from pastor, is referred to frequently as existing among the old churches in the State. It may be interesting to read the finding of this first conncil probably in New Jersey, convened in a case of church difficulty. Advice was given (1) "to bury their proceedings in oblivion and erase the record of them." This was done, and four leaves are torn out of the church book. (2) "To continue the silence imposed on the two brethren the preceding year." (3) "To sign a covenant relative to their future conduct." Forty-two signed this, and twenty-six did not, though many of them came in afterwards. The first forty-two were declared to be the church to be owned by sister churches. Another direction of the council was, "That the members should keep their places and not wander to other societies." Peace and prosperity followed, and the gospel soon spread over a wide territory.

A large tract on the east side of the "Rarinton" was bought of the Indians in 1663. Among the first settlers were people from Piscataqua (now Dover, N. H., then in the province of Maine). It is claimed that of these early settlers at least six were Baptists. (Hanserd Knollys preached Baptist sentiments in Piscataqua, N. H., as early as 1638.) These six were constituted into a gospel church by Rev. Thomas Killingsworth in 1689.

Three of the constituents - John Drake, Hugh Dunn, and Edmund Dunham - were lay preachers. Mr. Drake was ordained pastor at the constitution of the church, and continued until his death, fifty years afterwards. His descendants are numerous and influential.

The first meeting-house, by order of the town-meeting, was "built forthwith as followeth: dimensions, twenty foot wide, thirty foot long, and ten foot between joints."

In 1683 a company of immigrants, members of Cloughketin church, in the County of Tipperary, Ireland, landed at Perth Amboy, and traveled across the country to the " Cohansick" Creek. In 1685, Obadiah Holmes (son of Obadiah who was persecuted) arrived from Rhode Island. His influence was soon felt. He became judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Salem County, and preached acceptably, thoug he was never ordained. In 1688, Rev. Elias Keach, of Pennepek, administered baptism to three persons. Thomas Killingsworth having moved into the vicinity, united with the nine males in constituting the church, and he became the first pastor, continning nearly nineteen years, until his death. He was appointed judge of the court, and served honorably, while he preached faithfully and successfully. He was succeeded by Rev. Timothy Brooks, who died after serving the church six years, and his successor, a young man of much promise, passed away after a two years' pastorate.

The church records for the first hundred years were burned, but Mr. Kelsay, a subsequeut pastor, preserved some minutes, among them the following:

"In 1710, Timothy Brooks, with his company, united with the church. They had come from Swanzey, in Plymouth government, about 1687, and had kept a separate society for twenty-three years, on account of difference in opinion relative to predestination, singing of Psalms, laying on of hands, etc.; the terms of union were bearance and forbearance

Mr. Kelsay says that Mr. "Brooks was a useful preacher, of a sweet and loving temper, and always open to conviction."

Among some who came over in 1675 were two Baptists, - George Taylor and Philip Hill. Taylor held Bible readings and expositions at his own house. After his death, in 1702, Mr. Hill continued the meeting. Mr. Keach visited the place, and preached as early as 1688, and others labored with success. Most of the converts went to Philadelphia for baptism. In 1712, by advice of the pastor and two deacons of Cohansey, thirty-seven persons constituted themselves into a church, under the pastorate of Nathaniel Jenkins, one of their own number.

Before 1707 there was no Association in America. We find, however, an institution called a yearly meeting, which fostered communication. From one end of Jersey to the other pastors and devoted brethren went by Indian trails and rough roads to these immense gatherings. There are traditions concerning these fraternal "great meetings" that are full of tender, touching memories.

When, at the suggestion of the Pennepek church, the Philadelphia Association was formed, in 1707, three of its first churches were in New Jersey, viz., Middletown, Piscataway, and Cohansey. There are no extended early records of the Association, but the usual heading of the earliest is "The Elders and Messengers of the Baptized Congregations in Pennsylvallia and the Jerseys."

The Associational fellowship led to greater interest among the ministers and churches, an increase of doctrinal strength, and a spreading
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Bible sentiments, which took deep root, and in the succeeding half-century brought forth abundantly.

The New Jersey Baptists have had in their ranks some of the strongest men among the early Baptists of this country, and among them have arisen brethren to whom the whole denomination is indebted. Oliver Hart performed a work of the highest importance in South Carolina; James Manning, the president of Rhode Island College, laid all Baptists under lasting obligations to himself for services to general and ministerial education; Abel Morgan was a man of learning, and of immense influence for good over the Middle States; Hezekiah Smith, of Hopewell, N. J., was settled in Haverhill, Mass., and was blessed with great success in winning souls to Christ; John Gano, the most eloquent preacher among the Baptists of his day, and a man greatly honored of God in extending his kingdom, was a native of New Jersey; our first institution of learning was located in New Jersey, and worthily conducted by Isaac Eaton, at Hopewell. Quite a number of distinguished men we been identified with the Baptists of New Jersey.

For a long period the New Jersey churches belonged to the Philadelphia Association. Their representatives in that body exerted such an influence that they had no desire to sunder the ties that united them to it until their great growth compelled them.

Their first Association was formed in 1811; it consisted of fourteen churches, and was called the New Jersey Association. The Central New Jersey Association was formed in October, 1828, by the representatives of seven churches. The Sussex Association was formed in 1833, by four churches. The Delaware River Association was constituted in 1835, by Old-School, or Anti-Missionary Baptists; its members were less than five hundred when the Association was organized, and they have not increased since that time. The East New Jersey Association was established in November, 1842, by fourteen churches. There are at present in New Jersey the following five Associations: the Central, East, North, Trenton, and West, representing 178 churches, with 31,936 members.

From their early history the Baptists of New Jersey have been the intelligent and generous friends of education, and at present they have two seminaries of a high order, with spacious and beautiful bnildings, known as Peddie Institute and South Jersey Institute, the former with 10 instructors, 125 students of both sexes, prperty worth $125,000, and an endowment of $1000; the latter with 10 instructors, 150 students, and a property moderately estimated at $75,000. These institutions are owned by the denomination in New Jersey. In addition to the money invested in Peddie and South Jersey Institutes, the New Jersey Baptists gave liberally to Hamilton and Lewisburg.

[From The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint, 1988, pp. 636-638. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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