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Sketches of New-York Baptists – No. IV
By John Dowling, D.D., 1849
“Rev. Thomas Paul and the Colored Baptist Churches”
      PREVIOUS to the year 1809, the colored Baptists of New-York had worshipped with their white brethren, without any separate organization. As the establishment of the first colored Baptist church in this city was owing to the labors of the Rev. Thomas Paul, during a visit of three months, a brief notice of the life of this pious and gifted minister of Christ may be a suitable introduction to the present sketch.

      The Rev. Thomas Paul was a native of the town of Exeter, N. H., where he was born, of respectable colored parents, on the 3d of September, 1773. He was baptized in the year 1789, by the Rev. Mr. Locke, and although from the commencement of his religious experience deeply exercised upon the subject of devoting himself to the work of the ministry, was not ordained till he had reached .the age of 28. Says a writer of an obituary notice in the Baptist Magazine -- “ He was ordained at Nottingham West, N. H., May 1, 1805. On this occasion the sermon was delivered by Rev. Robert Jones, the charge by Rev. Isaiah Stone, the ordaining prayer and the right hand of fellowship by the late Rev. E. Nelson of Malden. Soon after his ordination, Mr. Paul became the pastor of the African Baptist Church in Boston. This relation was continued about twenty-five years. His labors however were not confined to this church. As a matter both of necessity and choice be frequently made preaching excursions into different parts of the country. His color excited considerable curiosity, and being a person of very pleasing and fervent address, he attracted crowds to hear him; at this period of his ministry, his labors were greatly blessed. Several revivals of religion commenced in different towns under his ministrations. We know a number of highly respected and pious individuals in different churches in New England who ascribe their conversion to his instrumentality. In 1823 Mr. Paul addressed a letter to the. Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, expressive of the deep interest which for a long time he had felt in relation to the moral and religious condition of the Haytians, and soliciting the favor that he might be sent there as a missionary. -- After due deliberation the Board gave him an appointment for six months. He was kindly received by President Boyer and other distinguished personages, who gave him permission to preach. For a while he was elated with prospects of success, especially as he found a few pious people who seemed gratified beyond measure by his ministrations. In his communications from Hayti he frequently mentioned ‘the powerful, precious, soul-reviving seasons’ which he and the few disciples on the Island enjoyed. But his ignorance of the French language convinced hirfi that he could not be generally useful to the inhabitants. He therefore left Hayti with regret, but with an increased desire for its welfare, from what he had actually witnessed of its deplorable moral condition. In all his journeyings he seemed to go among the people in the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. He was not indeed an ordinary man. For without the advantages of a good education in early life, he became distinguished as a preacher. His understanding was vigorous, his imagination was vivid, his personal appearance was interesting, and his elocution was graceful. We have heard him preach to an audience of more than one thousand persons, when he seemed to have the complete command of their feelings for an hour together. On baptismal occasions he was truly eloquent. His arguments were unanswerable, and his appeals to the heart were powerful. -- The slow and gentle manner in which he placed candidates under’ the water, and raised them up again, produced an indelible impression on the spectators, that they had indeed seen a burial with Christ in baptism.”

      The active and useful ministry of Mr. Paul continued for the period of twenty-six years. He was called home to his rest on the 14th of April, 1831. During the protracted and painful illness which preceded his departure, his mind was wonderfully sustained by the consolations of that gospel which he had so long preached. “On one occasion he remarked to a friend, ‘Since I saw you last I have been happy in God -- my sky has been without a cloud. I know that when the earthly house of my tabernacle is dissolved, I have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’ When asked at another time if he had a good hope through grace, O, said he, I am altogether unworthy, but trust in him ‘ who of God is made unto me wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.’ After a short pause, he observed, ‘I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him until that day.’ When his sufferings were great, and he felt as if he were dying, he would say in broken accents, ‘Come – Lord – Jesus -- come quickly.’ But he would add, ‘I pray – for -- patience.’ He frequently repeated, ‘1 know that my Redeemer liveth. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.’ On his daughter’s observing what a fine day it was, and how calm the water was, he said smiling, ‘Just like my mind, my dear -- not a wave -- unruffled.’ One morning being asked how he had rested the preceding night, he replied, ‘The Lord has spared my life one night longer ; but I never longed for any thing so really, as to die and to be with my Saviour.’ Towards the close of his last sickness, he exclaimed with emphasis and a voice stronger than usual -- ‘I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.’ ”

      The Abyssinian Church, which was organized under the labors of brother Thomas Paul, in the year 1809, is the third in point of age of the existing Baptist churches of New-York. For the following facts relative to its origin and history, I am indebted to a communication of the present esteemed and beloved pastor, the Rev. J. T. Raymond.

      “About the year 1807, the colored brethren and sisters of the first Baptist Church, worshipping in Gold-street, for reasons unnecessary now to mention, respectfully proposed to the said Church the expediency of a separation : seeing that the colored Methodists and Episcopalians had made similar propositions to their respective churches with success, they humbly desired the same. But they were unsuccessful until the year 1809. In the interim the Rev. Thomas Paul, of Boston, at their request, visited the city, who was well received in the white churches, preaching to large congregations. Encouraged by such a state of things, they resolved on procuring a place of worship. The meeting-house in Anthony-st, the property of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, being for sale, was purchased by them, with the cooperation of their white brethren. The First Church, satisfied with the competency of brother Paul for the care and management of the petitioners, unanimously granted honorable letters of dismission to four brethren and twelve sisters, who with three others were constituted a gospel church on Wednesday the 5th of July, 1809, under the name of the ‘Abyssinian Baptist Church.’ It is to be regretted that the order of exercises at the public recognition of this new interest cannot be found. Blest with the faithful labors of such a gifted man, crowded assemblies heard the word of the Lord, and many were added to the church on a profession of their faith in Christ.

      This church presents a history chequered with prosperity and adversity. It has literally struggled against the tide of opposition to maintain its present visibility. ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.’

      In 1832, sixteen members were dismissed from this body, who were publicly recognized in the same year as the ‘Zion Baptist Church,’ under the pastoral care of Elder J. T. Raymond; and in 1847, twenty-five members were dismissed who were subsequently recognized as the ‘Concord-street Baptist Church’ in the city of Brooklyn, with Elder Sampson White as pastor.

      The following ministers have successively presided over this church from 1809 to the present time, viz.:

1. Rev. Thos. Paul, from June 1809 to Sept. 1809.
2. Rev. Benjamin Paul, from 1809 to 1810, who was ordained during his stay.
3. Rev. Jacob Bishop, from 1810 to 1811.
4. Rev. John Seager, 1811 to 1814.
5. Rev. Drake Wilson, 1814 to 1816.
6. Rev. John Van Velzer, 1817 to 1822.
7. Rev. Benjamin Paul, 1823 to 1831.
8. Rev. James Hayborn, 1831 to 1835.
9. Rev. Wm. J. Loomis, called in 1836, ordained in 1837, left 1838.
10. Rev. Tm. Moore, called 1839, ordained 1840, left 1841.
11. Rev. Sampson White, from 1841 to 1847.
12. Rev. J. T. Raymond, from 1847 to the present time.
      The church gratefully acknowledge the kind labors of ministers of the gospel who have supplied them when destitute; and wall who have from time to time assisted in relieving them from pecuniary embarrassments. Being still straightened, they hope to be remembered by all the friends of Jesus.”

      The other church of our colored Baptist brethren in the city is called the Zion Church, and was organized in the year 1832. -- From an article in the Baptist Repository of December 7th, 1832. we learn that “A number of individuals, members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, meeting in Anthony-street, having obtained honorable letters of dismission from that body, for the purpose of forming themselves into a church of the same faith and order, after, as they hoped, mature deliberation and prayer to God, requested some of the churches to send delegates to advise with them on the subject of their being publicly acknowledged as a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      The North Beriah Church in McDougal-street, having appointed their pastor, Elder D. Dunbar and other brethren as delegates, and the Abyssinian Church having appointed their pastor, Elder J. Hayborn with other brethren: Elder Dunbar was chosen moderator, and brother Jos. Spencer, clerk. Deacon Low Octon, having been appointed to speak and act for those brethren and sisters, presented a statement of their views of divine truths, which was then read and considered by the council in accordance with the word of God, after which it was resolved unanimously, that the council proceed to acknowledge and organize them, agreeable to their request, as a church of Christ.

      It having been requested by those brethren that the moderator should give them a name, he suggested that as there was no Baptist church in this city called ‘Zion,’ that that might be a proper name, at which, the brethren and sisters arose and expressed their approbation of being known as ‘Zion Baptist Church.’

      Elder Dunbar then addressed them on the origin, progress, duties, privileges, mercies, and trials of churches, endeavoring to show them where their great strength lieth. Elder J. Gibbs gave them a judicious, solemn and scriptural charge, commending them to God and the word of his grace. Elder Hayborn gave them the right hand of fellowship, and brother Thos. Loud offered up solemn petitions to God for their harmony, prosperity and growth in grace. These exercises were concluded by singing one of the appropriate songs of Zion, and the assembly felt persuaded that Ethiopia was stretching out her hands unto God.”

      For the following particulars of the subsequent history of the Zion Church, we are indebted to a communication kindly furnished by brother Miller, the church clerk:

      “Immediately after the organization, of the church, Elder John Gibbs began to officiate in the ministry until Elder J. T. Raymond of Norfolk, Va., arrived and was called as pastor. He commenced his pastoral labors Jan. 30th, 1833, and resigned his charge July 3d, 1839. During this period, the church was highly favored by the Lord ; not only by the graces of love, peace, and union which reigned among us, but also by the large increase of our numbers The sixteen original members had by this time increased to over three hundred active, progressive servants of the living God ; and when he proposed to leave us, it was with much regret that we parted with him.

      Elder Whiting of Williamsburgh, was next called to preach for the church; but he declined accepting the entire charge as pastor. His stay with us was brief. He served the church only on the Lord’s day, and administered the ordinances of the church. We have no date of his commencement or departure, as no record was made. He was with us about twelve months, and left us in peace, the Lord having blessed his labors by the addition of some converts.

      Elder Daniel Scott, of Philadelphia, was next invited to speak for us, December 2d, 1840, and continued till August 19th, 1841. There ' was much love and sincerity in his labors; and the Lord did not leave him to work in the ministry without a reward; quite a number of converts were added under his charge.

      Our next pastor was Elder Gibbs, who accepted a call Jan. 29, 1842, but left us for the west after a few months of faithful labor in the same year.

      Elder Stephen Dutton, of Buffalo, accepted a call September 15, 1842, and continued till December 1, 1847. Under the pastoral charge of Elder Dutton, the church, by the blessing of God, consummated in part, a contemplated desire, and for which she had begun to make preparation long before it was realized. It was to possess a meetinghouse of her own, which was accomplished during Elder Dutton’s ministry among us. He was with us during the great excitement which William Miller produced in relation to the end of the world, in the year 1843. Many, therefore, out of mere fright and ignorance pressed themselves into the church, supposing that a mere connection with the church would screen them and their sins from the eye of an all-seeing God ; and as a proof that they were nothing but ‘ hay and stubble,’ as soon almost as the excitement ended they returned again wallowing in the mire of sin. There are, however, a few which came in with the others, in whose hearts, as in the parable, we have good reason to believe that the good seed was sown by the Son of Man, because they hold on their way to the kingdom.

      Elder J. R. Bigelow, of New-York, who officiates at present as pastor, commenced his labors June 1, 1848.

      We have great reason, in ending this brief history of the church thus far, to be humble and thankful for all the mercies we have received from the hand of a gracious God ; and to exclaim, ‘What hath God wrought !’ Numbers 23:23.”

     Note -- As some difficulty has been experienced in securing the particulars relative to the early history of the Baptist Churches Of New-York, where there were no materials in print, the writer of the above will close his labors in this department, by one additional sketch, giving a general view of the growth of the Baptist Churches of our own city, for the past quarter of a century, leaving it to each pastor who chooses to furnish a history of the church to which he ministers. The next sketch in the series will be a history of the Stanton-street Church, by the pastor, Rev. S. Remington.

[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1849, Volume VIII, pp. 295-301. Scanned and formatted by Jim Dvuall.]

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