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History of the First Baptist Church
Cincinnati, Ohio

By Rev. S. K. Leavitt, 1879


      In 1813 eleven persons united in forming a Baptist Church, which they called "The First Baptist Church of Cincinnati." They first met for worship in a log house on Front Street, but, after a short time, in a commodious brick building still standing on the north-east corner of Sixth Street and Lodge Alley. In 1819 this house was occupied by the Episcopalians, and afterward by the German Lutherans. It is now a stable.

      In 1816 some difficulties arose in this Church, causing a separation into two parties - the pastor, Rev. Alexander Dennison, and six members forming one, and the other lay members, constituting a majority of the church, the other - each claiming to be the "First Church," and seeking recognition as such from the Miami Association. Dennison's party retained the Church records, and also the house of worship, under a bond of conveyance from John S. Gano, the real owner. On the 20th of March, 1816, a council convened to examine into their respective claims, and reported to the Association the same year, recognizing the majority party as the First Church; whereupon their delegates were invited to seats. In 1817 the Miami Association instructed its clerk to add to the name of the First Church, thus recognized, the words "Original and Regular," declaring at the same time, "that the society calling themselves the First Church, of which Alexander Dennison is pastor, is considered by this Association a disorderly body, and not in union with it." The Dennison party soon afterward took to themselves the name of " Enon Baptist Church," and continued for a while to worship in the same house, but had no Associational relations, and after a few years ceased to exist. The "Original and Regular First Baptist Church," as it was now called, existed till 1831, when it disbanded, its few remaining members uniting with the Sixth Street (now Ninth Street) Baptist Church.


      In 1820 some differences existed in "The Original and Regular First Baptist Church," which were happily adjusted by a unanimous vote of the Church, on the 20th of October, that letters of dismission should be granted to all in good standing who should apply for the same within one month to form a new Church, or unite with another of the same faith and order. On the 23d of October, at a general meeting of Baptists, residents of Cincinnati, it was unanimously resolved "that it is expedient to form another Baptist Church in Cincinnati."

      On the 9th of January, 1821, a new Church was regularly constituted

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with twenty-nine members, having letters of dismission from the "Original and Regular First Baptist Church." Their names were as follows: Henry Miller, Isaac Poinier, Noble S. Johnson, Tristram Cheney, Thatcher Lewis, Peter Valet, William Bruce, John N. Robins, Thirston Crane, David Playfoot, James Taylor, Ephraim Robins, Polly Cheney, Jane Poinier, Sarah Howard, Jane Miller, Ann Owen, Rhoda Johnson, Catherine Taylor, Martha Lewis, Susan P. Thane, Hannah V. Houghton, Esther Mears, Harriet Valet, Clarissa A. Robins, Mary Craven, Elizabeth Playfoot, Ann Crane, and Mary Bruce.

      On the 2d of February, same year, this new Church took the name of "The Enon Baptist Church of Cincinnati," the former Church of the same name, on Sixth Street, probably having ceased to exist. By this name the Church was incorporated September 27, 1821, under the general incorporation law of Ohio, and again by special act of the Legislature, February 7, 1832. March 5, 1838, the name was changed, by act of the Legislature, to "The First Baptist Church of Cincinnati," and as such it is still known. Thus this Church was called "Enon" from 1821 to 1838, and "The First Baptist" since 1838, while two other Churches - one called "Enon," the other "The First Baptist," and afterward "The Original and Regular First Baptist" - have long since ceased to exist.


      On the 5th of September, 1821, the Church decided to purchase of Nicholas Longworth, for $700, a lot on the west side of Walnut Street, between Third and Fourth Streets, and commenced building a house of worship with the funds already subscribed for that purpose. A brick house, capable of seating 700 persons, was built and dedicated March 16, 1822. This lot was sold several years afterward, and the house finally occupied by the First Universalist Society. No public record of the Church title to this lot can now be found. A fine business block, bearing the name, "Church Building," now stands on the lot.

      A great revival occurred in the Summer of 1828, under the preaching of Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, of Kentucky; and the congregation having increased beyond the capacity of the house, on the 28th of October 118 members were dismissed to form the Sycamore Street Baptist Church. This new Church afterward adopted the views of Alexander Campbell, and withdrew from the Baptist denomination, forming what is now the "Central Christian Church," on Ninth Street.

      On the 25th of July, 1831, the Church purchased of Nicholas Longworth, for $1,280, another lot in the rear of the former one, and two feet west of Walnut Street, with a strip 10 by two feet as an entrance from Walnut. This entrance was soon abandoned, the strip exchanged for another one to enlarge the lot, and Baker Street opened in front. A house of worship was built there and occupied by the Church in 1832. A part of the lot was sold July 1, 1835, for private use, for $1,430, and the remainder, with the house, September 19, 1839, to the "African Union Baptist Church," for $9,000. On this ground now

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stands a large building, forming the rear part of Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co.'s Publishing House.

      On the i8th of February, 1839, the Church purchased, for $5,550, a lot on the south-east corner of Seventh and Elm Streets, and proceeded to build a house, which they dedicated October 10, 1841. In consequence of having debts contracted in building, it was compelled to sell this lot, and on the 30th of May, 1844, conveyed the same for $10,000, to the Fifth Presbyterian Church, receiving in part payment from the same a lot with a small church building on the north-east corner of Ninth and Elm Streets, valued at $4.000. This building was commonly known as the Bethel Church, having been built in 1829, by some Baptists who adhered to Rev. John Boyd, after his exclusion from the Enon Church, in 1825. This Church, of which Mr. Boyd was pastor, early became convinced that it could not succeed, and especially after the coming of Dr. S. W. Lynd and the organization of the Sixth Street (now the Ninth Street) Church, in 1830. The Bethel Church therefore disbanded after about two years, the members uniting with other Churches, especially the Sixth Street. The First Church having occupied this house for a while, sold the lot in two parcels, May 5, 1847, for $3,762, having already commenced building the house now occupied on Court Street. While engaged in building, the Church met for worship in the Medical College, on the north-west corner of Court and Plum Streets.


     On the 19th of April, 1847, the corner-stone of the present house was laid. The walls were built in thirty days, and, July 25, same year, the lecture-room was opened for public worship. About the first of August, 1848, the house was dedicated, the Ladies' Sewing Society having contributed over $600 toward the furnishing.

      This house has been improved at various times - by the addition of a clock, in 1850; a baptistery, in 1852; a pipe organ, in 1866; the enlargement of the vestry and addition of a sexton's house, in 1870, new rooms for sexton and additional Sabbath-school rooms, in 1875; and an entire renovation, with reflector lights, in 1877. From 1849 to 1853 the house was lighted with gas manufactured by the church. The first baptisteiy was in the grave-yard.


      On the ist of September, 1826, the Church purchased, for $600, a piece of ground containing 2 98/100 acres for a cemetery. After its use for burying purposes was discontinued it became a heavy expense to the Church. In 1858 it was offered to the Cincinnati Orphans' Asylum, on terms amounting really to a donation, but declined. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to sell it to the city. At last, failing to find a purchaser, large sums of money were expended on it preparing it for the market, and, May 1, 1867, a large part of it was leased for ten years, with privilege of purchase, to the Hamilton County Building Association. The present condition of this property, preserved
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through years of great perplexity, and often with large debts at high rates of interest, is a memorial of the financial ability of the trustees of the Church.


      November 11, 1871, the church purchased, for $10,000, the house adjoining the church building for a parsonage. This house had been built in 1853-4 by Rev. D. Shepardson, on ground sold him by the Church May 1, 1852, for $1,600.


      In 1823 the Church united with the East Fork Association, with which it was connected till 1841, when it joined the Miami Association. The last letter to the East Fork Association says: "We have a large and flourishing Sabbath-school in operation among us. We meet once each month to pray for the spread of the Gospel, and the antislavery enterprise receives from us that encouragement which its importance demands, we being desirous to see that happy period arrive when 'deliverance to the captive' shall be proclaimed and the oppressed every-where go free." The Church has always been true to the cause of missions, and was conspicuously so when anti-mission sentiments so largely prevailed in 1835-6.


      The labors of its first ministers were attended with large results, and monthly covenant meetings were often wholly occupied in hearing experiences from recent converts. In 1828, 169 were added by baptism, and the membership increased to 418, the largest in its history, necessitating another Church. On the 8th of February, 1835, forty-five colored brethren and sisters connected with the Church were separately organized under the name of "The African Union Baptist Church," and welcomed, the same year, to the East Fork Association. For four years previously they had held services by themselves as a branch of the Enon Church.

      The erection of a house of worship on Seventh and Elm Streets proved a financial disaster. In 1844 they reported the loss of their beautiful house, and "exhorted all sister Churches to beware how they involve themselves in debt; and those already involved they affectionately urge to make the most vigorous efforts, without delay, to free themselves from their embarrassments."

      Still greater depression existed in 1845, when Rev. D. Shepardson was called to the pastorate. In December, 1846, many, deeming the attempt to build the present house of worship unwise, withdrew, taking several officers, and about three-fourths of the resources of the Church, and formed the Walnut Street Baptist Church. The Church then applied to the American Baptist Home Mission Society for aid, which was granted during two entire years.

      Profiting by past experience, the Church adopted the motto to "pay as they go," and in 1848 sent this cheering letter to the Miami

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Association: "The last few years have wrought such changes in our body as scarcely to leave any traces of our identity. Indeed, we are almost a new body, as four-fifths of our present members have joined the Church in less than three and one-half years. We live in peace, and dwell together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. More provident than formerly, and fearful of debt, we have actually attained perfection in our finances, and pray that we may never fall. Our house of worship is completed, with small exceptions, at a cost of $14,000, all of which will be paid in twenty-five days."

      In 1849 the Church reported a Sabbath-school of 434, adding that it was probably the largest and most prosperous connected with the denomination west of the Alleghany Mountains. The pastorate of Dr. Shepardson was noted for earnest labor, great faith, and large results, amidst some of the most discouraging circumstances.

      August 2, 1869, the Second Baptist Church united with this; but through some lack of harmony a division was deemed advisable, and was effected on the 15th of March, 1872, when letters of dismission were granted to seventy-six members to join the Freeman Street Baptist Church.

     Three Churches have been formed entirely from this, and several others to a very large extent.

      The constituent members have all died. Ranks often broken have been filled, and the Church to-day steadily pursues its way, hopeful of success in the future.


      Rev. Samuel Eastman was pastor from November, 1821, to July 2, 1822. Rev. James Boyd from September, 1823, to March 24, 1825, when he was excluded on charges relating to past business transactions. He was restored, and dismissed by letter July 3, 1826. Rev. James Challen supplied the Church from October 1, 1825, to October 1, 1827, being pastor in every thing but name. He was ordained at the request of the Church January 22, 1826. He died last Spring, in the fellowship of the Central Christian Church. Rev. James A. Ranaldson from November 30, 1827, to April 8, 1828. Rev. Dr. George Patterson from October 28, 1828, till his death, December 23, 1831, at the age of 44 years. Rev. J. B. Cook from 1834 to 1837. Rev. Wm. H. Brisbane from 1838 to 1841. He died April 5, 1878. A beautiful marble monument has been erected to his memory at Arena, Wis., by the Good Templars of that State. Rev. T. R. Cressey during 1843 and 1844. Rev. D. Shepardson from April 4, 1845, to August 18, 1855. His was the longest pastorate in the history of the Church. Rev. Nathaniel Colver from March 22, 1856, to December 10, 1860. He died at Chicago September 25, 1870. "The memory of the just is blessed." Rev. E. G. Taylor from March 22, 1861, to January 11, 1864. Rev. N. Judson Clark from December 22, 1864, to July 2, 1865. Rev. Andrew C. Hubbard from November 20, 1865, to October 30, 1868. Rev. S. A. Collins from August 23, 1869, to March 4, 1872. He died at College Hill, May 16, 1877, aged 50. Rev. S. K. Leavitt from December 1, 1872, to the present time.
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      Only a partial list of the licentiates can be given, owing to the loss of some of the records. So far as ascertained, they are as follows: William Bruce, April 30, 1821; Daniel S. Burnet, March 16, 1826; William S. Clark, 1849; Lemuel Moss, _____ ; James Cooper, June 7, 1853 ; John Millikin, June 12, 1859; Nathaniel Nunn, October 4, 1859; Andrew C. Hubbard, August 6, 1860; John Payne, August 9, 1872; Samuel H. Hervey, January 5, 1874; Frank G. M'Farlan, September, 1878. Most of the above-named persons, after being licensed, were ordained to the ministry.


     For fifty-eight years the Church has remained true to Baptist principles. During its early history "gifts" were often recognized, and those possessing them requested to accept licenses and ordinations to the ministry. The records show a kind feeling toward other Churches and denominations, and an invariable effort to settle all difficulties in the spirit of the Gospel.

      The entire number received into the Church since its organization has been 2,378, as follows: by baptism, 1,160; by letter, 1,132; by experience, 86.


[From Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1879, pp. 17-22. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. - Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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