Baptist History Homepage

Pennsylvania Baptists
By William Shadrach, 1842
      Baptists obtained an early settlement in Pennsylvania. Many of the first colonists in this Province were from Wales, which may be regarded as the nursery of American Baptists. In the year 1770, Morgan Edwards, then Pastor of the First Church in Philadelphia, published a brief sketch of the history of the denomination from the commencement up to that time. In his concluding remarks, he states, -- that there were Baptists among the first settlers of the Province, -- that the first churches consisted chiefly of emigrants from Wales, -- that at that time they had 10 churches, 18 meeting-houses, 11 ministers, 668 communicants, and an adhering community of 3,252 souls.

      Until the year 1684 we have no account of any church organization among the Baptists of this State. At that time a small church was constituted at Coldspring in Bucks County, under the ministry of Rev. Thomas Dungam. -- This Society, after living for the space of 18 years, long enough to see a number of kindred societies called into being, finally became extinct, in the year 1702. The church at Pennepeck, (now called Lower Dublin,) was the first constituted church that is still extant in this State. It was organized in the month of January, in the year 1689, and for many years was the central rallying point for all the Baptists in this Province, and also for those in Jersey. For the accommodation of the widely scattered members of the mother church, meetings were held quarterly, at Philadelphia, Burlington, Cohansey, and Chester, at which the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was administered. This was the origin of those yearly meetings which still continue to be observed by many of the ancient churches. The Pennepeck church was organized under the ministry of Rev. Elias Keach, son of the celebrated Benjamin Keach, of London. He came to this country a gay and thoughtless youth, and, availing himself of his father's fame, he appeared in canonicals, and passed for a minister. This imposture so far succeeded that he had a meeting called for him, and many people flocked together to hear the young London divine. During the performance of divine service, and after he had proceeded some length in his sermon, conscience awoke from her slumbers, and he became horror-smitten at the thought of his enormous and daring impiety. The audience perceived a sudden change in his countenance, and supposed him struck with some malady. He explained the case, and made a candid avowal of the imposture “with tears in his eyes and much trembling.” Mr. Keach was fully awakened at this time, and soon after made a public profession of religion. He was baptized at Coldspring, by Rev. Thomas Dungan, who was then ministering to that church. The second church, in the order of time, found in this Province, was constituted in Wales, in the year 1701, and has been called, with propriety, the Emigrant Church. – “Its history is as follows: In the spring of 1701, several Baptist friends, in the counties of Camarthen and Pembroke, resolved to go to America; and as one of the company was a minister they were advised to form themselves into a church. They did so. Their names were, Rev. Thomas Griffiths, Griffith Nicholas, Evan Edmunds, John Edwards, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Richard Davis, James Davis, Elizabeth Griffiths, Jennet Davis, Margaret Mathias, Judith Morris, Lucy Edmunds, Mary Jones, Mary Thomas, Elizabeth Griffiths. These 16 persons met at Milford-Haven in the month of June, 1701, and embarked on board the ship James and Mary; and on the 8th of September following landed at Philadelphia.” They remained in the neighborhood of Pennepeck for about eighteen months, during which time they received an accession to their number of 21 persons, and afterwards they made a purchase of land in the county of Newcastle, and gave it the name of Welshtract. This also was the name of the church. The following ministers, all of whom were from Wales, succeeded each other in the Pastorate of this church, during the first half century of its existence, viz., Thomas Griffiths, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Owen Thomas, David Davis, Griffith Jones.

      The Great Valley church was constituted in 1711. It consisted of sixteen members at first, and was under the Pastoral care of Rev. Hugh Davis, who continued among them till his death, which occurred October 13th, 1753. His successor in the ministry was the Rev. John Davis. In 1770, this church had 99 members. After this, and as early as 1715, the Brandywine church was constituted by Rev. Abel Morgan, who at that time was Pastor of the church at Pennepeck. It consisted of 15 members, and had for its first Pastor, the Rev. William Butcher, who after a short ministry of two years among them, removed to Cohansey, where he died December 12th, 1724. This church was left after this for 40 years without a settled Pastor, till in 1761, when they settled over them the Rev. Abel Griffiths. The Montgomery church was organized in 1719, and consisted of 10 members. They were partly from Wales, and partly gathered by the labors of Rev. Abel Morgan. Their first Pastor was the Rev. Benjamin Griffiths, who after laboring faithfully for the space of 47 years among this people, finished his earthly course, October 5, 1768, in the 81st year of his age. He was a man of parts, and by his industry had acquired a tolerable share of knowledge of languages and books. His successor was the Rev. John Thomas. In 1770, this church had 99 communicants.

      Tulpehoken church was constituted in 1738, with 21 members, and two years aster, settled as their first pastor, the Rev. Thomas Jones. The constituents of this church were chiefly members of the Great Valley and Montgomery churches, who having removed and settled near the banks of the Tulpehoken, found it too inconvenient to attend the churches of their former fellowship, and thus set up their banners in the wilderness, in the name of the Lord. Southampton, Philadelphia, New Britain, and Konolowa, were the next in order, the former two were constituted in 1746, that at New Britain, in 1754, and the Far West church, the little Konolowa, in 1764.

      It ought perhaps, to be stated, that while there was no church formally constituted in the city of Philadelphia, till 1746, there had been a society in existence, holding up the worship of God and the ministry of the Gospel with a good degree of success, since 1698. They were not, however, regarded as an independent church, but rather a branch of the church at Pennepeck, from which they received ministerial supplies. The Rev. Jenkin Jones, was the first settled pastor of this church. It is recorded of him that he was a good man, and that he rendered very important services to the church in his day. In the year 1707, the Philadelphia Association was organized, and was the earliest union of Baptist churches in the American Colonies. It consisted then of the delegates of five churches, viz., Pennepeck and Welshtract, in Pennsylvania, and Middletown, Piscataway, and Cohansey, in Jersey. The amount of good, which, in various ways, has been accomplished by this early, and now ancient ecclesiastical organization, it would be useless to attempt to sketch in this brief notice. It has been honored of God as an eminent instrument for the preservation of truth, and the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom in this land. It has been honored with the counsels, and blessed with the labors of distinguished men for learning and piety.

      As early as 1765, this association numbered 29 churches, viz.: 10 in the Provinces of Pennsylvania, 13 in New Jersey, 2 in Virginia, 2 in New York, 1 in Maryland, 1 in New England. In the year 1722, the association, in view of the great lack of ministerial help which they experienced, recommended to the churches to inquire among themselves for young persons, hopeful for the ministry and inclined to learning; and if they found such, to give notice of it to Mr. Abel Morgan, that he might recommend them to the Academy, on Mr. Hollis' account. A few years subsequent to this, we find the churches greatly humbled in view of the greatness of the ripening harvest, and the fewness of the laborers, and some of the churches moved the association to appoint a day of fasting and prayer for all the churches in our communion, that the Lord may gift some among ourselves, such as may be serviceable, or order, in the course of his providence, some such to come among us from elsewhere. This took place in 1732. Thus we see that the first Baptists in this association, were forward in the cause of missions, calling into exercise the gifts of the church, and educating the candidates for the ministry. In 1756, an order passed the association, that a sum of money be raised among the churches for encouraging a Latin grammar school; and in 1766, we find a resolution commending to the churches to interest themselves on behalf of the Rhode Island College. These were not idle resolves, but were responded to by the churches, who the next year sent in their funds. Had the same spirit that actuated Abel Morgan, Isaac Steele, Morgan Edwards, Samuel Jones, William Staughton, and others, continued to animate and govern the Baptists in this state, the cause of ministerial education and domestic missions might have been greatly advanced above what they are.

      A fund was raised by order of the association as early as 1766, for the purpose of supporting travelling ministers, and for many years after, it continued to increase in efficiency. -- This labor has at no time been wholly intermitted; but owing to the want of a state of cordial good feeling, and a suitable system of concentrated action, the operations of the Baptists in this State have for many years past, been feeble and inefficient in comparison with what they might have been. On the 4th of July, 1827, a convention previously called for the purpose, met according to appointment, and formed the Baptist General Association of Pennsylvania, for missionary purposes. This society during the ten years of its existence, expended $14,500, performed 57 years of missionary labor, constituted 39 churches, erected 15 meeting-houses, and was instrumental in bringing from four to five thousand souls to the knowledge of the truth. In April, 1837, this society, together with other local societies, was merged in the Pennsylvania Baptist Convention. This last organization for domestic missions is but in the infancy of its operations; but as it has met with the decided approbation of the chief part of our churches in the Commonwealth, it is expected that its energies will rapidly increase; and that through it, the united action of the denomination throughout the state, will carry on the cause of domestic missions with greater efficiency than has hitherto been attained.

      There are now in this state 15 Baptist associations, 240 churches, 180 ministers, and about 21,000 communicants. Measures were taken in Philadelphia for giving theological instruction to approved candidates for the ministry, as early as 1817. Four years subsequently, viz., in the autumn of 1821, the professors and students were removed to Washington, D. C., and incorporated with the Columbian College, as the theological department of that institution. In 1832, the Philadelphia Association took measures for establishing a manual labor literary and theological institution. This resulted in the charter, by the Legislature of Pennsylvania, in 1836, of an institution under the title of “Haddington College in the county of Philadelphia.” It was opened at Haddington, and has subsequently been removed to Germantown. Its present operations can be regarded as little more than a preparatory department for the college.

      [Since the above sketch was prepared, our esteemed brother, the writer, has relinquished his charge of New Market Street Baptist Church, Philadelphia, and with praiseworthy zeal and self-sacrifice, is devoting himself to the service of the State Convention, in promoting domestic missions. His success has hitherto been most cheering. An education Society for the aid of beneficiaries, chiefly at Hamilton, has been in successful operation in Philadelphia for two or three years past.] -- ED.

[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, 1842, pp. 74-77. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Pennsylvania Baptist Histories
Baptist History Homepage