The Shaftsbury, the first Baptist Association, was established in 1780; of the five churches composing it, two belonged to Vermont and three to New York and Massachusetts. -- The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, p. 1192
The churches of this association, for many years from its origin, were scattered over a wide domain, embracing parts of Bennington, Rutland and Windham counties, in VT; the churches of Berkshire, and portions of Franklin and Hampshire counties, MA; and most of those in Rensselaer, Columbia, and Saratoga; with some from Washington, Albany, Schenectady and Fulton; while even from distant Herkimer, Warren, Dutchess and Delaware counties, in the State of New York, the sons of God gathered around this standard, erected here in the wilderness, as a rallying point for the churches of Christ, in these inland regions. In what are now seventeen counties, in three several states, were the churches located, that have been members of this venerable body. And even more; for there were five churches in Upper Canada, from beyond the roaring waters of Niagara, that held a connection for several years with this association. - (Stephen Wright, 1853)
Index of Shaftsbury Baptist Association Circular Letters
By James R. Duvall
1789 -- "Gospel Disciple" by Caleb Blood, pastor at 4th Shaftsbury Baptist Church, (VT).
1790 -- No Minutes extant.
1791 -- "The Nature, Business, Power and Government of a Gospel Church," by Elders Peter Werden, Stephen Gano and Justus Hull.
"The circular letter prepared by brother Ebenezer Willoughby, on the subject of the power of an association, being accidentally mislaid, did not come to hand, therefore appointed Elders Werden, Gano and Hull to prepare a circular letter on that subject for the present year." This circular deals with church discipline and the relationship of the association to the churches.
1792 -- No extant Minutes -- The circular was to have been written by Br. Samuel Whelpley, Jr.
1793 -- "Divine Inspiration of the Bible" by John Leland. He seeks to "substantiate the Divine origin of the Bible, by its antiquity, -- the honesty of its writers, -- the unity of the faith taught -- by so many writers in different ages and nations; -- by the exact fulfilment of prophecy, -- sublimity of style, -- the wonderful effects of reading and explaining the sacred writings on the hearts and lives of men; -- by the patience of those who have suffered for the truth, -- the careful preservation of the scriptures, -- their reproof of all vice and sin, -- the honor they bestow upon God, -- the judgments that have fallen upon the enemies of the Scriptures, and the wonderful system of miracles that attended the labors and confirmed the missions of those who spoke in the name of the Lord. This is a brief epitome of the reasons assigned in favor of the Scriptures, as the word of God." (Stephen Wright, p. 36.)
1794 -- The circular letter for this year was written by Elder Isaac Webb of Pittstown, on the "Agency of the Holy Spirit," upon the heart of man in order to conversion and sanctification.
1795 -- The circular letter, for this year, written by Elder L. Powers, was upon "Ministerial Commission and Reward." It was no doubt a timely document, and would well repay a careful perusal now among the churches and pastors of this day. It is not in smooth and minced words but clothed in that language of earnestness, and plainness of speech, that was so characteristic of the fathers of this association.
1796 -- The circular letter was prepared this year, by Elder Caleb Blood, on "Family Religion." It is a good practical treatise. John Leland wrote the corresponding letter this year.
1797 -- The circular letter on "Godliness on Earth and in Heaven Contrasted" was prepared by Elder John Leland.
1798 -- The circular letter was written by Elder Lemuel Covell of Pittstown on the subject of "Gospel Discipline."
1799 -- The circular letter was written by Elder Lemuel Covell of Pittstown on "A Close Walk with God."
1800 -- The circular letter for this year was by Elder Edward Barber of Greenwich on "Humility" as one of the most amiable qualifications of a Christian professor.
1801 -- The circular letter this year was from the graphic pen of Elder Elias Lee of Ballston Spa, on "The Bible above Tradition," a subject on which he was doubtless prompted to write, from a controversy he had then recently held in his place, with a Mr. Rogers, an Episcopalian, in which the value of the Bible was fully proved, and the weakness of relying on human tradition, evinced.
1802 -- The Association gave up the usual circular letter, for the publication in their minutes, of the following PLAN, prepared by Elders Caleb Blood, Justus Hull, Obed Warren, Elisha Barnes and Lemuel Covell, for the regulation of their domestic missionary efforts.
1803 -- The circular letter was by a committee of five, Elders, Blood, Hull, Leland, Parsons, and Covell, on "Christian Condescension."
1804 -- The circular for this year was prepared by Elder Caleb Blood on "The Office of Deacons."
1805 -- The circular and corresponding Letter, in one, by Elder Lee, was accepted and printed on "Correspondence."
1806 -- The circular this year, "On Union among Christians in building up the cause of Christ," was prepared by Elder Webb.
1807 -- The circular letter on the "Old Testament Divinely Inspired" was by Elder D. Rathbum.
1808 -- The circular by Elder Isaiah Mattison was on "The Nature and Benefit of Prayer."
1809 -- The circular letter on "Knowing the Truth," was by Elder Issac Webb.
1810 -- The circular was by a committee appointed at the last session. Elders Warren, Charles Lahatt, James Glass, Isaiah Mattison and Rowley, were the committee, and their Letter is on "Communion with God." It is not known who wrote the letter; Elder Warren was the chairman of the committee.
1811 -- The circular and corresponding letter by a committee, this year was read by Elder Asahel Morse, and approved for the minutes. Its theme is the "Three Christian Graces, Faith, Hope and Charity>"
1812 -- The circular letter was by Elder Charles Lahatt, on "The Value of Divine Truth." It served also as the Corresponding Letter.
1813 -- The circular and corresponding letter for this year was written by Elder Francis Wayland, senior, [recently deceased] and its theme was "Prayer, its Nature, Necessity and Advantages."
1814 -- The circular and corresponding letter was by Elder Obed Warren, and may be called "Thoughts for the Times." The following is a short extract:
"The scene is now changed, as it respects our once highly favored country! While there is but little or no mitigation of the horrors which have attended the European nations, the cup of wrath has passed the Atlantic. War [War of 1812 - jrd] is waving her bloody banner over our land, while many of our brothers and sons are numbered to the sword; and the pestilence, which walketh in darkness, has, within the two last years made an extensive desolation among persons of both sexes and all ages; particularly ministers of our order. Elders Furman, Osburn, Whipple, A. Farmer, Brewster, Harris, Orcutt, King, Ledoit, W. Rathbone, Francis, Atwell, Winchell and Waterman, have within twenty months past, fallen asleep as we trust in Jesus. On the sixth of last March, our much esteemed brother, Elder Caleb Blood, who was many years (about 20) connected with this association, finished his course; and it may be truly said, he kept the faith; and although his loss is lamented by thousands, yet we have reason to believe he is gone to be with Christ, which is far better than to remain in this world of tribulation and adversity."
1815 -- The circular and corresponding letter was by Elder Eli Ball, on the "Causes of the Differences Among our churches, in Doctrine, Discipline and Worship." He said: "arises from want of Bible knowledge or a correct understanding of the Bible on these subjects."
1816 -- The Circular and Corresponding Letter of this year was by Elder E. F. Willey of North Adams, MA, "On the more Hopeful Aspect of the Times."
1817 -- The Circular and Corresponding Letters for this year, were from the pen of Elder E. F. Willey, "On the duty of encouraging young men in their preparatory studies for the ministry, and of supporting pastors, so they may devote themselves wholly to their work."
1818 -- The circular letter was written by Elder N. Otis this year. It is on the present state of the churches, and can be titled: "Words of Caution to the Churches."
1819 -- The circular and corresponding letter was prepared by a committee of Elders, Kendrick, Mattison and Beach, because the Brother appointed, failed, and was not present. Its subject was "Christian Fellowship and the Means of its Continuance."
1820 -- The circular and corresponding letters were both from Elder Elisha D. Hubbell, now for the first time among his brethren, as an ordained minister of the gospel. The circular is a view of "The Saviour, in the Character of the Shepherd of His People" Following is a portion of the Circular:
"Confide then, ye tempted saints, in the wisdom of your God. Cast all your cares on him. Hope in the Lord; you shall yet praise him, who is the health of your countenance and your God. He hath chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world; he hath washed you in his blood, and purified you unto himself, that you should be a holy people, and dwell eternally in his presence. He has fed you in the pastures of his grace; his own hand has supplied all your wants, and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. He will not leave you to wander through the desert alone, but will accompany and direct your steps. Will he leave you to famish? No: he will sustain you. Will he leave you a prey to disease and death? No: he will forgive your iniquities, he will heal your sicknesses, and crown your lives with his tender mercies. Shall Satan overpower you? No: the enemy shall not exact upon you; nor the sons of wickedness afflict you. God will surely watch over you, he will keep you as the apple of his eye, by his power through faith unto salvation. Happy people! 'all things are yours, and ye are Christs's and Christ is God's.' Your suffering days will soon be over. Your Shepherd cometh quickly. Even so, come LORD JESUS." (Stephen Wright, History.)
1821 -- The circular letter, "On the Divinity of Christ," was by Elder John Lamb of West Hillsdale Baptist Church. It is a sound document, and ably vindicates the doctrine of Christ, against Arianism so rife in those days.
1822 -- The circular was by Br. Samuel S. Mallery, a licentiate of the Egremont church, this year, "On the Danger of being too Highly Exalted."
1823 -- The want of a circular for this year, is supplied by a reprint of the CONSTITUTION or PLAN of the Association, with some modifications for the consideration and approval of the churches.
1824 -- The circular letter was written by Elder Savory, but it failed of reaching the clerk in season to be printed.
1825 -- The circular letter by Elder N. N. Whiting was "On the Religious instruction of the Young," and was very well written, and sound in its views of this important duty of Christian parents and churches to the rising generation around them.
1826 -- The circular letter this year by Elder Isaiah Mattison is discussion of the "Impropriety of Christians Running into Debt."
1827 -- The circular of this year "On the Sanctity of the Christian Sabbath" by Elder Augustus Beach of Pittsfield, Mass.
1828 -- The circular letter, "On the Final Perseverance of the Saints" was written by Elder J. Cooper.
1829 -- Both the circular and corresponding letters were written by Elder Isaiah. Mattison this year: "On Christian Practice and Vital Piety."
1830 -- The circular letter was prepared by a committee, Elders Hubbell, Johnson and Sandys, as Brother Beal, failed to furnish one, who had been appointed the last year to this service. The theme of it is "Christian Discipline." or church discipline.
1831 -- The circular letter this year, was prepared at the time by a committee, Elders Johnson and Teasdale, and Has on "Prayer."
1832 -- The circular and corresponding letters were by Elder Isaiah Mattison this year is a document on various subjects, adapted to the times.
1833 -- The circular letter by Elder J. Hall was upon "the need of more ministers, and the means of their supply." He says, "Of the 5,322 Baptist churches in the United States 2,426 are destitute of pastors. This deficiency is increasing every year. In the year 1832, about 400 Baptist churches were constituted, while the increase of ordained ministers, was only about 200." He says in another place, "But we believe this deficiency is not to be attributed to any inattention on the part of God, to the wants of the church, or the world. We cannot suppose that God has purposely withheld a competent supply of ministers; or that he has not called to the work a sufficient number to supply the wants of his church."
Elder Hall continued, "The inquiry is then raised: 'What can the churches do toward supplying this deficiency of ministerial labor? To this inquiry, we answer, that they can do, what they ought to do, and that they ought to do what God requires them to do.'"
1834 -- The circular letter was written by Elder Elisha D. Hubbell this year and its theme was "Regeneration: its Author, Means, Subjects, and Effects."
1835 -- The circular letter was by Elder Israel Keach and was a very well-written epistleon the subject of "Church Discipline."
1836 -- There was no circular printed in minutes, but Elder Silas Kenney reported one, which was accepted, and a vote of the body, requested its publication in the Vermont Telegraph, a Baptist paper, then printed at Brandon, VT.
1837 -- No circular was printed this year; although one was approved.
1838 -- The circular letter was again resumed in the minutes of this year, and was a plea for "Ministerial Education" written by Elder S. Hutchins, of Bennington.
1839 -- The circular letter of this year was on "Personal Piety" written by Elder H. Ellis.
1840 -- The circular for this year failed and a committee offered one from the minutes of the Madison Association in N.Y., "On the Duty of Promoting the Peace of the Church" which was printed.
1841 -- The circular letter this year is a discussion of "the impropriety of reading sermons instead of preaching them" by Elder Isaiah Mattison, who after preaching some forty years at that time, had never read a sermon.
1842 -- The circular letter was dispensed with, and little business is recorded of this session.
"And from a note of the clerk, at the close of the minutes, it is presumed he had begun then, as he afterwards proved himself to be a troubler in Israel. He had been for years the editor and proprietor of the Baptist paper in the State, the Vermont Telegraph, printed at Brandon; and he soon after this ran it out, and himself into a rabid Infidel Reformer; and has lately issued, from one of the Western States, a flying sheet, called the Regenerator, as nearly an Athiestical print, as the country affords.
1843 -- The circular letter by Br. H. Fletcher was on "Holy Living, or Christian Fidelity."
1844 -- The circular letter for this year was a selection from the New-York Observer, somewhat modified, "On Moral honesty, in the faithful liquidation of debts."
1845 -- No record of a Circular. Only five churches are reported as in the association.
1846 -- The circular was on "Family Prayer" written by Elder Israel Keach.
1847 -- The circular letter was written by Elder J. A. Smith "On the relation which, as Christians, we sustain to the great Moral and Religious movements of the day."
1848 -- The circular letter was written by Elder C. W. Hodges and is a plea for more favor from the brethren in the churches towards the social meetings of the church.
1849 -- The circular letter printed this year, was written by Elder Lansing Bailey of Shaftsbury, "On the success of the Gospel, proportioned to the faith we exercise in its promotion."
1850 -- The circular letter having failed by the removal of its appointed writer, a committee presented one from the minutes of the Dutchess Association in N.Y., which was adopted, "On the Importance of Punctuality" in the various relations of life.
1851 -- A circular prepared by a brother appointed for the purpose at the last session, was read, but not answering the minds of the Association, they adopted one from the minutes of the Wayne Association, New York "On the Immortality of the Soul, or its Separate Existence from the Body, after Death."
1852 -- The circular by Brother J. Rockwood, of 1st Bennington Baptist Church, was on "Christian Enterprise and Benevolence."
[These records are from Stephen Wright, History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association, 1853. The comments about the CLs are from Mr. Wright, who had been assigned by the association to write its history. Scanned and formatted by Jim Divall.]
More American Circular Letters
Baptist History Homepage