THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCHES IN AMERICA
By William Warren Sweet, 1942
THE SLIGHT importance which [Roger] Williams attached to the visible Church, as well as the rank individualism which prevailed in
early Providence, helps to account for the slow progress made in organizing a church in this oldest of the Rhode Island settlements. Religious services seem to have been held from the start, usually in Williams' house, where Williams himself frequently preached. But it was not until March 1639 that a church was formed, and then among the nearly sixty residents in the settlement only twelve were united into a church fellowship. Baptists have called this the first Baptist Church in America. All of the original members were rebaptized, the story being that Ezekiel Holliman rebaptized Roger Williams, and then Williams baptized Holliman and the ten others.8 It is now, however, well established that their rebaptism was not by immersion, and it is doubtful also whether Williams had any part in the formation of the Providence Church. It was at about this time that Williams repudiated all visible Churches, holding that there was no true Church left in the world, therefore there was nothing to do but await the reestablishment of the true Church by some divine intervention.
As might be expected, the Providence Church went through a whole series of internal convulsions. Some of the leading members
------------- 8 In a note in Callender's An Historical Discourse, published in 1738, is the statement that there are reasons to suspect that "Mr. Williams did not form a church of the Anabaptists and that he never join'd with the Baptist church there. Only, that he allowed them to be nearest the Scripture rule, and true primitive Practice as to the mode and subject of Baptism." The oldest inhabitants in the colony, who knew Williams, "never heard that Mr. Williams formed the Baptist church there . . ." Hugh Peters wrote on July I, 1639, that Roger Williams and wife had not been baptized (James Ernst, The Political Thought of Roger Williams, 1929, p. 209).
In a letter to John Winthrop in 1649, Williams states: "At Seekonk a great many have lately concurred with Mr. John Clarke and our Providence men about the point of a new baptism, and manner of dipping; and Mr. John Clarke hath been there lately (and Mr. Lucar) and both dipped them. I believe their practice comes nearer the first practice of our great Founder Jesus Christ than other practices of religion do, and yet I have not satisfaction neither in the authority by which it is done, nor in the manner." This implies that "dipping" is a new mode of baptism but recently adopted in Rhode Island (Letters of Roger Williams).
See also R. E. E. Harkness, "Principles of the Early Baptists of England and America," Crozer Quarterly, V (1928), pp. 440-460.
John Callender was a graduate of Harvard College, and was called to the pastorate of the Newport Church in 1730 when but twenty-one years of age. The Discourse was preached on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Aquidneck.
Morgan Edwards in Materials for a History of the Baptists in Rhode Island (Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Vol. VI, Providence: 1867, pp. 302-303), contends that Williams was among those rebaptized.
held Arminian views, others were strict Calvinists, as was Roger Williams. The principal cause of controversy, however, was the question as to whether the laying on of hands after baptism as a symbol of receiving the Holy Ghost was commanded in Scripture.9 The Arminians generally held to this view, and became known as "Six Principle Baptists," while their Arminian views gave them also the name "General Baptists." This controversy caused division in 1652, and because the Six Principle Baptists had the better leadership their Church survived, while the Calvinistic wing soon disappeared. Church life in Providence, however, seems to have been so feeble that it was not until 1700 that the first church building was erected. 10
The Newport Church, though founded later than the church at Providence, has a better claim to priority as the first Baptist Church in America. Here, as in Providence, there was religious confusion. William Coddington, John Coggeshall and Nicholas Easton entertained extreme antinomian views, very near those held by the Quakers. Later all three became Quakers. Opposing them was a group led by John Clarke, under whose leadership a Baptist church was established. Religious services were held probably as early as 1641, but it was not until 1644 that a Baptist Church was fully organized. The church seems to have prospered from the start, as Newport became more attractive to those holding antipedobaptist views than Providence. The records tell of the early building of a meeting house at common expense. As in Providence, six principle views caused controversy and in 1656 a new church was formed on that basis, and in 1671 a Seventh Day Baptist Church was organized.
John Clarke, "the most important American Baptist of the century in which he lived," arrived in Boston in November 1637, just after Anne Hutchinson's conviction. He at once identified
9 The controversy is thus described by John Callender (An Historical Discource, p. 61.): "About the year 1653 or 54 there was a Division in the Baptist Church at Providence about the Rite of laying on of Hands, which some pleaded for as essentially necessary to Church Communion, and the others would leave indifferent. Hereupon they walked in two Churches, one under Mr. C. Browne, Mr. Wickenden, etc., the other under Mr. Thomas Olwy, but laying on of Hands at length generally obtained."
10 Chad Brown, the most important early leader in Providence Church, was the ancestor of the Brown Brothers who gave their name to Rhode Island College.
himself with the defeated supporters of the "Covenant of Grace," and was immediately recognized as a leader. After a winter spent with the Wheelwright colony at Exeter, in what is now New Hampshire, he and Coddington went to Providence where, as it has been noticed, he was kindly received by Williams, who helped them secure Aquidneck Island as a location for a colony. In 1639 he, Coddington, and eleven others established Newport at the south end of the island.
Clarke was a well-educated physician and a preacher, though where he came by both professions is unknown. His influence at Newport equaled that of Coddington, and, of the two, Clarke was undoubtedly the abler. In 1651 he accompanied Williams to England to protect the interests of the colony against Coddington's scheme to make Aquidneck independent, with himself as Governor for life. Williams, having succeeded in defeating Coddington's claims to an independent patent, soon returned, but Clarke remained nearly twelve years and, in 1663, secured the charter for Rhode Island. Returning to the colony in 1664 he was chosen Deputy Governor three times. He also resumed his ministry at the Newport Church, which he continued to his death. Though his writings are less important than are those of Roger Williams, his views on liberty of conscience are equally forthright. In his petition to Charles II (1662) for the Rhode Island charter is this statement: "A most flourishing Civill State may stand, yea, and best be maintained . . . with full liberty in religious concernments."11
John Clarke's name is perhaps best known in connection with the whipping of Obediah Holmes by the Massachusetts authorities, and by the little book he published in England in 1652 entitled Ill Newes from New England,12 in which is described the intolerance and cruelty practiced by the Massachusetts authorities upon the Baptists.
All those infected by the Baptist virus in New England did not find their way to Rhode Island. The Salem Church furnished several
11 For Clarke's achievements in England, see Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, Vol. II, pp. 40-48.
12 The full title of John Clarke's book is: III Newes from New England: or A Narrative of New England Persecution, Wherein is declared, That while Old England is becoming New, New England is becoming Old, London: 1652.
notable cases. One was that of Lady Deborah Moody, characterized by Winthrop as "a wise and anciently religious woman, who being taken with the error of denying baptism of infants was dealt with (1642) by the elders and admonished by the Salem Church." After her expulsion from the church she departed for New Netherland with a large number of Lynn settlers "infected with Anabaptism." There she established a settlement at Graves-end, Long Island, and later had a part in forming a Baptist Church. Another Baptist heretic was William Witter, a resident of Lynn, who was arraigned before the Salem Court (February 1644) for calling the baptism of infants "a badge of the whore." The next year he was before the court again charged with saying "that they who stayed while a child is baptized do worship the devil." Cases of persons refusing to present their newborn infants for baptism became increasingly common, and in November 1644 the Massachusetts Court enacted a law making it a crime punishable with banishment for any to deny the validity of infant baptism, or for holding any of the other views peculiar to the Anabaptists.13
PLYMOUTH colony seems to have been a veritable hotbed of incipient Baptists, and although charges were brought against numerous individuals none were actually punished. Obediah Holmes was one of the principal disturbers of the orthodox peace in Massachusetts. He was the leader of a group of Baptist converts at Seekonk who were carrying on their worship in private houses. Threats of arrest and punishment led them to remove to Newport, where they swelled the membership of Clarke's church.
Persecution of Baptists in Massachusetts reached a climax in
13 Baptist historians have denied that the early American Baptists entertained Anabaptist views. The term "Anabaptist" was used loosely by the Massachusetts authorities to designate any one who opposed the Massachusetts system, in much the same way that the term "Communist" is used today to apply to all who advocate any change in the economic system. A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, New York: 1894. Chapter iv.
1651, when John Clarke, John Crandall and Obediah Holmes journeyed to Lynn, at the request of the aged William Witter, to administer baptism and the Lord's Supper to a group of his neighbors who had adopted Baptist views. While in the midst of their worship in Witter's house on the Sabbath, two constables arrived with a warrant to arrest "certain erronious [sic] persons being strangers." The constables insisted on taking the prisoners to the church, in spite of Clarke's warning that if they were forced to attend the meeting they would "be constrained to declare that they could not hold communion with them." To this the constable replied, "That is nothing to me, I have not power to compel you to speak or to be silent." The prisoners sat with their hats on until they were forcibly removed by the constable and when the "praying, singing and Preaching" were ended Clarke arose to explain wherein the Baptists differed from the Standing order. His attempt, however, was soon silenced by the minister. The next day they were taken to Boston and placed in prison. A few days later they were taken to the court and, as Clarke states, "without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God, or man," they were sentenced. In the course of the trial the Governor called them Anabaptists, when Clarke exclaimed, "I disown the name, I am neither an Anabaptist, nor a Pedobaptist, nor a Catabaptist." He admitted, however, that he had baptized many, but had never rebaptized any. At this the Governor exclaimed, "You deny the former baptism and make all our worship a nullity," all of which Clarke admitted. The exchanges between Clarke and the Governor ended with this warning from Clarke: "If the testimony which I hold forth be true, and according to the mind of God, which I undoubtedly affirm it is, then it concerns you to look to your standing."
When it came Crandall's and Holmes' turn to be examined they were equally outspoken, which only made Governor Endicott the more vindictive. Heavy sentences were then imposed; Clarke was fined L20, to be paid before the next meeting of the Court or be well whipped; Holmes was assessed a fine of L30 or be well whipped; Crandall's fine was L5 or a whipping. When Clarke remonstrated against the severity of the sentences the Governor
exclaimed, "You have denied ‘Infants Baptism,’ and deserve death" and added further that "he would not have such trash brought into their jurisdiction." He accused them of going up and down insinuating their teaching into those that were weak, but, he exclaimed, "you cannot maintain it before our ministers, you may try, and discourse with them." This Clarke interpreted as a challenge to a public debate, and on his release attempted to arrange for such a public meeting, but the Governor denied that he had any such intention. The fines of Clarke and Crandall were paid by friends unknown to them, but Holmes refused to allow it in his case, and he was publicly whipped with a three-corded whip. When the cruel punishment was ended Holmes said to the Magistrates, "you have struck me as with roses."14 And just as the blood of the early Christian martyrs was the seed of the Church, so the blood of Obediah Holmes served to fertilize New England soil for the raising up of other Baptists, for, he said, "before my return [to Newport] some submitted to the Lord, and were baptized, and others were put upon the way of enquiry."
Soon after the appearance of Clarke's Ill Newes from New England (1652), Sir Richard Saltonstall, one of the first Magistrates of Massachusetts, who had since returned to England, wrote to John Cotton and John Wilson the following rebuke:It doth not a little grieve my spirit to hear what sad things are reported daily of your tyranny and persecution in New England, as that you fine, whip and imprison men for their consciences. First you compel such to come into your assemblies as you know will not join you in your worship, and when they show their dislike thereof or witness against it, then you stir up your magistrates to punish them for such (as you conceive) their public affronts.... We ... hoped that the Lord would have given you so much light and love there, that you might have been eyes to God's people here, and not to practice those courses in a wilderness, which you went so far to prevent. These rigged-------------
14 Holmes wrote an account of his arrest, trial and whipping, in a letter to the Baptists of London, which Clarke printed in his Ill Newes from New England, pp. 7-23. See also Isaac Backus, A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, 3 Vols., Boston: 1777-1796, Chapter IV, "An Account of Mr. Clarke and Mr. Holmes and other sufferings at Boston," largely based on Clarke's account.
ways have laid you low in the hearts of the saints. I do assure you I have heard them pray in the publick assemblies that the Lord would give you meek and humble spirits, not to strive so much for uniformity, as to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of Peace.John Cotton, in his reply, repudiated any responsibility in the affair, though he proceeded to justify all that was done, and ended his letter with,You know not if you think we came into this wilderness to practice those courses here which we fled from in England. We believe there is a vast difference between men's inventions and God's institutions; we fled from Men's inventions ... we compel none to men's inventionssince, of course. New England's institutions are of God's making. "Nevertheless" he continues,I tell you the truth, we have tolerated in our church some anabaptists, some antinomians and some seekers, and do so still at this day. We are far from arrogating infallibility of judgement to ourselves or affecting uniformity; uniformity God never requireth, infallibility he never granted us.Which seems to indicate that the "unmitred pope of a pope hating people" was beginning to have some faint misgivings.
The whipping of Obediah Holmes and the heavy fines imposed upon Clarke and Crandall, may well have been one of the influences which caused Henry Dunster, the highly respected President of Harvard College, to come out in the open against infant baptism. But whatever the cause, in the words of Cotton Mather, this is what happened:That good man who was the President of the College was unaccountably fallen into the briars of Antipedobaptism, and being briar'd in the scruples of that persuasion, he not only forebare to present an infant of his own unto the baptism of our Lord, but also thought himself under some obligation to bear his testimony in some sermons against the administration of baptism to any whatsoever.But if Dunster had been willing to keep his views on infant baptism to himself, as doubtless many others were doing at that
time, he could have remained at Harvard College to the end of his days. For this is exactly what the General Court and the Overseers of the college desired him to do, as the College had prospered under his administration, and he was universally liked. Accordingly the Overseers refused to accept his first resignation. But to Henry Dunster the evils of Pedobaptistn were so real that nothing could persuade him to hide his new-found light under a bushel. Within a month after the refusal of his resignation (July 30, 1654), Dunster brought the whole matter to a climax by interrupting the baptism of infants in the Cambridge Church, to protest against it as not in accordance with the institution as established by Christ, and under six heads proceeded to answer the arguments in its favor which had just been advanced by the minister in his sermon. There was no question, now, in the minds of the authorities as to what must be done, and they proceeded at once to do it. Dunster's resignation was demanded, and at the April (1655) meeting of the General Court he was tried and convicted of disturbing public worship and sentenced to be publicly admonished.15 It is an interesting fact that his successor to the Harvard presidency was Charles Chauncy, who had but a short time before raised a considerable rumpus at Scituate because of his defense of immersion of infants; and it is also significant that Dunster should be called to succeed him at Scituate, another indication of the greater liberality prevailing in the Plymouth colony. Outside Rhode Island, the Baptist cause made small progress in New England until toward the end of the century. A group of Welsh Baptists, with their minister John Myles, fleeing from persecution which followed the enactment of die Act of Uniformity of 1662, found refuge in the Plymouth colony at Rehobath, where a church was formed. On the complaint of the Congregational minister of the town, Myles and some of his leading members were arraigned before the Court (July 1667) for setting up a public meeting without knowledge or permission. On this charge they were convicted and fined, but the Court advised that if they removed their meeting to some place where they would not
15 A detailed account of the Dunster affair will be found in Newman, op, cit., Chapter v, "President Dunster and the Baptists."
prejudice any other (Congregational) church and gave reasonable satisfaction as to their principles, the government might give its approval. Accordingly, not long afterwards, a large tract of land was set aside for them on the Rhode Island border where they set up their church, naming the place Swansea after their old Welsh home.
About the same time (1665) a Baptist Church was being formed in Boston, under the leadership of Thomas Gould and several others who had been excommunicated from the State Church. But in contrast to the peaceful development of the Swansea Baptists, the Boston Baptists were compelled to travel the thorny road of persecution for twenty-five years. The first charge against them was that they admitted to membership excommunicated persons from the Churches of the Standing Order. This led to the disfranchisement of all Baptists who were freemen. The next year (1666) Gould and several others were fined by the County Court of Cambridge and required to give bond to appear before the General Court. On their refusal they were thrown into prison where they remained for nearly a year. And so it went on, year after year, until even some of the Massachusetts officials began to oppose such measures, and increasing protests from English Congregationalists and Baptists and finally from the King himself, brought it to an end.
The following extract from a letter written by Robert Mascall, an English Congregationalist (March 25, 1669), is typical of the type of protests coming out of England:Oh, how it grieves and affects us that New England should persecute! will you not give what you take? ... must we force our interpretation upon others. Pope-like? ... And what principles is persecution grounded upon? Domination and infallibility. This we teach is truth. But are we infallible, and have we the government? God made none, no not the Apostles who could not err, to be lords over faith; therefore what monstrous pride is this? ... Oh, wicked and monstrous principle! ... And what! is that horrid principle crept into precious New England, who have felt what persecution is ...? Have not those (Baptists) run equal hazards with you for the enjoyment of their liberties; and how do you cast a reproach upon us, that are Congregational
137in England, and furnish our adversaries with weapons upon us? We blush and are filled with shame and confusion of face, when we hear of these things.The letter closes with:Dear Brother, we here do love and honor them [Baptists], hold familiarity with them, and take sweet council together; they lie in the bosom of Christ and therefore ought to lie in our bosoms, In a word, we freely admit into our churches; few of our churches but many of our members are Anabaptists; I mean Baptized again. ... Anabaptists are neither spirited nor principled to injure nor hurt your government nor your liberties. . . .16
An expression of amazement from a group of Baptist ministers in England, that Protestants should persecute Protestants in New England, brought a reply (1681) from Samuel Willard, the learned minister of the South Church in Boston, to which Increase Mather contributed the preface. Mather admits that Protestants ought not to persecute Protestants, but insists that it cannot be denied "that Protestants may punish Protestants," and asks the English Baptist brethren to bear in mind the differences in the situations in New England and England, stating that, "that which is needful to ballast a great ship [England], will sink a small boat [New England]" In Willard's argument is this choice bit:They [Baptists] say baptized persons are true matter of a visible church, and they say those that were only sprinkled in their infancy were never baptized; and will not this undermine the foundation of all the churches in the world but theirs? and what more pernicious! . . . Experience tells us that such a rough thing as a New England Anabaptist is not to be handled over tenderly.-------------
16 Isaac Backus,
op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 390-395. Another letter bearing the same date was sent to the Massachusetts Governor, signed by the most prominent Congregational ministers in London, ending with, "Only we make it our hearty request to you that you would trust God with his truths and ways so far, as to suspend all rigorous proceedings in corporal restraints or punishments, on persons that differ from you, and practice the principles of their dissent without danger, or disturbance to the civil peace of the place."
Ibid., p. 397.
The senseless persecution of Baptists in Massachusetts came to an end with the close of the seventeenth century. The new Charter of 1691 granted "liberty of conscience to all Christians, except Papists" but the taxation of dissenters for the support of the ministry of the Standing Order went on until 1728. In that year an act was passed exempting Anabaptists and Quakers "from being taxed for and toward the support of ministers" but in order to secure exemption Baptists were required to obtain certificates signed by two principal members of that persuasion, "which were to be presented to the town officials."
In Connecticut also, Baptists had gained the right, not only to worship in their own meeting houses (1708), but, in 1729, to secure exemption from contributing to the support of the Established ministry, or from paying any tax levied for the building of meeting houses.17
The ending of the war against Baptists in Massachusetts was symbolized in 1718 by an invitation to Increase and Cotton Mather to take part in the ordination and installation of Elisha Callender as the minister of the Baptist Church in Boston. Cotton Mather's ordination sermon, entitled "Good Men United," was a plea for unity as far as conscience will allow and for toleration when agreements cannot be achieved.
Baptist historians have credited the participation of the Mathers in Elisha Callender's ordination as the immediate cause of the bringing to Harvard College of the Thomas Hollis benefactions, the largest received during the entire colonial period. Thomas Hollis, a wealthy English Baptist merchant of liberal views, having learned of the Mathers' good will shown to the Boston Baptists, was led, the year following, to begin his benefactions to Harvard, in the hope that the two denominations might be led to a closer cooperation. This might well have been the determining factor, although Hollis' interest in Harvard College dates from 1690, when he became a trustee of the estate of an uncle who had made Harvard College the object of a bequest. He also had met Increase Mather, during the latter's stay in England, and soon
17 Colonial Records of Connecticut, Vol. V, p. 50; VII, pp. 237-257.
after had made Harvard the recipient of a legacy in his own will. It is significant, however, that his gifts began in 1719, after he had assured himself that the "views" of the corporation were "catholic and liberal" And the participation of the Mathers in a Baptist ordination might well have clinched the matter in his mind, that Harvard College was "more catholic and free in its religious sentiments than any other institution existing at that period." He knew full well how Baptists had been feared and despised in Massachusetts, but he did not let that deter him. Nor were the professorships he endowed - Theology and Mathematics - or the scholarships he established, hedged about with petty conditions or dogmatic safeguards. The only requirements laid down were that Baptists should not be disqualified from holding either the scholarships or the professorships, and the only subscription for the professorships was to be a "belief that the Scripture of the Old and New Testaments are the only perfect rule of faith and manners."18 It was a fortunate circumstance for Harvard that the first in her long life of generous donors was a liberal-minded Baptist, who held firmly to the first and greatest of the Baptist principles - freedom of conscience.
Even after persecution ceased the Baptists made little progress in New England until the Great Awakening created a new religious situation, and gave new opportunity for Baptist expansion. A Baptist society was formed at Kittery, in the province of Maine, in 1682, made up of English Baptist immigrants, under the leadership of William Scriven, who received ordination at the hands of the Baptist Church in Boston. But it was so harried by fines and imprisonments that Scriven removed to South Carolina, taking some of the Kittery members with him, By 1735 only four Baptist churches had been formed in Connecticut, the first being that at Groton which was constituted in 1705. In 1740 there were in all New England but twenty-two Baptist churches, and of these eleven were in Rhode Island.
18 David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 2 Vols., Boston: 1813. Vol. I, pp. 401-442. Newman, op. cit., pp. 196-197. An extended account of Thomas Hollis and his benefactions to Harvard College may be found in Josiah Quincy, The History of Harvard University, 2 Vols., Cambridge: 1840. Vol. I, Chapter xii.
BAPTISTS IN THE MIDDLE COLONIES
BAPTIST BEGINNINGS in the Middle Colonies came just as persecution was ending in New England. In the Quaker colonies where freedom of conscience prevailed, the Baptists flourished from the beginning, and Philadelphia soon became the principal Baptist center in the colonies. The first Pennsylvania Baptists were immigrants from Wales, and "the first church in the Province of any note and permanency," to use the words of Morgan Edwards, was that at Pennepek, organized about the year 1686. It drew its membership from numerous scattered communities, some as far away as Burlington, New Jersey, Chester and Philadelphia. As these communities organized churches of their own, the Pennepek Church became the mother of many daughters. The Welsh Tract Church (1701), as the name implies, was also made up of Welsh immigrants, who had formed themselves into a church before leaving Wales. The Church remained so dominantly Welsh that until 1732 the records were kept in the Welsh language. Another Welsh Church was formed northwest of Philadelphia in 1711, known as the Great Valley Church, as was also the Montgomery Church formed in 1719. The church in Philadelphia was the eighth Baptist Church organized in Pennsylvania and dates from 1698. It was made up of a group of English Baptists.
The Pennsylvania Baptists, as did the Anglicans, profited from the Keithian controversy among the Quakers. With Keith's defection to the Episcopalians his followers were soon scattered. Some followed Keith into the Anglican fold, some returned to the Penn Quakers, and not a few found their way into the Baptist fellowship. "These," to use Morgan Edwards' words, "by resigning themselves to the guidance of Scripture began to find water in the commission; bread and wine in the command,"19 with the result that from no baptism at all, they now accepted immersion and the
19 Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania, both British and German, etc., Philadelphia: 1770. Edwards was the Baptist minister in Philadelphia from 1761 to 1771.
Lord's Supper as well as foot washing and other primitive practices.
By the opening of the eighteenth century Philadelphia had become the strongest Baptist center in the colonies, and because there were several Baptist churches in the vicinity, the custom arose of holding "general meetings" made up of all Baptists who could attend. In 1707 the "meeting" had become a delegated body, five churches having sent representatives. This was the origin of the Philadelphia Association, which speedily developed into an agency of commanding significance among American Baptists. Up to this time the American Baptists had been chiefly Arminian in their doctrinal position, but the growing importance of the Philadelphia group of churches, largely influenced by the Calvinist emphasis, gradually displaced the Arminianism of the earlier New England churches. In 1742 the London Confession was adopted by the Philadelphia Association, and through its expanding influence it set the theological pattern for the American Baptists throughout the remainder of the colonial period.
By the seventeen fifties three Baptist churches had been formed in Virginia, in spite of Anglican opposition; the oldest, Opekon in Berkeley county, dating from 1743, the Ketockton and Smith's Creek, organized in 1756. These early Virginia churches were all members of the Philadelphia Association. The Carolinas were fertile soil for the Baptists, principally because of the wide toleration established by the proprietors. Present-day Charleston was the seat of the oldest Baptist Church in either of the Carolinas, which was in existence in 1699 and may have been formed as early as 1683. In 1708 it had ninety members and was active enough to elicit the condemnation of the S. P. G. Missionary.20 A second church on Port Royal Sound was formed about 1700 and seems also to have come from the activities of William Scriven, who was driven from Kittery, Maine. Baptists were among the first comers to North Carolina, though the first fully
20 Robert B. Semple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, Richmond: 1810, is the fullest account of the earliest activities of Virginia Baptists. Two recent books, Leah Townsend, South Carolina Baptists, Florence, South Carolina: 1935, and George W. Paschal, History of North Carolina Baptists, Vol. I, 1663-1805, are both excellent studies.
organized Church was not formed until 1746 in what is now Camden county. Though the Baptists had gained a foothold in all the Southern Colonies by the middle of the century, their greatest expansion in the south did not begin until the latter third of that century, with the coming of the Separate or revivalistic Baptists. This, however, is a part of the story of the Great Colonial Awakenings.
[From William Warren Sweet, Religion in Colonial America, 1942, reprint, pp. 127-142. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Baptist Bios
Baptist History Homepage