Brief History of the First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia, 1840
THE First Baptist Church, Richmond, was constituted in the year 1780, not long previous to the surrender of the British army under Lord Cornwallis. In the military operations attending this decisive blow, which secured the blessings of liberty and independence to so many millions, the inhabitants of Richmond took a deep interest, and many of them were vigorous actors in this hallowed contest. While some were thus engaged in securing the civil liberties of their fellow-citizens, others were yet more gloriously employed in founding a church of the living God, at a period when there was no religious society in Richmond but that still desecrated by alliance with the State. This little band scarcely exceeded, at the time of its constitution, the apostolic number; it consisted of only fourteen members. They were united together under the pastoral care of Elder Joshua Morris, a member of Boar Swamp, from the neighborhood of which he removed to Riehmond to undertake the charge of this infant church. The congregation assembled in a building (long since removed) situated at the Northeast angle formed by the junction of Cary street with Second Street. Elder Morris continued his labors during several years, but subsequently removed to Kentucky.
In 1788, Elder John Courtney took charge of the church; and his ministry appears to have been very much blessed. Could the writer have obtained the requisite documents, it would have been very pleasing to trace the gradual progress of the church; but in this he has only been able to succeed partially. About 20 years after Elder Courtney had become pastor, we find from a record preserved in Semple's History, that the number of members had increased to 560. At this time, also, there were several of the brethren licensed preachers. In the year 1810, Elder John Brice was associated with Elder Countney; upon his resignation in 1820, Elder Andrew Broaddus sustained for a few months the same relation to the church; after which Elder Brice resumed his co-pastorate. Upon his finally removing in 1822, Elder Henry Keeling was chosen co-pastor, and continued to discharge the duties of that office till after the decease of Elder Courtney. It was on the 18th of December, 1824, that this venerable servant of Jesus found, that while to him to live had been Christ, yet to die was gain. He had faithfully served the church for thirty-six years, though bodily infirmities much diminished the frequency of his public labors, and for the two last years entirely suspended them.
In June, 1820, about five years previous to the decease of Elder Courtney, 17 members were dismissed for the purpose of forming a second Baptist church, which, from this small beginning, has gradually increased, till it numbers 510 members: a result which tends greatly to promote the prosperity of the denomination, and which calls for devout thankfulness to the Author of all good.
In the month of January, 1825, Elder Keeling resigned, and in March Elder John Kerr accepted
the vacant charge. In the years 1826-7, the church was favored with a gracious revival, wh1ch resulted in the addition of above 200 members; and in 1831, during a series of protracted meetings, the labors of Elder Kerr, assisted by Elders Baptist and Fife, were blessed to an extent still more remarkable; in a period of less than 12 months, more than 500 members were added, 217 of whom were white persons.
In the years 1831-2, a painful state of things existed, chiefly resulting from the infusion of the sentiments of Mr. A. Campbell, who, not having yet avowed the most obnoxious of his errors, had unhappily been afforded the opportunity of gradually disseminating them, by his frequently occupying the pulpit during his residence in Richmond as one of the delegates in the Convention for remodelling the Constitution of the State. The result was, the separation of above 70 members, who formed themselves into a society upon the principles they had been led to adopt, but whom the church determined not to fellowehip.
At the termination of the year 1832, Elder Kerr resigned his pastoral charge; but early in the year following, at the urgent desire of the church, partially resumed it, till they should succeed in obtaining another pastor. In May 1833, Elder I. T. Hinton accepted that appointment. During the following winter, a protracted meeting, held in conjunction with the Second church, during which, brethren Hyter, Fife, Jeter and Coleman, labored abundantly, was attended with the Divine blessing, and a considerable addition to both churches.
In the Spring of 1835, Elder Hinton resigned his charge and removed to Illinois. In January following, Elder J. B. Jeter became the pastor of the
church. A good degree of harmony has continued to prevail among the brethren. Gradual, but not large accessions, have been made to the white members; and numerous additions to the colored.
The church, having procured an eligible and commanding site on H street, a few squares above their present location, are engaged in erecting a spacious and commodious house of worship. The church commenced this enterprize mainly to furnish greater opportunity for the religious instruction and worship ol colored people, by relinquishing the old house to their exclusive use.
In all the benevolent plans, for extending the kingdom of Christ, by the circulation of Bibles, Tracts, and the maintenance of Missionaries, &c., the church
areis united and liberal.
In reviewing the past, there is much cause for gratitude; and in contemplating the future, for encouragement. Let every member faithfully perform his duty, and the church may confidently expect continued and increased prosperity.
[The duties of the members, officers and names of members are in the pages between these two sections.
J. B. JETER was pastor; the deacons were: A. THOMAS, JAMES SIZER, RICHARD REINS, PETER WINSTON.]
TOTAL NUMBER OF MEMBERS.Male. Female. Total. First District, 28 64 92 Second District, 30 54 84 Third District, 21 83 104 Fourth District, 27 66 93 106 267 373 Colored members, about 1700 ==============================
[From MANUAL OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, RICHMOND, VIRGINIA FOR 1840, via repository.sbts.edu - Adam Winters, archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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