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The Society’s Beginnings

The American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS) is the oldest Baptist historical society in the United States.  The Society was established in 1853 as a Department of the American Baptist Publication Society (the antecedent of today’s Educational Ministries).  The motion to organize ABHS was offered by John Mason Peck, pioneer Baptist home missionary.  Its purpose was to collect "all such books, pamphlets, periodicals, statistical papers and manuscripts as pertain to the history of the churches and other societies, the biographies of individuals and all kinds of documents that relate to ecclesiastical history."  In 1862, ABHS was chartered under the laws of Pennsylvania and thus became an independent entity.

Out of the Ashes

On February 2, 1896, a fire totally destroyed the American Baptist Historical Society collection, which was housed in the office building of the Publication Society at 1420 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.  In June of that year, Samuel B. Colgate, a Baptist layman and former president of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, gave his personal collection of Baptist historical documents to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.  This gift was accompanied by the sum of $20,000  "to be kept invested as a separate and permanent fund and the income to be applied to the maintenance, continuance and increase of said collection."  In 1948, the collection and the Society office was moved to Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York, where the Samuel Colgate Library of the American Baptist Historical Society is still housed.   In 1984 official records of the major denominational boards were moved to the ABHS Archives Center, located in the new Mission Center at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

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