A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author
According to Morgan Edwards?s account,* there were some individual Baptists in this State as early as 1695; but it appears that the first church which ever existed within its bounds, was gathered by one Paul Palmer, about the year 1727, at a place called Perquimans, on Chowan-river, towards the northeast corner of the State. Mr. Palmer is said to have been a native of Maryland, was baptized at Welsh tract, in Delaware, by Owen Thomas, the pastor of the church in that place; was ordained in Connecticut; was some time in New-Jersey, and then in Maryland; he at last removed to North-Carolina, where he gathered the church above mentioned, with which he continued, not, however, without some difficulties, until his death. He appears to have been the instrument of doing some good, but was not so happy as to leave a good character behind him. Mr. John Comer, of Newport, Rhode-Island, maintained a correspondence with him for a number of years, and frequently makes mention of him in his MS. journal, in respectful terms. [I found one of Mr. Palmer?s letters to Mr. Comer, dated 1729, among Mr. Backus?s papers, which, with Mr. Comer?s journal, have helped me to a number of dates and articles, which I could not find elsewhere.]
[* Mr. Edwards introduces his history of the Baptists in this State (then Province) in the following familiar and humourous manner: "Next to Virginia southward is North-Carolina, a poor and unhappy Province, where superiors make complaints of the people, and the people of their superiors; which complaints, if just, show the body politic to be like that of Israel in the time of Isaiah, "From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head without any soundness, but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores." These complaints rose to hostilities at Almance-creek, May 16, 1771, where about 6000 appeared in arms and fought each other, 4000 Regulators killing three Tryonians, and 2000 Tryonians killing twelve Regulators, besides lodging in the trees an increctible number of balls, which the hunters have since piccked out, and therewith have killed more deer and turkies, than they killed of their atagonists. In this wretched Province have been some Baptists since the settlement in 1695, but no society of them till about the year," etc.]
Not long after Palmer settled in North-Carolina, one Joseph Parker, who was probably one of his disciples, began to preach in the same region; and though Palmer died before, yet Parker lived and continued his ministry on the old plan, till after the formation and also the renovation of the Kehukee Association, which will soon be described. [I find in Mr. Comer?s journal, mention made of one of Mr. Palmer?s letters, which was dated 1729; which stated, that the church which was gathered there two years before, at that time consisted of thirty-two members. This letter was signed by twelve brethren, by the names of Parkers, Copelands, Brinkleys, Parke, Darker, Welch, Evans, and Jordan. Here were three Parkers, two by the name of John, and one of Joseph, who was probably the man above referred to.]
About the year 1742, one William Sojourner, who is said to have been a most excellent man and useful minister, removed with many of his brethren from Burley, in Virginia, and settled on Kehukee creek, in the county of Halifax, about one hundred and twenty miles northwest of Newbern, and the same year planted the church in that place, which continues to the present day. This church has seen prosperous days, and has been a mother to many others, the number and names of which, I am not able to give.
Most of the first Baptists in North-Carolina are said to have emigrated from the church of Burley, in Virginia; but by the labors of Palmer, Parker, and Sojourner, and some other preachers, who were raised up in the parts, so many were brought to embrace their sentiments, that they, by about the year 1752 had increased to 16 churches. These churches had an annual interview, or yearly meeting, in which they inspected and regulated the general concerns of their community. These people were all General Baptists, and those of them who emigrated from England, came out from that community there. And although some of their ministers were evangelical and pure, and the members regular and devout; yet, on the whole, it appears to have been the most negligent and the least spiritual community of Baptists, which has arisen on the American continent. For so careless and indefinite were they in their requisitions, that many of their communicants were baptized and admitted into their churches, and even some of their ministers were introduced into their sacred functions, without an experimental acquaintance with the gospel, or without being required to possess it. It does not appear that they extended the bounds of their communion to any but those of their own order; but so loose and indefinite were their terms in other respects, that all, who professed a general belief in the truths of the gospel, submitted to baptism, and religiously demeaned themselves, were admitted to it.
In this situation, this cluster of churches continued, until more orthodox principles were introduced, and a spirit of reformation began to prevail, which finally leavened nearly the whole body, and transformed it into an Association of Calvinistick, or as they were then called, Regular Baptists. The faults and errors of this people were probably exaggerated by some of their zealous reformers; but viewing matters in their most favorable light, and admitting as many of their preachers and brethren as we can, to have been worthy of their functions and professions; yet they, as a body, were deeply involved in error, and needed much the renovation which we are about to describe.
The introduction of Calvinistick sentiments amongst them, which had the happy effect of purifying the churches, took place about the year 1751, and was caused partly by the preaching of Robert Williams of the Welchneck, in South-Carolina; partly by the conversation of a layman [I find the term layman used by Messrs. Edwards and Semple, and have therefore inserted it; but must confess, I have no fellowship with it, when used in its old discriminating sense]. commonly called the Sley-maker, whose name was William Wallis; but chiefly by the labors of John Gano, who visited them in the summer of 1754, and of Benjamin Miller and Peter P. Vanhorn, who went amongst them some time in the year after. Mr. Gano was sent out by the Philadelphia Association, with general and indefinite instructions, to travel in the southern States, etc. He, on his return, represented the melancholy condition of this people to the Association, who appointed Messrs. Miller and Vanhorn for the special purpose of instructing and reforming them. Mr. Gano appears to have shaken the old foundation, and begun the preparation of the materials which Messrs. Miller and Vanhorn organized into regular churches. His visit is thus described by Mr. Edwards: "On his arrival, he sent to the ministers, requesting an interview with them, which they declined, and appointed a meeting among themselves, to consult what to do. Mr. Gano, hearing of it, went to their meeting, and addressed them in words to this effect, "I have desired a visit from you, which, as a brother and a stranger, I had a right to expect; but as ye have refused, I give up my claim, and am come to pay you a visit." With that, he ascended into the pulpit, and read for his text the following words, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? " This text he managed in such a manner as to make some afraid of him, and others ashamed of their shyness. Many were convinced of errors, touching faith and conversion, and submitted to examination. One minister hearing this, (who stood well with himself) went to be examined, and intimated to his people, he should return triumphant. Mr. Gano heard him out, and then turned to his companion and said, "I profess, brother, this will not do: this man has yet the needful to seek." Upon which, the person examined hastened home, and upon being asked, how he came off? replied, "The Lord have mercy upon you, for this northern minister put a mene tekel upon me!"
By the labors of Mr. Gano, and also of Messrs. Miller and Vanhorn, a great work was effected among this people, which consisted not merely in the important business of reforming their creed and purifying their churches, but also in reviving the power of godliness amongst the erroneous and lukewarm professors, and in the conviction and conversion of many others. And what was left unfinished by them, was undertaken and carried on, with a very laudable zeal, by the ministers among themselves, some of whom were converted by their means, and most of whom caught, in a good degree, their spirit, and imitated their examples. Insomuch, that before the year 1765, all the ministers, (and they were now considerably numerous) except the two Parkers, Joseph and William, and a Mr. Winfield, and all the churches, excepting those under their care, which were not more than two or three, had embraced the principles of the reformation. The reformed churches having thus prepared the way, in the year 1765, by a previous appointment, convened at Kehukee, and organized themselves into an associated body, to which they gave the name of the Kehukee Association; which, as soon as it was formed, was admitted to the fellowship and correspondence of the Charleston Association, with which some of the constituent churches had united after their renovation. Jonathan Thomas, John Thomas, John Moore, John Burgess, William Burgess, Charles Daniel, William Walker, John Meglamre, James Abbington, Thomas Pope, and Henry Abbot, were the principal, if not all the ministers belonging to this Association at the time of its constitution.
About this time, the Separate Baptists had become very numerous, and were rapidly increasing in the upper regions of North-Carolina, and the adjoining parts of Virginia, where they had established a flourishing Association, which was called Sand-creek. The ministers of both these bodies, in their evangelical excursions, were brought to frequent interviews with each other; and, although they differed in some little matters, yet they united their zealous labors in the common cause of their Master, and an increasing fellowship for each other produced an increasing desire to be more closely united. The Kehukee Association made the first advances towards the union, and, in 1772, sent two of their elders, viz. Meglamre and Thomas, as deputies to the Separate Association, for the purpose of making overtures to effect it. The deputies were kindly received; they delivered their message, the object of which was briefly discussed. The Separate Association, in return, deputed two of their ministers, viz. Elijah Craig and David Thompson, to wait on the Kehukee Association, respecting the union which they had proposed. The embarrassments attending the union seem to have lain mostly with the Separates, who stated the following objections against their brethren of the Regular order: 1st. That they were not sufficiently strict in receiving church members. 2d. That they were too superfluous in dress. And, 3d. That their principles and practices were at variance; for although they believed that faith in Christ Jesus was essential to baptism, yet they retained many members in their churches, who, although they had then experienced converting grace, yet acknowledged themselves to have been baptized in a state of unbelief, by the careless Arminian preachers.
This last objection was declared to be the main bar to a complete union; and it was the more effectual, as it had been a matter of considerable embarrassment to a great number of the Kehukee ministers, who had many thoughts of attempting a reformation. This occurrence furnished them with a more favorable plea to make a beginning, which was accordingly done in the year 1774. At which time the Bertie church, under the pastoral care of Rev. Lemuel Burkitt, held a conference on the subject, in which they publickly proclaimed, that they would commune with none, who confessed they were baptized before conversion; alleging, that adult persons had no better claim to baptism, while they were in a state of impenitence and unbelief, than infants had. Mr. Burkitt?s church was followed by several others. But when the next Association met, which was in 1775, the Reformers met with severe opposition. The correctness of their proceedings was much questioned, and much dissension, arose. One party was blamed for doing too much; and the other for not doing enough. As they could not agree, both parties claimed the right of being called the Association. The Reformers, because what they had done, was exactly congenial to the original plan upon which the Association was organized. The other party, being most numerous, insisted that a majority ought to retain the power, and consequently the name of the Association. They moreover argued, that, whatever might be their principles, it was well known at the time of the constitution of the Association, that this evil existed in greater force than it did at that time; seeing none had been baptized in known unbelief, since the constitution; that, therefore, it was virtually agreed, that such as were then in orderly standing might retain their membership, lest more mischief should ensue by being too rigorous, than by submitting to small inconveniences for the sake of peace; that the Association having been in existence for eight or nine years, all of which time they had suffered the inconvenience, it was now rather strange, that they at this late period should attempt a revolution so likely to disturb the peace and harmony of the churches. To all these arguments it was answered, that to them it was a matter of conscience, which they could not relinquish without wounding their own souls. As neither side would give way, things came to extremities. Each party organized a distinct Association. The Reformers kept possession of the meeting-house, whilst the opposite party retired, first to the woods, and on the second day procured a private house in the neighborhood. All attempts at reconciliation proved ineffectual during this session. Each party transacted their own business, of which, however, very little was done. These party broils were exceedingly afflicting to the pious on both sides. It would appear from the arguments on the old side, that many of them did not deny the principles of this reformation, so much as the necessity, seeing it would unavoidably produce much confusion, and if let alone, the evil would of itself, in time, vanish. Those who had undertaken to effect the reformation, persevered, and finally accomplished their wishes. [The Regular Association dwindled, and finally came to nothing; partly by falling in with the Separates, and partly by other causes.]
In August, 1777, they held their first undisputed Association, at elder Bell?s meeting-house, in Sussex county, Virginia. They found, on assembling, that their strength had very much increased. Ten churches had sent letters and delegates, of which it appeared that six were Regulars, or the old side, and four were Separates; who, finding their former obstacles removing, and it being convenient, were incorporated with this Association. Of these ten churches, four were in Virginia, and six in North-Carolina.
The whole number of members was one thousand five hundred and ninety. They agreed now upon an abstract of principles, which was afterwards printed and published. In doctrine and discipline it did not substantially differ from the confession of faith generally received among the Baptists. They agreed to hold two Associations annually, and appointed the next at Burkitt?s meeting-house, the next May.
The Kehukee Association continued to meet regularly, and to increase rapidly, until the year 1790. At their October session for that year, it was found that there were no less than sixty-one churches, having more than five thousand members. Several ineffectual attempts, previous to this, had been made to divide it, and the number of churches was now so large, that a division was almost indispensable. They accordingly agreed to divide by the State line, leaving forty-two churches in North-Carolina, and nineteen in Virginia. The Virginia churches met by their delegates for the first time, May 1791, at Portsmouth; and on that account their body took the name of the Virginia Portsmouth Association. Their time of meeting has been, from the first, on the fourth Saturday of May, annually. Their business has been transacted in peace and prudence. The number of churches has increased, but not so rapidly as in other Associations. While elder Meglamre lived, and attended the associations, he generally acted as moderator. After his death, or when he was absent, the duties of moderator most commonly devolved upon Rev. David Barrow, until his removal to Kentucky. [This account of the Kehukee Association has been taken almost verbatim the from Semple?s History of the Virginia Baptists.]
Only four years from the time that the Portsmouth Association was taken off, viz. in the year 1794, this mother body had again become so extensive, that another division was thought expedient, and was accordingly amicably effected; and Tar river was fixed on as the dividing line. All the churches above this river, and between it and the State of Virginia, remained with the old establishment, while those to the south of it were dismissed to form the Neuse Association.
The Kehukee Association, by this last division, was reduced to twenty-six churches; from this time it traveled on, without any special occurrence, until about 1801, when it began to enjoy a refreshing season, and for a few years following, was blessed with a share in that remarkable revival, which prevailed most powerfully and extensively through North-Carolina and many other States; so that in the course of two years from the commencement of the revival, there were 1500 persons baptized in the churches belonging to this Association.
It has already been related, that this body originated by a division of the Kehukee Association, in 1794. It contained, at the time of its organization, 23 churches, which were situated on both sides of the Neuse-river, from which circumstance it received its name; and they extended from Tar-river nearly to the southern boundary of North-Carolina. This Association comprized a number of the oldest churches in the country, and particularly the Tosniot church, in Edgecombe county, which was gathered by the General Baptists, in the early part of their settlement in the country; but it was reformed and constituted on the Calvinistick plan in 1758, at which time it contained three very worthy preachers, viz. John Thomas, and his two sons Jonathan and John. Jonathan is said to have been a man of considerable eminence in his day. This community was much refreshed and enlarged by that glorious revival which prevailed in the Kehukee Association.
CAPE FEAR ASSOCIATION
This Association is situated towards the southeast corner of the State. It took its name from the river on whose eastern branch the town of Wilmington is situated. It was formed in 1805, of churches which were dismissed from the Neuse Association.
This body takes its name from the town which is now the seat of government, near to which the churches are situated. It was formed in 1805 of only four churches, which were dismissed from the Neuse Association. It has been a flourishing little body, and in 1812 had increased to ten churches and almost a thousand members. There has lately been a very happy revival within the bounds of this Association. In 1812, Elder Robert T. Daniel, one of their ministers, wrote me, that upwards of a hundred members had been added by baptism to the church which he serves, in a little more than a year.
This Association receives its name from a river which rises in Virginia and empties into the Albemarle sound. It is situated on the northern borders of the state and near its northeast corner. It began in 1806, when eighteen churches, containing upwards of eighteen hundred members, were dismissed from the Kehukee Association, for the purpose of forming it. These churches were all on the east side of the Roanoke-river. Several hundreds have been added to the Chowan Association since it was formed, and yet it is not now so large as it was at first. The reason is, that multitudes from this region have emigrated to the western and more southern States.
This body was formed by a division of the Roanoke Association, in Virginia, in 1794. As a number of churches in that Association were situated in North-Carolina, they were all, by their request, dismissed at the time above mentioned, for the purpose of forming the one whose history we are now relating. I have not been able exactly to ascertain of how many churches it was at first composed, but the number was probably ten or twelve; nor have I learnt any thing of its proceedings, until the year 1806, when it was divided by a line running north and south, and the western division of churches united in forming the
This body took its name from a creek on which the churches are situated, which runs in a northern direction, and empties into Dan-river, near the line between the two States of Virginia and North-Carolina.
These two small Associations lie on the northern side of North-Carolina, and the churches in the Country-Line are in the counties of Rockingham, Caswell, Person, and Orange.
The churches in these Associations originated from the Separate Baptists, and some of the oldest of them were gathered by Samuel Harris, James Read, Thomas Mullins, and Dutton Lane.
An account of the origin and progress of the Sandy-Creek church and Association, and of the Baptist cause in this part of North-Carolina, up to the year 1770, has already been given in the general history of the Separate Baptists, under the Virginia head.
Shubael Stearns died at Sandy-Creek, in 1771, in the 66th year of his age. The Sandy-Creek Association, notwithstanding the embarrassments in which it had involved itself, by interfering too much in the concerns of the churches, still continued to hold its usual anniversary sessions.
In 1772, after its division, which is related in the general history of the Separates, it contained the nine following churches, viz. Sandy-Creek, Little-River, Shallow Fords, Slow-River, New-River, Southwest, Grassy-Creek, Trent, and Lockwood?s Folly. To these churches appertained ten branches, most of which were, in process of time, organized into district churches. The number of ministers at this time was twenty, only seven of whom were ordained. This Association held many sentiments formerly, and it also holds some now, which are of a peculiar nature, and which do not prevail among their brethren elsewhere. Many of its members were formerly thought to lean considerably towards the Arminian system; but they have now become generally, and some of them strenuously Calvinistick. They now hold that ministers ought not to be ordained until they are called to exercise the pastoral office. The practice of ordaining them as Evangelists, which by the Baptists is generally adopted, they reject. They formerly held nine Christian rites, viz. baptism, the Lord?s supper, love-feasts, laying on of hands, washing feet, anointing the sick, right hand of fellowship, kiss of charity, and devoting children. They also held to ruling elders, eldresses, deaconesses, and weekly communion. The nature and design of all the above-enumerated rites and offices will be easily comprehended, except that of devoting children. This rite they founded on the circumstance of parents bringing little children to Christ, etc. It was thus performed: As soon as circumstances would permit, after the birth of the child, the mother carried it to meeting, when the minister either took it in his arms, or laid his hands on it, thanked God for his mercy, and invoked a blessing on the child, at which time it received its name. This rite, which was by many satirically called a dry christening [Virginia Chronicle, p. 42], prevailed not only in the Sandy-Creek Association, but in many parts of Virginia.
It must not be understood, that all the churches in this body were strenuous, or even uniform, in the observance of this long list of rites, all of which, however, appear to be suggested by the Scriptures; nor did those who maintained the whole of them, refuse communion with their brethren, who neglected a part; and this indifference in some has been succeeded by a general neglect in all, so that the greatest part of the nine Christian rites, and especially those of them which were of a peculiar nature, together with the offices of eldresses and deaconesses have fallen into disuse. But the ordinance, as they esteem it, of laying-on-of-hands, and the office of ruling elders they still maintain.
This Association has also altered its mode as to the frequency of administering the Lord?s Supper, and has adopted that which is generally pursued by other brethren elsewhere.
It will be recollected, that when the great body of the Separate Baptists was divided, in the year 1770, that the Sandy-Creek Association became one of the three grand divisions; but it has not prospered so largely, nor branched out so extensively, as the other two. The only Association which has been formed from it, and that but in part, was the Holston, in the State of Tennessee. But it has been the nursery of many worthy ministers and brethren, who have emigrated to the western country and more southern States; and although it has, at times, been reduced almost to the lowest ebb of religious enjoyment, yet it has, at other times, been blessed with the outpourings of the Divine Spirit, and the joyful enlargement of its borders. Two very comfortable and extensive revivals had been experienced in this Association, since the death of Mr. Stearns, before the one about to be mentioned. But by deaths and removals it was, at the close of the eighteenth century, in every respect much reduced. The ministers had become few in number, and the churches small and languid; iniquity greatly abounded in the land, and the love of many had waxen cold. But towards the close of the year 1800, that astonishing work which had been prevailing a short time in Kentucky and other parts, made a sudden and unexpected entrance amongst them, and was attended with most of the new and unusual appearances, which in many places it assumed. This work was not confined to the Baptists, but prevailed, at the same time, amongst the Methodists and Presbyterians, both of which denominations were considerably numerous in the parts. These two last denominations, soon after the commencement of the revival, united in their communion and CAMP-MEETINGS. The Baptists were strongly solicited to embark in the general communion scheme; but they, pursuant to their consistent (many call them rigid) principles, declined a compliance. But they had camp or field-meetings amongst themselves, and many individuals of them united with the Methodists and Presbyterians in theirs. The Baptists established camp-meetings from motives of convenience and necessity, and relinquished them as soon as they were no longer needful. Their meeting-houses are generally small, and surrounded with groves of wood, which they carefully preserve, for the advantage of the cooling shade, which they afford in the heat of summer. In these groves the stages were erected, around which the numerous congregation encamped; and when they could be accommodated in the meeting-houses, to them they repaired. A circumstance which led the people to come prepared to encamp on the ground was, that those who lived adjacent to the place of meeting, although willing to provide for the refreshment, as far as they were able, of the numerous congregations which assembled; yet, in most cases, they would have found it impracticable; and furthermore, they wished to be at the meetings themselves, what time they must have stayed at home for the purpose. The people, therefore, would be advised by their ministers and others, at the first camp-meetings, to come to the next and all succeeding ones, prepared to accommodate and refresh themselves. In this way, camp-meetings were instituted amongst the Baptists.
In nearly the same way, meetings of a similar nature were established by the united body of Methodists and Presbyterians in these parts; but like many other things produced on extraordinary occasions, they continued after the call for them had ceased. Their efficacy was by many too highly estimated. They had witnessed at them, besides much confusion and disorder, many evident and remarkable displays of divine power; and their ardor in promoting them, after the zeal which instituted them had abated, indicated that they considered them the most probable means of effecting a revival. From these motives (I am induced to think) camp-meetings have been, and are still, industriously kept up by the Methodists throughout the United States. It is well known that they take much pains, by giving lengthy notice of their approach, by advertising them in newspapers, etc. to collect as large an assemblage of people as possible, and then, by preconcerted and artful manoeuvres, and by a mechanical play upon the passions, to produce that animation and zeal, which, at the times above-mentioned, were spontaneous and unaffected.
In the progress of the revival among the Baptists, and, especially, at their camp-meetings, there were exhibited scenes of the most solemn and affecting nature; and in many instances there was heard at the same time, throughout the vast congregation, a mingled sound of prayer, exhortation, groans, and praise. The fantastick exercise of jerking, dancing, etc. in a religious way, prevailed much with the united body of Methodists and Presbyterians, towards the close of the revival; but they were not introduced at all among the Baptists in these parts. But falling down under religious impressions was frequent among them. Many were taken with these religious epilepsies, if we may so call them, not only at the great meetings, where those scenes were exhibited, which were calculated to move the sympathetick affections; but also about their daily employments, some in the fields, some in their houses, and some when hunting their cattle in the woods. And in some cases, people were thus strangely affected when alone; so that if some played the hypocrite, with others the exercise must have been involuntary and unaffected. And, besides falling down, there were many other expressions of zeal, which in more moderate people would be considered enthusiastick and wild. The above relation was given me by Rev. George Pope, the pastor of the church at Abbot?s Creek, who is a man of sense and moderation, and who, with many of his brethren, was much tried in his mind, and stood aloof from the work at its commencement; but it spread so rapidly and powerfully, that they soon discovered such evident marks of its being a genuine work of grace, notwithstanding its new and unusual appearances, that their doubts subsided, and they cordially and zealously engaged in forwarding and promoting it. Mr. Pope, in the course of the revival, baptized about 500 persons. Large numbers were also baptized by John Culpepper, William M?Gregore, and many others. But as the Minutes of the Association were not printed at this time, the total number of members cannot be now ascertained, yet it must have been very large. But a spirit of emigration has since much possessed the Baptists in these parts, so that the Association is now reduced to the number of members, which is stated in the table.
The Yadkin-river rises in the Alleghany mountains, and unites with the Rocky-river, in Anson county, North-Carolina, and from their junction the stream assumes the name of the Great Pedee.
The Yadkin Association received its name from that of the river above mentioned, and lies to the westward of the Sandy-Creek, and originated in the following manner. In the year 1786, eleven churches, which had been previously gathered about the head of the Yadkin and its waters, began to hold yearly conferences, as a branch of the Strawberry Association in Virginia. The proceedings of this conference were annually submitted to the Association to which it had attached itself, for their inspection, and were borne thither by delegates appointed for the purpose. But in 1790, the churches, composing this conference, were, upon their request, dismissed, and formed a distinct Association. The ministers belonging to this body at its commencement, were George M?Neal, John Cleaveland, William Petty, William Hammond, Cleaveland Caffee, Andrew Baker, and John Stone. This Association, like Sandy-Creek, transacted its business, or at least, held its sessions, for a number of years, without a moderator. Some of their scrupulous brethren, it seems, were opposed to order, or formality, as they esteemed it, in their religious proceedings, and pleaded that it was an infringement of Christian liberty, and too much like worldly assemblies, to have a moderator at their head, whom they must address when they spoke, and whose liberty they must request, etc. In 1793, Mr. John Gano, who then lived in Kentucky, visited this Association, and found many difficulties among them on account of these things. But he knew very well how to manage prejudices so whimsical and absurd, and prevailed on them to choose a moderator and establish rules, by which their business was afterwards conducted with much decorum. [Mr. Gano?s Life, p. 124.]
The church in the Jersey settlements in Rowan county is the oldest in the Yadkin Association, and was gathered by Mr. Gano in 1758, three years after the Sandy-Creek church was established. Mr. Gano resided there about two years, when the church was broken up by the incursions of the Indians, and he returned to New-Jersey, from whence he had removed hither. But the church was re-gathered after the Indian war was over. Dr. Richard Furman, now of Charleston, South-Carolina, resided and preached in the bounds of this Association, during a part of the revolutionary war.
Joseph Murphy, the pastor of the church on Deep Creek, in the county of Surry, has been, in most respects, the most distinguished minister among the churches in this body. He and William Murphy, whose name frequently occurs in the history of the Virginia Baptists, were brothers. They were both baptized by Shubael Stearns, and began to preach while very young, and were called, by way of derision, Murphy?s boys. William, who had the most conspicuous talents, removed to Tennessee about 1780, and was one of the most active ministers in the Holston Association, which he assisted in raising up, and in which he was very useful and much esteemed until his death, the exact time of which is not known, but it is believed to have been about 1800.
Joseph was altogether illiterate when he became religious, for he then knew not how to read, and had never learned to write. But being possessed of a strong mind, ready wit, a bold and fearless spirit, and with all, a heart filled with the love of God and man, notwithstanding all the disadvantages of his education, he has been a very useful and much respected preacher throughout an extensive circle of churches. He was once taken up in Virginia for preaching, and carried before a magistrate, where he defended himself so expertly, that his accusers retired with shame, and the magistrate bade him go about his business.
Mr. Murphy had many verbal rencounters in his more active days, with opposers of different characters, whom he always abashed and foiled. His feats of this kind he now relates with much pleasantry, and with a self-complacency which is altogether excusable in a man who is about 80 years old. He was once opposed by a fanatick of more effrontery than argument, who contended that Adam, before his fall, had not a mortal body, but was a pure spiritual being. A woman was sitting by, carelessly nursing her child, whose name was Frost, who said to the opposer, "I do not see how God could take out a rib from Adam?s side, and close up the flesh again, if he were nothing but a spirit." "Ah," replied Mr. Murphy, "I think, my friend, you are frost-bitten, and will soon wither without any arguments of mine."
Being once opposed by a man who held to the notion of Universal Restoration, Mr. Murphy at last replied, "I do not see, sir, but you, on your plan, make hell the sanctum sanctorum of the wicked; for after all the means of the gospel have failed to benefit them, they must go to hell to be made holy, and prepared for heaven."
The churches in this Association are in the counties of Rowan, Wilkes, Surry, Iredell, and some of them are not far from the town of Salisbury.
The name of this Association is sufficiently descriptive of its situation; for the churches of which it is composed lie mostly west of the Blue Ridge, and are scattered in the nooks and vallies of the stupendous pile of the Alleghany mountains. As but very partial accounts have been received, the following brief sketches must suffice for its history. It was formed in 1799, by a division of the Yadkin Association, when the ten following churches were dismissed, viz. Rye Valley, Three Forks of New River, North Fork of New River, Fish River, South Fork of Roaring River, Beaver Creek, Head of Yadkin, Synclare?s Bottom, Catawba, and Cedar Island. Three of these churches were in Virginia, and it is said that some of them, or of those which have united with the Association since it was formed, are in the State of Tennessee, but most of them are in North Carolina, and are in the counties of Ash, Burk, Wilks, and Surry. I do not learn that this body has ever experienced any remarkable changes, or much enlargement.
FRENCH BROAD ASSOCIATION
This is a small body, situated mostly in the county of Buncombe, in a mountainous region in the western part of this State. This county was formerly large enough for a small State, and extended to the Tennessee line. The county of Haywood has, not long since, been taken from it. It is, however, very large, and encompasses a number of everlasting hills and some fruitful vallies. Through it runs a river called the French Broad, which gave name to the Association we are about to describe. The Baptists are scattered in every part of the United States. Scarcely a mountain or valley in which they are not to be found. So many of them were settled in this region, that they were induced to form an Association in 1807. It was, at first, composed of six churches, viz. Little Ivey, Locust, Old Fields, Newfound, Caney-River, French Broad, and Cane-Creek. The three first were dismissed from the Holston Association in Tennessee, and the other from the Broad-River in South-Carolina. Four churches have been added to this body since its formation. The ministers which it contained at its beginning were Thomas Snelson, Thomas Justice, Sion Blythe, Benjamin King, Humphrey Posey, and Stephen Morgan.
By reviewing the history of the Baptists in this State, it appears that it contains 11 Associations, about 180 churches, and upwards of 12000 communicants.
The North-Carolinians, like their neighbors the Virginians, have never had much ambition for learning or human acquirements; but they have had, especially in the low countries, in the bounds of the Kehukee and Neuse Associations and their branches, many very able and respectable ministers and brethren, who have, in addition to their religious functions, honorably filled many publick stations, as magistrates, legislators, etc. But as their biographies have been much neglected, little can be said about them. Biographical sketches of a few of these men will be found in that part of the work which is devoted to that subject.
The Baptists in this State have never suffered much by persecution, yet there were some attempts made to harass them. About 1768, when persecution was raging so fiercely against their brethren in Virginia, a number were apprehended, belonging to the Kehukee Association, and upwards of 70 persons were summoned by the Court to appear against them, by whom they were accused of heresy, blasphemy, and riots; but in the course of the examination, the complaints appeared so ill founded, that the Court dismissed the whole matter, and appeared ashamed of the prosecution, as well they might be; for their blasphemies turned out to be Scripture expressions; their heresies sound doctrine; and the riots with which they were charged, were raised not by them, but by their persecutors, who disturbed their assemblies. [Morgan Edwards?s MS, Hist. of the Baptists in North-Carolina.]
The North-Carolina Regulation has already been mentioned, and we promised to give a further account of it. This civil commotion appears to have been similar to the Shays affair in Massachusetts, and the Whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania.
Many became much disaffected with the provincial government, which was then administered by Governor Tryon, and formed an extensive combination for the purpose of regulating and reforming it. Some of their complaints were, that they had, in a way of tax, paid between two and three thousand pounds more than would sink their paper money, and yet about sixty thousand pounds of it remained unsunk; that civil officers and lawyers extorted more than the law allowed them, and yet were not punished, but suffered to prosecute the complainers, etc. And as they had remonstrated without effect, and saw no prospect of a redress of their grievances, they determined, at length, to make use of arguments of a more convincing nature. Troops were immediately raised by Governor Tryon to suppress the rebellion; and on May 16, 1771, it seems a battle was fought between 4000 Regulators and 2000 of the Governor?s troops, in which 12 of the former and 3 of the latter were slain. I am not able to give a particular history of this rebellious faction, as it was deemed, which, it is sufficient to say, was quelled and dispersed; nor would it correspond with the design of this work, if I could; and I should have passed it by altogether, had it not been for what follows.
Governor Tryon is said to have represented "the Regulators, as a faction of Quakers and Baptists, who aimed at overturning the Church of England." The same insinuation was also published in a newspaper. Morgan Edwards was in the country the next year after these events happened, and observes, "If the Governor said, as here suggested, he must be misinformed; for I made it my business to inquire into the matter, and can aver, that among 4000 Regulators, there were but 7 of the denomination of Baptists; and these were expelled the societies they belonged unto, in consequence of the resolve of the Baptist Association held at Sandy-Creek the second Saturday in Oct. 1769. "If any of our members shall take up arms against the legal authority, or aid and abet them that do so, he shall be excommunicated," etc. When this was known abroad, one of the four chiefs of the Regulators, with an armed company, broke into the assembly, and demanded, if there were such a resolve entered into by the Association? The answer was evasive, for they were in bodily fear. This checked the design much; and the author of the Impartial Relation is obliged to own, page 16, "There (in Sandy-Creek) the scheme met with some opposition, on account that it was too hot and rash, and in some things not legal," etc. One of the seven Baptists, by the name of Merrill, was executed; and he, at the point of death, did not justify his conduct, but bitterly condemned it; and blamed two men (of very different religion) for deceiving him into the rebellion. His speech at the gallows was as follows:
"I stand here exposed to the world as a criminal. My life will soon be a change. God is my comforter and supporter. I am condemned to die for opposing government. All you that are present, take warning by my miserable end, when I shall be hung up as a spectacle before you. My first seducers were Hunter and Gelaspie. They had often solicited me, telling that a settlement only was contended for with regard to publick officers, who, they said, had oppressed the people; and that unless these measures were taken, there would be no remedy or redress hereafter. Thus they pressed me on, by assuring me the disputes (as they called them) then existing might be settled without shedding of blood. I considered this unhappy affair, and thought, possibly, the contention in the country might be brought to some determination, without injury to any; and in this mind I joined the Regulation. After I had enlisted under the banner of the Regulators, I was ever after pressed to be made a leading man among them; and was one of the number who opposed Colonel Weddel with his troops; information prevailing that the Governor was on his march to lay waste this country and destroy its inhabitants, which I now find to be false, and propagated to screen old offenders from justice. As to my private life, I do not know of any particular charge against me. I received, by the grace of God, a change, fifteen years ago; but have, since that time, been a backslider; yet Providence, in which is my chief security, has been pleased to give me comfort, under these evils, in my last hour; and although the halter is now round my neck, believe me, I would not change stations with any man on the ground. All you, who think you stand, take heed lest ye fall. I would be glad to say a few words more before I die. In a few moments, I shall leave a widow and ten children; I entreat that my reflection may be cast on them on my account; and if possible, shall deem it as a bounty, should you, gentlemen, petition the Governor and Council, that some part of my estate may be spared for the widow and the fatherless; it will be an act of charity, for I have forfeited the whole, by the laws of God and man."
The man bore an excellent character, insomuch that one of his enemies was heard to say, "that if all went to the gallows with Capt. Merrill?s character, hanging would be an honorable death."
All pitied him, and blamed the wicked Hunter, Gelaspie, Howell, Husband, Butler, and others, who deceived and seduced him. Upwards of 70 bills were found at the time, but Merrill was the only Baptist among the number. The four principals in the Regulation are well known to be of other religious denominations.
I thought it necessary to say so much, lest the Governor?s words should, in time, make the North-Carolina Regulation another Munster tragedy. [M. Edwards?s MS, Hist. of the Baptists in North-Carolina.]
Six of the North Carolina Associations, viz. Chowan Country. Line, Flat-River, Kehukee, Raleigh, and Sandy-Creek, have lately formed a General Meeting of Correspondence, on a plan similar to that of Virginia.
There have been some very extensive revivals among the Baptists in this State, since these sketches were made out; if I can learn the particulars respecting them in season, they shall be inserted in the Appendix. Our brethren in this State have also made some exertions in the Missionary cause, and have an establishment.
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