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A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict

1813
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author

 

EPOCH FIRST: FROM THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA TO THE PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION
(A.D. 1492-1707) 

In the Proposals for this work, it was suggested that the history of the American Baptists would be preceded by four Epochs or General Divisions, in which their progress and circumstances would be comprehensively related in a chronological order. These Epochs were intended to be nothing more than brief compendiums of the history of our brethren from time to time. The preparation of them has been deferred until the history of each State has been made out, and as most historical facts of importance have been already related, they will be shorter than it was at first expected.

The first Epoch was to begin with the banishment of Roger Williams, and to end with 1707, when the Philadelphia Association was formed. But it has been thought best under this head to go back to the discovery of America, to give a brief account of the settlement of its different parts, and to take a general view as we go along of its religious affairs.

In the year 1492, October the 12th, this part of the world, since called America, was discovered by Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, in the service of the king of Spain. The first land made by this adventurer, was one of the Bahama Islands, to which he gave the name of San Salvador. Thus a new world was discovered, in which much cruelty and oppression has been practiced, especially by the merciless Spaniards; in which much liberty and happiness has been enjoyed; and in which there have been many signal displays of the grace of God. Settlements were made in many parts of the American continent before any were effected in that portion of it which is now included in the United States.

The following table, taken from Morse?s Geography, exhibits in one view the settlements of the different States, and the names of those by whom they were effected.

Names of places When settled By Whom

Quebec 1608 By the French.

Virginia 1610 or 1611 By Lord De la War.

Newfoundland June, 1610 By Governor John Guy.

New York New Jersey about 1614 By the Dutch.

Plymouth 1620 By part of Mr. Robinson?s congregation.

New Hampshire 1623 By a small English colony near the mouth of Piscataqua river.

Delaware Pennsylvania 1627 By the Swedes and Finns.

Massachusetts Bay 1628 By Capt. John Endicot and company.

Maryland 1633 By Lord Baltimore, with a colony of Roman Catholics.

Connecticut 1635 By Mr. Fenwick, at Saybrook, near the mouth of Connecticut river.

Rhode Island 1635 By Mr. Roger Williams and his persecuted brethren.

New Jersey 1664 Granted by the Duke of York by Charles II and made a distinct. government, and settled some time before this by the English.

South Carolina 1669 By Governor Sayle.

Pennsylvania 1682 By William Penn, with a colony of Quakers.

North Carolina about 1782 Erected into a separate government. Settled before by the English.

Georgia 1732 By General Oglethorp.

Kentucky 1773 By Col. Daniel Boon.

Vermont about 1764 By emigrants from Connecticut and other parts of N. England.

Territory N. W. of Ohio river 1787 By the Ohio and other companies.

Tennessee 1789 Became a distinct government, settled many years before.

The above dates are mostly from the periods when the first permanent settlements were made.

By this table it appears that a permanent settlement was effected in Virginia ten years before the fathers of New England landed at Plymouth. Some temporary settlements had been made in the country about twenty years before.

Most of the first settlers of America were merely worldly adventurers, who were induced to encounter the dangers of a distant voyage, and the hardships of a wilderness from the prospects of temporal advantages. Those who came from England, which was by far the greatest number, were for the most part Episcopalians. There were however, intermixed in almost all the different companies of emigrants, dissenters of different names, and among them we have reason to believe there were of the Baptists a few.

It does not appear that there were in any of the colonies, any religious establishments, which acquired much permanency, or that carried their acts of intolerance to any considerable degree, except in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The Episcopal church was the established religion of the Carolinas, but it had neither the spirit nor power of persecuting dissenters, to any great extent. Maryland was founded by Roman Catholics, but they, different from their brethren in the old world, were always tolerant and mild. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers, who, like the Baptists in Rhode Island, would never establish any religious laws, and of course there could be no religious persecutions. New York and New Jersey were settled by a mixture of people of many nations and religions, but it is probable a majority of the settlers were Episcopalians. I do not find that there ever was any religious establishment in New Jersey; but I am inclined to think that Episcopacy was for a time the established religion of New York; Mr. Wichenden of Providence, Rhode. Island, was imprisoned there four months for preaching the gospel, sometime before the year 1669; and in the year 1728, the Baptist meeting, house, then newly built, was licensed and entered as the toleration act required. These things scent of Babylon, and indicate an ecclesiastical establishment, but I do not find that it was prosecuted with much rigor, and it has now been so long done away, that there are probably but few who know that it ever existed.

Episcopacy took deep root in the strong soil of Virginia, and an account of its spirit, its measures, and end, will be given in the history of the Baptists in that State. Rhode Island has always from first to last maintained, and gloried in maintaining, liberty of conscience, in the strictest and most unqualified sense; and accordingly none of its records are stained with laws to regulate religious worship, or with acts to oppress or favor dissenters. New Hampshire and Vermont have done but little in the outrageous business of distressing the persons and spoiling the goods of dissenters; and the newer States have altogether let alone this wretched work. We must now come to Massachusetts and Connecticut, and with pain we must relate that these States, which were planted by a religious Colony, and which have been the nurseries of which piety and virtue, have, notwithstanding, been the most distinguished of any in the Union, for intolerance and oppression. In these States, ecclesiastical establishments have taken the deepest root of any part of the American empire; they have been defended by the civil power, and have manifested an unwavering and obstinate perseverance in enforcing their iniquitous maxims, and in encroaching on the liberties, and despoiling the goods of dissenters. The spirit of the church was sometimes high in Virginia, and for a while persecution raged with violence; but it was earned on chiefly by a band of unprincipled church-men, whose main object seems to have been, to molest the persons and disturb the meetings of dissenters.

But the New England persecutors have taken generally a different course. They have had their eyes on the goods of dissenters more than on their persons. If they would but pay their parish taxes, they might worship when and how they pleased. But if any one was so heretical as to refuse his money towards building a meeting house within the parish lines, which might happen to encircle him, or to support a preacher which he never chose, nor wished to hear, then he must look out for writs, constables, sheriffs, courts, priests and lawyers, stripes, prisons, and forfeitures, and the whole sanctimonious procession of ecclesiastical tormentors. So rigorous were the New Englanders in enforcing their taxing laws, that Esther White of Raynham, about thirty miles from Boston, was thrown into prison for a ministerial tax of eight-pence, which she refused to pay, because she had separated from the parish worship. After lying in prison almost a year, she was let cut without paying the tax, by the religious gentry, who put her in. [Backus? Church History, Vol. 2. p. 194.]

The American war was peculiarly auspicious to the cause of religious liberty in Massachusetts, and the other Colonies, where religious establishments were enforced with rigor. All denominations unitedly engaged in resisting the demands of Great Britain. But her demands were no more unreasonable nor unjust, than those which the predominant party, whether Congregational or Episcopalian, made on dissenters. The Baptists and other dissenters did not fail to make a proper use of this argument. And although many attempted to explain it away, yet many others saw and acknowledged its force.

Many of the first settlers of New England were pious and worthy men, among them however were many of a different character; but they all united in building up the New England church establishments. The first Pedobaptist churches here required the candidates for admission, to give a verbal account of their religious experience. But in process of time they were permitted to give in their relations in writing, and this practice is still continued by those churches which require any experience at all. The ancient church of Plymouth changed their way of receiving members from verbal to written relations in 1705. [Vol. 1. p. 47. Vol. 2. p. 29.] Others had probably done it before. The great mistake of the New England fathers lay in taking the laws of Moses for the commands of Christ, and blending the Jewish and Christian dispensations together. And indeed, from this source have originated all the evils which have overrun the Christian world, and deluged it with blood. By this means, unholy men are entrusted with the regulation of religious concerns. They know nothing of its nature, they feel nothing of its power, and under their dominion the saints of God have always had occasion to say, ?for thy sake we are killed all the day long.?

The New-England fathers were certainly men of understanding, and yet many of their legislative acts and ecclesiastical proceedings were absurd and ridiculous in the extreme.

In 1638, the Assembly of Massachusetts passed a law to compel excommunicated persons to seek to be restored to the churches which had cast them out. ?Whosoever shall stand excommunicated for the space of six months, without laboring what in him or her lieth to be restored, such person shall be presented to the Court of Assistants, and there proceeded with by fine, imprisonment, banishment, or further for the good behavior, as their contempt and obstinacy upon full hearing shall deserve? [Backus, Vol. 1. p. 98].

In 1656, a famous dispute arose upon this question, Whether the children of those, who are not immediate members of churches, should be baptized. The Connecticut people took the lead in this affair. They sent twenty-one questions to their brethren in Massachusetts respecting it; an ecclesiastical assembly was called, which set fifteen days, in deliberating upon this weighty matter. They answered the Connecticut questions, but did not settle the dispute. It raged throughout the country a number of years, and many churches were divided by it. A considerable party contended that if parents who were not church members, should own the covenant, which their parents made for them when they were initiated into the church, then they should have the privilege of getting their children baptized. [This statement is paraphrased a little, but the sense is retained.] And in this way originated what is called THE HALF WAY COVENANT, which is still practiced upon by many Congregational churches. What a pity, that any anxious parent should have so much trouble about the christening of his dear babes. If it is such a peculiar advantage, as their ministers contend for, it is certainly hard, that any poor child should be debarred from it. While this dispute was going on, some, it appears, found a way of getting rid of all difficulties, by having the children baptized on their grand-parents account; but it was contended on the other hand, that in such a case, they would be bound to take the charge of their education. Such frivolous controversies were agitated by the renowned fathers of New England. They arose not from a want of ability in the men, but from the absurdity of the principles, which they had adopted.

THE WITCHCRAFT AFFAIR was the most melancholy and degrading of any ever acted in New England. It began in 1692, in the house of Mr. Parris, a Congregational minister of Salem, where two girls of ten or eleven years of age were taken with uncommon and unaccountable complaints. A consultation of physicians was called, one of whom was of opinion that they were bewitched. An Indian woman, a servant in the family, was accused of being the witch. From small beginnings, the bewitching distemper spread through several parts of the province, till the prisons were scarcely capable of containing the number of the accused. This distressing affair lasted about fifteen months, nineteen persons were executed, one was prest to death, and eight more were condemned; the whole number amounted to twenty eight, of whom above a third part were members of some of the Pedobaptist churches in New England. Among the sufferers was a Mr. Burroughs, formerly minister of Salem.

The New-England people at first supported their ministers in a voluntary way, probably by weekly contributions. But in 1638, a law was made that every inhabitant, who would not voluntarily contribute his portion, etc. should be compelled thereto by assessment and distress, to be levied by the constable or other officer of the town as in other cases. This was the beginning of that iniquitous policy which has caused the Baptists in New England so much vexation and distress.

The beginning of our brethren in America will be related under the head of each respective State, and the banishment of Roger Williams may be found under that of Rhode Island. The church which he founded at Providence, in 1639, was the first of the Baptist denomination in the American continent. The first church in Newport, Rhode Island, founded in 1644, by Dr. John Clark, was the second; the second in that town, formed in 1656, was the third; the church in Swansea, begun by John Miles, in 1663, was the fourth; and the first in Boston, founded first in Charlestown, in 1665, by Thomas Gould, was the fifth.

In forty years from the founding of the last mentioned church, there arose eleven more in the following order: Seventh-Day, Newport, 1671; Tiverton, Rhode Island, 1685; Middletown, New Jersey, 1688; Pennepeck, now called Lower-Dublin, Pennsylvania, 1689; Piscataway, New Jersey, the same year; Charleston, South Carolina, 1690; Cohansey, New Jersey, 1691; 2d Swansea, 1693; Welsh-Tract, Delaware, 1701; Groton, Connecticut, 1705; Seventh-Day, Piscataway, New Jersey, 1707.

The first church in Philadelphia was in reality formed in 1698, although it has generally been dated in 1746, when it was re-organized. Thus in almost a hundred years after the first settlement of America, only seventeen Baptist churches had arisen in it. Nine of them were in New England. Of these seventeen churches, only four, that is, the three in Massachusetts, and the one in Connecticut, were put to any trouble on account of their religious principles; and of these four, the one at Boston felt most of the hard hand of civil coercion. This church was treated in a most oppressive and abusive manner, as will be shown in the history of Massachusetts.

EPOCH SECOND: PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION (1707-1739)

In 1707, the Philadelphia Association was formed of the five following churches, viz. Pennepeck, Middletown, Piscataqua, Cohansey, and Welch Tract. This Association was the first in America; it has always maintained a regular and respectable standing, and has been from its commencement to the present time one of the most important institutions of the kind.

From 1707 till 1740, about twenty new churches were raised up in different parts of the United States; some were of an Arminian cast; but most of them adopted the Calvinistic faith. Three or four became extinct in a few years, but the rest remain till the present time.

During the period under consideration, no very remarkable event appears to have occurred. The churches in New England, except those in Rhode Island, were persecuted and fleeced; those in other parts were left at liberty to serve God, and dispose of their property as they pleased.

EPOCH THIRD: REVIVALS (1740-1790)

About 1740, a very powerful work of grace began in New England, and prevailed much in other parts of the United States. It was, by way of derision, called the New Light Stir. This work commenced under the ministry of that honored servant of God, the famous GEORGE WHITEFIELD, who was then traveling as a flaming itinerant along the American coast. ?The most remarkable thing,? says a late writer, ?that attended the preaching of Mr. Whitefield was the power of the Holy Ghost.?

Multitudes were awakened by his means and brought to ?bow to the sceptre of Immanuel.? Many ministers opposed his course, but many others caught his zeal, ran to and fro with the tidings of salvation, and knowledge was almost every where increased. This work began generally among the Pedo-baptists, and where they opposed it, separation ensued. And here originated the term Separates, which was first applied to Pedobaptist and afterwards to Baptist churches. SEPARATE CHURCHES were formed all over New England. In many parts of the country there was hardly a town or parish in which they were not to be found. Some pushed on their zealous measures to an enthusiastic extreme, but most of them acted a sober and rational part; their views were highly evangelical, and their maxims of gospel discipline were generally clear and consistent. They permitted all to exhort, who had gifts to edify their brethren; they ordained ministers of those who were instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom, whether they were learned or not. They took the Bible alone for their guide, and of course, Baptist principles soon prevailed amongst them. Very singular scenes were soon exhibited in New England. Pedobaptists were seen persecuting their brethren, and casting them into prison because they were too religious. The clergy of Connecticut determined that the New Light Stir was not according to law; they therefore stimulated their rulers to attempt its regulation. A law was actually made to prohibit one minister from going into the parish of another, to preach and exhort the people, unless he were particularly invited. Upon this law a number of their own ministers were prosecuted, and Mr. afterwards Dr. Finley, President of Princeton College, New. Jersey, Was transported as a vagrant person, from one constable to another, out of the bounds of the land of steady habits.

We have already observed that Baptist principles soon began to prevail among the Pedobaptist Separates. All their doctrine tended that way, and those who followed it whither it led embraced believers? baptism. Many Baptist churches arose out of those Separate societies, and the late venerable Backus of Middleborough, Hastings of Suffield, and a number of other Baptist ministers, were at first of their connection.

Towards the conclusion of the American war, and for a number of years subsequent to the termination of that serious conflict, there were very extensive revivals of religion in different parts of the land, and Baptist principles almost every where prevailed. In the year 1780, according to Mr. Backus, there were not less than two thousand persons baptized in the New England States only. In ten years, beginning with 1780, and ending with 1789, considerably over two hundred churches were organized in different parts of the United States. During this period a number of ministers, and with them a considerable number of brethren, fell in with ELHANAN WINCHESTER?S NOTION OF UNIVERSAL RESTORATION. The rage for this doctrine prevailed for a time to a considerable extent; but it was at length found to be easier to let sinners down into a disciplinary purgatory, than it was to get them out again, and this visionary scheme is now generally exploded by all, among the Baptists at least, who profess any regard for gospel truth. Those ministers who embraced it, generally descended to other errors of a blasting nature, or else sunk into obscurity and insignificance. Mr. Winchester, the author or rather reviver of it in modern times, was for a while a very popular preacher among the Baptists. He was indeed in some respects, and particularly in memory, a prodigy of nature, and his talents and address were such, that he was sure to command followers and applause of some kind or other, wherever he went, and whatever he preached. His theory of Universalism was borrowed from a German author, to which he added some things from the reveries of his own eccentric imagination. His scheme appears never to have been well digested, and it is thought by many, that he would have abandoned it, had it not been for the difficulty of saying, I was mistaken, But he died rather suddenly in the midst of his singular career, and those, who knew him best, entertain different opinions respecting his acquaintance with the religion of the heart.

In 1790, John Asplund published his first Register of the Baptist denomination in America. This singular man had, in eighteen months, traveled about seven thousand miles, chiefly on foot, to collect materials for this work. it was a new attempt of the kind in America, and is as correct as could be expected. By this it appears, there were, at the date of it, in the United States, and in the Territories, eight hundred and sixty eight churches, eleven hundred and thirty two ministers, including those who were not ordained, and sixty-four thousand nine hundred and seventy-five members.

EPOCH FOURTH (1790-1813)

Mr. Asplund continued travelling after he published his first Register, until 1794, when he published a second. By this it appears, that our brethren in some States had increased greatly, in others they remained pretty much as they were in 1790. Since Asplund published his last Register, a number of computations have been made of the extent of the Baptist interest in America, but no list of the churches has been attempted, until it was undertaken by the author of this work. It will be inserted at the end of the second volume.

Since the close of the war, not many of our brethren have been troubled on account of their religious opinions. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, they are in many cases still obliged to lodge certificates, etc. and by complying with this small but mortifying requisition, they may remain unmolested, and be entirely excused from all imposts of a religious nature. Formerly, the opposers of the Baptists reasoned continually against their mode of baptizing, but this is now so generally acknowledged to be scriptural, that they have turned their whole force against what they are pleased to call close communion.

It is doubted whether any considerable number of the Baptists would be admitted to the Pedobaptist communion, if they were disposed for it; but they may safely offer them the privilege, because they know beforehand that they will not accept it. But why should we be continually reproached for a practice, which arises not from the want of affection towards Christians of other denominations, but from our principles of the pre-requisites to communion? We believe that none have a right to partake of the Lord?s Supper, until they are baptized; nothing, in our opinion, short of immersion, is baptism; we cannot, therefore, consistently commune with those who have only been sprinkled. We have a right to believe the two first propositions, and we must take the liberty to practice upon the third, all opposition notwithstanding. Many Pedobaptists have acknowledged, that we cannot with consistency do otherwise, and have therefore ceased to reproach us.

Out of the New Light Stir arose a considerable number of churches, which adopted the plan of open communion. The Groton conference in Connecticut was at first founded altogether of churches of this opinion. But very few of these open communion churches remain; some were split to pieces by the embarrassing policy, and others have adopted the practice of communing with baptized believers only. The zealous New-Lights kept together, as long as they could; but opposite principles about baptism, necessarily lead them to divide into distinct communities. Most of those, which did not become Baptists, have fallen in with the parish churches, so that very few of the ancient Separate churches remain.

Believer?s baptism by immersion has prevailed much in the United States, within ten or twenty years past. Multitudes of the Methodists have adopted it, and not a few of the Congregational ministers in New England have condescended to go into the water with those candidates, who could be contented with nothing short of immersion. In Virginia and the southern States, there has been a great schism in the Methodist church. A large party has come off, which denominate themselves Christians. A similar party has separated from the Presbyterians and Methodists in Kentucky, and the western States, and a great number of these Christian people have lately been buried in baptism.

On the whole it appears, that baptism is fast returning to its primitive mode. A general conviction seems to be prevailing, that infant sprinkling is an invention of men, and ought to be laid aside; and that believers are the only subjects of the baptismal rite, and that immersion is the only way in which it ought to be administered. Of late years a considerable number of ministers of the Pedo-baptist order, have come over to the Baptist side; some whole churches, and many parts of others have done the same; and we look forward to the time, when there shall be with the saints of God, but one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

 
 
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