A History of the Baptists
THE FIRST BAPTISTS IN AMERICA
The first Baptists on this continent were found in New England. That portion of the country was settled by the Separatists and the Puritans. The first named of these parties established Plymouth Colony and were known as the Pilgrim Fathers; the Puritans at a later date occupied Massachusetts Bay.
One point must be kept clearly in mind. In what is nor called Massachusetts, there were in the early days two colonies, two centers of life and influence, very distinct one from the other. There was the little colony of Plymouth, beginning in 1620, and the larger colony of the Massachusetts Bay, beginning in 1628, which centered around Salem, Boston and Charleston. These colonies were about forty miles apart, a wilderness separated them by the land route, so that the principal intercourse was by water. But they were not so far separated by distance and physical difficulties as their general ideas and ways of looking at the great questions which were then up for consideration. So these two little confederacies, for a time, lived much to themselves.
The people at Plymouth were called Pilgrims; the people in the Bay were called Puritans. The people at Plymouth were called Separatists, and those at the Bay were Non-Conformists, and these words conveyed entirely separate ideas (Increase N. Tarbox, Plymouth and the Bay, The Congregational Quarterly Magazine, April, 1875, XVII. pp. 239, 241).
Most of the Separatists were North of England men. They denounced the Church of England as corrupt and they wholly separated from its communion. When the heavy hand of persecution fell on them they migrated to Holland. The surroundings in the Netherlands were not favorable to them. The language was harsh, the climate undesirable, and their environments were not satisfactory in many directions. So they crossed the seas and established themselves at Plymouth as "the forerunners of an innumerable host."
The Puritans on the other hand did not break with the Church of England. They dissented from many of its tenets but did not separate from it. They thought that the church ought to be reformed and remodeled. When the Puritans met with no success in this direction they likewise sought a home in. the New World. Rev. Francis Higginson, on leaving England, in 1629, is reported to have said: "We will not say, as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving of England: Farewell, Babylon I Farewell, Rome! But we will say, Farewell, dear England, and all the Christian friends there. We do not go to New England as separatists from the Church of England; though we cannot but separate from the corruptions of it. But we go to practice the positive part of church reformation; and propagate the gospel in America" (Cotton Mather, Magnalia, Lib. III. sec. 1) .
Governor Winthrop likewise said:
We esteem it an honor to call the Church of England, from whence we rise, our dear mother, and cannot part from our native land, where she especially resides, without much sadness of heart and many tears in our eyes. For acknowledging that such hope and faith as we have obtained in the common salvation we have received in her bosom and sucked it from her breasts, we leave it not, therefore, as loathing that milk wherewith we were. nourished there; but, blessing God for parentage and education as members of the same God, shall always rejoice in her good, and unfeignedly grieve for any sorrow that shall ever betide her, and, while we draw breath, sincerely desire and endeavor the continuance and abundance of her welfare, with the enlargement of her bounds in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The Puritan was an Anglo-Saxon with an infusion of Norman bloodhis northern imagination inflamed by the oriental imagery of the Old Testament, and his intellect submissive to a creed drawn from the New. and shaped by the logic of Geneva. The Cavaliers were Normans with some Saxon blood, full of haughty passions and the love of pomp, attached by sentiment and memory to the monarchy and the hallowed forms of old religion, but drunk with the new-born liberty, because they loved its license. The Huguenots were crusaders, divested of the steel-clad armor of the thirteenth century, and clothed in the full panoply of the ideas of the sixteenth. The Hollanders were men of quiet, sent among us apparently for the purpose of showing how much may be accomplished by sitting stilla perpetual reproach upon the fussy activities of some of their more volatile neighbors.
Much of the ridicule heaped upon the Puritans was caused by their external peculiarities. "The Puritans were the most remarkable body of men," says the Edinburgh Review, "perhaps which the world ever produced. The odious and ridiculous parts of their character lie on the surface. He that runs may read them; nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious observers to point them out. For many years after the Restoration, they were the theme of unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost licentiousness of the press and the stage, at a time when the press and the stage were the most licentious. They were not men of letters; they were as a body unpopular; they could not defend themselves; and the public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists and dramatists. The unostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their long graces, their Hebrew names, the scriptural phrases which they introduced on every occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of polite amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers. But it is not from the laughers alone that the philosophy of history is to be learnt. And he who approaches the subject should carefully guard against the influence of their potent ridicule which has already misled so many excellent writers" (Edinburgh Review, Miltons Treatise on Christian Doctrine).
The first settlers came to this country with an earnest purpose. "The early settlements of the English colonies," says McMahon, "within what are now the limits of the United States, were, in general, similar in the causes and circumstances of their establishment. It was not the mere spirit of enterprise, the thirst for gain, nor the love of novelty, which impelled the early emigrants to forsake their native land, and to sever all the ties which bound them to the homes of heir fathers. It was not from these alone, that they were content to go forth as wanderers from the scenes of their infancy, and the allotments of their youth. It was not for these alone, that they took up their abode in the wilderness; made their dwelling with the savages; and encountered with cheerfulness and alacrity, all the privations and dangers of a country not yet rescued from the rudeness of nature These causes may have contributed, and no doubt did operate in peopling these colonies, but we must look elsewhere for the primary causes of their establishment, and the true source of their rapid increase in wealth and population. This, their new home, had other charms for them; and the history of the times and the language of the emigrants tell us what these were. They sought freedom from the religious and civil shackles, and oppressive institutions, of their parent country; and here they found, and were content to take it, with all of its alloy of hardship and danger. Too inconsiderable to attract attention, or to provoke the indignation of the parent government; too remote to be narrowly observed in their transactions, or to be reached by the speedy arm of power; here, unharassed by the old and corrupt establishments of their native land, yet cherishing all of the genuine principles of English liberty, might they spring up to consequence and happiness. Here, unchecked in their infant operations by the jealousies of the parent, they might be permitted to lay, broad and deep, the foundations of their civil and religious liberties; and here they might hope to transmit to their posterity, in all their freshness and purity" (McMahon, A Historical View of the Government of Maryland, 1. 190. Baltimore, 1831) .
Yet it was no easy life they had chosen. "Men who had to covet, miserly, the kernels of corn for their daily bead, and till the ground, staggering through weakness from the effect of famine, can do but little in setting the metaphysics of faith, or in gauging the exercises of their feelings. Grim necessity of hunger looks morbid sensibility out of countenance" (Cheever, Edition of the Journal of the Pilgrims, 112. 1848).
The Separatists have been described as men with their "hearts full of charity, kindliness, and toleration; their minds broadened by experience in a land where religion was free to all men." The Puritans had no such ideas. They desired liberty for themselves and perfect toleration; but they were not willing to grant this liberty to others. "Their chief crime was their uncharitableness," says Neale, "in unchurching the whole Christian. world, and breaking off all manner of communion in hearing the Word, in public prayer, and in the administration of the sacraments, not only with the Church of England, but with the foreign Reformed churches, which though less pure. ought certainly to be owned as churches of Christ" (Neale, History of the Puritans, I.). Neale elsewhere says:
It is not pretended, that the Puritans were without their failings; no, they were men of like passions and infirmities with their adversaries; and while they endeavored to avoid one extreme, they might fall into another; their seal for their platform of discipline would, I fear, have betrayed them into the imposition of it upon others, if it had been established by law. Their notions of the civil and religious rights of mankind were narrow and confused, and derived too much from the theocracy of the Jews, which was now at an end. Their behaviour was severe and rigid, far removed from the fashionable freedoms and vices of the age; and possibly they might have been too censorious, in not making those distinctions between youth and age, grandeur and mere decency; and the nature and circumstances of things would admit; but with all their faults, they were the most pious and devout people in the land; men of prayer, both in secret and in public, as well as in their families; their manner of devotion was fervent and solemn, depending on the assistance of the divine Spirit, not only to teach them how to pray, but what to pray for as they ought (Neale, L).
Howe tries to excuse the persecutions of the Puritans, but his explanation brings a terrible indictment against practically all of the colonies. He says:
In justice to the Puritans we should bear in mind that most of the other American colonies, no matter by whom settled or controlled, were equally intolerant. The Quakers were persecuted almost everywhere except in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. So late as 1860, a law of Maryland styled Quaker preachers "vagabonds," and authorized them to be apprehended and whipped. Baptists fared little better anywhere than did the Quakers. They were persecuted in all of the colonies and enjoyed no freedom except in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Delaware. New York and most of the colonies had laws against the Catholics. In 1664 we find the Maryland Assembly, in a law against blasphemy, including in a general sweep, "Schismatic, Idolater, Puritan, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist," etc. (Dillon, Oddities of Colonial Legislation; Hildreth, History of the United States, L; Howe, The Puritan Republic of the Massachusetts Bay.)
Religious intolerance was universal in all of these parties. In a sermon preached by N. L. Frothingham, Boston, August 29, 1830, he said:
Two hundred years ago there was no such thing as toleration. In practice it was unknown, save of a few mild spirits; and even in open theory it was derided and condemned. "He that is willing," says a writer (Ward) whom I have already quoted, "to tolerate any religion or discrepant way of religion, besides his own, or is not sincere in it. There is no truth but one, and of the persecution of true religion and toleration of false, the last is far the worst. It is said that men ought to have liberty of conscience, and that it is persecution to debar them from it. I can rather stand amazed than reply to this. It is an astonishment that the brains of men should be parboiled in such impious ignorance." Another thus expresses himself (President Oakes, Century sermon, 1673. Also Higginson, Election Sermon, 1663; Shephard, Election Sermon, 1672) "The outcry of some for liberty of conscience. This is the great Diana of the Libertines of this age. I look upon toleration as the first born of all iniquities. If it should be brought forth amongst us, you may call it Gad, a troop cometh, a troop of all manner of abominations." Most of the Puritans of this period thought it impossible that different sects should exist peaceably together in the same community, and even when oppressed themselves they exclaimed against universal toleration (The Commemoration of the First Church in Boston, on November 18, 1880, p. 82. Boston, 1881).
"The cause of this disagreement was as follows," says Ruffini. "So resolutely and blindly did the Presbyterians profess the principles of the rigid Calvinism, that they became absolutely irreconcilable with any other religious denomination and as belligerent as the most implacable Catholic. Their supreme ideal was the realization of the kingdom of Christ on earth. Consequently the system of relations between the civil and ecclesiastical power at which they aimed was naturally a great deal more exclusive than the episcopalian system, since it was a pure theocracy. whey had, therefore, taken arms against the episcopal constitution, which they accused of having fallen headlong into popery, solely in order that their form of constitution might be imposed upon the countrya constitution which, according to them, was more in conformity with the pure principles of Protestantism. But nothing was more foreign to their ideas, nothing more remote from their intentions, than the principle of toleration and the proposal to substitute it for the old regime of episcopal coercion. They would have greatly preferred the latter to the former, if nothing else was to be had. Indeed, one of them said, If the devil were given the choice of re-establishing in the kingdom the episcopal or granting toleration, he would certainly declare in favor of the latter. And another added, I would rather find myself buried in the grave than live to see this intolerable toleration" (Ruffini, Religious Liberty).
A resume of the laws and punishments for religion in New England is interesting. "It might have been expected, that those emigrants who made New England their asylum from what they deemed civil tyranny and ecclesiastical persecution, would have guarded against every degree of oppression and persecution in that form of government they were about to establish among themselves. This, however, was far from being the case. Some of the first laws savor of a degree of persecution and intolerance unknown in the most despotic governments of Europe; and those who fled from persecution became the most bitter persecutors. Those who were fond of dancing or drank were ordered to be publicly whipped, in order to deter others from such practices. The custom of wearing long hair was deemed immodest, impious and abominable. All who were guilty of swearing rashly might purchase an exemption from punishment for a shilling; but those who should transgress the fourth commandment were to be condemned by banishment, and such as should worship images, to death. Children were to be punished with death for cursing or striking their father or mother. Marriages were to be solemnized by magistrates; and all who denied the coercive authority of the magistrate in religious matters, or the validity of infant baptism, were to be banished. Blasphemy, perjury, adultery, and witchcraft, were all made capital offences. In short, we may challenge the annals of any nation to produce a code of laws more intolerant than that of the first settlers of New England. Unlimited obedience was enjoined to the authority of the magistrate, by the same men who had refused such submission in England, and fled from their native country because it was demanded" (B. R. Carroll, Historical Collections o f South Carolina, 1. 36, 37, New York, 1836; Hewatt, A Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of the Colonies of South Carolina, I. 34. London, 1779).
The tragedy is, that those who came to America, on account of being persecuted in their own land, should here persecute others. This was true of all parties except the Baptists and the Quakers. "That mutual intolerance," says Dr. Bacon, "of differences in religious belief which, in the seventeenth century, was, throughout Christendom, coextensive with religious earnestness had its important part to play in the colonization of America. Of the persecutions and oppressions which gave direct impulse to the earliest colonization of America, the most notable are the following: (1) the persecution of the English Puritans in the reigns of James I and Charles I, ending with the outbreak of the civil war in 1642; (2) the persecution of the English Roman Catholics during the same period; (3) the persecution of the English Quakers during the twenty-five years of Charles 11. (1660-85) ; (4) the persecution of the French Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) ; (5) the disabilities suffered by the Presbyterians of the north of Ireland after the English Revolution (1688) ; (6) the ferocious ravaging of the region of the Rhenish Palatinate by the armies of Louis XIV in the early years of the seventeenth century; (7) the cruel expulsion of the Protestants of the arch episcopal duchy of Salzburg (1731) " (Bacon, History of American Christianity).
The Congregationalists of New England formed their government on the theory of a theocracy. "What they wished was a State, which they could enjoy in common as an ordinance of God. But the State was to unfold within the church. As they regarded the government as Gods servant, so likewise all citizens, as such, were to serve God." John Davenport, as quoted by Cotton, says:
The Theocracy, that is, Gods government, is to be established as the best form of government. Here the people, who choose its civil rulers, are Gods people, in covenant with him, they are members of the churches; Gods laws and Gods servants are enquired of for counsel (Collection of Original Papers).
"From these declarations," says Uhden, "it is, manifest, that the government was theocratic. The settlers whose aim it was to derive all of their institutions from the Word of God, here also universally appealed to the Jewish code. It is from this point of view that we must contemplate those peremptory measures for the expulsion of every opposite tendency, which threatened to disturb the unity of the Church and State governments, or but to cripple the expediency of the latter. But here we must especially call attention to that peculiarity of the theocratic constitution, by which no one was permitted to exercise a civil office, or even to enjoy full civil rights, unless he were a member of some regular Church, established and ordered in accordance with the principles of the Independents. In the case of State Churches elsewhere, whether of past or present time, membership is conferred by birth, and n6 one, while conforming to existing usages, and to the preponderating influence of the older members, is excluded for some explicit avowal contrariety of opinion. But in New England, one could not thus silently pass into the membership of the Church. He.was only admitted on the development in the individual of a definite conscious need for fellowship for the Church, and when, after being examine( by the minister and elders, he had publicly made confession of his faith before the Church, and had given evidence of his religious state as that of a regenerate man. Thus was the State also, as well as the Church, to be a community of Believers." (Uhden, The New England Theocracy, 75, 76. Boston, 1859. Also Sherman, Sketches of New England Divines, John Cotton, 17. New York, 1860).
Out of this civilization, with all of its defects, there came a type of life and character, self-dependent, God-fearing, industrious, capable and highly conscientious. Bishop Creightons judgment, the judgment of a trained historian but not an ecclesiaatical sympathizer, was hardly an exaggeration of the facts, when he said that this movement "stamped upon the early colonies of America the severe morality and patient industry which have trained a nation." And the late Lord Acton, also a trained historian, and even less than Creighton an ecclesiastical sympathizer, paid this ungrudging tribute to the Puritans in general and the Independents in particular, when he said: "The idea that religious liberty is the general principle of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious, was a discovery reserved for the seventeenth century . . . . That great political idea . . . has been the soul of what is great and good in the progress of the last two hundred years" (The Religious History of New England). The idea of religious liberty is distinctly a Baptist contribution.
It was among these first settlers in New England that the Baptists were found. There is no certainty that any of the Pilgrim Fathers were Baptists (Millet, A History of the Baptists in Maine, 21. Portland, 1845) ; but there was from the first a Baptist taint about Plymouth. Cotton Mather states that "many of the first settlers of Massachusetts were Baptists, and that they were as holy and faithful and heavenly people as any, perhaps in the world" (Mather, Magnalia, II.). "As our brethren in the mother country," says Benedict, "had been much intermixed with the dissenting pedobaptists, it is highly probable that the early emigrants of this class in the infant colony, continued to do so for the first years of their settlement here. And while they continued in this state of quiescence or concealment, they met with no trouble or opposition, Upon all of the principles which the colonists had advanced in the commencement of their undertaking at home, and after their arrival in their new and wilderness location, they should have remained unmolestedfreedom of conscience to all who united in the hazardous enterprise, should have been invariably maintained. Dissent or toleration were terms which ought to have had no place in their chronicles or vocabularies. Whatever were their dogmas or their rites, they were all on a level" (Benedict). But no such an attitude was taken.
The Baptists were not associated in churches of their own; and when children were christened they would turn their beads and look in another direction (Middlesex Court, Original Papers).
This was a favorite method, at this period, of expressing dissent at the practice of infant baptism. To stand in the assembly with ones back turned toward the minister when he administered the ordinance, was an emphatic statement, without words, of the dissenters opinion of the ordinance. Sometimes the dissenter would arise and walk out in no unmistakable manner so that all knew what he meant to signify. This was especially irritating to the members of the standing order. The Puritans were by nature and practice an emphatic folk, and the dissenters, who were of the same English stock and training, did not lose any of their emphatic peculiarities because of the dissent:
It is interesting to give the statistics of the denomination in the period under consideration. The following is a list of the first fifty-eight Baptist churches in this country, together with the dates of their organization according to Benedict:
1st Newport, R. I. 1644
2nd Newport, R. I. 1656
1st Swansea, Mass. 1663
1st Boston, Mass 1665
Lower Dublin, Pa . 1689
Piscataway, N. J. 1689
Charleston, S. C. 1690
Cohansey, N. J. 1691
North Kingston, R. I. 1665
2nd Swansea, Mass. 1693
7th Day Newport, R. I. 1671
1st Philadelphia, Pa . 1698
South Kingston, R. I. 1680
Welsh Tract, Del. 1701
Tiverton, R. I. 1685
Groton, Conn. 1705
Smithfield, R. I. 1706
7th Day, Piscataway, N. J. 1707
Hopkinton, R. I. 1708
Southinton, Conn. 1738
Great Valley, Pa. 1711
West Springfield, Conn. 1740
Cape May, N. J. 1712
King Wood, N. J. 1742
Hopewell, N. J. 1715
2nd Boston, Mass. 1743
Brandywine, Pa. 1715
North Stonington, Conn. 1743
Montgomery, Pa. 1719
Colchester, Conn. 1743
New York City, N. Y.
East Greenwich, R. I.
Scituate, R. I.
Euhaw, S. C.
Warwick, R. I.
Heights Town, N. J.
Richmond, R. I.
South Hampton, Pa.
French Creek, Pa.
Scotch Plains, N. J.
New London, Conn.
King Street, Conn.
Indian Town, Mass.
Oyster Bay, N. Y.
Cumberland, R. I.
Shiloh, N. J.
South Brimfield, Mass.
Westerly, R. I.
Welsh Neck, S. C.
Exeter, R. I.
(Benedict, A General History o/ the Baptist Denomination in America, pp. 384, 365. New York, 1848.)
"These are all the churches," continues Benedict, "which acquired any durability that arose in these United States in a little more than a century after the Baptists began their operations."
According to Morgan Edwards, in 1786, there were in the United States and Nova Scotia 137 churches. These were distributed throughout the country as follows:
John Asplund, in his first Register, in 1790, makes the following exhibit:
Benedict in 1812 reckoned the following statistics: Churches, 2,633; ordained ministers, 2,142; members, 204,185; and 111 associations.
Allen, in his Triennial Register for 1836, makes for the United States and the British possessions in America the following statistics: associations, 372; churches, 7,299; ministers ordained, 4,075; licensed, 966; and membership, 517,524.
Books for further reference:
Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists; traced in their Vital Principles and Practices, from the Time of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the Year 1886. New York, 1887.
David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and other parts of the World. Boston, 1813. 2 volumes.
David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and other parts of the World. New York, 1848.
John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists together with some account of their Principles and Practices. Nashville, 1922.
Richard B. Cook, A Story of the Baptists in all Ages and Countries. Baltimore, 1888.
J. M. Cramp, Baptist History: from the Foundation of the Christian Church to the close of the Eighteenth Century. Philadelphia.
J. Chaplin, The Pilgrims and the Puritans, The Baptist Quarterly, VII. pp. 129-148, 274-292. Philadelphia, 1873.
T. J. Conant, The Puritan Exodus, The Baptist Quarterly, IX. pp. 225-234. Philadelphia, 1875.
Joseph M. Atkinson, The Puritans, The Southern Presbyterian Review, XV. pp. 230-255. Columbia, S. C., 1863.
Newell Dwight Hillis, The Pilgrim Fathers and the Message of the Puritans, Bibliotheca Sacra, LV. pp. 342-356. Oberlin, 1898.
Louis Martin Sears, The Puritan and his Anglican Allegiance, Bibliotheca Sacra, LXXIV. pp. 533-580. Oberlin, 1917.
John T. Christian, The Pilgrim Fathers, The Review and Expositor, XVIII. pp. 20-31. Louisville, 1921.
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