A History of the Baptists
THE BAPTISTS IN MARYLAND AND NEW HAMPSHIRE
Organization of the Philadelphia Association?Quarterly Meetings?The Early Churches of the Body?Other Associations?Powers of an Association?The Declaration of the Association?The Separate Association in Virginia?John L. Waller?Discipline?Trouble in the Pennepek Church?The First Church, Charleston, S. C?Requirements to Unite With a Church?Ministerial Education?Thomas Hollis and Harvard College?Scholarships for Baptists?Abel Morgan?The Academy at Hopewell?Missions?Oliver Hart?John Gano?Circular Letter on Education?Isaac Eaton?Brown University?James Manning?Dr. Ezra Stiles?The Charter?The First Commencement of Brown?The College Suspended?Resolutions on Temperance?Early Customs of the Baptists.
The organization of the Philadelphia Association, in 1707, is one of the most far-reaching events connected with the Baptist denomination. The church at Pennepek has the following record: "Before our general meeting, held in Philadelphia, in the seventh month, 1707, it was concluded by the several congregations of our judgment, to make choice of some particular brethren, such as they thought most capable in every congregation, and those to meet at the yearly meeting, which began the 27th of the seventh month, on the seventh day of the week, agreed to continue the meeting till the third day following in the work of the public ministry. It was then agreed that a person that is a stranger, that has neither letter of recommendation, nor is known to be a person gifted, and of good conversation, shall not be permitted to preach, nor to be entertained as a member in any of the Baptist congregations in communion with each other.
"It was also concluded, that if any difference shall happen between any member and the church he belongs to, and they cannot agree, then the person so grieved may, at the general meeting, appeal to the brethren of the several congregations, and with such as they shall nominate, decide the difference; that the church and the person so grieved do fully acquiesce in their determination" (Minutes of the Philadelphia Association).
Before the formation of the Association the churches had a general meeting for preaching and administering the ordinances, which was held in different places. The first was at Salem, New Jersey, in 1688; this was about three months after the Lower Dublin Church was constituted. The next was held at the latter church, the next in Philadelphia, and the fourth at Burlington. Other meetings were held at various places. The people with whom the brethren met called the gatherings a yearly meeting because it met with them but once a year, but those who attended all of the sessions spoke of it as a quarterly meeting. The association was designed to differ from the yearly meeting chiefly in this, that it was to be a body of delegates representing churches, and the yearly meeting had no representative character.
The brethren who constituted the association came from Lower Dublin (Pennepek), Middletown, Piscataqua, Cohansey, and Welsh Tract. The Philadelphia congregation, though giving its name to the association, is not represented as a constituent member, because it was regarded as a branch of the Lower Dublin church. Morgan Edwards mentions with evident satisfaction that, though the Association was formed of but five churches, "it has so increased since as to contain thirty-four churches (in 1770), exclusive of those that have been detached to form another association." The influence of the Philadelphia Association in shaping Baptist modes of thinking and working has been greater than any other body in existence.
The Philadelphia Association was followed by the Charleston, South Carolina. Wood Furman, the historian, gives the following account of this important transaction:
The settlement of Mr. Hart in Charleston is an important event in the annals of these churches. His unexpected arrival while the church was destitute of a supply, and immediately after the death of the excellent man who had occasionally officiated for them, was believed to have been directed by a special providence in their favour. He undertook the pastoral office with much seriousness, and soon entered on an extensive field of usefulness. His ardent piety and active philanthropy, his discriminating mind and persuasive address, soon raised him high in the esteem of the public, and gave him a distinguished claim to the affections of his brethren. Between him and the Rev. Mr. Pelot, actuated by the same principles and possessing very respectable talents, a cordial intimacy commenced. Mr. Hart had seen, in the Philadelphia Association, the happy consequences of union and stated intercourse among Churches maintaining the same faith and order. To accomplish similar purposes, an union of the four Churches before mentioned was contemplated and agreed upon. Accordingly on the 21st of October 1751 Delegates from Ashley River and Welch Neck met those of Charleston in the said City. The Messengers from Euhaw were prevented from attending. It was agreed that an annual meeting should thenceforward be holden on Saturday preceding the 2d Sabbath of Nov. to consist of the Ministers and messengers of the several Churches; that the two first days should be employed in public worship, and a Sermon introductory to business preached on the Monday following at 11 o?clock.
The object of the union was declared to be the promotion of the Redeemer?s kingdom, by the maintenance of love and fellowship, and by mutual consultations for the peace and welfare of the churches. The independency of the churches was asserted, and the powers of the Association restricted to those of a Council of Advice. It was agreed to meet again in Charleston, Nov. 1752. At that time the delegates from Euhaw attended, and the proceedings of the first meeting ratified. The instrument of Union bears the following signatures: John Stephens, Oliver Hart, Francis Pelot, John Brown, Joshua Edwards, Ministers; James Fowler, William Screven, Richard Bedon, Charles Barker, Benjamin Parmenter, Thomas Harrison, Philip Douglass, and John Mikell, Messengers (Furman, A History of the Charleston Association of Baptist Churches in the State of South Carolina, with an Appendix, 8, 9. Charleston, 1811).
By the year 1800, forty-eight associations had been organized as follows:
Philadelphia (1707); Charleston (1751); Sandy Creek, N. C. (1758); Kehukee, N. C. (1765); Ketocton, Va. (1766); Warren, R. I. (1767); Rapidan, Va. (1770); Congaree, S. C. (1771, recognized as Bethel in 1789); Stonington, Conn. (1772); Redstone, Pa. and Strawberry, Va. (1776); Shaftesbury, Vt. (1780); Holston, Tenn. (1781); Salisbury, Md. (1782); Woodstock, Vt., Dover, Va., and Middle District, Va. (1783); Georgia, (1784); New Hampshire (1785, though 1776 is also given as a date. It was later called the York, Me.); Vermont, Elkhorn, Ky., South Kentucky, and Salem, Ky. (1785); Bowdoinham, Me. (1787); Roanoke, Va. (1788); Portsmouth, Va., and Yadkin, S. C. (1790); New York and Warwick, N. Y. (1791); Baltimore, Goshen, Va., and Shiloh, Va. (1792); New River, Va., and Tates Creek, Ky. (1793) ; Hepzibah, Ga., and Neuse, N. C. (1794); Ostego, N. Y. (1795); Rensselaerville, N. Y., New District, Tenn., Chemung, Pa., and Fairfield, Vt. (1796); Miami, Ohio (1797); Delaware (before 1798); Mayo, N. C., Mountain, N. C., Sarepta, Ga., Green River, Ky., and Cumberland River, Ky. (1790).
The powers of an association and its relation to the churches, to ministers and members, were much debated. The attitude of the Cayuga Association fairly represents the situation. "A diversity of opinions prevailed in the churches," says their historian, "in relation to forming an association, and were expressed, both by their delegates, and in the letters to the body. Many, ever watchful against any infringement of individual rights, and ever vigilant in their defense of Baptist views of unrestricted liberty of conscience, and church independence, expressed their fears that an associated body might become corrupt, and assume an unwarranted control of the actions and discipline of the churches. In their letters to the body, they express, in most definite terms, their belief ?that Christ and not an associated body of any kind, is Law-giver and Head of the church"? (Belden, History of the Cayuga Baptist Association, 8. Auburn, N. Y., 1851).
At first more authority was claimed by associational bodies than was finally granted to them. The following is from the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association, in 1749, in an elaborate statement in reference to churches, which has usually been accepted:
At our annual Association, met September the 19th, 1749, an essay, on the power and duty of an association of churches, was proposed to the consideration of the Association; and the same, upon mature deliberation, was approved and subscribed by the whole house, and the contents of the same was ordered to be transcribed as the judgment of the Association, in order to be inserted in the Association book, to the end and purpose that it may appear what power an Association of churches hath, and what duty is incumbent on an Association; and prevent the contempt with which some are ready to treat such an assembly, and also to prevent any future generation from claiming more power than they ought-lodging over the churches.
After broadly stating the independency of the churches the Association in this essay says:
Such churches there must be, agreeing in doctrine and practice, and independent in their authority and church power, before they can enter into a confederation, as aforesaid, and choose delegates or representatives to associate together; and thus the several independent churches being the constituents, the association, council, or assembly of their delegates, when assembled, is not to be deemed a superior judicature, or having a superintendency over the churches, but subservient to the churches, in what may concern all the churches in general; or any one church in particular, and, though no power can regularly arise above its fountain from where it rises, yet we are of an opinion that an Association of the delegates of associated churches have a very considerable power in their hands respecting those churches in their consideration; :or if the agreement of several distinct churches, in sound doctrine and regular practice, be the first, motive, ground and foundation or basis of their confederation, then it must naturally follow, that a defection in doctrine or practice in any church, in such confederation, or any party in any such church, is ground sufficient for an Association to withdraw from any such church or party deviating or making defection, and to exclude such from them in some formal manner, and to advertise all the churches in confederation thereof, in order that every church in confederation may withdraw from such in all acts of church communion, to the end that they may be ashamed, and that all the churches may discountenance such, and bear testimony against such defection.
The first Separate Baptist Association, held at Craig?s Meeting House, Orange County, Virginia, in 1771, adopted the following article in their constitution:
We believe we have a right to withdraw ourselves from any church unsound in doctrine or irregular in practice.
On this article Semple makes the following comment:
It is worthy of note, that one of the constitutional articles disclaims all power over the churches. Yet the next declares a right in the Association to withdraw from delinquent churches in certain cases. Nothing less can be meant by this article than that the Association, in behalf of all orderly churches in her correspondence, would discountenance all disorderly ones. It is then a question, whether a church, discountenanced by the Association, can any longer be considered a part of the Baptist Society? Would it not be deemed disorderly for any other church to continue their fellowship towards one that could not meet in the same Association? Churches may not only become disorderly in practice, but heterodox in doctrine. To give an association power to deal with, and finally to put such out of their connection, must be proper, and, indeed, must be what is designed by the above article. By no other means could a general union be preserved.
The following comments on the power of associations by John L. Waller, of Kentucky, have met with favor:
First, Does a church sustain the same relation to an association that an individual member does to the church?
Second, If so, is it Baptist custom for an association to receive a church contrary to the wish and votes of another church or churches in the same association?
We answer the first question emphatically, that a church does not sustain the same relation to an association that an individual member doer to a church. The relation between the member and the church is a divine ordinance?was instituted by Jesus Christ?and is regulated by the precepts and principles of the New Testament. But the relation between the church and the association has its origin solely in Christian polity and expediency, claiming no more warrant in the word of God than missionary societies, and other benevolent institutions. The association is formed by a compact between churches, for the purpose of correspondence and acquaintance, and the promotion, by devotional exercises and mutual consultation, of their own and common welfare of Zion. As the churches are sovereign and independent, they sustain no relation to each other, except by agreement, and are bound in nothing, except by express stipulation. Whatever they have not covenanted to do by the terms of association, is of no force or obligation. Of course, it would be something new under the sun, if a church should be dealt with according to the 18th chapter of Matthew for private or individual offenses; or in any way arraigned and excluded for moral delinquency like a member of a church Our doctrine is, that a church is the highest ecclesiastical tribunal on earth; and when assembled in the name of Christ, he, the Great Head, is in her midst. But if our association can exclude a church, as a church can exclude a member, then associations might do what the gates of hell cannot do, prevail against the church.
In short, an affirmative to the question, would be to regard a Baptist association, which we are wont to call a mere advisory council, as something beyond a Presbyterian Synod and a Methodist Conference an ecclesiastical body supreme over supremacy, and controlling in cringing subserviency, independent sovereignties! But the supposition is too absurd to be entertained.
The plain, common sense of the case is simply this: When a church violates the compact upon which she agreed to meet in association with her sister churches, she forfeits her rights under that compact, and may, and ought to be denied the privileges of the association. But. so long as she adheres to the terms of compact, she has a right to be regarded as a member. She can commit no offense over which the association can exercise jurisdiction, except a plain and obvious violation of the terms of compact; and when dropped from correspondence and association, she is still as much a church as she ever was. Connection with an association is not essential to the existence of a church; but piety, purity of doctrine, and walking in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. So the New Testament teaches, so the Baptists believe.
The second question may be more summarily disposed of. But we beg leave to premise that we have given very little study to that code of discipline, held in high esteem by some brethren, called "Baptist custom," or "Baptist usage,"?a kind of ecclesiastical common law, found in tradition touching the practices of the churches in Virginia, the Carolinas, or New England; or else of the churches fifty years ago. We hope the brethren will avoid the yoke of "custom" and "usage" as much as possible. For ourselves, we have no more respect for Baptist than for Papistical "usage," unless it is sustained by the Bible, or supported by sound Christian expediency. But to the question.
The reception of a church by unanimity or by majority is a matter solely to be settled by the constitution or compact of the association. In the associations of our acquaintance, both modes obtain?by unanimity generally. It seems to us better not to receive a new church at the expense of the feelings of one already in connection. Fellowship ought to be preserved if possible. But when an objection is made, the reasons for it may be demanded; and then it is entirely competent for the association to determine whether these reasons are good and sufficient. If good, let the church applying be rejected. If not good, then the objectors ought to be required to yield, or else to be dismissed from the association. This seems to us to be a wise and prudent course; and some of our oldest and most intelligent associations pursue it.
These are the principles which generally govern Baptist associations in the United States.
The associations and churches were especially strict on the subject of discipline. An instance of this kind came up in the Philadelphia Association in the year 1712. One Thomas Selby made a disturbance and rupture in the churches at Philadelphia and Pennepek. The Association nominated persons to hear and determine concerning the differences; and they brought in their judgment and determination, confirmed under their hands, as follows:
With respect to the difference between the members and others, sometime belonging to the Baptist Church in Philadelphia, as it hath been laid before us, persons chosen by both sides, they having referred the whole of their differences to our determination; we, doing what within us lies for the glory of God, and the peace of the whole church, in regard to the transactions past, and what may be best for the future, for the interest of the gospel, upon due consideration of what hath been laid before us, as followeth, viz.: We do find the way and manner of dealing and proceeding with each other hath been from the rule of the gospel, and unbecoming Christians in many respects, and in some too shameful here to enumerate the particulars.
And first, we judge it expedient in point of justice, that Mr. Thomas Selby be paid the money subscribed by him by the members of this church, and he discharged from any further service in the work of the ministry; he being a person, in our judgment, not likely for the promotion of the gospel in these parts of the country; and considering his miscarriages we judge he may not be allowed to communion.
And secondly, as to the members of this congregation, we do apprehend the best way is, that each party offended do freely forgive each other all personal and other offences that may have arisen on this occasion, and that they be buried in oblivion; and that those who shall for future mention or stir up any of the former differences, so as to tend to contention, shall be deemed disorderly persons, and be dealt with as such.
And thirdly, that those who exempted themselves from their communion on this account, except as above, be allowed to take their places orderly without contention, and such as refuse to be deemed disorderly persons.
"Let it be noted, that the said Thomas Selby, though he and his party referred to above said, yet he appeared afterwards very outrageous while he stayed in the province, and some of his adherents joined other denominations, and never returned to seek their places in the church, and the church did accordingly exclude them. But the greatest, part took their places personally" (Minutes of the Philadelphia Association).
A notable illustration of the care with which members were received and discipline administered is found in the rules adopted by the First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina: The rules were as follows:
1st. When a person desires to join the church, the desire shall be made known to the Pastor a sufficient length of time before the communion season, to allow of conversation and acquaintance; and for further satisfaction, the Pastor may appoint the deacons, or any other of the brethren he may think proper, to visit the Candidate, for the purpose of obtaining all needful information concerning his or her experience and faith, character and life.
2d. The Pastor, and those he may have sent to visit and converse with the Candidate, shall meet together, at such a place as he may appoint, to consider the qualification of the Candidate, and after which conference, the Pastor shall give such advice to each as may appear suitable. In the meantime, any of the members may visit the Candidate or Candidates, for the purpose of forming acquaintance, and obtaining fellowship, before the period of their reception into the church.
3d. If the Candidate or Candidates be thought to possess those qualifications which may entitle them to a participation of the privileges of God?s house, they shall appear before the church; which (as it is a garden enclosed) shall be privately convened for said purpose, and none but the members to be present, and each Candidate will then relate the reason for his or her hope, and give such answers to questions respecting their Christian knowledge, repentance and faith, as may afford consistent evidence of a gracious state; after which, satisfaction being obtained, they shall be baptized, and admitted to all the privileges of the church.
4th. After each Candidate has been examined before the church, he or she shall be requested to retire to the vestry, while the church considers the case; which done, the Candidate shall be called in and the Pastor shall make known the decision of the church, which if favorable, they shall be kindly received; but if there should appear to be any deficiency in the knowledge and experience of the Candidate, and it may be thought advisable to wait sometime longer, or in order to get better information, the Pastor will, in a kind, affectionate and encouraging manner, present this advice.
5th. In case of Candidates coming from the country, or under any peculiar providential circumstances, where the above course cannot be ,pursued, the Pastor, and those he may consult, must act as may seem most for the glory of God, and the welfare of the church (Rules for the Admission of Members into the Baptist Church in Charleston, 1828).
A series of elaborate and searching questions was asked of the candidate preceding baptism. He was then requested to sign the church covenant. One of the many provisions of the covenant was to the effect. that "we promise to contribute in a reasonable manner, according to our ability, for the support of public worship, and the relief of the poor in the church; and to use our influence to forward and promote the interests of the Redeemer?s kingdom in. the world."
There are no traces of any systematic efforts in regard to ministerial education, until about the year 1752. The denomination had, however, been decidedly friendly to an educated minister, from the beginning, and they had as great a degree of learning as perhaps any since that time. The churches, it must be remembered, were exceedingly few; as late as 1700, the number was not more than fourteen. The connection with the mother country was most intimate; indeed, many of the pastors had been educated in England.
Thomas Hollis, a business man of England and a Baptist., was a liberal supporter of education in America. In 1720 he founded a professorship of Divinity in Harvard College, and in 1720 a professorship of Mathematics and Experimental Philosophy, and sent over apparatus that cost one hundred and fifty pounds. These professorships were endowed with a salary of eighty pounds a year. Likewise ten pounds each were allowed to ten scholarships, four of which were to be for Baptists.
"The aggregate of his donations," says Pierce in his History of the University, "was not much, if at all, short of two thousand pounds sterling. So large an amount was never given to the college before by any individual; and when it is considered that all of this came from a stranger in a distant land, from one of the then poor, despised Baptists, during the lifetime of the donor, and at a time when the value of money was vastly greater than it is now, what breast does not glow with grateful admiration! Some idea may be formed of the difference in the value of money then and now by considering that, the salary of a professor was at first only twenty-six pounds sterling, and that, this was then called an honorable stipend. The total amount of the benefactions of this family ?exceeded,? says Quincy, "six thousand pounds currency of Massachusetts, which, considering the value of money at that period, and the disinterested spirit by which their charities were prompted; constitutes one of the most remarkable instances of continued benevolence upon record."
In a letter which Hollis wrote to Rev. Ephraim Wheaton, Swanzey, Massachusetts, he refers to these scholarships and says that he had made provisions for "Baptist youth to be educated for the ministry, and equally regarded with Pedobaptists," and requests Mr. Wheaton to inform him of any duly qualified young men for the first vacancy (Massachusetts Missionary, Magazine, I.).
He likewise corresponded with the Philadelphia Association on the subject. That body, in 1722, proposed to the churches "to make inquiry among themselves, if they have any young persons hopeful for the ministry, and inclined to learning; and if they have, to give notice of it to Mr. Abel Morgan before the first of November, that he might recommend such to the academy of Mr. Hollis, his account" (Minutes of the Philadelphia Association, 27).
This provision of Mr. Hollis, however, proved of little avail to the Baptists, in consequence of the growing unfriendliness exhibited toward them throughout. most of the New England States.
The Philadelphia Association, in 1731, sent a letter of salutation to the various churches represented in that body. The Association, among other things, said:
The harvest is great and the laborers are few; pray mightily for more, and treat honorably the few you have left. Your neglect of hearing them may provoke the Master of the vineyard to call home from you those laborers you have, as he hath of late many of our reverend brethren. See what gifts you have among you; if there be any hopeful youths, let them exercise themselves, and be kind to them and tender to them; take heed that you do not discourage them you have, lest you should be made to lament your imprudent and inconsiderate management (Minutes, 32).
Isaac Eaton, who was the pastor of the church at Hopewell, New Jersey, from 1748 to 1772, set up a school for the education of youth for the ministry as well as other callings, in 1756, and kept it for eleven years. To him belongs the honor of being the first American Baptist to establish a seminary for the literary and theological training of young men. For this work his natural endowments of mind, his varied attainments of knowledge, and his genuine piety happily qualified him. In the welfare and progress of this academy, the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations ever manifested a lively interest. They appointed trustees, had some oversight and liberally supplied funds. Some of the most distinguished men in the country were there educated.
The following extract from a letter, addressed to the Particular Baptist ministers of London, by the Philadelphia Association, in 1762, has an allusion to the academy at Hopewell:
Our numbers in these parts multiply; for when we had the pleasure of writing you in 1754, there were but nine churches in our association; yet now, there are twenty-nine all owning the Confession of Faith put forth in 1689. Some of the churches are now destitute; but we have a prospect of supplies, partly by means of a Baptist academy, lately set up.
There follow some very interesting statements from the Charleston Association. "In 1755, the Association taking into consideration the destitute conditions of many places in the interior settlements of this and neighboring States (then provinces), recommended to the churches to make contributions for the support of a missionary to itinerate in those parts. Mr. Hart was authorized and requested, provided a sufficient sum should be raised, to procure if possible a suitable person for the purpose. With this view he visited Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the following year, and prevailed with Rev. John Gano to undertake the service; he attended the annual meeting and was cordially received. The Association requested Mr. Gano to visit the Yadkin first and afterwards to bestow his labors wherever Providence should appear to direct. He devoted himself to the work; it afforded ample scope for his distinguished piety, eloquence and fortitude; and his ministrations were crowned with remarkable success. Many embraced and professed the gospel. The following year he received from the Association a letter of thanks for his faithfulness and industry in the mission. At the same time, the expediency of raising a fund to furnish suitable candidates for the ministry with a competent share of learning, was taken into consideration, and it was recommended to the churches generally to collect money for the purpose. The members present engaged to furnish one hundred and thirty-three pounds to begin the fund; and Messrs. Stephens, Hart, and Pelot were chosen trustees. In 1759, Mr. Evan Pugh was proposed by Mr. Gano as a candidate for the ministry. He was examined, approved, and put on a course of studies. Having gone through them, he preached before the Association in 1762 with acceptance, and was soon afterward ordained.
"The general contribution from the churches was not so great as wished. But a society instituted in Charleston in 1755, which was called ?the Religious Society? and flourished many years, was highly useful in aiding the Association in its benevolent design. Several young men were furnished by it with the means of pursuing studies preparatory to the ministry. Of this number were Messrs. Samuel Stillman and Edmund Botsford, both from the church in Charleston. The former was ordained there February 26, 1759; and in 1807 finished in Boston a long life distinguished by fervent piety, shining talents and eminent usefulness. The latter survives as the eminent pastor in George-Town" (Wood Furman, A History of the Charleston Association of Baptist Churches in the State of South Carolina, 11, 12. Charleston, 1811).
The Circular Letter of this association, for 1786, contains this beautiful statement:
It is our ardent desire that the members of our churches be well established in the evidence, as well as the necessity and importance of Christianity; and that the reasonableness and consistency of its particular doctrines be well understood. We recommend therefore that a thirst for divine knowledge, together with a laudable desire to excel in every grace and virtue, be entertained in all our breasts. Pay particular attention to the education of your children with this in view; and where it has pleased God to call any of his young servants to the work of the ministry, let the churches be careful to introduce them in the line of study and improvement; and make suitable exertions to furnish them with the necessary means for this end (Furman, 19).
Rhode Island College, now known as Brown University, originated in the Philadelphia Association and was likewise intimately connected with the Warren Association. On October 12, 1762, the Association with twenty-nine churches, met at the Lutheran church building, in Fifth street, Philadelphia. Rev. Morgan Edwards was chosen moderator, and Abel Morgan clerk. At this meeting, says Backus, "the Association obtained such an acquaintance with the affairs of Rhode Island, as to bring themselves to an apprehension that it, was practicable and expedient to erect a college in the colony of Rhode Island, under the chief direction of the Baptists, in which education might be promoted, and superior learning obtained, free from any sectarian tests" (Backus, II. 137). The principal mover in this matter was Morgan Edwards, to whom, with the Rev. Samuel Jones, the business in general appears to have been entrusted. This gentleman, who had but recently settled in Philadelphia, was a native of Wales, having come to this- country upon the recommendation of Dr. Gill and other prominent ministers in London. He had been bred an Episcopalian, but in 1738 he embraced the sentiments of the Baptists, He received his academic education in Bristol, and in his sixteenth year entered upon the work of a Christian minister. Possessing superior abilities, united with great perseverance and zeal, he became the leader in various denominational enterprises, devoting to them his time and talents, and thereby rendering essential service to the cause. Many of his sermons, treatise, and historical works have been published. In one of them entitled ?Materials toward a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania,? he speaks of himself as having ?labored hard to settle a Baptist, college in Rhode Island Government, and to raise money to endow it?; which he deems the greatest service he has done or hopes to do for the Baptist interest." He died on January 28, 1795, in the seventy-third year of his age.
The first president of the college was James Manning, who had been a student in Hopewell Academy. He was now twenty-five years of age, of a fine, commanding appearance, pleasing manners, and polished address. "His person," says a writer, "was graceful, and his countenance handsome and remarkably expressive of sensibility, dignity and cheerfulness. He possessed a voice of extraordinary compass and harmony, to which, in no small degree, may be ascribed the vivid impression which he made upon our minds. In his manners, which seemed to be the natural expression of dignity and grace, he combined ease without negligence, and politeness without affectation. Blest with an amiable disposition, and possessing versatile colloquial powers, he was most engaging and instructive as a companion. And when to all these gifts and accomplishments is added sterling good sense, for which he was preeminently distinguished, and superior learning, it will be readily perceived that he was well fitted to act as a pioneer in the general educational work before him."
The history of the enterprise from this point may be best given in the language of Manning, which is as follows:
In the month of July, 1763, we arrived at Newport, and made a motion to several gentlemen of the Baptist denomination?whereof Col. Gardner, the Deputy Governor, was one?relative to a seminary of polite literature, subject to the government of Baptists. The motion was properly attended to, to which brought together about fifteen gentlemen of the same denomination at the deputy?s house. who requested that I would draw up a sketch of the design, against the day following. The day came; and the same gentlemen, with other Baptists, met in the same place, when a rough draught was produced and read,?the tenor of which was, that the institution was to be a Baptist one, but that as many of other denominations should be taken in as was consistent with the said design. Accordingly, the Hon. Josiah Lyndon and Col. Job Bennet were appointed to draw up a charter to be laid before the next General Assembly with a petition that they should pass it into a law. But the said gentlemen pleading unskillfulness touching an affair of this kind, requested that their trusty friend, the Rev. Ezra, now Dr. Stiles, might be solicited to assist them. This was opposed by me as unwilling to give the Doctor trouble about an affair of other people; but they urged that his love of learning and catholicism would induce him readily to give his assistance. Accordingly their proposition was assented to, and his assistance obtained; or, rather, the draughting the charter was entirely left to him, after being told that Baptists were to have the lead in the institution, and the government thereof, forever; and that no more of other denominations were to be admitted than would be consistent with that. The charter was drawn, and a time and place were appointed for the parties concerned to meet and read it. But the vessel in which I was to sail for Halifax going off that day, prevented my being present with them long enough to see whether the original design was secured; and as the corporation was made to consist of two branches, Trustees and Fellows, and these branches to sit and act distinct and separate powers, it was not easy to determine, by a transient hearing, what those powers might be. The Trustees were presumed to be the principal branch of authority; and as nineteen out of thirty-five were to be Baptists, the Baptists were satisfied, without sufficient examination into the authority vested in the fellowship, which afterwards appeared to be the soul of the institution, while the trusteeship was only the body. Placing, therefore, an entire confidence in Dr. Stiles, they agreed to join in a petition to the Assembly to have the charter confirmed by authority. The petition was proffered, and cheerfully received, and the charter read; after which the vote was called for, and urged by some to pass into law. But this was opposed by others, particularly by Daniel Jencks, Esq., member for Providence, who contended that the Assembly required more time to examine whether it was agreeable to the design of the first movers of it, and therefore prayed the house to have the perusal of it, while they adjourned for dinner. This was granted, with some opposition. Then he asked the Governor, who was a Baptist, whom they intended to invest with the governing power in said institution. The Governor answered, "The Baptists by all means I" Then Mr. Jencks showed him that the charter was so artfully constructed as to throw the power into the Fellows? hands, whereof eight of the twelve were Presbyterians, usually called Congregationalists, and that the other four might be of the same denomination, for aught that appeared in the charter to the contrary. Convinced of this, Governor Lyndon immediately had an interview with Dr. Stiles, the Presbyterian minister of Newport, and demanded why he had perverted the design of the charter. The answer was, "I gave you timely warning to take care of yourselves, for that we had done so in regard to our society"; and finally observed, that "he was not a rogue." When the Assembly was convened again, the said Jencks moved that the affair might be put off to the next session; adding that the motion for the college originated with the Baptists, and was intended for their use, but that the charter in question was not at all calculated to answer their purpose; and since the committee entrusted with this matter by the Baptists professed that they had been misled, not to say imposed upon, it was necessary that the Baptists in other parts of the colony should be consulted previous to its passing into a law, especially as few, if any of them except himself, had seen it; and he prayed that he might have a copy for the said purpose, which he promised to return. All which was granted. When the charter came to be narrowly inspected, it was found to be made by no means answerable to the design of agitators and the instructions given to the committee. Consequently, application was made to the Philadelphia Association, where the thing took its rise, to have their mind on the subject, who immediately sent two gentlemen hither to join with the Baptists of this colony in making such alterations and amendments as were to them specified before their departure. When they arrived, Dr. Eyres of Newport, was added to the committee, and they happily draughted the present charter, and lodged it, with a new petition, in proper hands. The most material alterations were, appointing the same number of Baptists in the fellowship that had been appointed by the Presbyterians, by Dr. Stiles; setting the presidency in the Baptist society; adding five Baptists to the Trustees, and putting more Episcopalians than Presbyterians in the corporation (Guild, Life and Times of James Manning and the Early History of Brown University).
The college required rigid examinations in the classics for entrance. Some of the orations at the commencement were delivered in Latin. For subjects chosen, modes of presentation, and the customs of the times, the following account of the first commencement is interesting:
On Thursday, the seventh of this instance (1789), was celebrated at Warren the first commencement in the college of this colony; when the following young gentlemen commenced Bachelor of Arts; namely, Joseph Belton, Joseph Eaton, William Rogers, Richard Stites, Charles Thompson, James Mitchell Varnum and William Williams.
About ten o?clock, A. M., the gentlemen concerned in conducting the affairs of the college, together with the candidates, went in procession to the meeting house.
After they had taken their seats respectively, and the audience composed, the President introduced the business of the day with prayer; then followed a salutatory in Latin, pronounced with much spirit, by Mr. Stites, which produced him great applause from the learned part of the assembly. He spoke upon the advantages of liberty and learning, and their mutual dependence upon each other; concluding with proper salutations to the Chancellor of the college, Governor of the colony, etc., particularly expressing the gratitude of all the friends of the college to the Rev. Morgan Edwards, who has encountered many difficulties in going to Europe to collect donations for the institution, and has lately returned.
To which succeeded a forensic dispute, in English, on the following thesis, namely, "The Americans, in their present circumstances, cannot, consistent with good policy, affect to become an Independent State." Mr. Varnum ingeniously defended it, by cogent arguments handsomely dressed; though he was subtly but delicately opposed by Mr. William; both of whom spoke with emphasis and propriety.
As a conclusion to the exercises of the forenoon, the audience were agreeably entertained with an oration on benevolence, by Mr. Rogers; in which, among many other pertinent observations, he particularly noticed the necessity which that infant seminary stands in of the salutary effects of that truly Christian virtue.
At three o?clock P. M., the audience being convened, a syllogistic dispute was introduced on the thesis: "Materia cogitate non potest" Mr. Williams the respondent; Messieurs Belton, Eaton, Rogers and Varnum the opponents,?in the course of which dispute, the principal arguments on both sides were produced toward settling the critical point.
The degree of Bachelor of Arts was then conferred on the candidates. Then the following gentlemen (graduated in other colleges) at their own request received the honorary degree of Master of Arts; namely, Rev. Edward Upham, Rev. Morgan Edwards, Rev. Samuel Stillman, Rev. Hezekiah Smith, Hon. Joseph Wanton, Jun. Esq., Mr. Jabez Bowen, and Mr. David Howell, Professor of Philosophy in said college.
The following gentlemen, being well recommended by the Faculty for literary merit, had conferred on them the honorary degree of Master in the Arts; namely, Rev. Abel Morgan, Rev. Oliver Hart, Rev. David Thomas, Rev. Samuel Jones, Mr. John Davis, Mr. Robert Strettle Jones, Mr. John Stites, Rev. James Bryson, Rev. James Edwards, Rev. William Boulton, Rev. John Ryland, Rev. William Clark, Rev. Joshua Toulmin, and Rev. Caleb Evans.
A concise, pertinent, and solemn charge was then given to the Bachelors by the President, concluding with his paternal benediction, which naturally introduced the valedictory orator, Mr. Thompson, who, after some remarks upon the excellences of the oratorical art, and expressions of gratitude to the patrons and officers of the college, together with a valediction to them, and all present, took a most affectionate leave of his classmates. The scene was tender, the subject felt, and the audience affected.
The President concluded the exercises with prayer. The whole was conducted with a propriety and solemnity suitable to the occasion. The audience (consisting of the principal gentlemen and ladies of the colony), though large and crowded, behaved with the utmost decorum.
In the evening, the Rev. Morgan Edwards, by particular request, preached a sermon, especially addressed to the graduates, from Phil. 3:8: "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ my Lord"; in which (after high enconiums on the liberal arts, and sciences) the superior knowledge of Christ, or the Christian science, was clearly and fully illustrated in several striking examples and similes; one of which follows: "When the sun is below the horizon, the stars excel in glory; but when his orb irradiates our hemisphere, their glory dwindles, fades away, disappears."
Not only the candidates, but even the President, were dressed in American manufactures. Finally, be it observed, that this class are the first sons of that college which has existed for more than four years; during all which time it has labored under great disadvantages, notwithstanding the warm patronage and encouragement of many worthy men of fortune and benevolence; and it is hoped, from the disposition which many discovered on that day, and other favorable circumstances, that these disadvantages will soon, in part, be happily removed (The Providence Gazette and County Journal).
The performances of the day excited universal attention. "We can readily imagine," says one, "how the beautiful and benevolent face of President Manning was radiant with smiles on this occasion; with what joy he beheld the first fruits of his anxieties; and labors and prayers; with what glowing eloquence he poured forth, at the throne of grace, the pious effusions of a grateful heart, invoking the blessing of God upon the future efforts of the friends of the infant institution, and filling every heart with emotion, if not every eye with tears, as, with the affection of a friend and the solicitude of a father, he commended to the care of heaven those who were about to depart from him, and, at a period of no ordinary moment, to enter a world of temptation and trial."
The college continued in successful operation till 1776, when, in consequence of the war, which had now deeply engrossed the attention of the whole country, the students were all dispersed. The college edifice was occupied by the French and American soldiery as a hospital and barracks from December, 1776, to June, 1782, at which time study was again resumed. These were days of trial, in which every muscle and sinew of the American people were put in requisition. The students of this then infant institution left the walls of science for the duties of the camp. The President, meanwhile, occupied an honorable seat in the American Congress.
The Philadelphia Association was among the first, if not the very first, ecclesiastical body in America, it is believed, which took a stand on the subject of temperance. The following is from the minutes of the year 1788:
This Association, taking into consideration the ruinous effects of the great abuse of distilled liquors throughout the country, take this opportunity of expressing our hearty concurrence with our brethren of several other religious societies, in discountenancing the use of them in the future; and earnestly entreat our brethren and friends to use all of their influence to that end, both in their own families and neighborhood, except when used as a medicine (Minutes, 239)
The manners and customs in worship were primitive and often rude. "Behold now the congregation as it assembles on the Sabbath. Some of them are mounted on horses, the father with his wife or daughter on a pillion behind him, and perhaps also his little boy astride before him. They ride up to the stone horseblock and dismount. The young men and maidens, when not provided with horses, approach on foot. They have worn their everyday shoes until just before coming into sight and have exchanged them for their clean calfskins or morocco, having deposited the old ones in some unsuspected patch or breaks or some sly hole in the wall. They carry in hand a rose, a lilac, a pink, a peony or a pond lily (for this was the whole catalogue of flowers then known in the country towns), or, what was still more exquisite, a nice bunch of caraway seed. Instead of this in winter they bare a tin foot-stove containing a little dish of coals, which they have carefully brought from home or filled at some neighboring house; and this was all the warmth they were to enjoy during the two long hours of the service. In winter they come a long distance on ox-sleds, or perhaps skim over the deep untrodden snow on snow shoes. They enter the house stamping the snow from their feet and tramping over the uncarpeted aisles with their cow-hide shoes.
"Let us enter with them. The wintry blast howls around and shrieks among the loose clap-boards; the half-fastened windows clatter; and the walls re-echo to the thumping of thick boots as their wearers endeavor to keep up the circulation in their half-frozen feet, while clouds of vapor issue from their mouths; and the man of God, as he raises his hands in his long prayers, must needs protect them with shaggy mittens. So comfortless and cold?it makes one shudder to think of it. In summer, on the contrary, the sun blazes in, unscreened by window curtains; the sturdy farmer, accustomed to labor all day in his shirt sleeves, takes the liberty to lay aside his coat in like manner for the more serious employments of the sanctuary" (History of a Hampshire Town).
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