Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
THE SISTERS ALLOWED TO VOTE.—RULING ELDERS.—FRATERNAL ASSOCIATIONAL CORRESPONDENCE.—WARREN ASSOCIATION ORGANIZED.—LETTER FROM PHILADELPHIA.—RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE AND MORGAN EDWARDS.—DEATH OF REV. BENJAMIN GRIFFITH.—FIRST COMMENCEMENT OF BROWN UNIVERSITY.—MINUTES FIRST PRINTED.—NORTHERN LIBERTIES CHURCH.—PERSECUTIONS.—PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION TO THE RESCUE.—SUFFERINGS AT ASHFIELD.—NEW MEETING-HOUSE AT PENNYPACK.
UNDER date of March 13, 1764, a new phase of church polity was introduced. For some years the sisters had not taken part in the business of the church. While the names of the brethren are given who were present at each business meeting, no ladies are mentioned as attending. On the above date, the following question was, “on behalf of some of the sisters” propounded: “Whether women have a right to vote in church affairs?” On March 31st, an answer was returned, “with due honor to the sisters,” as follows:
That the rights of Christians are not subject to our determinations, nor to the determinations of any church or state upon earth. We could easily answer that, in civil affairs, they have no such right; but whether they have or have not in the church, can only be determined by the Gospel, to which we refer them. But, if, upon inquiry, no such grant of right can be found in the Gospel, and if voting shall appear to be a mere custom, we see no necessity for breaking it except the custom should, at any time, be stretched to subvert the subordination which the Gospel hath established in all the churches of the saints, “I suffer not a woman to usurp authority, but command that she be in subjection, as also saith the law.” 1 Timothy 2:1., 1 Corinthians 14. Nor do we know that this church, or any of us, have done anything to deprive the sisters of such a practice, be it a right, or be it a custom only, except a neglect on a late occasion be deemed such, which we justify not. On the contrary, if the sisters do attend our meetings of business, we propose that their suffrage or disapprobation shall have their proper influence; and, in case they do not attend statedly, we purpose to invite them when anything is to be transacted which touches the interest of their souls.
May 5th, a communication was received from the women in reply, and it was decided that the sisters should have the right of suffrage as in former years.
Like the church at Pennypack, the one in Philadelphia had Ruling Elders. Three were elected for the first time May 10th, 1866. Their names were Isaac Jones, George Westcott and Samuel Davis. June 14th, “they were ordained by laying on of hands and prayer.”
In 1766, was commenced that fraternal correspondence on the part of the Philadelphia Association which, for so many years, was carried on, and from which in the early days so much of pleasure and encouragement resulted. It was then.
Moved and agreed to: That a yearly intercourse between the Associations to the east and west of us be, by letters and messengers, now begun, and hereafter maintained. Accordingly, Rev. Samuel Jones was ordered to write to the Association to be held at Warren, the Tuesday before the second Sunday in September, and Revs. John Gano, Samuel Jones and Morgan Edwards appointed to meet them as delegates from us.
This was the first meeting of the Warren Association, at the organization of which the number of Baptist Associations in the country had increased to seven, viz: the Philadelphia, organized in 1707; the Charleston, in South Carolina, 1751; the Sandy Creek, in North Carolina, 1758; the Leyden, in Massachusetts, 1763; the Kuhukee, in North Carolina, 1765; the Ketockton, in Virginia, 1766; and the Warren, in Rhode Island, 1767.
Up to 1766 the Baptist Churches of New England had not been gathered into an Association. Rev. James Maning was exceedingly anxious that this should be done. A meeting for this purpose was held at Warren, Rhode Island, September 8, 1767. From the Philadelphia Association were Rev. John Gano (who preached the introductory sermon from Acts 15:9, and was chosen Moderator of the new body), Rev. Abel Griffith, and Noah Hammond. The following letter was sent by them:—
The Elders and Messengers of the several Baptist Churches met in Association at Philadelphia, the 14th, 15th, and 16th day of October, 1766. To the Elders and Messengers of the several Baptist Churches of the same faith and order, to meet in Association at Warren, in the Colony of Rhode Island, the 8th day of September, 1767, send greeting. Dearly Beloved Brethren:—When we understood that you concluded to meet at the time and place above mentioned, with a view to lay the foundation stone of an associational building, it gave us peculiar joy, in that it opened to our view a prospect of much good being done. You will perhaps judge this our address to you premature, because as yet you have only an ideal being, as a body by appointment. But if you should call this our forwardness blind zeal, we are still in hopes you will not forget that our embracing the first opportunity of commencing Christian fellowship and acquaintance with you affords the strongest evidence of our approbation of your present meeting, and how fond we should be of mutual correspondence between us in this way.
A long course of experience and observation has taught us to have the highest sense of the advantages which accrue from associations; nor indeed does the nature or thing speak any other language. For, as particular members are collected together and united in one body, which we call a particular church, to answer those ends and purposes which could not be accomplished by any single member, so a collection and union of churches into one associational body may easily be conceived capable of answering those still greater purposes which any particular church could not be equal to. And by the same reason, a union of associations will still increase the body in weight and strength, and make it good that a three-fold cord is not easily broken.
Great, dear brethren, is the design of your meeting, great is the work which lies before you. You will need the guidance and influence of the Divine Spirit, as well as the exertion of all prudence and wisdom. It is therefore our most ardent prayer that you may meet in love, that peace and unanimity may subsist among you during your consultations, that you may be animated with zeal for the glory of God, and directed to advise and determine what may most conduce to promote the Redeemer’s Kingdom.
From considering the divided state of our Baptist Churches in your quarters, we foresee that difficulties may arise, such as may call for the exercise of the greatest tenderness and moderation, that if happy, through the blessing of God on your endeavors, those lesser differences may subside, and a more general union commence.
As touching our consultations at this, our meeting, the minutes of our proceedings (a printed copy whereof we shall herewith enclose) will inform you, and if in anything further you should be desirous of information with regard to us, we refer you to our reverend and beloved brethren Morgan Edwards, John Gano and Samuel Jones, who as our representative delegates, will present you with this our letter, and whom we recommend to Christian fellowship with you. And now dear brethren, farewell. May the Lord bless and direct you in all things, and grant that we may all hereafter form one general assembly at his right hand, through infinite riches of free grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. Signed by order and in behalf of the Association, by
BENJAMIN MILLER, Moderator.
SAMUEL JONES, Clerk.
Realizing the importance of and the necessity for the Rhode Island College, and as funds were needed, both for the support of the institution and for the ultimate erection of a suitable College building, Morgan Edwards, who had this subject right on his heart, was released by his people from the care of his church for a time, his pulpit being supplied by the different ministers of the Association, in order that he might collect the needed aid for the College. These ministers were compensated out of the salary of Mr. Edwards. This act was generous on the part of his church, the ministering brethren, and Mr. Edwards, and exhibited the warm place that education held in their hearts. In 1767, he visited England and Ireland, for the purpose of soliciting funds. His subscription paper bearing the honored names of Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin West, may still be seen in the college archives. On his relation to this Institution Dr. William Rogers, in his sermon commemorative of Morgan Edwards, well said:—
The College of Rhode Island is greatly beholden to him for his vigorous exertions, at home and abroad, in raising money for that Institution, and for his particular activity in procuring its charter. This he deemed the greatest service he ever did for the honor of the Baptist name. As one of its first sons, I cheerfully make this public testimony of his laudable and well-timed zeal.
One week before the meeting of the Association, in 1768, the venerable and faithful Benjamin Griffith, of Montgomery, fell asleep in Jesus. This was on October 5th, in the eighty-first year of his age. In his day he was one of the prominent men of the denomination. Morgan Edwards says, “Mr. Griffith was a man of parts, though not eloquent, and had by industry acquired tolerable acquaintance with languages and books.” He states also that he was once offered a commission of justice of the Peace, which, however, he declined; and on being asked the reason why he refused such an honor, he replied, “men are not to receive from offices, but offices from men—as much as men receive the others lose, till at last offices come to have no honor at all.”
The Philadelphia Association usually met in this city, though in its earlier years it may have met occasionally at Pennypack, Piscataway, Cohansey, Middleton, and Welsh Tract. The first record of its meeting out of this city is in 1769, when its sessions were held in New York, with the church constituted there June 19, 1762. At this meeting held in October, pleasing accounts from Rhode Island College were conveyed to the Association. Its first Commencement had been held the previous month, when seven young men had been graduated, among whom was William Rogers, hereafter to be mentioned. The College was very profuse in its honors that year, twenty-two Ministers or laymen receiving honorary degrees, among those who were the recipients of the Master’s degree were Rev. Morgan Edwards Samuel Jones John Davis and Abel Morgan of the Philadelphia Association. Whether these honors had the effect to lead the Association to appreciate the importance of having their Minutes printed we are not informed; at any rate, that year, for the first time, the Minutes were printed for distribution among the churches. “Morgan Edwards,” says Dr. Rogers, “was the moving cause of having the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association printed, which he could not bring to bear for some years, and therefore at his own expense he printed tables, exhibiting the original and annual state of the Associating Churches.” In the Minutes for that year is the following record:—
It was shown by some from Philadelphia, that they had obtained leave from the church they belonged to, (on Second Street) to form themselves into a distinct society in the Northern Liberties of that city, and they were desirous to know the sense of the Association touching their design; voted, That if any of our Ministers were free to constitute them into a church, in said Liberties, they might do it without offending the Association.
This answer would imply that there was some doubt as to the propriety of this movement, yet the church was organized, as in the Minutes of the next year is the following:—
The church in the Northern Liberties, of Philadelphia, proposed to join the Association; but, objections being made, the matter was referred to the Committee, who brought in their report, and the junction was deferred.
By this time the churches and members of our denomination, who had already endured such bitter persecutions in New England, Virginia and other places, were growing restless under the fierce hostilities for non-conformity to the religious establishments. They came with a statement of their wrongs to the Philadelphia Association, and that body, loyal to the great Baptist principle of liberty of conscience, then, as ever afterward, manifested practical sympathy, and inaugurated those active measures which contributed their influence in securing to this country, ultimately, that religious liberty now enjoyed. The minutes for 1769 state:—
By letter and messengers from Warren, we were informed that they had petitioned the Legislatures of Boston and Connecticut in favor of their brethren who suffer for non-conformity to the religious establishments of those colonies; and in case their petitions produced not a speedy or effectual redress of their grievances, requested that We would join with them in a petition to our gracious sovereign.
Voted, that this Association will not only join that of Warren in seeking relief for our oppressed brethren, but will also solicit the concurrence of the Associations of Virginia and Carolina in the design, if need be.
Voted also, That letters and messengers be sent to signify this, our resolution. The letter to the Warren Association was drawn up by the Rev. Samuel Jones; the messengers, Rev. Samuel Waldo and Rev. Benjamin Coles. That to the Virginia Association by Rev. Hezekiah Smith; the messenger, Rev. John Gano.
These efforts were unavailing, however, as we learn from the Association minutes of 1770:—
By the letter from the Warren Association, it appears that our brethren in New England are sorely oppressed this year again, and no redress obtained, though diligently sought for; their case is to go home soon, to be laid at the feet of our gracious sovereign. Rev. Hezekiah Smith is appointed agent, who proposes to sail about the beginning of November. They requested their brethren belonging to this Association to help them to defray the expenses of the agent. The request was attended to with much sympathy. Collections to be made in all our churches immediately and to be sent either to Mr. George Wescott, of Philadelphia, or Mr. Williams, of New York, to be by them forwarded to London. Also, a committee was appointed to draw a memorial, addressed to Rev. Dr. Stennett and others, in favor of our New England brethren’s design.
We cannot here refrain from giving the contents of the letters received from New England concerning the sufferings of our brethren at Ashfield, near Boston:—
The laws of this province were never intended to exempt the Baptists from paying towards building and repairing Presbyterian meeting-houses, and making up Presbyterian ministers’ salaries; for, besides other insufficiencies, they are all limited as to extent and duration. The first law extended only five miles around each Baptist meeting-house; those without this circle had no relief, neither had they within, for, though it exempted their polls, it left their estate to the mercy of harpies, and their estates went to wreck. The Baptists sought a better law, and with great difficulty, and waste of time and money, obtained it. But this was not universal; it extended not to any parish, until a Presbyterian meeting-house should be built and a Presbyterian minister settled there; in consequence of which, the Baptists have never been freed from the first and great expenses of their parishes—expenses equal to the current expenses of ten or twelve years. This is the present case of the people of Ashfield, which is a Baptist settlement. There were but five families of other denominations in the place when the Baptist church was constituted; but those five and a few more have lately built a Presbyterian meeting-house and settled an orthodox minister, as they call him; which last cost £200. To pay for both, they laid a tax on the land, and, as the Baptists are the most numerous, the greatest part fell to their share. The Presbyterians, in April last demanded the money. The Baptists pleaded poverty, alleging that they had been twice driven from their plantations by the Indians’ last war; that they were but new settlers, and had cleared but a few spots of land, and had not been able to build commodious dwelling houses. The tyrants would not hear. Then the Baptists pleaded the ingratitude of such conduct, for they had built a fort there at their own expense, and had maintained it for two years, and so had protected the interior Presbyterians, as well as their neighbors, who now rose up against them; that the Baptists to the westward had raised money to relieve Presbyterians who had, like them, suffered from the Indians; and that it was cruel to take from them what the Indians had left. But nothing touched the hearts of these cruel people. Then the Baptists urged the law of the province; but were soon told that that law extended to no new parish till the meetinghouse and minister were paid for. Then the Baptists petitioned the general court; proceedings were stopped till further orders, and the poor people went home rejoicing, thinking their property safe, but had not all got home before said order came, and it was an order for the Presbyterians to proceed. Accordingly, in the month of April they fell foul on their plantations, and not on skirts and corners, but on the cleared and improved spots, and so have mangled their estates, and left them hardly any but a wilderness; they sold the house and garden of one man, and the young orchards, meadows and corn-fields of others; nay, they sold their dead, for they sold their grave-yard. The orthodox minister was one of the purchasers. These spots amounted to three hundred and ninety-five acres, and have since been valued at £363 8s., but were sold for £35 10s. This was the first payment; two more are coming, which will not leave them an inch of land at this rate. The Baptists waited on the Assembly five times this year for relief, but were not heard, under pretence they did no business; but their enemies were heard, and had their business done. At last the Baptists got together about a score of the members at Cambridge, and made their complaint known; but in general they were treated very superciliously. One of them spoke to this effect “The general assembly have a right to do what they did, and if you don’t like it you may quit the place.” But, alas, they must leave their all behind! These Presbyterians are not only supercilious in power, but mean and cruel in mastery. When they came together to mangle the estates of the Baptists, they diverted themselves with the tears and lamentations of the oppressed. One of them, whose name is Wells, stood up to preach a mock sermon on the occasion; and, among other things, used words to this effect: “The Baptists, for refusing to day an orthodox minister, shall be cut in pound pieces and boiled for their fat to grease the devil’s carriage,” etc.
The meeting-house at Pennypack, erected in 1707, was torn down in 1770, and a neat stone building was erected, 30 by 33 feet, “with pews, galleries, and a stove, which latter accommodation was not to be found in all the meeting- houses.” The present edifice at Lower Dublin was erected in 1805, when Dr. Samuel Jones was pastor.
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