Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
A DECADE OF TRIAL.—REV. MORGAN EDWARDS RESIGNS.—REV. SAMUEL STILLMAN CHOSEN PASTOR.—DID NOT ACCEPT.—NORTHERN LIBERTY CHURCH IN THE ASSOCIATION.—THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT.—MORGAN EDWARDS AN EVANGELIST.—REV. WILLIAM ROGERS ORDAINED.—LAST SERMON OF REV. ISAAC EATON.—DIVINE BLESSING.—JOHN LEVERING.—LAYING ON OF HANDS.—REV. EBENEZER KINNERSLEY RESIGNS HIS PROFESSORSHIP.—DEATH AND BURIAL OF MR. KINNERSLEY.—MEMORIAL WINDOW.—PERSECUTIONS OF BAPTISTS.—ASSOCIATION MEETING TWICE A YEAR.—ACADEMY AT PENNYPACK.—BURGISS ALLISON.—CARPENTER’S HALL.—CONTINENTAL CONGRESS.—REV. ISAAC BACKUS.—DIARY OF BACKUS IN PHILADELPHIA.—COMMITTEE OF GRIEVANCES IN THE ASSOCIATION.—MEETING AT CARPENTER’S HALL.—ADDRESS BY REV. JAMES MANNING.—MASSACHUSETTS DELEGATES UNFRIENDLY.—BAPTISTS AND SOUL LIBERTY.—PREJUDICED OPINION OF JOHN ADAMS.—COMMITTEE DETERMINED.—PRINTED DOCUMENTS.—FASTING AND PRAYER.—REV. WILLIAM ROGERS RESIGNED.
WE come now to the decade in American History which tried men’s souls, and in which our own city acted no unimportant part. The record of our denomination in these parts then was true and our Ministry almost to a man were loyal to those principles for which, through all the ages of Christianity, Baptists have so earnestly contended. Up to April 6, 1771, Rev. Samuel Jones remained connected with the First Baptist Church; on that date he united with Pennypack. At the church meeting in Philadelphia, held July 8th, 1771, Rev. Morgan Edwards made the following proposal:—
My Brethren:—I have observed, for some time, that the interest does not thrive under my ministration as it was wont to do in years past, but is rather declining. This has given me trouble, and trouble that I am less able to bear of any other trouble whatsoever. Accordingly, I have the last year made this proposal to some of the Brethren, viz.: that they should look out for a popular Preacher, and that I would resign half my salary in order to enable the church to pay him. Things are still in the same situation, and my declining age and the present posture of affairs forbid me to hope for better times. I therefore now repeat to the church what I before mentioned to individuals, viz.: that you will seek for a Minister suitable to the place; and a man of such talents as promise the revival of the interest. On this I am much in earnest, and, because in earnest, I do offer you my help to find such a man, either in America or Europe, and to bring him hither. I also propose to insist on no terms for myself which will hinder such an event from coming to pass, and in the meantime intend not to leave you destitute, because I seek your good, as a Church, and the good of the interest in general more than my own private advantage, for the credibility of this I appeal to my whole conduct since I have been here and to my former and present proposal.
This resignation was accepted unconditionally. At the church meeting in August, Rev. Samuel Stillman, and John Davis of Boston, Hezekiah Smith of Haverhill, John Gano of New York, Samuel Jones of Pennypack, and Oliver Hart of Charleston, were placed in nomination for the pastorate. The first one was chosen, and a very urgent and cordial letter was sent to him, to which, while on a visit to this city, he replied as follows:—
To the Baptist Church and Congregation in Philadelphia. Dear Brethren:—Your call I have received and deliberately considered. The application to me, on this occasion, I view as an expression of your affection for and confidence in me, for which I am much obliged to you. Permit me to assure you that I am sensibly touched with your circumstances, and may God send you a pastor after his own heart. The arguments with which you urge your invitation to me are weighty, and would be sufficient to incline me to accept it and settle among you, were I not so closely connected in Boston. A few hints out of many that might be given cannot fail of convincing you that it is impracticable for me to leave a people with whom I am so intimately and agreeably connected. It may suffice to say that the Lord hath been pleased to succeed my imperfect services among the people, insomuch that the church has greatly increased and is now increasing. I left a considerable number under solemn concern of mind. They are also at peace among themselves, and have, for several years, discovered a warm affection for me. The congregation has become so numerous that they have been obliged to pull down the old meeting house and to build one much larger. This house they are now building for me at a great expense, which they cheerfully endure, confiding in me that I will continue among them. Under these circumstances I cannot think it my duty, brethren, to leave them, although it would afford me great pleasure to reside in this my native city, among my relations and friends, and to serve you in the Gospel. Wishing you grace, mercy and peace from Christ Jesus, I subscribe yours in the Faith and Fellowship of the Gospel. Philadelphia, November 5, 1771.
The same year, October 16th, the Northern Liberty Church, referred to in the previous chapter, was received into the Association with sixteen members. Its numbers never increased, and it was supplied with preaching by the ministers of the Association. Its name appears on the Minutes until 1776, but not thereafter. At this session of the Association, the missionary spirit, which, from the very first of its history, had been so manifest in the readiness to visit destitute churches and settlements culminated in the appointment of Rev. Morgan Edwards as an Evangelist. He was “sent into remote regions, especially South, to preach the Gospel, counsel the feeble churches, and instruct the scattered disciples of Christ.” This took him from the pastorate which for ten years he had ably filled, and during which time he had baptized into the fellowship of the church one hundred and seventeen persons. The Association Minutes for 1774 state: “The ministers expressed a. readiness to supply Philadelphia in case Mr. Edwards should proceed in the execution of his public office.” That his work was successful and appreciated is evident, because in 1772, “the thanks of the Association were returned to brother Morgan Edwards for his services in travelling and visiting the churches to the southward; and the interest of the Association fund, for the last year, voted him, together with £6 more, made up by the brethren present, and sent him by Mr. Samuel Jones.” January 1, 1770, Rev. Morgan Edwards preached a New Year’s sermon from the text, “This year thou shalt die.” He became possessed of the idea that on a certain day of that year he would die, which, together with some other irregularities, had an injurious effect, and discouraged him in his pastorate, but he continued preaching for the Church, until the settlement of his successor, an event which in part he was the means of bringing about, in connection with Dr. Stillman. In 1772, he removed with his family to Newark, Delaware, but still retained his connection with the church he had recently served.
In December, 1771, William Rogers, Principal of an Academy at Newport, Rhode Island, was induced to visit Philadelphia, and continued preaching for the church until March 4th, 1772, when he was unanimously called to the pastorate. This he accepted, and was ordained on Sunday, the 31st of May, following. Mr. Rogers was born in Newport, R. I. July 22, 1751. His parents were members of the Baptist Church in that town. Having gone through a preparatory course in Grafton, Mass., he entered, the Freshman Class of Brown University, in September, 1765, and graduated with the first class from that institution in 1769. The following year he was converted to God, was baptized by Rev. Gardiner Thurston, and was received as a member of the Second Baptist Church of Newport, by prayer and the imposition of hands. In August, 1771, this Church licensed him to preach the Gospel, and dismissed him by letter to Philadelphia, April 14, 1772. The sermon on the occasion of his ordination was preached by Rev. Isaac Eaton, from the words, “Who is sufficient for these things?” This was the last sermon he ever preached, for he died July 4th, 1772, and this text was the first one that Mr. Rogers ever preached from. When we remember that Isaac Eaton was the first Baptist to found an Academy in America, from which really sprang Brown University, also that William Rogers was a member of the first graduating glass of that University, it was eminently appropriate that the above sermon should be preached by Mr. Eaton in the very church edifice where Brown University was practitically projected. It was singular that the last sermon of this good and useful educator among the Baptists of this country should have been delivered amidst circumstances of such peculiar interest.
God’s blessing attended the settlement of Mr. Rogers, from the very first, for, on the 8th of June following his ordination, five persons narrated their experience for baptism, one of these, John Levering, was the first person baptized by Mr. Rogers. He became a constituent member and for forty years an honored deacon of the Roxborough Baptist Church, of this city. By the following October twenty-three persons had been received into the First Church by baptism, and the membership increased to one hundred and sixty-four. It was the custom of the church then, as previously, to admit all members after baptism “by prayer and laying on of hands.”
October 17, 1772, Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley, on account of failing health, tendered his resignation as Professor of Rhetoric in the University of Pennsylvania. His resignation was accepted, and on the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the University, under date of February 23, 1773, is the following record:—
The College suffers greatly since Mr. Kinnersley left it, for want of a person to teach public speaking, so that the present class have not those opportunities to declaim and speak which have been of so much use to their predecessors, and have contributed greatly to aid the credit of the Institution.
He died July, 1778, and was buried in the grave-yard at Pennypack. His tombstone bears the following simple inscription:—
In memory of the
Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley,
who died July 4, 1778,
aged 67 years.
A memorial window to his memory has been placed in one of the buildings of the University.
The persecutions of the Baptists in Massachusetts still continued. The letter from the Warren to the Philadelphia Association, in 1773, stated, “Our sufferings in Boston government on religious accounts still continue in several places; a particular narrative of which is to be printed, with a fair representation of the treatment which the Baptists have met with in said government in time past.” For these persecuted Baptists of New England, their brethren in Philadelphia ever felt the deepest interest, and manifested the most profound sympathy.
That year, in order that the scattered churches of the Association might more easily reach the sessions, it was resolved, thereafter, that said body should hold two meetings a year, one in May, in New York, and the other in October, in Philadelphia. This plan was carried into effect in 1774, but it was not found practical, so, at the meeting in October, the project was annulled.
Rev. Samuel Jones, of Pennypack, in connection with his ministerial work, commenced an academy in his own residence, for the instruction of young men in theology. Several of our early ministers received their first instruction in divinity there. Among these were Burgis Allison, who was born in Bordentown, N. J., August 17th, 1753, and baptized at Upper Freehold, in the same state, in October, 1769. In 1774 he repaired to the school of Mr. Jones’ where he received a classical, and, to some extent, a theological education. June 1st, 1776, he was received by letter into the Pennypack church, by which he was licensed to preach April 27th, 1777. He was ordained there June 10th, 1781, and became pastor of the newly organized church in his native town.
September 5th, 1774, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, at Carpenter’s Hall. The grievances of the brethren in New England had become so severe that it was concluded to lay the matter before that body. At a meeting of representatives of twenty Baptist churches, held at Medfield, near Boston, September 14th, Rev. Isaac Backus was selected to proceed to Philadelphia, for this object.
“Mr. Backus,” says Hovey, in his “Life and Times” of this indefatigable laborer for soul liberty, “began his journey on the 26th of September; it occupied nearly a fortnight. At Providence he met with Elders Gano and Van Horne, who went on with him by land. Old Mr. Chileab Smith joined them at Norwich, prepared to testify of the oppressions at Ashfield. On the 8th of October they arrived in Philadelphia, and Mr. Backus was kindly entertained at the house of Mr. Samuel Davis. On the morrow, it being the Lord’s day, he preached three times in the pulpit of Rev. William Rogers. His diary indicates sufficiently the course of events during the next few days”:—
“Monday, October 10th, visited Robert Strettle Jones, Esq., in the forenoon, and Mr. Joseph Moulder in the afternoon—gentlemen who were desirous of knowing how our affairs were in New England, and who seem willing to exert themselves in our favor.
“Oct. 11th, our Elders Manning and Jones arrived with others, and we held a meeting at Esquire Jones’ in the evening, where were Israel and James Pemberton and Joseph Fox, principal men among the Quakers, with other gentlemen. I then laid open our condition in New England, and asked their advice, whether to lay the case before Congress or not. They advised us not to address Congress as a body, at present, but to seek for a conference with the Massachusetts delegates, together with some other members who were known to be friendly to religious liberty. They also manifested a willingness to be helpful in our case.”
“Oct. 12th, spent the forenoon with Esquire Jones in drawing up a memorial of our case to lay before the conference. In the afternoon the Philadelphia Association met in that city, continuing in session three days. Before closing it, made choice of a committee of grievances to correspond with ours in New England, and to prosecute such measures for our relief as they should judge best.”
The proceedings of the Association on this matter are thus given in the minutes:—
The case of our brethren suffering under ecclesiastical oppression in New England being taken into consideration, it was agreed to recommend our churches to contribute to their necessities, agreeable to the pattern of the primitive churches, who contributed to the relief; of the distressed brethren in Judea. And that the money raised for them be remitted to Mr. Backus, to be by him, in conjunction with the committee of advice in said colony, distributed to the brethren.
The case of our brethren above considered, induced us to appoint a committee of grievances, who may, from time to time, receive accounts of the sufferings and difficulties of our friends and brethren in the neighboring colonies; and meet as often as shall appear needful in the city of Philadelphia, to consult upon and prosecute such measures for their relief as they shall judge most expedient; and may correspond with the Baptist committee in the Massachusetts Bay, or elsewhere. Accordingly, the following gentlemen were appointed, viz.: Robert Strettle Jones, Esq., Mr. Samuel Davis, Mr. Stephen Shewel, Mr. Thomas Shields, Mr. George Wescott, Alexander Edwards, Esq., Benjamin Bartholomew, Esq., John Evans, Esq., John Mayhew, Esq., Edward Keasley, Esq., Rev. Samuel Jones, A.M., Rev. Morgan Edwards, A. M., Rev. William Vanhorn, A. M., Mr. Abraham Beakley, Abel Evans, Esq., Samuel Miles, Esq., Mr. James Morgan and Mr. John Jarman. Any five of them to be a quorum.
“October 14th,” says Backus, in his diary, “in the evening, there met at Carpenter’s Hall Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams and Robert Treat Paine, Esqs., delegates from Massachusetts; and there were also present James Kinzie,.of New Jersey; Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward, of Rhode Island; Joseph Galloway and Thomas Mifflin, Esq., of Pennsylvania; and other members of Congress. Mr. Rhodes, Mayor of the city of Philadelphia, Israel and James Pemberton, and Joseph Fox, Esqrs., of the Quakers, and other gentlemen, also Elders Manning, Gano, Jones, Rogers, Edwards, etc., were present. The conference was opened by Mr. Manning, who made a short speech, and then read the memorial which was drawn up.”
This very important historical document, drawn up in Philadelphia, is as follows:—
It has been said by a celebrated writer in politics, that but two things were worth contending for,—Religion and Liberty. For the latter we are at present nobly exerting ourselves through all this extensive continent, and surely no one whose bosom feels the patriot glow in behalf of civil liberty, can remain torpid to the more ennobling flame of RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. The free exercise of private judgment and the unalienable rights of conscience, are of too high a rank and dignity to be subjected to the decrees of councils, or the imperfect laws of fallible legislators. The merciful Father of mankind is the alone Lord of conscience. Establishments may be able to confer worldly distinctions, but cannot create Christians. They have been reared by craft or power, but liberty never flourished perfectly under their control. That liberty, virtue and public happiness can be supported without them, this flourishing province [Pennsylvania] is a glorious testimony, and a view of it would be sufficient to invalidate all the most elaborate arguments ever adduced in support of them. Happy in the enjoyment of these undoubted rights, and conscious of their high import, every lover of mankind must be desirous, as far as opportunity offers, of extending and securing the enjoyment of these inestimable blessings.
These reflections have arisen from considering the unhappy situation of our brethren, the Baptists, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, for whom we now appear as advocates, and from the important light in which liberty in general is now beheld, we trust our representation will be effectual. The province of Massachusetts Bay, being settled by persons who fled from civil and religious oppression, it would be natural to imagine them deeply impressed with the value of liberty, and nobly scorning a domination of conscience. But such was the complexion of the times, they fell from the unhappy state of being oppressed, to the more deplorable and ignoble one of becoming oppressors. But these things being passed over, we intend to begin with the charter obtained at the happy restoration. This charter grants that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God, to all Christians except Papists, inhabiting or which shall inhabit or be resident within this province or territory, or in the words of the late Governor Hutchinson, “We find nothing in the new charter of an ecclesiastical constitution. Liberty of conscience is granted to all except ‘Papists.’” The first General Court that met under this charter returned their thanks for the following sentiment delivered before them:—That the magistrate is most properly the officer of human society, that a Christian by nonconformity to this or that imposed way of worship, does not break the terms upon which he is to enjoy the benefits of human society, and that a man has a right to his estate, his liberty, and his family,, notwithstanding his nonconformity. And on this declaration the historian who mentions it, plumes himself as if the whole future system of an impartial administration was to begin. By laws made during the first charter, such persons only were entitled to vote for civil rulers as were church members. This might be thought by some to give a shadow of ecclesiastical power; but by the present [charter] “every freeholder of thirty pounds sterling per annum, and every other inhabitant who has forty pounds personal estate, are voters for representatives.” So there seems an evident foundation to presume they are only elected for the preservation of civil rights, and the management of temporal concernments. Nevertheless they soon began to assume the power of establishing Congregational worship, and taxed all the inhabitants towards its support, and no act was passed to exempt other denominations from the year 1692 to 1727, when the Episcopalians were permitted to enjoy their rights.
The first act for the relief of the Baptists was in 1728, when their polls only were exempted from taxation, and not their estates, and then only of such as lived within five miles of a Baptist Meeting House. The next year, 1729, thirty persons were apprehended and confined in Bristol jail, some Churchmen, some Friends, but most of the Baptist denomination. Roused by these oppressions, the Baptists and Quakers petitioned the General Court; being determined, if they could not obtain redress, to apply to his Majesty in council. Wherefore the same year, a law was passed exempting their estates and polls; but clogged however with a limitation, for less than five years. At the expiration of this act, in 1733; our brethren were obliged again to apply to the General Assembly, upon which a third act was passed, 1734, exempting Baptists from paying ministerial taxes. This third act was more clear, accurate and better drawn than any of the former, but for want of a penalty on the returning officer, badly executed, subjecting our brethren to many hardships and oppressions. This act expired in 1740, and another was made for seven years, but still liable to the same defects. In 1747 the Baptists and Friends, wearied with fruitless applications to the assemblies, once more proposed applying at home for relief, when the laws exempting them were reenacted for ten years, the longest space ever granted. To show what the liberty was that these unhappy people enjoyed, it will be necessary, though we aim as much as possible at brevity, just to mention that if at any time a Baptist sued a collector for the breach of these laws, any damages he recovered were laid on the town and the Baptists residing therein were thereby obliged to pay their
proportionate part towards his indemnification. At this time such an instance occurred in the case of Sturbridge, when Jonathan Perry sued the collector, Jonathan Mason, and the damages were sustained by the town, though the Baptists in town meeting dissented. And here it may not be improper to observe, that the judges and jury are under the strangest bias to determine for the defendants. In the beginning of the year 1759, an act was passed, breaking in upon the time limited, enacting that “no minister or member of an Anabaptist Church shall be esteemed qualified to give certificates, other than such as shall have obtained, from three other churches commonly called Anabaptist, in this or the neighboring Provinces, a certificate from each respectively, that they esteem such church of their denomination, and that they conscientiously believe them to be Anabaptist.
But not to take too much of your time, we would here just observe that all the laws have been made temporary, and without any penalty on the collector or assessors for the breach of the law passed at the last June session, as it has been generally understood to be so formed as to take away complaint and establish a general liberty of conscience, this act is like all others, temporary, and indeed limited to a shorter duration than most of them, being only for three years. It is without any penalty on the breach of it, and an additional trouble and expense is enjoined by recording the certificates every year, (though in some others obtaining one certificate during the existence of the law was sufficient) and concludes thus: ‘that nothing in this act shall be construed to exempt any proprietor of any new township from paying his part and portion with the major part of the other proprietors of such new townships, in settling a minister and building a meeting-house, which hath been or shall be required as a condition of their grant.
And here we would just add a few words relative to the affairs at Ashfield. On the 26th day of December next, three lots of land belonging to people of our denomination, will be exposed for sale; one of them for the payment of so small a sum as ten shillings eleven pence. Although we have given but two instances of oppression under the above laws, yet a great number can be produced, well attested when called for.
Upon this short statement of facts we would observe, that the charter must be looked upon by every impartial eye to be infringed, so soon as any law was passed for the establishment of any particular mode of worship. All Protestants are planted upon the same footing, and no law whatever could disannul so essential a part of a charter intended to communicate the blessings of a free government to his Majesty’s subjects. Under the first charter, as was hinted, church-membership conferred the rights of a freeman; but by the second, the possession of property was the foundation. Therefore, how could it be supposed that the collective body of the people intended to confer any other power upon their representatives than that of making laws relative to property and the concerns of this life.
“Men unite in society,” according to the great Mr. Locke, “with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property. The power of the society, or Legislature constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend any further than the common good, but is obliged to secure every one’s property.” To give laws, to receive obedience, to compel with the sword, belong to none but the civil magistrate, and on this ground we affirm that the magistrate’s power extends not to the establishing any articles of faith or forms of worship, by force of laws; for laws are of no force without penalties. The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but pure and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God.
It is a just position, and cannot be too firmly established, that we can have no property in that which another may take, when he pleases, to himself, neither can we have the proper enjoyment of our religious liberties, (which must be acknowledged to be of greater,) if held by the same unjust and capricious tenure; and this must appear to be the case when temporary laws pretend to grant relief so very inadequate.
It may now be asked—What is the liberty desired? The answer is, as the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and religion is a concern between God and the soul, with which no human authority can intermeddle, consistently with the principles of Christianity, and according to the dictates of Protestantism, we claim and expect the liberty of worshipping God according to our consciences, not being obliged to support a ministry we cannot attend, whilst we demean ourselves as faithful subjects. These we have an undoubted right to, as men, as Christians, and by charter as inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay.
The conduct of the Massachusetts delegates at this conference was not very friendly to the Baptists, so much were their minds warped by the religious tyrannies complained of. The truth is, these delegates, subsequently known among the great statesmen of our country, did not yet grasp the full idea of liberty of conscience for which Baptists then, as ever, were pleading. Their minds only comprehended liberty as freedom from the domination of the British Throne. They did not rise to the great height for which Baptists were aiming, viz: Soul Liberty. It is not in a spirit of egotism, but that of utmost candor, when we affirm, that to this stand under God, taken by the Baptists, the people of this country owe their Religious Liberty, more than to any other influence. How far prejudice will carry even good men, however, will be indicated by John Adams’ account of the above conference in Carpenter’s Hall. It is as follows:—
“Governor Hopkins and Governor Ward, of Rhode Island, came to our lodgings and said to us that President Manning, of Rhode Island College, and Mr. Backus, of Massachusetts, were in town, and had conversed with some gentlemen in Philadelphia, and wished we would meet them at six in the evening, at Carpenter’s Hall. Whether they explained their designs more particularly to any of my colleagues I know not, but I had no idea of the design. We all went at the hour, and, to my great surprise, found the hall almost full of people, and a great number of Quakers seated at the long table, with their broad-brimmed beavers on their heads. We were invited to seats among them, and informed that they had received complaints from some Anabaptists and some Friends in Massachusetts, against certain laws of that province restrictive of the liberty of conscience, and some instances were mentioned in the general court and in the courts of justice in which Friends and Anabaptists had been grievously oppressed. I know not how my colleagues felt, being, like my friend Chase, naturally quick and warm, at seeing our state and her delegates thus summoned before a self-created tribunal, which was neither legal nor constitutional.
“Israel Pemberton, a Quaker, of large property and more intrigue, began to speak, and said that Congress were here endeavouring to form a union of the colonies; but there were difficulties in the way, and none of more importance than liberty of conscience. The laws of New England, and particularly of Massachusetts, were inconsistent with it, for they not only compelled men to pay to the building of churches and support ministers, but to some known religious assembly on first days, etc.; and that he and his friends were desirous of engaging us to assure them that our state would repeal all those laws and place things as they are in Pennsylvania.
A suspicion instantly arose in my mind, which I have ever believed to have been well founded, that this artful Jesuit, for I had been apprised before of his character, was endeavoring to avail himself of this opportunity to break up the Congress or, at least, withdraw the Quakers and the governing part of Pennsylvania from us; for, at that time, by means of a most unequal representation, the Quakers had a majority in the House of Assembly, and, by consequence, the whole power of the state in their hands. I arose and spoke in answer to him. The substance of what I said was, that we had no authority to bind our constituents to any such proposals; that the laws of Massachusetts were of the most mild and equitable establishment; that it would be in vain for us to enter into any conference on such a subject, for we knew beforehand our constituents would disavow all we could do or say for the satisfaction of those who invited us to this meeting. That the people of Massachusetts were as religious and conscientious as the people of Pennsylvania; that their conscience dictated to them that it was their duty to support those laws, and, therefore, that very liberty of conscience which Mr. Pemberton invoked would demand indulgence for the tender consciences of the people of Massachusetts, and allow them to preserve their laws; that it might be depended on this was a point that could not be carried; that I would deceive them by insinuating the faintest hope, for I knew they might as well turn the heavenly bodies out of their annual and diurnal courses as the people of Massachusetts at the present day from their meeting-house and Sunday laws.
Pemberton made no reply but this, ‘Oh, sir, pray don’t urge liberty of conscience in favor of such laws.’ If I had but known the particular complaints which were to have been alleged, and if Pemberton had not broken irregularly into the midst of things, it might have been better, perhaps to have postponed this declaration. However, the gentleman proceeded and stated the particular cases of oppression which were alleged in our general and executive courts. It happened that Mr. Cushing and Mr. Samuel Adams had been present in the general court when the petitions had been under deliberation, and they explained the whole so clearly that every reasonable man must have been satisfied. Mr. Paine and I had been concerned at the bar in every action in the executive courts which was complained of, and we explained them all to the entire satisfaction of impartial men, and showed that there had been no oppression or injustice in any of them. In his diary, Mr. Adams describes the affair thus, “In the evening we were invited to an interview at Carpenter’s Hall, with the Quakers and Anabaptists. Mr. Backus is come here from Middleborough with a design to apply to the Congress for a redress of grievances of the anti-pedo-baptists in our Province. The cases from Chelmsford, the case of Mr. White. of Haverhill, the case of Ashfield and Warwick were mentioned by Mr. Backus. Old Israel Pemberton was quite rude, and his rudeness was resented; but the conference, which held till eleven o’clock, I hope will produce good.”
The evening succeeding the above conference, the committee appointed by the Philadelphia Association held a meeting, and in the account of their proceedings say, “We think it did appear that the delegates from Boston were determined to support the claim the Legislature made to a right to make penal laws in matters of religion.” It was further resolved, “That the committee, not being satisfied with the declaration made last evening by the delegates from Massachusetts Bay, are determined to pursue every prudent measure to obtain a full and complete redress for all grievances, for our brethren in New England.” Arrangements were also made to supply each of the delegates with a copy of the Memorial read by Dr. Manning, a copy of the above resolution and a copy of Dr. Backus’ “Appeal to the Public.” These documents and the conduct of the “Committee on Grievances” exerted a powerful influence in the direction desired, even though the course pursued and the object desired by the brethren from New England was grossly misrepresented by the dominant church party in that quarter as well as by the Delegates in Congress from Boston and vicinity.
Meetings for fasting and prayer were now held in the churches of the Philadelphia Association four times a year, and the men yearned in soul for entire liberty of conscience as much as for freedom from the increasing tyrannies of Great Britain. At the Association, in 1775, Rev. Samuel Stillman was present, and was probably supplying the pulpit of the First Church. His name is given in the minutes as though he was actually pastor of the Church. Rev. William Rogers resigned the pastorate in March, but continued to supply the pulpit until the following June, in conjunction with Thomas Fleeson, a licentiate of the Church.
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