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Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer

CHAPTER 12.—1776-1780.

WE now reach the ever memorable year of 1776, during which, on the Fourth of July, the Declaration of American Independence was adopted in Independence Hall. How much the Baptists had to do with bringing about the passage of that glorious instrument and its grand results, Dr. William Cathcart, of this city, has ably shown in his work, entitled, “The Baptists and the American Revolution.”

The Philadelphia Association was to have been held, this year, in New York, but owing to the troubles in the country, a more retired place was selected; hence it met at Scotch Plains, New Jersey. That year the membership of the four churches in the city and county of Philadelphia amounted to 361. The following is from the minutes of 1776:—

This, Association, taking into consideration the awful impending calamities of these times, and deeply impressed with a sense of our duty to humble ourselves before God, by acknowledging our manifold sins, and imploring his pardon and interposition in favor of our distressed country; and also to beseech Him to grant that such blessings may accompany the means of His grace that a revival of pure and undefiled religion may universally prevail:

Resolved, That it be, and is hereby recommended to our churches, to observe four days of humiliation in the year ensuing, by prayer, abstinence from food, and labor, and recreations, lawful on other days. The days proposed for humiliation, are the Fridays before the last Lord’s day in November, February, May and August.


Our denomination in these parts took the side of the Colonies against the Mother Country, and there are on record many illustrations of their patriotism and loyalty. In March, 1776, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania voted to organize three battalions of foot, for the defence of the Province, and appointed Rev. William Rogers, late pastor of the First Church, to be the sole Chaplain of the said forces. “In June, 1778, he was promoted to a Brigade Chaplaincy in the Continental Army, which office he continued to hold till June, 1781, when he retired from military service altogether.”

Burgis Allison, a licentiate of the Pennypack Church, when the British were in possession of Philadelphia, exerted his ingenuity, as well as manifested his patriotism, by preparing kegs containing explosive substances, which were floated down the Delaware river for the destruction of the British men-of-war, lying at anchor near this city.

After the passage of the “Boston Port Bill,” in 1774, John Pitman moved from that city, where he was a member of the First Baptist Church, to Philadelphia, and became a member of one of the Baptist churches here. During three years he was engaged in, secular business, but in 1776 he joined a volunteer company, consisting principally of Quakers, and thereafter, with Christian firmness, patriotism and piety, he was identified with the colonists. As early as 1777 we find him preaching the gospel in various parts of New Jersey, and on October 12, 1777, he became pastor at Upper Freehold. July 30, 1778, there is a record in the minutes of the Pennypack Church which is significant of that church’s patriotism. It is as follows:—

Elizabeth Foster suspended until she shall clear herself of the charge of sending the English army, or a detachment of it, to plunder Captain Lanehlen.

In 1777 there was no meeting of the Association, in consequence of the ravages of war, and Philadelphia being occupied by the British troops. In 1778 it was held at Hopewell, N. J., and for the next five successive years at Philadelphia. After 1776, until 1781, no statistics of the churches are given in the minutes of the Association. The meetings were characterized by a devotional spirit rather than that of business. All felt the depressing circumstances of the country.

What was the exact condition of the church in Philadelphia from May 8, 1775, to August 16, 1779, is very difficult to determine, as there are no church minutes extant of that period. It was owing to the war, the absence of many members in the army, the high prices of all the necessaries of life, and the long occupation of the city by the British army. At the latter date we find Rev. James Manning, of Rhode Island, with them. He had come to Philadelphia to learn about the financial plans of Congress with special reference to the interests of Brown University, and finding the Baptist church in such a sad condition, he devoted some three weeks to their interests. Between Providence and Philadelphia he visited many churches. His wife accompanied him on this visit. The account of this trip is given in his diary very minutely, relative to Philadelphia. From Guild’s Memoir of him we quote the following, which will be in place:—

Monday, June 28. Set out and travelled [from Southampton] to Pennypack, Mr. Jones’, [Rev. Samuel Jones]. Arrived in the evening, and found the family well and glad to see us. Tarried here until July 2; spent the time agreeably in viewing the farm, its products, harvests, etc., and in conversation. The season here extremely hot; height of wheat harvest; the grain struck with the red rust, though little injured, except the rye, which is much blasted. The greatest part of the harvest between here and Philadelphia, where we arrived at eleven o’clock A. M., July 2, is gathered. Put up at Mr. Goforth’s, [a member of the Baptist church] and my horse across the way, in Second street, between Race and Vine streets. Visited Samuel Davis, [Deacon of the church] but he was out of town; also Mr. Rogers. Called at Mr. Watkins’ [formerly a deacon of the church]; then at Mr. Wescott’s [a deacon of the church]; from thence to Dr. Rush’s [one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence], who treated me politely; from thence called on Messrs. Shields and Moulder [Baptists]. Called at Mr. Hart’s lodgings, but he was out, which was also the case at Mr. Robert Jones’. The evening of July 2, Mr. Joseph Hart, of the Executive Council, spent at my lodgings.

Saturday, July 3. This morning came out a paper, in which Congress was handled pretty severely, under the signature of Leonidas, Breakfasted at Dr. Rush’s, and received two hundred dollars, Dr. Finley’s draft on him. Spent the afternoon chiefly in writing to Providence, by Mr. Ellery, who sets off this afternoon. Went to the State House; met Mr. Collins, and inquired, without much satisfaction, what was on foot in Congress, relative to money. Dined at Mr. Redwood’s with Mr. Ellery, and returned to my lodgings, where were Messrs. Shields and Connolly, who spent the afternoon with us.

Lord’s Day, July 4. Preached twice with some freedom; the morning congregation thin; more in the afternoon. Both church and society here in a broken state. The people urgent for my tarrying a considerable time, which did not suit my affairs. In the evening I visited one of the members of the church near her end; appeared to be in a happy frame of mind. Attended a religious society composed of Baptists, Presbyterians and church people. They appeared very serious and somewhat engaged in religion. Found Gen. Spencer at my lodgings, now a member of Congress. It being Fourth of July, the anniversary of Independence, the Chaplains of Congress preached suitable to the occasion, and Congress attended. High mass was celebrated and Te Deum sung at the Romish chapel. The gentlemen of the town were invited by billets, from the French minister, to attend. I suppose these causes rendered the Baptist meetings thinner than otherwise. The lowering of prices by the committee is considered by the town as a violent measure and only a temporary relief, but think it will share the fate of former state bills. The suburbs of this city greatly destroyed by the English, but the body of it not much damaged. A fine rain on the night of the Fourth. Some more apples in these parts than in the jerseys.

Monday, July 5. Breakfasted at Mr. Shields, where a committee from the church met and importuned me to tarry with them some time, or come again and make them a longer visit. I gave them hopes of the latter after the four Sabbaths of this month. Went to Mr. David Bower’s, and thence to Mr. Moulder’s; then to hear the oration at the Dutch church; the performance indifferent, Congress and the French Ambassador present, and a large assembly. Here met Mr. Merchant and called at his lodgings. Received an invitation to dine at Prof. Lawren’s, but we dined at Mr. Wescott’s. Returned to our lodgings. Were visited by Messrs. Shields, Britain, and Gen. Spencer. Set out in the afternoon for Mr. Jones’ [Rev. Samuel Jones], where we arrived in the evening. The weather intensely hot.

Tuesday, July 6. Tarried at Mr. Jones’, and set out on the 7th for Bordentown.

The above record indicates a busy nine days in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, the 27th, he again reached Rev. Samuel Jones’, and on the 29th came into the city. We quote again from his diary:—

Put up my horse at Mr. Shields’, called on some friends, and took quarters at Mr. Samuel Davis’.

Friday, July 30. Visited some friends in town. Saturday, 31st. Saw the British prisoners taken at Stony Point, march in; fine looking men. Dined at Mr Goforth’s.

Sunday, August 1st. Preached twice. The congregation pretty large—more so than usual here,—and very attentive. Spent the evening at a religious conference, where there seemed a degree of quickening and freedom.

August 2nd. A storm of rain from the northeast, which continued the next day; heat intense. I tarried mostly at my lodgings.

August 4th. Wrote letters to Providence, to the church and Nicholas Brown.

August 5th. The account of the defeat of the British by the French fleet in the West Indies arrived. Spent the evening at Major Goforth’s, in company with several gentlemen. Here I met Major Somner, ten days from Providence, who tells me that things are agreeable in that quarter. which I was also informed of by a letter from General Varnum, received yesterday. G. Brigade is come to headquarters, which I heard by a line from Van Horn, at the same time.

Friday 6th. Delivered my letters to Mr. Somner. This day Mr. Edwards called upon me, and tarried in town several days. Saw General Spencer and Mr. Collins. Abundance of rumors concerning the West India affair. Visited in town in the forenoon.

Saturday 7th. Went with Mr. Edwards to Captain Falkner’s, five miles, and spent the afternoon agreeably.

Sunday, August 8th. Preached three times. The assembly full, and the people so importunate for another Sabbath that I concluded to stay.

Monday, August 9th. Messrs. Jones, Blackwell, and Nathaniel Stout came to town; the former tarried with me one night.

Tuesday, August 10th. Mr. Edwards, in company with Jones and myself, set out for Colonel Miles. Distance thirteen miles. Arrived in the evening, and he and lady next morning, from town. He has a most elegant seat, gardens, meadows, etc., and a most remarkable spring, which turns three wheels in one fourth of a mile from its source. Spent three days very agreeably, and on the 13th, set out for town, Mr. Edwards returning with Mr. Jones. The weather extremely hot, and abundance of rain. The Indian corn incomparably fine, the buckwheat forward, and the second crop of grass cutting. This is an agreeable part of the country. Preached this evening.

Saturday, August 14th. Visited Major Goforth’s, paid my barber; received one hundred dollars of Mr. Rogers, as per order; called at Mr. Morris’ and dined at Mr. Ball’s.

Sunday, August 15th. Extremely hot. Preached twice, attended the funeral of a child, and drank chocolate at Mr. Turner’s. Richard Lemon and both the McKims, from Baltimore, at meeting.

Monday, August 16th. Visited Mr. Moulders, and attended the meeting of the church and society, who unanimously agreed to get the pulpit supplied. Chose a committee of eight, half from the church and half from the society, to raise the necessary supplies for that purpose, and to call Mr. Gano for one year. At two o’clock set out for Mr. Jones. Preached at Pennepek at five o’clock. Tarried with Mr. Jones and Mr. Edwards. The weather intensely hot; though the season uncommonly wet.

Tuesday, August 17th. Set out for Bordentown.

During the stay of Rev. James Manning in this city, he aided very materially in gathering together the scattered forces of the Baptist Church, and in preparing the way for the regular ministry of the word amongst them again. As an illustration of the price of living here then, the church paid fifty dollars a week for his board. The following letter addressed to Rev. Messrs. Still and Miller, will indicate the feelings of and throw some light upon the trials through which the church had passed during those fearful years:—

Sir, we need not inform you that we have been for a long time as sheep having no shepherd, and the consequence has been that we have strayed one from another. But your late visit amongst us seemed to cause some shaking among the dry bones, and could you have stayed longer, doubt not but the divine flame would have become more universal. And we can with pleasure inform you that, during Mr. Manning’s stay amongst us, the church and congregation were considerably collected together, and there appeared more love and unity than we have seen for some time past, which is a matter of encouragement to us, to use our best endeavours to have the pulpit supplied in future. Before Mr. Manning left us the church and congregation were called together to consult on ways and means for supplying the pulpit, till we can get a minister to settle amongst us. At which time a committee was chosen, and a subscription opened to enable the committee to defray the expenses of supplies. Therefore in the name and behalf of the church and congregation we their committee earnestly solicit you to visit us as soon as you possibly can, that a vacancy may be prevented, and if you and Mr. Miller could supply us till the Association, we believe it would be agreeable to all, and would willingly flatter ourselves, that you would have reason to say at the close that it was good for you that you came amongst us. And as you minister to us in spiritual, we hope our hearts will be enlarged so as to minister to you of our temporal things. We mean to provide lodgings, and use our best endeavors to make you comfortable during your stay with us. We hope therefore you will take the matter into your serious consideration, and that God may influence you in our favor is and shall be the prayer of your brethren in the Gospel.


Philadelphia, Aug. 25th, 1779.

In 1778, an invitation was extended to Rev. John Gano, a brother in law of Rev. James Manning, to settle as their pastor, but the condition and prospects of the field were so uninviting that he declined. In September, 1779, another very long and earnest letter was written to him, entreating him by every consideration to come and settle with them. Two copies of this letter were sent, one to his family in New Jersey and the other to the army, as it was uncertain just where he was at the time. As to the straits to which the church was put about this time may be learned from the following Minute dated November 6, 1779:—

Joseph Watkins is desired to get the broken panes of the Baptist Church filled up with boards.

Rev. John Gano replied at length to the call of the church, which he was compelled to decline. His letter, considering all its contents and the time at which it was written, is a valuable historical document and throws some light upon the trials then endured even by the men prominent in the Christian ministry. Mr. Gano was an able divine, a true patriot, a fine specimen of a Christian man, and loyal to the great principles of the Baptist denomination. The letter was penned in Philadelphia, as follows:—

I have received your call, have considered its contents, for and sympathize with you and the cause you are pained for the promotion of in this place. I thank you for the respect expressed therein, and think the more of it as you have long known me. Nineteen years ago I served this church steadily for a season, my defects and the expenses of my family were then known and borne with, the time being expired, and your expected supply coming from abroad, you had no further need of my services. Then I accepted a call to New York. Christian friendship has continued. Yet suffer me now to remark without feigned humility, I was then in my own esteem unequal to the place, although then in the prime, now in the decline of life, my family then small, now large and more expensive; the church, probably from its late political difficulties, the death and removal of members, the heavy taxes of the times, may be less able to bear the charge of a family like mine, who having been long unsettled, and flying from place to place, which, with losses and expenses, without the advantage of replacing, are reduced to an appearance however neighborly like, in a back place, yet rather reproachful in this place, to a church like this. Neither is the sum mentioned in your call at the present exchange anyway adequate to a present support, all which I could leave to God, did I satisfactorily know his will and consequently my duty in the present case. I do not. I am obliged to compare my present standing in the army, the mere Providence that put and has preserved me there, the ways and means of a former and a present support for my family, with this call to learn my duty. And that you may be better judges with me, I must be explicit in stating the contrast in my own breast as I in some measure sensibly feel it at present. I have said providence put and has continued me in the army for these reasons I never sought it, neither did I expect to like the life. Many things I have and must see and hear in the army very abhorrent, but little christian conversation, no retirement for study, discouraging prospects for convening or converting sinners, or quickening and edifying God’s children, and having no disposition to court the hardships and fatigues of campaigning, and had not the contest appeared to me just, and of so much importance to my country, both in a civil and religious sense, as to render me incapable of refusing any services or suffering I might be called to in it, at the same time knowing there were popular men of character in the ministry that left the city also, and some in the State beside, that by their temporary acceptance manifested a readiness to the service, that on the whole I have not known but God meant to keep me ready as an instrument in some future, when the enemy shall leave New York city, to assist that broken church where so much of the best of my time has been spent (and leave it they will, or come here again), and should I leave the army contrary to the desire of not only those of the first military characters in the State as also some eminent in the civil, I should probably in a late day fling all those advantages that I might expect from the state in favor of that church into a hand not so amical to it. My family has somehow been preserved and supported, neither is the prospect at present less promising for the future. We late last Spring got on a little place, although much out of repairs, and a poor habitation, it is fertile in pasturage and will afford near twenty tons of hay, has an orchard, and my son, although an entire stranger to farming, yet turned in to assist the family, and with a little help they procured and raised something of a summer crop of almost every kind, and has now near twenty acres of wheat in the ground, which place I rent at sixty-seven pounds continental per year—many disadvantages we are under and particularly the education of children. This view of the case I hope will show you my difficulty in determining, and I expect you will not take it unkind should I not accept your invitation.

The call was repeated over and over again. Every effort was made to secure him, but of no avail. He felt it to be his duty to remain as Chaplain in the army, and did so until the war closed.

Mr. Gano, in his autobiography, published in 1806, thus briefly refers to this event

I obtained a furlough, to visit and tarry some time with my family. While here I received a letter from the Baptist church in Philadelphia, requesting me to come and supply them. I shewed the letter to General Clinton, who gave me leave to pay them a visit for two or three weeks. I informed the church that I was not discharged from the army, neither did I wish to engage myself to any people. For if, in the providence of God, the enemy should be driven from New York, I intend to collect my scattered church, and to settle myself in that place. I therefore wished them to look for a supply elsewhere.

While in Philadelphia he was taken very ill, which detained him from the army for some time.

In 1775 the church, after the resignation of Rev. William Rodgers, endeavored to get Rev. Elhanan Winchester, but without success. October 23, 1780, however, “the church made choice of Mr. Winchester to be their minister.” He was born in Brookline, Mass., September 30, 1751, and united with a church there about 1770. Subsequently his views on baptism changed, and in 1771 he was baptized by Rev. Ebenezer Lyon, and became a member of the Baptist church at Canterbury, Ct. He at once entered upon the work of the ministry and preached for a time at Rehoboth, Mass., then in different parts of New England and South Carolina. He was zealous, eloquent and a man of remarkable memory. Great success attended his preaching, crowds assembled to hear him, and he was in demand by the churches. These elements of character had their influence on the church in Philadelphia, but his settlement was one of the most unfortunate moves they ever made, as the sequel will show.

Rev. John Gano, in his letter to the First Baptist Church, as given in this chapter, speaks of “popular men of character in the ministry that left the city, and some in the state,” to enter the chaplaincy of the country. One of these men certainly merits reference here, not that he was a Philadelphia Baptist, but as the ancestor of an honored family of our denomination in this city. Rev. David Jones is the gentleman spoken of. He was born in Delaware, May 12, 1736, and baptized at the Welsh Tract Church, May 6, 1758. After a liberal course of study he entered the ministry, and was ordained at Freehold, New Jersey, December 12th, 1766. Previous to the issuing of the Declaration of Independence he took high ground in favor of cutting loose from Great Britian. In 1776 he became a chaplain in the army, and remained through all the war, up to the surrender at Yorktown, performing very important services for his country. He was a man of warm friendship, ardent patriotism and sincere piety, and, after much faithful work for his Lord and Master, he died February 5th, 1824, in the 84th year of his age. He was buried in the graveyard of the Great Valley Baptist Church, near to the very spot where, for many years, as a pastor, he preached the gospel of the blessed God.

With this decade we conclude the first century of the history of Philadelphia Baptists. The first hundred years were checkered and trying. The progress was slow, but with the blessing of God upon the humble endeavors of his people about seven hundred persons were added to their fellowship by baptism, and from the little Baptist colony or 1684 the number had grown, by 1780, notwithstanding the ravages of war, to 224, having three well established and highly respected and respectable churches. About fifteen different men had served the churches in the ministry, while others had been raised up and sent forth to various parts or our country. Brown University had been founded, and a good basis laid for future work and success.

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