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Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer

CHAPTER 13.—1781-1782.

THE very beginning of this decade was clouded with the apostacy of Elhanan Winchester, pastor of the church in Philadelphia. The first reference to it in the records is under date of Monday, March 5, 1781, as follows:—

It being mentioned in the church that Mr. Winchester held the doctrine of of universal restoration,. much debating ensued in consequence thereof, when, finding nothing satisfactory could be done, and growing late, the following protest was entered down to be signed by those who meant to preserve the orthodox faith, viz.: “Whereas the doctrine of universal restoration of bad men and angels, in the fullest extent, has for a considerable time privately, and of late more publicly, been introduced among us, and is now openly avowed by some of the members, to the great disorder and confusion of our church, and wounding the hearts of many of our brethren contrary to our confession of faith, we, whose names are underwritten, do in the most solemn manner, from a real conviction of duty, seriously protest against the same as a most dangerous heresy:

WILLIAM ROGERS, Samuel Miles, John McKim, Thomas Shields, Joseph Watkins, Benjamin Shaw, John Levering, Anthony Levering, Philip Burgen, Isaac Powell, George Ingles, William Moore, John McCleod, William Harper, David Bowen, Abraham Mitchell, Matthias Mavis, Isaac Bellangee, James Hunter, Abraham Levering, Jacob Levering, Andrew Edge, Jacob Burkeloe, Enoch Morgan, John Flintham, William Hungary, Ezekiel Robins, Richard Riley, Christian Dick, William Jenkins, John Bazelee, Zebediah David. MORGAN EDWARDS signs this protest against the doctrine of universal salvation under the character only of a doctrine that he does not believe. Martha Scott, Abigail Aiger, Mary Rush, Ann Barnes, Frances G. Mitchell, Elizabeth Ellison, Sarah Powell, Ann Wilson, Sarah Sutton, Hannah Rush, Elizabeth Burgen, Ann Faries, Sarah Moulder, Mary Bright, Sarah Marsh, Elizabeth Bazelee, Martha Davis, Elizabeth Rees, Jane Nicholson, Mary Siddons, Fanny Old, Sarah Connell, Mary Hammitt, Ann Mackan, Margaret McNilleans, Sarah Gardiner, Catharine Rensord, Mary Parker, Lydia Shields, Elizabeth Ball, Rachael Davis, Sarah Davis, Eleanor Kessler, Mary Dungan, Mary Holget, Sarah Edge, Hannah Levering, Anna Levering, Margaret Wilson, Elizabeth Brockis, Sarah Taylor, Elizabeth Marsh, Elizabeth Marot, Martha Burkeloe, Margaret Erwin, Rachael Wilson, Massey Engles, Elizabeth Winebridge, Margaret Conner, Mary Paine, Sarah Tricketts, Rebecca Lakur, Rachael Test, Martha Coffin, Catherine Standland, Sarah Parsons, Hester Davis, Lydia Gilbert, Hannah Rogers. Total 92.

Mr. Winchester was requested to desist from supplying the pulpit. Much trouble ensued; church meetings were frequent; a council of ministers was called, but their advice was disregarded by the Winchester party, which party broke open the church and held services there. Thus matters continued for a whole year. The Council of Ministers decided that those who adhered to the Confession of Faith and against Winchester were the church. The matter was carried to the Association in 1781. The committee appointed by that body to consider the subject reported as follows:—

First. That the proceedings of the protesters in that business were regular and fair. Secondly. That the declaration of the ministers who were called to their assistance respecting the protesters, was weighty, full and decisive. Thirdly. That, although the non-signers are virtually excluded, yet, in order to their more formal excommunication, the Philadelphia Church be advised to appoint at their meeting of business two of their regular male members to go with the protest to the non-protesters, one by one, in order to their signing it, and warn them that in case they refuse to sign, should openly and formally, by name, be excommunicated.


The Association,

Resolved unanimously, That the above report of the committee is approved; and that this Association advise all the churches to beware of Elhanan Winchester, and not admit him, or any who advocate ‘universal salvation,’ to the offices of public teaching, or suffer any who avow the same to continue in their communion.”

Winchester and his party sought to get possession of the property by lawsuit, which added to the trouble and expense. In this he failed, for on July 9, 1784, after a two days’ trial, the jury decided against him. All attempts at reconciliation were useless, and the church in December excommunicated, publicly, forty-six persons for adhering to the doctrine of Universalism. Some of these subsequently saw their error, sought restoration to the fellowship of the church, and maintained until death fealty to the doctrines and ordinances of the New Testament. About fifty pages of the church records are taken up with the proceedings relative to this case, but it is unnecessary to quote from them, as we have given the main facts. By the authority of the church a pamphlet of sixteen pages was published, entitled, “An Address from the Baptist Church in Philadelphia to their sister Churches of the same denomination throughout the Confederate States of North America. Drawn up by a Committee of the Church, appointed for said purpose.” It was printed in this city, in 1781, by Robert Aitken. This little book rehearses the troubles with Winchester, but it is not necessary to quote from it further than to say that he came to Philadelphia in October 1780, “as a messenger from the Warren Association to ours, which was nigh at hand. Many of the members having, previous to this repeatedly heard him preach, not the least suspicion existed but that he continued an advocate for that faith which we look upon as the faith once delivered to the saints.” After his exclusion from the Baptist denomination he continued to preach for some years in Philadelphia to his adherents. In 1787 he went to London. His death occurred April 18, 1797, when he was forty-six years of age.

Early 1782, a lot was purchased by the First Church, on the Schuylkill river, at the end of Spruce Street, to afford facilities for baptism to be administered. For many years the place was known as “The Baptisterion.” Morgan Edwards thus describes it as he saw it shortly after his arrival in this country:—

Around said spot are large oaks affording fine shade-underfoot is a green, variegated with wild flowers and aromatic herbs, and a tasteful house is near for dressing and undressing the candidates.

Watson in his “Annals of Philadelphia,” says:—

In the midst of the spot was a large stone, upon the dry ground, and elevated above it about three feet, made level on the top by art, with hewn steps to ascend to it. Around this rock the candidates knelt to pray, and upon it the preacher stood to preach to the people. I have learned that the property there belonged to Mr. Marsh, a Baptist, and that the British army cut down the trees for fuel. The whole place is now all wharfed out for the coal trade. The “Stone of Witness” is buried in the wharf, never to be seen more.

The spot remained bare of trees after they had been destroyed by the British army, in the Revolution, for nearly a quarter of a century. In a letter written August 3rd, 1784, to Rev. John Ryland, of London, by Rev. James Manning, he thus referred to the Winchester trouble:—

The apostacy of Mr. Winchester has been for a lamentation amongst us. Self-exaltation was the rock on which he split. Though he had from the first been remarkable for instability of character, he inflicted a grievous wound on the cause, especially in Philadelphia, but I think he is now at the end of his tether. His interest is declining, which will most probably prove a dead wound. I saw him last May, and from his appearance think he has nearly run his race. His state of health will not admit of his preaching, and by a letter last week from the Rev. Thomas Ustick, who now supplies the pulpit in Philadelphia, I learn that Winchester and his friends have lost the case in their suit for the meeting-house and the property of the church. It really appeared that God owned his labors in the revival in New England; perhaps for attempting to take the glory to himself, he has laid him aside as an improper instrument for his work, who justly challenges the whole of it as his own. From common fame, and from what I myself saw, I really think this to be the case.

Amidst all the excitement incident to this case there was still the deepest solicitude felt for the successful issues of the war. This anxiety was duly rewarded on October 19th, 1781, when Cornwallis surrendered the posts at Yorktown and Gloucester into the hands of Washington. This was in reality the final blow to the British power in this country. A messenger, with a dispatch from Gen. Washington, reached Philadelphia on Tuesday the 23rd, at midnight, bearing the news of the surrender. Before the dawn of Wednesday the exulting people filled the streets, and at an early hour the cheering letter was read to Congress, and that body thereupon went in procession to church, and there joined in devout thanksgiving to God for the great victory. The Philadelphia Baptist Association was then in session; and while it had been saddened by the defection of Elhanan Winchester, whose troubles were considered the very day there was so much exultation over the news from Yorktown, it was made joyous beyond expression by the victory which had been achieved, under God, by-the American arms. No wonder, therefore, that on Thursday the Association “Met at Sunrise.” The conclusion of the session is thus recorded in the Minutes:—

And now, dear brethren, having come to a close of our annual meeting, before we address you by our circular letter, we feel ourselves constrained to acknowledge the great goodness of God towards us, and to call on you to join with us in thankfulness and praise, as well for the unanimity and brotherly love which prevailed throughout our meeting, as for the recent signal success granted to the American arms, in the surrender of the whole British army, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, with the effusion of so little blood.

After an omission of four years the statistics of the churches are again given this year, showing a membership at Pennypack of fifty-eight and at Philadelphia of eighty-six. There was no intelligence from Montgomery, whose membership was about eighty. In all the dark days of the past six years, the churches had suffered fearfully, and the one in Philadelphia had her share. It was indeed very trying that, after the sorrows and sacrifices of the war, this body should be torn, as it was, by the enunciation of false doctrine on the part of a trusted leader. Yet, like gold tried in the fire, she came out of the ordeal purified and prepared to begin afresh for God and truth.

A committee was appointed by the church May 7th, 1781, consisting of five persons “to prepare a petition to lay before the General Assembly of this State, setting forth our present and much injured situation, by Elhanan Winchester and his adherents, and pray them to take our case immediately into their consideration and yield us the necessary redress by putting us in quiet possession of our meeting-house and all the property appertaining to the Baptist Church in this city—and also that they will incorporate us as a Church.”

In October, 1781, the church tried hard to induce President Manning, of Brown University, who had come on to attend the Philadelphia Association, to settle with them, but he declined, thanking them very kindly for their friendly opinion of him. He, however, recommended Thomas Ustick as a person every way qualified to suit them, except “that he had a large and rising family, and would expect that they should be provided for.” On the 29th a letter was accordingly sent to him, requesting very urgently a visit with a view to settlement. He complied, and spent the winter with them, with great acceptance. March 4, 1782, they called him to supply them for one year, which he accepted, and removed with his family to Philadelphia in July, bearing a letter of commendation for himself and wife from the First Baptist Church in Providence, R.I., dated June 16, 1782. His was a difficult position to fill, coming, as he did, right after the trouble with Winchester,’ who had established in the vicinity another congregation, where he preached universal salvation with considerable effect; added to all this was the long and trying war through which the country-had passed. Nevertheless, he was equal to the task, and, under his ministry, the church began to assume her former prosperity. At the end of the first year he was requested to continue his labors, and on January 5th, 1784, with his wife, was received into the fellowship of the church. Mr. Ustick was born in the city of New York, August 30, 1735. At the the age of thirteen, in his native city, he was baptized on the profession of his faith, by Rev. John Gano. Mr. Gano, ever apt on such occasions, in giving out the hymn to be sung, so changed it that it read,

“His honor is engaged to save
The youngest of his sheep.”

In the simplicity of his childlike nature, young Ustick, as he walked down into the water with his pastor, asked, “Why did you not read the word as it is, “the meanest of his sheep; for so, truly, I am?”

It very frequently occurs that one whom the Lord calls so early into His fold, He subsequently calls to the work of preaching the gospel. It was so with Thomas Ustick, and he began almost at once after his conversion to prosecute a course of study under Rev. James Manning, at Warren and Providence, R. I. He graduated from Brown University September 4, 1771, at the age of nineteen years. At first he became a teacher of a school, but continued his studies with a view to the ministry. In 1774 he received the degree of Master of Arts, and was licensed to preach about the same time. He was ordained at Ashford, Conn., in 1777; he removed thence to Grafton, Mass., in 1779, where he remained nearly three years prior to his removal to Philadelphia.

Immediately after the close of the war attention was given to fostering those interests which are vitally connected with all true growth. Hence, in the proceedings of the Association for 1782, is the following; relative to the circulation of the Bible—the Book which Baptists believe to be the only rule of faith and practice:—

A letter from Mr. Aitken, printer, in this city, was read, setting forth that he had, with great pains and much expense, just completed the first English edition of the Bible in America, together with Watt’s Psalms, and requesting this Association to make the undertaking as universally known as we can.

Voted, that this Association, on the recommendation of Congress, of said impression, present their thanks to Mr. Aitken, for his faithful execution of this laborious and important undertaking, and most heartily recommend to all the churches with which we are connected, to encourage the sale therereof.

At the same session Brown University again received attention and it was

Voted, That the Association, from a representation made to them by the corporation in the college in Providence, of the low state of the funds of said college, and the urgent necessity of them, in order to support suitable instructors therein, and from an idea of the great importance of good education, have taken into consideration, as the most probable method to accomplish this end, the recommendation of a subscription throughout all the Baptist societies on this continent, as well as to all the friends of literature in every denomination, on the following conditions:—

“We, the subscribers, promise, and engage to pay, the several sums affixed to our names, to—, to be by him paid to John Brown, Esq., of Providence, Treasurer of the corporation, or his successor in said office or order; to be placed at interest, and the interest only to be applied to the above purpose.”

N. B.—The several churches are desired to insert in the above blank the name of the most suitable person in the society for this service.

In the minutes of this year there is the first reference to what is known as “The Honeywell School Fund.” It is as follows:—

As we have information that a legacy has been left to this Association, in the last will and testament of John Honeywell, of Knowlton, in Sussex County, New Jersey, deceased,

Resolved, That our Treasurer, Rev. Samuel Jones, who is also in said will constituted a trustee of the same, proceed immediately, and make use of all due and necessary measures to recover said legacy for and in our behalf, and at our expense.

An outline sketch of the object and history of this legacy will here be in place. It is from the pen of Horatio Gates Jones, Esq.:—

John Honeywell, the founder of this school fund, was a resident of Knowlton township, Sussex county, N. J., and died there about the year 1780. Mr. Honeywell was once a Baptist, but, through some cause not now remembered, he was excluded from the church. His will is dated May 11th, 1779, and is recorded in New Jersey.

After providing for the support of his wife, Rebecca Honeywell, and giving several small legacies to his relatives, he directed the whole of his real estate to be sold, the proceeds to be invested and the annual income to be used for the establishment and support of a school or schools, to “be kept at the cross- roads leading from the Moravian Mills to Delaware river, near Peter Wolf’s, in Knowlton township, or near the northeast corner of my land where I now live.” He then adds, “my desire is that the master that is to receive his pay out of my estate may be a man of civil conduct and able to teach the boys and youth to read, write, cipher and so forth; and the mistress, likewise, to be of chaste behaviour; able, also, to teach the small girls to read, and the bigger to knit and sew and the like, so as to be a help to owners and children.”

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