Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
NEW ERA OF GROWTH.—MEASURES TOWARDS AN AFRICAN CHURCH.—LETTER FROM WILLIAM CAREY.—A MISSIONARY SOCIETY.—BAPTISIMS ON A WEEK-DAY.—SHADE TREES AT THE BAPTISTERION.—JOSEPH S. WALTER.—HOLY SPIRIT POURED OUT.—SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH CONSTITUTED.—MODERATOR SHOULD BE A MEMBER.—A MASONIC LODGE ROOM OCCUPIED FOR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP.—THE SECOND BAPTIST MEETING-HOUSE DEDICATED.—DEATH OF THOMAS USTICK.—BLOCKLEY BAPTIST CHURCH CONSTITUTED.—BUILD A MEETING-HOUSE.—SINGING LED BY PRECENTORS.—CHRISTIANS IN THE CHOIRS.—REV. WILLIAM WHITE, PASTOR OF THE SECOND CHURCH.—LICENTIATES’ NAMES.—REV. WILLIAM STAUGHTON IN PHILADELPHIA.—CROWDED CONGREGATION.—NEW MEETING HOUSE AT LOWER DUBLIN.—FIRST BAPTIST MEETING-HOUSE ENLARGED.—FOUR SERMONS ON SUNDAY.—HORATIO GATES JONES, D.D.—CHURCHES LIGHTED BY CANDLES.—HEATED BY WOOD STOVES.—BLANK FORMS OF LETTERS OF DISMISSION.—FIRST COLLECTION FOR FOREIGN MISSIONS.—NUMBER OF MEMBERS NECESSARY TO FORM A CHURCH.—VALID BAPTISM.—CHRISTIAN MISSIONS.—REV. JOHN RUTTER EXCLUDED.—INVALID MARRIAGES.
WITH the commencement of the nineteenth century, began a new era of growth and progress in our denominational history. Measures were inaugurated looking to the establishment of an African Baptist Church in this city. April 9, 1801, the First Church appointed a committee to consider the subject, several persons of color being members with them. The committee held several meetings, but could accomplish nothing definite. They were, therefore, discharged. In accord with the growing interest in Foreign Missions, at the session of the Association in 1801, Rev. William Rogers, D. D., read a letter from William Carey, of Serampore, relative to the work of grace in India, and from Dr. Hawes, of England, respecting promising appearances among the Hottentots, and the Minutes state: “This Association exult in every prospect of the success of the gospel, and wish the Missionaries God speed.” Steps were also in progress looking to the establishment of a Missionary Society, to send the Gospel to the destitute parts of our own country.
In the early times the ordinance of Christian Baptism seems to have been administered on a week day, and as we have seen, at the end of Spruce Street, in the Schuylkill river. Here the First Church, in 1803, had a platform erected at the water’s side, so that the administrator could preach to the assembled multitudes on baptismal occasions. On this lot, in the Spring of 1802, were planted thirty-six poplar and weeping willow trees, by the celebrated Philadelphia firm of D. & C. Landreth, who engaged that, if any of the trees should die, they would replace them. At the church meeting, when the report about the trees was made April 5th, 1802, Joseph S. Walter, a name since familiar among the Baptists of this city, narrated his christian experience, and with others, was baptized the next day, at four o’clock in the afternoon.
During the year 1802, a very copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit was enjoyed in this vicinity, and numbers who had been baptized in other communities were taking up their homes in the northern and southern parts of this city, and thus the way was, under the guidance of Divine Providence, prepared for the organization of new churches.
At the advice of the First Church, February 7th, 1803, twenty members, who resided in the Northern Liberties asked for letters of dismission, that they might form a new Baptist Church in their own neighborhood. Their request was unanimously granted. The courteous application was as follows:—
Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, February 1st, 1803. Dearly Beloved Brethren:—Having been, by the interposition of a kind providence, permitted to assemble together in society for the worship of . God, from time to time, in the Northern Liberties, for these two years past, and some of us for six years upwards, our numbers being small when we first met, during which time in numerous instances, the Lord, according to his promise has met with, and blessed us, and others who have occasionally been with us. In the course of the past year we have been generally privileged with the labors of one and another of our ministering brethren and many of the inhabitants in this neighborhood have been and now are disposed to hear the Gospel, we trust the Lord inclining their hearts so to do, insomuch that the place where we meet is too strait for us. We have commended our cause to God for direction, and our minds are strongly impressed that it would be for the extension of the cause of Christ to request from you, and we do hereby request our dismission in order to be constituted into a separate body, and to endeavour through the blessing of God to raise a house for his worship in this place. Our design in this, brethren, is not to separate from your fellowship and communion, but wish still to enjoy that union which has hitherto so happily subsisted between us and to continue in the same faith and discipline that hitherto has been our guide. And, although we feel the greatest reluctance in leaving the place where we have been so often refreshed, yet the glory of God and the good of precious souls constrain us thus to lay our request before you.
Signed, Isaac Johnson, Margaret Beaks, Jacob Burkellow, Lydia West, Thomas Timings, John Ellis, Kate Burkellow, William McGee, Cornelius Trimnel, Ann Hartley, Philip Halzell, Sarah Springer, Ann King, Hannah Thomas, Elizabeth Collard, Jacob Bayer, Mary Timings, Mary Trimnel, James Wiley Jr., Isaac Car.
Under date of February loth, the church responded through its pastor and deacons as follows:—
The Baptist Church of Christ in the city of Philadelphia, maintaining the doctrines of grace contained in the Confession of Faith adopted by the Philadelphia Baptist Association, met at Philadelphia, September 25th, 1742, together with Treatise of Church Discipline thereunto annexed.
To our ministering brethren and all who may be particularly concerned in accomplishing the wishes of our brethren, in forming and constituting a church of the aforesaid principles in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia.
Beloved, Whereas our brethren and sisters, [here follows their names as above given have applied to us to be dismissed in order that they may unite together and enter into covenant in a Gospel Church State, and since it appears that their social meetings, and occasional administrations of the Gospel afford considerable prospects that they will be prospered and increased, and that the institution will promote the declarative glory of God, the increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and their personal edification; We do hereby give our full consent and cordial approbation to the execution of said design, that they may be constituted into a separate and independent Baptist Church, holding the aforesaid principles and practices.
Wherefore, when said constitution is formed, and the aforesaid members have covenanted, they will be considered as fully dismissed from our particular care and acknowledged in said capacity. We have only to add that the aforesaid brethren and sisters are all in full communion and good standing, and that they have our fervent prayers that the good will of him that dwelt in the bush may be with them; that Jesus may see the travail of his soul gathered in amongst them, that God may enlarge them as Japhet, and dwell with them as in the tents of Shem.
THOMAS USTICK, Pastor.
John McLeod, Deacons.
This church was constituted March 5th, 1803, with twenty members, and was received into the Philadelphia Association at its ensuing session in October, with fifty members, twenty-five of whom had been baptized since its constitution. At the same session of the Association the First Church presented the following query:—
Is it in order to have a Moderator appointed in our Association who is not a member of one of the churches belonging to it, and a delegate at the same time to the Association from the church so belonging?
Answer: This Association is not of opinion that it is strictly speaking out of order to have a Moderator appointed, who is not a member of the churches which compose this body; yet in addition to other considerations, his being unacquainted with the course of our business, and his inability, by reason of his absence, to discharge some duties which among us devolve on the Moderator in the interval of our meetings, render such a choice improper.
The Second Baptist Church met at first for worship in a Masonic lodge-room in York court. During the few months they remained, their number increased rapidly under the ministrations of John Ellis, a licentiate, aided by other supplies. Towards the latter part of the same year, in which they were constituted a separate church, the congregation had erected for their use a neat brick building, 66 by 47 feet on Budd Street, now called New Market. A lot was also marked off and fenced in for a burial ground in the rear of the meeting-house. This place of worship was dedicated December 15th, 1803. The services continued through the entire day and were conducted by Rev. Drs. Rogers and Staughton, and by Rev. Thomas B. Montayne.
At the beginning of this century the health of Rev. Thomas Ustick began to decline. Owing to the prevalence of an epidemic fever in the city, in 1802, he removed his family to Burlington, N. J. In the Baptist church of that town he preached his last sermon, with the conviction that he should never preach again. His text was, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” The night before his death he said to his son, “the Lord is my shield and buckler,” and on the following day, April 18, 1803, he fell asleep in Jesus. Rev. William Rogers, D. D., preached his funeral sermon from the words, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” On account of the illness of the pastor, Dr. Rogers was requested, April 4th, to administer baptism, and, after his death, to preach for the church until January 1, 1804, for which service he was to receive “eight dollars a day.” “Out of respect for their deceased brother and late pastor,” the church draped its pulpit and communion table in mourning. His death was a great loss to the denomination, for he was a man of sterling piety, scrupulous fidelity, respectable talents and very companionable. He was in the fiftieth year of his age when he died, and the thirty-first of his connection with the Lord’s people.
The next Baptist church constituted in Philadelphia was that at Blockley, on Sunday, June 3, 1804. The exercises were held in a school-house at the northwest corner of Fifty-second and Walnut streets. Rev. Samuel Jones, D. D., Rev. William Rogers, D. D., and Rev. William White participated in the public services of recognition. The names of the seventeen constituent members were Rev. John Rutter, Heath Norbury, Amos Pennegar, Cornelius Bagley, William Sheldrake, John Davis, Sarah Rutter, Mary Pennegar, Elizabeth Pennegar, Susannah Norbury, Mary Oliphant, Fanny Sheldrake, Hannah Pennegar, Jerusha Davis, Sarah Bagley, Margaret Tyson, Hannah Harper. Rev. John Rutter assumed the pastoral charge of the church, which continued to worship in the aforenamed school-house until the meeting-house was erected. August 25, 1804, Mr. John Suplee gave to the church an acre of ground on which to erect a house of worship and for a grave-yard. A small one-story building was at once erected on this spot.
October 3rd this church was received into the Philadelphia Baptist Association, with sixteen members. The minutes of that body for 1804 state:—
The church constituted the past year at Blockley, in Philadelphia County, applied for admission into this Association, which was freely granted, after they had given full satisfaction as to their faith and practice.
The singing of the congregation was usually led, at this time, by a precentor, whose seat was in front of and under the pulpit. Thus, under date of August 6, 1804, the First Baptist Church.
Resolved, That the committee appointed on singing be authorized to fix upon some suitable person, who is a member of this church, to lead in public singing, in case of the absence or indisposition of Bro. Bradley, and that he take his place under the pulpit.
The churches then were very careful to have not only Christians to lead in the service of song, but also members of their own particular church.
In the year 1804 Rev. William White became the first pastor of the Second Baptist Church, and for thirteen years filled that position with marked ability and success. During the period of his labors the following brethren were licensed to preach the gospel by the church: Samuel Harris, John Hewson, Richard Proudfit, Isaiah Stratton, George Patterson, William E. Ashton and James Clark; and more than five hundred persons, upon a profession of faith in Christ, were baptized into the fellowship of the church.
THE LOWER DUBLIN BAPTIST CHURCH.
Rev. William Staughton, of Burlington, N. J., on February 4, 1805, signified his acceptance of the request of the church on Second street to preach for them, and, on the 8th of the following April, with his wife, he was received into their fellowship by letters of dismission from the church at Burlington. He was to supply the pulpit for one year. The reason for this limit is thus given in the letter of invitation: “Upon due investigation, the church is, at present, under a few embarassments respecting their finances. Prudence, therefore, has directed them to the procuring of a supply for one year, at which time it is expected they will be both able to call a pastor and make him comfortable.” The Baptists, at this time, were few, and the house of worship on Second street was a one-story building, only forty-two feet by sixty. The congregation was about the smallest in the city, and the membership of the church only 177. From the first settlement of Dr. Staughton a new era dawned. The congregation increased, and the building was soon crowded in every part with interested hearers.
In the year 1805 the church at Lower Dublin erected a new, meeting-house. The principal helper in this movement was their pastor, Rev. Samuel Jones, D. D., a man who, in his day, was a noble representative of our denomination, active in all that pertained to culture and aggressive work. For some six years previous to the building of this new house there had been no special work of grace, but, commencing with 1804, there was a large and continuous ingathering of souls, which cheered alike the heart of the venerable pastor and each member of his beloved flock.
At the end of the year 1805 Mr. Staughton was called to the permanent pastorate. Under his efficient ministry the meeting-house became too small, and early in 1808 measures were taken towards its enlargement to the size as illustrated on the eighty-seventh page of this work. During the progress of the improvements the church used the meeting-house of the Second Church in which to administer the Lord’s Supper. This addition to the edifice was pushed forward with great despatch, so that the Philadelphia Baptist Association could occupy it at their annual meeting in October of that year. Dr. Staughton was an indefatigable worker. Besides the daily instruction of youth, he preached, for some time, four sermons every Lord’s Day. At six o’clock on Sunday morning he preached to large congregations in the southern part of the city, near the Swede’s Church, under a large beach tree, and by these missionary efforts prepared the way for the establishment of the Third Baptist Church. To his zeal and spirit is due, in a large measure, the inauguration of many educational and missionary enterprises which have grown to bless the world.
Philadelphia has ever been and still is the residence of Baptist ministers who were not pastors in the city. One of these was Horatio Gates Jones, D. D. He removed to Roxborough in the year 1805 and resided there until his death, which occurred December 12, 1853. As a result of his self-sacrificing and persistent labors the Lower Merion Baptist Church was founded September 11, 1808, and he remained its esteemed and successful pastor up to the time of his decease. He was the first chancellor of the University of Lewisburg, a constituent member of the Triennial Convention, hereafter to be spoken of, for twenty-five years the President of the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and in other spheres served most honorably the varied interests of the denomination he loved so well. As one of the early Baptists of this city his memory will long be fragrant, and his influence potential.
The method of lighting the churches for evening service was by candles. The purchasing of the "dips" by the pound became somewhat expensive, so the First Church, under date of January 6, 1806, “Resolved, That the deacons be requested to procure candles by the box for the use of the meeting-house.” The method of heating the building was entirely by large tin-plate wood stoves. The floors were uncarpeted, but were sanded twice each month.
The first record of a blank form for letters of dismission to unite with other churches is found in the minutes of the First Church, under date of October 6, 1806, when it was
Resolved, That Bro. Staughton be requested to draw up a form of a letter of dismission, with a sufficient number of blanks, for the purpose of being printed, and present the same at a future meeting.
In the Association this year is the first record of public collections in the churches for Foreign Missions:—
The Association recommends that collections be made in all the churches in which they have not been made, and repeated, if found convenient, where they have already been made, for assisting our brethren in Serampore in the translation of the Scriptures into the several languages of India, and that the moneys be transmitted by our next Association to our Bro. Rogers, to be, by him, deposited in the hands of Robert Ralston, Esq., to whom gratitude is due for his disinterested and obliging attention to the reception of moneys and their transmission to India.
At this same session of the Association a query was presented from the First Church, and as the same question has been discussed more recently, it will not be out of place here:—
What is the smallest number of members necessary for forming a gospel church? Answer: On this head different sentiments are entertained. Some have supposed two or three are sufficient, others have imagined five, some ten, and others twelve, because it would seem that the church at Ephesus was formed of twelve men, Acts 19:7. The Association is of opinion, however, that much depends upon the probability of the persons living permanently together who may be about to be constituted. It appears also desirable that there be in a new settlement, where removals are frequent, at least seven, and of these two or three males.
Then, as since, the churches were agitated as to the validity of baptism administered by one of a different faith from our own. It is evident, however, that where a person is thoroughly converted and is immersed in the name of the Trinity upon a profession of Faith, the baptism is valid without any regard to the character of the administrator. The same year that the question was asked as to how many persons were necessary to form a Gospel Church, it was queried:—
Whether can an orthodox Baptist Church receive a person who has been baptized by a Tunker, Universalist, without baptizing him again? The person has renounced Universalist principles. Answer, Yes.
At the same session, the Circular letter was, written by Rev. William Rogers, on “Christian Missions.” It was thoroughly permeated with the true spirit of the Gospel, and discussed the subjects as follows:—
I. The principles on which they proceed.
II. The extent to which they have been carried.
III. The encouragement we possess for future exertions. This paper says:—
The Philadelphia Baptist Missionary Society, of which several of us are members, though of recent formation, has not been left to struggle in vain, brother T. G. Jones, who is our Missionary in the eastern parts of the State of Ohio, has already made a communication of agreeable tidings. In order to baptize believers in Jesus, he has led them into waters where this holy ordinance was never administered before, and on a late tour he constituted a new Baptist Church near the town of Lisbon. Numbers listened eagerly to the preaching of the cross, and in the work his heart appears to be much enlarged. Rev.
John Rutter continued in the pastorate of the Blockley Church until September, 1806, during which time he baptized sixteen persons and the church grew to a membership of thirty-three. On account of immoralities the church excommunicated him; after which he persisted in regarding himself a minister, just as though a membership in some church was not essential to any standing in the Christian Ministry. In 1807 the Association published the following:—
The churches in our connection are notified that John Rutter, late pastor of Blockley Church has been excommunicated; they will therefore not countenance him as a preacher.
The following query from this church was also propounded to the Association, relative to him:—“Is it consistent for an excommunicated minister to perform the solemnities of marriage between persons? Can such marriages be viewed by us, as a people, as strictly legal?”
Answer, “The Association are of opinion that, with an excommunicated minister, we have no more to do, except as it may relate to the announcing of such excommunication; the law or any society he may join, must become the judge of his conduct; for ourselves we cannot countenance such marriages.”
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