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Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer

CHAPTER 18.—1811-1815.

THE growth of the city westward, and owing to the size of the First Church, then numbering 473 members, steps were taken at the beginning of January, 1811, towards the organization of a new church. Nearly one hundred members were dismissed. At first this movement seemed to be approved by all parties, but unfriendly remarks were made, which inaugurated a spirit of alienation, whose bitter results have since been sorrowfully learned. No good ever comes from crimination and recrimination. A guarded tongue and a quiet peace-making conduct are always commendable in all enterprises, especially in connection with the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom. This movement resulted in the organization of the Sansom Street Baptist Church, on the 24th of January, 1811, and the following month Rev. Dr. Staughton was called as pastor. This call he accepted. The church worshipped for a time in the court-house on Chestnut Street, and afterwards in the Academy on Fourth Street. A lot, however, was soon procured on Sansom Street, above Eighth, whereon was erected a circular building, ninety feet in diameter, which, with the lot, cost the sum of $40,000.

“Large as this amount was,” says the Memoir of Dr. Staughton, “the probability is that it would have been obtained, had not adverse circumstances occurred, producing great commercial distress. The annual revenue arising from pew rents and collections amounted at first to between four and five thousand dollars. The seats of this immense building, during the whole period of his ministrations,. were well filled; but, on the Lord’s day evening, the place was crowded with solemn and admiring spectators. His popularity was unimpaired by time, and those who heard him once desired to hear him again. With this church he spent the happiest and most useful days of his life.”

It is now universal among Baptist Churches to take up a collection after the administration of the Lord’s supper, for the poor of the church. The first introduction of this custom in this vicinity was authorized by by the First Church, January 11th, 1811, after several months discussion, as follows; “It was resolved that a collection for the use of the poor members of this church be made monthly, immediately after the, hymn is sung, at the conclusion of the administration of the Lord’s Supper.” At the organization of the Third Baptist Church, Rev. John P. Peckworth became the pastor and filled that position for about fifteen years, during which time the church prospered greatly under his ministry. He was highly esteemed by all the churches, and faithfully served the cause of Christ.

In September, 1811, Rev. David Jones, Jr., became the first pastor at Frankford. An interesting biographical sketch of this brother is published in Tract 132 of the American Baptist Publication Society. From it we quote the following relative to his labors at that place:—

It is now more than six months (May 16, 1812,) since I came to Frankford. I have endeavored to preach frequently since I came, for the Apostle saith, 2 Corinthians 9:6, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly. The little church labors under grievous difficulties; nevertheless, I have found much freedom in dispensing the word of life among them. Our congregation is increasing.

The following entry is made at the close of his labors with this church, in his journal, dated December 13, 1813:—

This evening I preached for the last time in Frankford. The meeting-house was crowded. I spoke from Proverbs 23: 23. May the Lord grant to bless Frankford, and call many sinners to the knowledge of the truth. Amen. D. JONES.

He was born in North Wales, England, April 9, 1785. After leaving Frankford he became pastor in Newark, New Jersey, and remained there until December, 1821, when he assumed the pastoral care of the Lower Dublin Church, of this city. Here he labored till his death, which occurred April 9, 1833.

The First Church, left pastorless, at once looked out for a man who, in talent and commanding influence, would be a worthy successor of a noble line of able men. Rev. Dr. Broaddus, of Caroline county, Virginia, was earnestly sought, but, on account of various domestic claims, he declined. Rev. Dr. Henry Holcombe, of Savannah, Georgia, was then invited, and after preaching to the people with great acceptance he was unanimously chosen to the pastorate, October 17th, 1811. This call he at once accepted, and entered upon his duties the beginning of the new year. The church furnished his house and gave him a salary of $1,600 a year. It was customary then for the ministers to preach three times on the Lord’s Day, but the church assured Dr. Holcombe that he should only preach twice. He was a man of excellent talents, strong will, vigorous in his opposition to what he supposed to be wrong, and very earnest in controversy. He ably served the First Church for thirteen years, and . had within its fellowship a host of devoted and true friends.

The missionary spirit was now beginning to manifest itself, and in 1812 a monthly concert of prayer was begun by the Baptist churches of this city. The meetings were held in each church alternately, to pray “for the spread of the ever-blessed gospel.” In addition to this, the churches themselves held “quarterly prayer-meetings for the spread of the gospel,” at the residences of the members. March 15th, 1813, is the first recorded special sermon in the interests of Foreign Missions. The record is as follows:—

Resolved, That an appropriate sermon be preached and a collection made on Lord’s day evening next, for the purpose of assisting the Mission at Serampore towards reimbursing the loss by the late conflagration.

On Saturday, October 17th, 1812, Thomas Stewart, of Beaufort, South Carolina, a student of Princeton, New Jersey, visited Dr. Holcombe, and, giving evidence of a change of heart was baptized the same day. Desirous of uniting with the church, and being under the necessity of returning at once to Princeton, to resume his studies the next morning, the pastor detained the church, when Mr. Stewart narrated his Christian experience, was received as a member, and the right hand of fellowship was at once given. A Baptist minister has a scriptural right to baptize any one giving an evidence of his faith in Jesus, but it requires a vote of the church to make said person a member. The ordinance of baptism seems to have been committed by our Lord to the ministry, and on this principle Dr. Holcombe proceeded.

In 1812 the First African Church settled as their pastor John King, one of their own licentiates. He was ordained and remained pastor for two years, when he was excluded from their fellowship.

In the year 1812 the society formed in the First Baptist Church, with the laudable view of educating and assisting the destitute orphans, was enlarged so as to embrace all the city. Article I of the Constitution of “The Philadelphia Baptist Orphan Society” was as follows:—

The design of this Society is to establish a register of the births and deaths of members of the Baptist churches and congregations in. the city and liberties of Philadelphia, who shall become subscribers thereto, and who shall pay, or cause to be paid, or have heretofore paid at the time of subscribing a sum not less than fifty cents for each name recorded in the Register. The interest arising from which fund shall be applied to the education and assistance of such orphan and indigent children whose names may have been recorded in the Society.

Under date of November 25th, 1812, the President, Thomas Shields, stated:—

The funds of this Society have increased to the amount of about $1,100, and had not the deaths of most of the Trustees been experienced, and other causes existed to retard the operation of the Society, a much larger sum would now have been at their disposal.

As a stimulus to future exertions, and with a view to concentrate the efforts of the different congregations of our denomination, it has been agreed that a union of all the churches and congregations in this city should take place, with a view of embracing the valuable purposes of establishing a record of all the births and deaths in our several congregations, and an academy for the education of our children generally, as well as the destitute orphans who will be educated and assisted according to the ability of the Society. The great utility of such a record in a Baptist Association must be obvious to every reflecting mind; not having any ceremony performed on our children in a state of infancy which is recorded as a public act—their births and deaths being recorded in a family Bible. And, in how many instances does it occur that this is either lost or destroyed; or how easy a matter it would be for a person against whom this record would operate to effectually prevent its being brought forward, by secreting or destroying it. Should we or our children wish to procure from public record our parentage or place of nativity for the purposes of obtaining a protection to go to a foreign country, or for substantiating titles to property, we have none to resort to to obtain the desired proof. And further, when we contemplate the many advantages, both temporal and spiritual, which, under the blessing of God, will arise from the establishment of a Baptist academy, that, from a small beginning, may rival any on our continent, we feel a pleasure the duty has devolved on us to assist in the establishment and support of so excellent an institution.

Rev. David Benedict, D. D., writing of this period, says that “Philadelphia, both by the North and South, was regarded as the emporium of Baptist influence. Here the missionary spirit which had been kindled in different parts of the country burst forth into a flame, and here was organized The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions.”

Early in 1812 the first American Missionaries sailed for their work in Asia. Revs. Adoniram Judson and Samuel Newell sailed from Salem on the 19th of February, and on the 24th, Revs. Messrs Hall and Nott, with their wives, and Rev. Luther Rice, sailed from Philadelphia, in the ship Harmony. These missionaries were Congregationalists, but on the voyage the views of Judson and his wife, and of Luther Rice, underwent a change on the subject of baptism, and they were baptized at Serampore, by Rev. Mr. Ward, of the English Baptist Mission. Judson remained, but Rice returned to stir up American Baptists to undertake the Foreign Mission work.

On Thursday afternoon, October 5th, 1813, the Philadelphia Association had this subject before them, resulting in the inauguration of active measures for the benefit of the heathen. It was determined to organize “The Philadelphia Baptist Society for Foreign Missions,” and “brethren Holcombe, Staughton, Rogers, Samuel Jones, H. G. Jones, J. B. Montayne, J. Mathias, J. P. Peckworth, Joseph Maylin, W. Magee and G. Ingels were appointed to devise a plan for the society, and to carry it into effect.

Thus the missionary spirit began to be aroused, and with that also a desire for crystalization. Delegates from local missionary societies and other religious bodies convened on the 18th of May, 1814, in the meeting-house on Second Street, “to organize a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort for sending the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen, and to nations destitute of pure gospel light.” The site of this meeting was already a consecrated spot. Here the First Baptist Association of America had been organized. Here Hopewell Academy and Brown University, our first educational institutions in this country, had been projected. Here the oldest Baptist Association in the country had “met at sunrise” when the news of the surrender of the British arms at Yorktown, in 1782, was received. Fitting place for the assembling of the men who were to organize for our Foreign Mission work. There were twentysix clergymen and seven laymen from eleven different states and from the District of Columbia. Their names are on the records in the following order:—


After much deliberation and prayer they organized the Triennial Convention. The object of it was for missionary purposes alone. Its meetings were held every three years, and from it has sprung our present American Baptist Missionary Union, which, under God, is doing a grand work in the heathen world. Two months prior to the meeting of this body, on February 7th, our denomination met with a serious loss in the death of Rev. Dr. Samuel Jones, at Lower Dublin, aged 79 years. He was a man of fine physical appearance, superior mental abilities, kind hearted,-and had a deservedly high reputation as a preacher. He was an ornament to the denomination he served so faithfully, and to him we owe a debt of gratitude for the services he rendered with so much devotion and ability.

The year 1815 introduces us to the practical beginning of the Sunday-school work of the churches in this city; that of the First Church leading the way. Shortly afterwards and during the same year, a Sunday-school was started in the Sansom Street Church; meeting with favor, the next year one was organized in the Second Church, and in 1817, the one at Roxborough. The following year, three additional schools were started by the Third, Blockley and Fourth Churches. On account of the importance and results of this work a somewhat full account of the origin of the First Baptist School in this city will be of interest.

In 1815, Mrs. Ann Rhees, a member of the First Church, became acquainted with a poor family in the vicinity of her home, consisting of a mother and three children, whose husband and father had, a short time before, enlisted in the state service, leaving them without support, except the scanty pittance of his half pay and what little the poor mother could earn from washing. The children were growing up in ignorance. The excellent common school system now enjoyed was not then in vogue. Under these circumstances it occurred to Mrs. Rhees that for the sake of these children and others, it would be well to open a Sunday-school in the church, to teach them how to read, so they could read the Bible, and for their religious instruction. She suggested her plan to two sisters of the church, who favored the movement and agreed to co-operate. These three, Mrs. Rhees, and the Misses Mary Hallman, and Emily Ramage, at once sought the advice of a few brethren. The first one, regarded as a wise and prudent counsellor, told them “he did not like the idea of congregating children in a mass, and exhibiting them on the Lord’s day to be gazed at as paupers.” At this day such advice seems astounding. Caution and prudence, when balanced by a strong faith and an enterprising spirit are well, but when they exist alone, to follow them generally means inactivity, covetousness and spiritual barrenness. By this cold and cutting remark of the venerable brother, the ardor of the women was somewhat dampened, but not enough to lead them to abandon the project. They then called on their Pastor, Rev. Dr. Holcombe. He listened to their statement, and then pleasantly replied, “Well my sisters, you can but try it, blossoms are sweet and beautiful even if they produce no fruit.” Cheered by this remark, and hopeful that the blossom of their consecrated effort would develope into a blessed fruitage, they called on Deacon Joseph Keen. He entered into full sympathy with their work and heartily said “Yes, my sisters. I’ll do all I can to help you.” He even promised to come and open the school with prayer. I cannot refrain from speaking further of Brother Keen, whose earnest words of Christian cheer were in reality the means of inaugurating the First Baptist Sunday-school of Philadelphia. No one can peruse the Minutes during his long connection with the church without being impressed with the variety and intensity of his Christian activities, the kindliness of his heart, the loyalty of his faith, and the high esteem in which he was held by the entire church. He was a worthy sire of a posterity still nobly identified with our churches in this city. Thus cheered, these women began the work of collecting the children, and on a pleasant Sunday in October, with an additional colaborer, Mrs. Sarah Ogden, held the first session of a Sunday-school under Baptist auspices in Philadelphia. Deacon Keen was true to his promise, and opened the school with the first public prayer connected with the Baptist Sunday-school enterprise of this city. With twenty boys and girls, and four female teachers, encouraged by the presence of Deacon Keen, and a friend who accompanied him, commenced that movement which has been so signally blessed of God, until in this city, in sixty years afterwards, we have sixty-five Baptist Sunday-schools, numbering 1,645 officers and teachers, and 17,561 scholars; not to speak of the immense amount of good done here and abroad through the school started in the old meeting-house, on Second Street. To this school Mrs. Rhees from the first took her two sons, Morgan J. and John. The former became an honored and useful minister of Christ, and the latter a physician. The children met at first in the gallery of the church, and were divided into four classes, taught by the above teachers. Deacon Keen went every Sunday for a time, to open the school with prayer, or to see that it was done. In his historical address, at the fiftieth anniversary of this school, judge T. Brantly Hanna, of this city, to whom I am indebted for the facts concerning the origin of this school says: “The enterprise soon began to attract the attention of other members of the church. More teachers were enlisted, and the children of Mrs. Rhees, together with those of some courageous members who did not fear their offspring would be considered paupers, having entered the school, induced other parents to imitate their example. The school was soon taken under the fostering care of the “Female Benevolent Society,” who, on the 15th of January, 1816, applied to the church for the use of the room, in the two-story building lately finished, adjoining the meeting-house, for the purpose of establishing there the Sunday School. The application was granted and the school removed to their new home, there to meet, with a short interval elapsing, when they occupied the second story of one of the stores on Second street until May, 1856, when the church took possession of the edifice at Broad and Arch streets. From the commencement, until about the close of 1818, the school was conducted mainly by the ladies.”

In 1819, the Sunday-school of the First Baptist Church having been established beyond the peradventure of an experiment, the friends of the measure organized “The Sunday-school Society of the First Baptist Church and Congregation of Philadelphia.” Rules and regulations for the government of the society were adopted. These were at once printed. The officers elected were as follows:—

Superintendent, James M. Bird; Assistant Superintendent, William Ford; Directress, Miss Susan Ingels; Assistant Directress, Miss Mary Hallman; Treasurer, Mrs. Margaret Garrett; Secretary, Miss Jane Garrett.

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