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Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer


IT is not our purpose to pursue the full and continuous history of the early Baptists of this city beyond the point reached in the previous chapters. Questions and difficulties are encountered during the next few years which can be written about by the historians a few years hence better. than now. A few prominent incidents and persons deserving special mention will be noticed in this concluding part of our work.

In December, 1815, Rev. Jacob Grigg became pastor at Lower Dublin, succeeding the lamented Dr. Samuel Jones, who for fifty-one years had been the revered shepherd of that flock. Mr. Grigg was a man of remarkable mental powers, and it is said that, while on the voyage from England to this country, he committed to memory the entire Bible. He remained at Pennypack until September, 1817. The Blockley Church, after the removal of their first pastor in 1806, depended mainly upon supplies for the next ten years. The principal ones being John P. Peckworth, John Huson, Daniel James and Daniel Sweeney. In January, 1816, Charles Summers became the pastor, but he only remained till the following May. He was succeeded by the Rev. William E. Ashton, who remained until September, 1822. Born in this city, May 18, 1793, Mr. Ashton was a man of fine culture, unceasing industry, and highly esteemed for his many excellent traits of character.

In 1816, after several ineffectual attempts to obtain a pastor, the Frankford Church succeeded in settling Rev. William Wilson. He only remained, however, until November, 1817. He was succeeded the e ensuing month by Rev. John C. Murphy, who remained until January, 1820. The growth of the church through these years was slow but constant. Previous to settling at Frankford, Mr. Murphy supplied, for nearly a year, the pulpit of the church in Roxborough, during which time he was the means of establishing the Sunday- school in that place.

Owing to the defection of William White, late pastor of the Second Baptist Church, it seemed difficult to obtain a successor in whom all could happily unite. Hence, it was thought best that a new church should be formed. In August, 1817, Rev. James McLaughlin was elected pastor, and immediately afterwards seventy-six persons were dismissed for the purpose of entering a new organization. On the 10th of September, in the meeting-house of the Second Church, these were constituted as the “New Market Street Baptist Church, in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia.” This is now known as the Fourth Church, located at Fifth and Buttonwood streets. The sermon was preached by Rev. John P. Peckworth from 1 Peter 2:5. Rev. Dr. Staughton propounded the necessary interrogatories then usual at such times, and Rev. Dr. Allison delivered the charge to the church. At the first meeting for business the Rev. Jacob Grigg was elected pastor. He resigned the charge of the church at Lower Dublin and entered at once upon the duties of his new field. Among the first acts of the church was the appointment of a committee to select a suitable site for the erection of a house of worship. They recommended the purchase of the lot at the corner of “Fifth Street, and Buttonwood Lane,” but the location was not regarded as sufficiently eligible, being too far out of town. Accordingly a lot was secured on New Market street, above Willow.

Just one month after the constitution of the church, October 11th, the corner stone of their new meeting-house was laid. On this stone the name of the church and pastor were engraved. By the 27th of December the building was in readiness for public worship, and on the first day of January the edifice, 60 feet by 54, was dedicated to the worship of God. Sermons on the occasion were preached by Revs. T. B. Montayne and Dr. Staughton. After a pastorate of a year and a half, which was attended with signal prosperity, Mr. Grigg resigned and went to Virginia.

In February, 1818, we meet with the beginning of Philadelphia Baptist journalism. “The Latter-Day Luminary,” a quarterly religious miscellany, was then begun. It was issued “by a committee of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions.” Rev. Luther Rice, the agent of said Board, appears to have been the mover and business manager of the enterprise, while Dr. Staughton, Corresponding Secretary of the Board, was the editor up to and including 1821. By this time it had attained a circulation of about 3,000 copies, when it was removed to Washington, where it was subsequently published until the close of 1824, when it was discontinued. It is a work of much value, as it contains information relating to the current history of the denomination nowhere else to be found.

In 1818 the Board of the Triennial Convention organized in this city an institution for furnishing theological instruction to young men intending to enter the Christian ministry. Dr. Staughton was its President, and Professor

Irah Chase was associated with him in the work. This was, in reality, the first theological seminary inaugurated by the denomination in this country. It was situated at the northwest corner of Eighth and Sansom streets, Philadelphia. A history of this institution, by Professor Chase, was published in the “American Baptist Memorial,” April 15th, 1842. From that article the following will be of interest:—

The first theological class consisted of William E. Ashton, Peter Chase, Isaac Merrimam, Alvah Sabin, and Adam Wilson. Their course was terminated by a public examination, and other appropriate exercises, at the time of the annual meeting of the Board, April 25, 1821. Mr. Wilson had occasion to repair to a field of labor at a somewhat earlier day. The order of exercises included the following essays:—

1. On some of the causes which prevented a complete Reformation in the time of Luther;—by Mr. Ashton.

2. Translation of the forty-ninth Psalm, with critical remarks;—by Mr. Chase.

3. On the proper mode of interpreting parables;—by Mr. Merrimam.

4. Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:10;—by Mr. Sabin.

5. On the phrase, Son of God;—by Mr. Merrimam.

6. On the importance of applying to theology the Baconian principles of Philosophizing;—by Mr. Chase.

7. On the connection between a preacher’s general character and the efficacy of his public instructions;—by Mr. Ashton.

“The impressions made on this occasion,” says an account published at the time, “were, in no ordinary degree, gratifying and encouraging to the heart that prays, thy kingdom come. The whole became the more interesting from the consideration that the first class from the institution, was then seen going forth in the name of the Lord.”

The second theological class consisted of Allen Brown, Spencer Clack, Harped, John C. Harrison, Henry Keeling, Samuel W. Lynd, Samuel Wait, and David M. Woodson. Their course was brought to a close with the close of the summer term, on Wednesday, the 25th of July, 1821. The forenoon was occupied in a public examination. In the afternoon, a meeting was held in the Sansom Street meeting-house, when, after prayer by the Rev. Mr. Rice, essays were read to an attentive assembly.

1. On the moral tendency of the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel;—by Mr. Harrison.

2. On the choice of texts for sermons;—by Mr. Harned.

3. On the proper treatment of the difficulties which occur in Revelation;—by Mr. Keeling.

4. On the use which a preacher should make of a knowledge of the original languages and learned criticisms;—by Mr. Wait.

5. On the character and offices of the Holy Ghost;—by Mr. Clack.

6. On the objection that Herod’s slaying the children at Bethlehem, as stated in Matthew 2:16, is not mentioned by Josephus;—by Mr. Brown.

7. On preaching Christ crucified;—by Mr. Lynd.

The Rev. Dr. Staughton then delivered a charge to the class, and closed the services by prayer and a benediction.

So much success attended this theological school that the expediency of attempting the organization of a college at some central point, from which a beneficial influence might go forth to every part of the land, was duly considered. The project met with favor, and Washington, D. C., was determined upon as the most eligible place. In 1819 property was purchased there for Columbian College. In February, 1821, a charter was procured from Congress, and the Institution at Philadelphia was removed to Washington, in the autumn of that year, to form the Theological Department of the College, with Professor Chase and eight students to begin with. The College, itself, with Dr. Staughton as its President, was opened in 1822. Thus this College, now called Columbian University, had its beginning in Philadelphia, the goodly city where the first Association of Baptist Churches was formed; where the first Latin school among the Baptists of America was inaugurated; where Brown University, our oldest institution of learning, was projected;; where the Missionary Union for religious work among the heathen was organized, and where the first Theological seminary in America was established.

It would be very agreeable to take up the names of many noble men of our city who subsequently carried forward most nobly the work previously begun; ministers and laymen who, having served well in the Lord’s vineyard, now rest from their labors. This was not comprehended in the object of our work. A few honored names of great prominence deserve notice.



Rev. Joseph H. Kennard, D. D., was a man whose memory is still fragrant in all this region. He was the founder of the Baptist Ministerial Conference of this city, and was identified with other denominational agencies in such a way as to infuse into them his noble spirit and missionary zeal. On October 1, 1823, he entered upon the pastorate of the Blockley Church, and from that time until his death triumphant, which occurred June 24, 1866, he was present at every session of the Philadelphia Association, and at every session took some prominent part. The Tenth Baptist Church, which he was the means of organizing, and which he served as pastor for nearly thirty years, is, indeed, a monument to his Christian integrity and hearty devotion to the kingdom of Jesus.

Then, too, there was Daniel Dodge, of the Second Church, that tower of strength in our Baptist Zion; Dr. William J. Brantley, the elder, of the First Church, that courteous, devoted and able minister of the New Testament; Rufus Babcock, D. D., of the Spruce Street Baptist Church, whose christly, evangelical spirit has been helpful to so many in their heavenward pathway; Konrad A. Fleischman, of the First German Church, a perfect John the Baptist in rugged energy and earnest interest for the salvation of his countrymen; George B. Ide, D. D., that polished preacher and faithful pastor, under whose leadership the First Church removed from Second street to Broad and Arch; and a large number whose names are embalmed in the hearts of a grateful people. Among the laymen the names of James M. Linnard, Dr. Wilson Jewel, Joseph Taylor, David Jayne, Franklin Lee, W. H. Richards, T. P. Sherborne, and a host of other Christian men might be mentioned. Their names are still revered in many households throughout this city. May their examples inspire the present membership of our churches to even greater undertakings in consecration to the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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