Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
KEITHIANS.—BAPTISTS AND LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE.—REV. THOMAS KILLINGSWORTH.—WILLIAM DAVIS.—PREACHING AT COLD SPRING.—A CATECHISM AND CONFESSION OF FAITH.—QUAKER BAPTISTS. MENNONITES.—REV. E. KEACH RETURNS TO ENGLAND.—REV. MORGAN EDWARDS AND BAPTIST HISTORY.—FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA ORGANIZED.—PROMINENCE OF JOHN HOLME.—REV. HANSERD KNOLLYS.—BARBADOES STOREHOUSE.—BAPTISTS AND PRESBYTERIANS.—SEPARATION.—MEETING IN A BREWHOUSE.—BAPTISTS AND EPISCOPALIANS.—CHRIST CHURCH.
THE closing decade of the seventeenth century was not without interest among the Baptists of this city. In 1691 a division arose among the Quakers, “touching the sufficiency of what every man has within himself, for the purpose of his own salvation.” Some denied that sufficiency, and consequently magnified the external Word, Christ, etc. These were headed by the celebrated George Keith, and, therefore, were called Keithians. They were about fifty in number. He issued several articles.
1. To inform the world of the principles of the Separate Quakers.
2. To fix the blame of separation on the opposite party.
3. To complain of the unfair treatment, slanders, fines, imprisonments, and other species of persecution, which they endured from their brethren.
“Whether these complaints,” says Morgan Edwards, “be just or not, is neither my business nor inclination to determine. It just, the Quakers have also shown that every sect would persecute, had they but power. I know of but one exception to this satirical remark, and that is the Baptists; they have had civil power in their hands in Rhode Island government, and yet have never abused it in this manner, their enemies themselves being judges. And it is remarkable that John Holmes, Esq., the only Baptist magistrate in Philadelphia at the time referred to, refused to act with the Quaker magistrates, against the Keithians, alleging that it was a religious dispute, and, therefore, not fit for a civil court. Nay, he openly blamed the court, held at Philadelphia, December 6-12, 1692, for refusing to admit the exceptions which the prisoners made to their jury. However, the Keithian Quakers soon declined; their head deserted them and went over to the Episcopalians. Some followed him thither; some returned to the Penn Quakers; and some went to other societies. Nevertheless, many persisted in the separation, particularly at Upper Providence, at Philadelphia, at Southampton, and at Lower Dublin. The Keithian Quakers who kept together at Philadelphia, built a meeting-house in 1692. Of these two public persons were baptized in 1697, by Rev. Thomas Killingsworth, of Cohansey. Their names were William Davis and Thomas Rutter. The first joined Pennepeck; the other kept preaching in Philadelphia, where he baptized one Henry Bernard Hoster, Thomas Peart, and seven others whose names are not on record. These nine persons united in communion June 12th, 1698, having Thomas Rutter to be their minister.”
Rev. Mr. Killingsworth was an English Baptist minister. Haying removed to this country in the year 1686 he began preaching the gospel in the vicinity of Piscataway, New Jersey, and aided in founding the Baptist Church of that name. About 1692 he settled near Salem, in the same State, and was the first pastor of the Cohansey Baptist Church. He was a man of talent, energy and good sense.
The aforenamed William Davis became a troubler in Zion. He had been a Quaker preacher, then a Keithian, and finally a Baptist. He held Sabellian views, and was so pronounced in them as to make himself a subject of discipline. Rev. John Watts wrote a book entitled Davis Disabled, in reply to the heresies of his parishioner. Davis was finally excluded from the Lower Dublin Church. At this time, in the vicinity of Pennypack, there was a body of Keithians, one of whom, on September 27th, 1697, became a Baptist. To this party William Davis joined himself, and became their minister. In 1699 they received quite an accession to their number by baptism.
After the death of Rev. Thomas Dungan, Elias Keach and John Watts preached as often as possible at Cold Spring, about nine miles distant from Pennypack. In 1692, in the Minutes of the Pennypack Church, the names of five of the Cold Spring members are given, among whom is Elizabeth, the widow of the late pastor, Mr. Dungan.
The varieties and phases of theological opinion prevalent, led the Baptists to feel the need of proper instruction in the true faith for their children and the church members. Mr. Watts was, therefore, requested to prepare a Catechism and Confession of Faith, which he did, and it was published in 1700.
The Keithian Quakers soon became convinced on the subject of baptism, and “ended in a kind of transformation of Keithian Baptists; they were also called Quaker Baptists, because they still retained the language, dress and manners of the Quakers.” These again divided on the Sabbath question; some becoming Seventh-day while the others went among the First-day Baptists. A Confession of Faith was published by the Keithian Baptists in 1697. It consists chiefly of the Apostle’s Creed. The additions are articles which relate to baptism by immersion, the Lord’s Supper, distinguishing days and months by numerical names, “plainness of language and dress, not swearing, not fighting,” etc.
In 1692 some Mennonite families settled in the neighborhood of Germantown and Frankford; and to these constant accessions were made of others who emigrated from Europe. The founder of this sect was Menno Simon, a German Baptist, who was born in Friesland, in 1505, and who died in Holstein in 1561. This body originally were strict immersionists. Their founder declared, “After we have searched diligently, we shall find no other baptism but dipping in the water, which is acceptable to God and approved in his word.”
Rev. Elias Keach did not remain long to witness the growth of those principles he so earnestly advocated. In the spring of 1692 he embarked for England with his family, and became a celebrated and successful preacher in London. Hon. Horatio Gates Jones, of this. city, who has rendered most valuable service to the denomination hereabouts in collecting facts. and papers relating to our early history, says,f3 of this first Baptist pastor in the city of Philadelphia, after his return to England:—
He became pastor of a church, which he was instrumental in gathering, in Ayles Street, Goodman’s field, London, in April, 1693 ; and, so successful was he, that in February, 1694, he wrote to Rev. John Watts, that in nine months he had baptized about one hundred and thirty persons. He remained the pastor of that church until October 27, 1699, when he died, after a. brief illness, in the thirtyfourth year of his age. His funeral sermon was preached by Rev. Nathaniel Wyles, and is entitled, Death’s Arrest, the Saint’s Release.
Mr. Keach wrote and published several works. First, Four sermons preached prior to 1694, in Pinner’s Hall. Second, A Confession of Faith, Church Covenant, Discipline, etc. Third, Two sermons on The Nature and Excellency of the Grace of Patience. While in Pennsylvania, Mr. Keach married Mary Moore, a daughter of the Hon. Nicholas Moore, who was Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and after whom the manor of Mooreland was named, he being, the owner of that tract of land. They had an only daughter, Hannah, who married Revitt Harrison, of England, and had a son, John Elias Keach Harrison, who came to America about the year 1734, and lived at Hatborough, and was a member of the Baptist Church of Southampton, in Bucks county, Pa. The widow of judge Moore, subsequently became the wife of John Holme, Esq., then of Philadelphia, but afterwards of Salem, N. J.
For the history of our denomination in this vicinity during these early times, we owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Morgan Edwards. He gathered invaluable material for Baptist History. God be thanked for raising up such men. As a denomination we have not given due attention to our history. A Baptist who is thoroughly acquainted with the principles which he professes, is not often much concerned to trace his tenets through the different centuries of the Christian era. It is enough for him to find that the doctrines he avows are distinctly expressed and commanded in the great commission of the Divine Redeemer, and that they were professed and preached by his inspired apostles. Yet he is not without testimony from, nor should he be uninterested in, ecclesiastical history, that from the days of the apostles to the present time, there were persons who held and advocated the principles he maintains.
The church at Lower. Dublin was in what was then known as the county of Philadelphia. Yet this decade was not to close ere a Baptist church in the city was organized. Of this movement Morgan Edwards says:—
In the year 1686, one John Holmes, who was a Baptist, arrived and settled in the neighborhood. He was a man of property and learning, and, therefore, we find him in the magistracy of the place in 1691, and was the same man who refused to act with the Quaker magistrates against the Keithians. He died judge of Salem Court. In 1696, John Farmer and his wife, arrived; they belonged to the church of Rev. Hanserd Knollys., In 1697, one Joseph Todd and Rebecca Woosoncroft, came to the same neighborhood, who belonged to a Baptist church in Limmington, in Hampshire, England, whereof Rev. John Rumsay was pastor. The next year, one William Silverstone, William Elton and wife, and Mary Shephard, were baptized by John Watts. These nine persons, on the second Sunday of December, 1698, assembled at a house in Barbadoes lot, and coalesced into a church for the communion of saints, having Rev. John Watts to their assistance.
In addition to what Morgan Edwards says of the character of John Holme, we may add there are many illustrations of his ability, prominence and respectability as a man and a citizen. In a petition to the Governor and Council of this province, in 1691, relative “to the cove at the Blue Anchor to be laid out for a convenient harbor to secure shipping against ice or other danger of the winter, and that no person, for private gains or interest may incommode the public utility of a whole city”—immediately after the name of Humphrey Murray, who is spoken of as the “mayor,” occurs the name of John Holme. The position of this name among many others being indicative of the prominence and the respectability of the man, while the subject of the petition is illustrative of his liberal views and excellent judgment. In 1696 he wrote a poem, entitled “A True Relation of the Flourishing State of Pennsylvania.” It is published in the Bulletin of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Beginning with April, 1695, Rev. John Watts, pastor of the church at Lower Dublin, preached twice a month in the city of Philadelphia, in the Barbadoes storehouse, situated at the northwest corner of Second and Chestnut streets. The Presbyterians occupied this structure conjointly with the Baptists. The Presbyterians, however, were first to settle a pastor, the Rev. Jedediah Andrews, of New England. Coming from that part of our country where the Baptists were most bitterly persecuted, his love for them was not strong; hence he inaugurated measures to drive them out of the building they had occupied, in connection with the Presbyterians, for over three years.
In view of this conduct, the Baptists wrote to them the following courteous and Christian letter:—
To our dear and well beloved friends and brethren—Mr. Jedediah Andrews, John Green, Joshua Story and Samuel Richardson, and the rest of the Presbyterian judgment, belonging to the meeting in Philadelphia—the Church of Christ, baptized on confession of faith, over which Rev. John Watts is pastor, send salutation of grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ:—
DEARLY BELOVED: Having seriously and in the fear of God considered our duties of love to and bearing with one another, and receiving the weak in faith; and knowing that love, peace and unity tend much to the honor of Christ and Christianity, and to the conviction and conversion of sinners, and the comfort and establishment of believers, and being desirous of your company heavenward as far as may be, and as much as we can to heal the breach betwixt us, occasioned by our difference in judgment (none being yet perfect in knowledge), we have thought it necessary to make you this proposition following, for peace (as being the necessary term upon which we may safely, comfortably and peaceably hold Christian communion together in the things wherein we agree in the public worship of God and common duties of religion, as in prayer, preaching, praising God, reading and hearing the word), viz., we do freely confess and promise for ourselves that we can and do own and allow of all approved ministers, who are fitly qualified and sound in the faith, and of holy lives, to pray and preach in our assemblies. If you can also confess and promise for yourselves that you can and will own and allow of our approved ministers, who are fully qualified and sound in the faith, and of holy lives, to preach in your assemblies, that so each side may own, embrace and accept of each other as fellow brethren and ministers of Christ, and hold and maintain Christian communion and fellowship. Unto which proposition (that further disputes and vain janglings may be prevented) we shall desire, if you please, your plain and direct answer, that it may be left for us at Widow Elton’s house in Philadelphia.
Subscribed in behalf of the rest of the congregation the 3oth of 8th month (October), 1698.
To the above letter a reply was returned by the Presbyterians, dated November 3, 1698, and signed by Rev. Jedediah Andrews, John Green, Samuel Richardson, David Giffing, Herbert Corry, John Vanlear and David Green, in which they requested a conference at some time and place to be appointed by the Baptists, in order that they might agree upon what was to be done. The 19th of November was fixed for the consultation at the common meeting-house on the Barbadoes lot, and the notification was delivered to Mr. Andrews.
At the time appointed, Messrs. John Watts, Samuel Jones and Evan Morgan went to the city and were at the place of meeting, but no one came. Word was sent to Mr. Andrews, and his attendance was desired; but he excused himself on the pretext that he thought the time was the second day after, or the 22d inst. The three brethren waited all day, but in vain. Before leaving the building, they wrote a letter to the Presbyterians. After stating their disappointment in not meeting them for conference, they said:
Considering what the desires of divers people are, anal how they stand affected, and that we are not likely to receive an answer to our reasonable proposition, necessity constrains us to meet apart from you until such time as we receive an answer, and we are assured that you can own us so as we do you; though we still remain the same as before, and stand by what we have written.
The next day being Sunday, the Baptists met apart.
“This,” says Edwards, “was what the Presbyterians wanted, in reality, as more plainly appeared soon after, particularly in a letter directed to one Thomas Revell, of Burlington, and signed ‘Jedediah Andrews,’ wherein are these words ‘Though we have got the Anabaptists out of the house, yet our continuance there is uncertain, and therefore must think of building, notwithstanding our poverty.’”
The Baptists secured a place for worship near the drawbridge, known as Anthony Morris’ Brewhouse. Here they continued their religious services unmolested for several years. This brewhouse was situated at what is now known as Dock and Water Streets. Nevertheless, the First Church was organized December 11, 1698, on the Barbadoes lot, as Morgan Edwards certifies.
During the progress of the difficulty relative to the occupancy of the storehouse, Rev. Thomas Clayton, Rector of Christ Church, sent a letter to the Baptists, inviting them to unite with the Church of England, where they could enjoy the comforts of a convenient house of worship, or if they could not accept the proposition, to state their reasons for rejecting it. The reply of the Baptists was eminently Christian in spirit, Baptistic in sentiment, and loyal in its adherence to the New Testament as our only rule in all matters of religious belief and practice. Persecution in the Barbadoes storehouse did not force the honored founders of our First Church into retaliation, nor did the alluring proffers of the Church of England tempt them to swerve in their loyalty to God’s truth. Their reply to Rev. Thomas Clayton was as follows.—
Rev. Thomas Clayton.
SIR: Whereas we received a letter invitatory from you to return to your Church of England (dated Sept. 26, 1698), wherein you desire us to send you in humility and without prejudice, the objections why we may not be united in one community, and withal that you doubt not but by the blessing and assistance of God, you will be able to show them to be stumbling-blocks made by our wills and not by our season; and some of us, in behalf of the rest, having on the reception thereof given you a visit, and had discourse with you concerning some of the ceremonies of your church (about which you gave no satisfaction), we did not think that you expected any other answer from us; but in your late letter to John Watts, you signify that you have received no answer to your former letter. We, therefore, taking this into consideration, do signify, in answer to your aforesaid invitation and proposal, that to rend from a rightly constituted church of Christ is that which our souls abhor; and that love, peace and unity with all Christians, and concord and agreement in the true faith and worship of God are that which we greatly desire, and we should be glad if yourself or others would inform us whenever we err from the truth and ways of Christ. Nor are we averse to a reconciliation with the Church of England, provided it can be proved by the Holy Scriptures that her constitution, orders, officers, worship and service are of divine appointment, and not of human invention. And, since you yourself are the person that has given us the invitation, and hath promised to show us that our objections are stumbling-blocks made by our wills and not by our reason, and we understanding that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Head, King, Lord and Lawgiver of his Church, whom all are bound to hear and obey under the severe penalty of an utter extermination from among the people of God, and that his laws and will are only to be found in and known by sacred Scriptures, which are the only supreme, sufficient and standing rule of all faith and worships, and not understanding the constitution of your church (with all the orders, officers, worship and service at this day in use and maintained therein) to be agreeable to and warranted thereby, hath been the cause of our separation from her, and is the objection we have to make, or the stumbling-block which lies in our way to such a union and communion as you desire. We, therefore, hope and expect, according to your promise, that you will endeavor its removal by showing us from Holy Scripture these two things, as absolutely necessary thereunto:
I. That the formation of your Church, with all the orders, officers, rites and ceremonies now in use and practiced therein, are of divine institution.
Particularly that the Church of Christ under the New Testament may consist or may be made up of a mixed multitude and their seed, even all that are members of a nation who are willing to go under the denomination of Christians, whether they are godly or ungodly, holy or profane.
That lords archbishops, and diocesan lords archbishops, such as are now in England, are of divine institution and appointment. That the government of the Church of Christ under the Gospel is prelatical according as it is practiced this day in your church, and that your ecclesiastical courts are of divine appointment. That particular churches or congregations, whether ministers or elders, who have power to receive persons with memberships, have not likewise authority (by Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Corinthians 5) to execute Church censures and excommunication upon miscreants, swearers, liars, drunkards, adulterers, Jews, Atheists, etc.; but that it is by divine appointment that they must be presented to their ordinaries, and only proceeded against in our ecclesiastical courts. That the several offices of deans, subdeans, chatters, archdeacons, prebendaries, chancellors, commissaries, officials, registers, canons, petty canons, vicars, chorals, appavitors, organists, vergers, singing men and boys, septins, epistlers, gospelers, and such like offices and officers, of your church and ecclesiastical courts are of divine institution, or have any Scripture warrant to justify them, and to bear them harmless on the last day.
That unpreaching ministers may celebrate the sacraments by Scripture warrant. That their different apparel, in time of divine service, such as hoods, tippets, surplices, etc., are of divine institution or have any Scripture warrant in the New Testament.
That the manner of public service and liturgy of the Church of England, with the visitation of the sick, burial of the dead, churching of women, matrimony, etc., as now in use are of divine appointment. That the people ought, by the rule of God’s word, only with the minister, to say the Confession, Lord’s Prayer, and the Creed, and make such answers to the public prayers as are appointed in the Book of Common Prayer. That it is God’s holy will and pleasure that saint’s days or holy days should be kept and observed by Christians, according to the use of the Church of England.
That instruments of music are to be used in God’s worship by the New Testament.
That infant baptism is a duty.
That pouring or sprinkling water is the proper way of baptizing.
That your manner of administering the sacraments, and signing with the cross in baptism, are of divine appointment. These are some of the things we desire you to prove and make plain to us by the Holy Scriptures. But if the case is such that some or all of them cannot be, then the
II. Thing necessary to our reconciliation with your Church is, that you will give us clear and infallible proof from God’s Holy Word, such as will bear us harmless in the last day, that our Lord Jesus Christ has given power and authority to any man, men, convocation, or synod, to make, constitute, and set up any other laws, orders, officers, rites, and ceremonies in his Church, beside those which he hath therein appointed, according as may from time to time seem convenient, and that we are bound in conscience towards God by the authority of his word to yield obedience thereunto, or whether it will not rather be a sore reflection upon the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, and a high defamation of the kingly and prophetical offices of Jesus Christ to suppose such a thing.
Thus we have in humility and without prejudice sent our objections, and if you can, according to your letter, show them to be stumbling-blocks made by our wills and not by our reason, we shall be very thankful, and you shall not find us obstinate, but ready to accept your invitation. But until you do so, and prove the constitution, orders, rites and ceremonies of your church to be of God, it is but reason that you should suspend all charge of schism against us, and desist from blaming us for our peaceful separation. Which is all, at present, from your loving friends, who desire information and unity among saints, and the churches’ peace, that God may be glorified through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Subscribed by us, members of the general meeting, in behalf of all the rest, March 11th, 1699.
Owing to the interest which gathers about Christ Church and our own history, in view of the above, a picture of the church edifice, as it now stands on Second street above Market, is herewith given. It was erected in 1754.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved