committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs







Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer


WITH the constant growth of Philadelphia, and the corresponding progress of the Baptist congregation, a larger and more attractive meeting-house was needed, hence the old frame structure, which had stood for nearly forty years, was taken down, and in 1731, on the same spot, a neat brick building was erected. This was 42 by 30 feet. To build this edifice was a great burden upon them, as they informed the Association that year “that they have been at a great charge in building a meetinghouse, which is to be very heavy, unless the rest of the churches of the same order will find it in their hearts to contribute towards the defraying of the same.”

The scrupulous regard of Baptists for the rights of conscience and religious liberty were exerting a good influence. The position taken by John Holme, the Baptist magistrate, in 1692, relative to religious disputes, had not been forgotten, and the members of the denomination maintained that all, of every creed, should freely maintain their religious belief, and enjoy that liberty which was guaranteed to them by the Charter of Pennsylvania, This was their position in 1733, when a few families of the Roman Catholic faith, had arrived and erected a small chapel in Philadelphia. The colonial officers were alarmed at this movement, and Governor Gordon brought the matter before the Council, and informed them that “a house had been lately built on Walnut street, in Philadelphia, wherein mass was openly celebrated by a Catholic priest, contrary to the laws of England.” The citizens of the Baptist persuasion and others claimed that Catholics and all other sects were protected by the laws which had been established by William Penn, and that all were equally entitled to religious liberty. The Council, therefore, wisely refrained from any interference.

In January, 1731, the Assembly of Pennsylvania had a bill before it, enabling religious societies to purchase lands for churches, meeting-houses and the like. The members of Christ Church took exception to this bill as it would injure the right which they considered certain of their number possessed in the lot on which the Baptist meeting-house stood. But the bill passed. The Christ Church people then tried to induce the Governor to withhold his signature from the bill. This opposition was really aroused because the Baptists, who had held their property for twenty-six years, still claimed it. The Keithians had conveyed the lot to Thomas Budd, Thomas Peart, Ralph Ward and James Poulter, in fee, to hold it for the Christian Quakers, for a meeting-house, and for such use or uses as the major part of them should appoint, allow or approve of. It was averred by the Episcopalians that a majority of the Keithians became members of Christ Church, particularly Thomas Peart and Ralph Ward, and that they had been granted the use of the Keithian meeting-house. The Baptists replied that they had occupied the property by invitation of the Keithians for twenty-six years, and that the Keithians had become Baptists. As to the occupancy of the property by Christ Church, the Baptists said,

Before the Church of England had any public place of worship, the Society (Keithians or Christian Quakers) did, at their request, grant to the said church the use of the house and lot, now in controversy, between the hours of twelve and three, on each Sunday, the said Society themselves assembling there at other hours, both before and after, in the same day. This permission graciously given could not by any ingenuity be tortured into a conveyance of the title to the property.

In 1733, Thomas Peart, the only surviving trustee, deeded the property to Christ Church for charitable purposes.

“In 1734,” says Mr. Edwards, “an incident occurred that like to have deprived the church both of their house and lot; for then one Thomas Peart died, after having made a conveyance of the premises to the Church of England. The vestry demanded possession, but the Baptists refused, and a lawsuit commenced, which brought the matter to a hearing before the Assembly. The Episcopalians being discouraged offered to give up the claim for £50. The offer was accepted and contention ceased.”

On the 13th of February, 1734, William Kinnersley, an assistant minister at Pennypack, died. He was the father of Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley, hereafter to be mentioned.

In the year 1737 there arrived in this city, with his parents, a little boy only two years of age. His name was Samuel Jones. Probably no one was then impressed with the possibilities that were ‘rapt up in the future of that lad, as, for the first time, he placed his feet on the wharf at Philadelphia. But, before his death, at Lower Dublin, in 1814, he rose to distinction and great usefulness, as will be seen. In the same year another Samuel appeared in this city, who was destined to equal renown. He was born here on the 27th of February, spent the early part of his life here, and in this, his native city, was married to a Miss Morgan. Entering the ministry, he frequently visited Philadelphia, but the scene of his greatest efficiency was in Boston. I refer to Rev. Samuel Stillman, D. D.

On Saturday, November 2d, 1739, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Philadelphia. In his diary for the following Monday is this record: “Was visited in the afternoon by the Presbyterian minister. Went afterwards to see the Baptist minister, who seems to be a spiritual man.” The next day both of these ministers visited Whitefield. Rev. Jenkin Jones was the Baptist minister referred to, and the reference of the renowned and godly Whitefield to the spirituality of the man is a worthy compliment to one of the ablest and most useful of the early Baptists of this city.

A variety of questions were each year presented to the Association, some of them very practical and others, at this day, seem without point, yet when presented were doubtless regarded as important. By the year 1735, many in the Association awoke to the importance of keeping a regular record of the proceedings of that body. An effort was made to secure a minute book, and to elect a clerk and an assistant, but the matter failed. There were those then, as now, who could not see the importance of keeping such a record.

Realizing the necessity of catechetical instruction, the Association, in 1738,

Agreed, that since the catechisms are expended, and a few or none to be had, and our youth thereby not likely to be instructed in the fundaments of saving knowledge, that the several congregations we represent should consult amongst themselves what they can raise of money for so good a design, and send, against the 1st of May next, by their letters, to Mr. Jenkin Jones or John Holme, in Philadelphia, that they may know what number to draw out of press.

The entire number of persons baptized in this city, during this decade, in connection with the Baptist churches, was only fifty-six. The town was comparatively small, the people very much scattered, and the growth of the denomination slow, yet in that very slowness enterprises were inaugurated, principles maintained and beginnings made, which have contributed towards the subsequent permanence and growth of the churches here and elsewhere.

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