Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
FEEBLE CHURCHES SUPPLIED WITH PREACHING.—MINISTERS ORDAINED AT THE ASSOCIATION.—OTHER ASSOCIATIONS ORGANIZED.—GEORGE EATON CALLED TO THE MINISTRY.—EBENEZER KINNERSLEY, A PROFESSOR IN THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA.—NEW BRITAIN CHURCH CONSTITUTED—JOHN DAVIS ORDAINED.—THE PIONEER BAPTISTS OF MARYLAND.—ORDINATION CERTIFICATE.—FIRST LATIN GRAMMAR SCHOOL.—HOPEWELL ACADEMY.—ASSOCIATION’S JUBILEE.—TALENTS DEVELOPED.—MINISTERIAL SUPPLY.—DOCTRINAL SERMON.—MEAGRE RECORDS.—FIRST CHURCH PULPIT SUPPLIED.—APPLICATION TO ENGLAND FOR A PASTOR.—DEATH OF REV. JENKIN JONES.—HIS LEGACY.—DISSENTING MINISTERS PERMITTED TO SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGES.—MOUNT MORIAH CEMETERY.—REV. MORGAN EDWARDS INVITED FROM ENGLAND.—FIRST FRUIT OF THE HOPEWELL SCHOOL.—REV. JOHN GANO.—REV. SAMUEL STILLMAN.—VARIOUS OCCURRENCES.
IN the early days of the Philadelphia Association, much attention was paid to fostering the feeble churches connected with it. The strong supported the weak, and the ministers were appointed to visit, preach to, and counsel with the smaller bands. The ordination of brethren to the ministry was frequently under the supervision of the Association, and it was not an uncommon event to have a brother publicly set apart to the work of preaching the gospel during the meetings of the Association. Up to this decade the Philadelphia had been the only Baptist Association in the country, but with the growth of the Colonies and the spread of Baptist principles, the number of churches multiplied, and steps were taken to organize such bodies in different parts of the country, beginning with Charleston, South Carolina, in 1751.
By February 25th, 1752, the difficulties between the church at Pennypack and George Eaton were so far settled, he having shown a better Christian spirit and more fitness for the work, that the church on that day called him to exercise his gifts in the ministry “once a month and at burials.”
In 1753, Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley was elected Principal of the English school connected with the College of this city. This position he held until July 11th, 1755 when he was elected Professor of Rhetoric in the College. Such were his eminent abilities that in 1757, the Trustees of the Institution conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts—a degree then as valuable as it was rare.
In 1754, the differences of opinion at Montgomery resulted in a separation, which led to the constitution of the church at New Britain, thus furnishing religious advantages to the people located in that vicinity. In 1756, John Davis was ordained to the work of the ministry at Montgomery. He was born at Pennypack, September 10th, 1721. After his ordination, he removed to Maryland and was the great pioneer of our denomination in that state. Relative to him in the Minutes of the Association for 1758, we find the following Testimonial:—
Ordered that a testimonial be given and signed by the Rev. Jenkin Jones, minister of the Baptist meeting or congregation in Philadelphia, to the Rev. John Davis, late of Bucks County, in Pennsylvania, but now of Baltimore county, in the province of Maryland, certifying his regular ordination, according to the rites, ceremonies and approved forms and usages of the Baptist church, and also his purity of life, manners and conversation; and recommending him to the favor of all Christian people, where he now does, or may hereafter dwell.
In pursuance of the above order, the following was given:—
To all Christian people to whom these presents shall come, I, Jenkin Jones, minister of the Baptist meeting or congregation of the city of Philadelphia, do send and certify, that the bearer hereof, Mr. John Davis, late of Bucks county, in the province of Pennsylvania, but now residing and dwelling in Baltimore county, in the province of Maryland, in the month of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-six, was regularly admitted, ordained and received holy order to preach the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to all the people, according to the rites and ceremonies and approved forms and usages of the Baptist church; and that at all times, before and since his ordination aforesaid. for anything heard, known or believed to the contrary, he lived a holy and unblemished life, as well in his conversation as in his actions. And I do humbly recommend him to the notice, esteem and regard of all Christians where he now does or hereafter may reside, or with whom he may have conversation or dealing.
In testimony whereof and by order of the general meeting or Association aforesaid, I have hereunto set my hand, at the city of Philadelphia, the sixth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-eight.
The above document illustrates the character of ordination certificates, as well as the care taken in drawing them up, and in furnishing the ordained with them, more than a hundred years ago.
The churches were becoming impressed with the importance of providing means and encouraging institutions for furnishing a liberal education to the young, and especially to those who were to enter the ministry. Hence, at the Association in 1756, it was
“Concluded to raise a sum of money towards the encouragement of a Latin Grammar School for the promotion of learning amongst us, under the care of Brother Isaac Eaton, and the inspection of our brethren, Abel Morgan, Isaac Stille, Abel Griffith and Peter Peterson Vanhorn.”
HOPEWELL ACADEMY, HOPEWELL, NEW JERSEY.
This was the first effort in this vicinity to raise money for educational purposes under the auspices of our denomination. The beginning was small, very insignificant, but from it has grown that magnificent system of, and facility for education among us in which we feel such a pride and interest. The following year the Association again “concluded to request the churches to contribute their mite towards the support of the Latin Grammar School, to promote useful learning among us.” In 1758 it was again
“Resolved, to desire our churches to continue a contribution toward a Grammar School, under consideration that what has been done hitherto in that way appears to have been well laid out, there being a number of well inclined youths applying themselves to learning therein.”
In 1757, the Association had been in existence fifty years, and by that time twenty-five churches, situated respectively in the provinces of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, New York, Virginia and Maryland had become connected with it.
The dismissal of members from Montgomery to constitute the church at New Britain, led to the more earnest development, as is often the case, of the talent that remained. Accordingly several young brethren gave evidence of ability to preach the Word; hence, at the Association in 1757.
“In answer to a request from Kingwood, New Jersey, for ministerial supply, we advise them to apply to Montgomery, principally, and to others, as occasion requires.”
It was decided further, at the same session,
“In consideration of the very great necessity for ministerial labor in many of the churches belonging to this Association, we request the church of Montgomery to send some of her young ministers to supply them as often as possible.”
In 1759, it was decided that the opening sermon before the Association should be “upon one of the fundamental articles of the Christian faith,” the subject to be assigned the year before. Hence, for a number of years, a Doctrinal sermon was delivered on some one or other of the articles of faith as adopted by the Association. The Records of the First Baptist Church during the first fourteen years of its separate history are very meagre. For the first eleven years there are none at all. There was no attempt to keep a minute of the proceedings until August 11, 1760. A few fragments of minutes are found in the first Book of Records commencing with February 4, 1757. From these we learn that Rev. Jenkin Jones, probably from enfeebled health, did not continue to preach up to the time of his death. The pulpit was supplied by Revs. Isaac Eaton, Isaac Stella, Thomas Davis, B. Griffiths, P. P. Vanhorn, Samuel Stillman, D. D., B. Miller, John Marks, Owen Thomas, Joseph Thomas, Samuel Heaton. There are also records of some bickerings, but, by prudence and counsel, said troubles, were healed. Anxious to obtain a pastor, and there being no one in the country suitable, whom they could secure, March 13, 1760, the church authorized John Griffith, “to write to the Board of Ministers in London, to request that they send us a minister.” Another letter also “was sent by the well-wishers” of the church. July 16, 1760, Jenkin Jones died, and his funeral sermon was preached on the 10th by Rev. Isaac Eaton. He was a man who had rendered good service to the cause of Christ, the Baptist denomination and to the church in Philadelphia. He was the means of securing to the Baptists the property on Second Street, when the Episcopalians attempted to get it. He built a parsonage for the church partly at his own expense. He gave a legacy, July 3, 1762, towards purchasing a large silver cup or chalice for the Lord’s Table, which cost about £60 Pennsylvania currency. The church on receipt of this legacy, July 3, 1762, “Agreed that M. Edwards and Isaac Jones, Esq., do buy a two handle silver cup or chalice, for the wine in the Lord’s Supper, with the said legacy, and in case the chalice should cost more than £25, that the old silver cup (now belonging to the Meeting) should be sold to help pay for the new chalice. And that the Rev. Jenkin Jones’ name be engraved on the front of the new chalice. This is still used by the church at every communion season. On the face of it is the inscription:
of The Revd
who died, July 16th,
In addition to this cup, the church has in use two plates. On the rim of each is the inscription
Baptist Church, Philada.
On two of the goblets used in the communion service is inscribed:
Mr. Jones was the moving cause of securing such alterations in the licence laws as to enable dissenting ministers to perform the marriage ceremony. At his death he was buried in the graveyard adjoining the church, where a tomb was erected to his memory. Upon the removal of the dead from that place in 1860, his remains were reinterred in a beautiful spot in Mount Moriah Cemetery.
A letter from London was promptly received in answer to the one sent, recommending Rev. Morgan Edwards, and on September 15th, the church directed a letter to be drawn up inviting “Mr. Edwards to come over, or any other gentleman of like character, to take the ministerial charge of the church.” The School at Hopewell was succeeding well and the students were beginning to go abroad to preach. Under date of April 12, 1760, the minutes of the church in Philadelphia state: “The 10th of this month, Mr. Talbot preached with great warmth. He was the first fruit of the Hopewell School.” Rev. John Gano was requested to supply the church until the spring, when Mr. Edwards was expected.
In Mr. Gano’s autobiography he records the following relative to this request;
“During my residence in North Carolina, Mr. Jenkin Jones, pastor of the Baptisms Church in Philadelphia, died; and the church being destitute of a pastor, had sent a call to England for one. It was represented that they had been so particular in the requisite qualifications for a minister, that it has given offence to the preachers; so that they were entirely destitute. They made application to me to visit them; and also to Mr. Miller, of Scotch Plains, who had been a successful minister in New York, and had baptized sundry persons there. I visited New York and Philadelphia, alternately. I at length came to the conclusion that I would supply both places, two Sabbaths at each place. The church at Philadelphia invited me to bring my family, and tarry with them, till they received an answer from England. I answered them that I would not come on such terms; but if they would affix a certain time for my stay, I would accept of their invitation. To this proposal they acceded, and I went to Philadelphia. While there, Mrs. Gano had a daughter, born December 23d, 1760, whom we called Peggy. During my stay there, which was through the winter, the church appeared in a flourishing state, and several additions were made to it.”
“About the time I left Philadelphia,” continues John Gano, “Providence blessed that church, by sending a young and respectable preacher, Samuel Hillman, from South Carolina, among them. He possessed popular talents as a speaker. He continued with them till the arrival of Morgan Edwards, the minister from England. Mr. Stillman went to Boston, where he now continues, pastor of the First Baptist Church in that place. I remained in the city of New York, until the British War.”
In connection with the passing events of the denomination, it would be of interest to weave in the various occurrences of importance connected with the mental, and material life of the city. Except where these are so manifestly interwoven with the history of the Baptists, however, the record of them would unnecesarily enlarge the limits of this work.
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