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April Hughes

American Religious History

Rough Draft #1

November 8, 2007

The Baptists: A History Divided

• The emergence of denominationalism and religious plurality in Colonial America

The roots of the American Baptist have long been an issue of controversy. Each

subset of the denomination claims a different historical setting of its founding, and even

modern day Baptists cannot find a proper compromise of the issue. As the large

protestant denomination today, the Baptist, have evolved exponentially since its humble

beginnings in Colonial America. The group, which started as a splintered sect of

persecuted dissenters great rapidly and has become a strong protestant force in the

United States. During the 18th century, although small in numbers, their cry for religious

freedom could be heard clearly throughout the New World.

“Each denomination or church had a confession that denied the boundaries of belief.

Theological commitments stood as fences separating chuech members from both

unbelievers and belinvers of other denominations. Theological exclusivism made

evangelical unity a distant hope.”1

1
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 5.
The Baptist were seen as spiritual inferiors to many other protestant

denominations. They were stereotyped as an uneducated, loud, and reckless group.

Charles Woodsman, an Itinerate Anglican pastor claims that, “I verily believe some few

among them (the new light Baptists clergy) mean Well- but they are unequal to the Task

they undertake. They set about effecting in an Instant, what requires both Labour and

Time—They apply to the Passions, not the Understanding of People.”2 As he speaks

from the pulpit, he denounces their teachings, and regards them as “poor, unthinking,

illiterate Creatures.”3

Each Baptist subset has professed its organizations origin in a different historical

setting. According to historian, Jesse Fletcher: “some think that the first Baptists church

was organized in 1609 in Amsterdam out of a puritan-separatist tradition that had

embraced a general atonement; others hold to the first Baptist church really being

formed in London, England, in 1641 from another Puritan separatist tradition with a

particular or Calvinist theory of atonement; and still others believe that Baptist life really

began with the continental Anabaptist reformation in1525.”

Although there this discrepancy, today’s historians credit the honor to the “little

group of believers that surrounded John Smyth in Amsterdam in 1609.”4 John Smyth,

said to be the father of the first Baptist church, studied at Cambridge, adopted the

Separatist views of the Puritans, who sought to severe all ties with the Anglican Church.

He would eventually become a pastor over his own congregation. He became convicted

about the necessity of adult Baptist, rather than the traditional infant baptism. He

2
Hooker, Richard J., editor. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution; the jounal and other writings
of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC,1953. Pg 117.
3
Hooker, Richard J., editor. The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution; the jounal and other writings
of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC,1953. Pg 110.
4
Fletcher, Jesse C. The Southern Baptist Convention; A Sesquincentiennial History. Pg 19.

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rejected his own baptism at birth and was rebaptized in what is referred to as believers,

or second baptism, as an adult. Smyth, along with two other individuals, Thomas

Hewlys, and John Murton, founded a congregation of “General Baptist,” whose name

referred to “their belief that Christ’s atoning death was sufficient for the whole world.”5

This view of limited atonement is most like the doctrine of the 17th century Mennonites

and was most likely the source of influence for this doctrine. This doctrinal belief was

probably brought to the church through John Smyth, who frequently interacted with the

Mennonites.”6This group would eventually seek take refuge in Holland because of their

dissenting views.

The Baptist denomination would split, and one group would form the “Particular

Baptists.” Their name refers to their rejection of the General Baptist belief that Christ’s

death and resurrection were for all. Rather, the Particular Baptist believed that Christ

was a sacrifice for God’s elect, or predestined. This group adopted an almost Puritan

form of Calvinism, however their method of believers baptism as an adult kept them

separated from the Puritan church.7 By mid 17th century their were seven “Particular”

Baptist congregations within England.”8

The stereotype of Baptists as dissenting sects did not subside as the group took

roots in the British colonies. Roger Williams, a former Puritan Separatist is the John

Symth of the Baptist denomination in the New World. He, like his predecessors in

England, passed through several stages of religious change, from Anglicanism to

Puritanism, from Puritanism to separatism, from separatism to the Baptist position, and
5
Richards, Wiley. W. Winds of Doctrine; the Origin and Development of Southern Baptist
Theology. University Press of America, Inc: Lanham, Maryland, 1991. Pg 6.
6
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 122.
7
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6
8
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 122.

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ended his like as a Seeker.”9 (Talk about him founding the first baptish church when we

was exiled). In 1639 the first identifiable Baptist church was established with a

congregation of twelve members.”10

From Roger Williams’ Providence, Baptist congregations expanded into the

middle colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. These churches were

especially fruitful because of their location in religiously tolerant colonies. By the

beginning of the 18th century, Philadelphia had become a stronghold for the Baptists.

Many churches formed in the area, and benefited from the “general meetings” which

were established and available for all Baptists to attend. By 1707 these small meetings

had evolved into a “delegated body” with several churches sending representatives. 11

Although many of the other Baptist congregations in the colonies were Armenian in

nature, or more specifically, Separate Baptist, the congregations who formed the

Philadelphia Association would be more Calvinistic. By 1742 the association had

adopted the London Confession of faith and as the association expanded, it would “set

the theological pattern for the American Baptists throughout the remainder of the

colonial period.” 12 In 1762 the Philadelphia Association influenced congregations in

Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and southern New England. By 1776 the

association’s membership would double from 1,318 in 1762, to 3,013 members in forty-

two congregations.13

9
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 122.
10
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 128.
11
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 148.
12
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 141.
13
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 6.

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In Virginia, the majority of Baptist congregations were offshoots of those

congregations originating in Philadelphia. From Virginia, the denomination spread

throughout the Carolinas. Because these areas were founded on commercial

proprietorship, rather than religious principles, more tolerance was given to this new

dissenting sect of Protestantism. As the ideas spread south, congregations were formed

along the coast, as well as the backcountry in South Carolina. “Present day Charleston

was the setting of the oldest Baptist church in either the Carolinas, which was in

existence in 1699, and may have been formed as early as 1683.”14

“Baptist beginnings in the middle colonies came just as persecution was ending in new

England. The first pennsylavian Baptists wree immigrant from wales anf “the first church

in the Provice of any note and permanency” to use the words of morgan Edwards, was

that at Pennepek, organized about the year 1686. The church in Philadelphia was the

8th Baptist chuech organized in penn and dates from 1698. Theough the Baptist had

gained a foothold all the southern colonies by the middle of the century their grateest

expanision in the south did not beign until the latter thrif of that century with the coming

of the sperate of revialistic Baptists.

”15

• Separatist Baptists:

14
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 141.
15
Sweet, William warren. Relgion in Colonial America. Cooper Squre pulishers, inc.: New York 1965. Pg 140.

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“separate Baptists had a reputation for being an ignorant and illiterate set. …

represented the lower classes exonomically and educationally. The intensity along by

the tide of their eccesses alarmed some and angered others who were not swept along

by the tide of emotionalism. Those who held to infant baptism thought the Baptists cruel

in neglecting the baptistm of their infants and to some the very name Baptist was

terrifying.”16

“baptsist were badly (separatists) trated by the lower preachers was at the hands of the

rabble. By about 1770, however the Baptists were revivalists had largely overcome this

type of opposition. The people came to relized that “Baptists were fighting their battles”

anf from this time on there began a popular reaction in th in their favor.’”17

“rarely has a denomination established itself in a region so rapidly as the separate

Baptists in the south. The accomplishments of the Separate Baptists movement are

extremely remarkable since Baptists prior to 1755 were an insignificant and generally

despised sect in America. Indeed in englad, also, where Baptist churches had begun to

appear as early as the beginning of the 17th c they conintued to occupy the status of a

reluctantly –tolerated minor dissenting sect through the 18th c. Niehter in England nor

in.”18

16
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 10.
17
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 12.
18
Lumpkin, William L. Baptists Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great
Awakening, 1754-1787. Broadman Press: Nashville, TN, 1961. Pg. VI.

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• explain the views of the Baptist Church on the eve of the American Revolution

and the beginning of America as a young republic.

“Baptists seemed to have an innate propensity for their underlying principle of

democracy in small voluntary groups.”19

“The dissenters role on the southern has been largely depicted either as leaders of

democraxy and independence, both from established chuech organizations and from

the britist political system, or as shepherds gamely attempting to marshal and

maintain a little flock of devout frontier Christians. Wile it is true that the dissenters

were more often than not whigs in the American Revolution, and while it is ture that a

very important part of their duties was to “win souls,” one must not, indeed cannot,

overlook the contributions they made to a burgeoning intellectual life on the

frontier.”20

“The history of the towns of the British Colonies in North America during the colonial

period was in large measure that of their churches, and the history of these churches

was largely that of their clergy. The ministers of that period were the leaders in theology,

law, medicine, education, and to a considerable degree in politics and Indian warfare.

Often they were the only educated persons in a community.”21 (Talk about Oliver Hart

and his influence during the Revolutionary War.)

19
Richards, Wiley. W. Winds of Doctrine; the Origin and Development of Southern Baptist
Theology. University Press of America, Inc: Lanham, Maryland, 1991. Pg 1.
20
Gardner, Harold Warren. The Dissenting Sects on the Southern Colonial Frontier 1720-1770. University
Mircrofilms, Inc: Ann Arbor, Michigian. 1964. Pg 2.
21
Weis, Rev. Frederick Lewis. The Colonial Clergy of Virginia, North Carolina, and South
Carolina. Clearfield: Boston 1955. Pg. V.

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“Let us then act wisely, of the two Evils choose the least—JOIN with out Sister-Colonies

in a determined proper Opposition to Tyranny, resolved rather to die the last of American

Freemen, than live the first of American slaves.

--South Carolina Gazette 13 June 1774”22

“According to Historian Gregory Willis, “among all the denominations, Baptists won the

reputation of the strongest commitment to democratic principles and individual

freedom.”23

“They were religious populists- their churches democratic, their ministers needing

only the call of the spirit, their religion personal and fervent, their appleas addressed to

the common person—but they combined their populism with authorative Calvinism and

unflinching church discipline.”24

“Baptists doctrine gave each church authority to manage its fellowship and adopt its

own constitution, consisting of a covenant, articles of faith, and a decorum.”25

“Baptists touted their allegiance to freedom and republicanism, for they along, they said

truly advocated civil anf religious liberty, They organized autonomous local churches

22
Weir, Robert M. The Last of American Freemen. Mercer University Press: Macon, Georgia 1986. Pg. X.
23
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6
24
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6

25
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 20.

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free from tyrannical hierarchies and they practiced a church government by democracy

and rather than by priests, bishops, or elders.”26

“the Baptists were still a compartielvey small body but they were strong enough to make

it important for either side to obtain their support and influence, and the Baptitss were

not slow in perceiving the advantageous positon in which they were placed. In electeing

members to the new state Legislature, the Baptits united their voices in electing men

favorable to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The opeing of the battle for

political freedom offered the opportunity for the achievement of religious freedom.”27

“Every Baptist Church is a republic in miniature” wrote Baptist preacher and educator

Adiel Sherwood, who argued that chuech authority was “not committed to church

wardens the preacher in charge, the bishop, ruling elders, Presbyteries, conferences,

associations, conventions, or anyting of the kind.”28

“Baptists championed the rights of conscience and private juedgemnt in the

interpretation of scripture, but pople had these rights, they believed , as citizensof the

state, not as members of the churches. The state had no right to inflict civil or criminial

26
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6
27
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 14.
28
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6

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penalities for religious opinions, but churches had every right to infligct spiritual

penalities for erroneous beliefs.”29

“throught the years of the Revolution, the Baptists were carrying on their agitation for

religious liberty. They had learned the expeidecy “of petitions, publicty, agitation,

comminssions and lobbying” and little by little concessions were gratned to the

dissenters. They petitioned for a law legalizing marriages performed by a dissenting

minister, they assaulted their vestries and asked that overseers of the poor be elected

by the community at large. But none of these partial measures satisfied them; they

demanded complete religious freedom and they continued their agitation until it was

achieved.”30

“the close of the Revolution found the Baptists in the united states in a vastly different

position than they had occupied at the beginning. At the beginning of the war for

independence they were but small persecuted groups, here economically and

educationally . by 1790 a social revolutn had taken place. Influenttial and weathly

members were now equal to that of any other denomination of Christians. They had

supported with almost unaminty the patriot cause in complte religious liberty which had

been so gloriously won in Va, and was not written into the fundamental law of the

nation. They were numerous and aggressive, but still making the largest appeal to the

common people, to that the mountains into the new empire of the west.”31
29
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 87.
30
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 15.
31
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 17.

10
• Great Awakening:

Although the establishment of the colonial Baptist church was underway in the

17th century, a religious wave that would hit the colonies is the historical element which

is seen to rapid expand the Baptists and bolster their church membership. This

movement, referred to as the Great Awakening, “affected the life of the colonies,

introducing a new religious earnestness, purifying and elevating moral and ethical

standards, and contributing markedly to the nonconformist character of American

religion and idealism.”32 During this time Baptist church numbers grew exponentially

from only sixty congregations to approximately one thousand between the years 1740-

1790.33 This spread of Baptist belief during the Great Awakening, transformed the

Baptists into a more mainstream protestant faith. Although the Separatist Baptists were

still seen as rowdy, illiterate dissenters, many law abiding General Baptist

Congregations were tolerated. This spiritual revivalism, which struck the colonies greatly

changed the New World’s reception of this denomination. Before the Great Awakening,

“Baptists were not only one of the smaller religious bodies in the colonies, but they were

considered religious radicals of the most dangerous type of social order.”34

32
Lumpkin, William L. Baptists Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great
Awakening, 1754-1787. Broadman Press: Nashville, TN, 1961. Pg V.
33
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 29.
34
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 3.

11
When the revivals first occurred in New England in 1734, the Baptists, who were

very small in numbers, did not join in. Seeing the potential for benefit, the congregations

in New England, held their own revivals and were met with great support.

When the Great Awakening moved southward, the Baptists also began their revivals in

the region. This phase of the Awakening would also prove a great success for the

group. Previously, “no group heralded religious revival so enthusiastically or so

extensively in the period 1755-75 and none benefited by it so generously as the

Baptists. 35 It is important to not that the Baptists who spread their doctrine and influence

throughout the Great Awakening, were not the General Baptist, nor the Particular

Baptists, but rather a group of Baptists views were much more Armenian in nature. This

group was known as the “Separatist Baptists” due to their separation from the

Congregational churches in New England. It would be these Baptists who would lay the

foundation for the next century of denominational growth.

“The formation of Separate congregations began about 1744 and by 1751 thirty

ministers had been ordained as pastors of Separate churches. Among these were Isaac

Backus, of Connecticut Congregational ancestry, who became the most influential

Baptist leader of the period. Eh experience of backus is typical. At about 1747 he began

to preach. At first he tried to maintain a church of mixed views of baptism. Not all the

• establishment of the Soutern Baptist Association

35
Sweet, William Warren. Religion on the American Frontier: the Baptists 1783-1830. Cooper Square Publishers,
Inc.: New York, 1964. Pg 4.

12
“The first identifiable Baptist chuech in the South formed in Charleston, SC, when a

congregation of particulars migrated from main in 1696. The awakening brought

itinerant preachers like Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall, who separated from

Congreatgational chueche sin New England and migrated to North Carolina in 1755

to est Separte Bap chuches. The philly Bap assoc also sent to the south such

evangelists as Morgan Edwards and John Gano, who establighed Regular (formerly

known as Particular) Baptist chuches, often by persuading the scattered Gernal

Baptist congreagions to adopt Calvinist doctrine.The regulars adopted the Longon

Confession and looked to askance at the Sepaated as agents of disorder. The

Separates onjected to parts of the Longdon Confession and critized the Regulars for

tolerating luxury in dress and for retaineind members who had recived baptism b/f

they were converted. Most separaties agreed with the Relugars Calvinishem and

btwn 1777 and 1801 the two united state by state.”36

“Southern Baptist theology developed out of evangelicalism. Their theology was evolved

through the years in a distinctive way for Soutehrn Baptists. Their theology has gone

through three pronounced stages: Calvinistic evenagelicalism, ecclesiological

evangelicalism, and evangelistic evangelicalism. The Calvinistic phase began in

American with the founding of the Baptists church in providence, Rhode Island, in 1639,

and ended about 1800. Calvinists comprised a part of that original Baptist fellowership

in the colonies. The process took a century and a half for Calvinism to triumph over its

competitiors, but by the end of the 17th centjry, it claimed the formal allegiance of most

36
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-
1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 7

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of those churches, which became the constituent elements of the Southern Baptist

convention.”37

“Southern Baptists, like northern Bap, indentified themselves as champions of freedom,

but they exceeded their northern counterparts in the rigor of their church desicpline,

They disciplined a far higher percentage of their members.”38

• its impact on the denomination as it centralized and solidified the group.

“The revivals of the 1740s and 1750s produced Baptist by the thousands and the

experience indelibly shaped Baptist piety. Early Baptist revials were not much planned.

Although relgular ministers often itinerated on three month “missionary” torus and gave

impetus revival. 67,000 Baptists in 1790.”39

“In the south, as in many other Enlgish colonies, minister played an important role as

intellectual leaders. A further qualification for the colonial frontier in the south is that

most frontier intellectual productions came from the dissenting ministers. Evidence is
37
Richards, Wiley. W. Winds of Doctrine; the Origin and Development of Southern Baptist Theology. University
Press of America, Inc: Lanham, Maryland, 1991. Pg 1.
38
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 6

39
Wills, Gregory A. Democratic Religion; Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the
Baptist South 1785-1900. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. Pg 33.

14
not wanting to demonstrate that these ministers were to be found whenever and

wherever settlers were found, either in the form of settled pastorates or in the more

usual form of supply ministers who traveled continually btwn charges.”40

“Their pastor, William Screven, typified many early Batpist ministers. He had been

converented in England and was said to have there singed one of the early confessions

of faith called the Somerset Confession. IN England he associated with a Baptist leader

who was later discredited, which may explain why the Boston chuech asked him to be

rebiaptied when he migrated to the new world. Capable and energetic screven was the

leader of the southern exodus. Thus he and his followers and their descendeants were

a significant part of the early descendant were a significant part of the early developene

of southern Baptist life.”41

40
Gardner, Harold Warren. The Dissenting Sects on the Southern Colonial Frontier 1720-1770.
University Mircrofilms, Inc: Ann Arbor, Michigian. 1964. Pg 1.
41
Fletcher, Jesse C. The Southern Baptist Convention; A Sesquincentiennial History. Pg 15.

15
Works Cited:

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