A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author
DISTRICT OF MAINE
This is a large tract of country of two hundred miles square, belonging to the State of Massachusetts, from which it is separated by the State of New Hampshire. It lies along the Atlantic coast, extends east to the British Province of New Brunswick, and is bounded on the north by Lower Canada.
As early as 1681, there were some Baptists in Kittery on Piscataqua River, in the south-west part of this District, who united at first with the church in Boston, then under the care of Elder Hull. The year after, they were formed into a church, which was soon broken up by the persecutions of its enemies, and by the removal of its members to other parts. The constituents of this church were William Scriven, elder, Humphrey Churchwood, deacon, Robert Williams, John Morgandy, Richard Cutts, Timothy Davis, Leonard Drown, William Adams, Humphrey Azell, George Litten, and a number of sisters. Scriven went to South Carolina, and founded the church at Charleston, and probably some of the others went with him.
After the dispersion of this little company we hear no more of Baptists in this region, nor indeed in this District; until about 1767, when there was a revival of religion in Berwick, which, like Kittery, is in the county of York, just over the line of New Hampshire, and Mr. Smith of Haverhill went and baptized a considerable number of persons, who were formed into a church by his assistance the next year.
The next church formed in this District was at Gorham, near Casco Bay, in the county of Cumberland. This church was also organized by the assistance of Mr. Smith of Haverhill. Joseph Moody, a member of it, had his horse taken from him for a ministerial tax of about six dollars. Not long after he petitioned the Assembly at Boston, that they would, like the good Samaritan, set him on his own beast. But the legislators, like the Priest and Levite, passed him by without compassion.
In a few years after, other churches arose in the western part of this District, in Sanford, Wells, Shapleigh, Coxhall, Parsonsfield, New Gloucester, Harpswell, etc in the counties of York and Cumberland. These were all founded by the year 1785. In the course of ten years following, other churches had arisen in the same counties at Waterborough, Fryeburg, Cornish, Hebron, Buckfield, Paris, Livermore, and Raymondstown; and since them a great many others have been formed in their respective vicinities. Still farther eastward in this District, in the county of Lincoln, churches began to be formed about 1784, by the labors of James Potter, Job Macomber, Isaac Case, and others.
Mr. Potter was born at Brunswick, in this District, in 1754; Mr. Macomber is a native of Middleborough, and Mr. Case of Rehoboth, in Massachusetts. They all began laboring in this part of Maine, when it was in a wilderness condition, and soon churches were formed in Bowdoinham, Thomastown, Edgecomb, Bowdoin, Vassalborough, Ballston, and many other places. Elder Simon Lock, from Wells, was very useful in his ministerial visits in these parts, and as the churches increased, a number of useful ministers were raised up to supply them, among whom were Elisha Snow, Humphrey Purinton, William Stinson, Asa Wilbour, Lemuel Jackson, Andrew Fuller, Ephraim Hall, Mephibosheth Cain, Nehemiah Gould, Job Chadwick, and others. [Backus, vol. iii. p. 201-212.]
As the settlements extended, the Baptists carried their principles eastward until they reached the British line, and a considerable number of churches have been planted by the ministers of this District, in the Provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
So great has been the increase of the Baptists in the District of Maine, that it now contains three large Associations, not far from a hundred and thirty churches, and some where between six and seven thousand members. This great increase has been partly by emigrants from other places, but mostly by those many and precious revivals, which, for about thirty years past, have been granted to different parts of this highly favored District.
This Association was begun in 1787, of only the three churches of Bowdoinham, Thomastown, and Harpswell. It took its name from that of the town where it was formed, which is on the Kennebeck River, about 170 miles northeast of Boston. This Association had increased to forty-eight churches by the year 1804. Nothing special appears to have occurred in this body during this period, only it experienced an almost uninterrupted scene of prosperity and enlargement.
The churches of which it was composed, were now scattered over a great extent of country, and a division was thought advisable, which was accordingly amicably effected.
This was formed by the division of the Bowdoinham just mentioned, in 1804. This like the mother body has had a very prosperous course, and has extended its bounds far beyond the Penobscot River, in the new towns, and plantations, which have there been settled. It has increased to fifty churches, in which are about two thousand seven hundred members. An event took place within the bounds of this Association, the year after it was formed, which excited no small attention throughout the United States.
In 1805, Revelation Daniel Merrill, pastor of a Congregational church in Sedgwick, about. 300 miles northeast of Boston, embraced the doctrine of believer?s baptism, and preached seven sermons in defense of it. These sermons have passed through many editions, and have had an extensive circulation throughout the United States. The church at Sedgwick was then in a flourishing condition, and had before been famed in its connection for its piety and purity. As soon as Baptist principles began to be examined among them, many were convinced of their former errors, and embraced them, and by the assistance of Dr. Baldwin of Boston, Mr. John Pitman of Providence, and Mr. Elisha Williams of Beverly, Mr. Merrill and wife, and others of his church, to the number of sixty-six, were buried in baptism, May 13, 1805. Nineteen more were baptized the day following, and the whole were formed into a Baptist church, and Mr. Merrill was ordained their pastor. The Congregational church continued to repair to the water until about a hundred and twenty of them were baptized!
The fame of these proceedings spread far, and produced unusual sensations among different parties. The Baptists had every reason to believe that Mr. Merrill and his church had embraced their sentiments from a sober conviction of their truth. A number of their most judicious ministers had visited them, heard their account, and given them fellowship. But many of the Pedobaptists wondered and reproached. Their Dear Brother Merrill, whom they had always before spoken of in high terms of respect as an evangelical and laborious minister of the cross, was assailed from every quarter. Pamphlet after pamphlet was written against him, to most of which he replied. Others got concerned in the baptismal controversy on both sides of the question, and a watery war raged extensively for a number of years.
The Sedgwick church, after its renovation, united with the Lincoln Association, in which it still continues. The churches of Blue-hill and Deer-isle, one to the north and the other to the south of it, have been formed from it. It has sent forth into the ministry, Phinehas Pillsbury, Henry Hale, Dr. John Burnham, John Roundy, and Amos Allen. All of these ministers, except Dr. Burnham, belonged to it while it was on the Pedobaptist plan. Amaziah Dodge, another of its members, has been approbated to preach.
On east of the bounds of the Lincoln Association, towards the British line, are a number of churches, which, on account of their remote situation, have not yet united with any Association.
The Bowdoinham Association by 1810, only six years after the Lincoln was taken from it, had increased to fifty-one churches, and had again become too large to meet with convenience in one body; it was therefore agreed in that year to divide it, and the Androscoggin or Amoriscoggin River, was fixed upon as the dividing line. The churches east of this line remained with the old Association; those to the west of it, united in a new one, to which they gave the name of Cumberland. This Association is in the southwest corner of Maine, and comprehends some of the first churches which were organized in it, particularly Harpswell, Hebron, Buckfield, Paris, Livermore, etc.
The church in Livermore was formed in 1793. It is remarkable for having approbated eleven ministers in the course of a few years. Their names were Elisha Williams, Otis Robinson, Henry Bond, Zebedee Delano, Sylvanus Boardman, William Goding, Thomas Wyman, John Simmons, Ebenezer Bray, Perez Ellis, and Ransom Norton. Williams is now at Beverly, Robinson at Salisbury, NewHampshire, Delano at Berwick, Boardman at North Yarmouth, Wyman at Livermore, Norton with the second church in that town, Bray is at Bethel; respecting the others I am not informed.
The church in Portland on account of its singular origin and local situation deserves a brief description. In 1796, five or six persons in this town were hopefully born into the kingdom of God, and became zealously engaged in religious pursuits. The preaching they had usually attended was not sufficiently evangelical to meet their views; they therefore in a short time declined attending it. For a time, some went over to Cape Elizabeth, where they were comforted by the ministry of Reverend Mr. Clark, a Congregational preacher, who died not long after. Among this little company of inquirers for truth, were Benjamin Titcomb, now pastor of the church in Brunswick, and Thomas Beck, one of the deacons of the church, which arose by their means. After the death of Mr. Clark, Mr. Titcomb opened his own house for the reception of his pious associates, and there, for a time, they conducted a little meeting, which frequently did not consist of more than six persons, by singing, praying, and reading sermons. They next proceeded to read the scriptures only, and those who were able expounded them to the rest. All this time they had no thoughts of becoming Baptists, nor was the subject of baptism any part of their study. But having taken the Bible for their guide believers? baptism followed of course. Mr. Titcomb was baptized in 1799, by Dr. Green of North Yarmouth, twelve miles southeast of Portland, and united with the church then under the Doctor's care. Others, not long after, followed his example, until ten persons were baptized, and of this number the church, whose history we have in view, was formed in 1801, and Mr. Titcomb, who had previously been called to the ministry by the church in North Yarmouth, became its pastor. He continued here until 1804, and then he removed to his present situation in Brunswick. Twenty were added to the Portland church under his ministry. After his removal it remained destitute of a pastor until 1807, when Mr. John Convers was ordained to the care of it, in which he continued about three years. By this time it increased to over a hundred. Soon after his removal, Mr. Caleb Blood was, by the unanimous voice of the church, settled in the pastoral office, in which he still remains. This church made an early purchase of a lot in a central part of the town, ninety feet front, and seventy back, on which they erected a low temporary building, which they occupied until 1811, when it was removed to make room for their present more spacious edifice, which is sixty-one feet by sixty-four. Thus Mr. Blood, in an advanced age, is settled with a young church under promising circumstances.
A number of churches, and some of the oldest in Maine, belong to the New Hampshire Association. There are a considerable number scattered in different parts of the District, which are not associated, and besides, there is a large body of what are called Free-will Baptists, whose history will be related under a separate head.
The Baptists, in this District, are preparing to erect a college, for the benefit of their community. Considerable sums have already been subscribed towards it, and for a new thing under the sun, the Legislature of Massachusetts very lately granted them a township of unsettled land, for the purpose of carrying forward their design. This was obtained principally by the means of Mr. Merrill of Sedgwick, who was a member of the House of Assembly at the time.