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
Now in the twelfth year of the reign of Charles the First King of Great Britain, and the dominions thereunto belonging, Haynes being Governor of the colony of Massachusetts, and Bradford of Plymouth, Wilson and Cotton being chief priests at Boston, Roger Williams, filled with the spirit of liberty and anabaptism, was banished from their presence and fled to the head of the Narraganset Bay, where he built a town for his persecuted brethren, and founded a State, which is now called Rhode-Island.
As this State was first settled by Baptists, and they have always been the prevailing denomination in it, it may be proper to give a more particular account of its origin and civil affairs, than we shall do of the other States. Rhode-Island is the smallest State in the Union, its greatest length being forty seven miles, its greatest breadth thirty seven, and containing only about thirteen hundred square miles. It is bounded north and east by Massachusetts, south by the Atlantic, and west by Connecticut. It is divided into five counties, viz. Providence, Kent, Washington, Newport, and Bristol; these counties are subdivided into thirty-one townships, and contained, in 1810, about seventy-seven thousand inhabitants. This State has not increased very rapidly in population of late years, as it contained about sixty-thousand inhabitants forty years ago, No part of the United States is more healthy, but the territory is so small, that every part of it has long since been taken up, and as the inhabitants increase, they are obliged to remove to other parts for settlements. The manufacturing interest is now very rapidly advancing, and the number of inhabitants will probably increase much faster for the future, than it has done for half a century, past.
The island, from which this State receives its name, is about fifteen miles long, and generally about three miles wide, and was, before the American war, called by travelers the Eden of America. It is divided into three townships, by the name of Newport, Middleton and Portsmouth.
The earliest settlements in this little State were made by two separate companies, who do not appear to have had any knowledge of each other's designs. The first was begun by Roger Williams and his persecuted brethren in 1636 [I have followed Mr. Backus' dates in describing these events; some historians have dated Mr. Williams' settlement in 1634; but no one has investigated this subject more thoroughly than Mr. Backus, and I am inclined to think he is the most correct]; the other by Dr. John Clark [Morgan Edwards observes, that Mr. Clark was properly the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, although Mr. Codington has run away with the praise of it], William Codington, and others, about 1638. The place where Mr. Williams settled, and which in testimony of God's merciful providence to him in his distress, he named Providence, was by the Indians called Mooshausick. Mr. Clark and his company settled on Aquidneck, or Aquetneck, now called Rhode-Island, at a place then named Pocasset, now Portsmouth. This was on the north end of the Island, between twenty and thirty miles from Mr. Williams.
Some of the company soon after removed and settled on the south-west part of the Island, where Newport now stands.
In 1644, the inhabitants of Aquidneck named it the Isle of Rhodes or Rhode-Island.
A third settlement was begun on Pawtuxet River, south of Providence, by Samuel Gorton and others, about 1641.
From these brief sketches we shall now proceed to a more circumstantial account of the commencement of these settlements.
ROGER WILLIAMS was the parent and founder of the State of Rhode-Island. He first planted the standard of freedom and peace among the Narraganset Indians, and all the settlements, in which were afterwards made, were by his assistance. He at first by his pacific measures and peculiar skill gained the friendship of the Indian princes, and any favor, which he requested, was easily obtained. He was most thoroughly convinced that the untutored savages were lords of the soil on which the God of nature had planted them, and therefore took the utmost care; that none of the inhabitants of this infant colony should occupy the least part of it until it was fairly purchased of the aboriginal proprietors. The Indians did, indeed, in some instances convey large tracts by deeds of gift, but these were Indian gifts, which in the end proved very costly. But the utmost care was taken that every claim should be satisfied, and every pretext for hostility precluded.
The cause of the banishment of this worthy man from the colony of Massachusetts was as follows: He was most firmly persuaded, and like an honest man faithfully defended the two following important propositions, viz. that the Princes of Europe had no right whatever to dispose of the possessions of the American Indians; and secondly, that civil rulers as such had no authority from God to regulate or control the affair of religion. A more definite statement of this last proposition will be made in the account of the founding of the church in Providence. It is sufficient to observe here that out of his maxims of religious liberty, and national justice, grew most of the heresies contained in his indictment. ["The sin of the Patents, Williams says, lay heavy on his mind, especially that part by which Christian kings (so called) were invested with a right, by virtue of their Christianity, to take and give away the lands and countries of other men." His sentiments on this subject, Mr. Cotton informs us, formed the first article in his indictment. Backus, vol. i. p. 57, 58.] And such were his talents and address, that the magistrates were fearful whereunto his opinions would grow, and after some ineffectual endeavours to convince or quiet him they passed against him the cruel sentence of banishment, October, 1635. He had permission to tarry within their jurisdiction until spring, upon condition "that he would not go about to draw others to his opinions;" but in January, 1636, the Governor and Assistants were informed that he received and preached to companies in his house at Salem, "even of such points as he had been censured for." Having received this information, they agreed to send him back to England by a ship then ready to depart; "the reason was, because he had drawn about twenty people to his opinions; they were intended to erect a plantation about the Narraganset bay, from whence infection would easily spread into these churches, the people being many of them much taken with the apprehension of his godliness." They sent for him to come to Boston, but he sent an excuse; upon which they sent a pinnace, with a commission to Captain Underhill, to apprehend him and carry him on board the ship then at Nantasket; but when they came to his house they found he had been gone three days.
"What human heart," says Mr. Backus, "can be unaffected with the thought, that a people, who had been sorely persecuted in their own country, so as to flee three thousand miles into a wilderness for religious liberty, yet should have that imposing temper cleaving so fast to them, as not to be willing to let a godly minister, who testified against it, stay even in any neighboring part of this wilderness, but moved them to attempt to take him by force, to send him back into the land of their persecutors!" [vol. i. p. 72.]
The next we hear of this injured man, was on the Seekhonk plain, since called Rehoboth, a few miles east of Providence. To this place, which was then wholly inhabited by savages; he fled in the depth of winter and obtained a grant of land of Osamaquin, sometimes called Masasoit, chief Sachem at Mount Hope, now in Bristol, R.I. But he was soon informed by a letter and messenger from the men of Plymouth, that this place was within their patent. He next went over Pawtucket River, as will be related in the history of the first church in Providence.
Here he found that favor among the savages which christians had denied him. Many of his friends and adherents soon repaired to his new habitation. He had the happiness to gain the friendship of two powerful Narraganset princes, of whom he made a formal purchase of a territory sufficient for himself and friends. He soon acquired a sufficient knowledge of the Indian language to transact the affairs of trade and negociation, and perhaps no man ever had more influence over the savage tribes than Roger Williams. This influence enabled him to soothe the irritated Indian Chiefs, and break up their confederacies against the English. And the first act of this kind was performed in favor of the colony from which he had been so cruelly banished.
The first deed which he obtained of his lands, or at least the first which is now extant, bears date the same with that of Aquidneck, and was given two years after his settlement at Providence. It runs in the following style: "At Nanhiggansick, the 24th of the first month, commonly called March, in the second year of our plantation, or planting at Mooshausick, or Providence: Memorandu, that we Caunannicus and Miantinomu, the. two chief suchems of Nanhiggansick, having two years since sold unto Roger Williams the lands and meadows upon the two fresh rivers called Mooshausick and Wanaskatuckett, do now by these presents establish and confirm the hounds of these lands, from the rivers and fields of Pautuckett, the great hill of Neoterconkenitt on the north-west, and the town of Mashapauge on the west. As also, In consideration of the many kindnesses and services he hath continually done for us, both for our friends of Massachusetts, as also at Quininkticutt and Apaum, or Plymouth; we do freely give unto him all that land from those rivers reaching to Pautuxett river, as also the grass and meadows upon Pautuxett river in witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in the presence of, The mark of CAUNAWNXCUS, The mark of MIANTIHOMU, The mark of SEATAGH, The mark of ASSOTEMEWETT. [The Mooshausick River empties into Providence cove from the north, a little below the Mill Bridge; the Wanaskatuckett is that on which Olney's Paper Mills are situated. The Pawtucket river rises in, or near Rutland in Worcester county, Massachusetts, and empties into the Narraganset Bay at India Point, Providence. The Pawtuxet rises near the borders of Connecticut, and falls into the Bay five miles below the town. On the fields of Pawtucket the author is now writing, but he is not sure where the town of Mashapauge stood.]
"1639, Memorandum, 3d month, 9th day, this was all again confirmed by Miantinomu; he acknowledged this his act: and hand; up the stream of Pautuckett and Pautuxett without limits we might have for our use of cattle; witness hereof,
ROGER WILLIAMS, BENEDICT ARNOLD."
This deed must have comprehended all the county of Providence, or the north part of the State, and most of the county of Kent.
A few months after this purchase was made, Mr. Williams admitted as his associates the persons afterwards named by the following instrument: Providence, 8th of the 8th month, 1638, (so called) Memorandum, that I, Roger Williams, having formerly purchased of Caunannicus and Miantinomu this our situation or plantation of New Providence, etc. the two fresh rivers of Wanasquatuckett and Moozhausick, and the ground and meadows thereupon; in consideration of thirty pounds received from the inhabitants of said place, do freely and fully pass, grant, and make over equal right and power of enjoying and disposing of the same grounds, and lands unto my loving friends and neighbors, Stukely Westcoat, William Arnold, Thomas James, Robert Cole, John Greene, John Throckmorton, William Harris, William Carpenter, Thomas Olney, Francis Weston, Richard Waterman, Ezekiel Holliman, and such others as the major part of us shall admit into the same fellowship of vote with us: As also I do freely make and pass over equal right and power of enjoying and disposing of the lands and grounds reaching from the aforesaid rivers unto the great river Pautuxett, with the grass and meadows thereupon, which was so lately given and granted by the aforesaid sachems to me; witness my hand, ROGER WILLIAMS."
The next who were admitted into this company, were Chad Brown, William Field, Thomas Harris, William Wickenden, Robert Williams,. brother to Roger, Richard Scott, William Reynolds, John Field, John Warner, Thomas Angell, Benedict Arnold, Joshua Winsor, Thomas Hopkins, Francis Weeks, etc. ["Of these I find Williams (brother to Mr. Roger) among the Massachusetts freemen, but no more of their names upon those records. Perhaps most of them might have newly arrived; for Governor Winthrop assures us, that no less than three thousand arrived this year in twenty ships; and Mr. Hubbard tells us that those, who inclined to the Baptists principles, went to Providence; others went to Newport. Seven of the first twelve, with Angell, I suppose began the settlement with Mr. Williams in 1636." Backus.]
The following passage explains, in a very pleasing manner, Mr. Williams' design in these transactions:
"Notwithstanding I had the frequent promise of Miantinomu, my kind friend, that it should not be land that I should want about those bounds mentioned, provided that I satisfied the Indians there inhabiting, I having made covenant of peaceable neighborhood with all the sachems and natives round about us, and having, in a sense of God's merciful providence unto me in my distress, called the place PROVIDENCE, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience; I then considering the condition of divers of my countrymen, I communicated my said purchase unto my loving friends, John Throckmorton, and others, who then desired to take shelter here with me, And whereas by God's merciful assistance I was the procurer of the purchase, not by monies nor payment, the natives being so shy and jealous that monies could not do it, but by that language, acquaintance and favor with the natives, and other advantages which it pleased God to give me; and also bore the charges and Venture of all the gratuities which I gave to the great sachems, and other sachems and natives round about us, and lay engaged for a loving and peaceable neighborhood with them, to my great charge and travel; it was therefore thought fit that I should receive some consideration and gratuity." Thus, after mentioning the said thirty pounds, and saying, "this sum I received; and in love to my friends, and with respect to a town and place of succor for the distressed as aforesaid, I do acknowledge this said sum and payment a full satisfaction;" he went on in full and, strong terms to confirm those lauds to said inhabitants; reserving no more to himself and his heirs than an equal share with the rest; his wife also signing the deed. [Backus vol. i. p. 94.]
The settlement of AQUIDNECK was begun in the following manner: Soon after the banishment of R. Williams, the colony of Massachusetts was most violently agitated by religious discords, and a synod held at Newton, now Cambridge, after due examination, found to their grief, that their country was infested with no less than eighty-two heretical opinions, which were all arraigned before the sapient ecclesiastical tribunal, and solemnly condemned. Rev. Mr. Whellwright, and Mrs. Ann Hutchinson, both Pedobaptists, were banished the jurisdiction for what was called Antinomianism, and others were exposed to a similar fate. MR. JOHN CLARK, an eminent physician, made a proposal to his friends to remove out of a jurisdiction so full of bigotry and intolerance. Mr. Clark was now in the 29th year of his age; he was requested with some others to look out for a place, where they might enjoy unmolested the sweets of religious freedom. By reason of the suffocating heat of the preceding summer, they first went north to a place which is now within the bounds of New-Hampshire, but on account of the coldness of the following winter, they resolved in the spring to make towards the south. "So having sought the Lord for direction, they agreed that while their vessel was passing about Cape Cod, they would cross over by land, having Long-Island and Delaware Bay in their eye, for the place of their residence. At Providence Mr. Williams lovingly entertained them, and being consulted about their design, readily presented two places before them; Sowams, now called Barrington, and Aquetneck, now Rhode Island. And inasmuch as they were determined to go out of every other jurisdiction, Mr. Williams and Mr. Clark, attended with two other persons, went to Plymouth, to inquire how the case stood; they were lovingly received, and answered, that Sowams was the garden of their patent. But they were advised to settle at Aquetneck, and promised to be looked on as free, and to be treated and assisted as loving neighbors" [Backus' History, vol. i., p. 89; Callender's Century sermon, p. 30].
On their return, the 7th of March, 1638, the men, to the number of eighteen, incorporated themselves a body politic, and chose William Coddington their judge or chief magistrate. The names of these men were William Coddington, John Clarke, William Hutchinson, John Coggshall, William Aspinwall, Thomas Savage, William Dyre, William Freeborne, Philip Shearman, John Walker, Richard Carder, William Baulstone, Edward Hutchinson; Edward Hutchinson, jun. Samuel Wilbore, John Sanford, John Porter, and Henry Bull. Those, whose names are in italicks, afterwards went back to Massachusetts; most of the others arose to eminence in the colony, which they established.
"It was not price or money," says Mr. Williams, "that could have purchased Rhode Island; but Itwas obtained by love, that love and favor, which that honored gentleman, Sir Henry Vane, and myself had with the great sachem Myantonomo, about the league, which I procured between the Massachusetts English, and the Narragansets in the Pequot war. This I mention, that as the truly noble Sir Henry Vane, hath been so great an instrument in the hand of God, for procuring this island of the barbarians, as also for the procuring and confirming the Charter, it may be with all thankful acknowledgments recorded and remembered by us and ours, who reap the sweet fruits of so great benefits, and such unheard of liberties among us." And in another manuscript he tells us, "The Indians were very shy and jealous of selling the lands to any, and chose rather to make a grant of them, to such as they affected; but at the same time, expected such gratuities and rewards, as made an Indian gift oftentimes a very dear bargain." "And the colony in 1666," says Mr. Callender, "avered that though the favor Mr. Williams had with Myantonomo was the great means of procuring the grants of the land, yet the purchase had been clearer than of any lands in New England; the reason of which might be, partly, the English inhabited between two powerful nations, the Wamponoags to the north and east, who had formerly possessed some part of their grants, before they had surrendered it to the Narragansets; and though they freely owned the submission, yet it was thought best by Mr. Williams to make them easy by gratuities to the sachem, his counsellors and followers. On the other side the Narragansets were very numerous, and the natives inhabiting any spot the English sat down upon or improved, were all to be bought off to their content, and oftentimes were to be paid over and over again. [Century Sermon, p. 31, 32.]
The colony of Rhode-Island was small, and labored under many embarrassments. In an address to the supreme authority in England, in 1659, they gave the following account of their circumstances: "This poor colony consists mostly of a Birth and Breeding of the Most High. We being an outcast people, formerly from our mother-nation in the bishop's days, and since from the New-English over-zealous colonies. Our whole frame being much like the present frame of our dearest mother England; bearing with the several judgments, and consciences of each other, in all the towns of the colony; which our neighbor colonies do not; and which is the only cause of their great offense against us."
A third settlement was made below Providence on the western shore of the Narraganset Bay, by Samuel Gorton, and Ms company. This company suffered for a time most severely by the officious and unrighteous interference of the Massachusetts and Plymouth rulers. Gorton was a very different character from either Williams or Clark, but he was a zealous, advocate for liberty of conscience, and sought an asylum where he might enjoy it. He was a man of learning and abilities, but of a satyrical, crusty turn; he was also a preacher, but of a very singular cast. He arrived in Boston in 1636, which place he in a short time left for Plymouth. There he soon fell out with their preacher, was taken in hand by the authority, and bonds were required of him for his good behavior. From Plymouth he went to Rhode-Island, where, for something in his conduct, what I cannot learn, he was, by Mr. Coddington's order, roughly treated, and according to Callender's account banished the Island. He next went to Providence, where he was kindly received by Mr. Williams and others, and he with others soon settled at Pawtuxet, which was within the bounds of Mr. Williams' grant, But here new troubles followed him, contentions were fomented among his company, the weaker party sought assistance from the men of Boston, and some of them actually submitted themselves and their lands to that government. The Boston court had then a specious pretext for meddling with the affairs of an infant distant colony, and they having learnt the peculiar policy of the cabinet of their mother country, to foment quarrels and then profit by them, cited Gorton and his associates to appear at their tribunal, and answer to the complaints which had been exhibited against them. The warrant was signed by the Governor and three assistants; but Gorton treated it with disdain, and in answer wrote a long, mystical paraphrase upon it, which was signed by himself, Randal Holden, Robert Potter, John Wickes, John Warner, Richard Waterman, William Woodale, John Greene, Francis Weston, Richard Carder, Nicholas Power, and Sampson Shatton. It appears these people, in order to avoid further troubles, removed southward to a place then called Shawwomet, now Warwick, which they purchased of the sachems, Miantinomy [the name of this famous Indian chief is spelled many different ways, but Myantinomy seems the most proper, and according to Mr. Callender it was by the Indians pronounced Myantino`my. Century Sermon, p. 1] Pomham, and others, for 144 fathoms of wampum. [This was then computed at forty pounds, sixteen shilling sterling. Backus]
But new complaints soon went to Boston against them, and the petty sachems under Miantinomy and Pomham, for political reasons, were easily induced to become their enemies and accusers, and they were again summoned to appear before the Massachusetts rulers. And upon their refusal, because out of their jurisdiction, a company of armed men were sent to fetch them. They sent word to the company that if they set foot upon their land, it should be at their peril. But a band of soldiers marched on, the women and children, and some of the less resolute, were terrified and dispersed, and the rest, being overpowered by numbers, were carried to Boston, where they were treated in a severe and scandalous manner. Gorton, for being a blasphemous enemy of the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, etc. was confined to Charlestown, set to hard work, loaded with bolts and irons to hinder his escape; and in case he should break his confinement, and in the mean time publish, declare, or maintain his blasphemous abominable heretics, wherewith he had been charged by the court, after due conviction, he should be condemned and executed. John Wickes was confined to Ipswich, Randal Holden to Salem, Robert Potter to Beverly, Richard Carder to Roxbury, Francis Western to Dorchester, John Warner to Boston, and William Woodale to Watertown. John Green, Richard Waterman, and Nicholas Power, not being found so guilty as the rest, were dismissed after paying costs and hearing an admonition. The rest were confined at their different stations through the winter, eighty head of their cattle were sold to pay the charges of bringing them from their homes, and trying them before a foreign tribunal, which amounted to a hundred and sixty pounds. But the court, finding it impossible to keep them from seducing others, and despairing of reclaiming them from their errors, in the spring released them, and banished them, not only from their jurisdiction, but also from their own lands at Showwomet. [Backus, vol. i. p. 126-129.] This detestable tyranny came of Mr. Cotton's Jewish theocracy, and it is a lamentable fact, that that mistaken divine encouraged the court in this horrid oppression of Gorton and his unfortunate associates. Some of them were, at that very time, members of the church at Providence; they had associated with Gorton, not on account of his religious opinions, but for the purpose of obtaining lands on which they might procure a subsistence for themselves and families. But if Gorton had been that blasphemous, damnable heretick, which his orthodox persecuters pretended; if he had worshipped the sun, moon and stars; what right did that give the Boston rulers to treat him and his company in such an outrageous manner? These much injured men, being prohibited on pain of death to go to their lands, repaired to Rhode Island, where they tarried awhile meditating what course to take.
As yet none of the companies of this colony had any patent from the crown for their lands; but they had all purchased them of the Indians, their proper owners, and therefore ought to have been suffered peaceably to enjoy them.
About the time that Gorton and his company were released, that is, in 1643, Mr. Williams was sent to England as agent for the two colonies of Providence and Rhode-Island, and by the assistance of Sir Henry Vane, obtained "a free and absolute Charter of Civil Incorporation, by the name of the Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narraganset Bay, in New. England." This charter was dated the 17th of March, in the 19th year of Charles I 1644. It was obtained of the Earl of Warwick, who was then appointed by Parliament, Governor and Admiral of all the plantations, etc. and was signed by him and ten other noblemen his council. It empowered them to rule themselves and such others as should inhabit within their bounds by such a form of civil government as by the voluntary agreement of all or of the greater part should be found most suitable to their estate and condition, etc.
Mr. Williams returned with this charter the September following, and landed at Boston.
As persons of many different sentiments and tempers had resorted to this now asylum of freedom, it was a matter of some difficulty to fix upon a form of government, in which they could be united. But this desirable object was, not long after effected, and no event seems to have occurred, except what are common to the first efforts of new plantations, until 1651, when a very serious difficulty arose, which from the name of its author, was called Coddington's Obstruction. But before we proceed, it is proper to observe, that not long after Mr. Williams went to England, Messrs. Gorton, Greene, and Holden, set sail for the same country, and obtained an order to be suffered peaceably to possess their purchase at Showowmet.
By this means the claims of the Massachusetts court were defeated. As Mr. Williams's Charter covered their purchase, it was incorporated with the Providence Plantations, and as the Earl of Warwick was their peculiar friend in this affair, they, for that reason, gave their settlement the name of Warwick, and the posterity of its planters are still numerous in different parts of the State. Callender, Backus, and others, who have spoken of Gorton's religious opinions, acknowledge that it is hard to tell what they really were; but they assure us that it ought to be believed, that he held all the heresies which were ascribed to him. The most we can learn is, that in allegory, and double meanings of scripture, he was similar to Origen; in mystical theology and the rejection of ordinances, he resembled the Quakers; and the notion of visible instituted churches he utterly condemned. He was the leader of a religious meeting at Warwick above sixty years, and says he made use of the learned languages in expounding the Scriptures to his hearers. He was of a good family in England, lived to a great age, was promoted to honor in the Rhode-Island Colony, and left behind him many disciples to his non-descript opinions. Some of his posterity have been found among the Baptists, some among the Quakers, but the gr. eater part of them are what Morse would call Nothingarians. But all of them still retain a lively abhorrence of that religious tyranny, by which he was so cruelly oppressed. [Callender's Century Sermon, p. 37,38; Backus, vol. ii. p. 95.]
The Charter obtained by Roger Williams in 1644, lasted until 1663, when another was granted by Charles II by which the incorporation was styled "The English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations in New-England."
This Charter, without any essential alteration, has remained the foundation of the Rhode-Island government ever since. Previous to its being obtained, that is, in 1651, Messrs. Williams and Clark were sent to England as agents for the Colony, which then consisted of only the four towns of Providence, Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick. The object of their embassy was to remove the obstructions which had been thrown in the way of their progress by William Coddington, then Governour of their infant settlement. This gentleman had, as they said, "by most untrue information," obtained a commission of the Council of State, to govern a part of the colony, that is, the Island, with such a council as the people should choose, and he approve. This they considered as "a violation of their liberties," etc. and by the exertions of these agents the commission was vacated, and the administration progressed in the original form. Mr. Williams soon returned, but Mr. Clark remained in England about twelve years, to watch the motion of affairs, and to be ready to lend his assistance to his brethren here as emergencies should require.
The form of government established by the Rhode-Islanders was, as to civil affairs, much like those of the other colonies, but in the important article of religion, they differed from them all. Liberty of conscience was, in the first social compact at Providence, established by law, and no one was allowed to vote among them, who opposed it. [Backus, vol. i. p. 96.] This darling principle was planted in the soil of Rhode-Island, before the red men left it, or ever the lofty forests were laid waste, and has been transmitted from father to son with the most studious care; it was interwoven in every part of the State Constitution, has extended its influence to all transactions, whether civil or sacred, and in no part of the world has it been more inviolably maintained for the space of upwards of a hundred and seventy years. It is the glory and boast of Rhode-Island, that no one within her bounds was ever legally molested on account of his religious opinions, and that none of her annals are stained with acts to regulate those important concerns, which he wholly between man and his Maker. Hence it was early said of this colony, "They are much like their neighbors, only they have one vice less, and one virtue more than they; for they never persecuted any, but have ever maintained a perfect liberty of conscience" [Edwards' MS. History of Rhode Island, p. 10].
They, among their first Legislative acts, (instead of establishing their own religion by law, and compelling all others to maintain it) determined that "Every man, who submits peaceably to civil government in this colony, shall worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience without molestation." And when in 1656, the colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Hartford, and New-Haven, pressed them hard to give up this point, and join with them to crush the Quakers, and prevent any more from coming to New-England, they, for an answer, made the noble declaration, "We shall strictly adhere to the foundation principle on which this colony was first set. tied," etc. Accordingly, the Quakers found a safe asylum here, while they were in all places persecuted and destroyed.
When these people obtained their second Charter in 1663, they petitioned Charles II "that they might be permitted to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil State may stand and best be maintained, and that among English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments, and that true piety, rightly grounded on gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty; and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty." -- This permission was granted by his majesty, and the tenor of their Charter was, that every person might freely and fully have and enjoy his own judgment or conscience in matters of religious concernment, etc. The inviolable attachment of the Rhode-Islanders to this heaven-born principle of Religious Freedom, was the real cause of all those calumnies and injuries which the other colonies heaped upon them. Connecticut and Massachusetts on either side of them, were now making strong exertions to enforce their religious laws, and could not endure the maxims of this little colony, which were a tacit and standing condemnation of their bigotry and intolerance. They therefore stretched their lines if possible to swallow up the little State, and Massachusetts actually took possession of a large share of it one side, and Connecticut on the other; but failing of their design on this plan, they encouraged the Indians to harass them to the loss of 80 or 100 pounds a year; they refused to let them have ammunition for their money when in imminent danger; they fomented divisions among them, and encouraged their subjects to refuse obedience to their authority; they finally labored hard, after they could not dismember the colony, to gain a party within its bounds, of sufficient strength to outvote them in their elections, and establish among them their abominable system of parish worship, and parish taxes. Their letter writers, preachers, and historians, calumniated them as "the scum and runaways of other colonies, which, in time, would bring a heavy burden on the land: as so sunk into barbarity, that they could speak neither good English nor good sense -- as despisers of God's worship, and without order or government," etc. [Edwards' MS. History of Rhode Island, p. 12, 13; Backus, vol. i., MS. of Governor Jenks.] Dr. Mather, speaking of this State about a hundred years ago, says, "It has been a Colluvies of Antinomians. Familists, Anabaptists, Antisabbatarians, Arminians, Socinians, Quakers, Ranters, every thing in the world but Roman Catholicks and real christians, though of the latter, I hope, there have been more than the former among them; so that if a man had lost his religion, he might find it at this general muster of Opinionists" [Magnalia, Book viii. p. 20]. He goes on to describe it as the Gerizzim of New-England, the common receptacle of the convicts of Jerusalem, and the outcasts of the land. "The Island," says he, "is indeed for the fertility of its soil, the temperateness of its air, etc. the best garden of all the colonies, and were it free from serpents, I would call it the Paradise of New-England." But he finally applies to it the old proverb, Bona Terra, Mala Gens, a good land, but a bad people. This is but a part of a long reviling piece of the same character. Among other things he informs us, that the Massachusetts ministers had made a chargeless tender of preaching the gospel to this wretched people in their towns and on their paganizing plantations; but these offers had been refused.
The two following letters will give the reader to understand the manner in which these chargeless tenders were made, and also in what point of light the Rhode-Island people viewed them. The first is from an Association of the Massachusetts ministers; the other from the people of Providence:
"To the honorable Joseph Jenckes, Esq. late Deputy-Governor, William Hopkins, Esq. Major Joseph Willson, Esq. Joseph Whipple, Esq. CoL Richard Waterman, Esq. Arther Fenner, Esq. Wilkinson, Esq Philip Tillinghast, Esq. Capt. Nicholas Power, Esq. Thomas Harris, Esq. Capt. William Harris, Esq. Andrew Harris, Esq. -- Brown, Esq. Jonathan Burton, Esq. Jonathan Spreauge, Jun. Esq. and to the other eminent men in the town of Providence. Pardon our ignorance if any of your honorable christian names, or if your proper order be mistaken.
We wish you grace, mercy, and peace, and all blessings for time and for eternity through our Lord Jesus Christ. How pleasing to Almighty God and our Lord and Redeemer, and how conducible to the publick tranquillity and safety, an hearty union and good affection of all pious protestants, of whatever particular denomination, on account of some difference in opinion, would be, by the divine blessing, yourselves, as well as we, are not insensible of. And with what peace and love, societies of different modes of worship have generally entertained one another in your government, we cannot think of without admiration. And we suppose, under God, 'tis owing to the choice liberty granted to protestants of all persuasions in the Royal Charter graciously given you [be it observed that the same liberty was granted the Massachusetts people by their charters first and last. Edwards]; and to the wise and prudent conduct of the gentlemen that have been improved as governors and justices in your colony. And the Rev. Mr. Greenwood, before his decease at Rehoboth, was much affected with the wisdom and excellent temper and great candour of such of yourselves as he had the honor to wait upon, and with those worthy and obliging expressions of kind respects he met with when he discoursed about his desire to make an experiment, whether the preaching of our ministers in Providence. might not be acceptable; and whether some, who do not greatly recline to frequent any pious meeting in the place, on the first day of the week, might not be drawn to give their presence to hear our ministers, and so might be won over, by the influence of Heaven, into serious godliness; and although God has taken that dear brother of ours from his work in this world, yet it has pleased the Lord to incline some reverend ministers in Connecticut and some of ours to preach among you; and we are beholden to the mercy of Heaven for the freedom and safety they have enjoyed under the wise and good government of the place, and that they met with kind respect, and with numbers that gave a kind reception to their ministration among you. These things we acknowledge with all thankfulness. And if such preaching should be continued among your people, designed only for the glory of God and Christ Jesus in chief, and nextly, for promoting the spiritual and eternal happiness of immortal, precious souls, and the furtherance of a joyful account in the great day of judgment, we earnestly request, as the Rev. Mr. Greenwood in his life time did before us, that yourselves, according to your power and the influence and interest that God hath blessed you with, will continue your just protection; and that you add such further countenance and encouragement thereunto as may be pleasing to the eternal God, and may, through Christ Jesus, obtain for you the great reward in Heaven. And if ever it should come to pass that a small meeting-house should be built in your town to entertain such as are willing to hear our ministers, we should account it a great favor if you all, Gentlemen, or any of you, would please to build pews therein; in which you and they as often as you see fit, may give your and their presence and holy attention. And we hope and pray that ancient matters, that had acrimony in them, may be buried in oblivion; and that grace, and peace, and holiness, and glory, may dwell in every part of New-England; and that the several provinces and colonies in it may love one another with a pure heart fervently. So recommending you all, and your ladies and children, and neighbors and people to the blessing of Heaven, and humbly asking your prayers to the divine throne for us, we take leave and subscribe ourselves your servants,
PETER THACHER, JOHN DANFORTH, JOSEPH BELCHER."
"By the foregoing paper," says Edwards, "which is the joint act of the Massachusetts resisters, it appears that the people of Rhode-Island government were good people, even while the Mathers, their chief accusers, were alive. And if the Association spake according to knowledge and truth, the characters in the Magnalia and other New England histories must be false and slanderous. I will here add the answer that was made to the foregoing paper, and then offer two or three remarks."
"To John Danforth, Peter Thacher, and Joseph Belcher, committee of the Presbyterian Ministry.
We, the inhabitants of the town of Providence, received yours, bearing date, October 27, 1721, which was read publickly, in the hearing of the people, and we judge it uncivil to return you no answer. But finding the matter to be of religious concernment, we counted it our duty to ask counsel of God, lest we should be beguiled as Israel was by the Gibeonites. And inasmuch as the sacred scriptures were given forth by the Spirit of the living God to be our instructer and counsellor, we shall therefore apply ourselves to them. And in the first place, we take notice of the honorable titles you give to many of us. Your view, as we take it, is to insinuate yourselves into our affections, and to induce us to favor your request. But, we find flatteries in matters of religion to be of dangerous consequence; witness the Hivites, who said, We are your servants, and have heard of the fame of the God of Israel In this way did Joash set up idolatry after the death of Jehoida. Elihu abstained from flattery for fear of offending God, while the enemies of Judah, for want of the fear of God, practiced it. By the same means was Daniel cast into the Lion's den, and Herod sought to slay the Lord Christ; and some at Rome sought to make divisions in the church of Christ by flattering words and fair speeches, to deceive the simple; but, saith the Spirit, Such serve, not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and saith the apostle Peter, Through covetousness and feigned words they shall make merchandise of you. To conclude this article. We see that flattery in matters of worship has been, and now is, a cloak to blind men and lead them out of the way; and serves for nothing but to advance pride and vain glory. Shall we praise you for this? We praise you not. Next. You salute all as saints in the faith and order of the gospels wishing all of us blessings for the time present and to all eternity. It is not the language of Canaan but of Babel to salute men of all characters as in the faith of the gospel. This is the voice of the false prophets, which daub with untempered mortar, sewing pillows under every arm-hole, and crying, peace! peace! when there is no peace. Is this your way to enlighten the dark corners of the world? Surely, this is darkness itself. Moreover, You highly extol liberty of conscience to men of all persuasions, affirming it to be most pleasing to God, and tending most to love and peace, and the tranquillity of any people. And you say, We are not insensible of this any more than you. To which we say, Amen; and you well know it hath been our faith and practice hitherto. Fourthly. We take notice how you praise the love and peace that dissenters of all ranks entertain one another within this government; and it is, as you say, to your admiration, and you suppose that under God, it is owing to the choice liberty granted to protestants of all denominations in the Royal Charter graciously given us, and to the discreet and wise rulers under whose conduct we enjoy this happiness. We answer, This happiness principally consists in our not allowing societies to have any superiority one over another, but each society supports their own ministry of their own free will, and not by constraint or force upon any man's person or estate; and this greatly adds to our peace and tranquillity. But the contrary, which takes away men's estates by force, to maintain their own or any other ministry, serves for nothing but to provoke to wrath, envy, and strife. This wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual and devilish. In those cited concessions we hope too, that you are real and hearty, and do it not to flourish your compliments; otherwise you make a breach on the third commandment. This is but a preface to make room for your request, which is, That we would be pleased, according to our power, to countenance, protect, and encourage your ministers in their coming and preaching in this town of Providence. To which we answer -- We admire at your request! or that you should imagine or surmise that we should consent to either; inasmuch as we know, that (to witness for God) your ministers, for the most part, were never set up by God, but have consecrated them. selves, and have changed his ordinances; and for their greediness after filthy lucre, some you have put to death; others you have banished upon pain of death?; others you barbarously scourged; others you have imprisoned and seized upon their estates. And at this very present you are rending towns in pieces, ruining the people with innumerable charges, which make them decline your ministry, and fly for refuge to the Church of England, and others to dissenters of all denominations, and you, like wolves, pursue; and whenever you find them within your reach, you seize upon their estates. And all this is done to make room for your pretended ministers to live in idleness, pride, and fullness of bread. Shall we countenance such ministers for Christ's ministers? Nay, verily. These are not the marks of Christ's ministry; but are a papal spot that is abhorred by all pious protestants. And since you wrote this letter the constable of Attleborough [only nine miles from Providence] has been taking away the estates of our dear friends and pious dissenters to maintain the minister. The like hath been done in the town of Mendon [about twenty miles from this town]. Is this the way of peace? Is this the fruit of your love? Why do you hug the sin of Eli's sons and walk in the steps of the false prophets, biting with your teeth, and crying peace? but no longer than they put into your mouth but you prepare war against them. Christ bids us beware of such as come to us in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves; and your clothing is so scanty that all may see your shame, and see that your teaching is like Gideon's, who taught the men of Succoth with the briers and thorns of the wilderness. In the next place: You freely confess that we entertained you kindly at all times. We hope we are all so taught of God to love our enemies, and to do good to them that hate us, and pray for them who despitefully treat us. And since you admire the love and peace we do enjoy, we pray you to use the same methods and write after our copy. And for the future never let us hear of your pillaging conscientious dissenters to maintain your own ministers. O, let not this sin be your everlasting ruin. Further. You desire that all former injuries, done by you to us, may be buried in oblivion. We say, Far be it from us to avenge ourselves, or to deal to you as you have dealt to us, but rather say with our Lord, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they. Do! But if you mean that we should not speak of former actions done hurtfully to any man's person, we say, God never called for that nor suffered to be so done; as witness Cain, Joab and Judas, which are upon record to deter other men from doing the like. Lastly. You desire of us to improve our interest in Christ Jesus for you at the throne of grace. Far be it from us to deny you this, for we are commanded to pray for all men. And we count it our duty to pray for you, that God will open your eyes and cause you to see how far you have erred from the way of peace; and that God will give you godly sorrow for the same, and such repentance as is never to be repented of; and that you may find mercy and favor of our Lord Jesus Christ at his appearing. And so hoping, as you tender the everlasting welfare of your souls and the good of your people, you will embrace our advice; and not suffer passion so to rule as to cause you to hate reproof, lest you draw down vengeance on yourselves and on the! and. We, your friends of the town of Providence, bid you farewell. Subscribed for, and in their behalf, by your ancient friend and servant for Jean's sake,
"JONATHAN SPREAGUE. Feb. 23, 1722.
"If it be thought," says Morgan Edwards, "that there is too much tartness and resentment in this letter, they will be readily excused by them, who consider, that the despoiling of goods, imprisonments, scourgings, excommunications and banishments, the slandering of this colony at home and abroad, and attempts to ruin it were yet fresh in the knowledge of the people; and especially, that the Massachusetts people were at the time, doing those very things to the brethren in the neighborhood, which they desire the men of Providence to forget. This was such a piece of uncommon effrontery and insult, as must have raised a mood in the man of Uz. Yet be it further observed, that the people of Providence do not forbid the Presbyterian ministers to come among them, nor threaten them if they should come, but in express terms execrate the thought of dealing to them as they had dealt to Baptists.
An anonymous letter in answer to this, was published in Boston a few months after, in which it was insinuated that all these complaints about persecution were ground. less, and that those who made them did it in consequence of their being buffetted for their faults. This letter was answered by Mr. Sprague in 1723, at the close of which he inquires, "But why do you strive to persuade the rising generation, that you never persecuted nor hurt the Baptists? Did you not barbarously scourge Mr. Obadiah Holmes, and imprison John Hazel of Rehoboth, who died and came not home? And did you not barbarously scourge Mr. Baker in Cambridge, the chief mate of a London ship? Where also you imprisoned Mr. Thomas Gould, John Russell, Benjamin Sweetser, and many others, and fined them fifty pounds a man. And did you not take away a part of the said Sweetser's land, to pay his fine, and conveyed it to Solomon Phipps, the Deputy Governor Danforth's son-in-law, who after by the hand of God ran distracted, dying suddenly, saying he was bewitched? And did you not nail up the Baptist meeting. house doors, and fine Mr. John Miles, Mr. James Brown, and Mr. Nicholas Tanner? -- Surely, I can fill sheets of paper with the sufferings of the Baptists, as well as others, thin your precincts; but what I have mentioned shall suffice for the present." Mr. Sprague preached for many years to a small society of Baptists in that, which is now the east part of Smithfield; and died in January, 1741, aged 93. Mr. Comer knew him, and speaks of him as a very judicious and pious man. [Backus, vol. ii. p. 103, 105; Edwards' MS. History of Rhode Island, p. 15-32.]
The custom of making chargeless tenders of the gospel to the inhabitants of this benighted realm has been continued to the present time. And now the evangelizing Pedobaptists of Connecticut and Massachusetts are almost constantly sending missionaries with freights of sermons well arranged in black and white to illuminate this heathenish land of dippers; and many wish that more good may follow their labors than has hitherto done. They pass unmolested, the Baptists frequently invite them to preach in their pulpits, and those, who do not deal out too freely their canting censures are listened to with attention, and they find it convenient to receive the missionary reward for labouring in ancient settlements within a short distance of their homes. [A Reverend Doctor of Massachusetts, a few years since, was invited to preach in the Baptist pulpit at Providence, but when the same favor a short time after was asked of him, it was denied.] Some of these missionaries are doubtless pious, worthy men, but the Rhode-Islanders are not without suspicions that their employers have other ends in view in sending them hither, besides the salvation of souls. Their prejudices, however, whether fight or wrong, and strong and unyielding, and all attempts to convert them to Pedobaptism or Law-Religion will be unavailing.
We shall now give a brief account of some of the Baptist churches which have arisen in this State, and begin with
The First Church in Providence. -- This church, which is the oldest of the Baptist denomination in America, according to Governor Winthrop, was planted in the year 1639. Its first members were twelve in number, viz. Roger Williams, Ezekiel Holliman, William Arnold, William Harris, Stuckley Westcot, John Green, Richard Waterman, Thomas James, Robert Cole, William Carpenter, Francis Weston, and Thomas Olney. Roger Williams being the chief instrument of this work of God, and also in settling this colony, we shall here give a connected view of his origin, character, banishment, etc. Although many things have already been said of this distinguished man, yet we have purposely omitted the following sketches, that they might stand in connexion with the church which he founded; they are found in its records, from which they are here transcribed.
"Mr. Williams was a native of Wales, born in the year 1598, and had a liberal education, under the patronage of Sir Edward Coke. The occasion of Mr. Williams' receiving the favor of that distinguished lawyer was very singular. Sir Edward, one day, at church, observing, a youth taking notes from the sermon, beckoned and received him into his pew. He obtained a sight of the lad's minutes; which were exceedingly judicious, being a collection of the most striking sentiments delivered by the preacher. This, with Mr. Williams' great modesty, so engaged Sir Edward in his favor, as to induce him to solicit Mr. Wiiliams's parents to let him have the care of their son; which was readily granted. Mr. Williams soon entered on the study of the law, and received all possible assistance from his generous patron; but finding this employment not altogether agreeable to his taste, after pursuing it some time, he turned his attention to divinity, and made such proficiency therein, as encouraged Sir Edward to obtain him episcopal orders. His preaching was highly esteemed, and his private character revered. By embracing the sentiments of the Puritans, he was greatly exposed to suffering, and at last was thereby compelled to leave his native country. He embarked for America, on February 5, 1631, being then in the 32d year of his age. On his arrival, he was called by the church at Salem to join in the ministry with Mr. Skelton; but the Governor and Council not being satisfied with it, the appointment was suspended. This was a means of his being called by the church at Plymouth, where he preached two or three years, and was held in high estimation by Governor Bradford and the people. The former was pleased to give this testimony of Mr. Williams: "He was a man, godly and zealous, having many precious parts. His preaching was well approved, for the benefit of which I still bless God, and am thankful for his sharpest admonitions, so far as they agreed with truth." Mr. Skelton, of Salem, now growing old, a second application was made to Mr. Williams; but many of his Plymouth friends were against his removal. One Mr. Brewster at length prevailed with the church to dismiss him; saying, "If he stayed, he would run the same course of rigid separation and anabaptism which one Smith of Amsterdam had done." He accordingly settled in Salem, and many of the church at Plymouth followed him. The Court again wrote to prevent his settlement, but could not prevail. Morton and Hubbard inform us, "In one Year's time, Mr. Williams filled that place with principles of rigid separation, and tending to anabaptism." His favourite topic, liberty of conscience, a subject he well understood, gave offense to a few of the leading part of the congregation; but this would have been borne with, had he not further maintained that civil magistrates, as such, have no power in the church, and that christians, as such, are subject to no laws or control, but those of King Jesus." This so greatly enraged the magistrates, that they excommunicated and banished him. The town was again enraged at the conduct of the magistrates, and several of the inhabitants followed their minister. This was done in the winter of 1636. When they were out of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, they pitched in a place now called Rehoboth; but the men of Plymouth hearing thereof, sent to inform them that they were settled on lands within their territories. Now they had no refuge, but must venture among savages; and it is said, that Mr. Williams and his friend Olney, and Thomas Angel, an hired servant, came over the river in a canoe, and were saluted by the Indian word that signifies, What cheer? They then came round Fox Point, until they met with a pleasant spring, which runs to this day, and is nearly opposite the Episcopal Church. Being settled in this place, which, from the kindness of God to them. they called PROVIDENCE, Mr. Williams and those with him, considered the importance of Gospel Union, and were desirous of forming themselves into a church, but met with a considerable obstruction; they were convinced of the nature and design of believer's baptism by immersion; but, from a variety of circumstances, had hitherto been prevented from submission. To obtain a suitable administrator was a matter of consequence: at length, the candidates for communion nominated and appointed Mr. Ezekiel Holliman, a man of gifts and piety, to baptize Mr. Williams; and who, in return, baptized Mr. Holliman and the other ten. This church was soon joined by twelve other persons, who came to this new settlement, and abode in harmony and peace. Mr. Holliman was chosen assistant to Mr. Williams. This Church, according to Chandler, held particular redemption; but soon after deviated to general redemption. Laying-on-of-hands was held in a lax manner, so that some persons were received without it. And such, says Governor Jenks, was the opinion of the Baptists throughout this colony. Psalmody was first used and afterwards laid aside. These alterations took place about sixteen years after their settlement. The church at first met for worship in a grove, unless in wet and stormy weather, when they assembled in private houses. Mr. Williams held his pastoral office about four years, and then resigned the same to Mr. Brown, and Mr. Wickendon, and went to England to solicit the first charter. [Some accounts state his ministry in the church to have been but a few months.] After Mr. Williams' return, he preached among the Indians, whose forefathers were gathered by him. He wrote an account of the Indians, which the then Lords of Trade highly commended; also a defense of the doctrines controverted by the Quakers, and another piece, called the Bloody Tenet, with some other pieces. He died in the year 1682, aged 84, and was buried under arms in his own lot; now supposed to be not far from the new house lately built by Mr. Dorr on Benefit-Street. [His grave is not certainly known, but tradition makes it to be near some trees to the west of this street.] Mr. Williams's wife's name was Elizabeth, by whom he had children, viz. Mary, Freeborn, Providence, Mercy, Daniel, and Joseph. The third died without issue, aged 48 years. The others married into the Rhodes, Olney, Waterman, Windsor, and Sayles families; whose descendants, according to Governor Hopkins, had in 1770 been traced to the number of two thousand.
"Mr. Williams' character, given by many, as a man, a scholar, and a christian, was truly respectable. He appears, says Mr. Callender, in his Century Sermon, page 17, by the whole tenour of his life, to have been one of the most disinterested men that ever lived, and a most pious and heavenly minded soul. Governor Hutchinson, reflecting on the life of this good man, says, "Instead of shewing any revengeful temper, or resentment, he was continually employed in acts of kindness and benevolence to his enemies." Vol. 1st, page 38. Mr. Callender observes, "the true grounds of liberty of conscience were not understood in America, until Mr. Williams and John Clarke publickly avowed, that Christ alone is king in his kingdom, and that no others had authority over his subjects, in the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation." Governor Hopkins said, "Roger Williams justly claimed the honor of being the first legislator in the world, that fully and effectually provided for, and established a free, full, and absolute liberty of conscience." He not only founded a State, but, by his interest with the Narraganset Indians, broke the grand confederacy against the English, and so became the savior of all the other colonies.
"Rev. Chad Brown, who succeeded Mr. Williams in the charge of this church, came to Providence the latter end of the year 1636, by reason of the persecution in Massachusetts. He was ordained in the year 1642. Mr. Brown was one of the town proprietors, and the fourteenth in order. He supported a good character, and was prosperous in his ministry.
"Rev. Mr. Wickendon, who was colleague with Mr. Brown, came from Salem to Providence in 1639, and was ordained by Mr. Brown. He died, February 23, 1669, after having removed to a place called Solitary Hill. Mr. Wickendon preached for some time in the city of New York, and as a reward for his labor was imprisoned four months.
"Rev. Gregory Dexter was next in office. He was born in London, and followed the stationary business with a Mr. Coleman. [This Coleman became the subject of a Farce called The Cutter of Coleman Street. Edwards.] It is said, he fled from his native country for printing a piece, which was offensive to the then reigning powers. He came to Providence in 1643, and was the same year received into the church, being both a Baptist and a preacher before his arrival. He took the care of this church on Mr. Wickendon's removal to Solitary Hill. He was the first who taught the art of printing in Boston, in New-England. He was never observed to laugh, and seldom to smile. So earnest was he in the ministry, that he could hardly forbear preaching when he came into a house, or met a number of persons in the street. His sentiments were those of the Particular Baptists. He died in the 91st year of his age.
"Rev. Thomas Olney succeeded to the pastoral office. He was born at Hertford, in England, about the year 1631, and came to Providence in 1654; but when baptized or ordained is not known. He was the chief who made a division about laying-on-of-hands. He and others withdrew and formed a separate church, but it continued only a short time. He died June 11, 1722, and was buried in his own field.
"Rev. Pardon Tillinghast was next in office. He was born at Seven-cliffe, near Beachy-Head in Old-England, about the year 1622. He came to Providence by way of Connecticut, in the year 1645, and was of the Particular Baptist denomination, and remarkable for his piety and his plain dress. At his own expense he built the first meeting house, about the year 1700, on a spot of ground towards the north end of the town; having the main street for the front, and the river to the back. A larger house was erected in its place in the year 1718. He was buried in his own lot, towards the south end of the town; and which is still continued as the burial place of the family.
"Rev. Ebenezer Jenckes succeeded Mr. Tillinghast in office. He was born in Pawtucket, in the township of Providence, 1669, and ordained pastor in 1719; which office he held till his death, Aug. 14, 1726. He was a man of parts and real piety. He refused every publick office, but the surveyorship of the propriety of Providence. He was buried in the family burial ground in Pawtucket.
"Rev. James Brown, grandson to the Rev. Chad Brown, by his eldest son, born at Providence, 1666, was next ordained to the pastoral office in this church, and continued therein till his death, October 28, 1732. He was an example of piety and meekness, worthy of admiration. He was buried in his own lot at the north end of the town, and a stone was erected to his memory.
"Rev. Samuel Windsor succeeded Mr. James Brown. He was born in the township of Providence, 1677, and ordained, 1733. He continued the care of this church, until November 17, 1758, when he died. He was esteemed a worthy man, and had considerable success in his ministry.
"Rev. Thomas Burlingham was in union with Mr. Windsor. He gas born at Cranston, May 29, 1688, and was ordained at the same time With Mr. Windsor, but in a measure resigned his care of the church, a considerable time before his death in order to preach to a new church at Cranston. He died January 7, 1740.
"Rev. Samuel Windsor, son to the aforenamed Samuel Windsor, was next in office. He was born, November 1, 1722, in the township of Providence, and ordained June 21, 1759. He continued his office with ease and some success, till towards the year 1770, when he made repeated complaints to the church, that the duty of his office was too heavy for him, considering the remote situation of his dwelling from town. He constantly urged the church to provide help in the ministry, as he was not able to serve them any longer in that capacity, without doing injury to his family, which they could not desire.
"Divine Providence had so ordered, that the Rev. James Manning, President of the Rhode-Island College, was likely to remove from Warren, to settle with the college in the town; and which was esteemed favorable to the wishes of Mr. Windsor and the church. However, at this juncture, Mr. John Sutton [now in Kentucky, and is one of those who are known by the name of Emancipators], minister, on his way from Nova-Scotia to the Jerseys, arrived at Newport; when Mr. Windsor and the church invited him to preach as assistant for six months; which he did to good acceptance, and then pursued his journey. The attention of the church and Mr. Windsor, was now directed to Mr. Manning; and at a church meeting held the beginning of May, 1770, Daniel Jenkens, Esq. chief judge of the inferior court, and Solomon Drown, Esq. were chosen to wait on Mr. Manning at his arrival, and, in the name of the church and congregation, to invite him to preach at the meeting-house. Mr. Manning accepted the invitation, and delivered a sermon. It being communion day, Mr. Windsor invited Mr. Manning to partake with them, which the President cordially accepted. After this, several members were dissatisfied at Mr. Manning's partaking of the Lord's Supper with them; but at a church meeting appointed for the purpose, Mr. Manning was admitted to communion by vote of the church. Notwithstanding this, some of the members remained dissatisfied, at the privilege of transient communion being allowed Mr. Manning; whereupon another meeting was called previous to the next communion-day, in order to reconcile the difficulty. At said meeting Mr. Manning was confirmed in his privilege by a much larger majority. At the next church meeting, Mr. Windsor appeared with an unusual number of members from the country, and moved to have Mr. Manning displaced, but to no purpose. The ostensible reason of Mr. Windsor and of those with him for objecting against President Manning was, that he did not make imposition of hands a bar to communion, though he himself received it, and administered it to those who desired it. Mr. Windsor and the church knew Mr. Manning's sentiments and practice for more than six years at Warren; those, therefore, who were well informed, attributed the opposition to the President's holding to singing in public worship; which was highly disgustful to Mr. Windsor. The difficulty increasing, it was resolved to refer the business to the next association at Swansy. But when the case was presented, the association, after a full hearing on both sides, agreed that they had no right to determine, and that the church must act for themselves. The next church meeting, which was in October, was uncommonly full. All matters relative to the President were fully debated, and by a much greater majority were determined in his favor. It was then agreed all should sit down at the Lord's table the next Sabbath, which was accordingly done. But at the subsequent communion season, Mr. Windsor declined administering the ordinance; assigning for a reason, that a number of the brethren were dissatisfied. April 18, 1771, being church meeting, Mr. Windsor appeared and produced a paper, signed by a number of members living out of town, dated, Johnston, February 27, 1771, in which they say,
"Brethren and sisters, -- We must in conscience withdraw ourselves from all those who do not hold strictly to the six principles of the doctrine of Christ, as laid down in Hebrews 6:1,2."
"At a church meeting held May 30, 1771, Mr. Samuel Windsor made a second declaration, that he withdrew from the church at Providence, and that he should break bread in Johnston, (an adjacent town) which he accordingly did the first Lord's day in June, and continued so to do.
"The church remaining in Providence, applied to Rev. Gardner Thurston, of Newport, for advice. In consequence of advice received, it was resolved to apply to Rev. Job and Russel Mason, of Swansy, to come and administer the Lord's supper. Accordingly, a letter was sent signed by Daniel Janekes, Esq. Deacon, Ephraim Wheaton, and others, bearing date, June 10, 1771. To this letter the following answer was received: Swansy, June 28, 1771.
"To the Brethren and Sisters in the town of Providence, not long since under the care of Elder Samuel Windsor, but now forsaken by him, we send greeting, wishing all grace, mercy and peace may abound toward you all, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whereas you have sent a request for one of us to break bread among you, we laid your request before our church meeting, and there beg but few members present, and we, not being able to know what an event of such a proceeding might be at this time, think it not expedient for us to come and break bread with you. And whereas you have received Mr. Manning into your fellowship, and called him to the work of preaching, (he being ordained) we know not but by the same rule he may administer the Lord's supper. But whether it will be most expedient for you to omit the administration of the Lord's supper, considering the present circumstances of the case, until the association, we must leave you to judge. No more at present, but desiring you would seek God for wisdom to direct you in this affair; hoping you will have the glory of God, the credit of our holy religion, and the comfort of his children at heart, in all your proceedings, Farewell.
JOB MASON, RUSSEL MASON, Elders.
"In consequence of the above advice, the church appointed a meeting to consider the propriety of calling President Manning to administer ordinances to the church; whereupon the following resolution was formed:
"At a meeting of the members of the Old Baptist Church Meeting in Providence, in church-meeting assembled this 31st day of July, 1771, Daniel Jenckes, Esq. Moderator. Whereas, Elder Samuel Windsor, now of Johnston, has withdrawn himself, and a considerable number of members of this church, from their communion with us who live in town; and we being destitute of a minister to administer the ordinances amongst us, have met together, In order to choose and appoint a suitable person for that purpose. Upon due consideration, the members present choose and appoint Elder James Manning to preach and administer the communion, according to our former usage.
"To the above resolve Mr. Manning returned the following answer: 'As the church is destitute of an administrator, and think the cause of religion suffers through the neglect of the ordinances of God's house: I consent to undertake to administer pro tempore; that is, until there may be a more full disquisition of this matter, or time to seek other help; at least until time may prove whether it will be consistent with my other engagements, and for the general interest, of religion.'
"This answer being accepted, the Rev. James Manning was appointed pastor of this church, pro tempore.
"At the general meeting or association, held September 20, 1771, a question was put 'Whether those members who Withdrew with Mr. Windsor, or those in Providence, be considered the Old Church?' Whereupon the brethren, meeting in Providence, were acknowledged the Old Church; but it was agreed that the association would hold communion with both churches so long as they walked agreeably to the gospel.
"Mr. Manning preached with general acceptance to an increasing congregation for some time, without any visible success in the conversion of sinners. In the latter end of the year 1774, the sudden death of one Mr. Biggilo, a young man, who was accidentally shot by his intimate companion, playing with a gun, made a very uncommon impression on the minds of many. In December of the same year, it pleased the Lord to make his power known to the hearts of Tamar Clemans and Venus Arnold, two black women, who were soon added to the church by baptism, and who maintained the dignity of their profession. The sacred flame of the gospel began to spread; and in the course of fifteen months, one hundred and four persons confessed the power of the Spirit of Christ, in the conversion of their souls, and entered the gates of Zion with joy. During this time a peculiar solemnity pervaded the whole congregation and town. There was a general attendance on the worship of God; and meetings for conference and prayer were held from house to house to great advantage.
The meeting-house was not sufficient to contain the people, who pressed to hear the word; therefore, those whose hearts the Lord opened, were ready to join their hands to build a more convenient place for the worship of God.
"A committee was now appointed to petition the general assembly of the State at their next session to obtain au act, empowering them to sell the meeting, house and ground, and lay out the motley arising from the sale thereof, in purchasing and preparing another lot, and building a house for the Baptist church and society. The petition was granted, and the meeting house and lot were sold at public venue to John Brown, Esq. for the sum of four hundred and twenty pounds, L.M. A generous subscription was soon obtained, and a lot of ground of large dimensions situated in the center of the town, was purchased of Mr. William Russel, and Mr. Amaziah Waterman.
"The draught of the new meeting-house was made by Joseph Brown, Esq. a member of this church, and Mr. Sumner, who also superintended the building. The floor wag laid 80 feet square. It contains 126 square pews on the ground floor. A large gallery on the south, west, and north, and one other above on the west, for the use of the blacks. The roof and galleries are supported by twelve fluted pillars of the Doric order, the ceiling in the body is a continued arch, and over the galleries it is intersected; the adjustment of which, and the largeness of the building, render it extremely difficult for most who attempt to preach in it. At the east end is a very elegant, large Venitian window, before which the pulpit sands. At the west end is a steeple of the height of 196 feet, supposed to be the best workmanship of the kind of any in America, it was furnished with a good clock and bell, both made in London. The weight of the bell was 2515 lb. and upon it was the following motto:
"For freedom Of conscience, the town was first planted; Persuasion, not force, was used by the people; This church is the eldest and has not recanted, Enjoying and granting bell, temple, and steeple."
This bell was split by ringing in the year 1787, and afterwards recast by Jesse Goodyear at Hope Furnace; the weight thereof is 2387 lb. The inscription of it is,
"This Church was founded, A.D. 1639, the first in the State, and the oldest of the Baptists in America." The ground and building amounted to about seven thousand pounds, lawful money, that is, over 23,000 dollars. It was opened for publick worship, May 28, 1775, when the President, afterwards Doctor Manning, preached the first sermon from Genesis 28:17. This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
"At this time, a number of the principal members of the church and congregation, sincerely wishing the utmost prosperity to attend the interest of Christ among them, proposed to form themselves into a body politick, to be known by the name of 'The charitable Baptist society, in the town of Providence, in the colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantation, in New England.' The design of this society was to raise a fund towards the support of the ministers of the church, educate youth, and other laudable purposes. These members petitioned the General Assembly, at their next session, holden at Newport, for a charter, which was readily granted, on the first Wednesday in May, 1774. This society is still continued. "The church and congregation being happily settled in the new meeting house, and promising themselves great pleasure therein, were soon disturbed by the alarm of war. Many of the young members were taken away to join the army. Families removed for safety to the country; and those who were left behind, were exposed to the fears common to such afflictive seasons. Through divine goodness, the stated worship was continued, and meetings of business regularly preserved. When it pleased the Lord to ordain peace, and to return many of those brethren, who had been separated by publick calamities, it was thought proper to hold two especial meetings; one at providence and the other at Pawtucket, four miles distant, where a number of the members resided. The design of these meetings was to engage each other to walk in the fear of God, and enjoy the happy privilege of christian communion, which proved of real advantage. However, the church was constrained to experience the sad consequences of their scattered state. Gifts and graces were greatly injured, and that bloom of profession, which appeared at the time of the general revival unhappily fades away.
"Dr. Manning continued his ministry to good satisfaction, and with success; but his constant employ in the college, not only prevented him from attending the affairs of the church, and from necessary visits, but unavoidably permitted its members to lie in a very unpleasant situation. The Doctor being sensible of these things, repeatedly entreated the church to look out for a minister to take the charge of them; and at length in a most honorable way resigned his pastoral office. He died in a fit of the apoplexy, universally regretted, July 29, 1791, leaving behind an amiable widow, who is yet living in Providence."
Thus far the history of this church has been transcribed from its records, which were set in order in 1775, by Rev. John Stanford, now of New-York, who was then preaching with them. This account, up to Dr. Manning's beginning in Providence, is found almost in the same form as here stated in Morgan Edward's MS. History, etc. prepared in 1771. It was published in Rippon's Register its 1802, and as it is well written, I have chosen to copy it without scarce any alteration.
After Dr. Manning's death, Mr. Snow Dr. Maxcy, President of Columbia College, South Carolina, served this church about two years. Next to him was Mr. Stephen Gano, who is still with them. He is a son of the late John Gano whose history will be related in the biographical department; was born in the city of New-York, Dec. 25, 1762; was bred to physic; was a surgeon in the American army in the latter part of the revolutionary war, and was settled in his medical profession at Orangetown, New-York, before his attention was called to the things of religion. At the age of 23 he commenced his ministry in the First Church in his native city, where he was ordained, May, 1786. From this period he labored successively at Hudson, Hillsdale, and Nine Partners, until 1792, when, by the call of this ancient church, he removed among them and became their pastor. During the twenty-one years of his pastoral labors here, some very precious and extensive revivals have been experienced, and by him about flee hundred persons have been baptized, who have joined this church, besides many others in different parts of the surrounding country.
The branches of this church have been considerably numerous, and it seems probable that from it originated either directly or indirectly most of the churches which have, at different times, arisen in the northern part of the State. Mr. Callender informs us that "this church shot out into divers branches, as the members increased, and the distance of their habitations made it inconvenient to attend the publick worship in the town; several meetings were thereupon fixed at different places for their ease and accommodation; and about this time (1730) the large township of Providence became divided into four towns; their chapels of ease began to be considered as distinct churches, though all are yet (1738) in a union of councils and interests" [Century Sermon, p. 61. 62].
The towns taken from Providence were Smithfield, Gloucester, and Scituate; in each of which large and flourishing churches afterwards arose. In 1743, a church was formed at Greenwich, partly of members from this body.
The church in Cranston, still nearer home, was formed mostly of members from Providence in 1764. This church was first founded on Calvinistic principles, which, I conclude, did not long prevail among them. In 1771, a church arose at Johnston, only three miles distant, in consequence of Mr. Windsor's separations which has already been mentioned.
We must from that time pass on to 1805, in which year. were formed from this ancient body and in union with it, the second church in Providence, and the one at Pawtucket. The year after was formed the church at Pawtuxet. Considerably over a hundred members were dismissed to form these three churches, and yet it being a time of revival, the old church increased so fast, that it was larger after they were all formed than before. This church has experienced some changes as to its doctrinal sentiments: it was, as we have seen, first founded on the Particular or Calvinistic plan; in process of time they became what our English brethren would call General Baptists, and so continued for the most part more than a hundred years. From the commencement of Dr. Manning's ministry, they have been verging back to their first principles, and now very little of the Arminian leaven is found among them. From first to last the Bible, without comment, has been their Confession of Faith.
THE DOCTRINE OF LAYING-ON-OF-HANDS was, at the beginning of this church, held in a lax manner; but it became afterwards a term of communion, and continued so until after Dr. Manning came among them; he prevailed with the church to admit to occasional communion those brethren, who were not convinced of the duty of coming under hands; but very few such were received as members till after his death. But on August 4, 1791, the church had a full meeting, when this point was distinctly considered, and a clear vote was gained to admit members who did not hold that doctrine. But notwithstanding this vote, the laying-on-of-hands, not as an ordinance, but as a form of receiving new members, was generally practiced until 1808, when the pastor of the church, who had been educated in the belief of this ceremony, as his father was an advocate for it, and who had hitherto practiced it, not, however, without troublesome scruples of its propriety, found his mind brought to a stand on the subject, and after duly weighing the matter, informed the church, that he could no longer continue the practice, and unless they could excuse him, he must ask a dismission from his pastoral care. After a full discussion of the subject, the church, with but one dissenting voice, voted not to dismiss him, and laying-on-of, hands of course fell into neglect. Some few worthy members were desirous of retaining both their pastor and this ancient ceremony, but not being disposed to act against the voice of the church, no division and but little controversy ensued.
Before we close this sketch, it is proper we should take notice of some things pertaining to this ancient and wealthy congregation, which have not yet been mentioned. The lot, on which their meeting house stands, is bounded on four streets, and is enclosed with a handsome and costly picket fence. Its dimensions are 150 feet on Main-street, west; 300 feet on Thomas-street, north; 170 feet on Benefit-street, east; and 188 on President-street, south. This spacious lot would occupy an entire square, were it not for two small lots on which are buildings at its southwest comer. This lot is near the center of the town, and would probably sell for at least thirty thousand dollars. The meeting house, forty, years ago, cost not far from twenty thousand dollars; it could not probably be built now under double that sum. Under the floor at the west end is a vestry, which will contain about five hundred persons.
The appendages of this establishment, which have not been mentioned, are,
1st. A large elegant glass chandelier, which cost about four hundred dollars, and was presented by Mrs. Ives, sister of Nicholas Brown, Esq. This lady, about the time she made this present, expended six hundred dollars in painting the inside of the meeting-house.
2d. A parsonage house, built in 1792, which, with the lot, cost about three thousand dollars; two thousand of which were given by the above mentioned Mr. Brown.
3d. Funds at interest, which produce about five hundred dollars a year. This fund was raised by subscription, and a considerable portion of it came from the Brown family.
4th. A legacy of about three hundred dollars, intrusted particularly with the church, for the benefit of the poor colored members. This, like the widow's mite, seems to be more than all the rest, as it was bequeathed by a black sister lately deceased, whose name was Patience Borden, commonly called Patience Sterry.
Second Church in Providence. -- This church arose, as we have already stated, in 1805. It was formed in perfect agreement with the first, and received from it the right hand of fellowship as a sister community. Its seat is some distance from it on the west side of the river. Mr. Joseph Cornell, whose name has frequently occurred in the preceding narratives, became its pastor at the time of its constitution, and continued in that office about seven years. His membership is still with them, but he has been traveling as a missionary most of the time for a year or two past. They have had preaching constantly since his resignation; but the pastoral office is yet vacant. Mr. Cornell, previous to the founding of this church, had preached a short time with the congregation of the late Mr. Joseph Snow, who closed his long and successful ministry in 1803, when he was over 80 years of age. Mr. Snow was one of the zealous New-Lights of Whitefield's time, was ordained at Providence in 1747, and was, in early life, a companion in labors with Mr. Backus, and other successful itinerants of those times. He was a Pedobaptist in principle, but saw fit to administer baptism in any way his disciples chose, and as the Providence people are much inclined to the ancient mode, a considerable number of them were immersed. [Towards the close of Mr. Snow's ministry, his church was divided; the larger part has for its minister, Mr. James Wilson, who also immerses those, who prefer that mode. The part to which Mr. Cornell preached, is under the care of Mr. Thomas Williams, from Connecticut who chooses not to go into the water.] Mr. Snow was well esteemed by the Baptists in Providence and elsewhere. His funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Gano from 2 Timothy 4:7,8, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, etc.
The church under consideration, by their own exertions, by the assistance of the old church and congregation, and others, built them a convenient house of worship 60 feet by 40. It was completely finished in less than two months after the foundation was begun.
Pawtucket Church. -- Pawtucket is four miles north-east of Providence, on the road to Boston. For a hundred and thirty or forty years past, there have at all times resided in this place and its vicinity, a number of the members of the church in Providence. Some of the most distinguished of whom were Ebenezer Jenks, for a number of years pastor of that body, Governor Joseph Senks, Judge William Jenks, and others. The pastors of Providence used frequently to preach here; but no provision was made for a stated meeting, until about 1795. At that time a number of the inhabitants formed themselves into a Baptist Society, obtained an act of incorporation, built them a house for worship, raised a fund of three thousand dollars for the support of preaching, and obtained supplies from different preachers, until the autumn of 1804, when the Author began to labor among them. A few months after a revival commenced, and in August, 1805, the church was formed of members dismissed for the purpose, from the mother church at Providence. The meeting house stands on a lot of half an acre, the gift of Nicholas Brown, Esq. of Providence; it was at first 45 feet by 36, but has bean enlarged this summer, (1813) to 60 feet by 45.
Pawtucket is five miles below Providence, on the western shore of the Narraganset Bay. The church here was formed the year after that at Pawtucket, and is now under the care of a young man by the name of Bela Jacobs. The origin of this church was similar to the one at Pawtucket. Some of the Providence members had long resided in the place, and the inhabitants had, a number of years before the church was established, formed an incorporated Baptist Society, and built them a place of worship, which has since been enlarged.
We have thus given a general view of the origin, progress, appendages, and branches of the oldest Baptist church in America. The number of her ministerial sons cannot be ascertained with any degree of precision; since 1790, she hath given her approbation to the twelve following, whose stations we shall add to their names. Dr. Jonathan Maxcy, President of the college at Columbia, South Carolina; Dr. Asa Messer, President of Brown University; David Leonard, John M. Roberts, Statesbury, South-Carolina; Abisha Sampson, Harvard, Massachusetts; Ferdinand Ellis, Marblehead, do. Henry Grew, Hartford, Connecticut; Jonathan Going, Cavendish, Vermont; James Barnaby, Harwich, Massachusetts; Harvey Jenks, Hudson, New-York; George Angel, Woodstock, Connecticut; Nicholas Branch, not yet settled.
"This church," said Governor Hopkins, a Quaker, "hath from its beginning kept itself in repute, and maintained its discipline, so as to avoid scandal or schism to this day." And he further adds, "It hath always been and still is a numerous congregation, and in which I have with pleasure observed very lately sundry descendants from each of the founders of the colony, except Holliman." [Providence Gazette for March 16, 1765, article, History of Providence.]
This eulogium, which could not have flowed from sectarian partiality, was pronounced forty-eight years ago. This Baptist congregation is still large and respectable in every point of view; and in it are usually found a greater number of men of wealth, of honorable, professional, and literary characters, than are to be found in any Baptist congregation in America, and their estate of different kinds, cannot be estimated at less than eighty thousand dollars. And the church, after fitting out so many daughters around, consists of four hundred and twenty-five members.
Such is the history of a Baptist community, which has ever protested against civil coercion in the affairs of conscience, which has always depended oil the voluntary contributions of its patrons for its support, and which has existed an hundred and seventy-four years under the influence of those very principles, which many of the New-England declaimers have represented as heretical, licentious, dangerous, and disorganizing.
Among the families, who have been members and distinguished patrons of this church and society, those of the Browns' and Jenks' deserve particular notice. Others are entitled to respectful mention, but a connected history of them I have not been able to obtain.
From Chad Brown, who became the pastor of this church but three years after it was formed, descended that opulent and liberal train of benefactors, who have contributed so much to its splendor and convenience. One of his sons was, according to tradition, a preacher; but I find no record of him. His grandson James, of whom we have given an account, died the pastor of this church in 1732. Grandsons to him were the four brothers Nicholas, Joseph, John, and Moses, under whose superintendance the College was built, and who were, from the beginning of that institution, among its most distinguished patrons. Their mother was a member of the church, but their father was not.
Joseph Brown, L. L. D. was long a member of this church, was distinguished for his attainments in philosophical researches, and held, till his death, the office of Professor of Experimental Philosophy in the College, of which he was a zealous patron. He died December, 1785. Obadiah Brown, Esq. Mrs. Ward, and the youngest daughter of the pastor of this church, are all who remain of his posterity.
Nicholas Brown, Esq. died in 1791, in the 62d year of his age; his funeral sermon was preached by Dr. Stillman of Boston. "He was, from early life, engaged in the mercantile business, by which he acquired an ample fortune; he was from sentiment a lover of all mankind, especially of the good. His manners were plain and sincere; and in him the publick lost a good citizen, the College a Maecenas, mid the religious society, to which he belonged, an ornamental and main pillar." He was esteemed by his religious friends a man of piety, although he never so far surmounted his doubts, as to make a publick profession of religion. His only surviving children are Nicholas Brown, Esq. and Mrs. Ives, the wife of Thomas P. Ives, Esq. John Brown, Esq. was a liberal promoter of the Baptist Society and also of the College, the foundation stone of which was laid by him in 1769. He accumulated a vast estate, and left, it is said, half a million of dollars for his heirs, one of whom married James B. Mason, Esq. grandson of John Mason, one of the pastors of the second church in Swansea.
Moses Brown, Esq. is the only survivor of these brothers; he has been a liberal patron of the College, but has, for many years, belonged to the Society of Quakers or Friends.
The Jenks' family for near a century resided mostly in Pawtucket and its vicinity; but they are now widely scattered in many different States, and not so many eminent men are found among them as formerly. They all descended from the Hon. Joseph Jenks, Esq. who was born in Buckinghamshire, England, 1632. When young, he came to America, tarried awhile at Lynn, in Massachusetts, and then emigrated to Pawtucket and erected the first house, which was built in this place. Here he built a forge, which was burnt down in king Philip's War. Whether he became a member of the church at Providence, I cannot learn, but he is reputed to have been a man of piety, and most of his descendants, who have professed religion, have been found in the Baptist connexion. His four sons, Joseph, Nathaniel, Ebenezer, and William, were eminent in their day; each of them built houses in Pawtucket, which are yet standing, and three of them were worthy members of the Providence church.
Joseph Jenks, who filled many important offices in the colony, who was a number of years an ambassador to the court of St. James on the business of the colony, and who was five years its Governor, was born in 1656, and was an active and ornamental member of the church, whose affairs we have in view. He was solicited to remain longer in the chair of State, but for this sage reason he declined: "I now," said he, "perceive my natural faculties abating -- if I should continue longer in office, it is possible I may be insensible of their decay, and may be unwilling to resign my post when I am no longer capable of filling it." He was interred in the family burying ground at Pawtucket, where the following epitaph maybe seen on his tomb:
"In memory of the Hon. Joseph Jenckes, Esq. late Governor of the Colony of Rhode-Island, Deceased the 15th day of June, A.D. 1740, in the 84th year of his Age. He was much Honoured and Beloved in Life and Lamented in Death: He was a bright Example of Virtue in every Stage of Life: He was a Zealous Christian, a Wise and Prudent Governor: a Kind Husband and a Tender Father: a good Neighbour and a Faithful Friend: Grave, Sober, Pleasant in Behaviour: Beautiful in Person, with a Soul truly Great, Heroic, and Sweetly Tempered."
His wife was Martha Brown, daughter of Elder lames Brown of Providence, by whom he had children, Obadiah, Catharine, Nathaniel, Martha, Lydia, John, Mary, Esther, who married into the families of the Blakes, Turpins, Scotts, Andrews, Masons, Harendens, and Butkilns. John studied physick, went to England with his father to perfect himself in his profession, where he died with the small pox. It does not appear whom he married, but he left three children.
Major Nathaniel Jenks was born in 1662, and died in 1723, aged 61. Of Elder Ebenezer Jenks, one of the pastors of the Providence church, we have already given some account.
Judge William Jenks, the youngest of these four brothers, was a worthy member of the church at Providence, and died 1765, in the 91st year of his age.
Judge Daniel Jenks, a son of Elder Ebenezer, settled in Providence, became a member of the church, accumulated a great estate, and was a generous promoter of the Baptist interest in the town. It is said he expended a thousand dollars towards the College, and the same sum upon the meeting-house. He was born in Pawtucket, October 1701, was forty-eight years a member of the church, was forty years in the General Assembly, and nearly 30 years Chief Justice of Providence County Court. He died July, 1774, in the 73d year of his age. The Hon. Joseph Jenks, a member of the Providence church, who has lately removed to the Narraganset country, is a grandson of this eminent man, One of his daughters was also the mother of the present Nicholas Brown, Esq. and Mrs. Ives. The remaining history of the Jenks' family, which will be somewhat more particular than we usually give, may be found in the footnote. [The house built by Governor Jenks is now owned by his great-grandson, George Jenks and Dr. Manchester. The part owned by Dr. Manchester is the oldest:. In this the Governor died The other part was built while he resided at Newport by one of his sons. The one built by Elder Ebenezer is now owned by James Mason, Esq. Judge Williams' house is that near to Samuel Slater's, and is now owned by Friend Moses Brown of Providence. Nathaniel's house is now owned by the widow and heirs of the late Ichabod Jenks In this house the Pawtucket Church first covenanted together. It is said, that the old part at the east end of it, which is now in tolerable repair, is the very house built by Joseph Jenks, the planter of Pawtucket; that it first stood not far from where Mr. Timothy Green's house now stands, and was removed from that place to its present situation. From Governor Jenks descended the Honorable John Andrew, the Honorable Peleg Arnold, and the wife of James Fenner, Esq. late Governor of Rhode Island. From Elder Ebenezer Jenks descended, as we have seen, Judge Daniel Jenks, Ebenezer Jenks, Esq. Mr. Esek Esten, who furnished these accounts of this family, and the widow of the late David L. Barns, Judge of the District of Rhode lsland. From Judge William descended Jonathan Jenks, one of the members of Providence church, who died at Brookfield, but was brought down and buried at Pawtucket. His sons were Gideon, Judge Jonathan, who died at Winchester, and Nicholas, now of Brookfield, the father of Hervy Jenks, now pastor of the church in the city of Hudson, New York. Samuel Eddy, Esq. Secretary of State, and one of the Providence Church, is connected by blood to both Judge William Jenks of Pawtucket, and Elder Chad Brown of Provldence. From Nathaniel descended a numerous family, many of whom are in Pawtucket and its vicinity, and many have removed to other parts. The descendents of the late Captain Stephen and Mr. Ichabod Jenks all sprang from Major Nathaniel, the second son of the ancient and Honorable Joseph. Of his posterity also is Nicholas Branch, who has lately been approbated as a preacher by the old Providence church. One of Governor Jenks' grandchildren, namely Joseph, belongs to the Pawtucket church, and a great number of the great-grandchildren of him and his three brothers, and some of the fifth generation, belong to the churches and congregations of Pawtucket and Providence. Thus from the ancient and Honorable Joseph Jenks, who was one of the Senators of the colony, or as they call them Assistants of the Governor, have descended a most numerous posterity, which it is supposed would, counting them in the male and female lines, amount to eight or ten thousand. Among his grandchildren were ten widows of remarkable character: namely Catharine Turpin, ancestor of a gentleman of that name, now in Charleston, South Carolina. At her house the General Assembly of the colony was held for many years. She died at the age of 88. Second, Catharine Jenks, widow of Captain Nathaniel, who died in his 96th year. Third, Bridget, widow of another Nathaniel, who lived to the age of 89. Forth, Experience, widow of Ebenezer Jenks, Esq. who lived to be more than 90. Fifth, Joanna, widow of Judge Daniel Jenks, who died in her 93rd year. Sixth, Rachel, widow of Cornelius Esten, who lived to be 71. Seventh, Mercy, widow of Philip Wheeler, who lived to her 80th year, and died a member of the Swansea church. Eigth, Freelove, widow of Jonathan Jenks, who lived also to the age of 80. Ninth, Mercy, widow of Thomas Comstock, she was a Quaker and lived to the age of 90. Tenth, Patience, widow of John Olney, Esq. who died at the age of four score. These ten widows were all first cousins, seven by blood, and three by marriage, were all eminent for piety, and most of them were members of the Providence Church. Some of the eighth generation from this ancient Joseph, are now settled in the State of Ohio.]
The next cluster of churches, which demand our attention, are those of NEWPORT
First Church. -- For the origin of this church we must go back to 1644, when according to tradition it was formed. The constituents were Dr. John Clark and wife, Mark Lukar, Nathaniel West and wife, William Vaughan, Thomas Clark, Joseph Clark, John Peckham, John Thorndon, William and Samuel Weeden.
JOHN CLARK, M.D. was the founder of this church and also its first minister. He took the care of them at their settlement, and continued their minister until his death, which happened in 1676, in the 66th year of his age. He had three wives, but left no children. The Clarks now in the State sprang from his brothers Thomas, Joseph, and Carew. Where Mr. Clark was born is not certainly known. In some of his old papers he is styled "John Clark of London, Physician;" but tradition makes him a native of Bedfordshire. Neither can we find where he had his education and studied physick; but we meet with proofs of his acquaintance with the learned languages. In his will he gives to his "dear friend, Richard Bailey, his Hebrew and Greek books; also (to use his own words) my Concordance with a Lexicon to it belonging, written by myself, being the fruit of several years' study." His baptism and ordination are also matters of uncertainty; tradition saith, that he was a preacher before he left Boston, but that he became a Baptist after his settlement on Rhode-Island by means of Roger Williams. The cause of his leaving Boston and the Massachusetts colony has been related in the beginning of this chapter. An account of his imprisonment at Boston may be found under the head of Massachusetts. Soon after his release from that scene of affliction, he was appointed with Roger Williams to go to England on the business of the Rhode-Island colony, where he tarried twelve years, and returned with their second charter in 1663. "By which it appears," says Morgan Edwards, "that Mr. Clark had a hand with Mr. Williams in establishing the polity of this government, that he without him, might not be made perfect." Mr. Clark's character as a christian was unspotted; "as a divine," says Mr. Callender, "he was among the first, who publickly avowed that Jesus Christ alone is king in his own kingdom" [Century Sermon, p. 16]. His sentiments were those of the Particular Baptists. His Narrative of the Sufferings of Obadiah Holmes, etc. printed in London in 1652, is the only piece of writing which has come down to us.
Successor to him was Obadiah Holmes, who had such a terrible scouring at Boston, for preaching the gospel and baptizing some persons at Lynn, an account of which has been related. He had for his assistant Mr. Joseph Tory, of whom we find no more than that he was one of the three who went to Boston in 1668, to assist the Baptists in that curious dispute, of which we have given an account in the history of Massachusetts.
Mr. Holmes was a native of Preston, Lancashire, England; arrived in America about 1639, and continued a communicant with the Pedobaptists, first at Salem, then at Rehoboth, about eleven years, when he became a Baptist and joined to this church. After he had recovered from his wounds inflicted at Boston, he removed his family from Rehoboth to Newport, where he found an asylum from the rage of his enemies, and in 1652, the year after Mr. Clark set sail for England, was invested with the pastoral office which he held till his death in 1682, aged 76 years. He was buffed in his own field, where a tomb is erected to his memory. Mr. Holmes had eight children, and his posterity are spread in different parts of New-England, Long-Island, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, etc. "and it is supposed," says M. Edwards, "could all that sprang from him in the male and female lines be numbered, they would amount (in 1790) to near 5000." His son Obadiah was long a judge in New-Jersey, and a preacher in the Baptist church at Cohansey. Another of his sons, by the name of John, was a magistrate in Philadelphia, at the time of the Keithian separation, which will be mentioned towards the close of the second volume. One of his grand. sons was alive in Newport in 1770, in the 96th year of his age. After Mr. Holmes was Richard Dingly and William Peckham, of whom we can learn but little more than that they were men of good characters and useful in their day, and that the former went to South-Carolina in 1694. [Backus, vol. iii. p. 228.] The fifth pastor of this church was John Comer, A. B. He was born in Boston in 1704, began his education at Cambridge, but finished it at New-Haven. Before he entered college he had hopefully experienced a gracious change; while there, one of his intimate, young friends, by the name of Crafts, joined the Baptist church in Boston. Comer admonished him for his departure from the faith, and entreated him to recant; but being prevailed on to read Stennett on baptism, he became convinced of the sentiments he had opposed, joined the same church with his friend Crafts, and by it was approbated to preach in 1725. [Backus, vol. ii. p. 66, 111.] From Boston he went to Swansea, where he was invited to settle, but was prevented by an invitation from Newport. Hither he came, and was ordained co-pastor with Mr. Peckham, May, 1726. His ministry in this place was short but successful; by his means singing in publick was introduced, which had not before been practiced. The laying-on-of-hands was held in a lax manner, and his attempts to urge it as an indispensable duty, though not as a term of communion, gave offense to two leading members in the church, and was the means of his being dismissed from his office. He afterwards settled in that part of Rehoboth called the Oak Swamp, where he gathered a church in 1732; but falling into a decline, he was removed from the scene of his labors, 1734, in the 30th year of his age. His son John is now a member of the church in Warren in this State, between eighty and ninety years of age. Mr. Comer bid fair to be one of the most eminent ministers of his day; his character was unspotted and his talents respectable and popular; he had conceived the design of writing the history of the American Baptists, and for the purpose of forwarding it traveled as far as Philadelphia, opened a correspondence with persons in the different colonies, and also in England and Ireland. He was curious in making minutes of remarkable events of every kind; he also collected many useful facts for his in. tended history. These minutes, in the few years of his ministry, swelled to two volumes folio of about 60 pages each. They are now owned by his aged son of Warren, and were by him loaned to the Author. These minutes, together with his letters upon historical matters (for he preserved copies of them all) have been of singular advantage to Edwards, Backus, and the writer of this sketch of this promising man, whom a mysterious providence saw fit to cut down almost in the beginning of his course.
The next in office in this church was JOHN CALLENDER, A.M. He was a native of Boston, nephew of Elisha Callender, pastor of the old church in that town, was educated at Cambridge, and was one of the very few, who enjoyed the benefit of Mr. Hollis' donation to that Institution. He became pastor of this flock in 1731, and acted the part of a good shepherd till his death, which happened January 26, 1748. He published, 1st, A Funeral Sermon, occasioned by the death of Rev. Mr. Clap, a Congregational minister of Newport.
2d, A Sermon preached at the ordination of Mr. Condy of Boston. 3d, A Sermon to young people.
And 4th, A Sketch of the History of Rhode-Island for a hundred years, usually known by the name of the Century Sermon, from which much assistance has been derived in the preceding sketches of this State. Mr. Callender's excellent character was thus drawn by Dr. Moffit in an epitaph which may be seen on his tomb in Newport:
"Confident of awaking, here reposeth JOHN CALLENDER; Of very excellent endowments from nature, And of an accomplished education, Improved by application in the wide circle Of the more polite arts and useful sciences. From motives of conscience and grace He dedicated himself to the immediate service Of GOD, In which he was distinguished as a shining And very burning light by a true and faithful Ministry of seventeen years in the first Baptist Church of Rhode-Island, where the purity And evangelical simplicity of his doctrine, confirmed And embellished by the virtuous and devout tenor Of his own life, Endeared him to his flock, and justly conciliated The esteem, love, and reverence of all the Wise, worthy, and good. Much humanity, benevolence and charity Breathed in his conversation, discourses and writings, Which were all pertinent, reasonable, and useful. Regretted by all, lamented by his friends, and Deeply deplored by a wife and numerous issues He died, In the forty-second year of his age, January 26, 1748; Having struggled through the vale of life In adversity, much sickness, and pain, With fortitude, dignity, and elevation of soul, Worthy of the philosopher, christian and divine."
Mr. Callender was succeeded by Edward Upham, A.M. who was born at Malden, near Boston, 1709, was educated at Cambridge, and probably received the benefit of Mr. Hollis's donation. He became a minister of this church in 1748, where he continued until 1771, when he resigned his office and returned to West-Springfield, in Massachusetts, where he was first settled, and where he spent the remainder of his days. Some further account of him may be seen in the history of the West-Springfield church. Next to him was Erasmus Kelly, a native of Buck's County, Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1748. He was educated at the College in Philadelphia, and began to preach in 1769; two years after, he was called to Newport and was ordained the pastor of this church, which prospered much under his ministry until the troubles of the war obliged him to remove to Warren, where the enemy followed him and burnt the parsonage house in which he lived with Mr. Thompson, together with his goods, November 7, 1778. After this he tarried awhile in Connecticut, and then went back to Pennsylvania. On the return of peace he resumed his charge at Newport, which he continued not a year before he was removed by death in 1784.
Mr. Kelly was succeeded by Benjamin Foster, D. D. afterwards pastor of the first church in New. York. He continued with them but about three years.
In 1790, Mr. Michael Eddy, their present pastor, was settled among them. He was born in Swansea, November 1, 1760, and was ordained in the second church in that town in 1785. Two very considerable revivals have been experienced in this church within ten or twelve years; its present number is 250. Its possessions are 1st, A farm of about 150 acres, which now rents for 600 dollars a year. 2d, A lot of 30 acres, rented for 100 dollars a year. 3d, A lot in the town occupied by the pastor as a garden. This property was bequeathed to the church by Mr. John Clark its founder. In addition to these valuable possessions, they have, for a parsonage house, the mansion of Governor Lyndon, which was bequeathed to them by that honorable member of their Society. The Governor was esteemed a man of piety, although he never joined the church; he died 1778, aged 74. The meeting house to this church is 40 feet by a little under 60. The lot is 73 feet by 64, and was given by Col. Hezekiah Carpenter, and Governor Lyndon.
Second Church. -- This church originated in 1656, when twenty-one persons broke off from the first church, and formed themselves into a separate body. Their names were William Vaughan, Thomas Baker, James Clark, Jeremiah Clark, Daniel Wightman, John Odlin, Jeremiah Weeden, Joseph Card, John Greenman, Henry Clark, Peleg Peckham, James Barker, Stephen Hookey, Timothy Peckham, Joseph Weeden, John Rhodes, James Brown, John Hammet, William Rhodes, Daniel Sabear, and William Greenman.
These seceders objected against the old body, 1st. Her use of psalmody. 2d. Undue restraints upon the liberty of prophesying, as they termed it. 3d. Particular Redemption. 4th. Her holding the laying-on-of-hands as a matter of indifference.
This last article is supposed to have been the principal cause of the separation. Mr. Clark was now in England on the business of the colony, had he been with his church the division might have been prevented. But this is one of the many cases where similar divisions have been overruled for good.
The three first pastors of this church were William Vaughan, Thomas Baker, and John Harden. The first died in 1677; the second after ministering here awhile, removed and raised up a church at North Kingston. The third was a native of England, and died in the pastoral care of this people in 1700.
The fourth in succession was James Clark a nephew of Dr. John. He was ordained pastor of this flock in 1701, by Messrs. Dexter, Tillinghast, and Brown of Providence, and continued in good esteem until he died, December 1, 1736, aged 87.
Daniel Wightman was his colleague and successor. He was born in Narraganset, January 2, 1668, was ordained in 1701, at which time he took the joint care of the church with Mr. Clark. He continued in office until he died in 1750 aged 82. He was a man of an excellent character, was related to Valentine Wightman of Groton, Connecticut, and is supposed to have been a descendant of Edward Wightman, who was burnt for heresy at Litchfield in 1612, being the last man, who suffered death for conscience' sake in England.
The colleague and successor of Mr. Wightman was the famous Nicholas Eyres. He was born at a place called Chipmanslade, Wilts county, England, August 22, 1691; came to New-York about the year 1711; was baptized about three years after by Mr. Wightman of Groton, of which event, and also of his ministry in that city, an account will be given under the head of New-York. October, 1731, he set sail for Newport in compliance with an invitation from this church, and the same month was settled co-pastor with Mr. Wightman. "Mr. Eyres left behind him heaps of manuscripts, some polemical, some doctrinal, some political, for which he was every way qualified." He died February 13, 1759, and was buried in Newport, where a tomb was erected to his memory with the following inscription:
"From an early institution in the languages
And mathematical learning,
He proceeded to the study of the sacred scriptures,
And from them alone derived
The true christian science
Of the recovery of man
To virtue and happiness.
This he explained in his pastoral instructions;
This he happily recommended in his own example
Of gravity, piety, and unblemished morals.
Like his Divine master
In his daily visitations
He went about doing good.
He was a friend to the virtuous of every denomination,
But a foe to established error and superstition;
An enemy to unscriptural claims of superiority
Among the churches of our common Lord;
But of protestant liberty and the rights of conscience
An able and steady defender.
From these distinguishing strictures
And ruling principles of his character
Posterity may know,
Or at least have reason to judge,
That while many monumental inscriptions
Perpetuate the names of those
'Who will awake to shame and everlasting contempt,
This stone transmits the memory of one,
Who shall shine as the brightness of the firmament
And as the stars for ever and ever."
Mr. Eyres was succeeded by Mr. Gardner Thurston, who was ordained the April after his death. The history of this worthy man may be found in the biographical deportment. During a part of his ministry, his meeting-use and congregation were the largest among the Baptists in New-England. [See earlier in this work.] He finished his long and successful course in 1802.
Mr. Joshua Bradley, a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Brown University was, a few years previous to Mr. Thurston's death, ordained as co-pastor with him. Under his ministry large additions were made to the church; but in the midst of a prosperous course he saw fit to ask a dismission, and removed to Connecticut; he has lately settled at Windsor in Vermont.
Successor to Mr. Bradley is Mr. John B. Gibson, who was settled among this people in 1807. He was born in Woodbury, Connecticut, in 1765; was first a Methodist, and a preacher in their connexion about eight years; was, after traveling different circuits, located at Warren, Rhode-Island, where he became fully convinced of believers' baptism, and of the errors of Wesley's creed; was baptized by Mr. Baker in May, 1807, and was ordained in the same place the June following.
The house of worship belonging to this church and congregation is 76 feet by 50. It stands on a lot of 140 feet by 75. Adjoining is another lot 50 feet square, on which is a small building, formerly occupied as a school-house, but now it is used for the accommodation of some of the poor members. Their funds are only 750 dollars; 400 of which are expressly appropriated for the poor.
The old Sabbatarian church in this town will be noticed under the head of Seventh Day Baptists, towards the close of the second volume.
A fourth church was formed in Newport in 1788. It was, till lately, under the care of Mr. Caleb Green, who is now in Suffield, Connecticut. They have now no one, who is properly their pastor; they, however, keep up their meetings, and Elder William Moore, who is far advanced in years, and others among them, help to carry them on. Their number is about 75.
In Tiverton, on the east side of this State, are three churches, which arose in the following manner: The first was formed in the adjoining town of Dartmouth about 1685; the members at first lived in Dartmouth, Tiverton, and Little Compton. Their first minister was Hugh Mosier, and next to him was Aaron Davis. This was the seventh Baptist church formed on the American continent. In process of time its seat was removed from Dartmouth to Tiverton, where, it continues to the present day. Philip Taber succeeded Mr. Davis, and ministered to this people until his death, which happened in 1752. He was a respectable minister and useful citizen. During his ministry an event took place, which made considerable noise both in England and America. Tiverton was then claimed by Massachusetts, and continued to be until 1741. In 1723, the Assembly of that Commonwealth passed an act to raise five hundred and seventy-five dollars, in the towns of Dartmouth and Tiverton, for the support of their ministers; and to blind the eyes of the people in these towns, who were mostly Quakers and Baptists, this sum was put in with the province tax, and was afterwards to have been drawn out of the treasury. But the assessors of these towns, of whom Mr. Taber was one, getting knowledge of the devise, refused to assess the money, for which they were imprisoned in Bristol gaol about eighteen months, and were then released in obedience to an order from the Court of St. James, dated June, 1724. The names of these sufferers were, besides Mr. Taber, Joseph Anthony, John Sisson, and John Atkin. Their petition was laid before the clement prince George I by Thomas Richardson and Richard Partridge, Quakers, who were set forward and supported in their embassy by the Society of Friends. [Morgan Edwards.]
Next to Mr. Taber was David Hounds of Rehoboth, who ministered to the church about thirty years. After him was Benjamin Shelden, and then Peleg Burroughs from Newport, who was settled among them in 1775, and died, after a pious and successful ministry, in 1800. In 1780 and 1781, he had the happiness of receiving to membership in his flock 105 persons. Their next pastor was Mr. Benjamin Peckham from Newport, who was settled among them in 1801. In 1805-6 a refreshing season of an extensive nature was granted to this people, and about 100 were added to their number.
From this church proceeded the second in Tiverton in 1788, which is now under the care of Mr. Job Borden; and in 1808 another church was formed from the old body, at Howland's Bridge, in the same town.
Warren. -- This church was constituted October 15, 1764, one of the constituents was Dr. Manning, then residing in the town; most of the other members had previously belonged to the old church in Swansea, only three miles distant. Mr. Manning took the care of this church at its beginning, and continued with them till 1770, when he removed with the College to Providence.
Successor to him was Mr. Charles Thompson, A. M. one of the first graduates of the college, which began its movements in this town. Mr. Thompson was born at Amwell, New-Jersey, April 14, 1748, was ordained at Warren in 1771, by Messrs. Ebenezer Hinds of Middleborough, and Noah Alden, of Bellingham. He was a chaplain in the army almost three years of the first part of the Revolutionary War; and it was while he was at home on a visit, that the British came up to Warren, burnt the meeting and parsonage houses, carried him to Newport, and confined him in a guard ship, from which he was released in about a month, by what means he never knew. After this he preached a short time in Pomfret, Connecticut, and as the church at Warren was mostly dispersed, and many of them had gone back to the mother church at Swansea, he, by the invitation of that body, became their pastor in 1779 or 1780. In this situation he continued 23 years, when he removed to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he died, May 1, 1803, in the 56th year of his age. His widow and three of his children are now settled in Warren. Mr. Thompson left behind him an unblemished character, and a large circle of cordial friends. His MS. writings were numerous, but nothing of his has appeared in print.
It was not till after the war that the church, under consideration, resumed its travel as a distinct body; they had, for about eight years after their dispersion, stood as a branch of the church at Swansea.
In 1784, they built their present meeting-house, on the same ground where their former one stood. It is 61 feet by 44, and has a steeple and bell. About two years after this house was built, Mr. John Pitman settled in the town, and ministered to this people till 1790, when he removed to Providence. After him Mr. Nathaniel Cole, now in Plainfield, Connecticut, and others preached here occasionally, till 1793, when Mr. Luther Baker, their present pastor, was ordained. He was born in the town, June 11, 1770. Under his ministry some very considerable revivals have been experienced. In the year 1805, over ninety were added to their number. In September, 1812, immediately after the session of that Association, which took its name from this town, another revival commenced, in which over sixty were baptized in the course of a few months. This church has a fund of about fourteen hundred dollars.
Bristol. -- This town is five miles south of Warren, and is next in size, and in point of commercial importance, to Providence and Newport. It was, until 1741, claimed by Massachusetts, and, being a shire town, its gaol was the frequent receptacle of Baptists, Quakers, and others, who were so heretical as not to pay their parish taxes. From this, and other causes, the Baptists gained but little influence here, until long after the Pedobaptists had acquired a permanent standing. But the principles of believers' baptism have at length forced their way through the barriers of antiquated errors, and a church has been formed, which bids fair to flourish and prevail. It arose in the following manner: In 1780, Mrs. Hopestill Munro, the wife of Hezekiah Munro, was led to embrace the Baptist sentiments, and was the first person in the town from time immemorial, who submitted to baptism in the Apostolical mode. [Stratagems of this kind were very frequent in these times.] A few months after was baptized the wife of Mr. Daniel Lefavour, who died about fifteen years ago, with a well grounded hope of immortality. On her death bed, she left a solemn injunction on her husband, to give unconditionally seven hundred dollars for the support of the ministry in Bristol, whenever there should arise a church of the same faith and order with the one at Warren under the care of Mr. Baker. This sum her husband bequeathed in his Will, dated May, 1797, was entrusted with the Warren church, and has now increased to near fifteen hundred dollars. The next person baptized in this place was Mrs. Hannah Martin, who is still living. Thus slowly progressed the Baptist interest in Bristol, until 1801, when Dr. Thomas Nelson, whose name has been mentioned in the account of the second church in Middleborough, settled in the place in the practice of his profession. By his means Baptist preachers were procured to visit the town, among whom were Elders Simeon Coombs and Joseph Cornell, whose labors were greatly blessed. And in 1811, a church was formed, which at first consisted of only 23 members, but has since increased to 56.
This church has been supplied a year since its constitution by Mr. James M. Winchell, a native of North-Eastown, New-York, who lately finished his education at Providence. Since the history of the first church in Boston was sent to press, Mr. Winchell has gone to visit that people, with whom there is a prospect of his settling. And very lately Mr. Barnabas Bates, of Barnstable, has accepted a call to settle with this church. They meet now in a commodious hall, called the Tabernacle, in Dr. Nelson's house, which he has fitted up for the purpose, but are making exertions to erect a house for worship, and it is sincerely hoped that the neighbouring churches will lend them their aid. Mrs. Munro, first mentioned, has lately given them a deed of an estate valued at a thousand dollars. This, with their other funds, amount to two thousand seven hundred dollars.
A short time since there was a very remarkable revival in this town; not far from two hundred were hopefully awakened to religious concern; a considerable number of them were buried in baptism, but few, however, comparatively, united with the Baptists. The additions were made mostly to the Congregational, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches.
On the west side of the Narraganset Bay, in the counties of Kent and Washington, are a considerable number of churches, of which our limits prevent our giving a very particular account. A few of them are of ancient date, some arose in and after the New-Light Stir, and others have arisen within a few years past.
We shall now proceed to some account of the Associations, which have originated in this State, and to which the Rhode-Island churches now belong.
At what time the churches in this State began to associate I do not find, but it was probably at an early period. Mr. Comer gives an account of an Association or General Convention, as it was then called, 1729, which was supposed to have been the largest assemblage of brethren they had ever witnessed. Thirteen churches were represented, and the whole number of messengers was thirty-two. The churches composing this convention were the one in Providence, the second in Newport, two in Smithfield, and one in each of the towns of Scituate, Warwick, North and South-Kingston. In other colonies were the one in Dartmouth, now the first in Tiverton, the second in Swansea, and those of Groton, New-London, and New-York. The ministers belonging to these churches were of Providence, James Brown; of Smithfield, Jonathan Sprague; of Scituate, Peter Place and Samuel Fisk; of Newport, James Clark, Daniel Wightman, and John Comer, then supplying them after his dismission from the first church; of Warwick, Manasseh Martin; of North-Kingston, Richard Sweet; of South-Kingston, Daniel Everett; of Swansea, Joseph Mason; of Dartmouth, Phillip Taber; of Groton, Valentine Wightman; of New-London, Stephen Gorton; of New-York, Nicholas Eyres. Ten of these ministers were present; the number of communicants at the convention were 250, and the number of auditors about 1000. The churches were all strenuous for the laying-on-of-hands, and were generally inclined to those doctrinal sentiments, which in England would have denominated them General Baptists. At the same time there were the first churches in Newport, Swansea, and Boston, who held decidedly to particular election, and who did not practice the imposition of hands, and for these reasons were not members of the Association. These sixteen churches comprehended at that time all the Baptists this side of New. Jersey.
It is now (1815) eighty four years since this great Association, as it was then esteemed, was held; very considerable changes have taken place in most of the churches of which it was then composed; but the same body on the same plan of doctrine and discipline, still exists under the name of the Rhode-Island Yearly Meeting. This meeting, on account of its making the laying-on-of-hands a term of communion, and its inclination to the Arminian system of doctrine, has no connexion with any of the neighboring Associations. It contains thirteen churches, twelve ministers, and over eleven hundred members. Eight of the churches are in this State, the others are in Massachusetts and New York.
This body was formed in the place from which it took its name in 1767, at which time three ministers 39 from the Philadelphia Association came on with a letter to encourage the measure. Only four churches at first associated, viz. Warren, Haverhill, Bellingham, and the second in Middleborough. The delegates from six other churches were present, but they did not feel themselves ready to proceed in the undertaking. As the annual commencement of the college had been fixed oil the first Wednesday of September, the anniversary of the Association was appointed the Tuesday after. This arrangement is still observed. The second and third sessions of this Association were held in the place where it was formed. The fourth was at Bellingham and the fifth at Sutton in 1771, by Which time it had increased to 20 churches and over 800 members. This year they began to print their Minutes, and have continued to do so to the present time. The two churches in Boston fell in with this establishment a few years, after it was begun, but it was some time before the Providence church, which is now the oldest and largest in it, could be brought into its measures. The doctrine of the laying-on-of-hands was probably the principal cause of this delay. This Association for a number of years included a large circle of churches, which were scattered over a wide extent of country in Rhode-Island, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut. Most of them were however in Massachusetts, and in process of time Boston became not far from its center. It has, from its beginning, been a flourishing and influential body; has contained a number of ministers of eminent standing in the Baptist connexion; has successfully opposed the encroachments of religious oppression; has aided the designs of the college at Providence; has devised plans of a literary and missionary nature; and has been more or less concerned in whatever measures have had a view to the promotion of the cause of truth, of the Baptist interest in New England, and remoter regions. By this body were presented many addresses to the rulers of Massachusetts, and some to the continental Congress against civil oppressions for conscience' sake; by it also were is. sued many publications in defense of religious freedom. It was almost constantly employed in measures of this kind from its formation to the close of the war in 1783; and no small success attended its exertions.
After traveling in union upwards of forty years, and witnessing within its bounds much of the divine goodness, it had become so large that its division appeared indispensable, and accordingly a new one was formed, called the BOSTON; of which we have already given a brief account. Thus the staff has become two bands, which together contain 65 churches, 53 ministers, and almost 7000 members.
In the south, west part of this State, in the counties of Kent and Washington, are eleven churches, which belong, to the Stonington and Groton Associations in Connecticut.
Some of them arose in the New-Light Stir in Whitefleld's time. The church at Exeter, belonging to the Stonington Association, was formed in 1750; it has ever been a flourishing body, and now contains over 250 members, and is under the care of Mr. Gershom Palmer.
The large Sabbatarian church at Hopkinton will be noticed under the head of Seventh-Day Baptists towards the close of the second volume.
We shall now close the history of this State with some brief remarks. We have already quoted some of the calumniating accounts, which have been given of the people in this State, and the following extract will show that they now stand no higher in the estimation of so me of their Pedobaptist neighbors than formerly. Dr. Worcester, of Salem, in his epistolary dispute with Dr. Baldwin, of Boston, found it necessary to resort to a State, which was founded by an exile from his own government, for arguments against his opponent. "Was not Rhode-Island," said he, "originally settled on Antipedobaptist principles? Have not those principles there been left to their free and uncontrolled operation and influence? To these interrogations there can be but one answer. If then," continues he, "the principles of Antipedobaptism were true and scriptural, might we not look to Rhode-Island for a more general prevalence of divine knowledge, a more general and sacred observance of divine institutions, more pure and flourishing churches, and more of the spirit of primitive christianity, than is to be expected in almost any other part of the globe? But what is the actual result of this experiment? Alas! let the forsaken, decayed houses of God -- let the profaned and unacknowledged day of the Lord -- let the unread and even exiled oracles of divine truth -- let the neglected and despised ordinances of religion -- let the dear children and youth, growing up in the most deplorable ignorance of God, his word, and sacred institutions -- let the few friends of Zion, weeping in secret places over her desert, her affecting and wide-spread desert around them -- let the deeply-impressed missionaries, who, in obedience to the most urgent calls, have been sent by Pedobaptist societies into different parts of the State -- be allowed to testify! If there be religion there, is it not almost wholly confined to those places in which Pedobaptist churches are established, and a Pedobaptist influence has effect. "Witness the late revivals!"
This gloomy and affecting picture was drawn but three or four years ago. It is doubted whether this Rev. Doctor was ever in the State, and it is probable that the outlines of his doleful picture were furnished by those slanderous missionaries, whose urgent calls for eight dollars a week, led them to travel in it. [We know not what other urgent calls these deeply-impressed missionaries have to travel in Rhode Island. It is certain the Baptists do not call them, for they have but little faith in their commission--the Quakers will not hear them, because they do not think they are moved by the Spirit to teach--and it cannot be that there are any of Dr. Worcester's Pedobaptists in those "deserts, those affecting wide-spread deserts" which they visit, for their influence would soon convert them into celestial regions. We will not dispute about their urgent calls, but we know well enough, that they roam around the rocks and forests of Burrillville, Gloucester, etc. the most destitute parts of the state, and from their scanty survey represent the whole of it as sunk into the most deplorable condition of profaneness and barbarism. The candid reader will, doubtless, consider the following statement a sufficient refutation of this ungenerous calumny. There are thirty-six Baptist churches in Rhode-Island in which are over five thousand communicants, who have all been received upon a verbal relation of their religious experience; pertaining to the denomination are about thirty meeting-houses in good repair,* besides a number of others in which meetings are held, and which will probably be fitted up in better order, when the gracious, Lord shall again revive his work in their vicinities. There are now, and have been for a great many years, over forty stated meetings among the Baptists in this State, besides many occasional ones in school-houses, private dwellings, etc. Of other denominations, there are eighteen congregations of Quakers or Friends, the same number of meeting-houses, in which they statedly assemble twice a week, and in their community they reckon 1150 members; there are eleven churches of Congregationalists, as many houses of worship, and probably not far from 1000 communicants; there are four Episcopal churches, fourteen. Methodist Societies, a few churches of those who call themselves Christians, a Moravian Chapel, and a Synagogue for Jews.
[* In this list of churches, we do not reckon a number, which, by deaths and removals, have so far declined, that they have in a measure lost their visibility, although many worthy members remain to mourn over the broken walls of their Zion. We may add to this account of meeting houses, that there are many new commodious school houses, in the neighborhood of the factories, built by their owners on purpose for the accommodation of meetings as well as schools. Public worship is also maintained either stately or occasionally in academies, courthouses, and halls of different kinds, in divers parts of the state. Besides the meeting houses we have reckoned in good repair, there are a considerable number which are not so. But it ought to be observed that within this present century, many new houses have been built, and of the remainder a number have been built anew, enlarged, or repaired, since the last war. Of the houses of worship belonging to our churches in some of the principal towns, we have already given brief descriptions, the first which were erected in the country were mostly small, and the structure and finishing of them varied according to the means of the builders. It was not uncommon for churches, as they branched out, to have two or three meeting houses for their use. Many of these have either fallen or are falling into decay. First, because they were built too slightly to be worth repairing, or were not well contrived for enlargement. Second, because, in process of time, they were left out of the center of the congregations. But while they have been left to decay, others more spacious and durable, and in more eligible situations have been erected in their stead. But when Dr. Worcester's missionaries pass one of these old houses, they look, they wonder, they sigh, and in their memorandums write against the whole State, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. These memorandums doubtless furnished materials for the affecting picture of this ungenerous adversary. Where houses of worship are erected, churches gathered, and ministers supported by the aid of law, they may all remain in a permanent and splendid form. It would be sad case indeed if some benefits did not arise from the evil of ecclesiastical establishments in those parts of the United States, where houses of worship are built and ministers supported, not by legal taxes, but by the voluntary contributions of their patrons, changes, similar to those we have described in Rhode Island, as the Author knows from observation, have been, and are now taking place, not only among the Baptists, but all other denominations.]
Thus it appears there are about 90 religious societies in the thirty-one towns of Rhode-Island, in which publick worship is constantly maintained; and to these societies appertain at least seventy houses of worship, which are neither decayed nor forsaken. These societies all maintain the ordinances of religion according to their different views of propriety; the oracles of truth they have neither exiled nor incorporated with their civil code; and their Bible Society lately established can furnish with the word of life all who have need. As to those children for whom this compassionate Doctor shows so much regard, we will only say, they can teach divines of Massachusetts better divinity than to fatten on the spoils of conscientious dissenters, and more civility than to defame their fellow men of whose affairs they are ignorant.
This statement of the religious affairs of Rhode-Island, which is made not from conjecture and vague report, but from actual survey, from absolute, uncontrovertible matters of fact, it is hoped, will, in the view of some at least, dispel somewhat of the horrid gloom of Dr. Worcester's picture. And as a proof that the Divine Spirit has not withdrawn from the Antipedobaptist churches, whose principles he would represent as blasting and pestiferous as the tree of Java, we would state, with gratitude to the Father of mercies, that over a thousand persons have been hopefully born into the kingdom, buried in baptism, and added to their number within six or seven years past. To a number of other societies there have also been large additions.
The reader must keep in mind that this State is but about as large in extent as the adjoining county of Worcester; its number of inhabitants is but about twice as large as Boston and Charlestown together, and not equal to the city of New-York. And it is believed by those best acquainted with, it, that there are as many real christians, if not so many professors of religion, in this, as in any territory of the same extent in any of the neighboring States.
It is acknowledged that in some of the country towns in this State, too many of the inhabitants live a careless, irreligious life, disregard the Sabbath, and neglect the worship of God. But Pedobaptists are mistaken when they ascribe the conduct of these people to the influence of Baptist principles. The accusation is unfounded, unfair, and egregiously false. These people are under the influence of no principles of a religious kind, and many of them are the descendants of progenitors of the same character, who fled to this asylum of freedom during the reign of ecclesiastical terror in the neighboring colonies. It has always been found that men of no religious principles are as desirous of liberty of conscience as real christians, and we may furthermore add, it is just they should enjoy it. From ecclesiastical establishments there always have been a multitude of dissenters of this character, and not a few of them were found amongst the early settlers of Rhode-Island. The maxims of the government were suited to their views; their money was not distrained for the support of religious teachers, neither were they fined for not attending the worship of God. Mr. Cotton of Boston taught that men had "better be hypocrites than profane persons," that "hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man," etc. [See earlier in this work.] But the Rhode-Island rulers had no belief in this logic. If the subjects of their government performed the duty of citizens, they required nothing more; the regulation of religious opinions they left to the Searcher of hearts, and all were free to possess what religion best accorded with their views, or none at all, if they chose. They could not maintain the foundation principle of the colony, and do otherwise. But this same principle subjected them to inconveniences for which there was no remedy. And the same inconvenience has happened in every country where the standard of freedom, whether civil or religious, has been set up. With the Taborires of Bohemia, under Ziska and Procopius, with the Independents of England, in the time of the Commonwealth, among the Baptists of Germany, in their struggles for religious freedom, as well as with the planters of Rhode-Island, were associated many characters, who understood not their principles, either civil or religious, but who perverted them to purposes, which were never intended. Roger Williams, on a certain occasion, in imitation of a noble Greek, thanked God, that he had been the author of that very liberty by which his enemies dare to abuse him. A letter of this renowned legislator, explaining more fully this subject, will be given in the Appendix.
I find Mr. Callender in his Century Sermon, delivered seventy-five years ago, in repelling the calumnies, which were then east upon Rhode-Island, on account of these irreligious people, observes, that among the first settlers of the State, who were "a pious generation, men of virtue and godliness," some intruded themselves of a very different genius and spirit. He also assures us, that "there scarcely ever was a time, the hundred years (then) past, in which there was not a weekly publick worship of God attended at Newport and in the other first towns of the colony."
Governor Hopkins, about fifty years ago, speaking of this circumstance, has a train of observations similar to those of Mr. Callender. [Providence Gazette, March, 1765.]
We do not pretend that all the careless people of the State descended from those unprincipled settlers, whom the persecutions or the other colonies drove to this asylum. Some of them are the descendants of pious progenitors, who have not inherited their virtues, but have run counter to their instructions, and happy for Pedobaptists if they have no occasion to mourn on the same account.
If the Rhode-Island people had established religion by law, they would have been excused from all the reproaches which are now cast upon them. it would be an easy but invidious task, to find places enough in Massachusetts, notwithstanding all their laws, as destitute of religion, and as careless of publick worship, as any of the back towns of Rhode-Island. But we are now engaged only on the defensive. ["Were a serious Baptist from Rhode Island," says Dr. Baldwin in reply to Dr. Worcester, "to visit the metropolis of Massachusetts, the headquarters of good principles," would he not be led, from your observations, to suppose that no person would be seen in the streets on Lord's day, unless going or returning from church or meeting! But while he could scarcely credit his senses, would he not be ready to ask, What meaneth this prancing of the horses, and this rattling of the carriage wheels in my ears? And should he be informed, that more horses and carriages of every kind were let to visiting and other parties of pleasure on that day than on any other in the week, what would be his astonishment? What would he think of the "influence of Pedobaptist principles?" Would he not suppose there were some besides the ancient Pharisees, who could strain at a gnat and swallow a camel"]
It is worthy of notice, that the two Baptist churches in Providence and Newport, founded by Roger Williams and John Clark, have always maintained a respectable standing, have had a regular succession of worthy pastors, now together contain almost seven hundred members, have congregations large and opulent, and possess each of them larger estates than any Baptist church in America, except the first in Philadelphia. While new churches have arisen in some parts, in others, those, which were once large and flourishing, have become small or extinct. This circumstance may appear strange, and may furnish matter of reproach to those, who fine religions societies, "not under sixty nor over a hundred dollars a year," for being "without a teacher of piety, morality, and religion, three months out of six," and who impose fines on individuals for not attending publick worship a certain number of times in a year. But with the Baptists this matter is easily accounted for. Their churches cannot long flourish nor exist without the reviving influence of the Holy Spirit; but those churches, which depend on the civil arm for their support, may continue and flourish even when there is not a christian nor a spark of grace among them. Many of the Rhode-Island churches have been greatly reduced, and some in a measure broken up, by their members emigrating to other States. We observed in the beginning of this chapter, that this State is so small and so fully settled, that as the inhabitants increase, they are obliged to remove to other parts for settlements. And here it is proper to observe, that by ministers and members from this State were founded the oldest church in Pennsylvania in 1684; the oldest in Connecticut in 1705; the first church in the city of New-York was much assisted by the Rhode-Island brethren about 80 years ago; and by emigrants from this nursery of Baptists have been founded and enlarged many other churches in Connecticut, Hampshire, and Berkshire counties in Massachusetts, and also in New-Hampshire, Vermont, and New-York. Of the ministers, to whom Rhode-Island has given birth, who have settled in other States, we may name Valentine Wightman, Joshua Morse, Peter Werden, Clark Rogers, Caleb Nichols, Wightman Jacobs, and others, who have all rested from their labors. Of those now on the stage of action, are Dr, Rogers of Philadelphia, Mr. Grafton of Newton, Mr. Thomas H. Chipman of Nova-Scotia, and many others in different parts of the surrounding States. From certain information, from the affinity of names, etc. I am confident that not less than forty, and probably over fifty Baptist ministers of the First and Seventh Day order, have, within half a century past, gone out from this little territory, and acted, or are now acting, successful parts in various departments of the Lord's vineyard. The reader is left to make his own comments on the prevalence of those religious principles, on which Rhode-Island was founded, and which she has ever considered it her boast and glory to maintain.
The fathers of the colony, as we have already shown, desired permission from the powers at home to try the experiment, whether a flourishing civil State might not stand and best be maintained with a full liberty in religious concernments. The experiment has been tried, and has answered their most sanguine expectations. A flourishing State has arisen on a little spot of earth in this western world, whose ships when not embargoed nor blockaded, traverse every sea, whose artificers and manufacturers are spreading to every State, and in which from first to last, every individual has been left free to profess what religion he chose, without fear or molestation. [The manufacturing of cotton on Arkwright's plan was begun in Pawtucket in 1790, by Samuel Slater, Esq. from England. There are now in this village, and near, almost 7000 spindles in operation, and within a mile and a quarter of it, including both sides of the river, are buildings erected, capable of containing about 12,000 more. In 1810, according to an account taken by Mr. John K. Pitman of Providence, in the State of Rhode Island only, were 39 factories, in which over 30,000 spindles were running, and the same factories were capable of containing about as many more. The number of spindles in operation in this State only, is now (1813) probably not far from 50,000. In 1810, the gentleman above mentioned ascertained, that within thirty miles of Providence, which includes a considerable territory in Massachusetts, and a small portion of Connecticut, there were 76 factories, capable of containing 111,000 spindles. The number of spindles now in actual operation within this circumference are said to be 120,000. The amount of yarn spun each week, is not far from 110,000 pounds, or 5,500,000 a year. This side of the river Delaware the number of cotton factories of different dimensions, built and in building is estimated at 500.] The proposal of this experiment, and its issue in Rhode-Island, is worthy of being recorded in capitals of gold, and ought to be hung up m. the most conspicuous place in the Vatican at Rome, and in every Ecclesiastical Court in Christendom.
The principal acts of the Rhode-Island Legislature in defense of religious freedom have already been given.
In 1716 a law was passed, which has not yet been mentioned. The closing part of the preamble together with the act are as follows:
"THE present Assembly being sensible by long experience, that the aforesaid privilege (that is of entire toleration) by the good providence of God, having been continued to us, has been an outward means of continuing a good and amicable agreement amongst the inhabitants of this colony: And for the better continuance and support thereof, as well as for the timely preventing of any and every church, congregation and society of people, now inhabiting, or which shall hereafter inhabit within any part of the jurisdiction of the same, from endeavoring for preeminence or superiority one over the other, by making use of the civil power, for the enforcing of a maintenance for their respective ministers:
"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, and by the authority hereof it is enacted, That what maintenance or salary may be thought necessary by any of the churches, congregations, or societies of people, now inhabiting, or that hereafter shall or may inhabit within the same, for the support of their respective minister or ministers, shall be raised by free contribution, and no otherwise" [Laws of Rhode Island, edition of 1767, p. 194].
This law was passed under the administration of Governor Cranston, a Quaker, and when Joseph Jenks, afterwards Governor, had great influence in governmental affairs. The Rhode-Island people had many suspicions about this time, that the taxing and distraining policy of the neighboring colonies, would be attempted among them, and this law was doubtless intended to counteract, and be a standing barrier against any manoeuvres of the kind. It has been thought by many in later times, that it rendered invalid all contracts between a minister and people for his support, but I cannot find that it was ever so construed. Subscriptions were recoverable by law while this act was in force, and voluntary contracts individually entered into for the support of ministers are now, and for ought that appears to the contrary, always have been as much binding in law in this, as in any other State, where there are no religious establishments. If a minister here were in his own name to attempt to recover his salary in a legal way, it is not certain how he would succeed; the case I believe was never tried by any -- it surely never was among the Baptists, and it is hoped it never will be; for the preacher, who is reduced to the necessity of suing his people, had better dig for his bread, or else decamp to some place where hey will be more punctual.
The last act of the Rhode-Island Assembly has a preamble somewhat lengthy, but high in the strain of religious freedom, and doses thus: "Whereas a principal object of our venerable ancestors, in their migration to this country, and settlement of this State, was, as they expressed it, to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil State may stand, and best be maintained, with a full liberty religious concernments:
"Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever; nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities" [Laws of Rhode-Island, edition of 1798, p. 83, 84].
[The following is a brief statement of the Governors of Rhode Island. Under their first charter, which lasted nineteen years, their chief magistrates were called Presidents, of these there were seven; some were Baptists, some Quakers, the religious opinions of a number are not known. Three years of this time, the Presidential Chair was filled by Roger Williams. From the time the second charter was obtained, necessarily, in 1663, is now a period of 150 years. During this period there have been 25 Governors, counting his Excellency the present Chief Magistrate. Eight of these were Quakers or Friends, about the same number Baptists by education or profession, and of the remainder some were Episcopalians, some Congregationalists; the religious opinions of a number are not known. Governor Cook was baptized by immersion, but belonged to a Congregational church, and the same may be said of the present Governor Jones. For more than a century the Baptists and Quakers had the lead in the affairs of government. They at first had some disputes about ordinances and inward light, but these soon subsided, and they have, with very few exception, from time immemorial, harmoniously agreed to differ. While they feared the introduction of the religious laws of the surrounding governments, they endeavored to keep a preponderating balance of power in their own hands. For Pedobaptism and law-religion they both disbelieved, and have ever strenuously opposed. The Quakers now in many places serve as judges, magistrates, legislators, etc. but their pretensions to the gubernatorial chair they have long since resigned, on account of the danger of its subjecting them to military duties, incompatible with their views of religion and morality. The Baptists still fill many offices of different kinds, but more native citizens of the other States hold offices and have influence in governmental affairs, than formerly.]