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Morgan Edwards
By Thomas Armitage, 1890

     Justice, however, demands as high a tribute to Morgan Edwards as to James Manning, for his zeal and ability in establishing the college. Indeed, Dr. Guild, the present librarian of Brown University, frankly pays him this tribute. He says of Morgan:
'He was the prime mover in the enterprise of establishing the college, and in 1767 he went back to England and secured the first funds for its endowment. With hjm were associated the Rev. Samuel Jones, to whom in 1791 was offered the presidency; Oliver Hart and Francis Pelot, of South Carolina; John Hart, of Hopewell, the signer of the Declaration of Independence; John Stites, the mayor of Elizabethtown; Hezekiah Smith, Samuel Stillman, John Gano and others connected with the two Associations named, of kindred zeal and spirit. The final success of the movement, however, may justly be ascribed to the life-long labors of him who was appointed the first president, James Manning, D.D., of New Jersey.' (1)

     It is right to say here that he, being a Welshman, it was meet that he should be the 'prime mover' in establishing the first Baptist college in America on the very soil where Roger Williams, his countryman, had planted the first free republic of this land. There is also very much poetic lore in the thought that he should leave his Church in Philadelphia to enlist the men of Wales in the interests of the young institution. He brought back a large sum of money for this object, and had so stirred the sympathies of Dr. Richards, of South Wales, that he bequeathed his library of 1,300 volumes to its use. And now, probably, there is not such a collection of Welsh books in America as is found in the town of the brave Welshman who founded Providence. Welsh affection for Brown merits that 'poetic jnstice' which led its present librarian to bless the memory of the other immortal Welshman, Morgan Edwards, as the prime mover in its establishment. Mr. Edwards was thoroughly educated and became pastor of the Philadelphia Church, on the recommendation of Dr. Gill, in 1761, and remained there till 1771, when he removed to Delaware, where he died in 1795. His influence was very great, but wou1d have been much enlarged had he identified himself with the cause of the colonies in their struggle with the rnother country. His family was identified with the service of his majesty of England, and Morgan was so full of Welsh fire that he could not hold his tongue, which much afflicted his brethren and involved him in trouble with the American authorities, as we find in the following recantation: 'At a meeting of the Committee of White Clay Creek, at Mr, Henry Darby's, in New York, August 7th, 1775, William Patterson, Esq., being in the chair, when the Rev. Morgan Edwards attended and signed the following recantation, which was voted satisfactory, namely:

'Whereas, I have some time since frequently made use of rash and imprudent expressions with respect to the conduct of my fellow-countrtymen, who are now engaged in a noble and patriotic struggle for the liberties or America, against the arbitrary measures of the British mimstry; which conduct has justly raised their resentment against me, I now confess that I have spoken wrong, for which I am sorry and ask forgiveness of the public. And I do promise that for the future I will conduct myself in such a manner as to avoid giving offense, and at the same time, in justice to myself, declare that I am a friend to the present measures pursued by the friends to American liberty, and do hereby approve of them, and, as far as in my power, wili endeavor to promote them.


     How sound his conversion was to Revolutionary 'measures' is not a proper question to raise here, but as the offense was one of the tongue, he made the amend as broad as the sin, and there is no known evidence that he ever gave too free rein to the unruly member thereafter on the subject of the 'noble and patriotic struggles for the liberties of Amerca.' It is sure, however, that when American liberties were secured he brought forth abundant fruits, 'meet for repentance,' in the labors which he devoted to the cause of American education. He also traveled many thousands of miles on horseback to collect materials for the history of the Baptist Churches in the colonies which he had done so much to build up. His purpose was to publish a history in about twelve volumes. He issued the first volume in 1770, which treated of the Pennsylvania Baptists; the second volume related to the New Jersey Baptists and was published in 1792; his treatment of the Rhode Island Baptists was not sent forth by him, but appeared in the sixth volume of the Rhode Island Historical Collections of 1867. He left the third vo1ume in manuscript, concerning the Delaware Baptists, which is now in possession of the Baptist Historical Society, Philadelphia. He was as nob1e, refined and scholarly a servant of Christ as could be found in the colonies. He died in Delaware in 1795; his body, which was first buried in the Baptist meeting-house, La Grange Place, between Market and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, now rests in Mount Moriah Cemetery, and every true American Baptist blesses his memory.


1. Morgan Edwards, Works, viii, p. 398.


[From Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 1890; rpt. 1988, pp. 722-723. jrd]

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