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Early North Carolina Baptists
A History of the Baptists, 1926
By John T. Christian

This Baptist movement into North Carolina originated with the Separatists of Connecticut. It was led by Shubeal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. This Shubeal Stearns was a remarkable man. He was a product of the Whitefield revival, and in 1745 united with the New Lights. Immediately afterwards, his mind became impressed with the obligation to preach the gospel, and, accordingly he entered upon this responsible work. He continued with the Pedobaptists till 1751, when examining the Word of God, he became convinced that in failing to submit to the ordinance of immersion he had neglected a most important command of his Redeemer. The futility of infant baptism was also discovered, and he determined to take up his cross, be baptized, and unite himself with the Baptists. This he accordingly did and was immersed by Wait Palmer, at Toland, Connecticut, May 20, 1751.

For two or three years he continued his labors in New England; but he became impressed that he must preach the gospel to more destitute sections of the country. He pursued a southwesternly direction scarcely knowing where he was going. In the course of time he arrived at Opeckon Creek, where, as has been am, there was already a Baptist church. Here he met his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall. This church under the influence of this new preaching became very warm and much animated in their religious exercises. They soon went such lengths in the New Light career that some of the less engaged members preferred charges against them in the association. The matter was finally adjusted favorably to the Separatists and the work continued to prosper.

It was not long till Stearns settled in Guilford county, North Carolina. Here he permanently remained. The great spiritual destitution which prevailed seems to have induced his removal to that section. Such was the anxiety to hear the gospel preached that people frequently traveled a day’s journey to hear it. He began his labors by building a house of worship and constituting a church of sixteen members.

There had been individual Baptists in the State as early as 1695. On May 2, 1718, there was one who pretended to "be a physician, fortune teller and conjurer, always chosen Burgess, for that precinct and a leading man in our assemblies" who was an Anabaptist (Colonial Records of North Carolina, I. 304). William Orr, the Episcopal rector, says he had "one convert from the sect of the Anabaptists" (Ibid, IV. 608). Clement Hall, 1745, baptized one "brought up an Anabaptist" (Ibid, IV. 753). Hall likewise rejoiced at Edenton, May 19, 1752, that he baptized four "brought up in anabaptism and Quakerism" (Ibid, VI. 1315). Mr. Reed likewise baptized the Honorable Chief Justice of the Province, July 2, 1771. "He was bred and born an Anabaptist, but had never been baptized, and as I suspected that he might still retain a particular liking for Anabaptism, I offered to baptize him by total immersion. But he refused and said his prejudices were vanished, that he regarded the moral more than the mode" (Ibid, IX. 6). Such are some of the examples.

The first church was gathered by Paul Palmer, about the year 1727, at a place called Perquimans, on Chowan river, in the northeast part of the State.

William Sojourner, an excellent man and minister, removed in 1742 from Berkeley, ,in Virginia, and settled at Kehukee Creek. Most of these Baptists came from the Burley church. Lemuel Burkit and Jesse Reed give the following account of some of these Baptists: "Some of the churches which at first composed the Kehukee Association were, the church at Toisniot, in Edgecomb county; the church at Kehukee, in Halifax county; the church at the Falls of Tar River, in Edgecomb county; the church on Fishing creek, in Halifax county; the church at Reedy creek, in Warren county; the church at Sandy Run, in Birtie county; and the church in Camden county, North Carolina. Most of these churches, before they ever formed an Association, were General Baptist, and held to the Arminian tenets. We believe they were descendants of the English General Baptists, because we find from some original papers that their Confession of Faith was subscribed by certain Elders, and Deacons, and Brethren, in behalf of themselves and others, to whom they belonged, both in London, and several counties in England, and was presented to King Charles the second.

"They preached, adhered to the Arminian, or Free-Will doctrines, and their churches were first established upon this system. They gathered churches without requiring an experience of grace previous to their baptism; but baptized all who believed in the doctrine by immersion, and requested baptism of them. The churches of this order were gathered by Elders Paul Palmer and Joseph Parker, and were succeeded by a number of ministers whom they had baptized; and of whom we have no reason to believe were converted when they were baptized, or first began to preach. We cannot learn that it was customary with them to hold an Association at all; but met at yearly meetings, where matters of consequence were determined.

"This was the state of these churches until divine providence disposed the Philadelphia Baptist Association to send Mess. Vanhorn and Miller, two ministers belonging to that Association, who lived in New Jersey, to travel into the southern colonies, and visit the churches and preach the gospel. It appears that this effort was attended with a happy effect. When they came into North Carolina, some of the members belonging to these churches seemed to be afraid of them, as they were styled by most people New Lights; but by the greater part of the churches they were cordially received.

"Their preaching and conversation seemed to be with power, the hearts of the people seemed to be open, and a very great blessing seemed to attend their labors.

"Through their instrumentality many people were awakened, many of the members of these churches were convinced of their error, and were instructed in the doctrines of the gospel; and some churches were organized anew; and established upon the principles of grace. These churches newly constituted adopted the Baptist confession of faith published in London in 1639, containing 32 articles, and upon which the Philadelphia and Charleston associations are founded. And it is customary for churches thus formed, at their first constitution, to have a church covenant, in which they solemnly agree to endeavor to keep up the discipline of the church" (Burkitt and Read, A Concise History of the Kehukee Association).


[From John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, 1926, Volume 2; rpt., pp. 198-201. jrd]

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