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History of the First Baptist Church
New York City, (1745-1845)

By S. H. Cone, 1846
Part 1

On Lord's Day morning, Dec. 21st, 1845, the Rev. S. H. Cone, Pastor of the First Church, delivered a Centennial discourse to a crowded and attentive audience. His text was Numbers 23:23; Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob; neither is there any divination against Israel. According to this time; it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, what hath God wrought! He sketched the character of Balaam, and gave a brief outline of the history of Israel; their sojourn in Egypt, their journeyings through the wilderness, and their conflicts with their enemies; -- from all which the Lord delivered them; proving the truth of the text, that although there may be "enchantments and divinations against Israel," yet they shall not prevail. The counsel of the Lord shall stand; his promises shall be fulfilled -- He will make the wrath of man to praise him; the remainder of wrath He will restrain; His chosen people He will bring to the land of Canaan, though earth and hell obstruct the way -- and "according to this time it shall be said, what hath God wrought?"

The typical character of God's ancient people, the Jews, was next adverted to, and many passages of the Bible were quoted to shew that Jehovah's promises to his spiritual Israel were all "yea and amen in Christ Jesus;" that no "enchantment or divination" of men or devils could ever frustrate them; but as certainly as that the children of Abraham were planted in the "land flowing with milk and honey," so certainly all the children of God, whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of life, shall be brought home to the "better country" -- the heavenly Canaan, "where everlasting spring abides, and never withering flowers;" -- and the ransomed, blood washed throng, with one heart and with one voice shall exclaim -- What hath God wrought!

The preacher then applied the passage to the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, to the experience of individual believers, as well as to the history of particular churches, from the days of the Apostles to the present time; and, finally, dwelt at length upon the preciousness and appropriateness of the text in reference to the First Baptist Church, in the city of New York.

The first effort to introduce into this city the idea of a Gospel church and of believers' baptism, as preached by the Apostles, as far as we can learn, was made in the year 1709, by a Baptist minister from Rhode Island, by the name of Wickenden. He preached here about two years, with little apparent success, and in the midst of opposition and persecution. He was thrown into prison where he remained for three months, for daring to preach the "glad tidings" without a license from an officer of the crown. In 1712, Mr. Whitman of Connecticut, came to New York and preached two or three years. He baptized some ten or fifteen persons; among whom was a Mr. Ayres, who afterwards was set apart to the work of the ministry. Seven males and five females were baptized in l714, and the following circumstance is recorded in connection with their baptism. Apprehending opposition from the mob, they assembled at the water side after dark, and the five females were "buried with Christ by baptism;" but the mind of Mr. Ayres at that moment was arrested by the passage -- "No man doeth any thing in secret when he himself seeketh to be known openly," John 7-4; and he was so fully convinced that it was his duty to be baptized openly that he stated his conviction to the six brethren standing w1th him; they all agreed to defer the administration of the Ordinance till the next day. In the morning Mr. Ayres waited upon the Governor, William Burnet, Esq, and related the facts in the case, requesting protection for himself and friends, while as believers they were about to obey the command of Christ in being baptized in his name. The Governor promised protection, and at the hour appointed for the baptism, he, together with many of the gentry, and a large concourse of citizens attended at the river, and the Ordinance was administered without interruption. As the Governor gazed on the scene, he was heard to say, "This was the manner of baptism; and is, in my opinion, much preferable to the practice of modern times."

In 1724, the, persons previously baptized were organized as an independent Gospel Church, and chose Mr. Ayres as their Pastor. He preached to them uritil1731, when he removed to Newport, Rhode Island, where he died. In 1728, they purchased a lot on Golden Hil1, near John Street, and built a small meeting-house; but after the resignation and removal of Mr. Ayres, they were beset with difficulties. One of the trustees claimed and sold their place of worship, and their visibility as a Church ceased, after existing about eight years: -- no attempt was ever made to revive it. Brethren Wickenden, Whitman, Ayres, and those who consorted with them, were called Arminians; but persons holding their sentiments were generally known in New England, in later years, as Free Will Baptists.

The First Baptist Church, New York City, originated in 1745,when Jeremiah Dodge, a member of the Fishkill Baptist Church, settled here, and opened his house for public worship. Elder, Benjamin Miller, of New Jersey, preached here in that year, and baptized Joseph Meeks, who ,continued to be a very valuable member of the First Church until the 6th of October, 1782, when he died, aged 73 years. Robert North, and a few others who had belonged to the Arminian Church , having learned the way of the Lord more perfectly, now united with brethren Dodge and Meeks to sustain the Baptist cause. Mr. John Pine, a Licentiate of the Fishkill Church, preached for them till l750, when he died. In 1747, the Scotch Plains Church, New Jersey, was organized, and called Elder Benjamin Miller to the Pastoral office; and as there were but thirteen brethren and sisters in the city, who agreed in their views of doctrine, it was deemed advisable to unite with that Church in 1753, with the understanding that brother Miller should preach in New York occasionally, and administer the Lordís Supper to them once in three months. His preaching was so acceptable that those who wished to hear him could not be accommodated in a private dwelling; the church, therefore, hired a rigging loft in Cart and Horse Street, now William Street, where they statedly assembled for public worship for several years. As their numbers and resources increased, they purchased ground in Gold Street, and erected a small meeting-house, which was opened on the 14th of March, 1760. In that year, brother John Gano, formerly Pastor of Morristown Church, New Jersey, preached for them several times, with great acceptance, and received a unanimous call to settle with them. He replied that he must finish his engagement with the First Church, Philadelphia, where he was then preaching; and must spend three months afterwards with the Yadkin Baptist Church, North Carolina, whence he had been driven by the outrages of the Cherokee Indians, in 1759; and then, he would be at liberty to accept their call. To this the Church agreed, and continued to depend upon visiting brethren to lead in public worship until June 19th, 1762, when twenty-seven members of Scotch Plains, having received previously letters of dismission, were publicly recognized as an independent Gospel Church. Brethren Miller and Gano conducted the rel1igious exercises upon this interesting occasion; the latter was received into the fellowship of the Church, the same day upon the credit of his letter of dismission from the Yadkin Church, and entered immediately upon his pastoral charge. Many flocked together to hear him preach Christ crucified; in two or three years, the number of members exceeded two hundred; the meeting house was considerably enlarged, so as to measure fifty-two feet by forty two, and was then too small for the congregation.

The ministry of brother Gano continued to be very acceptable and edifying. He was no common man. He was endowed with strong powers of mind, and had been blessed with a good education. In the pulpit he was animated and affectionate; sound and clear in his views of divine truth, and skillful in arresting and retaining the attention of his audience. He was easy in his manners, had great knowledge of men, and possessed uncommon tact in accommodating himself to times and places and circumstances, and yet never lose sight of his "high vocation." It was a saying of his -- we must always act in character -- and it was his happiness, by grace divine, uniformly to maintain the character of a faithful servant of the Most High God. But even with such a Pastor, the peace of the Church was occasionally disturbed. Three ministers from England, at different times endeavored to divide the Church -- they were Murray, Dawson, and Allen -- the last of whom, especially, caused them some trouble. Brother Gano wrote to England, "and obtained such an account of the man and his character at home," as destroyed his influence in New York, and he soon after removed from the city. The next difficulty worthy of note originated in a vote of the Church to sing from hymn books, instead of giving out the lines, as had previously been the custom. This change gave so much offence that fourteen took letters of dismission, and formed the Second Baptist Church, New York, and as such were publicly recognized on the 5th of June, 1770, by brethren Miller and Gano.

The Church, however, continued to increase in number and influence until the war of the Revolution, during which period the members were every where scattered abroad. The ordinance of baptism was administered by the Pastor, April 28th, 1776, and not again until September 4th, 1784.

John Gano was a firm patriot and a brave man. In the struggle for national existence and the establishment of civil and religious freedom, he could not but take active part. He removed his family to Connecticut, but determined to remain in the city himself until the enemy entered it. He was invited to become Chaplain to the Regiment commanded by Colonel Charles Webb, of Stamford, but declined the appointment. He, nevertheless, so far complied as to visit the Regiment every morning, and preach for them every Lord's day. He was anxious to remove the furniture from his dwelling, but his efforts were frustrated: the British shipping took possession of both the North and East Rivers, and he was obliged to retire precipitately to our camp. The enemy entered the city the next day, after a little skirmishing, and our troops were driven to Harlem -- then to Kings bridge -- and at last to White Plains, where Washington had collected a large part of his forces; and where, says brother Gano, "we had a warm, though partial battle; for probably not a third of either army was brought into action. My station, in time of action, I knew to be among, the surgeons; but in this battle I somehow got in the front of the Regiment; yet I durst not quit my place for fear of damping the spirits of the soldiers, or of bringing on myself an imputation of cowardice. Rather than do either, I chose to risk my fate." His soldierly bearing upon that occasion, in the presence of the enemy, elicited much praise from the officers in their after conversations, and greatly increased their respect for their Chaplain, whose personal courage had been so severely tested.

Bro. Gano continued with Col. Webb's regiment until the period expired for which the men had enlisted, and they returned to their homes. He took this opportunity to visit his family, where he found a letter awaiting him from Col. Dubosque, then stationed at Fort Montgomery, on the North River. He immediately set out for the Colonel's quarters, and at the earnest solicitation of General James Clinton, with whom he there met, he accepted an appointment as Chaplain, and continued in the service until the close of the war. After the British evacuated New York, he returned to the city and collected together "about thirty-seven members of the church out of above two hundred." The meeting-house which was much disfigured, having been used as a store house and stable for horses, was repaired; public worship was resumed; "the Lord looked graciously upon his people, the congregation was large and attentive, and many were brought to bow the knee to King Jesus!" In two years the church again numbered more than two hundred members. In 1787, a proposition was made to Bro. Gano to remove to Kentucky, with the prospect of increasing his usefulness, and relieving himself from pecuniary embarrassments. He cal1ed a church meeting and laid before them the facts in the case: but he says "they treated it all as a chimera, and with all possible coolness left him to determine for himself." He immediately determined to go. As soon as his intention was made known, the church offered to raise his salary, and very affectionately urged him to tarry. He would gladly have complied with their wishes, but it was too late; he had entered into engagements which could not be broken. He continued to preach for the church until the 4th of May, 1788; in the afternoon of that day, he administered the Lord's Supper, and in the evening took his final leave of them in a very affecting discourse from Acts 15-29, Fare ye well!

Bro. Gano arrived safely at Limestone, Ky. June 17th, 1788; he preached in, various parts of the state, principally at Frankfort, and for the Town Fork church, and finished his course Aug. 10th, 1804, in the 78th year of his age. The last sentiment he uttered, in the midst of his weeping family and friends was, his desire to depart and be with Jesus. The First Church, N. Y., has great cause of gratitude to the God of all grace for giving them John Gano as their first Pastor. His ministry was owned and blessed to the permanent establishment of our cause in this great commercial emporium; where for more than twenty-six years, this John the Baptist was a burning and a shining light.

=====[End of Part 1; Part 2 may be accessed here.] =====

[Taken from Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, February, 1846, pp. 43-48. The title is changed from "History of the First Baptist Church, N. Y. City." -- jrd]



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