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Early History of the First Baptist Church, Philadelphia
By David Benedict, 1848

The history of this ancient and very important body, is thus related by Morgan Edwards, who, as will be seen in the following narrative, was one of its able and efficient pastors.

"In the year 1686, one John Holmes, who was a Baptist, arrived and settled in the neighborhood. He was a man of property and learning, and therefore we find him in the magistracy of the place in l691, and was the same man who refused to act with the Quaker magistrates, against the Keithians. He died Judge of Salem Court. In I696, John Farmer and his wife, members of a baptist church in London, then under the pastoral care of the famous Hansard Knollys, arrived and settled in the place. In 1697, one Joseph Todd, and Rebecca Woosoncroft, came to the same neighborhood, who belonged to a baptist church in Limmington, in Hampshire, England, whereof Rev. John Rumsay was pastor. The same year, one William Silverstone, William Elton and wife, and Mary Shepard, were baptized by Thomas Killingsworth. These nine persons, on the second Sunday of December, 1698, assembled at a house in Barbadocs lot, and coalesced into a church for the communion of saints, having Rev. John Watts to their assistance. From that time to the year 1746, they increased, partly by emigrations from the old country, and partly by the occasional labors of Elias Keach, Thomas Killingsworth, John Watts, Samuel Jones, Evan Morgan, John Hart, Joseph Wood, Nathaniel Jenkins, Thomas Griffiths, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, John Burrows, Thomas Shelby, Abel Morgan, George Eaglesfield, William Kinnersley, and others. From the beginning to the last mentioned time (1746), they had no settled minister among them, though it was a period of forty-eight years. The first that might be properly called their own, was Jenkin Jones; the rest belonged to other churches.

"They did, indeed, in 1723, choose George Eaglesfield to preach to them, contrary to the sense of the church at Pennepeck; but in 1725, he left them, and went to Middletown. About the year 1746, a question arose, whether Philadelphia was not a branch of Pennepeck? and consequently, whether the latter had not a right to part of the legacies bestowed on the former? This, indeed, was a groundless question; but for fear the design of their benefactors should be perverted, the church, then consisting of 56 members, was formally constituted, May 15, 1746.

"The place where these people met, at first, was the corner of Second and Chesnut streets, known bv the name of Barbadoc lot. The building was a store-house; but when the Barbadoes company left the place, the baptists held their meetings there. So also did the Presbyterians, when either a baptist or presbyterian minister happened in town; for, as yet, neither had any settled among them. But when Jedidiah Andrews, from New England, came to the latter, the baptists, as has generally been their lot, were, in a manner, driven away. Several letters passed between the two societies on the occasion, which are still extant. There was also a deputation of three baptists appointed to remonstrate with the presbyterians for so unkind and rightless a conduct; but to no purpose. From that time forth, the baptists held their worship at a place near the draw-bridge, known by the name of Anthony Morris's brew-house; here they continued to meet till March 15, 1707, when, by invitation of the Keithians, they removed their worship to Second street, where they hold it to this day. The Keithian meeting-house was a small, wooden building, erected in1692. This the baptists took down in 1731, and raised on the same spot a neat brick building, 42 feet by 30. This house was also taken down in 1762, and a more spacious one was erected on the spot, 61 feet by 42, which was also built of brick, at the expense of £2,200.

"In 1734, an incident occurred which had like to have deprived the church both of their house and lot; for then one Thomas Pearl died, after having made a conveyance of the premises to the Church of England. The vestry demanded possession, but the baptists refused, and a law-suit commenced, which brought the matter to a hearing before the Assembly. The episcopalians being discourage, offered to give up their claim for £50. The offer was accepted, and contention ceased.

"This church experienced a painful division in 1711, occasioned by the turbulent spirit of an Irish preacher, who was among them, along with Mr. Burrows. His name was Thomas Shelby. When he had formed a party, he shut Mr. Burrows and his friends out of the meeting-house, who, henceforth, met at Mr. Burrows' house, in Chesnut street. This was the situation of affairs when Mr. Abel Morgan arrived, in 1711. But his presence soon healed the breach, and obliged Shelby to quit the town, which he did, in 1713, and went to Carolina, and there he died, the same year, but not before he had occasioned much disturbance. The ministers which this church have had, from the beginning the year 1746, are mentioned above, and some of them have been already characterized. The following are the ministers they have had since that time.

"Rev. Jenkins Jones. He was born about 1690, in the parish of Llanfernach, and county of Pembroke, and arrived in this country about 1710. He was called to the ministry in Welsh-Tract, in 1724; removed to Philadelphia in 1725, and became the minister of the church at that place only, at the time of its re-constitution, May 15, 1746; for, theretofore, he had the care of Pennepeck also. He died at Philadelphia, July 16, 1761, and was there buried, where a tomb is erected to his memory. Mr. Jones was a good man, and did real service to this church, und to the baptists' interest. He secured to them the possession of their valuable lot and place of worship before described. He was the moving cause of altering the direction of licenses, so as to enable dissenting ministers to perform marriage by them. He built a parsonage-house, partly at hs own charge. he gave a handsome legacy towards purchasing a silver cup for the Lord's Table, which is worth upwards of £60. His name is engraven upon it."

Rev. Ebenezer Kennersly, a companion of Dr. Franklin in philosophical studies, and who was distinguished in his day for great improvements in the science of electricity, was a cotemporary with Mr. Jones, during a part of his ministry.

Rev. Morgan Edwards was the next in office, which he entered in 1761. He was born in Trevithen, Wales, in1722; was educated at the baptist Seminary, Bristol, England, then under the care of Rev. Mr. Foskett. He entered the ministry ill the sixteenth year of his age. After he had finished his academical studies, he went to Boston, in Lincolnshire, where he continued seven years, preaching the gospel to a small congregation in that town. From Boston, he removed to Cork, in Ireland, where he was ordained, June 1, 1757, and resided nine years. From Cork, he returned to England, and preached about twelve months at Rye, in Sussex. While there, Rev. Dr. Gill,(1) and other London ministers, in pursuance of letters from Philadelphia, urged him to pay a visit to this then vacant church.

The full account of this distinguished man must remain for my biographical volume, but it is proper here to say that for talents, industry and usefulness, he was preeminent in his day.

He was, emphatically, a pioneer in the history of the baptists, an early friend, and an ardent promoter of the Rhode Island College, having made extensive journies in nearly all the colonies, to collect funds for this then infant institution. Indeed, every new enterprise which had the interest of the denomination in view, met with his cordial assent, and received his vigorous co-operation.

William Rogers, D.D., succeeded Mr. Edwards in the pastoral office, in which he continued about three years. He was born in Newport, R. I., in 1751, and was one of the four students who composed the first class of Rhode Island College, while that Institution was located in Warren.
Dr. Rogers was a chaplain in the American army during five years of the Revolutionary war.
In 1789, he was appointed a professor in the University of Pennsylvania, in which he continued upwards of twenty years.
Dr. Rogers was an intimate friend of Dr. Rippon, of London, and maintained an extensive correspondence with his brethren in America, Europe, and India.

Rev. Thomas Ustick became the pastor of this people in 1782, they having remained in a scattered and destitute condition during most of the Revolutionary war.
Mr. Ustick was born in the city of New York, August 30, 1753. He was baptized by John Gano, the pastor of the First church there, when but a little more than thirteen years of age. (2) After having graduated at Rhode Island College, in 1771, he spent a number of years in Stamford and Ashford, Conn., and at Grafton, in Mass., from which last place he removed to this city, where he continued the much esteemed and useful pastor of this ancient community about twenty-one years. And here he closed his earthly labors, in April, 1803, in the fiftieth year of his age.

Rev. William Staughton, D. D., succeeded Mr. Ustick, in 1805, and continued here about six years, when he resigned his charge to become the pastor of the new church in Sansom street, under which head a more full account of his will be given.
Under his ministry, the house of worship was enlarged, and nearly three hundred were added to the church by baptism.

Rev. Henry Halcombe, D. D., the next pastor, was invested with the office in 1811.
He was born in Prince Edward co., Va., February 22, 1762, and was carried to South Carolina when a child. His first settlement as a minister was with the church on Pipe Creek, in this State.
In 1791, he became pastor of the old church at Euhaw, then of Beaufort, and from this place he removed to Savannah, Ga., where he continued until near the time of his removing to this church.
Dr. Holcombe’s ministry in this place continued about 15 years.

Rev. G. B. Perry was his successor for about three years.

Rev. Wm. T. Brantley, D. D., was the next in office here, where he continued until he transferred to the pastorship of the First church, in Charleston, S. C.

Rev. George B. Ide, the present incumbent, was settled in 1840.



1. It is said that the church in Philadelphia sent to Dr. Gill to assist them in obtaining a pastor; but that they required so many accomplishments to be united in him that the Dr. wrote them back that he did not know as he could find a man in England who would answer their description; informing them, at the same time, that Mr. Morgan Edwards, who was then preaching in Rye, in the county of Sussex, came the nearest of any one who could be obtained.

2. At the baptism of this young disciple, the following incident occurred. Mr. Gano, in giving out the hymn for the occasion, parodied the second verse thus: --

"His honor is engaged to save
The youngest of his sheep," &c
'Why,' said the child, 'did you not say meanest? For so I truly am.'

[Taken from David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848; rpt. 1977, pp. 601-603. The title is changed. jrd]

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