The footnotes are changed to endnotes and the numbers are changed to consecutive numbers. The word do means ditto, (the same). — jrd
History of Virginia Baptists
By David Benedict, 1848
General View of the Rise of the Baptists in the State — First Company, in 1714 — Second do., in 1743 — Third do., in 1754 — The early Churches planted by these Companies — David Thomas — S. Steams — D. Marshall — Col. Harris and others — Division of the great Separate Association — General Association divided into Four — Baptist Apostles in Va.
ALTHOUGH so early was the planting of the Virginia colony as to entitle the State to the appellation of the Old Dominion, yet, compared with some of the older colonies, it was at a late period that our society gained much of a foothold within its bounds. A few small churches, as we shall soon see, were planted in this government soon after the commencement of the 18th century; but it was something past the middle of it before the proselytes to our peculiar opinions had become so considerable as to excite much attention among either friends or opponents.
According to Morgan Edwards' list for 1768, there were then but about ten baptist churches in all parts of Virginia. These were generally in the upper part of it, between the Blue Ridge and the waters of the Potomac. But after they began their operations in good earnest, so rapid was their increase, that by 1790, according to Asplund's Register, their churches had increased to 210, their ministers, ordained and licensed, to about 250, and their communicants to upwards of 20,000.
In 22 years more, according to my tables for 1812, their numerical strength amounted to upwards of 35,000.
During the next succeeding 21 years, such was the augmentation n of numbers, as by Allen's Register for 1836, that the whole baptist population in this State, so far as church members were concerned, was 59,000. For the last ten years, about 24,000 have been added to their number. The sum total in no State shall I attempt to give, until my tables are made up at the close of the volume.
The Associations now existing in this State, great and small, are 37. These, after giving the general history of our affairs here, I shall describe under three divisions, Eastern, Middle, and Western.
The baptists of Virginia originated from three principal sources:
1. The first were emigrants from England, who, about the year 1714, settled in the south-east part of the State.
2. The second company came from Maryland, and formed a settlement near the north-west part, as the population then stood, about 1743.
3. The third party came from New England in 1754, and by them was laid the foundation for the most successful and extensive enterprises of our denomination in their early movements in this State. This last company was of what was then called the Separate Order.
A brief account of these different companies will now be given, and then we shall be prepared to show their ultimate union, and their grand and successful efforts to throw off the grievous and, oppressive; yoke which the old ecclesiastical establishment had imposed on all dissenters, and that they had operated in the most trying and vexatious manner oil the zealous founders of the baptist cause in this then rude and uncultivated Province. ________________
First Company, from England.
We cannot learn that any of the original settlers of Virginia were baptists, nor do we find any of this denomination in this country until more than a century after its settlement. The accounts of their origin in the State vary in dates and some other little matters; but the following statement, I believe, is the most correct; and circumstantial which can be obtained at this late period.
In consequence of letters from Virginia, Robert Nordin and Thomas White were ordained in London, in May, 1714, and soon sailed for Virginia; but White died on the way, and Nordin arrived in Virginia, and gathered a church at a place called Burley, in the county of the Isle of Wight. There were probably a number of baptists settled in this place before the arrival of Nordin, by whose request, and for the service of whom, he and White were ordained and undertook the distant voyage; but who, or how many these were, or how long they had been there, are inquiries which we cannot answer.
Mr. Nordin continued preaching at Burley and other places until he died in a good old age, in 1725. Two years after his death, viz., in 1727, Casper Mintz and Richard Jones, both preachers, arrived from England, and settled with the church at Burley, and Jones became their pastor. Both of these ministers were living in 1756, as appears by a letter which this church sent at that time to the Philadelphia Association. by the year 1729, as appears by a letter sent by Rev. Paul Palmer, from North Carolina, to Rev. John Comer, of Newport, Rhode Island, there was, besides the church at Burley, another in the county of Surrey. Respecting these churches, Mr. Palmer wrote as follows:
"There is a comely little church in the Isle of Wight county, of about thirty or forty members, the elder of which is one Richard Jones, a very sensible old gentleman, whom I have great love for. We see each other at every yearly meeting and sometimes more often. There is another church in Surry county, where my brother Jones lives, I suppose about thirty more."
How long these churches continued in existence I cannot exactly learn. Respecting the one in the county of Surry, no information can be obtained except what is found in Mr. Palmer's letter. The one in the Isle of Wight, we halve good reason to believe, continued on the ground where it was first established between forty and fifty years, when, according to Morgan Edwards' account, it was broken up, partly by sickness, and partly by the removal of families from hence to North Carolina, where they gained many proselytes. and in ten years became sixteen churches.
They were all General Baptists; but in a few years after their settlement in North Carolina, they began to embrace the Calvinistic sentiments, as will be seen in the history of the baptists in that State. In 1756, the church at Burley sent the following letter to the Philadelphia Association:
"The church of Jesus Christ, in Isle of Wight county, holding adult baptism, &c., to the Reverend and General Assembly or Association at Philadelphia, send greeting: We, the above mentioned church, confess ourselves to be under clouds of darkness concerning the faith of Jesns Christ, not knowing whether we are on the right foundation, and the church much unsettled: wherefore we desire alliance with you, and that you will be pleased to send as helps to settle the church, and rectify what may be wrong, and subscribe ourselves, your loving brethren in Christ, Casper Mintz, Richard Jones, Randall Allen, Joseph Mattgum, Christopher Atkinson, Benjamin Atkinson, David Atkinson, Thomas Cafer, Samuel Jones, William Jordan, John Allen, John Powell, Joseph Atkinson. Dec. 27, 1756."
This is the last account I can find of this church; what was done by the Association in their case I do not find. Messrs. Miller, Vanhorn, and Gano
traveled frequently into Virginia and North Carolina about this time, for the purpose of regulating the disordered churches, and it is probable that in some of their journeys they visited this one, which made such an honest confession of their deplorable state.
It does not appear that this company of baptists suffered any persecution or civil embarrassments, from the time of their settlement it Virginia to that of their dispersion. They probably obtained legal licences [sic] for their assemblies, in conformity to the act of toleration.
As this community appears to have soon transferred from Virginia to North Carolina, the reader is referred to the history of the Baptists in that State, where a more particular account of them will be given. ________________
Second Company, from Maryland.
The next appearance of the Baptists in this State was in the north part of it, in the counties of Berkley, Loudon, and their vicinities, on the ground which was afterwards occupied by the Regular Baptists. Between the years 1743; and 1756, three churches were gathered in these counties, by the names of Opeckon, which was afterwards called Millcreek, Smith's and Lynville's creek, and Ketockton. A brief account of the origin of these churches will now be given.
The church on Opeckon creek appears to have been the oldest, of the three, and was gathered and renovated in the following manner. In the year 1743, a number of the members of the General Baptist church, at Chestnut Ridge, in Maryland, removed to Virginia, and settled in this place, the most noted of whom were Edward Hays and Thomas Yates. Soon after their removal, their minister, Henry Loveall, followed them, and baptized about fifteen persons, whom he formed into a church on the Arminian plan. Mr. Loveall becoming licentious in his life, was turned out of the church, and returned to Maryland, and the church was broken up, or rather transformed into a church of Particular Baptists, in 1751, by the advice and assistance of Messrs. James Miller, David Thomas, and John Gano, who was at that time very young. Mr. Miller had visited this church in some of his former journeys, and had been instrumental of much good among them; and when they, in their troubles, occasioned by Loveall's misconduct, petitioned the Philadelphia Association for some assistance, he and Mr. Thomas were appointed by the Association for the purpose. Mr. Gano, though not appointed, chose to accompany them. The account of this transaction is thus given by Mr. Gano:
"We examined them, and found they were not a regular church. We then examined those who offered themselves for the purpose, and those who gave us satisfaction we received, and constituted a new church. Out of the whole who offered themselves, there were only three received. Some openly declared they knew they could not give an account of experiencing a work of grace; and therefore need not offer themselves. Others stood ready to offer if the church was formed. The three before mentioned were constituted, and six more were baptized and joined with them. After the meeting ended, a number of old members went aside and sent for me. They expressed their deplorable state, and asked me if I would meet with them that evening, and try to instruct them. They were afraid the ministers blamed them. They had been misled, but it was not their fault, and they hoped I would pity them. I told them I would with all my heart, and endeavored to remove their suspicion of the ministers. They met, and I spoke to them front these words: 'They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.' I hope I was assisted to speak to them in an impressive manner, and they to hear, at least some of them, so as to live. They afterwards professed and became zealous members, and remained so, I believe, until their death."
It was in the bounds of this church that Stearns and Marshall met, on their way to North Carolina. At this time, Samuel Heaton was their pastor, and acted in that capacity until 1754, when he removed to Konoloway, Pennsylvania, and was succeeded by Mr. John Garrard, who is supposed to have been a native of Pennsylvania, and who became the most distinguished pastor the church had hitherto enjoyed. The Opeckon church united with the Philadelphia Association soon after its renovation, in 1757. They became very warm
and animated in their religious exercises, and more particularly so, after Mr. Marshall and the zealous Separates came amongst them; and they soon went to such lengths in their New Light career, that some of the less engaged members lodged a complaint against them in the Association to which they belonged. Mr. Miller was again sent for the purpose of adjusting their difficulties. When he came, he was highly delighted with the exercises, joined them cordially, and said, if he had such warm-hearted christians in his church, he would not take gold for them. He charged those who had complained, rather to nourish than complain of such gifts. The work of God revived among them, and considerable additions were made to the church. The country in which they had settled was but thinly inhabited, and was subject to the inroads of the Indians. Some of these savage irruptions [sic] took place not long after Mr. Garrard had settled among them; in consequence of which, he and many of the church removed below the Blue Ridge, and resided for some time in Loudon county, on Ketockton Creek. This evil was overruled for good; for, by the labors of Mr. Garrard in his new residence, to which, by the barbarous intruders, he was obliged to repair, many were brought to a knowledge of salvation, and a church was formed, which was called Ketockton, in 1756, and Mr. Garrard became their pastor.
The Smith's and Lynville's Creek Church, afterwards called Smith's Creek, is said to have been constituted also in 1756. There were some baptist families in this place as early as 1745, eleven years before the church was organized; but from what place they emigrated, we are not informed; only it is stated that one John Harrison, wishing to be baptized, went as far as Oyster Bay, on Long Island, in the State of New York, to obtain an administrator. As there were baptist churches and ministers much nearer, the presumption is, that he, if no others, had removed from that place.
David Thomas. As this eminent and very successful minister was closely connected with this company of baptists, who soon assumed the name of Regulars, in all their movements, until they united with the Separates, and probably did more than any other man to extend and regulate their affairs, it may be proper here to give a brief sketch of his character and operations.
Mr. Thomas was born August 16, 1732, at London Tract, Pa., and had his education at Hopewell, N. J., under the famous Isaac Eaton, and, in early life, received the honorary degree of M. A., front the College of Rhode Island.
He had previously made a number of missionary excursions into this State, under the patronage of the Philadelphia Association, but, in 1760, he removed here, and became a permanent resident. His first stand was in Berkley county, with, or near to the Opeckon, or Mill Creek Church; but, two years after, he removed to the county of Fauquier, and became the pastor of the Broad Run Church, which was gathered soon after he removed to the place. In this place, and in a wide circuit around, he acted a most distinguished part for about thirty years, when he removed to Kentucky, where he lived to an advanced age, and became nearly blind some time before his death.1
"Mr. Thomas is said to have been a minister of great distinction in the prime of his days. Besides the natural endowment of a vigorous mind, and the advantages of a classical and refined education, he had a melodious a piercing voice and pathetic address, expressive action, and, above all, a heart filled with love to God and his fellow-men. But, for a few of the first years of his ministry in Virginia, he met with much persecution. He was frequently assaulted both by individuals and mobs. Once he was pulled down while he was preaching, and dragged out of the House in a barbarous manner. At another time, a malevolent fellow attempted to shoot him, but a by-stander wrenched the gun from him, and thereby prevented the execration of his wicked purpose. The slanders and revilings he met with, says Mr. Edwards, were innumerable, and it we may judge of a man's prevalency against the devil, by the rage of the devil's children, Thomas prevailed like a. prince. But the gospel had free course; and Broad Run church, of which he was pastor within six or eight years from its establishment, branched out and became the mother of five or six others. The Chapawamsick church was constituted from Broad Run, in 1766."2
Elder Thomas traveled much, and the fame of his preaching drew the attention of the people throughout an extensive circle, so that in many instance, they came fifty and sixty miles to hear him. It is remarkable that, about this time, there were multiplied instances, in different parts of Virginia, of persons who had never heard any evangelical preaching, but who were brought, through divine grace, to see and feel their wants of vital godliness. Many of these persons, when they heard of Mr. Thomas and other baptist preachers, would travel great distances to hear them, and to procure their services, as ministers of the gospel. By these means the gospel was first carried into the county of Culpepper, as will be related in the history of the Separates.
BROAD RUN CHURCH. As this is one of the oldest, and for a long time was among the most distinguished churches of this State, it may be proper in this place to give a short account of its origin and early operations.
"The manner in which Mr. Thomas was introduced among them, is thus related. A short time previous to his removing to Virginia, two men in this region, without any public preaching, became much concerned about their souls and eternal things; were convinced of the reality of vital religion, and that they were destitute of it. While laboring under these convictions, they heard of the baptists (new-lights, as some called them), in Berkley county, and set out in search of them: — after traveling about sixty miles over a mountainous way, they arrived among them. By their preaching and conversation, they were much enlightened and comforted, and were so happy as to find what had hitherto been to them mysterious, how a weary and heavy-laden sinner might have rest. The name of one of them was Peter Cornwell, who afterwards lived to a good old age, and was so eminent for his piety, as to receive from his neighbors and acquaintances the title of 'St. Peter.' It is relate by Mr. Edwards, that this Peter Cornwell induced Edmund Hays (the same man that removed from Maryland to Virginia, in 1743), to remove and settle near him, and that the interviews between the families of these two men were frequent, and their conversation religious and devout; insomuch, that it soon began to be talked of abroad as a strange thing. Many came to see them, to whom the related what God had done for their souls. They exhorted, prayed, read the Bible and other good books, to the spreading of seriousness through the whole neighborhood; Cornwell and his companion (whose name is not, mentioned) in a short lime made another visit to Berkley, and were baptized; and Divine Providence had so ordered matters, that in this visit they met Mr. Thomas whom they invited to go down; and preach among them. He accepted the invitation, and settled with them as above related, and soon became the instrument of diffusing gospel light in Fauquier and the adjoining counties, where ignorance and superstition had long prevailed."3
Messrs. Thomas and Garrard, sometimes together and at other tithes apart, traveled and propagated the pure principles of Christianity, in all the upper counties of the Northern Neck; but Mr. Thomas was the most active.
"The established clergy, and the friends of the establishment generally, viewed with a jealous eye the successful efforts of the baptists, and adopted various methods to embarrass and defeat them."
The clergy often attacked the preachers from the pulpit; called them false prophets; wolves in sheeps' clothing; and really other hard names equally unappropriate and slanderous. But unfortunately for them, the baptists retorted these charges, by professing to believe their own articles; at least, the leading ones, and charged them with denying them; a charge which they could easily substantiate; for the doctrines most complained of; as advanced by the Baptists, were obviously laid down in the common prayer-book.
When they could not succeed by argument, they would adopt more violent measures. Sometimes the preachers, anti solve who only read sermons and prayed publicly, were carried before the magistrates, anti though loot committed to prison, were sharply reprimanded and cautioned not to be righteous over-much.
The reasons why the Regular Baptists were not so much persecuted as the Separates was, that they had at an early date, applied to the General Court, and obtained licenses for particular places of preaching, under the toleration law of England; but few of their enemies knew the extent of the licenses; most supposing, that they were by there authorized to preach any where in the county.
"The Regulars also were considered less enthusiastic then [than] the Separates. They were often visited by men of note from the Phil. Asso. and having Thomas at their head, whose eloquence was commanding and whose learning was respectable for the times, all those things united, operated in their favor. But in the midst of the greatest oppression and persecution, the Baptist cause still flourished and went forward; new churches were constituted, and young preachers were raised up. Of these, none were more distinguished than Richard Major; although he was past the meridian of life, before he embarked in the ministry.
"He seems to have made such good use of his time, that he did more in the vineyard than many who had toiled all the day. Daniel and William Fristoe, Jeremiah Moore, and others were early fruits of Elder Thomas' ministry. These young heralds uniting their endeavors with those of the more experienced, became zealous laborers in the vineyard of the Lord.4
Before the year 1770, the Regular baptists were spread over the whole country, in the Northern Neck above Fredericksburg. Between 1770 and 1780, their cords still continued to be lengthened. Mr. Lunsford, a young but extraordinary preacher, carried the tidings of peace downwards, and planted the Redeemer's standard in those counties of the Northern Neck, which are below Fredericksburg. Messrs. Corbley, Sutton and Barnet, had moved over the Alleghany, and had raised up several churches in the north-west counties as early as 1775. Mr. John Alderson had gone, in 1777, to Greenbrier, and in a few years raised up a people for God in that region. Besides these, there were some others who moved more southward, and raised up a few churches.
"During the time of the greatest declension of religion among the Virginia Baptists, which prevailed soon after the close of the war, the Regulars were under a cloud as well as their brethren the Separates; and they also participated to the great revival in 1785, and some years following." _____________________
Third company from New England, at that time denominated New Lights,
This company was led hither by Shubeal Stearns, Daniel Marshall, and their associates. The original company, with the adherents which continually gathered around their standard, continued their progress southward, halting at different places on the way, planting churches, leaving portions of their preachers and exhorters to carry forward their evangelizing plans, until the final settlement of Marshall in Georgia.
Their doings at Sandy Creek and vicinity, in N. C., and also at Congeree, in S. C., will be related under the heads of those States.
This company of New England New Lights, was the most important one of the baptist order in this State; and from it originated the great mass of the churches which, with such overwhelming rapidity, spread over most of eastern Virginia, in the course of about a quarter of a century. This State, which was their first stopping place, after leaving the land of their nativity, became the principal scene of their action, suffering, and success. "Here they pushed forward their operations with an ardor approaching to primitive times, amidst all that kind of vexations, ill-bred, ill-natured, and tantalizing hostility, which the minions of a declining hierarchy, with but the shadow of power, were able to maintain."5
Samuel Harris. As this distinguished man was for many years at the heed of the Separate Baptists in this State, before, we proceed in the history of this community, we shall give some brief sketches of his origin, the manner of his introduction into the baptist ministry, and the commencement of his evangelical and successful career. Col. Harris, as he was usually called, was born in Hanover county, January 12, 1724.
Few men could boast of a more respectable parentage. His education, though not the must liberal, was very considerable for the customs of the day. When young, he moved to the county of Pittsylvania; and as he advanced in age, became a favorite with the people as well us with the rulers. He was appointed Church Warden, Sheriff, a Justice of the Peace, Burgess for the county, Colonel of the Militia, Captain of Mayo Fort, and Commissary for the fort and army.
All these offices and honors, with their accompaniments, were disposed of in a very summary manner under the influence of his new impressions. And as he was a man of considerable wealth, he at once went out in his new and ardent vocation at his own cost; and for about thirty year, he was a self-supported missionary in nearly all the then settled parts of this extensive State.
His conversion was effected under the ministry of two young and illiterate preachers, by the name of Joseph and William Murphy, at that time commonly called Murphy's boys. This happened in one of his official tours to visit the forts under his care, soon after he was baptized by Daniel Marshall, in one of his missionary journeys into that region. This event probably took place some time in the year 1758. The year after he was ordained a ruling elder, an office which these descendants of the N. E. Puritans brought with them from their own country.
The baptist historians of Virginia, Leland, Semple, and Taylor, all speak of Mr. Harris in strains of the highest commendation; indeed, some of their eulogies seem to border on the marvelous and superlative.
It was a rare thing, in those times, for men of his worldly distinction to unite with the people who were, in the fullest sense of the passage, every where spoken against. His expansive benevolence in the use of his abundant means for doing good; the child-like simplicity which he always displayed after his conversion; his freedom of intercourse with people of all conditions among his new, and for the most part poor and despised associates; his, blameless life; and finally his pious and irrepressible ardor in the ministerial service; all had a tendency to bind him to the denomination, by strong and lasting ties.
And for a man of his military character and habits, his muscular bowers, and fearless intrepidity, with Christian meekness and submission, with no show of resentment or resistance, in nearly all his first ministerial journeys, to suffer the violent assaults of his rude and persecuting countrymen, must have produced must favorable impressions, on the minds of all candid observers, in favor of his own religious character, and of the cause in which he was engaged.
We have seen that Mr. Harris was ordained ruling elder in 1759.
As a minister, he was not ordained until ten years after.
Eccentricity and new experiments were then the order of the day, and among them came up, in a few years after, the ordination of this venerable man, then fifty years of age, to the office of a Baptist Apostle.
This singular transaction will be described in the close of the history of the Separate Baptists.
We are now prepared to continue the history of the new and zealous operations which come trader this head, and shall make our selections almost verbatim. from Semple's history of the Virginia Baptists.
"Harris seemed destined of God to labor more extensively in Virginia than in any other State. And having dune touch good in his own neighborhood. is the year 1765, the time arrived for him to extend his labors. In January of this year, Allen Wyley, an inhabitant of Culpepper, and who had been baptized by David Thomas, hearing of the Separate Baptist preachers, traveled as far as Pittsylvania, in order to get one or more of them to come and preach in his own county. He traveled on, scarcely knowing whither be went, but an unseen hand directed his course. He providentially fell in with one, of Mr. Harris' meetings. When he came into the meeting-house, Mr. H. fixed his eyes upon him, being impressed previously, that he had some extraordinary message. He asked him whence he came, &c. Mr. W. told him his errand.
Upon which, after some deliberation, believing him to be sent of God, Mr. H. agreed to go. Taking three days to prepare, he set out with Wyley, having no meetings on the way, yet exhorting and praying at every house where he went.
"Arriving at Culpepper, his first meeting was at Wyley's own house. He preached the first day without interruption, and made appointments for the next. But when he began his meeting, such violent opposition was made by a company, who appeared with whips, sticks, clubs and other rustic weapons, as to hinder his labors, in consequence of which he went that night over to Orange County, and preached with much effect. He continued many days preaching from place to place, attended by great crowds, and followed throughout his meetings by several persons who had been either lately converted or seriously awakened under the ministry of the Regular Baptists, and also by many who had been alarmed by his own labors. When Mr. Harris left them, he exhorted them to ire steadfast, and advised some, in whom he discovered talents, to commence the exercise: of their gifts, and to hold meetings among themselves. In this ministerial journey, Mr. Harris sowed much good seed, which yielded afterward great increase. The young converts took his advice, and began to hold meetings every Sabbath, and almost every night in the week, taking a tobacco-house for their meeting-house. After proceeding in this way for some time, they applied to David Thomas, who lived somewhere north of the Rappahannock, to come and preach for them and teach them the ways of God more perfectly; he came, but in his preaching expressed some disapprobation of such weak and illiterate persons. This was like throwing cold water upon their flaming zeal; they took umbrage, and resolved to send once more for Mr. Harris. Sometime in the year 1766, and a short time after Mr. Thomas' preaching, three of the party, viz., Elijah Craig and two others, traveled to Mr. Harris house, in order to procure his services in Orange and the adjacent parts, to preach and baptize new converts. They found, to their surprise, that he had not been ordained to the administration of the ordinances. To remedy this inconvenience, he carried them about 60 miles into North Carolina, to James Read, by whom he was ordained.
"But little is known of the early history of Mr. Read, but from this period he became associated with Mr. Harris in his evangelical excursions, and for marry years held a prominent rank among the ever active Separates."
"He, with many others of that day, was a strong believer in special teachings from heaven as to new enterprises in evangelical labors, and had, as he supposed, a warning from God of the coming of Harris and his companions, similar to that of Peter when called to go to the Gentiles. And, says Mr. Semple, we can hardly for a moment hesitate in placing implicit confidence in its being a contrivance of Divine wisdom.
"Mr. Read, of course, without hesitation, agreed to go. In about two weeks, they arrived at their place of destination and commenced their operations in the usual style of prosperity and success. But now, for the first time, signs of collision between the Regulars and Separates made their appearance, and on the Sabbath following, both parties held meetings but a small distance hour each other. Baptism was administered by both. These. things widened the breach. Messrs. Read and Harris, however, continued their ministrations. Mr. Read baptized nineteen the first day, and more on the days following. They went through Spottsylvania into the upper parts of Caroline, Hanover, and Goochland, sowing the seeds of grace and peace in many places. So much were they inspirited by these meetings, that they made appointments to come again the next year. In their second visit, they were accompanied by the Rev. Dutton Lane, who assisted than in constituting and organizing the first Separate Baptist Church between the Rappahannock and James river; this took place on the 20th of Nov., 1767."
The church was called Upper Spottsylvania, and consisted of 25 members, including all the Separate Baptists north of James River. This was a mother to many other churches.
"Read and Harris continued to visit these parts for about three years, with wonderful effect. In one of their visits, they baptized 75 at one time, and in the course of one of their journeys, which generally lasted several weeks, they baptized upwards of 200. It was not uncommon at their great meetings, for many hundreds of men to encamp on the ground, in order to be present the next day. The night meetings, through the great work of God, continued
very late; the ministers would scarcely have an opportunity to sleep. Sometimes the floor would be covered with persons struck down under the conviction of sin. It frequently happened, that when they would retire to rest at a late hour, they would be under the necessity of arising again, through the earnest cries of the penitent. There were instances of persons traveling more than one hundred miles to one of these meetings; to go forty or fifty was not uncommon.
"On account of the great increase of members through the labors of Messrs. Read and Harris, aided by a number of young preachers, it was necessary to constitute several other churches."
The young preachers referred to were Messrs. Lewis and Elijah Craig, John Waller, James Childs, John Burns, William Webber, Joseph Anthony, Reuben Ford, William Mullen, James Greenwood, and others. These young prophets, most of whom were entirely caught by the spirit of the older ones, and were the means of propagating the sentiments of the baptists to a wide extent in opposition to magistrates and mobs and all the array of a most vulgar and determined hostility.6 ______________
The great body of the Separates, divided into three Associations, in 1770.
The Ketockton Association comprised the great mass of the Regular Baptist, in this State at this time; and although the two parties had gone on in a sort of arms-end harmony, the period had now arrived when a portion of each side felt a strong desire for a full and cordial union with each other.
The Regulars took the lead in this laudable effort and sent as messengers to the Separate party, Messrs. Garrard, Major, and Sanders, with a kind and conciliating letter, of which the following is an extract:
"Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ:
"The bearers of this letter can acquaint you with the design of writing it. Their errand is peace, and their business is a reconciliation between its, if there is any difference subsisting. If we are all christians, all baptists, all new-lights, why are we divided? Must the little appellative names, Regular and Separate, break the golden band of charity, and set the sons and daughters of Zion at variance? 'Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,' but how bad and how bitter it is for them to lice asunder in discord! To indulge ourselves in prejudice is soon a disorder; and to quarrel about nothing, is irregularity with a witness. O, our dear brethren, endeavor to prevent this calamity for the future."
This excellent letter was presented to the Association, and after a lengthy debate, the proposal for a union was rejected by a small majority.
Their answer to the Regulars was:
"Excuse us in love; for we are acquainted with our own order, but not so well with yours; and if there is a difference, we might ignorantly jump into that which will make us rue it," &c.
This effort was made in 1769.
At the meeting of the great community of Separates in 1770, their harmony was much interrupted and their assembly assumed a new and unpleasant appearance, and the division of the Association, which convenience would have dictated, was now effected from painful necessity. It had been usual for them to do nothing in Associations but by unanimity. If, in any measure proposed, there was it single dissentient, they labored first by arguments to come to it unanimous agreement; when arguments failed, they resorted to frequent prayer, in which all joined; when both these failed, they sometimes appointed the next day for fasting and prayer, and strove to bring all to be of one mind. At this session they split in their first business; nothing could be done the first day. They appointed the next for fasting and prayer. They met and labored the whole day, and could do nothing, not even appoint a Moderator. The third day was appointed for the same purpose, and to be observed in the same way. They met early and continued together until three o'clock in the afternoon, without having accomplished anything: a proposal was then made,
that the Association should be divided into three districts, that is, one in each State. To this there was a unanimous consent at once.
"The cause of this division (says Mr. Edwards) was partly for convenience, but it was chiefly owing to a mistake which this Association fell into relative to their power and jurisdiction. They carried matters so high as to unfellowship ordinations, ministers, and churches, that acted independent of them; and pleading 'that though complete power be in every church, yet every church can transfer it to an Association,' which is as much as to say that a man may take out his eyes, ears, &c., and give them to another to see, hear, &c., for him; for, if power be fixed by Christ in a particular church, they cannot transfer it, nay, should they formally give it away, yet it is not gone away."
The division above referred to, was made in the following manner: —
The churches in South Carolina formed an association called Congaree.
Those in North Carolina still retained the old name of Sandy Creek, while the Virginia churches united under the name of Rapid-ann, which was more generally known by the name of the General Association of Separate Baptists, which for the twelve following years embraced all the churches of the Separate order in the colony, except those which were dismissed in 1776, to form the Strawberry Association.
From this growing body, as from a fruitful mother, have originated most of the present Associations in the State.
General Association, &c., when first set off, contained but 14 churches, which were scattered in almost as many counties, and many of them were high up in the State, both as it respects the sea-coast and the southern boundary; must of them, however, were situated on the south of James River.
In their early movements, they put a veto on all interference with the independency of the churches, and resolved, according to the old Baptist doctrine, that an Association is merely an advisory council.
In 1773 they had increased to thirty-four churches, and upwards of three thousand members,
Three Baptist Apostles were ordained, in 1774.
The following query, viz.: Are all the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, mentioned in Eph. 4 and 11, now in use? had been introduced at a previous session. Two days were spent in debating the subject, and then its decision was deferred till the next meeting. This novel subject was discussed with warmth and interest, both in their assemblies and during the recess of their session.
Jeremiah Walker and Reuben Ford, each one, wrote a pamphlet — the first for and the other against the proposed measure. Both of these men were followed by large and respectable parties, and their productions were read in the meeting. But the apostolical succession, by a large majority, finally prevailed, and as we have before stated, the venerable Samuel Harris was solemnly invested with this high and dignified function.
"The ordination was conducted in the following, manner, as appears by the Minutes of the Association: — 'The day being set apart as a fast day, we immediately proceeded to ordain him, and the hands of every ordained minister were laid upon him.7 Public prayer was made by John Waller, Elijah Craig, and John Williams. John Waller gave a public charge, and the whole Association gave him the right hand of fellowship.' The work assigned to this apostle, was to pervade the churches, for the purpose of performing, or, at least, superintending the work of ordination, and to set in order the things that are wanting; and he was ordered to report the success of his mission at the next Association. And for the discipline of this high officer, the following law was enacted, viz.: 'If our Messenger, or Apostle, shall transgress in any manner he shall he liable to dealing in any church where the transgression was committed; and the said church is instructed to call helps from two or three neighboring churches; and if by them found a transgressor, a general conference of all the churches shall be called, to restore, or excommunicate him.'"
At this time there was a temporary division of this extensive body, and James River was the dividing line; and the northern half; not to be outdone by the
southern section, not long after, in the same year, appointed for their apostles, John Waller and Elijah Craig.
Thus Virginia, whose ecclesiastical affairs were formerly managed by Bishops, now beheld within her bounds three baptist Apostles, of what line of succession the records do not define. But these distinguished functionaries made their first report in rather discouraging terms, and no others were ever appointed.
The two divisions just referred to, reunited in the following year, when it was found that the whole number of churches amounted to 60; of which 31 were on the north, and 29 on the southern side of the river.
Disputes about doctrines. At this session, the Association was most painfully agitated, by the discussion of the following very serious and important question, viz.
Is salvation by Christ made possible for every individual of the human race?
One whole day was spent in debating this subject, and most of the preachers took part in the debate. Those who supported the affirmative were called Arminians, the other side were denominated Calvinists.
Had these brethren been acquainted with the distinctions made by Fuller and others, of a general provision and particular application, it would have relieved them from embarrassment and altercation.
Although these discussions were continued, and the two parties had rallied around different standards in separate assemblies, yet no lasting injury ensued.
By mutual concessions and explanations, a reunion of the conflicting parties was effected during the same meeting, and they retired from the scene a united body.
In 1776. this great Association had increased to 74 churches; but the troubles and embarrassments of the war of the revolution, in a great measure checked their progress and prosperity; their meetings generally were but thinly attended, and their principal transactions appear to have consisted in making exertions to free themselves from the civil grievances and oppression under which they as a denomination labored. ___________
Union of the Regulars and Separates in 1787.
The schism which took place among the Regulars and Separate Baptists in 1766, soon after their rise in the State, had continued without being completely healed for about twenty years, although a friendly intercourse bad been occasionally kept up amongst them. But now the happy period had arrived, in which all the dispute between these two bodies were compromised, buried and forgotten. The adjustment of these disputes was conducted by the General Committee on the part of the Separates, and on that of the Regulars by delegates for the purpose from the Ketockton Association; and tool; place at the fourth session of the General Committee, which was held at Dover meeting-house in Goochland county. At this meeting, delegates from six Associations of the Separates and a number from the Ketockton were assembled, when, pursuant to a previous appointment, the subject of the union between the Regulars and Separates was taken up, and after a brief and temperate discussion of their differences, a happy and effectual union was formed, and their party names dismissed and buried.
The objections on the part of the Separates related chiefly to matters of trivial importance, such as dress, &c., and had been for some time removed, so as to be no bar of communion. On the other hand, the Regulars complained, that the Separates were not sufficiently explicit in their principles, having never published or sanctioned any confession of faith; and that they kept within their communion many who were professed Arminians.8 To these things it was answered, by the Separates, that a large majority of them believed as much in
their confession of faith as they did themselves, although they did not entirely approve of the practice of religious societies binding themselves too strictly by confessions of faith, seeing there was danger of their finally usurping too high a place; that if there were some among them who leaned too much to the Arminian system, they were men of exemplary piety and great usefulness in the Redeemer's kingdom; and they conceived it better to bear with some diversity of opinion in doctrines, than to break with men whose Christian deportment rendered them amiable in the estimation of all true lovers of genuine godliness. Indeed, that some of them had now become fathers in the gospel, who, previous to the bias which their minds had received, had borne the brunt and heat of persecution, whose labors and sufferings God had done, and still continued to bless to the great advancement of his cause — to exclude such as those from their communion, would be like tearing the limbs from the body.
These and such like arguments were agitated both in public and private, so that all minds were much mollified before the final and successful attempt for union was made. The terms of the union were entered on the Minutes in the following words, viz.
"The committee appointed to consider the terms of union with our Regular brethren, reported, 'that they conceive the manner in which the regular baptist confession of faith has beau received by a former Association, is the ground-work for such union.’ The manner of this reception was, that they should retain their liberty with regard to the construction of some of the objectionable articles."
After considerable debate, as to the propriety of having any confession of faith at all, the report of the committee was received, with the following explanation:
"To prevent the Confession of Faith from usurping a tyrannical power over the consciences of any, we do not mean that every person is bound to the strict observance of every thing therein contained; yet that it holds forth the essential truths of the gospel, and that the doctrine of salvation by Christ, and free and unmerited grace alone ought to be believed by every Christian, and maintained by every minister of the gospel. Upon these terms we are united and desire hereafter that the name of Regular and Separate he buried in oblivion, and that from henceforth we shall be known by the name of the UNITED BAPTIST CHURCHES IN VIRGINIA."
This union took place when a revival of religion had commenced, which soon broke forth on the right hand and on the left, throughout the State; "and nothing," says Mr. Semple, their historian, "could be more salutary than this conjunction of dissevered brethren, and the accommodating temper of the parties by which it was effected; and they have, from that period to the present time, most fully demonstrated that it was an union of hearts as well as parties."9 ____________
1. Semple's History of the Baptists in Virginia, passim.
2. Morgan Edwards' MS. History of the Baptists in Virginia.
3. Semple and Morgan' History of the Virginia Baptists.
4. Semple's History, &c.
5. Semple's History, &c.
6. Semple's History, &c.
7. It would seem, by the above account, that those who had opposed the establishment of apostles, had retired from the Association before the offensive measure was adopted.
8. The reader must keep in mind, that in this day those were called Arminians who held to the universal provision of the gospel, or that the atonement of Christ was general in its nature.
9. History of the Virginia Baptists. Many of the preceeding statements which are not formally quoted, have been taken from that work. [Semple]
[From David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1848, pp. 641-652. — jrd
Section II of Benedict's "Virginia History"
Virginia Baptist History
Baptist History Homepage