Seventh Day Baptists in America


L. A. Platts

The writer of this paper does not claim for his work the merit of originality. He has sought to bring together in a more connected form material the most of which has been before published in fragments. He acknowledges his indebtedness to The Seventh-day Baptist Memorial, published in 1852, 3, 4; James Bailey's History of the General Conference, 1866; The Seventh-day Baptist Quarterly, 1884; sundry articles published at different times in The Sabbath Recorder; A History of Washington County, R.I, found in the Library of Milton College, and to Mr. C. H. Greene, of Alfred, N. Y., for some unpublished data gathered by him from various records to which he has recently found access. The writer has verified some points, especially in the New Jersey history, by his own examination of original records.


The history of the first Seventh-day Baptists in America is a chapter of that general struggle for religious liberty and the rights of conscience which is so familiar to the student of our colonial times. It is the purpose of this paper to describe briefly the origin of this people in America, and trace their growth to the organization of the General Conference in 1802. This will be done, after this Introduction, under five heads, viz.: First Seventh-day Baptists in America; Church Extension; Doctrinal Standards; Religious Spirit and Life; Business and Public Life.

The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was heralded by the song of "Peace on earth, good will toward men;" and the Bringer of the good tidings was called, with the utmost appropriateness, "The Prince of Peace." With great propriety it should be expected that the followers of the Prince, possessing his spirit, would bear the same good tidings to the dwellers of all lands, and in the final outcome, make an end of all bitterness and strife. Notwithstanding this reasonable expectancy, it is an acknowledged fact that, of all controversies waged by men, none have been characterized by greater vehemence and bitterness than those which have grown out of differences in religious faith and practice. It is not the province of this paper to inquire after the causes of this paradoxical phenomenon, but its bearing upon the origin of Seventh-day Baptists in America cannot be ignored. The particular phases of religious belief and practice for which men have striven and suffered have been many and varied; the processes of the struggle have been essentially the same. He who has dared to believe outside of the prescribed creed, or to act contrary to the established ritual, has first been ridiculed, then denounced, and finally persecuted until he has been compelled to leave the church which he has vainly hoped to reform and take his stand alone for a better way. If his cause has been worthy, there have gathered about him others of similar faith and experience, and thus has been born a movement which has become of world-wide importance. Thus when Martin Luther framed his immortal theses against the corruptions of the Church of Rome, it was his sole purpose to correct the abuses against which he raised his clarion voice. His separation from the church, which he loved, and the Protestant Reformation, with which his name will always be associated, formed no part of his original thought or plan. The great Protestant movement was the result of the efforts of the church to force him and his followers into unquestioning submission to the iron tyranny of the Papacy. The controversies of the next century, which arose within the Protestant church, resulted in a similar way in a separation of the Independents from the English Established Church, giving what is, more familiarly known as the Puritan movement. A little later, the English Baptists were compelled to become independent of the Independents, or stifle their convictions on the question of Bible baptism. The Baptist rule, applied to the Bible teaching concerning the Sabbath, made many of these Baptists Seventh-day Baptists: and these, too, soon found that all hope of reform within the church was hopeless, and were compelled to take their stand alone for conscience's sake.

As the Seventh-day Baptist cause in America dates back almost to Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower, a brief statement of conditions at that time seems necessary to a proper understanding of its origin.

During the first decade of the seventeenth century, the church of Independents at Scrooby, England, in order to escape the growing intolerance of the Established church, had emigrated, under the leadership of John Robinson, to Holland. Ten years of experience sufficed to convince them that the liberty of conscience which they sought was not to be found in that country. Face to face with failure if they remained, and almost certain of sorer trials should they return to England, they determined to try their fortunes in the new world. Accordingly, after many discouragements, and great suffering, the ever-famous Mayflower band of Pilgrims landed, December 20, 1620, at Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; and began that struggle for life and the rights of conscience for which they had already suffered much, and were destined to suffer yet much more. Soon their numbers were increased by other emigrants from Holland and by larger numbers who fled from the cruel tyranny of Archbishop Laud in England. Strange as it may seem, these sufferers for conscience's sake began, almost from the beginning of their settlement, to formulate their doctrines and practices into laws which were quite as severe against those who dissented from them as were those of the mother church from which they had fled. To escape these severities colonists of the Baptist faith pressed their way through the unbroken forests to the New Haven Colony, now Connecticut. Here again they were driven from place to place until finally they took a more united stand on the island of Rhode Island, where now stands the city of Newport. Here was organized the first Baptist church in the colonies, which was destined to become the principal source of the great Baptist family of churches in the United States. These Rhode Island settlements, including Newport, Providence and Portsmouth, soon became the basis of the Rhode Island Colony, afterwards assuming the more pretentious name of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Foremost among the names of the men who carried these movements to success stands that of Roger Williams. Associated with him, and scarcely less efficient and influential in this pioneer work were Samuel Hubbard, the Clarkes - John, Thomas and Joseph - and a number of others, some of whose names have become household words in many Seventh-day Baptist homes to the present day.


About the year 1664, Mr. Stephen Mumford, a member of the Bell Lane Seventh-day Baptist church, in London, came to Rhode Island, and finding no church of his faith, he affiliated with the Baptist church in Newport. During the next few years, a number of the members of that church embraced his views concerning the Sabbath and the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments. Prominent among these were Samuel and Tacy Hubbard and their daughter, Rachel; William Hiscox, Roger Baster, Nicholas Wild and wife and John Solmon and wife. Most of these had suffered with the Puritans for their faith and thus were trained for the trials through which they were soon to pass. It was not their intention to sever their connection with the Baptist church, for they thought surely a people who had suffered as the Baptists had done for Bible baptism would fellowship those who observed and defended the Bible Sabbath. They soon discovered, however, that, even in the church of Roger Williams, liberty of conscience meant liberty to believe and practice according to established dogmas and decrees. Elder John Clark, Mark Luker and Obadiah Holmes, who were leaders in the church, began to preach against the practice of the Sabbath-keepers and to denounce them as heretics and schismatics. Mr. Clark, especially, taught that the whole of the Ten Commandments was done away, and that, therefore, these Sabbath-keepers had denied Christ and gone back to the "beggarly elements." His associates, while not always agreeing with his doctrines concerning the law, were quite agreed in opposing the course of these Sabbath-keepers. The controversy became so sharp that four of the number- Nicholas Wild and wife and John Solmon and wife gave up the struggle and returned to First-day keeping. This was not only a serious loss to the little company, but it also complicated, in no small degree, their relations to the church. The tension of feeling, caused by the controversy, had already raised the question of the propriety of taking the communion with the church. Now that four of their number, who had been enlightened on the Sabbath truth and who had forsaken it, were still members and regular communicants in the church, the question of communing with them became more difficult. After much prayer they decided that they could not commune with these persons and consequently could not commune with the church. This brought the case to an open trial. The Sabbath-keepers were cited to appear before the church and show cause why they had denied Christ not only in going to Moses for the Law, but had again denied him in refusing the emblems of his body and blood. They joyfully appeared at the appointed time and place, expecting a fair hearing. But they soon found that the purpose of the meeting was not to hear the reasons for their faith and practice, but to point out to them their "error," and to compel them to abandon it. When they proposed that William Hiscox speak for the company, in which they were all agreed, the church persistently refused to hear him. After a long controversy, in which feelings, on both sides, grew more intense, the accused came to consider themselves the aggrieved rather than the offending party, and Tacy Hubbard , "gave forth the grounds" for their grievance in three pointed items:

1. The apostasy of those four persons.

2. That speech of Brother Holmes, "Woe to the world because of offenses;" in which discourse he said, "Offenses are such as arise from brethren of the church, such as deny Christ, and have turned to Moses in observing days, times, years, etc., and that it is better that a millstone were hanged about the neck of such, and they be cast into the sea."

3. The dismal laying aside of the ten precepts together with the leading brethren denying of them at the meeting.

In the discussions which followed, Elder Hiscox, and Tacy and Samuel Hubbard stoutly defended both the positions which they held and their right to hold them in precisely the same way as that in which they, together with those who are now opposing them, had defended the cause of the Baptists in the Puritan controversy. They also bore grateful testimony to the joy they found in keeping God's Holy Sabbath. Failing to obtain any relief from the strain of the situation, and becoming convinced that they could not keep the Sabbath and walk in fellowship with the church, the faithful five formally withdrew December 7, 1671. A little later, December 23, 1671, they, with Stephen Mumford and wife, seven in all, entered into solemn covenant with each other, as the First Seventh-day Baptist church of Newport - the first church of that faith on the American continent. In the year 1684, only thirteen years after the organization of the first church of Newport, Abel Noble came to America and purchased a large tract of land in Ducks County, Pennsylvania, about twenty-five miles north of Philadelphia, and about twenty-five or thirty miles west of Trenton, N. J. It has been generally believed that Mr. Noble was a Seventh-day Baptist preacher in England. Data more recently discovered lead to the conclusion that this was a mistake. What his church connection was is not clear; but soon after his settlement in Pennsylvania he began to travel somewhat extensively in various sections of New Jersey, where he met the Rev. Thomas Chillingworth, an eminent Baptist preacher, who was believed to have organized the first Baptist church in New Jersey at Piscataway, near New Brunswick. By him Mr. Noble was baptized. At this time there were large numbers of Quakers in the vicinity of Philadelphia both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Among, these there arose a dissension concerning the sufficiency of the "Inner Light" and the value of the Scriptures as the rule of faith and practice. This resulted in a division, large numbers embracing substantially the Baptist doctrine under the leadership of George Keith. Abel Noble appears to have been prominent among these people, where he seems to have had great influence. Not far from this time, while on a tour through East New Jersey, Mr. Noble met the Rev. William Gillette, M.D., from Saybrook, or Milford, Conn., who was a Seventh-day Baptist, and through his teaching Mr. Noble accepted the Sabbath doctrine and returned to his home to proclaim it. Through his labors a considerable number of the Keithian Baptists were converted to the Sabbath, concerning whom more will be said in the next chapter of this paper.

In the last decade of the seventeenth century, Edmund Dunham was a deacon and licensed preacher in the Baptist church at Piscataway, New Jersey. In 1702 he took occasion to reprove a Mr. Bonham for performing labor upon the First day of the week. Whereupon Mr. Bonham challenged him for the proof that it was sin to labor on that day. Whether Mr. Bonham was a Sabbath-keeper or not is not clear; but the challenge caused Mr. Dunham to make a thorough investigation of the whole subject which resulted in his conversion to the Sabbath. The whole community appears to have been deeply stirred over the matter and many people betook themselves to a prayerful study of the Scriptures, and a number of persons were led to acknowledge the claims of the Sabbath. Like the little band at Newport, little more than a generation before, it was not the intention of these brethren to separate themselves from the Baptist church. But the agitation became so strong and the feeling on both sides so intense that the only hope of peace and the enjoyment of freedom of speech and practice lay in their separation and the organization of a Seventh-day Baptist church. This was accomplished in the summer of 1705 under the name of the First Seventh-day Baptist Church of Piscataway, New Jersey. It was composed of 17 members. From these three centers - Newport, Philadelphia and Piscataway, the truth of the Sabbath, following the tides of emigration westward, moved forward in three distinct lines.


From the organization of the first church at Newport in 1671 to the organization of the Seventh-day Baptist General Conference in 1802, the period covered by this paper, was 131 years. They were eventful years in the history of the country - years of consecrated Christian living, of clear thinking and of earliest defence and propagation of religious truth, as well as years of hard fought battles for civil and political liberty. The pioneer Seventh-day Baptists were men and women of marked character. They bore well their part in all these great movements.

The little church at Newport grew, both by the coming of Seventh-day Baptists from England and by frequent conversions to the Sabbath in the colony; but whether by one method or the other, the new accessions were accessions of real strength.

The first pastor was William Hiscox, one of the first Sabbath converts under the teaching of Stephen Mumford. He was a man of great ability and sterling integrity. He was chosen by the Baptist church in Newport to defend the Baptist faith in an open discussion with the Puritans in Boston, after he had become widely known as a Seventh-day Baptist and the pastor of a church of that faith. As was to have been expected the church grew rapidly under his able and faithful ministry. A considerable number having settled in the town of Misquamicutt, afterward called Westerly, on the main land, meetings were held among them as well as upon the island. Mr. Hiscox was assisted in his labors during the latter part of his pastorate by Elder William Gibson, who was a Seventh-day Baptist preacher in London, England, before coming to America. On the death of Elder Hiscox, in 1704, after a fruitful pastorate of 33 years, Elder Gibson became the pastor in full charge, and continued in the office for the next 13 years. In the early part of his pastorate, 1708, a church on the main land was organized. At first this church was known as the Seventh-day Baptist church of Westerly; but years afterwards, when the township was divided and the northwestern part became the town of Hopkinton, the church took the name of the First Seventh-day Baptist Church of Christ in Hopkinton, the name by, which it is still known. This step was not taken, however, without much thought and earnest prayer, for, though the number of those residing in Westerly was rapidly outgrowing the number remaining in Newport, and, although the advantage of having a church with the ordinances of the gospel in their midst was apparent to all, the common experiences and labors of those who had stood together for a generation, had formed ties too strong to be easily severed. It was not until some plan for joint meetings of the two churches, and apparently for the interchange of ministerial labor had been made that the Newport brethren consented to the division. As early, as 1696, twelve years before the organization of the church in Westerly, an Annual Meeting was appointed to be held at Newport, at which it was expected that all the brethren from the mainland, as well as those upon the island, should be present. This annual meeting was continued through this entire period and may be regarded as the nucleus around which the General Conference was finally gathered. As the number of members grew and the difficulty of getting a general attendance at Newport increased, the sessions began to be held in Westerly. These meetings were occasions of great spiritual refreshing. The preaching was with much fervor, strengthening and encouraging the people of God, awakening the careless, and often leading multitudes to the foot of the cross for peace and pardon. In the regular work of the two churches although each had its own pastor, there appears to have been much preaching and pastoral work performed interchangeably, or in co-operation. Eld. Gibson., the second pastor of the Newport church, resided in Westerly both while assistant to Eld. Hiscox and after he became his successor. The third of the Newport pastors was Joseph Crandall, who served the church continuously for 37 years. During this long period sixty persons were added to the church by baptism. He was followed by John Maxson, who served the church 24 years, under whose labors nearly as many more were added to the church.

The next and last pastorate of this period was that of Wm. Bliss, which extended from 1779 to 1808, six years beyond the organization of the General Conference. During this pastorate ninety-five were added to the church. While the figures can not be accurately given, it is probable that not less than 250 persons, during these years, were added to the Newport church, although at the organization of the Conference the church reported 80 members. Making a liberal allowance for losses by death and some falling away from the faith, there must have been a large number who had moved to other localities. Without doubt, the larger part of these united with the church at Westerly, which, meanwhile, had grown to a membership of more than 600, living in Western Rhode Island, Eastern Connecticut and the eastern end of Long Island. The scattered condition of the church made the labors of the pastor arduous, so that for much of the time, men were called by the church to the ministry and ordained as assistant pastors, and not infrequently deacons were given authority to administer the ordinances as occasion might require. On account of this joint pastorship, it is difficult to give, with accuracy, the succession of pastors of the Westerly church. Among them we find the names of John Maxson, Sen., John Maxson, Jr., Thos. Hiscox, Thos. Clarke, Joshua Clarke, John Burdick, and others.

Before the organization of the Conference, settlements had been extended to New London, Conn., where a church was organized in 1784; to the Little Hoosic Valley, in Rensselaer County, New York, where a church was organized in 1780, which took the name of Hoosic, later Petersburg, and now Berlin and to Brookfield, in Madison County, New York, where the First Seventh-day Baptist church of Brookfield was organized in 1797. All of these churches continue until the present time. Besides these, churches were organized along this route of emigration, which have long since ceased to exist, but some of which contributed largely to the strength and growth of our people in other localities. Chief among these were Burlington, Conn., 1780, Bristol, Conn., sometimes called Farmington, 1790, and Oyster Pond, L. I., about 1790. Besides these organized churches, there were small groups of Sabbath-keepers, or families of lone Sabbath-keepers, all along this line. From Oyster Pond, Long Island, from Saybrook, Conn., where lived the Gillette family, and from Rhode Island, originated the church in Monmouth County, New Jersey, sometimes called the church of Squam. These nine churches, the result of the New England movement, were all in active existence at the time of the organization of the Conference and numbered, in all, about 1,200 members. The church last named had a short and somewhat peculiar history. It was organized in 1745, and about 1790, under the lead of its third pastor, the Rev. Jacob Davis, it removed bodily to Woodbridgetown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania, where a church was organized which reported to the Conference as late as 1853. The pastor, and a few others, soon after the settlement at Woodbridgetown, resumed the line of emigration, until they reached New Salem, Virginia, now Salem, West Virginia. Three or four years later than this, Eld. Davis returned to Woodbridgetown on a missionary visit, where he was taken sick and died. His descendants, in large numbers, continue till the present time, and form a considerable part of the Sabbath-keepers in West Virginia, and elsewhere. It is said that there has not been a generation of this family without a representation in the ministry of the Seventh-day Baptist church from Wm. Davis, who came to this country in 1682, to the present time, - a period of 221 years, the writer of this paper being one of the number. The venerable Samuel D. Davis of Jane Lew, West Virginia, is a grandson of Eld. Jacob Davis, above mentioned.

The Seventh-day Baptist movement begun by Abel Noble among the Keithian Quaker Baptists, near Philadelphia, had a rapid development. Almost within the first quarter of the 18th century there had sprung up four or five churches of considerable size among these people. Comparatively little is known of them now, but we have the names of French Creek Pennepek, Upper Providence, Nottingham, and Newtown. We also have the names of several men who preached to the people of these churches. Foremost among these stands the name of Abel Noble, though no record has been found which would indicate that he was ever a member of any of the churches. After him is Enoch David, some of whose descendants are still living among our people, and then follow Thomas Martin, William and Philip Davis, Lewis Williams, Thomas Rutter - and possibly some others, concerning whom little is known, except that they were preachers of the Gospel in these churches. While each church had its own place of meeting and maintained its own appointments for worship, they had a Yearly Meeting, which all were expected to attend. As the churches were located in adjoining counties, this was not difficult. While this Yearly Meeting was sometimes held with one church and sometimes with another, Newtown appears to have been the principal place of assembly, which leads to the conclusion that this was regarded as one of the stronger churches. To a Yearly Meeting held at French Creek, in 1745. the church at Piscataway, New Jersey, sent Jonathan Dunham for ordination. This service was performed by Elder Lewis Williams and Abel Noble.

One of these churches, probably Nottingham, was located close to the line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and some of its members lived in Cecil County in the latter named state. Among these were several families of Bonds who soon moved on through Maryland and Delaware, and finally settled on Lost Creek, in Virginia, thus forming a second center from which has sprung another large part of the Seventh-day Baptist family in West Virginia of the present day, and thence spread to various other points throughout the denomination. Other families from these churches took a line of emigration still further southward and formed settlements and organized churches in Georgia and South Carolina. These little settlements were short lived, and the active life of the group near Philadelphia was limited to this period, the only visible, permanent result of the movement being the portion which was transplanted into the Lost Creek region. A burying ground near Newtown still marks the site of that church.

The Piscataway movement, though not as wide spread as the New England movement, was more permanent than that just described. At the organization of the church in 1705, its founder, Edmund Dunham, was chosen pastor, and was sent to Newport for ordination. The Yearly Meeting convened that year in Westerly, and there Mr. Dunham was ordained by Eld. Gibson, the Newport pastor. The members of this church were widely scattered so that the pastor, in the performance of his duties, had to make long journeys, which he did either on foot or on horseback, covering the country for a distance of thirty or forty miles. Though the principal place of meeting was at Piscataway, regular meetings were also held in Hopewell Township, and at Trenton; meetings were also held at numerous other places, but less statedly than at the three principal points just mentioned. Eld. Dunham performed these labors for a period of 29 years, during which time the church grew to over 70 members. His son, Jonathan Dunham, succeeded him, serving the church for eleven years as a licensed preacher, rather than as pastor, finally accepting ordination, which took place at the Yearly Meeting at French Creek, in Pennsylvania, as already stated. After his ordination, he continued to serve the church until his death in 1777, a period of 32 years, making a continuous service of 43 years. As will be seen by the date above given, Eld. Dunham died in the early part of the Revolutionary War. New Jersey forming the coast line between Eastern New York and Eastern Pennsylvania, was naturally the storm center of that great contest; and the town of Piscataway, lying in the direct route between the port of New York and the port of Philadelphia, by way of Bordentown and Trenton, the church at Piscataway was exposed to the manifold hardships of such a struggle - the desolations of war. Many of its able-bodied men, as privates or officers, joined the patriot army: others gathered together their live stock, and, taking such of their household effects as they could conveniently carry, with their families, sought greater safety in the mountains lying a few miles to the north of them; and still others, who could not get away or would not go, remained to give such aid as they could, from their fields or from their scanty stores, to the suffering patriots, or to see their possessions wasted by the British soldiery, as the varying fortunes of war might determine. Under these distressing conditions, the church was sadly broken up. There was no pastor to hold the scattered remnants together, and for a number of years, Sabbath meetings were held only at irregular intervals. After the successful issue of the great struggle the survivors returned from the army, or from their temporary homes in the mountains, and began to resume their peaceful vocations in homes desolated by war. Under these conditions, Eld. Nathan Rogers came from New London (Waterford). Connecticut, and took the pastoral care of the scattered flock in 1786, and during the next eleven years, 65 persons were added to the church. He was followed in 1797 by Eld. Henry McLafferty, who was still the pastor when the General Conference was organized in 1802.

In the decade between 1730 and 1740, families from different points within the boundaries of the Piscataway church, made settlements on the Cohansey Creek, in Cumberland County, New Jersey, about 40 miles south from Philadelphia. These were joined by others from Shrewsbury, and in 1737 they were constituted a church in sister relation. The first pastor was Eld. Jonathan Davis, who, together with several others of that name, was a descendant of a family of Davises, who came to this country from Glamorganshire, Wales, about 1649, and settled somewhere in New Jersey. Subsequently they lived on Long Island, then near Trenton, N. J.; thence they removed to Cohansey. Somewhere, probably in the course of this itinerary, they came in contact with Sabbath-keepers, and most of them appear to have embraced the Sabbath. It is believed that Eld. William Gillette, M. D., who was a Sabbath-keeping French Hugenot refugee, was the man through whose influence this was brought about. Elder Davis served the church faithfully and acceptably for 32 years, during which time the church grew to several times its original numbers. The pastor, at the end of this period, was Eld. Nathan Avers, when the church numbered go members. Within the next ten years, in 1811, a number of the members of this church, living principally in Salem County, north-west from the Cohansey settlement, were organized into the church known as the Seventh-day Baptist church of Marlboro; and in 1838, fifty-one members, principally of the Piscataway church, were duly organized as the Seventh-day Baptist church of Plainfield, in Union County. Thus this movement resulted eventually in four- churches in New Jersey, which with subsequent accessions, have continued strong and active to the present day.

Besides those who have remained to maintain the life and usefulness of these churches, members have gone out from them to find a place of usefulness and honor in almost every Seventh-day Baptist church of the central and northern streams of emigration from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts.

Thus from these original centers, Newport, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Piscataway, New Jersey, streams of Seventh-day Baptist emigration flowed westward through Connecticut into New York State, through Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, into Virginia, and southwestward into the Carolinas and Georgia, until in 1802, there were not less than 20 churches and settlements of Sabbath-keepers, in nine or ten colonies or states, and numbering about 2,000 members. Eight of these churches, being the larger ones, numbering between 1,100 and 1,200 members reported to the General Conference at its first anniversary in 1803.


As we have already seen, the earliest Seventh-day Baptists in America were adherents of the Baptist church. In general terms, therefore, they may be said to have held the tenets of that body, parting company with them on the doctrine of the Sabbath, and the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments. The extreme congregationalism of the Baptist people which gave absolute independence to the individual church in all matters of discipline, extended itself quite generally to the adoption of articles of faith. For this reason they never had formal standards of doctrine applicable to all churches in any such sense as such standards apply to Presbyterian and ritualistic churches. Seventh-day Baptists were even more independent than the Baptists, from whom they came. If there was general agreement between the articles of faith of different churches, it was the agreement of individuals having common experiences, purposes and hopes, rather than the uniformity arising from the acceptance of a creed imposed by some central, authoritative body. All Seventh-day Baptist creeds, so far as they have come to the knowledge of the writer, have recognized the person and attributes of God, together with his sovereign power over all his creatures, the nature and destiny of man, salvation through Jesus Christ, sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures as the rule of faith and practice. They have also generally added special statements concerning the Bible doctrine of Baptism, the Sabbath, the Lord's Supper, the Resurrection of the dead, the judgment and the future existence of both the righteous and the wicked.

A few specifications will serve to show where the emphasis of doctrinal thought in these early times was laid. For generations, running down to, and through, the period covered by this paper, were the parallel doctrines of the Sovereignty of God, and the Free-will of man. Ultra-Calvanism, on the one hand, exalted the Divine Sovereignty in such a manner and to such a degree as to render any exercise of the human will practically impossible; Ultra-Armenianism, on the other hand, gave so much prominence to the freedom of the human will, that it seemed to leave very little room for the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of a man in his conversion or in his subsequent religious life. The original Baptists were strongly Calvinistic. Leading men among Seventh-day Baptists early sought the medium ground on which the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty might be held consistently with the doctrine of the freedom of the human will, without which, they held, there could, be no human choices and, consequently, no human responsibility. Thus, all unconsciously, our fathers became forerunners in the adoption of that modified Calvinism now generally adopted by churches once severely Calvinistic.

Again, there appears to have been pretty well defined notions upon the doctrine of the person of Christ. When a certain brother from New Jersey went to Rhode Island and offered himself for membership in the church at Newport, warning was sent from New Jersey that he was not orthodox. On examination it was found that he held that Jesus Christ was not a divine person, nor a human person but a mixture of the two. "The Divine nature," he said, "united with the human nature to form a third nature that was neither divine nor human." He illustrated his thought by saying that when water and wine mix in a glass, the content is thenceforth neither water nor wine. In other words, the union of the two natures in one person without destroying the distinction of the natures was, by him, denied. On this account he was for some time refused membership, although there appear to have been some considerations, other than doctrinal unsoundness, which operated against his request. When he was finally admitted, it was agreed that his doctrinal notions were of such a nature that no practical harm could come from them.

The Sabbath-keepers were forced to face the doctrine of restricted communion in a very practical way before the first Seventh-day Baptist church was organized. In fact, it was the determining point of their separation. Being members of the Baptist church, they were communicants with that body. But when four of their company, who had been keeping the Sabbath, forsook them and went back to Sunday-keeping, they were compelled to recognize the inconsistency of keeping fellowship with Sabbath apostates. After much earnest prayerful thought they decided that they could no longer continue this inconsistent practice, whereupon they refused to go to the communion. As we have already seen, this brought on the controversy which resulted in their withdrawal from their Baptist brethren, and the organization of a church of their own faith and practice. The logic of the event, unavoidably placed the new church on the restricted communion basis, where it has consistently remained, though in this, as in most other matters of faith and practice, large liberty of individual opinion has been allowed. Occasionally also the experiment has been made of conducting Sabbath-keeping churches on the so-called free communion basis, almost always with disintegrating and destructive effect. A notable example of this, within this period, is the "Wilcox Church," in Rhode Island. This appears to have been an effort to eliminate all "tests of fellowship," and, although their records speak often of their "covenant," no form of it has ever been found, and no articles of faith. One case of discipline for performing secular labor on the Sabbath is on record, which, together with the fact that their early members were Sabbath-keepers, and that their meetings for worship were held on the Sabbath, shows that the movement was a revolt from the Seventh-day Baptist Church on the communion question. It was promoted by Isaiah Wilcox, who was the first, and, apparently, the only pastor. He was joined by his brother, David Wilcox; Elisha Sisson and Valentine Wilcox. It is first mentioned in 1765, and the last record was made in 1810. In this brief time the church numbered in all three or four hundred members, embracing both Sabbath-keepers and First-day-keepers. They insisted so strenuously upon the doctrine of free communion that they positively refused to grant one, Charles Babcock, a permit to join the Seventh-day Baptist Church, of Brookfield, lest he should be brought into bondage to the creed of that church. He was finally told that he might go if the Brookfield church would allow him still to commune with them, otherwise he must remain with them or be thrust out as a covenant breaker! The site of this church, on the "post road" some two and a half miles southeast of the present village of Westerly, is still pointed out. The heterogeneous character of this church, its swift decline and its utter extinction is a striking commentary upon the doctrine of free communion among Seventh-day Baptists.

What is known as the Rogerene Quaker movement sprang up considerably earlier than the free communion movement. Its chief promoters appear to have been the brothers, John and James Rogers, of New London, Connecticut. They, with many of their family connections, were Seventh-day Baptists, principally members of the church at Newport. They had suffered much for their faith in their Connecticut home. The defection grew out of a peculiar method of applying Scripture tests to all religious practices. They, said whatever does not rest upon a direct Scripture command or warrant, is unscriptural, and, therefore, wrong. Christian people of that time generally held family prayers night and morning; also when sick or suffering any physical injury they took medicine, or called in the doctor. The Rogerenes found no direct warrant in the Scriptures for such practices; therefore, they discontinued family prayer, and refused medicines in sickness, or the services of the surgeon in case of serious accident. They also had much to say against stated formal public services, the employment of a "hireling ministry," etc., though they continued to observe the Sabbath, to baptize their converts, and to partake of the communion. The movement began when as yet the membership of Sabbath-keepers in America was confined almost exclusively to the church at Newport, and ran through this period, although it never became very strong or widespread. They finally became a part of the New England Quaker body. With the exception of this sentimental and abortive effort to establish a free communion Seventh-day Baptist Church, and the more permanent but not widespread Rogerene movement, the doctrinal standards of the churches of this period were eminently Scriptural and, therefore, in the truest sense, orthodox. The people were first Protestants, then Independents, then Baptists and then, still following the Protestant doctrine of the Scriptures as the final authority on questions of faith and practice, they were logically and necessarily Seventh-day Baptists.


In spirit the early Seventh-day Baptists in America were remarkably charitable. In common with the Puritans of the time, they had suffered much for the rights of conscience; and in common with their brethren, the Baptists, they had maintained, sometimes at great cost, the right of private interpretation of the Scriptures. But their own trials had taught them the sweet lessons of charity. Unlike the severer Puritanism, which sought to press everything into its own peculiar mold, they had no doctrines or practices which they wished to force upon others, save through an enlightened conscience. While they were strict in their own observance of their faith, and were ready always to defend that faith against all comers, they freely accorded to others the liberty of thought, conscience and speech which they asked for themselves. They were defenders of the principles of religious liberty of the truest and highest type. In this broad spirit of Christian charity they struck, at the very outset, the proper attitude of Seventh-day Baptists on the question of legislation in religious matters. For themselves, they never asked of the civil authorities anything but the right to read their Bible and to practice its teachings at such times and in such manner as an enlightened conscience might dictate, and to be protected in such exercise. For others they demanded only that liberty and protection which the so strenuously demanded for themselves.

There can be no other consistent attitude for Seventh-day Baptists today upon this question of civil legislation upon religious subjects, which is occupying so large a place in the minds of many religious reformers of the present time. The logic of their faith put our fathers early in the right attitude on this question. We shall be worthy sons of such noble fathers only as we stand consistently on the same broad platform of the truest charity.

The discipline of these early churches of our denomination was well nigh ideal. The brethren exercised the most jealous watchcare over each other. Absence from any public meeting of the church was noted; and absence from three or four consecutive appointments became a matter of official inquiry. The cause of such neglect of covenant obligation was sought, and if no good reason for it could be shown, the delinquent was earnestly exhorted to again "take up his walk" with the church. Page after page of the early records of some of these churches is filled with accounts of such labor. Through it all ran a manifest spirit of love for the brotherhood, and the course of discipline usually resulted in the reformation of the delinquent. When, however, the case proved to be one of deliberate intent to violate the covenant vows of a member, or an obstinate disregard of their claims, with no promise of reformation, the offending member was cut off, not without loving exhortations to an amendment of life, and with a wide-open door for a return with suitable evidence of repentance and reformation.

This loving regard among the members of the individual church for each other appears to have run through the entire fellowship of churches. Thus it was common for one church having trouble of some sort to ask counsel and help from some sister church. This was especially the case when one of the newer churches or settlements was in difficulty. Appeal would be made to the mother church or churches from which most of them had come. In such cases delegates - generally the pastor with one or two of the leading men - would be appointed to visit the troubled church to help in settling the case. Their work was done with the utmost pains to learn all the facts in the case, with the deepest spirit of love for all concerned, and with the sincerest desire to preserve the purity and power of the church.

Again, it is gratifying to be able to note that no important action affecting the interest of the church or churches concerned was allowed to be taken until the personal opinion and preference of the members was first obtained. When a group of persons, living remote from any church of Sabbath-keepers desired to be organized into a church by themselves, they sent request for such organization to the church of which most of them were members. A committee was then appointed to visit the community. This committee passed from house to house and took a complete census of their desire. Returning to the home church they reported the result of their investigations, and made a similar canvas of the home church to ascertain the personal views of the members on the propriety of granting the request. The desire on the part of the petitioners being found to be unanimous, and the motion to grant the request being without opposition, the organization was then effected. The new church was thus, in the deepest and truest sense, a church in sister relation.

In like manner, men refused appointment to office, or to positions of service in the church, such as that of Elders or Deacons, if there was any possible reason to suspect that the choice was not unanimous. The candidate, if he felt called to the work, made diligent inquiry for the reason or reasons why any member made objection to his election. If the answer revealed obstacles which he could remove, he removed them; if not, he patiently waited for conditions to change, or for the objector to withdraw his objections. This is a most striking example of the fulfilment of the instruction of Jesus: -"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

From this brief sketch of the spirit and discipline of the early church, it must not be inferred that the work always went smoothly. A Scripture writer of the olden time had occasion to remark: "There was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them, to present himself before the Lord." It may be fairly questioned whether there has ever been a period in the history of the church, ancient or modern, when this was not true; certainly our fathers found it true in their experience, and sometimes it gave them serious trouble. But the dominance of the spirit of love and forbearance generally led them to righteous decisions and in the end to peaceable settlement of all their difficulties.


No sketch of the first Seventh-day Baptists in America would be in any sense complete which did not take account of the fact that they were early identified, in a most practical and efficient way, with the material, the intellectual and the political, as well as the religious, welfare of their country. While spirituality and loyalty to the truth of God, as he reveals it by his Spirit and Word, are the center of real power in the church, those sturdy qualities in its members which put them at the front in business enterprises, in the arts and sciences, and in governmental affairs, widen their influence and deepens their power. Spirituality and consecrated talent is of far greater worth than spirituality and ignorance. Our fathers were sturdy, intelligent, and able men. The limits of this paper forbid the record of incidents which bear unmistakable evidence of the truth of this statement, beyond a few typical cases.

We have already spoken of the Puritan intolerance which drove the Baptists from Massachusetts into the wilderness of the New Haven colony, and following them there, again drove them to the necessity of seeking a more quiet home in the Rhode Island colony, for which Roger Williams and others obtained a charter from England about 1647. It was a colonist from Newport who settled in the western part of this colony in what was then, called the "Narragansett" country, bought realty rights of the Indians and organized the first township in the Rhode Island colony, which they named Misquamicutt. It was bounded on the south by the Atlantic ocean, on the west by the Pawcatuck river, which separated it from the New Haven colony and from these boundaries extend northward fifteen or twenty miles, and eastward twelve or fifteen miles, and included the present towns of Westerly, Hopkinton, Richmond and Charlestown. The men, almost without exception, who did this pioneer organizing and developing work either were, at the time, or soon after became, members of the Seventh-day Baptist Church at Newport. A few years later the town was incorporated and took the name of Westerly. The land of this township, acquired from the Indians by purchase, was apportioned among the forty or fifty settlers on a sort of contract, consisting of quite a series of articles, the most important of which was the prompt payment of their proportionate part of the purchase, and an agreement to enter at once upon the possession of the purchase and remain subject to call for the defense of the settlement. The management of the affairs of the town was entrusted to a small committee of able men, all of whom save one were Seventh-day Baptists. The making and holding of the deeds and other papers relating to the landed rights of the settlers was in the hands of one William Vahan, or Vaughan - a member of the Seventh-day Baptist Church at Newport. The article in the settlers contract which pledged him to the defence of their rights of possession, meant much and required a degree of character and manly courage of which we can have little conception. The Indians, although they had been fairly bought out, were naturally jealous and suspicious of the white settlers and gave them some annoyance; but the Puritans were worse enemies than the Indians. The Baptist, and Seventh-day Baptist doctrine of the rights of private interpretation of the Scriptures, and of holding assemblies for worship where and how they pleased, were, in the minds of these Puritans, the rankest kind of heresies. Naturally, they were very unwilling that a colony should spring up in their midst, the distinguishing feature of which was not only the toleration but the propagation of these heresies. I am not sure also that they were not covetous of their goodly possessions. Whatever the motive, they sought by every means to subjugate the settlers or drive them out. The jealousies between Massachusetts and Connecticut, to use modern names, added to the severities which the settlers endured. On the one hand Massachusetts sought to extend her jurisdiction over the entire territory of Rhode Island to the Connecticut boundary; on the other hand the Connecticut authorities crossed the Pawcatuck river and sent their surveyors to establish the eastern boundary far enough to the eastward to include, at least, the whole of Misquamicutt, Westerly, in Connecticut territory. Thus between the suspicions of their keen-eyed Indian neighbors, the bigoted intolerance of the heresy hating Puritans, and the land hunger of rival colonies, the settlers who had pledged their lives and fortunes in the defense of their rights, soon found that they had taken no small contract. They did not flinch, and in the end they won, on every point.

Among those chosen as conservators of the rights of the settlers and of the Rhode Island colonists, were Tobias Saunders, Robert Burdick, John Crandall, Joseph Clarke, all Seventh-day Baptists, with others whose names are familiar in all our churches today. For the peaceful performance of their duties, Saunders and Burdick were forcibly seized by the Massachusetts authorities, dragged to Boston, condemned to pay a fine of 40 each, and cast into prison until the fine should be paid, and the prisoners should give bonds in the sum of 100 to observe the peace of the commonwealth for the future. In a similar way Crandall was dragged to the Hartford jail. Clarke was a member of the Colonial Assembly, of Rhode Island, and ably presented the cause of the Rhode Island colonists before the Governor of Connecticut. Samuel Hubbard, who was a life-long friend and associate of Roger Williams, until the death of the latter in 1683, though not one of the Misquamicutt settlers, was, with his wife, Tacy, among their most devoted friends and defenders. The marriage of their three daughters, Ruth, Bethia and Rachel, respectively, to Robert Burdick, Joseph Clarke and Andrew Langworthy,- linked three of our largest Seventh-day Baptist families, with their outbranching lines, almost everywhere, to those two names which ought to be enshrined in every grateful Seventh-day Baptist heart - Samuel Hubbard and Tacy Cooper.

It would extend this paper to unwarrantable limits to mention, with any detail, the many venerable names of these early times, which deserve mention beside the names of the great men of our country. Mumford, Hiscox, Gibson, Clarke, Maxson, Crandall, Babcock, Bliss, etc., of Rhode Island; Rogers, Bebee, Gillett, Satterlee, of Connecticut; the Coons, Clarke and Satterlee, of New York; Elisha Gillette, of Long Island; the Davises, and the Dunhams, of New Jersey; the Davids, Bonds, etc.. of Pennsylvania, and many others are names which tempt the pen of the genealogist and the historian.

A few names, however, deserve especial mention. John Ward was an officer in the English revolution of the seventeenth century under Oliver Cromwell. His son, Thomas Ward, came to the American colonies at the restoration of Charles the II., in 1666. Shortly after this date, his name appears on the records, as a member of the Seventh-day Baptist Church of Newport. He was a prominent member of the Legislature of the colony. He married, as his second wife. Amy Smith, a grand-daughter of Roger Williams. His son, by this second marriage, Richard Ward, was born in 1689, the year in which Thomas, the father, died. Richard was Governor of the colony in 1741-2. Samuel Ward, another descendant of this same family, was Governor from 1762- 1765, and then a member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia where he died during the first year of the Revolutionary War 1776. He was greatly beloved and deeply mourned by his associates as well as by his Rhode Island constituency. He was an earnest promoter of the higher education in the colonies; and, as Governor of Rhode Island, gave the charter in 1764 for the Rhode Island college at Providence, an institution which still lives, now known as the Brown University. His estate was located in the present town of Westerly, on what is familiarly known in that country as the "Shore road," and looks out upon the open sea, between Block Island and Montauk Point. This entire family of Wards in this country, for many generations, were staunch Seventh-day Baptists. Though the name of Ward has ceased from among us, their descendants are still with us.

After the death of Thomas Ward, his widow, the mother of the first Governor Ward, married Arnold Collins, a thrifty merchant of Newport, and member of the Seventh-day Baptist Church of that city. To them was born a son - Henry Collins, whose name ought to be an inspiration to every ambitious Seventh-day Baptist young man. The half brothers, Richard Ward and Henry Collins, though separated in age by several years, grew up together, attending the same schools, until Ward entered into business and young Collins was sent to England for a college education, in Oxford or Cambridge. After finishing his education, he returned to the colonies and entered into the business, in Newport, of a goldsmith. His business was prosperous, and, for that time, he became very wealthy. He did a large business with foreign countries. His wealth was used for the promotion of such enterprises, public and private, as would benefit those among whom he lived. He educated, at his own expense, a large number of young men; he took the lead in organizing and maintaining in the city a society, or club, for the regular study of social and economic questions - such as would make better business men, better citizens. He was also a patron of the fine arts, and established, at his own expense, an art gallery in which were placed some of the best paintings, by the ablest painters of that time. An enthusiastic historian of a little later date pronounced him the "Lorenzo de Medici of the Colonies." His gifts to public objects were many and generous. One which remains to the present day and which will pass on to succeeding generations, was the gift of a beautiful plot of ground in the finest part of the city, to the city, for a public library. A wealthy Jew, Redwood, by name, donated a valuable collection of historical works as the basis of the library, which is known by his name - The Redwood Library, - being one of the principal places of interest in that city of magnificent homes, of fabulous wealth, and fashionable foibles. In all this whirl of business, this busy thought and care for the welfare of others, this planning and giving and doing for the well-being of his city and country, Collins was a humble, faithful, consistent Seventh-day Baptist-member of the church of that faith in the city. He was the architect and principal member of the building committee for the principal house of worship owned by the church, and gave the work as much personal attention as though that had been his regular calling.

I cannot forbear mentioning one other New England name - that of Deacon John Tanner, also a wealthy merchant of Newport. Though his will is on record, and bears date of Stonington, Conn., August 26, 1776. In this will Deacon Tanner made generous remembrance of various public an religious institutions or organizations, as well as to a large list of relatives and personal friends. Among the former were the Seventh-day Baptist Churches at Newport and Westerly R.I, and Piscataway, N. J., and the Rhode Island College. Some of Deacon Tanner's descendants are still among on people in New England.

In Western Connecticut settled a thrifty Seventh-day Baptist family, whose home lay in the path of the contending armies of the Revolution until they had given nearly all their substance to the patriot cause. Under the stress of this drain upon their resources, they sold what they had left, and moved on to Rensselaer County, in New York State; and this gave to Petersburg, afterwards Berlin, Elder William Satterlee, and the large Satterlee family in various parts of New York.

The part which the Seventh-day Baptists of New Jersey took in the Revolutionary struggle has already been mentioned, a part for which any people may justly feel proud.

The Seventh-day Baptist cause of Philadelphia and vicinity also had its list of eminent and worthy names. We have already mentioned the Rev. Enoch David as one of the strongest men in the Philadelphia Sabbatarian movement. His son, Ebenezer David, was a young man of marked ability and great promise. He graduated from the Rhode Island College and was ordained a Seventh-day Baptist minister at Hopkinton, R.I Returning to Philadelphia, he entered the Federal Army. He was soon after appointed chaplain, and died in the service near Philadelphia in 1778. Descendants of this family are still among us.

Abel Noble, the founder of the Pennsylvania movement, notwithstanding his great activity as a preacher of righteousness and propagandist of the Seventh-day Baptist faith, built up a large landed estate in Bucks County, known far and near as one of the largest and wealthiest in the county.

I forbear further individual mention. There is ample evidence that in private business enterprises, in political and public affairs, in local trusts, in colonial government positions, and in the National Congress our fathers were men of sterling character, of marked ability, and of thrifty and worthy achievements. They were loyal to all public interests and were trusted and honored by their fellow-citizens. At the same time they were staunch in their defense of their own religious faith, constant and consistent in its observance. They were trusted and honored because they were men of character and conscience.

In the midst of all this struggle for personal religious liberty; these hard fought battles for subsistence first, afterwards for competence; throughout these times which tried men's souls; times which wrought out the religious, the social, the economic, the political character of these colonies destined to become a great republic our fathers earnestly cherished and jealously promoted the spirit of Christian love and fellowship. They were first of all honest hearted Christian men, true to God and loyal to his Word. This made them, in the truest sense, brethren in sweetest charity. This, again, made them true in spirit, aim, and effort to all that was best in human society. They thus laid the foundations of the Seventh-day Baptist Church in America where it could stand the shock of coming revolutions, of toppling monarchies, or crumbling republics - in characters built on the word of eternal truth - tried and toughened by the fires of trials and polished by the disciplines of the best possessions of men.

Accepting the inheritance which they have handed down to us, let us see that it holds the high place on which they left it.

Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp. 120 - 146