History of Middle Tennessee Baptists

History of Middle Tennessee Baptists

by J. H. Grime, 1902

Chapter One

The coming of Baptists into this part of the State was from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Some, it is true, stopped first in Kentucky, afterward removing to Tennessee.

It is but natural that the reader will inquire from whence did they come into these States? Passing by the establishment of Baptist churches in the colony of Rhode Island, we come to the establishment of the first Baptist Church in the city of Boston, which occurred March 28, 1665, with five charter members who had been baptized in England. The names of these charter members were Richard Goodall, William Turner, Robert Lambert, Mary Goodall and Mary Newell. This church being thoroughly organized and equipped for business (see church records as recorded in Armitage Church History, 2 ed. page 319) soon began to extend her borders. On January 3, 1682, we find Humphrey Churchwood, one of the members, at Kittery, Maine, with a band of brethren gathered about him. These were organized into a regular Baptist Church September 25, 1682, with William Screven as pastor. He then made the trip all the way to Boston to be ordained by the church under whose authority they were constituted. Persecution, however, soon arose in Maine against the infant church, and to escape the rigors of religious intolerance they fled to South Carolina and "settled on the Cooper River, not far from the present city of Charleston." Here they found some Baptists from England and, in 1685, they united and constituted a regular Baptist Church on the west bank of the Cooper River. This was the first Baptist Church organized in the South, and in 1693, they moved their place of meeting to Charleston. (See Armitage, p. 324.)

There is still another source of the Baptists of South Carolina about which I wish to speak. In June, 1701, in the counties of Pembroke and Carmarthen, Wales, sixteen Baptists were constituted into a regular Baptist Church with Thomas Griffith as pastor. They at once set sail from Milford in church capacity and landed at Philadelphia in the September following where the "church emigrant" went ashore on American soil. In 1703, they purchased 30,000 acres of land from Wm. Penn in New Castle County, Delaware, and gave this new purchase the title of Welsh Tract, and soon they were settled, giving their church a permanent home, from which it took the name of Welsh Tract Church.

"As early as 1736 this church dismissed forty-eight members to emigrate to South Carolina, where they made a settlement on the Peedee River, organized the Welsh Neck Church there, which during the next century became the center from which thirty-eight Baptist churches sprang in the immediate vicinity." Armitage, p. 333. From these two sources came the early Baptists of South Carolina, who founded the Charleston Association in 1751. This Association was constituted upon the old London Confession of Faith, which is a very strong Calvinistic document. It might be remarked just here that this is the original of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith and was adopted as a statement of doctrine by all the early churches and Associations of America, with the exception of one small Association which soon became extinct.

This old Welsh Tract Church which emigrated from Wales became the nucleus around which or from which were formed a number of churches which were constituted into Philadelphia Association as early as 1707. It was missionaries from this Association, viz., Benjamin Miller, Peter Vanhorn and John Gano, who first planted the true Baptist standard in North Carolina. This was about the middle of the eighteenth century. It is true some Free Will Baptist churches had been planted in the State by Paul Palmer and his converts prior to the coming of these missionaries into the State. These Free Will or General Baptist churches were all reorganized and their irregular baptisms corrected. (See Burkitt & Reed's History Kehukee Association.) These missionaries were joined by Robert Williams, of South Carolina, and Shubael Stearnes, of Virginia, and together they laid the foundation for the establishment of the Kehukee Association in 1765 upon the regular London (Calvinistic) Confession of Faith.

The first Baptist churches in the State of Virginia were planted by missionaries from the churches of London, England, and the Philadelphia Association.

I have in detail given the origin of Baptists in these States, because from these sources have come the Baptists of Tennessee.

As to the origin of Welsh Baptists, they date back to the days of the apostles or to the age immediately following. No beginning for them, this side of that, can be successfully established. The most natural solution of this question is, that the apostle Paul and his co-laborers first planted the Baptist standard on the British Isles. Clement, the fellow-laborer with Paul (Phil. 4: 3), in his epistle to the Corinthians, Charter 5, has this to say: " Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the East and West, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the West, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects." (Ante Nicean Fathers, Vol. I, p. 6) In the above, Rome is taken as the center, and the extreme limit of the West would be Spain and the British Isles.

In addition to the above, Davis in his History of the Welsh Baptists, pp. 6-9, has this to say: " About fifty years before the birth of our Savior the Romans invaded the British Isle, in the reign of the Welsh King Cassibellan. But having failed, in consequence of other and more important wars, to conquer the Welsh nation, made peace and dwelt among them many ycars. During that period many of the Welsh soldiers joined the Roman army, and many families from Wales visited Rome, among whom there was a certain woman named Claudia, who was married to a man named Prudence. At that same time, Paul was sent a prisoner to Rome and preached there in his own hired house for the space of two years, about the year of our Lord 63. Prudence and Claudia, his wife, who belong to Caesar's household, under the blessings of God on Paul's preaching were brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus and made a profession of the Christian religion. Acts 28: 30; 2 Tim. 4: 21. These together with other Welshmen, among the Roman soldiers, who had tasted that the Lord was gracious, exhorted them in behalf of their countrymen in Wales, who were at that time vile idolaters. ...The Welsh lady Claudia, and others, who were converted under Paul's ministry in Rome carried the precious seed with them, and scattered it on the hills and valleys of Wales; and since that time, many thousands have reaped a glorious harvest. ... We have nothing of importance to communicate respecting the Welsh Baptists from this to the year 180, when two ministers by the name of Fagamus and Damicanus, who were born in Wales, but were born again in Rome, and became eminent ministers of the gospel, were sent from Rome to assist their brethren in Wales. In the same year, Lucius, the Welsh King, and the first king- in the word who embraced the Christian religion, was baptized. ...About the year 300, the Welsh Baptists suffred the most terrible and bloody persecution, which was the tenth persecution under the reign of Dioclesian. Here as well as in many other places the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the church." Baptist Perpetuity, pp. 367, 368.

The most natural, conclusion drawn from the above facts is, that Paul, after his release from his first imprisonment went with these Welsh converts to their home land and thus, as Clement says, carried the gospel "to the extreme limit of the West." From this time on the mountain fastnesses of Wales, as well as the valleys of Piedmont, served as an asylum for persecuted Baptists. It was of these Baptists planted by the apostle Paul that the "Old Welsh Tract Church" was formed. And from it have sprung the Baptists of Tennessee.

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