IN VIRGINIA, WHO EMIGRATED HITHER FROM MARYLAND; TOGETHER WITH A GENERAL ACCOUNT OF THE REGULAR BAPTISTS, FROM THEIR COMMENCEMENT IN VIRGINIA TO THE PRESENT TIME.
THE next appearance of the Baptists in this State, was in the northern parts of it, in the counties of Burkley, Rockingham, and Loudon, 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 Chesnut 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,1 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 journies, 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 that 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. Others stood ready to offer, if a church was formed. The three beforementioned 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 endeavoured to remove their suspicion of the ministers. They met, and I spoke to them from 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 deaths.” It was in the bounds of this church, that Stearns and Marshal 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 Konolowa, 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 1751. They became very warm and animated in their religious exercises, and more particularly so, after Mr. Marshal 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 eruptions 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 1766, 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. We must date the origin of the Regular Baptists in Virginia about the year 1760, but it was not until ten years after, that they began to flourish and prevail to any considerable extent. In 1760, David Thomas, who had often visited the State before, in his evangelical excursions, now removed from Pennsylvania, and became a resident in it, where he acted a most distinguished part for thirty years; when he removed to Kentucky, where he was living, but almost blind, in 1809. As this eminent servant of God, if yet living, must be eighty years old, and can therefore be but little affected by the praises or censures of men, we shall take the liberty of saying more about him in the following narrative, than we generally intend to say of the living.
Mr. Thomas was born August 16, 1732, at Loudon Tract, Pennsylvania, and had his education at Hopewell, New-Jersey, under the famous Isaac Eaton, and so considerable were his literary acquirements, that the Rhode- Island College (now Brown University) conferred on him the degree of Master of Arts.
Mr. Thomas made his first stand in Virginia, in Berkley county, with, or in the neighborhood of the Opeckon or Millcreek church; but in 1762, he removed to the county of Fauquier, and became the pastor of the Broadrun church, which was gathered soon after he removed to the place.
The origin of the Broadrun church, and the manner in which Mr. Thomas was introduced among them, are related as follow. A short time previous to his removing to Virginia, two men in this region, without any publick 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; and after traveling about sixty miles over a rough and mountainous way, they arrived amongst them, and by their preaching and conversation were much enlightened and comforted, and were so happy as to find what had hitherto to them been mysterious, how a weary and heavy laden sinner might have rest. The name of one of these men 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 acquaintance the title of “Saint Peter.” 4 It is related by Mr. Edwards, “that this Peter Cornwell induced Edmund Hays (the same man who removed from Maryland to Virginia, in 1743) to remove and settle near him, and that 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 very strange thing. Many came to see them, to whom they related what God had done for their souls, exhort ed, prayed, and 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 time made a second visit to Berkley, and were baptized; and Divine Providence had so ordered matters, that in this visit they met with Mr. Thomas, whom they invited to go down and preach amongst them. He accepted the invitation, and settled with them, as before related, and soon became the instrument of diffusing gospel light in Fauquier and the adjacent counties, where ignorance and superstition had long prevailed.
Mr. Thomas is said to have been a minister of great distinction in the prime of his days; for besides the natural endowments of a strong and vigorous mind, and the advantages of a classical and refined education, he had a melodious and piercing voice, pathetic address, expressive action, and, above all, a heart filled with love to God and his fellow-men, whom he saw overwhelmed in sin and misery. But for a few of the first years of his ministry in Virginia, he met with much rustick persecution from the rude inhabitants, who, as a satirical historian observes, “had not wit enough to sin in a genteel manner.” (from Morgan Edwards) Outrageous mobs and individuals frequently assaulted and disturbed him.
Once he was pulled down as he was preaching, and dragged out of doors in a barbarous manner. At another time a malevolent fellow attempt ed to shoot him, but a bystander wrenched the gun from him, and thereby prevented the execution of his wicked purpose. “The slanders and revilings,” says Mr. Edwards, “which he met with, are innumerable; and if 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 flourished and prevailed; and Broadrun church, of which he was pastor, in the course of six or eight years from its establishment, branched out, and became the mother of five or six others. The Chappawomsick church was constituted from that at Broadrun, in 1766. The Baptists in this church met with the most violent opposition. One Robert Ashly and his gang, (consisting of about 40) combined against them, with the most determined and envenomed hostility. Once they came to harass them at their worship, and entered the house with violence; but some stout fellows, not able to bear the insult, took Ashly by the neck and heels, and threw him out of doors.
This infernal conspiracy continued to vent their rage against the Baptists, by throwing a live snake into the midst of them at one time, and a hornet’s nest at another, while they were at worship; and at another time they brought fire-arms to disperse them. But Ashly dying, soon after, in a miserable manner, struck a damp on their mischievous designs, and procured quietness for a while to the poor sufferers, whom the civil powers left to the mercy, or rather to the rage and insolence of such an infuriated banditti.
But to return to Mr. Thomas. He traveled much, and the fame of his preaching drew the attention of people throughout an extensive circle; and they traveled, in many instances, 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 thing like evangelical preaching, who were brought, through divine grace, to see and feel their want of vital godliness. Many of these persons, when they heard Mr. Thomas and other Baptist preachers, would travel great distances to hear them, and to procure their services in their own neighbourhoods. By this means, the gospel was first carried into the county of Culpepper. Mr. Allen Wyley, a man of respectable standing in that county, had been thus turned to God; and not knowing of any spiritual preacher, he had, sometimes, gathered his neighbors, and read the Scriptures, and exhorted them to repentance; but hearing, after a while, of Mr. Thomas, he and some of his neighbours traveled to Fauquier to hear him. As soon as he heard him, he knew the joyful sound, submitted to baptism, and invited him to preach at his house. He came; but the opposition from the wicked was so great that he could not preach. He went into the county of Orange, and preached several times, and to much purpose. Having, however, urgent calls to preach in various other places, and being much opposed and persecuted, he did not attend here as often as was wished. On this account it was, that Mr. Wyley went to Pittsylvania, to procure the labors of Samuel Harris; an account of which will be given in the history of the Separates. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Garrard, sometimes together and sometimes apart, traveled and propagated the pure principles of Christianity in all the upper counties of the Northern Neck; but Mr. Thomas was far the most active.
The priests and friends of the establishment, viewed with a jealous eye these successful exertions 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 many 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 arguments, they adopted more violent measures. Sometimes the preachers, and even some who only read sermons and prayed publickly, were carried before magistrates, and though not committed to prison, were sharply reprimanded, and cautioned not to be righteous overmuch.
In two instances only, does it appear, that any person in these parts, was actually imprisoned on account of religion, although they suffered much abuse and persecution from outrageous mobs and malicious individuals.
The one, it seems, was a licensed exhorter, and was arrested for exhorting at a licensed meeting-house. The magistrate sent him to jail, where he was kept until court; but the court, upon knowing the circumstances, discharged him. The other was James Ireland, who was imprisoned in Culpepper jail, and in other respects treated very ill. At the time of his imprisonment, Mr. Ireland was a Separate Baptist, but he afterwards joined the Regulars. 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 these licenses; most supposing, that they were by them, authorized to preach any where in the county.
The Regulars were considered less enthusiastick than the Separates. They were frequently visited by a number of eminent and influential ministers from the Philadelphia Association, and they also had, at their head, the learned and eloquent David Thomas, who, after stemming the torrent of prejudices and opposition for a few years, acquired an extensive fame and great weight of character, even in the eyes of his enemies; and was the means of procuring a degree of quietude and respectability for his reproached and persecuted brethren. But in the most persecuting times, the Baptist cause still flourished, and the work of grace progressed. 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’s ministry. These young heralds, uniting their endeavours with those of the more experienced, became zealous laborers in the vineyard of the Lord.
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 Allegheny, and had raised up several churches in the northwest 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 great declension of religion among the Virginia Baptists, which prevailed soon after the close of the war, the Regulars were under the cloud as well as their brethren the Separates; and they also participated in the great revival in 1786, and some years following.
An account of the present state of religion amongst the churches and people who were formerly called Regular Baptists, will be given in the general observations with which we shall conclude the history of this State. But before we close this chapter, it is proper to give a brief history of the Ketockton Association, together with those Associations which have originated from it.
The Ketockton Association was formed in 1768, and was the fifth Association of Calvinistick Baptists in America. The Philadelphia, the Charleston, Sandy-creek, and Kehukee Associations were formed before it; and besides these was the Rhode-Island Yearly Meeting of Arminian Baptists. This Association contained but four churches at the time of its organization, viz. the Mill-creek, the Smith’s-creek, the Ketockton, and Broadrun; the three first of which were dismissed from the Philadelphia Association, with which body they united soon after they were constituted. These churches held Yearly Meetings for a number of years before they were organized into an Association. Very few things appear to have transpired in the pro.gress of this body, worthy of being detailed. It adopted the Philadelphia confession of faith at its commencement, and progressed with order, regularity, and propriety. It also experienced an annual increase of churches and members, during what may be termed the rise of the Baptists, in the region in which it was situated, although it did not increase so rapidly as many new Associations have done.
In 1789 a temporary division of this body was made, and a new Association, called Cappawamsick, was taken from it; but for some cause, which is not related, both bodies re-united in 1792. The union with the Separate Baptists, which the Regulars long sought and desired, and which was happily effected in 1787, by delegates from this Association, will be mentioned in the history of that community.
It is said by Rev. William Fristoe, the historian of this Association, that about 40 churches have joined it from first to last, and that at one time the churches were scattered over an extent of country, about 300 miles in length, and 100 in breadth. 6 But as a number of churches have been dismissed to unite with other Associations, its bounds are now much contracted.
In 1775, four churches were dismissed from this Association, for the purpose of forming the Redstone Association, in the back parts of Pennsylvania, whose history has already been given; and in 1795, a number of churches more were dismissed to unite with some others, who originated from the Separates, in forming an Association, which was called Greenbrier, which lies in the back and mountainous parts of Virginia.
Mr. John Alderson, whose father removed from New-Jersey, and became the first pastor of the Smith’s-creek church, began, in 1775, to visit the region in which the Greenbrier Association is now situated, when the country was in a wilderness condition, both in a natural and spiritual sense. Having met with some success and encouragement, he, in 1777, removed his family into those parts, and in a few years had the happiness of being instrumental in planting a number of churches. What appears to be the most remarkable event in his history in this region is, that although he traveled much throughout an extensive circle, yet for seven years after his settlement here, he never saw nor heard any Baptist preacher but himself. The inhabitants of this uncultivated wilderness were interrupted by the ravages of the Indians, soon after Mr. Alderson settled among them, and were obliged to keep shut up in forts, for the space of four years. During which time, this laborious minister, generally attended by a small guard, traveled through the dangerous wilds from one fort to another, continually exposed to the lurking savages, to preach the gospel to the selfconfined prisoners.
Mr. Josiah Osbourne is one of the ministers of this Association, who is remarkable for having published a piece in defense of the peculiar sentiments of the Baptists, in the colloquial strain, under the title of David and Goliath. This piece, written by an obscure and almost altogether illiterate man, is considered by many, as one of the best treatises on baptism that has ever been published, and for perspicuity and force of argument, certainly excels many of the elaborate productions of learned divines.
The Union Association lies wholly in Virginia, and in the northwest part of the State, and is in what were formerly the bounds of the Ketockton Association; but all the churches which formed it were dismissed from the Redstone Association. The names and numbers of these churches, their number of members, their pastors, and the counties in which they are situated, will be given in the table of Associations.