The Accomac Association district lies altogether on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Gospel was first carried thither by Elijah Baker. After Mr. Baker had planted a number of churches both on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, and had been joined by other preachers from different parts, as well as by young ones raised under his ministry, he proposed that the churches should meet by their delegates and form an Association. This they did anno 1784. They took the name of the Salisbury Association from the town of that name in Maryland where they met. They also became a fostering mother to the churches. They increased from year to year, and many useful preachers were raised up. The business of the Association was conducted with great decorum, and their decisions were wise and prudent. Dr. Robert Lemon, a practitioner of physic, but not a preacher, acted as moderator from shortly after their organization until the division of the district, in 1808. During many years it was customary for them to hold their annual Associations in Maryland near Salisbury, but they held also an occasional Association in Virginia, every August. This arrangement was not satisfactory to the Virginia churches, and they petitioned to be dismissed, in order to form an Association out of the churches wholly in Virginia. This was done; and the new Association, called Accomac, met for the first time at Pungoteague, August, 1809, at which session they were chiefly employed in forming a constitution and rules of decorum. They also agreed to join the General Meeting of Correspondence. At this session Elder George Layfield was chosen as moderator, and Mr. William Costen as clerk. As this is the first and only meeting they have had since the division, nothing more can be said as to their proceedings. The historical sketches of the churches must now be attended to.
The seven churches below contained in 1809 about 900 members, white and colored. In 1850 they had declined to six churches and about 700 members. In 1873 they had increased to ten churches and 755 (white) members. In 1893 their churches had increased to nineteen (not including Hampton), and their membership to about 2,000.
Pungoteague is a large and happy church. For some time after their constitution they had no regular pastor, but for a good many years they have been under the pastoral care of Rev. George Layfield, to whom they listen as children to a father.
Mr. Layfield is indeed a father in Israel. He has long professed to know the way of life, and has never since departed from it, either to the right hand or to the left. He was a Presbyterian previous to his hearing the Baptists, and could not, for some time after he heard them and loved them, bring his mind to be willing to give up his infant sprinkling. He finally yielded to the force of truth, and being baptized, commenced as preacher. His first residence was in Maryland, where he continued for many years before he became a preacher. In point of talents Mr. Layfield may be considered as standing on respectable ground. He does not aim to speak in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in simplicity and godly sincerity commends himself to every man’s conscience. He is a man of grave deportment, yet cheerful manners. He is liberal in his sentiments towards those who differ with him on religious subjects.
Still a prosperous body in Accomac Association. Elders Elijah Baker and George Layfield were chiefly instrumental in its establishment. George Bradford entered the ministry from this body in 1841.
This church has also the stated services of Elder Layfield, and are peaceable and harmonious. They never had any regular pastor. This church ceased to exist in 1835. Modest Town and Zion churches occupy the ground formerly held by it.
Mesongoes is a church of good standing, but has seen better days than the present. Their first preacher was George Northam, who was not distinguished for anything singular. He was succeeded by Mr. Layfield, and he by Elijah Shay. Shay was a preacher of popular talents; but after raising himself to considerable distinction he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. He became a drunkard and was excluded from the church. Failing thus of the grace of God, he sought to supply the deficiency by art and deception. He moved off to Alexandria, where also he conducted himself so disorderly as to incur the censures of all those who made pretensions to seriousness. From thence he traveled off under the name of a Baptist preacher, until the brethren near Alexandria thought it their duty to advertise him as an impostor, which they did in the minutes of the Ketocton Association. What mischief do such traitors do to the best of causes!
Mesongoes church was founded by Elijah Baker in 1779. It is the only Baptist church now existing in the bounds of the Accomac Association that adopted old-school or anti-mission principles.
The Gospel was first carried into these parts by the indefatigable E. Baker. His labors were not at first extensively blessed immediately in the neighborhood of Chingoteague. The seed, however, sown by Mr. Baker and others was cultivated by Mr. Layfield, and a church was constituted under the care of Elder Layfield. After sometime he yielded the care to Elder Solomon Marshall, who attended them statedly, but not as an abiding pastor. They now have the pastoral services of Elder Thomas Waters, whose labors among them have been highly blessed. Mr. Waters is a loving, zealous, laborious and successful servant of the Most High God. Having a warm heart, he enjoys nothing more than to see divine love spreading from heart to heart, warming and animating the souls of saints. On such occasions he seems willing to be spent in praising and adoring his Gracious Redeemer.
Located at the northeastern end of Accomac county.
The name of this church well indicates its situation. Among its ministerial sons have been P. Warren, William A. Dix, A.F. Scott and Samuel Saunders.
Within the bounds of this church was the place where Mr. Baker began his evangelical career on the Eastern Shore. Here also were the first persons baptized that ever submitted to that sacred ordinance on this-coast; and here was constituted the first church. When first organized Elder Baker became their pastor, and so continued until the day of his death. The church soon after her constitution became large and flourishing, and continues so to this time. There are some very respectable private members among them. Elder John Elliott preaches for them statedly since the death of Elder Baker.
Isaac Broughton is an ordained preacher in this church, esteemed by all who know him a pious and venerable man, but of very infirm health.
Hungar’s (or Hungo’s) church was organized by Elijah Baker in 1783. On the removal of the place of meeting near the ocean the name of this church was changed to Red Bank. Hungar’s has been for some time a declining church, having sustained great losses by the death of many of her most valuable private members. They were once a numerous people.
Elder Elliott, their pastor, commenced preaching in 1782, when about thirty years of age, but he had been a professor for some time before. Seeing how much laborers were wanted in the harvest, his spirit was moved within him. He stepped forward, and the Lord smiled upon his services. He is esteemed by all his acquaintances a pious and exemplary man, as well as a steady and useful preacher.
Machipongo is a young and somewhat increasing church under the care of Elder Caleb Fisher. Previous to his profession of religion Mr. Fisher was very fond of the fashionable vices of the age. Racing, dancing, gambling and keeping wild and wanton company were the objects of his most intense pursuit. Serious reflections, though sometimes forced upon his mind, were never welcome. God, in the midst of his wild career, marked him as an object of invincible grace. The arrows of the Almighty stuck fast in him, and although he was at first as an ox unaccustomed to the yoke, he finally found that the yoke of Jesus was easy and His burden light. He found rest to his soul, and was baptized anno 1792. To his vicious associates he now became as obnoxious as he was before agreeable. After some years — i.e., in 1802 — he began to preach. This gave many of the sons of Belial an opportunity to insult him. While he preached they would mock, and sometimes openly. On one occasion they stirred up so much disturbance that he thought it his duty to prosecute them. In return one man, under some frivolous pretense, swore the peace against him and dragged him before a magistrate. While there he lavished out the most unlimited abuse against Mr. Fisher; when lo, he fell speechless by a paralytic stroke! He lost the use of one side and suffered more than common pain in such cases. This display of divine vengeance had an awful effect upon the minds of the surrounding people, and, indeed, all who heard of it.
Mr. Fisher was upwards of forty years of age when he began to preach. It is not to be expected that under those circumstances he should make any great advancement in improving his gifts. He is esteemed, however, a mail of strong mind, and as a preacher sound and animating.
The Machipongo church began early to decline, and by 1830 had ceased to be in correspondence with the Association.
The cause of the Baptists is not thought to prevail as much on the Eastern Shore as it did some years past. When they first came into this country they had to combat with the Established Church, armed with the civil sword. Clothed with a heavenly panoply, they went forth in the name of the Lord of Hosts and prevailed. The Established Church here, as well as in most other places in Virginia, declined rapidly after the rise of the Baptists. Of late they have other opponents that are much more successful. For many years past the Methodists have been a very increasing people on the Eastern Shore. Whether their prosperity is only temporary until the set time to favor Zion shall arrive, or whether for some cause God is disposed to permit His people to be led into captivity and to become subservient to the neighboring nations, we cannot determine. As this state of things has occurred in many other places as well as in these parts, it will not be improper to offer a few remarks by way of conjecturing the cause; not because it is believed that the remarks apply to this or that particular place, but with a design to offer a caution to all. Baptist principles, under right views, have no tendency to paralyze the efforts of man or retard his activity. But how often do these effects follow the misinterpretation of these principles! How frequently, where error thrives through the industry and zeal of its supporters, do the friends of truth lie still under a mistaken confidence that truth cannot be hurt, and instead of opposing zeal to zeal, industry to industry, and all lawful means in a good cause against all lawful or unlawful ones in a bad one, they too often permit the hearts of the people to be stolen and their prejudices set against sound principles before they take the alarm! Truth is often injured by an unsuitable application of its parts. Strong meat should not be given but to men. To preach the deep, mysterious doctrines of grace upon all occasions and before all sorts of people is the sure way to preach them out of their parts. To give to any one doctrine more weight than the proportion found in the Scripture defaces the beauty of the whole and retards its progress. Unguardedness respecting preachers, in various ways, but especially as to impostors, has injured the Baptists in many parts, but in none more than on the Eastern Shore. They have probably suffered more by impostors than any other people in Virginia. The most distinguished of these was Joseph Flood. He was for eight or ten years a Baptist preacher of great popularity in those parts, and by many was thought pious. His brilliant talents seem to have blinded the people to his faults. He had married a wife in early life, with whom he lived peaceably. She dying, he married a second, who proved a heavy curse. He left her and employed his time altogether in preaching. For this he was not much blamed by those who knew all the circumstances. But he would not stop there. He came down into Accomac and actually persuaded a young woman of respectable connections to go to Philadelphia and there to be married to him. It is difficult for any at a distance to conceive what a deadly stab this gave the Baptist cause upon the Eastern Shore. Flood sent his credentials to the church, and in many respects acted a candid part. He has since settled in Bedford county, Va., and has occasionally preached, but not as a Baptist.
Soon after Flood’s downfall came one Samuel Counsel, under the name of a Baptist preacher; and being a man of considerable ingenuity, became popular. He was, indeed, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was an Arian in principle, and used great subtlety in maintaining his opinions. He was thought by some to have made impressions on some respectable professors, and that if his bad life had not betrayed him he might have formed a party in the churches. The Salisbury Association noticed him and guarded the churches against him, which, with some other things, drove him off.
About the same time came one Carey (as he called himself) and pretended that he was a Baptist preacher. Carey was far from possessing distinguished gifts, and indeed could not be said to have any one qualification for making good his way under his assumed character, except an indescribable stock of impudence. Still, however, he imposed upon many, and was noticed in several places as a preacher of gifts. Against him also the churches were cautioned, and he went off elsewhere; and if not hanged is perhaps still imposing upon the credulous somewhere.
After these repeated slams, it is not strange that the Baptist cause has rather declined of late years in this Association. But, peradventure, these dark scenes are but the preludes of a bright and glorious day, for which, no doubt, many precious and pious souls are daily lifting up their hearts to God; for, indeed, the Baptists of these parts are a tender, loving, affectionate and pious people, anxious for the welfare of Zion.
For hospitality and kindness the Eastern Shore people, both saints and sinners, are surpassed by none.
This is the last Association in Virginia that can be said to have arisen from the labors of Separate Baptist ministers. We shall now proceed to treat of those formerly called Regulars.
Source: Semple, Robert B. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia; From the First Settlement by the
Americans up to the Middle of the 19th Century, Vol 1. Revised edition, 1894.