One of the three original companies of Baptists that emigrated to Virginia came from Maryland. From these arose the Regular Baptists, as they were for a season called in contradistinction to the Separates. These, though not so numerous as the Separates, are a large and very respectable body of people; for, with very few did they come into Virginia, and now they are become several Associations. Besides the Ketocton, which is a very extensive Association, the Red Stone, Greenbrier and Union all sprung from the same source.
Our papers do not exactly agree respecting the date at which the first Baptists made their appearance in these parts; but upon a full examination of the different documents it is probable that we shall give a correct statement.
In 1743, Edward Hays and Thomas Yates, members of a Baptist congregation in Maryland, moved with a companyf340 and settled at Opequon, in Berkeley county, Virginia. Their minister, Mr. Henry Loveall, soon followed them. His preaching was attended with success, and in a short time he baptized fifteen persons. They continued their church state until 1751; but it is probable they were rather remiss in their government, for we are informed that in that year certain ministersf341 of the Philadelphia Association came among them, and newmodeled the church, forming it, as our manuscript says, upon the Calvinistic plan, sifting out the chaff and retaining the supposed good grain. From which it may be presumed that the first preacher and his party were either Arminians, or inclined that way.
In 1754, when Stearns and Marshall were among them, their minister was Samuel Heton, who was probably their first preacher, after they had been newmodeled as above. What became of either Loveall or Heton we are not informed. The next preacher that lived among them, and far the most distinguished, was Elder John Garrard, probably from Pennsylvania. The precise year in which he came is not ascertained, but it was probably about 1755. From the time that they were purified, in 1751, this church was in connection with the Philadelphia Association. They were very zealous, had much preaching, and were remarkably warm in their religious exercises, and more particularly so after Mr. Daniel Marshall came among them. They went to such lengths that some of the more cold-hearted lodged a complaint in the Philadelphia Association. Mr. Millerf342 was sent to see what was the matter. When he came he was highly delighted with the exercises, joined them cordially, and said if he had such warm-hearted Christians in his church he would not take gold for them. He charged those who had complained, rather to nourish than complain of such gifts. The work of God revived among them, and considerable additions were made to the church. The country in which they had settled was but thinly inhabited, and was subject to the inroads of the Indians. Some of these savage irruptions took place not long after Mr. Garrard had settled among them; in consequence of which he and many of the church moved below the Blue Ridge, and resided for some time in Loudoun county, on Ketocton creek. He was not while there forgetful of his duty, but labored night and day for the instruction and salvation of sinners. God turned the hearts of many, who, believing, were baptized.
A church was constituted called Ketocton, to which Mr. Garrard was appointed pastor. It is probable that this church was organized in the year 1756; for on the second Sunday in June, 1757, the Mill Creek, Ketocton, and the Smith and Lynville’s Creek churches held their first yearly meeting, at the meeting-house of the lastnamed church; so that we shall probably be correct if we date the constitution of the Ketocton church in 1756; of Mill Creek in 1743; her first revival in 1751, and her reinstatement after the Indian irruption in 1757.
Having briefly shown the origin and progress of the Baptists who first settled in Opequon, we shall now attend to another company on Smith and Lynville’s creek, in Rockingham.
The Smith and Lynville’s Creek church was constituted August 6, 1756, under the pastoral care of John Alderson, Sr. There had been some Baptists living in this place for about eleven years previous to the constitution of the church. These were probably a party of private members from some of the churches in the Philadelphia Association, or perhaps some of them from New England; for it is stated that one John Harrison, wishing to be baptized, went as far as Oyster bay, in Massachusetts, to obtain that ordinance. As there were Baptist churches and ministers much nearer, the presumption is that he had been led to that measure in consideration of some, if not all, of the Baptists of his neighborhood having come from thence.
During the eleven years, from the time the Baptists first came to this neighborhood until the constitution of the church, they were visited by several preachers from the Northern States, among whom were Mr. Samuel Eaton, Benjamin Griffith,f343 John Ganof344 and John Alderson,f345 the last of whom afterwards settled among them and became their pastor.
The three churches above named became members of the Philadelphia Association soon after their constitution and so continued until they formed an independent Association. Previous to this, however, they met in an annual or yearly meeting, alternately at the three meeting-houses. In their yearly meetings preaching was kept up for several days, ministers from distant parts attended and consultations were holden respecting the propagation of the Gospel, as well as advice offered for the good government of the infant churches. These meetings greatly accelerated the spread of the Gospel, as also ripened the churches for a separate Association.
About 1760 Rev. David Thomas, from Pennsylvania, came to Berkeley, in Virginia, on a ministerial visit. A small time previous to this, two men in the county of Fauquier, on Broad Run, had, without any public preaching, become convinced of the reality of vital religion, and that they were destitute of it. Wrought upon by such convictions, and hearing of the Baptists in Berkeley, they traveled thither, a distance of about sixty miles, to hear them. When they arrived and heard the Gospel, it proved a sweet savor of life. They returned home; God built them up by His Spirit, and in a short time they made a second visit to Berkeley, offered an experience of grace to the church, and were baptized. It so happened that these men and Mr. David Thomas came to Berkeley at the same time. They invited him to go down to Fauquier and preach, and he accepted the invitation. It was said of Martin Luther that, if the Pope had given him a cardinal’s cap, he would never have propagated the principles of the Reformation. It might be so. And it could also be said that, if they had made Paul high-priest, instead of sending him to Damascus, he would not have spread the Gospel among the Gentiles. So also, if Mr. Thomas had not happened to meet with these men, who were hungering for the bread of life, he might never have gone to Broad Run, and from thence over a great part of Virginia, by which thousands were turned from darkness to light. These things in the eye of mere reason look like contingencies; but by the eye of faith they are all plainly viewed as the contrivance of Infinite Wisdom and executed by an infallible though invisible hand.
After Mr. Thomas had labored awhile at Broad Run and in the adjacent neighborhood his labors were so much favored that he resolved to become a resident among them. Many professed faith and were baptized. A church was quickly constituted, to which Mr. Thomas was chosen as pastor. This took place a little after the year 1760. He did not confine his ministry to one neighborhood. He traveled through all the surrounding country, lifting up his voice as the voice of God commanding all men to repent. He was in deed and in truth a burning and shining light. There were few such men in the world as David Thomasf346 was at that time. Having by nature a strong and vigorous mind, he had devoted his attention with diligence to the acquirement of a classical and refined education. In this few if any of his cotemporaries succeeded better. He graduated at an early period. Besides the endowments of his mind he had a melodious and piercing voice, pathetic address, expressive action, and, above all, a heart filled with the love of God and sympathy for his fellow-men, whom he saw overwhelmed in sin and misery. God bade him speak on, and much people believed through him.
Mr. Thomas drew the attention of the people for many miles around. They traveled in many instances fifty or sixty miles to hear him. It is remarkable that about the time of the first rise of the Gospel in Virginia there were multiplied instances of persons who had never heard anything like evangelical preaching that were brought through divine grace to see and feel the want of vital goodness. Many of these, when they would hear of Mr. Thomas and other Baptist preachers, would travel off to hear them and invite them to come and preach in their neighborhood. By this means the Gospel was first carried into Culpeper. Mr. Allen Wyley,f347 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 awhile of Mr. Thomas, he and some of his neighbors 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. His labors were blessed. Having, however, urgent calls to preach in various other places, and being much opposed and persecuted here, he did not attend here as often as was wished. On this account it was that Mr. Wyley went to Pittsylvania for Mr. Harriss. 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.f348 Mr. Thomas was far the most active. It was not to be presumed that the friends of the Establishment would feel themselves disinterested in these proceedings. Their Dagon was fast falling before the Gospel. They, therefore, resolved to stir themselves to prevent this calamity. They adopted various methods to accomplish this object. The clergy often attacked the Baptists from the pulpit; called them false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, &c., &c. 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, when the preachers came to a place for the purpose of preaching, a kind of mob would be raised, and by violent threats they hindered the preaching.
Sometimes the preachers, and even some that only read sermons and prayed publicly, were carried before magistrates, and though not committed to prison, were sharply reprimanded, and cautioned not to be righteous overmuch. In one instance only it appears that any person in these parts was actually imprisoned on account of religion.f349 He, 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. Elder James Ireland was also imprisoned in Culpeper jail, and in other respects treated very ill; but at the time of his imprisonment Mr. Ireland was a Separate Baptist, though he afterwards joined the Regulars. The reason why the Regular Baptists were not as much persecuted as the Separates was that they had at an early date applied to the General Court and obtained licenses for particular places, 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 anywhere in the county. One other reason for their moderate persecution perhaps was that the Regulars were not thought so enthusiastic as the Separates; and having Mr. Thomas, a learned man, in their society, they appeared much more respectable in the eyes of the enemies of truth.
All their persecutions, combined with their other exertions, could not materially retard the progress of the Gospel. The work went on. New churches were constituted and young preachers were raised up. Of these none were more distinguished than Richard Major, although he had passed 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 endeavors with those of the more experienced, greatly accelerated the progress of the Gospel. The Separates also, in the more southern parts of the State, were carrying on a similar work. These fires met in Orange county, in the year 1767, as we have already related in another place. Jealousies arising between them, from some cause, produced the unhappy divisions which continued so long to disturb their peace. The breach was never very wide between them; not so wide but they often met in conferences as fellow-sufferers, and united their counsels to contrive plans for their mutual emancipation from ecclesiastical tyranny. 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 Barnetf350 had moved over the Alleghany, and had raised up several churches in the northwestern counties as early as 1775. Mr. John Alderson had gone in 1777 to Greenbrier, and in a few years raised up a people of 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 in Virginia the Regulars were under the cloud as well as their brethren the Separates, and they also participated in the great revival. In the year 1782 only twenty-three were baptized in the whole of the churches in the Ketocton Association, whereas in 1789, after the commencement of the great revival, the returns from the different churches amounted to three hundred and fiftynine. Since the great revival the Baptist cause has considerably declined in most parts of the Ketocton Association. Mr. Fristoe, in his history of this Association, observes that “very few young ministers have been raised up of late, and that the number of members has much decreased.” The decrease is certainly not universal; there are some flourishing churches within the district. As the Baptists have decreased, the Methodists in many places have increased. It is not so easy to account for this change. Does it arise from the Arminian doctrine being more palatable to the self-righteous heart of man? Or, have they been more industrious in propagating their doctrines? Or, have they succeeded, as in some other places, in driving the Baptist preachers, imperceptibly, to dwell too much upon high Calvinistic points, to the neglect of the more simple but more important principles of Christianity? If we were to calculate principles according to the weight of talents by which they are supported, Baptist principles ought to prevail within the Ketocton Association as much as in any section of Virginia, if not more. The talents of the leading preachers in those parts stand in the first row. After all is said the adversity or prosperity of religion in any place is often wrapped in mystery too dark to be penetrated by mortal vision. The ways of God are past finding out. It is not impossible before this generation passes away that the Son of Man may come in power and demonstration of His Spirit for the salvation of thousands, and quickly place His people above all competition.
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.