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History of American Baptists — Delaware

by David Benedict — 1848

Early history-most important churches, Welsh Tract-Duck Creek, or Brynsion–Wilmington ton-Second Church, do.,-Delaware Association Sad decline of the baptist interest in this State-Concluding remarks.

ALTHOUGH the number and influence of the denomination in this State, for marry years, has been very small, yet it was, for a long tithe, equal in proportion to the population, to any of the Middle States; and the community at Welsh Tract, in early times, held a respectable stand among the American Baptists ; it was one of the five churches which formed the Philadelphia Association ; its ministers were among the most active in all baptist operations, and the whole concern was not behind any of the members of that quintuple alliance. In all old historical details at the north or south, reference is often had to this ancient church, and the ministers who officiated there, or emigrated to other regions, were highly esteemed.

My business as a general historian of the Baptists is to relate all important facts relating to their rise and progress or decline, in all countries and ages; and although but, a short article can, according to in), rules of proceeding, be constructed on this small territory, where the interest of our denomination, at present, is much more diminutive than its geographical dimensions, yet tire whole story ought, in justice, to be told of the former good condition of the few churches here established which now are in a decayed and feeble slate.

The comparison will naturally lead to tire inquiry as to the cause of this unusual deterioration in our denominational affairs.

My second volume commences with the history of the baptists in this State; a few of the first paragraphs I will transcribe :

“Delaware became an independent State in 1776; it contains three little counties, New Castle, Kent, and Sussex; in the first, there was a baptist society as early as 1703; they settled near Iron hill; from thence, thcir sentiments took a spread northward, as far as Loadon Tract, in Pennsylvania; north-east, to Wilmington; east, to Bethel; west., to Elk river, in Maryland; southward, tar Duck Crock, in this State; and to Pedee river in South Carolina.

“This society was from Wales, and about the year 1733, eight or ten families more, from the same country, made a settlement at Duck Creek in Kent county, from whence their sentiments spread to Cowmarsh and Mispillion, and to Georgetown, in Maryland.

“About the year 1788; Elijah Baker and Philip Hughes who had been laboring on the 7 eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland and and Virginia, carne to the county of Sussex, and made many proselytes, and planted two or three churches.

“Delaware, at present, contains seven or eight churches, and one small Association, which bears the name of the State.

"Welsh TRACT CHURCH. To come to the history of this modern church, says Morgan Edwards, we must cross the Atlantic rind land in Wales, where it led its beginning, in the following manner: In the Spring; of the year 1701, several baptists in the counties of Pembroke and Caermarthen, resolved to go to Ainerica ; and as one of the company, Thomas Griffith, was a minister. they were advised to be constituted a church; they took the advice; the instrument of their confederation was in being, in 1770. but is flow lost or mislaid; the names of the confederates follow: Thomas Gifflith, Griffith Nicholas Evan Richmond, John Edwards, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Richard David. James David, Elizabeth Griffith, Lewis Edmond, Mary John, Mary Thomas, Elizabeth Griffith, Tennet David, Margaret Mathias, Tennet Morris. These sixteen persons, which may be styled a church emigrant met at Milfordhaven, in the month of June, 1701, embarked on board the good ship William and Mary, and on the 8th of September following, landed at Philadelphia. The brethren there treated them courteously, and advised them to settle about Pennepeck; thither they went, and there continued about a year and a half; during which time, their church increased from sixteen to thirty-seven. But finding it inconvenient to tarry about Pennepeck, they, in 1703, took up land m Newcastle county, from Messrs. Evans, Davis, and Willis (who had purchased paid Welsh Tract from William Penn, containing upward, of 30,000 acres), and thither removed the same year, and built a little meetinghouse on the spot where the present stands.1

"This removal left some of their members near Pennepeck and took Borne of the Pennepeck members to Welsh Tract, yet neither would commune with their neighbors, on account of a r difference about laying-on-of- hands; for the church of Pennepeck had grown indifferent about the rite; but that at Welsh Tract deemed it a prerequisite to the communion of saints. To remedy this inconvenience, the churches appointed deputies, to the number of twenty-four from both, to compromise matters as well as they could ; who met for the purpose, June 22, 1706. The following history, translated from the Welsh Tract church-book, will give the reader a view of this whole transaction, and the happy termination of these disputes.

"We could not be in fellowship, at the Lord's table, with our brethren in Pennepeck and Philadelphia, because they did not hold to the laying-on-of-hands, and some other particulars1 relating to a church: true, some of them believed in the ordinance, but neither preached it up, nor practised it ; and when we moved to Welsh Tract, and left twenty-two of oar members at Pennepeck, and took some of their members down with us, the difficulty increased; we had many meetings in order to compromise matters, but to no purpose till June 22 1706: then the deputies, who had been appointed for the purpose, met at the house of brother Richard Miles, in Radnor, and agreed that a member in either church might transiently commune with the other; that a member who desired to come under file laying-on-of-hands, might have his liberty wihout offence; drat the votaries of the right might Preach or debate upon tire subject with all freedom, consistent with brotherly lose. But three years after This meeting, we had reason to review this transaction, because of Borne brethren who arrived from Wales, and one, among ourselves, who questions whether the first article was warrantable. But we are satisfied that all was right, by the hood effects which followed ; for, from that time forth, our brethren held sweet communion together at the Lord's table; and our minister2 was invited to preach and assist at an ordination at Pennepeck, after the death of our brother Watts. He proceeded from thence to the Jersey, where he enlightened many in the Good ways of the Lord, insomuch that in throe years after, all the ministers, and about fifty-five private members hall submitted to the ordinance."

The Welsh Tract Church was the principal, if not the sole means of introducing singing, imposition of hands, church covenants, &c., among the baptists in the Middle States. The Century Confession was in America before the year 1716, but without the articles which relate to these subjects ; that year they were inserted by Rev. Abel Morgan, who translated the confession to Welsh, about which time it was signed by one hundred and twenty-two members of this church. These articles were inserted in the next English edition, and adopted, with the other articles, by the Philadelphia Association, in 1742.

The pulpit of this church was filled by great and good men of Welsh extraction, for about 70 years.

The first minister was Thomas Griffith, who emigrated with the church. All we can learn of hint is, that he was born in Lauvernach parish, in the county of Pembroke, in 1645, and after faithfully serving this church twenty-four years, died at Pennepeck, July 25, 1725.

Mr. Griffith was succeeded by Elisha Thomas, who was born in the county of Caermarthen, in 1674. He emigrated from Wales with the church, whereof he was one of the first members, and died, November 7, 1730, and was buried in this church-yard, where a handsome tomb is erected to his memory ; the top-stone is divided into several compartments, wherein open books are raised, with inscriptions and poetry both in Welsh and English.

Mr. Thomas's successor was Enoch Morgan. He was brother to Abel Morgan, author of the Welsh Concordance. Their father was Morgan Ryddarch, a famous baptist minister in Wales; but it was a common thing in that country, for the children to false the personal name of their father instead of the sirname, only joining to it the names of their progenitors, by a string of aps.3 Mr. Morgan was born in 1676, at a place called Alltgach, in the parish of Lanwenrog, in the county of Cardigan. He arrived in America with the Welsh Tract Church, whereof he was one of the constituents; he took on him the care of the church at Mr. Thomas's decease, and died in 1740, and was buried in this grave-yard, where a tomb is erected to his memory.

Rev. Owen Thomas was his successor. He was born in 1776, at a place called Gurgodllys, in Cilmarrllwyd, and county of Pembroke. He came to America in 1707 ; took the pastoral care of the church at Mr. Morgan's death, in which office he continued until 1748, when he resigned it to go to Yellow Springs, where he died, November 12, 1760. Mr. Thomas left behind him the following remarkable note:

I have been called upon three times to anoint the sick with oil for recovery; the effect was surprising in every ease, but in none more so than in the case of our brother Rynallt Howel; he was so sore with the bruises which he received by a cask falling on him from a wagon, that he could not bear to be turned in bed ; the next day he went to meeting."

Rev. David Davis was the next in office here. He was born in the parish of Whitechurch, and county of Pembroke, in tire year 1708, and caste to America when a child, in 1710 ; was ordained in this church in 1734, at which time he became its pastor ; he continued in this office thirty-five years, viz. until 1769, when he died. He was an excellent man, and was held in high esteem by all who knew him. Two of his sons were preachers. Jonathan was a seventh-day baptist, and John was some time pastor of the Second Baptist church in Boston, Mass.

Thus, it appears, that hitherto the pastors of this church were all Welshmen. The succeeding pastors here have been native Americans, and the Rev. John Sutton was the first of this class. He was a native of New Jersey, and was a man of considerable distinction in his day. He became the pastor of this church in 1770, where he continued seven years, when he removed to Virginia, and then to Western Pennsylvania.

Rev. John Boggs was ordained to the pastoral office here in 1781, when forty years of age, where he continued until his death, in 1802.

Rev. Gideon Ferrell, whose birth and early education was among the Quakers, succeeded to this pastorate, in which he continued till his death, in 1818.

Since the death of Mr. Ferrell, the pastors or supplies of this ancient community have been Rev. Messrs. S. W. Woolford, S. Trott, T. R. Robinson, and Thos. Burton, who is the present pastor for a part of the time, as he supplies two other churches in Pennsylvania. The number of this church, when last heard from, was 69.

DUCK CREEK OR BRYNSION BYRN ZION CHURCH. This church, which was formerly distinguished by the first name, but now altogether by the latter, is situated about 70 miles to the south-West of Philadelphia. The meeting-house was built of brick in 1771, on a lot of one acre, the gift of John and Philemon Dickinson.

The tract of land which was called Duck Creek Hundred, was settled in the year 1733, by a number of Welsh families, some of the Independent and some of the Baptist denominations. The Independents built a meeting-house on the lot where the Baptist house now stands, and called it Brynsion, viz. : Mount Zion. They had divine service performed in it by Presbyterian ministers, viz.: Rev. Messrs. Thomas Evans, Rees Lewis, David Jenison, &c. But in process of time this independent society dwindled away, partly by deaths and partly by emigrations, and the Baptists made use of their house while it stood. The Independents neglected to have the lot conveyed over to them, for which reason it reverted to the Dickinsons, and continued in their hands till conveyed to the Baptists at the time above specified.

The baptists who settled here were about eight or ten. The names of the heads of them follows, viz. : James Hyatt, Nathaniel Wild, David Evans, Evan Rees, David Rees, James Howell, Evan David Hugh, Joshua Fdwards, &c. This last wits ;lit exhorter among them, until ere event to Pedee, in South Carolina. These baptists emigrated hither chiefly- from Pencader, in Newcastle county, and were members of Welsh Tract Church. In May 18, 1735, Rev. Hugh Davis, of the Great Valley, preached tit them at Brynsion meeting- house; otherwise they held their worship :it, the house of James Hyatt. In to September, 1737, Rev. David Davis, of Welsh Tract administered ordinances here; in 1719, Rev. Griffith Jones settled at Buck Creel:, and continued among these people until his death, in 1757. In the spring of 1766, Rev. William Davis, front New Britain, settled here; but he died the 25th of September following. After him, the Rev. Messrs. David Davis, John Sutton, John Boggs, &c., ministered to them, till their number increased to thirty. Then they petitioned Welsh Tract for leave to become it distinct church. These thirty petitioners were constituted a church by Messrs. Boggs, and Fleeson, November 24, 1781, and in 1786, were received into tile. Association of Philadelphia.

The ministers who officiated at Duck Creek, while it was it branch of Welsh Tract, have already been mentioned. The first pastor which it hail after it became a separate church was Eliphaz Dazey, who continued with them a short time, and then resigned, and was succeeded by James Jones.

Of the names of the pastors since the last one named, or of the present condition of this church, I am not informed.

FIRST CHURCH, WILMINGTON. As early as 1769, baptist ministers began to preach in this town in a transient wily, but without any apparent success. Three years after, some effects were produced by the preaching of Rev. Philip Hughes, who had occasion to spend some tithe in tile town to oversee the printing of a volume of hymns. In the month of April following, Mr. Thomas Ainger and family settled in the town; He was a member of the Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, but his wife was it professed baptist; he constantly maintained family worship, without any uncommon effect for it time. One Lord's day evening he read tire 20th chapter of Revelation, and found a strong impulse to comment upon it, particularly on the 12th verse. This diffused seriousness through the family, and laid a foundation for at religious society, in which good was done. Two of his apprentices, and some others, attributed their conversion to this society.

Soon after the same, Mr. Hughes caste to town to print his book on baptism, which detained hint near two months; lie preached all the while, sometimes at a Presbyterian meeting-house, and sometimes at the school-holtse, which collected many hearers.

Messrs. Fleeson and Boggs trade frequent visits to the place, and in Oct., 1785, a small church was formed, consisting of sixteen members; and Thomas Ainger, who began the domestic meetings already mentioned, being one of the constituent members, soon commenced preaching among them, and in due time became their pastor, in which office he continued till his death, in 1 1797.

After remaining destitute of a settled pastor about five years, they were favored with the settlement of Rev. Daniel Dodge, now pastor of the Second church, in Philadelphia, under whose ministry they enjoyed a good degree of prosperity for many years.

Mr. Dodge resigned this station in 1819. His successors have been Rev. Messrs. S. Green, D. D. Lewis, J. P. Peckworth. J. Miller, A. Earle, and J. Smoat. This brings us down to 1837, when Mr. Peckworth returned from Alexandria, D. C., to which place he removed from this station, and is the present incumbent. Mr. P. was the first pastor of the Third church, Philadelphia. This church, which was once large and flourishing, now contains about fifty members.

I have thus far been con fined in my history of our denomination in this State to the ancient establishments at Welsh Tract, Duck Creek, and Wilmington, all of which, for a long course of years, were in full fellowship and cordial co-operation with their brethren in all plans of benevolence and evangelical efforts, and their course was prosperous and progressive. Their present declining condition, and the causes which have led to it, in the opinion of one of my correspondents, will be exhibited in my closing remarks.

I shall now give a short account of one church of recent origin, which has from the beginning been identified with those evangelical principles and pursuits which, in this Mate, have of late years been neglected and condemned

SECOND CHURCH, WILMINGTON. This body was organized Sept. 3, 1835, with thirteen members.

Rev. C. W. Denison was settled with them the year after their constitution, and continued about three years.

Rev. Messrs. G. Carlton and S. Leach, in succession, officiated here for short periods, until 1843, when Rev. Morgan J. Rhees was installed into the pastorship, where he still continues. 'they hove generally been prosperous, and now their number amounts to about three hundred and fifty. They have a good house of worship, of ample dimensions, three Sabbath schools, and lend their aid to all the objects of Christian benevolence. This church has, from its origin, been connected with the Philadelphia Association.

I know of no other church in Delaware, old or young, which, according to my rules of proceeding, requires particular attention.


The date of this body I am not able to give. I find it referred to in the Minutes of the old Philadelphia community, as one of their corresponding Associations, as early as 1798; and for many years it was in fellowship and correspondence with all the surrounding institutions of a kindred character, which for some time past has not been the case. This body- was never large, but its present numerical strength is much less than in the days of its greatest prosperity.

In my statistical tables of 1812, it is put down at 6 churches, 4 ministers, and 480 members. The ministers were Gideon Ferrell, James Jones, Daniel Dodge, and Jethro Johnson. Gideon Ferrell was moderator, and Joseph Miles, clerk.

According to Allen's Register fur 1836, its number of members was reduced to about three hundred. This was about the amount of its numerical strength in 1845.

Closing Remarks. The Baptists were never numerous in thin State, and our interest here at present is small indeed. The few churches which in former times were in a flourishing condition, are now feeble and languishing, and some have become extinct. The present prospects of our affairs in Delaware naturally lead us to inquire into the cause of this lamentable state of thin(,,,, As I have made no comments as yet on the anti and non-effort principles with which we have now come in close contact, and which we shall often meet with as we go farther on in the course we are pursuing, I will insert tire following exposition of their natural operation in this State and the surrounding region, as given by a minister on the ground. After speaking of the churches generally, he says:

"One general remark is tree of them all, 'They progess backwards.' There has been a regular decline for years, even greater than is exhibited by their returns, and their congregations to almost nothing.

"There is one prominent reason why these churches, and throe of a kindred spirit in Delaware and Maryland and everywhere else, are declining, and do not and cannot proper. You will find it in Haggai I 2-12, and in Malachi III. 8-11. They withhold from the Lord's cause that which he demands, and the result is, the heavens withhold their blessings. God has called for a drought upon them in spiritual things, and they are withering, and fast decaying, and it needs no prophet's gift to see their speedy dissolution unless they repent and return to the Lord, and engage in His service. It is lamentable to see the light extinguishcd where once it shone so clearly-, but it is in accordance with His plans, who doeth all things well, and who will be honored by the service of His professed disciples. These churches oppose all Missionary, Bible, Sunday School, Tract and Temperance organizations, and are thus hindering the fulfillment of the Saviour's command to preach the Gospel in all the world to every creature; as far as they can do it, and while they thus set they cannot prosper."4