EIGHTY-FIVE YEARS LATER
It was some eight-five years after the aborted attempt of William Screvin to found a Baptist church in Kittery that further effort was successfully made at establishing those sentiments in the Province of Maine. Settlement of the area in general was much retarded by the events of the French and Indian Wars. The fact that the ecclesiastical situation was dominated by the Church of England and by Ferdinando Gorges in particular tended also to discourage any development toward independence of religious activity. The fall of Quebec on 13th of September 1759 brought to an end any intention of the French to colonize in Maine and for the most part settled the Indian problem making it safe for the English to homestead along the coast above Pemaquid. Towns began to spring up along the sea board and on the rivers but again, development was hindered by the war for independence. (In 1763 Maine population was about 24,000.)
Shortly before the Revolutionary war, however, on June 20,1768 a Baptist church was organized in Gorham and a few days after on June 28, 1768 another in Berwick. These churches came about largely through the efforts of Rev. Hezekiah Smith, who, as the pastor of the first Baptist church east of Merrimack River organized (1765) in Haverhill, Massachusetts, ranged far and wide in his evangelistic efforts. Interestingly, he, though born on Long Island, NY, in 1737 and educated at Princeton, NJ, was ordained an evangelist in Screvin’s church in Charleston, SC. He baptized Asa Libby one of my (CM) ancestors in 1767 in Falmouth and also baptized Lydia Buck, wife of the founder of Bucksport and her son Jonathan Jr. before they left Haverhill to live in Bucksport.
In those early days it was common for Baptist churches which were like-minded to come together in area associations, meeting sometimes monthly but always annually from church to church. The first association involving Maine churches was called the York Association and was principally promoted by Dr. Samuel Shepherd of Brentwood, NH and Rev. William Hooper of Berwick who was the first Baptist minister ever to be ordained on the soil of Maine in 1776. (Note, the first association of Baptists in New England was called the Warren Association organized in 1767 which adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith in 1742. It being almost identical to the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689.)
THE GREAT AWAKENING
This is a good place to speak of the effect of the Great Awakening upon the churches in America. The most important personage in this revival movement was George Whitfield who came to this country from England where under his ministry a similar movement was taking place called, over there, the Evangelical Awakening. Revival in England was spectacular affecting the entire United Kingdom but particularly Wales and Central England. From the same spiritual awakening at Oxford that produced Whitfield, came the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, one to become the leader in Methodism and the other a great hymn writer. In fact, however, Whitfield is actually to be credited as the founder of Methodism which split into very opposite doctrinal direction and while he turned his attention to the New World, crossing the Atlantic a total of thirteen times, a movement in Wales developed that became known as the Calvinist Methodist churches and Wesley led people who had been converted under the preaching of Whitfield into an Arminian theological direction stressing what became known as "perfectionism."
To return to this country the scenario that developed was as follows: most Congregational churches received Whitfield at first, whose preaching of the New Birth produced revival effects wherever he went. Soon Congregationalism was split, some turning toward Unitarianism and many developing a new sense of beginning calling themselves "New Light Congregationalist." Exhorters arose everywhere decrying the fact that many Congregational ministers did not accept the teaching of the new birth and thus were considered to be themselves unregenerate. The reaction of many of the standing order Congregationalist who had fostered a Church state concept as expressed, for example in Massachusetts in the Cambridge Platform and in Connecticut in the Saybrook Platform, became outwardly opposed to Whitfield and were called "Old Light Congregationalists." In Pennsylvania a very similar division was occurring among Presbyterians resulting in New Side and Old Side Presbyterianism. A family there called the Tennants were strong New Siders and from their efforts developed the Log College which was the beginning of Princeton Theology Seminary.
In New England a battle royal was going on, particularly in Connecticut where hard core Congregationalism persecuted New Lights to the extent of throwing in prison those who dared to invade the parish of a reigning minister, violating the Saybrook Platform. This is important background material in order to appreciate the rise of one of the greatest Baptist leaders of the period, Isaac Backus who came to Christ under a New Light preacher in Norwich CT (1741). By 1748 he was organizing a New Light church in Titacut, MA and by1756, after much soul searching, a Baptist church in Middleborough, MA. The Baptists in colonial New England had a rough time of it. In most towns the tax to support the standing order clergy (Congregational) was levied against the Baptists along with everyone else. They chaffed under the double cost of their conviction for they were, in effect, supporting their own pastors and those who often bitterly opposed them. Backus became a champion of religious liberty going to legislature to gain deliverance from this legal burden. Meanwhile many who refused to pay the tax had their goods distrained and were eventually imprisoned. In those days it cost one a great amount of suffering to become one of those despised Baptists "who got baptized in order to wash away their taxes."
We shall meet Isaac Backus again soon. Meanwhile we will give him a chance to write his important book, The History of New England with Particular Reference to the Baptists, which has become an important source of information on the subject ever since.
BAPTISTS BY CONVICTION
In the intervening troubled years between the Great Awakening and the renewal of interest in Maine to form Baptist churches, a cycle developed wherein many Congregational churches became New Light Congregational, then Separates (the inclusivism of ministers who practiced the half way covenant and Stoddardism to gain or keep members was an offense to many converts of the Revival) and finally for many, Separate Baptists. The trend toward the baptism of believers only, held by the Baptists increased due to the gradual awareness that compromising measures such as those mentioned above were largely to blame for the coldness that had crept into the church due to the baptism of infants and thus the inclusion of many non-Christian into the parish churches. Individual study of the Scriptures was leading many to develop convictions about church polity that was so nearly Baptist that many, after great exercise of mind and heart decided that to all intents and purposes they were Baptists. This had been the case of Backus, and we will later meet Daniel Merrill and Adoniram Judson who came by the same route.
I believe that it is extremely significant that so many Baptist churches in Massachusetts and Maine have largely evolved from the Great Awakening and the preaching of George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards and Isaac Backus. Their background is strong Calvinism which stressed the glory and power of our Great God but coupled with a strong emphasis on an inerrant Bible which should be the basis of church polity rather than the expediency which had developed in the standing order churches. Thus a literal interpretation of the Bible led away from Covenant theology and into a great missionary spirit which spawned hundreds of new Baptist churches with mostly uneducated men as pastors who didn’t know any better than to believe that a man with an open Bible and the Holy Spirit as his teacher could be used by God to accomplish great things.
The powerful influence of the Revival thus continued to be felt on the frontier as the wilderness gradually gave way to civilization, as peace reigned and men were free to develop and settle the wonderful, beauteous land we call Maine. One factor, perhaps more than any other in my opinion, that tended to dampen the revival fires was the emphasis on an educated clergy. At first probably schools like Brown and Colby had little effect but it wasn’t long, perhaps about mid century, when things began to change and one has only to look at these schools today to understand what has happened to our churches and why it is that God has raised up small local church-centered training institutes to resist the trends.
But, for now we will have done with philosophizing and get back to the exciting history of the first half of the 19th century.
TO THE BOWDOINHAM ASSOCIATION
As stated, the first Baptist association in the Province of Maine was in York County and was called the York Association. It was begun in 1776 with three churches, one of them being in New Hampshire. By 1790 when the population of Maine included 3,572 families living in 2,789 houses, there were only 11 Baptist churches with not more than 500 members.
It appears from dates given that the third Baptist church in Maine to be recognized was the one in Sanford in 1772 and in Oct.1780 fourteen persons were set apart under newly ordained Nathaniel Lord in the town of Wells. Shapleigh (1781) was next as a few pious Baptists united together for worship under Nehemiah Davis and in nearby Lyman twenty-nine members were constituted a Baptist church where Simon Locke faithfully presided until he died in1821. Davis and Locke succeeded in establishing a Baptist church in Waterborough in 1791 which later joined the Saco River Assoc. Other late Baptist churches in the York Association was Buxton in 1799 from which later the churches in Hollis and Scarbor owed their existence.
Here we must divert our attention to the Central part of the state then being rapidly settled and to events which led to the development of the Bowdoinham Association, which also, simultaneously began its gradual development in the late 18th century (org.1788).
Churches organized prior to 1800 in the Bowdoinham Assoc. were:
2nd Webster 1794
I will digress a bit to list the Baptist churches and their dates that were organized before 1800 as indicated in Joshua Millet’s History of the Baptists in Maine (1845).
These four were later part of the Saco River Association which was not organized until 1842.
The Damariscotta Association:
Bristol and Miscongus 1792
1st Nobleborough 1793
The Lincoln Association was not organized until 1805 but the following member churches were organized earlier.
1st St. George 1783
1st Thomaston 1784
Churches organized before 1800 in the Washington County Association were:
There were two in the Waldo Association: Vassalborough 1783
2nd China 1767
Five in the Kennebec Assoc. 1st Sidney 1791
Mt. Vernon 1799
Four in the Cumberland Assoc. E. Brunswick 1785
New Gloucester 1795
N. Yarmouth 1797
1st Brunswick 1799
Four in the Oxford Assoc. Hebron 1791
Livermore 1st. 1793
The only one in the Hancock Association was Eden 1799.
I fear that very few of you have ever heard of this man and yet his is certainly one of the most important names in Maine Baptist history. I bring it in here because he was the founder of one of the churches of the Bowdoinham Association, Readfield, organized in 1792 and his story is most interesting. I bring it in also to show dramatically how Baptist churches in Eastern Maine historically have their roots in the Great Awakening.
Isaac Case was born in Rehoboth MA on Feb.25, 1761. At nearly 19 years of age in December of 1779 he was converted to Christ and joined the Baptist church in Dighton. He began preaching and having good results soon felt called to give his life to God for service. When he met Isaac Backus, mentioned earlier, we do not know but we see in Backus’ diary that they spent several days together on Cape Cod where they both were preaching. Several other instances are mentioned of their association. He preached more than once in Backus’ church in Middleborough while the latter was away. They were together in 1783 in August at an ordination and 5 days later at Backus’ home or church where the following subject was discussed.
One of Backus’ former church members, Job Macumber had written a long letter from New Gloucester in Maine where he described in quite detail the way God was working on the frontier and while it is suggested that they had discussed the subject earlier, Case sought guidance from Backus at this time about the possibility of his going there as a missionary and later Case says in his diary that it was agreed that he should "go eastward." Burrage in writing about Case says that the letter from Macumber was shown to him, but I have seen no basis for that.
Case, however, from that day "set his face as a flint" towards Maine. His church in Dighton agreed on Aug.28 to ordain him which was carried out on Sept.10th and the day following he parted with his mother and left on his "journey eastward." It is recorded in Case’s diary that he spent some time in Newton, MA with Elder Blood, called and took breakfast at Hezekiah Smith’s in Haverhill and stopped at Brentwood, NH to visit Dr. Samuel Sheppard but found only his wife at home. She encouraged him and sent him on his way to cross the Piscataqua River and venture into the province of Maine. All of the way he was traveling on foot! At Madbury he called on Elder Hooper and in Berwick met widow Lord whose 2 sons were both Baptist pastors.
By Oct. 21st he had reached Brunswick where at New Meadows he met Joe Potter. Potter who had taken his convictions right from the Bible had only recently learned through Nathaniel Lord that he was indeed a Baptist – at least he believed like one! He and Case teamed up and were involved in a revival taking place on Sebascodigan Island, Harpswell. (Note, one of my great grandfathers Abiel Sprague once owned this island back in 1739-1759 - Cumberland Co. Me. deeds.) Case finished out the year in the general area of Bath and Bowdoinham.
On Jan. 21st, 1784 our young hero crossed the Kennebec on the ice and proceeded "eastward" to Newcastle where he met a group of brethren who has been dispatched to fetch him to Thomaston to preach. On the following Lord’s Day he preached at the dwelling house of Mr. Oliver Robbins whose wife was the only Baptist he found anywhere around. There was no church of any denomination in the area. From Feb.26 when he held his first baptism until May 23rd, he had baptized a total of 64 and they were meeting in the Robbins’ barn. This was the historic beginning of the First Baptist Church of Rockland, Maine.
Among the converts was Elisha Snow, a prominent business man and boat builder. He decided to leave everything and become a preacher of the Gospel. He had a 17- year old daughter Joanna (1767-d.1847) who also was converted and who became the wife of Isaac Case (1785) and the mother of 13 children. Elders Case and Snow became a team and most of the Baptist churches within a radius of 50 miles owe their existence to their labors in the Gospel.
A church of 50 members was organized in Thomaston on May 27, 1784 to which was added in June of 1785, another 46 as indicated in a letter from Case to Isaac Backus. By 1787 there were members coming from Jefferson, Newcasle, Nobleboro, Waldborough, Friendship, Cushing, Warren, Union, Camden, Castine and Fox Island, covering 30 miles distant. Such were his evangelistic efforts. He organized the churches in Bowdoinham and Harpswell and in 1787 the three churches formed the beginning of the Bowdoinham Association.
We might say at this point that this young man in his early 20's had accomplished a great deal, but if he were to comment, he would say– "oh, this is just the beginning" and so indeed it was!
The next step in his life was to remove to Readfield where a new church had been gathered, and where, by 1793, a meeting house was erected. By 1800 he had resigned as pastor to give himself entirely to missionary work. His direction continued to move "eastward." His unpublished mishmash of handwritten records of all the places he visited are to be found at Colby College. I have seen these and have transcribed some of them.
On May 26,1892 in Boston the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society was formed and they began publishing a bi-monthly magazine. Mr. Case became one of their first missionaries, serving until about1828 and still attending association meetings in 1852. He died in Readfield at his home in the ninety-second year of his life (Nov.3,1852). He and Joanna are buried in above ground sarcophagi on the exact site where the pulpit stood in the Readfield church. Inscriptions on the stones are legible and interesting.
Mr. Case throughout his days of service sent reports to be published in the pages of the Missionary Magazine. While rummaging thru a pile of ephemera at the Milk Street Book Shop in Boston, I came across a number of copies of said magazine issued from near its beginning in 1802. Paying one dollar apiece for a goodly number, I have enjoyed reading of Isaac Case’s missionary journeys to Eastport and beyond into the Maritime Provinces of Canada only with many other interesting accounts of those early Baptist years. At Colby College in the archives there is also a 21 page paper written by Henry S. Burrage, D.D., who was the Maine State Historian at the time of its writing and also himself a Baptist, which is a brief account of Case’s life and incorporates excerpts from his journal, probably lifted from the pages of said magazine. Mr. Burrage included much of the same material in his History of the Baptists in Maine published by the Marks Printing House Printers in Portland, Maine in 1904.
I pause at this point, before going on to some additional historical material containing further stories involving Isaac Case, some of them even more interesting than what has been written heretofore, to apprise my readers of the following information.
The foregoing material can be found in the following books by looking in their indices. The Life and Times of Isaac Backus by Alvah Hovey D.D.,Gano Books 1991; The Diary of Isaac Backus in 3 Volumes, published by Brown University Press; the afore mentioned work by Burrage; A History of the Baptists in Maine by Rev. Joshua Millet, printed by Charles Day and Co., Portland 1845 and last but not least, Revivalism and Separatism in New England by C.C. Goen, printed by Archon Books 1969.
I personally own all of these books plus many more on the subject of Baptist history and make them available for research in my library on request (contact us). Please furnish reference if unknown to me.
Here we should include some reference to the afore-mentioned book by Goen on Separatism. He indicates that though the appellation "Separate Baptists" was "passe" before the end of the 18th century these churches with New Light origins continued to exert great influence upon the Baptist denomination. He says that the Baptists "bore off the largest fruit" of the Great Awakening (see p.282). Backus stated in 1804 that New England had 312 Baptist churches.
Goen does an excellent job of showing how important Isaac Backus was in the fight for freedom of conscience in New England (p.269).
The missionary zeal of Hezekiah Smith, Isaac Backus and Isaac Case stems from the work done by George Whitfield in the Great Awakening. It spread from church to church as pastors took to the field and passed the message along, so it can be seen that the great Baptist revival in Maine in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries affecting nearly every town as fast as they sprung up in the wilderness and reaching to settlements along the coast and rivers was an outgrowth of that movement begun in 1740. In those early days there were only 3 ministers who were educated, Peletiah Tingley, Abraham Cummings and Daniel Merrill; and the rest were all self-taught.
ISAAC CASE AND DANIEL MERRILL
The following is certainly one of the most fascinating stories in the annals of Maine church history. It is not directly related to Mr. Case but in it all he was a player.
Case first met Daniel Merrill when they both were on a common mission in Vassalborough, says Burrage. At that time (1803) Mr. Merrill was the pastor of the Congregational Church in Sedgement, Maine. About the same time Case was on Islesboro where revival was in progress and in two months between sixty and seventy had been converted. The work was mainly being carried on under the preaching of Phinehas Pilsbury who along with Henry Hale and William Allen was sitting at the feet of brother Merrill who was training them for the ministry. Allen was already a member of a Baptist church. Pilsbury was baptized at Islesboro by Mr. Case on this missionary journey. Case says of him, "by reading his Bible he was convinced that he was never baptized before." Mr. Hale was also baptized by Case about the same time at Vinalhaven. There is also reference to Thomas Perkins sitting under Merrill.
Now, one can just imagine what was being discussed every time these young men rowed over to Sedgewick to meet with the good pastor Merrill. For two years he had been searching the Scriptures for material for a book on the subject of baptism which he desired to write in hopes of convincing his Baptist friends and his students that they were wrong on the issue. Merrill was a graduate of Dartmouth College and at this time pastored a church of one hundred and eighty-nine members, which, Burrage thinks was the largest church of any name in the district of Maine. He sought in vain and the climax came when eight children were being presented for sprinkling and he could not bring himself to do it. He led his church to conduct a day of fasting and prayer "to implore (God’s) merciful interference, that we might not renounce the practice to which we had been accustomed if that practice was .... in accordance with His revealed will." No light came though he continued in distress for several months, that distress was mostly due to his "unconquered antipathy" to the Baptists. In his autobiography (pp.3 &4) he wrote "I could not bear the idea of being called one." Finally he surrendered "without so much as a known mental reservation" and found the peace he sought.
By 1804 he wrote that he had preached 7 sermons on the subject and indicated that "my present expectation is that we shall wish to be baptized and formed into a regular Baptist church." The town voted by an overwhelming majority to continue his salary as a Baptist, and the church on Feb.28, 1805 voted unanimously to call a council to administer Christian baptism and constitute them into a Baptist church.
Accordingly, a boatload of Baptist ministers and laymen sailed from Salem, MA and arrived in Sedgewick on Saturday the 11th of May 1805 at one o’clock.
On the 14th of May, 1805 in the tide waters of the Benjamin River 66 candidates were baptized, with Pastor & Mrs. Merrill leading the way and the next day 19 more. At one o’clock these all assembled in the meeting house and formed a church organization. By appointment of the council, Isaac Case gave them the hand to fellowship as a "sister church of Christ" and in prayer commended them to God and the word of His grace. The council then proceeded to ordain Mr. Merrill as pastor. Rev. Elisha Snow of Thomaston offered the ordaining prayer and Rev. Abraham Cummings of Vinalhaven gave the charge. (Note this account is recorded in one of the issues of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine that I possess – now over 200 years old and in Burrage’s Baptist History of Maine.) Millet adds to the narrative the facts that within the year 85 more adherents were baptized. In 1816 one hundred and forty were added by baptism as the fruit of a revival and in 1822 about 100 more in another refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Later, in 1838 more than 100 souls were added, so that by this time there was a flourishing church of 260 members. If it be asked, what became of the others, let it be understood that from this church there were constant divisions, all happy occasions, as multitudes were let go to form churches in Brooklyn, Brooksville, Sargentville, North Sedgewick, East Blue Hill, South Blue Hill, Blue Hill and South Penobscot. The story of what happened in Blue Hill we will embark on momentarily. But first let us also note the list of pastors that the work has yielded: Rev. P.Pilsbury, Rev. N. Norton, Rev. Amos Allen, Rev. Michael Carleton, Rev. Henry Hale, Rev. Moses Merrill (son of Daniel), Rev. Thomas Merrill and Rev. Daniel Dodge.
CASE, MERRILL AND PARSON FISHER
In Blue Hill Parson Fisher of the Congregational persuasion was installed in 1796, the church being already 24 years old. Elders Case and Snow passing through the area had often preached here on their way eastward and it is said that they had not urged their sentiments on baptism though it was certainly known that they were Baptists. There was an extensive revival there in 1803 and three persons refused to unite with Fisher’s church unless they could do so without subscribing to infant sprinkling to which deference was paid and they joined but not without interest in the subject being aroused among the people. These three ultimately withdrew and united with the Baptists in Sedgewick. By 1806 there were 19 adults wishing to be consolidated into a church. We pick up the thread of the story from Mary Ellen Chase’s book, Jonathan Fisher, Maine Parson 1768 -1847, p.96 where it is reported that about 1/3 of Fisher’s members numbering 98 was lost by him to the Baptists. From his diary on Feb. 13, 1806 the following account is given: "this day 18 persons,12 males, 6 females, all but one members of my church, were gathered into a Baptist church by Mr. Case and Mr. Merrill. To me a mournful event. But the Lord reigneth!" Chase goes on to record an amazing instance that showed the true magnanimity of both Fisher and Merrill. Fisher, she says, recorded in his diary the fact that Merrill, before returning to Sedgewick the next morning, called to have breakfast with him. "One would give a great deal to know what was said at that breakfast table by the two friends of many years! But that Mr. Merrill both felt assured of his welcome and desired to come speaks eloquently and well for both Parson Fisher and for himself." There were only 597 souls total in the small town that now hosted two small churches. In 1809 John Roundy and Amos Allen were ordained, the former as pastor and the latter as an evangelist and in 1816 with the aid of Phinehas Pilsbury 141 persons were added to their church and they built a house of worship.
About the time of his becoming pastor of the Baptist church in Blue Hill, Elder Roundy had his cow led away by the magistrate in payment of his ecclesiastical tax for the support of Fisher, a case in point of the persecution of the Baptists in those days.
It may be of interest to note at this point that by 1800 there were 125 incorporated towns in Maine and a population of a little over 150,000. According to the Maine Register for this date there were 30 Baptist ministers in Maine but only one beyond Union River in Ellsworth and that would have been the church in Eden on the road to Bar Harbor.
By 1802 there was a Baptist church at Moose Island (Eastport) which had been organized by a missionary from New Brunswick. The area was visited often by missionaries like Case, Henry Hale and by pastor Merrill. A Freewill Baptist missionary by the name of John Colby in 1816 visited Eastport and many of the nearby towns, mentioning Deer Island and Campobello in New Brunswick as well as Lubec, Dennysville and Penamaquon. He made a second visit, this time on foot arriving at Eastport on Aug.10 where states on p.33 of the second volume of The Life, Experience and Travels of John Colby, Preacher of the Gospel, an autobiography,(a copy of which I own along with many others of the same type and of that period) that the church consisted of 47 members.
My wife and I served an interim of several months in this church at Eastport in the year 2000 and enjoyed reading the records that go back to 1802.
FREE-WILL BAPTIST MOVEMENT
Benjamin Randall (1749 – 1808) though under deep conviction of sin during his childhood, attendeding some of George Whitefield’s services, it was not until hearing of Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, MA, that he was struck to the heart and converted Oct.15, 1770. He was 21 years old. He joined the Congregational Church in Newcastle but withdrew in 1775. He was baptized by William Hooper during Hooper’s ordination. He was ordained in 1780 but I could find no details in sources at hand. Randall, influenced primarily by the zeal of Whitefield and the New Lights and knowing nothing of the Calvinistic roots of the movement thought at first that he was entirely at one with the Baptist movement around him. Soon, however, he found himself rebelling against the hyper-Calvinism of some and developed a strong penchant for Armenian doctrine. By 1779, however, he had split with the Calvinist Baptists and thus began the development of a Free Will contingent among the Baptists is Maine. The older Baptist churches seemed mostly to ignore the young upstart and according to Burrage took little notice of it in any published material. It seemingly was felt that there was room enough for both schools of thought in the District and that the difference was not serious enough to break fellowship. Indeed, the trend among the Calvinist Baptists was toward the free offer of salvation as characterized by Andrew Fuller in England.
Ultimately the two branches of Baptists merged, but not until 1911. It was particularly the Northern or Randall line of Free Will Baptists that merged, leaving a continuing Free Will Baptist denomination, mostly in the Southwest and Midwest which formed The Cooperative Association of Free Will Baptists in 1916. Other lines include the largest group named The National Association of Free Will Baptists with headquarters in Antioch, TN.
Getting back to Maine history, a factor contributing to the strength of the Free Will Baptist movement in Maine was the development of Bates College. This started with the establishing by John Buzzell of a private high school called the Parsonsfield Seminary in that Maine community in 1831. This burned in 1854 and one of its alumni, a F.W. Baptist pastor in Augusta, O.B. Cheney led a movement to establish the Maine State Seminary in 1855. In 1862 a collegiate department was established in this school and 2 years later it was renamed and rechartered as Bates College (for its primary benefactor.)
This school in Lewiston, Maine of which Rev. O.B.Cheney was the president for many years, became a training school for Free Will Baptist clergy and probably accounts for the fact that in 1880 the Maine Register (the only copy I own) shows the "Free Baptists" having 281 churches whereas the "Baptists" with 263 though membership totals show the latter to be the larger on average (21,165 to 15,870). The FW Baptist held Quarterly meetings in 18 locations at the above date while the Regular Baptists, as they were sometimes called, held yearly associational meetings at 13 locations in the state.
A couple of personal notes.
Of the 130 some books in my library on Baptist church history, a number of them are ministers’ journals. Some are Maine and some are Free Will Baptist, for example, David Marks, John Colby, O.E. Cheney, Clement Phiney and Lemuel Norton.
In brushing up on dates and other factual material the name of a paper published by the F.W. Baptist kept coming up and it sounded vaguely familiar. Upon checking my Libby Genealogy I verified the interesting fact that one of my ancestors Elias Libby born 1790 - died 1871 was the one instrumental in establishing The MORNING STAR in Limerick, Maine. In 1881 this was still being published, only in Dover, NH.
WATERVILLE COLLEGE (COLBY)
Speaking of schools for the training of clergy, while Bates met the need of the Free Will Baptists and Congregational ministers were training at Bowdoin, Watervillc College now known as Colby College was the school of choice for the training of ministers for regular Baptist churches. This school began as The Maine Literary and Theological Institution with Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin as Professor of Divinity on May 1st, 1819 under the aegis of a trusteeship chartered by the state of Massachusetts in 1813 and consisting of a group of 22 Baptist pastors and laymen including Daniel Merrill. The school was opened at Waterville in the Wood House with a small number of male students. On Feb.5, 1821 the Legislature of the new state of Maine changed the name of the institution to Waterville College. It was not until 1867 that the College took the name of its most generous benefactor at the time, at Mr. Chaplin’s suggestion, Mr. Gardner Colby of Newton, MA.
One does not have to read far in the published history of this institution to see how quickly a worldly spirit began to prevail and unfortunately it is today one of Maine’s most liberal colleges. Such was the trend of all the ivy league schools that were begun to train ministers of the Gospel such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Bowdoin, etc.
It is the humble opinion of this author that the early Baptist church fathers were wrong in their attempt to emulate the Congregationalists in providing for an educated clergy. Obviously, it was not the ignorance of these early preachers that won the day, but their faith in the authoritative Word of God and their utter dependance upon the Holy Spirit which, unfortunately became quenched somehow. Pride will do it, so will trusting in the flesh. Disobedience to the simple truths of Scripture like the practice of church discipline could be one way Satan got in to put out the fire. One cannot but believe that had these failures not occurred the revival would be going on still!
To bolster that belief and to close out this journey into the past, I will append to what I have written, a few pages from a book entitled, Accounts of Religious Revivals by Joshua Bradley. These are from all over the country, but I have chosen some from Maine. The dates are from 1815 to 1818 and is simply material the author collected and the book is not copyrighted. I would also suggest Ian H. Murray’s book Revival and Revivalism which disparages our modern day revivalistic methods in comparison to what was taking place in true revivals. It has been some time since I read this, but upon review I would say that in general it would be in agreement with my observations. He says on p. 118"Edward Griffin, who dated the beginning of the general awaking in Connecticut in 1798, could write in January 1832, ‘Since that time revivals have never ceased’.
ACCOUNTS OF RELIGIOUS REVIVALS
Sedgwick and Bluehill, Me
Previously to the work’s beginning in these towns, the Lord had shed some mercy drops upon those westward. The brethren appointed meetings of fasting and prayer, and the work appeared towards the East.
In Feb.1816, the Baptist minister in Nobleborough, came on a visit to Bluehill. Under his preaching the work soon became visible. Its progress was so rapid, that it soon extended into every part of the town. It was solemn and still; but remarkably powerful. Its subjects were children, youths, and the middle aged. Now, multitudes of thoughtless, giddy youths, who, just before, were engaged in the height of vanity, were seen flocking to meetings every day. They seemed to pay the utmost attention to the precious word of God, that was preached among them.
In April it began in Sedgwick and spread in every part of the town, and into many of the adjoining towns. The oldest Christians in that region say, they never saw a work of grace equal to this, since the Eastern shores were inhabited. They have seen reformations equally powerful, but none before so extensive, and so free from inconsistency and confusion. It was enough to affect the most hardened infidel, to attend the prayer meetings of the youths and children, and to behold the order they maintained. Their prayers and exhortations were short, but generally to the purpose, and very spiritual. These meetings have been remarkably instrumental in awakening those who were going on the way to ruin. In a few months 150 have been added to this church, and a considerable number to the congregational church. 104 to the Baptist church in Bluehill, and about 30 to the Congregational church in that place. The good work spread into a number of towns. Of which I have not obtained sufficient information to give the publick correct accounts.
Thomaston, (Me.) 1816
When the Rev. Mr. Baker was first settled in this town, he found, that the young people were very much given to lightness and profanity. To change their morals and render them amiable in society, he introduced a Sunday school, which soon had the desired affect. Early on that blessed morning prayer meetings were appointed and well attended. Also, one conference meeting on a week day evening.
The precious Saviour, ever ready to bless the endeavours of his people, soon gave encouragement to these well laid plans, and these noble exertions, by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon his servants and handmaidens. Their meetings, became large and very solemn. There, the deep sigh of the anxious, the silent tear of the humble penitent, and the joyful thanksgiving of such as were delivered from the bondage of sin, formed a very interesting scene. Christians were constrained to exclaim, God hath in very deed appeared to plead his own cause, and wipe away our reproach. To see young children walking the streets, early on the Lord’s day morning before the sun beams covered them; and the old men, walking everyone with his staff in his hand for very age, was a sight, which angels must have seen with more than common transport.
Sixty were added to this church. These new members were from eleven to twenty years of age. A gradual work appeared in Camden, and twenty were added to the first church. Among the Freewillers many were brought to bow to the mild sceptre of Jesus, and adhere to him with full purpose of heart. In Hope, and in Lincolnville there has been a glorious display of God’s astonishing grace.
Mount Desert, Surrey, Ellsworth, Trenton, and Sullivan have been visited with refreshing showers of mercy. Such displays of grace have never been witnessed in those regions since that country was settled. This revival appeared in 1816, and spread along the eastern banks of Penobscot River. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. And of Eden, and of Columbia, and Addison, and Stueben, and Goldsborough, it shall be said, This and that man was born there.
Brunswick, (Me.) 1818
This work commenced in 1816, and Dr. Baldwin of Boston, was one very honoured instrument in the all powerful hand of Jesus, in awakening the careless. He preached in a large hall, at 7 o’clock on the morning of July 22d, and about fifty were roused from spiritual slumber, and saw themselves verging towards infinite misery. The Saviour soon extended his hand and delivered them from plunging into remediless ruin.
More than eighty were hopefully renovated, in the space of three weeks. At every meeting some came forward and told what the Lord had done for their souls. At one meeting, thirty related their experience, and as many more were desirous to come forward. What a wonderful work! Were Christians prepared to attend this exhibition of salvation, and receive converts daily into the churches? They truly were: for days of fasting and prayer were appointed, and strictly attended, for more than twelve months before, God came from Teman and the Holy One from mount Paran. With pleasure they might hang upon the prophets’ lips and say, His glory covered the heavens, and his brightness as the light: he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.
The ordinances were attended with an unusual blessing to spectators, and the exhortations of young converts, were often rendered powerful means of extending the work, and refreshing the souls of old professors. The greatest regularity was preserved in all their meetings. Persons of all ages, from nine to eighty years old have been happy subjects of this reformation. About three hundred have joined themselves to the churches in this town.
Bath, (Me.) 1816
The first favourable appearance, in this place, that God was about to revive his work, was an uncommon flocking to meetings, attended with remarkable stillness and solemnity upon those who came. The Spirit seemed to descend like a mighty rushing wind, and soon a general attention prevailed through the town.
Each of the religious societies shared in the work. The means God has seen fit to honour, in spreading this work are many. A Methodist brother, in the more humble condition in life than multitudes, was apparently blest to the awakening of numbers. The appearance and conversation, of those who were brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, carried conviction to the hearts of many.
Numbers went thoughtless to see the converts profess Jesus before men, but returned deeply impressed with a sense of their sin and danger. The preaching of Christ has been the power of God, and the wisdom of God to many, who walked in darkness, and saw no amiableness in Him who is altogether lovely, and the express image of the Father.
The aged, middle aged, and youth have been enabled to come to Jesus, to cleanse them from sin. Some influential characters, and some in the lowest walks of life have been hopefully born of the Spirit. Among the young merchants, the work was so remarkable, that it was often said, that all the stores have become meeting houses. In the time of this revival, all have seemingly endeavoured to keep their passions within the bounds of reason, and only a few have made any noise that could disturb the most devout worshippers of the Lamb; and these were so over whelmed with a sense of exposedness to endless punishment, that they groaned under the weight of their sins, and trembled at the thoughts of approaching judgment. Deep solemnity has generally marked the penitent; and a holy smile of joy and complacency, the pardoned sinner.
Since the beginning of this good work, about two hundred and fifty have been added to the churches is this town; which are Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist.
There were frequent appearances of a revival in this town, before it really quickened dead sinners, and caused them to follow Christ in the regeneration. A more than usual concern was manifested by professors, for a revival of religion. Meetings of Lord’s days were full, and there seemed to be some attention to the word in time of worship; but no visible fruit appeared until the summer of 1816. – It was first reported that several youths were thought to be under serious concern for their souls. In September, a revival was apparent; some had found comfort to their minds, and others appeared anxiously concerned.
In October and November, the precious work kept increasing and spreading, till it was
perceived in all parts of the society. Prayer meetings were attended three times a week, and sometimes oftener. These were much crowded, and the power of the Spirit was so manifested with the people, that there were but few, who were not awed with his presence. The young converts were made cheerfully to sing, while the eyes of the older Christians glistened with tears of joy, and others sighed under their worse than Egyptian bondage. The feelings of every one were more or less affected. The good news that this or that youth was under concern for his soul, or rejoicing in the love of God, daily awakened attention. Although their meetings were so crowded, and the attention so great, no disorder appeared; all was regular; only one spoke at a time, with the greatest calmness, and yet with fervency. Reader, hast thou ever experienced this grace? What are all the splendours of the world, when compared with the joy of such a season?
This work has been principally among the youth, and very few over thirty years appear to have had a share in it. The subjects of it expressed a deep sense of their vileness, and of justice of God in their condemnation, but not with a great deal of terror, as it respects positive future punishment. Their wretchedness was in themselves, and their hell in their own breasts. They were soon brought to see, that they must be holy or miserable, for ever. Generally when they received comfort, their joy at first was but small, their views faint, and their hope not more than proportionable. In many instances they expressed a measure of delight in the Redeemer, when they hardly dared to hope at all. They gathered strength of mind very gradually; but their trials seemed more than usual, and it was some time before any of them were constrained, by the love of Christ, to make publick profession of his name. In January 1817, twenty, mostly youths, professed their faith in Christ. This was a solemn day, and long to be remembered with an holy pleasure. In February and March, a number more came forward and owned their Lord. About fifty in this town have been hopeful subject of regenerating influences.
The District of Maine has been highly favoured of God. That region, a few years ago, contained only here and there a village, and a few towns skirting along the shores of the Atlantic. Now it is populous, rich and religion abounds among its inhabitants.
To the list of towns, of which we have read accounts unfolding God’s free and unbounded compassion to sinners, we may add with much holy pleasure, Alfred, Waterborough, St. George, Nobleborough, Jefferson, Deerfield, Bowdoin, Sumner, Livermore, and Fayette. Upon these and many lying in their vicinity, the Spirit has descended, and its omnipotent energies have been experienced.
Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name, O God! shall this glorious and gracious work be ascribed. Many whose heads are whitened with age, who have long borne the burden and heat of the day in the gospel vineyard, declare that never have such exhilarating tidings gladdened their hearts, nor such bright prospects met their eyes. Multitudes are now embosomed in the churches, who a few years since were roaming the wilds of nature, and speeding their way to the regions of blackness and unspeakable misery. May these converts all adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour, and finally sit down with the sanctified in the kingdom of heaven.
PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW !