First Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA

Metadata

Title

First Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA

Digital Identifier

First Baptist Church, Philadelphia, PA

Description

Notable for its early leadership in Baptist organization and evangelism, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was prominent both in its region and city and in the transatlantic community of Baptists. Begun in 1698 as a mission of the more suburban Pennepack (now, Lower Dublin) Baptist Church, First Baptist soon became the leading congregation for the city, region, and colonies, gaining independent status from Pennepack in 1746.

In 1707 the church hosted the organizing meeting of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first lasting inter-regional organization of Baptists in America, and over the years provided a disproportionate share of this group’s officers. From the beginning, the lives of this association and the First Baptist congregation were intertwined, with the church meeting house hosting meetings of the association and welcoming delegates, called messengers by the Baptists, from as far south as Charleston and as far north as Boston. By the 1760s, the first decade for which minutes survive, the congregation had gained prominence beyond its modest size, including among the transatlantic Baptist network. This prominence had to do with its leaders hosting and shaping the role of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, to which far-flung congregations wrote letters that began, “Dear Mother.”

The life of the congregation and its leaders was also intertwined with that of its city, with several ministers taking teaching posts at the University of Pennsylvania, then the College and Academy of Philadelphia. William Rogers, for example, came from New England to pastor the church but remained in that post for only three years, though active in the congregation and as a supply preacher until his death in 1824. Like several other Baptist ministers, Rogers served as a military chaplain during the American Revolution, an event that made havoc of the congregation’s finances and leadership. While these Baptists supported the American rebellion as a fight for necessary liberties, their former pastor Morgan Edwards criticized the rebels until 1775 when he was convinced to revise his opinion. With his excellent preaching, historical research and publications on early Baptists, and support for formal education leading to the founding and support of Brown University, Edwards embodied the strengths of Baptists. It was under Edwards’ leadership that First Baptist built a new and larger meeting house at the same time accepting the need to lend their pastor to the larger Baptist cause and arranging for supply preaching while Edwards traveled the colonies as an evangelist, church organizer, and historian of Baptists. Despite these successful efforts toward gaining respect and leaders for Baptists, Edwards’ connection with the Philadelphia congregation grew strained during the 1780s, largely because Edwards struggled through bouts of drinking and subsequent church meetings for discipline, only being restored to the congregation’s fellowship in late 1788.

When in 1814 Baptists from twelve states gathered to form a national organization in support of Baptist missions, the meeting was at the First Baptist meeting house in Philadelphia, with two of the four officials chosen being laymen from that congregation and a third, William Staughton, a former pastor. Throughout the next century, the congregation grew in numbers and influence in the city and in national and global mission programs, despite conflicts related to theology, leadership, and relationships with daughter churches, including two competing First African Baptist congregations. Its early interest in circulating religious pamphlets, as well as Philadelphia’s wealth of printers, made it feasible for American Baptists to locate their publishing operations in the city, where they remained until 1961, when operations moved to a new building and printing plant in Valley Forge.

Source

Minutes Books of First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, A. D. Gillette, editor, Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association from A.D. 1707, to A.D. 1807 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851),  and William Williams Keen, The Bi-Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the First Baptist Church of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1899).

Collection Items

Baptism certificate listing a series of questions about the baptismal candidate's beliefs and commitments, to which she has answered yes. On this profession, Sarah Sallows was baptized by Morgan Edwards in the Schuylkill River on June 22, 1762.…

This book records the amounts donated by members to First Baptist Church to help the poor, and the amounts given to the poor from First Baptist Church, from 1767 to 1769. Each entry includes the date, donor or donee's name, and amount donated.

This book records the amounts donated by members to First Baptist Church to help the poor, and the amounts given to the poor from First Baptist Church, from 1774 to 1775. Each entry includes the date, donor or donee's name, and amount donated.

For members of First Baptist Church from 1772 to 1844, this bound manuscript lists their date and manner of admission to the church (whether by baptism or transfer,) date of marriage, and notes on date and manner of removal from membership, including…

Register of marriages occurring at First Baptist Church between 1815 and 1870. It appears the manuscript was used as a financial journal prior to use as a marriage register; financial entries date from 1744 to 1760, but are crossed out, and pages are…

Four letters, both to and from First Baptist Church, confirming individuals' good standing for transfer to new church membership in 1783.

Letter providing proof of good standing for Elisabeth Davis at the Church of Christ meeting in Welshtract, for transfer to the Church of Christ meeting of Philadelphia. Some of the text is illegible.

Six letters, both to and from First Baptist Church, confirming individuals' good standing for transfer to new church membership in 1785.

Congregational minute book begun in 1760, which begins with notes about meetings that occurred during the previous three years, before organized record-keeping was established, and runs to 1769. Entries include dates of meetings, members present, and…

On August 11, 1760 the First Baptist Church appointed a committee to "to Settle the Church Affairs, and Examine the State of the Church Purchases, Gifts and Donations, Given to the Said Church, and get them well Secured where they are not, and to…

Congregational minute book includes dates of meetings from 1771 to 1775, members present, and business conducted. Topics include but are not limited to: property bequeathed to the church; the filling of positions such as moderator, clerk, treasurer,…

Congregational minute book includes dates of meetings from 1779 to 1786, members present, and business conducted. In addition to commonplace business such as repairs to the buildings and grounds, admission and dismission of members, appointment of…

Congregational minutes include dates of meetings, members present, and business conducted from 1786 to 1791. Topics include but are not limited to: baptism, admission, exclusion, readmission, and transfer of members; discipline for drinking, fraud,…

Congregational minutes include dates of meetings, members present, and business conducted from 1795 to 1806. Topics include the baptism, dismission, transfer, exclusion and readmission of members, church finance, charity for the poor, and repairs and…

Congregational minutes include dates of meetings, members present, and business conducted from 1795 to 1806. Topics include but are not limited to: collection of pew rent and management of donations and legacies; payments to church employees such as…

Congregational minutes include dates of meetings, members present, and business conducted from 1806 to 1813. Topics include but are not limited to: income from pew rents, house rents, legacies, and donations; baptism, dismission, and transfer of…

On February 16, 1795, the members of First Baptist Church established "a fund for the relief of Orphans and other indigent Persons." This bound manuscript contains details of how the fund was established and administered, and a list of members who…

This register begins with a corrected list of the members of the church at its founding, and those added in the initial years. It then lists each member's admission to the church by baptism or letter of transfer. It also includes dates and causes for…

The meeting minutes of the Trustees of First Baptist Church from 1794 to 1836 contain the date of each meeting, the trustees present, the topics they discussed, and the resolutions they passed. Trustee business included appointments to positions such…
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