Origins in North Carolina

Origins of the Free Will Baptist Church of North Carolina

By Rufus K. Hearn

Rufus K. Hearn was one of the leading ministers of the Free Will Baptist General Conference of North Carolina in the mid- to late-1800s. Elder hearn was born on October 20, 1819 and lived to the age of 75. He united with Gum Swamp Church, one of our oldest Free Will Baptist churches, in 1850, and remained a member there until his death in 1894. He was ordained to the Christian ministry on August 1, 1853. He not only served Gum Swamp Church, but also served other Free Will Baptist churches as pastor while he earned the bulk of his living as a farmer.

Elder Hearn was not only an illustrious farmer-preacher, but was also a journalist and publisher, having served as editor and publisher of the Free Will Baptist, a weekly magazine, and as executive director of the Free Will Baptist Press from 1880-1889. Hearn was an articulate and persuasive writer as well as an able historian, as the following article shows.

As Thad F. Harrison and J. M. Barfield said in their History of the Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, “He did his duty as a minister of the gospel, and served churches at a great sacrifice, both of health and means, that he might gain souls to Christ and obtain the promise that awaits the faithful in Christ. He stood a hero in defense of the doctrine of the Free Will Baptist denomination. Whenever it was assailed, he came to the front and defended the cause he perceived to be right.” The article presented here was published sometime in the 1860s and was later reprinted in D. B. Montgomery’s General Baptist History (1882).

I NOW MAKE THE FEEBLE ATTEMPT, as I promised a few weeks ago, to show by whom the Free Will Baptists of North Carolina were organized. The account will be very imperfect, owing to our forefathers’ having kept no record of the proceedings, and as all the facts concerning the Free Will Baptists that we can get are derived from our enemies and tradition.

The limited circumstances and education of the writer (I say limited circumstances, because I have to work hard and have no time to read or write only of a night, after my day’s labor is finished) precludes a thorough examination.

Sometime in the year 1727, a minister by the name of Paul Palmer, a native of Maryland, moved to North Carolina and settled at a place called Perquimans, on Chowan River. Mr. Palmer commenced preaching, and the same year organized a church at that place. Mr. Palmer was called General or Liberal Baptist, in opposition to the Particular Baptists. According to Mr. Benedict, [1] he was baptized at Welsh Tract, in Delaware, by Owen Thomas, the pastor of the church in that place; was ordained in Connecticut, then went to New Jersey, then back to Maryland—his native state—and then to North Carolina, where he gathered the church above mentioned, with which he continued until his death. He was contemporary with Mr. John Comer, of Newport, Rhode Island. Benedict saw a letter written by Palmer to Comer, dated 1729, stating that the church which was gathering there two years before, at that time consisted of only thirty-two members.

Among the first converts of Mr. Palmer was Joseph Parker, who soon commenced preaching, and by the labors of Mr. Palmer, or Joseph Parker—I am not prepared, at this time, to say which—William Parker and Mr. Winfield were raised up to the ministry. I shall refer to Elder William Parker again, to prove that we [the Free Will Baptists of Hearn’s generation] sprung from this church [Palmer’s church], and that this church was the first Baptist church of North Carolina. Such is history as recorded by Morgan Edwards, Burkitt, Read, Biggs, and Benedict; [2] and if I prove that this church was our mother, it will prove that we were the first Baptist church in North Carolina. This is the reason why the tide page of our book of discipline calls us the “Original Baptist Church” holding the doctrine of General Provision, and this is our true name, and I will, before I get through, show why we are called Free Will Baptists. It is an error that we are the same as the Northern Freewill Baptists—as a great many suppose. . . .I do not recollect, at this time, when the Northern Freewill Baptist church was organized; but Elder Benjamin Randall, its founder, never commenced preaching till 1775—so says his biographer—and our mother church was organized in 1727, some forty-seven or forty-eight years before

Thus I have given an account of the first Baptist church in North Carolina. I will now speak of the progress of the church. The ministers that I have mentioned, and others who were raised up under their ministry, traveled and preached considerably, and in the course of a few years organized several churches. In the year 1742, William Sojourner, who is said to have been a most excellent man and useful minister, removed with many of his brethren from [Burley], Virginia, and settled on the Kehukee creek, in Halifax County. In the same year he planted a church in that place, and with the assistance of Palmer, Parker, . . . and other ministers, many were added to the church, so that they had by the year 1752, increased to sixteen churches.

These churches had, according to Mr. Benedict, an annual interview, or yearly meeting, in which they inspected or regulated the general concerns of their community. These churches enjoyed great prosperity, and increased in number until about the year 1751, when a Mr. Robert Williams, an Calvinistic or Particular Baptist minister of Welsh Neck, South Carolina, visited some of these churches and preached among them. This was some twenty-four years after the organization of the first General [Free Will] Baptist church in North Carolina. [3]

Through the labors of this minister there was the commencement of the breaking up and remodelling of the churches [proselytizing the churches into Calvinism]; it is not known whether or not he went among them by invitation from some of their members, nor can the extent, character, and results of his efforts be given, as no record of them has been found.

William Wallace, a layman, commonly called the sleigh maker, also took an active part in the matter, and his conversation and efforts were attended with considerable success. The time when his labors were performed is not named, but probably it was some time after the commencement of the mission of Rev. Mr. Williams. In the summer of 1754, Rev. John Gano was sent by the Philadelphia [Baptist] Association, with general and indefinite instructions to travel in the Southern States. Under these instructions he visited the General [Free Will] Baptist churches in North Carolina. Morgan Edwards, says Benedict, thus describes the visit:

Mr. Gano, on his arrival, sent to the ministers, requesting an interview with them, which they declined, and appointed a meeting among themselves to consult what to do. Mr. Gano, hearing of it, went to their meeting and addressed them in words to this effect: “I have desired a visit from you, which as a brother and a stranger I had a right to expect, but as ye have refused, I give up my claim and have come to pay you a visit.” With that, he ascended into the pulpit and read for his text the following words: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?” This text he managed in such a way as to make some afraid of him and others ashamed of their shyness. Many were convinced of error touching faith and conversion, and submitted to examination.

This visit, says Elder Elias Hutchins, was made about two years after Mr. Williams began his proselyting labors, and it seems evident from Mr. Gano’s visit, and what followed, that the work was carried on in a very zealous manner and, in some instances, in utter disregard of propriety and Christian courtesy.

The refusal of the ministers to have an interview with Mr. Gano, when he requested them to meet him, was an act of disrespect towards him; but it is presumed that they intended nothing of that nature. Their course shows that they were utterly opposed to the object of his visit, and they probably refused to see him, not on account of intended incivility, but through desire to avoid discussion on an unwelcome subject with one who possessed abilities far superior to theirs. Most ministers, on being regarded as intruders, would probably have ceased from further effort at proselyting, and departed from the place, but Mr. Gano took a different course. He went to a meeting of those who, as he well knew, had met for consultation, and did not desire his presence. Not content with this, he obtrusively entered the pulpit and preached a disparaging sermon to the dissatisfied and simple-hearted auditors. Being thrown into confusion by his great ability and ingenious handling of the words of an “evil spirit” as a text, they seem to have lost their independence, and were made to believe that their doctrine was unsound, and that their hearts were unrenewed. This led some of them to renounce their former faith, and to receive his opinion of their spiritual state as decisive on that subject.

Mr. Gano’s efforts seem to have unsettled the minds of a considerable number of the ministers, and finally led to the defection of most of the churches to hyper-Calvinism. On his return, he represented what was regarded as their deplorable condition to the [Philadelphia Baptist] Association, who appointed Messrs. Miller and VanHorn to complete the work of proselyting them.

These men engaged zealously in the work assigned them, and a great change was effected among these people, which, it is asserted, consisted not only in reforming their creed and purifying their churches, but also in reviving the power of godliness among them, and in the awakening and conversion of many who needed such a change.

What was left unfinished by these two men was zealously carried on by the newly converted ministers, who were anxious to lead others to adopt their [Calvinistic] views. The work was prosecuted so energetically that about four years after Robert Williams commenced his efforts among these peoples, all the ministers except Elders Joseph and William Parker, and an Elder Winfield, and all the churches except those under their care, had embraced the views of those who had taken so much pains to convert them to the Calvinistic faith. Thus it is seen, that in some less than thirty years after the commencement of their denominational existence in North Carolina, these people were so much scattered that it seemed nearly impossible for them to survive their calamities, and it was feared by the remnant, and hoped by their enemies, that such would be their hard lot.

It has already been stated, that about the year 1752, some thirteen years before the revolution above named was completed, this branch of Baptists had increased to sixteen churches. Probably some others were organized during the thirteen years just named, but if so, no account of them is now to be found. Benedict states that the ministers were considerably numerous, but their number is not given. This unfortunate body of Baptists commenced its existence in North Carolina fifty-three years, and was mostly absorbed by the Calvinistic Baptist denomination twenty-eight years, before the rise of the Freewill Baptists of the North.

The enemies of the Arminian Baptists in North Carolina were greatly elated at the revolution, and regarded it a great and beneficial change. Indeed, Benedict seems to think that, on account of the lax views and discipline of the churches, the innovation, or reformation, as they called it, was necessary and useful. But considering the manner in which the revolution was brought about, and the unhappy result of it, there is much room to doubt the propriety of the measure.

Had the zealous and well-meaning New Lights, as the Calvinistic Baptists were then called, been invited to visit and remodel these churches, no objection could, probably, be made to their course, but going among them uninvited to proselyte them was obtrusive and provoking. There was surely work enough to be done in North Carolina by the Baptist ministers without interfering with the few churches who felt they had a right to organizations, and to labor unmolested in the fields they had entered peaceably and had occupied some twenty-five years without molestation. It is asserted that these churches were so lax in their discipline, and held such erroneous views of conversion, that they actually needed the revolution through which they passed. There is reason to fear that they were negligent in discipline, but in this respect they seem to have been as well off as the Episcopalians, who were their only religious neighbors when the churches were organized. The relation of a Christian experience was in no case required as a condition of admission to membership in the Episcopal church, and there was nearly or quite as much laxity of discipline in that large and popular sect as there was among the General Baptists.

The Episcopalians were as lukewarm, formal, and destitute of the power of godliness as were the Free Will Baptists. Why, then, did the energetic New Lights pass this larger body and obtrude themselves upon the weaker? The proselyting of this body is justified on the ground that it needed a thorough renovation. If this view of the case is correct, the Philadelphia Baptist Association should have looked after the spiritual interests of the Episcopal church, as well as after those of the far smaller body. Dr. Gano ought to have sent to their leading “ministers, and requested an interview with them;” and on their declining, he should have treated them as arrogantly as he did this feeble band of Baptists. Similar efforts should have been made for the renovation of these [the Episcopalians]. But nothing of the kind was done. Dr. Gano knew full well that the ministers of the Episcopal church were his equals in learning and talents, and if he attempted such a thing that he would more than meet with his match, but as the Baptist ministers were men of very limited education, he could succeed with his powerful eloquence in proselyting them and their members.

The divisions and secessions of the Free Will Churches, which were caused by proselyting members of another denomination, left the adhering remnant in a sad state of discouragement, distraction, and ill will towards those who were the authors of their troubles. Their most active, intelligent, and efficient ministers and members had seceded and were laboring zealously against them. Though a considerable number of the members retained their original views, and would not go with the seceders, they were only scattered and unorganized remains of the churches that had left them. They were not disciplinarians, and were in some sense like fragments of a routed and dispirited army after its principal officers and soldiers had gone over to the enemy.

Public opinion was pretty strongly against them, as it is often against the weak and unfortunate; they were regarded by many as deceived and deceivers in regard to the matter of religion; they were also considered as heretics and Universalists.

A deep-seated dislike, amounting almost to abhorrence, was created between the two parties formed by this division. Each body regarded the other as holding damnable errors—the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism—and each cordially hated the tenets of the other.

To the Arminians the name of New Lights was odious, and the name of the Free Will was equally odious to these. The relation of a few incidents may serve as an illustration of the views and feelings of these two opposing bodies of Baptists.

In 1784, as Elder William Parker was reading his text, he was stricken with palsy, and falling in the pulpit, he is reported as saying: “Blessed be to God, I have fallen in a good cause.” His reason then departed to return no more, and two or three days afterwards he ‘breathed out his soul into the hands of the Redeemer.” So say Messrs. Burkitt and Read.

Some seven years after this incident occurred, a Baptist minister, whose name was Frost, “came from Europe,” (probably from England) and commenced preaching in the Calvinistic Baptist churches in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. He soon began to preach the doctrine of free will, supposing, it is alleged by the New Light writers, that man has power to work himself into a state of favor with God. A committee was appointed by the church to convert him; failing in this, another was chosen to silence him, but with no better success. Shortly after that, he went to a place to preach, but while reading his text, his voice faltered, he cried, “Let us pray,” fell on his knees speechless, and died in less than three hours.

Thus, say the historians named above, “did God avenge his suffering church in these towns, for the fox was spoiling the tender grapes.”

When, in 1812, Elder Joseph Smith died, who was the pastor of the [Free Will Baptist] church at Pungo River, a Calvinistic minister asked a colored member of that church, “Now your plaster is gone, what will you do?” Some twenty years later, several copies of a selection of hymns by Elder John Buzzell [of the Northern Freewill Baptists] were sold to the North Carolina Free Will Baptists. One of the hymns commences as follows:

Come all who are New Lights indeed,
Who are from sin and bondage free’d;
From Egypt’s land we’ve taken flight,
For God has given us a New Light.

The hymn, which commends all New Lights, and refers to all true Christians, was read by the purchasers with grief and almost indignant astonishment. It was supposed to be a commendation of that order of Baptists who had, nearly three-quarters of a century previous to that time, broken up the Free Will Baptists and caused them a great amount of distress, an act which they had not forgotten nor forgiven. They were pacified only with the assurance that the obnoxious hymn was not a commendation of their New Light enemies, but was designed to approve and encourage faithful Christians of all orders.

At the time of the invasion and scattering of the Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, the uncharitable, and in many instances malevolent feelings between the two bodies were general and mutual. A lapse of over one hundred years has somewhat softened the acrimony of these feelings, but it has not eradicated them, for up to this time there is a deep-seated dislike of both parties against the other. At this distant period, the Free Will Baptists have heard so much of the breaking up of the early churches, that they can hardly regard the descendants of those that did it as Christians, and were but little disposed to fraternize with them. The views of the two sects in regard to doctrines and church building are nearly as variant as at the commencement of the separation, each party being confident that its views were right, and those of the other ruinously wrong.

Had the New Lights been more prudent in their zeal to proselyte this people, and sought to accomplish their end in a less overbearing manner, it would have prevented much mutual ill will and also a great amount of distress among those whom they failed to convert to hyper-Calvinism.

Burkitt and Read regarded it as very wicked in Elder Frost to attempt to proselyte the churches in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, to his Arminian views. Their sympathies were much awakened in behalf of those “distressed” and suffering churches, and the sudden death of that minister was considered by them an act of Divine interference in their behalf. But no pity was felt for the Free Will Baptist churches, which were overwhelmed with confusion and distress by the unfraternal efforts of the misguided men who subverted them. The long continued hatred and contentions which followed the subversion leave little room to doubt that, on the whole, its results were more injurious than beneficial to the cause of morality and religion.

But little is known of the church discipline of the early Free Will Baptists in North Carolina, than the assertion of their enemies, that it was very negligent.

The following statement, made perhaps twenty-five years ago to Mr. Benedict by Dr. Wheeler of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, probably contains the most that can now be learned on the subject, and it is much to be regretted that no historical sketches of any of these churches can be found, except those gathered by Elder Paul Palmer, which is the first Baptist church that was organized in the state. As this church was organized in 1727, the records named below stopped thirty-one years short of its commencement; but they, no doubt, describe the state of things in the church before its defection to Calvinism. Dr. Wheeler’s statement is as follows:

I have procured the records, which go back to 1758, when John Burgess was pastor, and the business of the church was managed by elders or overseers, while the private secular matters of the members were under the direction of the ministers and six members, who were constituted the “Court of Union.” The churches had several arms or branches in the adjoining counties, to which the ministers, attended by overseers and the clerk, regularly repaired.

In a few years, the Court of Union was dispensed with, but the churches being dissatisfied with its extinction, nine members were chosen, who were considered to be permanent elders, if found faithful, while the former overseers and elders were elected annually.

Such, says Benedict, “was the complex machinery in ecclesiastical affairs at that early period with this well-meaning people.

This statement rests on the assumption that the ecclesiastical machinery of the other churches was as odd and cumberous as that contrived for the government of Perquimans church, and there seems no reason to doubt that such was the case.

I have said that there were sixteen churches of the Free Will faith before the breaking up and remodeling by Gano, and only six are recorded by the historian, and I suppose that these six embraced the doctrine of hyper-Calvinism. The other ten are left without any written account, and it is unnecessary for me to follow these six, as they belong to other denominations. I will return to my promise of referring to William Parker, and see if tradition cannot tell us something of a few of the other ten churches.

The old settlers of this part of Pitt County knew Parker well when they were children, and many anecdotes are told concerning him, which I deem unncessary to relate, but as a faithful soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ, he ceased not to travel and preach (often on foot) free salvation to his fellow man until, like a faithful soldier, he fell at his post.

An old Free Will Baptist sister, who lived to be considerably over a hundred years old, told her son, and he, also a Free Will Baptist, told this writer of this: that she knew Elder William Parker well, that she well recollected when he first came to the neighborhood and when he preached his first sermon on the plot of ground whereon old Gum Swamp Church now stands. The writer lives within about three-quarters of a mile of said church, and was raised within two miles of it. The old sister referred to was named Teel, by marriage. I think her maiden name was Pollard. She was raised within a few miles of Gum Swamp and lived and died in the neighborhood and was a faithful member of the Free Will Baptist church at that place up to the time of her death. I do not recollect whether she was baptized by Elder Parker or by some other minister who was raised up under his ministry. She said that he soon raised up a church, and was pastor up to the time of his death. It will be borne in mind that Elder Parker was a member of the Perquimans church—the first Baptist church in North Carolina—at the time he organized the Gum Swamp Church, and if so, this proves that the Perquimans church is our mother, and that we are the original Baptist church of North Carolina holding the General provision. [4]

Elder William Parker also traveled and preached in Green and Lenoir counties and organized churches in both of these, and according to the best information we can get, he organized the churches at Jones, now called Little Creek, and Grimsley, in Greene county, and Louson Swamp and Wheat Swamp in Lenoir county. This accounts for five more of the original sixteen churches; the other five I suppose, at this late day, cannot be accounted for.

Gum Swamp, in Pitt county, has stood the shocks of proselyting, and remains firm to the Free Will Baptist cause up to the present time. Little Creek, in Green county, has at one time been divided, but while their pastor and a large number of its members turned from the old path, a few remained firm, and like one of the seven churches in Asia, did not defile their garments. Louson Swamp went with the Rev. Mr. Hunnicut in his raid on the churches of North Carolina, and Wheat Swamp, I think, died for lack of ministerial labor.

The writer of this, in company with Elder Joseph Sauls, visited this church [Wheat Swamp] in 1867 and found a few old members still strong in the faith of the old Free Will Baptists, but the old house was very much decayed, and the seats and all the floor had been destroyed by the United States [Union] soldiers, during the war. The Disciples have a good building in the same yard, and a large number of members. [5]

The next point under consideration is, why are we called Free Will Baptists? A religious interest commenced, by whom or what means it is not said, in the valley of Flat Swamp and the Contetoe settlements, in Pitt county, about the year 1766; and some ten years afterwards, a New Light church, called Rat Swamp, was organized there. Sometime subsequently, say the New Light historians, the love of some of the members waxed cold, and the seeds of discord were sown in the church,”which caused the Anninians and Universalists to look out of their dens, where they had been driven by the refulgent beams of gospel truths.”

It is added that Arminianism prevailed but little among them, as it was an old doctrine they were well acquainted with it before their conversion.

From this statement it is manifest that there was a people in this section that gave them considerable trouble, who, according to the figurative language of their enemies, were driven into seclusion by the glorious light of Calvinistic decrees, election, reprobation, et cetera, and owing to the trouble this people gave them, they called them, by way of reproach, “Free-willers.” But it is not intimated whether or not there had previously been a church there, of these hated Freewillers, and the fugitives from the New Light effulgence, named above, were members of that church who could not be admitted into the new organization, or else they utterly refused to join it.

Who were these people that troubled these New Lights in the Rat Swamp and Contetoe settlements? The answer is, Gum Swamp Church and its pastor, Elder William Parker. Gum Swamp Church is in the Contetoe settlements in Pitt county; Flat Swamp Church is fifteen miles from Gum Swamp, near the line of Pitt and Martin counties, on the road that Elder William Parker would have to travel from his home to Gum Swamp Church. No doubt, that as he traveled by Gum Swamp to his appointments, he preached often in Flat Swamp settlements, and the members from Gum Swamp, meeting him there, gave these New Lights the trouble they speak of.

It was nothing uncommon, in that day, for people to travel fifteen or twenty miles on foot to hear the gospel preached; unlike they are in our day, who can not go five miles to hear, unless on extraordinary occasions.

As I shall not have occasion, perhaps, to speak of Elder William Parker again, I cannot leave this part of the subject without saying that, according to tradition, he was a man of wonderful muscular power, slow to resent an insult, but when fully aroused he feared not the face of a man; otherwise he was as gentle as a lamb. He was untiring in his efforts as a minister, often traveling long distances on foot, to preach the gospel, and when he fell he was at his post. What a glorious death!

The writer of this greatly desires to be at his post when death shall come, as a faithful soldier of the Lord Jesus. How uncharitable and unchristian in his enemies, to ascribe it to an interference of Divine power, to take him away from troubling them. Had he embraced their extreme views of hyper-Calvinism, they would have praised him as a great minister, dying a triumphant death….

The historians, all of whom were our enemies, as I have already shown, say these early churches were very lax in their discipline but have failed to show wherein the looseness consisted, only in one point: “They did not require an experience of grace from their members when they received them into the church.” If this is all they could say, at this late day, most of the Christian denominations are lax in their discipline. These early churches took the Bible for their guide, they practiced its sacred teachings, and as the Apostles never required an experience, and as it was nowhere authorized in Holy Writ, they practiced what they found the gospel required, that is, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance towards God, and baptism by immersion; and baptized their members on a profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and not by experience.

Every Free Will Baptist will see that this is his doctrine, and the true doctrine of the New Testament, and it is our practice to the present day to baptize members on their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They may call it lax in discipline, if they choose; we cannot, for we find no warrant in the New Testament for an experience of grace, as they term it.

The reader must not suppose from what has been said that [Free Will Baptists] do not believe in experimental religion or the operation of the Holy Spirit on the individual consciences. For their ninth article of faith fully settles this question, which is as follows:

We believe that sinners are drawn to God the Father by the Holy Ghost, through Christ His Son, and that the Holy Ghost offers His Divine aid to all the human family, so as they might all be happy, would they give place to His Divine teaching….

The only difference between the General or Free Will Baptists and the Particular Baptists is that the General [Baptists] require answers to leading questions, while the Particular [Baptists] require the candidate for church membership to relate the experience attending his conviction and conversion, which is termed “an experience of grace.” Both alike believe in faith, repentance, true and genuine conversion, and they are both alike sound on the doctrine of experimental religion. [6]

I have shown that, according to Mr. Benedict, these early churches had an annual review, or yearly meeting, in which they regulated the general concerns of their churches, and if Mr. Benedict is correct, our Conference was organized by Palmer, the two Parkers, Sojourner, and others, long before I was born, instead of Elder James Moore, myself, and others, as brother Nash would have us believe. Our Conference is nothing more than an annual or yearly meeting, where we meet to regulate the general concerns of our churches

It is true that these churches were broken up, in part, but there were three ministers who stood firm and unshaken, and the churches that they were pastors of stood firm, and, of course, they continued to hold their annual as well as their monthly and quarterly meetings; at all events, our enemies have failed to show that they did not, and I defy any person to show to the contrary.

I heard, when I was a small boy, the old people say that the Ana-Baptists or Free Will Baptists held a conference at Gum Swamp when they were children. I have in my possession an old hymn book with the title page torn off, to the back part of which is tacked one leaf of a Minute without date. On that leaf it is stated that the Conference was held at Wheat Swamp, in Lenoir county, and a resolution that the next Conference be held on Contentney, at Grimsley. There is another resolution upon the same leaf, which I will give:

It is Resolved, That the ordinance of the anointing with oil shall not, by the Elders of the church, be administered to any but members of the society; and at their discretion a part, or the whole man may be anointed.

The contribution was only fourteen dollars and twenty-five cents, and only two-hundred copies of the minutes were ordered to be published.

There are only four ministers’ names attached to it, although there might have been others on the next page, as the four are at the bottom of the page. But in the appointment to preach on Sunday, there is no other name mentioned, but three of those whose names are on the leaf.

The four names were F. Fonvielle, Isaac Pipkin, Levi Braxton, and Jesse Heath. Elder Braxton was pastor of the Gum Swamp Church, as long ago as the writer of this can remember, and succeeded Elder [James] Roach, who had resigned or died before my recollection. Elder Heath is well known by the old people of Green county. Elder Pipkin, I have been informed, is the father of Elder Isaac Pipkin, whose name is at this time on our minutes. Elder Fonvielle I know but little about, only I have heard him spoken of as one of our old ministers.

After giving the text the minister preached from, on Sunday, it is added that “a large, attentive, and polite congregation waited on a faithful dispensation of the Gospel, and we pray that the happy effect may be long felt and enjoyed in the regions of Wheat Swamp. May God grant it, for Christ’s sake, Amen.”

This book bears the mark of age, is printed in the old style, but we cannot give the date. An old brother, in Martin County, presented it to me several years ago and told me that it was the hymn book in use when he was a boy.

I have now traced the origin of the early Baptists as far as I can from history and tradition. I have passed over many things that could be said, but thought it unnecessary and would stop here, as I think I have fulfilled my promise, but on account of what has been said about us in modern days, I think it necessary to peruse the subject farther, and, if it should give offence to some, I cannot help it, “For truth is mighty and will prevail.” I feel certain that every old Free Will Baptist knows these things to be so, and will take no offence.

After the breaking up of the churches as I have described, in a few years the Free Will Baptists commenced increasing and they soon spread over fifteen counties, mostly in the eastern part of the state, and numbered over two-thousand members, and about forty ministers. They enjoyed peace and prosperity, until the Conference became large and it was thought best to divide and hold two conferences, one bearing the original name, the other the name of Bethel Conference. I cannot give the dates of what I am going to relate, but it is true and there are living witnesses to the truth of it besides myself. I have had the Minutes that gave the date, but I have loaned them out or misplaced them so that I do
not know at this time where they are.

Some time between the date of 1839 and 1843, Elder [T. J.] Latham and other ministers of the Free Will Baptist Conference embraced the views of Alexander Campbell and withdrew from the Free Will Baptists and carried with them the most of the Bethel Conference and did all they could to proselyte the members of the original conference, and like the New Lights of old, succeeded too well.

In 1839 our Conference numbered 2,006 members and 32 preachers, [by] 1843 we were reduced to 1,440 members and 22 preachers. Such was the success of those that embraced the views of other denominations. Having recovered from this innovation, prosperity again crowned us with success, and our increase in about four years was from 1440 to 2563 members, 58 preachers, and 49 churches. It is seen from this statement that we soon recovered the ground that we had lost, numbering in 1847 more than we did in 1839. But this state of prosperity did not last long, for at the Conference of 1847, the foundation of another division was laid which took place in a few years. The subject of our members uniting with secret societies had been discussed, and much opposition to it, and in some churches members had been excommunicated for joining them. At this Conference it was known that several ministers had united with them, and Elder John F. Jones offered the following resolution:

“Shall this Conference be a Conference with Free Masonry, or a Conference without Free Masonry?” Voted that it be a Free Will Baptist Conference without Free Masonry.

After the passage of this resolution several ministers withdrew from the Conference, until 1853, when Elder Alfred Moore introduced a resolution the purport of which was “that no church belonging to this Conference shall be at liberty to reject any person applying for membership, or excommunicate any member on the grounds that he belongs to the Order of Free Masons or Odd Fellows. “

Brother Henry Stancill proposed to amend by adding: “unless a majority of members shall so decide.”

Article 3rd, Section lst, of Rules of Church Discipline says: ”After every matter is regularly discussed, then it shall be put to vote, and a majority shall carry the point.”

Elder Alfred Moore refused to accept the amendment to his resolution, upon which Elder James Moore introduced a resolution giving to each church its own key—privilege of transacting its own business. Both the resolutions being put to a vote, Elder Alfred Moore’s resolution, without the amendment, received 36 votes, and that of Elder James Moore received 66 votes. After this vote was taken there was some confusion, and it was found impossible to harmonize or unite upon those resolutions; so the conference divided, each party claiming the old name. And as some of the officers went with each party it was necessary for both to reorganize, and both did reorganize, choosing officers to fill the vacancy, I suppose this to be the reason of Brother Nash falling into the error of saying that the original Free Will Baptist Conference of North Carolina was organized by Elder James Moore, R. K. Hearn, and others. If this construction be placed upon our organizing at that time, it can be said that we organize every year. I have shown who organized the original Free Will Baptist Conference of North Carolina, or who were its founders. Are we that Conference or not? I say we are. I suppose it is not denied but we are up to the Conference of 1853 and owing to division at that conference both claiming the name, it is said we are not. Then if we are not, where are they, have they become extinct? There is no man living in Eastern North Carolina who has any acquaintance with the Free Will Baptists that would pretend to say they have become extinct.

They know we are the original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, although they may not be honest enough to own it. The other party [the party that withdrew, opposing the self-government of the churches] bore the name a few years, then a portion of them united with Rev. Mr. Hunnicut, under the name of Union Baptist. [7]

A few years ago that denomination became extinct, and a portion of them changed their name to Baptist, of which Brother Nash became their leader.

We bear the same name, we have the same book of discipline, we preach the old doctrine, we receive members the same way without an experience of grace, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper the same way, we wash the saints’ feet the same way; we are the same persecuted old Free Will Baptists that were organized in 1727 by Elder Paul Palmer.

The old Conference [the majority who remained Free Will Baptist], at the time of division in 1853 adopted the following resolution:

That by the help of God we will adhere to, abide by, and keep inviolate the articles of faith, the rules of discipline, and the constitution of the original Free Will Baptist church. That we believe the rules of discipline gives to each individual church its own key—the privilege of transacting its own business independent of the General Conference.

Since the adoption of the resolutions, we have had peace and harmony and great prosperity, and so long as we continue in the old paths we will have peace. God in his wisdom placed these despised people in Eastern North Carolina for a purpose, and they will continue, notwithstanding they may be surrounded by false teachers, persecuted like the saints of old. The time may come when some of them may have to seal the truth with their blood, but God in [His] providence will not leave Himself without a witness of the truths of the Gospel.

[1] Editors’ note: This reference is to David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Other Parts of the World. 2 vols. (Boston: Lincoln and Edmands, 1813).

[2] Editors’ note: Morgan Edwards, “Materials Toward a History of the Baptists in the Provinces of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia” (1772; Danielsville, Georgia: Heritage Papers, 1984, reprint); Lemuel Burkitt and Jesse Read, A Concise History of the Kehukee Baptist Association from its Original Rise to the Present Time (Halifax, North Carolina: A. Hodge, 1803).

[3] Editors’ note: It must be remembered that Free Will Baptists in the South were first called General Baptists, since they were from the General Baptists of England.

[4 ]Editors’ note: The phrase “general provision” refers to the fact that God has made a general provision of salvation to all men based on the general or unlimited atonement of Christ.

[5] Editors’ note: “The Disciples” refers to the Disciples of Christ, a new denomination which will be discussed later in this piece. The Disciples are still a denomination, and at one time were united with what we know as the “Campbellites” or “Churches of Christ.”

[6] Editor’s note: This paragraph appeared as the last paragraph in the printing of this article in D. B. Montgomery’s General Baptist History.

[7] Editors’ note: It is interesting to note that, not long after this, a group of these Union Baptists migrated to Oklahoma, and, in 1954, the Union Baptists of Oklahoma became a part of the Oklahoma State Association of Free Will Baptists.

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