First Baptist Church of South Kingstown

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It appears from the very incomplete records of the earlier Baptist Churches in the Narragansett Country, that they had become painfully divided, and allowed minor points to assume too much power in their minds, and the influence thus fostered no doubt tended to keep the churches weak. During the stormy period of The Revolution worship was more or less neglected, but as the clouds of Avar lifted their darkened mantle from our land, and the sunshine of freedom broke through in full splendor, the people of Narragansett who had prayed at home, and worshipped in secret, seeing God’s blessing so bountifully bestowed upon them, came out more full and openly to give the heartfelt recognition of this heavenly protection and care so long extended over them, and to crave the father’s care in the future over the rising republic of mental and political freemen.
There has been a great deal said traditionally about the “Dark Day Christians.” The facts are, as we now understand them to be, these. May 19, 1780, has passed into history as the Dark Day in New England. There is no doubt that many were scared, and grew pious rapidly, and did earnestly seek to place themselves right with God as soon as possible. This is human nature. With all our advancement since this time we should no doubt witness the like scenes today had we a similar phenomenon to call it out. A class no doubt, we say, were scared to be pious. But those who had nothing more than a fright to move the soul soon fell away, and disappeared like the dew before the sun. There were another class who had a more solid foundation for their decision. They saw the great and providential hand of God in our late struggle so plainly displayed, that they could no longer doubt. They felt their cause was just, and Heaven’s blessings had been bestowed upon themselves and their new born nation. In grateful recognition of this they returned thanks, and wish to lead in future such a life as in their judgment would commend them to the Heavenly Father. This class was so strong, and so numerous and came out in such numbers as to pass into history and to be written among the “Great Awakenings.” The abiding faith of these new order of Puritans has continued to this day to make itself felt. As a monument to them, and a labor of their lands, we now proceed to sketch the history of one of these temples.
No formal organization took place until April 12th, 1781, and this church organization was recognized by a council of neighboring churches on the 14th of May following.
The history of the church falls into two periods of nearly equal length of time, and are very distinct from each other in character. The first extending from 1781 to 1830 was noted for long pastorates and a long interval. The second is noted for short pastorates and short intervals, and extends from 1830 to the present time. During this time the church has had twenty-five pastors or permanent supplies. During the first period the church had no meeting house, and during the second the church has never been without one.
Dr. Benjamin Weight, a physician, was the first pastor, and under his preaching the church was gathered. He was ordained July 28, 1781. The services took place in an orchard near the present residence of Nicholas Northup, on the south road leading from Kingston, and about three miles south of the village. The identical tree under which he stood was long remembered. He was pastor 27 years and nominally until his death in 1811, three years later. No special revival took place during this pastorate. He was a good man and very much respected.
After Elder Weight became helpless about three years before his death, Enoch Steadman, a member of the church, then about 30 years of age, was ordained not as an Elder, but as an evangelist. The ordination took place in the Court House on Kingston Hill, in January, (probably) 1808. Elder Steadman’s pastorate is noted for a remarkable revival which extended from Escoheag Hill to Point Judith. Elder Gershom Palmer, of Exeter, preached and labored throughout the town with him. Both baptized, and received members. Elder Steadman into his church and Elder Palmer into his which was the origin of the South Kingstown branch of Elder Palmer’s church, a small remnant of which still remains.
Elder Steadman during his pastorate began to make visits to Block Island for preaching and gospel purposes, and finally became pastor of the church there. He died there August 24, 1867, aged 89 years. During his pastorate the church flourished; which pastorate ended in 1819. He was lacking a liberal education. Was very much esteemed by his people. Having natural talents he became a good preacher and exhorter, and did a vast amount of good.
Following this pastorate came a long interval of 13 years during which time the church had no settled pastor. Elder John Hammond preached occasionally during the earlier part of this interval and Elder Palmer the latter part. Often the two churches would unite and hold services together, this church being so long without a pastor became very weak.
In the winter of 1828-29 one of the girls working in The Peace Dale woolen mills had a dream, which being very vivid impressed itself upon her memory so strongly that she related it to her companions, and related it in such a way that with her own interpretation impressed itself strongly upon the minds of others. The dream in brief was this: She was standing in company with others, when the Lord approached her and held in his hand a beautiful golden cup which shone with celestial splendor, and extending it towards her bade her drink from it.
From this singular beginning a revival followed, and gained in time such strength that a minister was engaged in May, 1829, the Rev. Jonathan Wilson. He made it his special aim to secure the erection of a meeting house, in which he was successful and which was dedicated the 29th of November following. A home having thus been obtained the church now became known as the First Baptist Church of South Kingstown.
Mr. Wilson having accomplished the mission for which he came went elsewhere, and the church fixed upon Jonathan Oatley to be ordained as their pastor. His pastorate continued about three years. He was a member of Elder Palmer’s church though worshipping with them. Was a stone-mason by trade. Afterwards he labored in various places and finally died in Killingly, Conn., August 11, 1878, aged 82 years; leaving 10 children, 51 grand children, and 31 great grand children.
The Rev. Erastus Denison, of Mystic, Conn., was next pastor, and after him Rev. Flavell Shurtleff took up his residence among them. In the winter of 1835-36 Rev. John Read commenced preaching to them, and finally became their pastor. His pastorate is famous for the celebrated “Hull Revival,” which took place in the autumn of 1837. Rev. N. V. Hull, of Alfred, N. Y., being in town was invited to preach here. A revival followed which resulted in adding about 80 persons to the church. This great increase in numbers opened a way for a change in pastors, and Mr. Read resigned in spring of 1838. He was a shoe maker by trade, and supported his family by his labor at the bench. After his removal he used to visit the church occasionally. He died in Providence, R. I., October, 18, 1875, in his 90th year.
Nathan A. Reed, a young student of Brown University, was next called, and ordained at Wakefield, Sept. 19. 1838. Rev. Mr. Hull returned and preached a short time; a revival followed though not so marked as the one before. Rev. Mr. Reed remained less than a year.
Rev. Silas Leonard followed and remained about a year. Mr. Leonard on leaving the church preached for a while at Curtis’ Corner.
Rev. Cyrus Miner next became pastor and remained about eight months.
Rev. Wilson Cogswell was next and remained six and one-half years, from 1842 to 1849, thus passing the longest pastorate of the second period. Two revivals mark his pastorate, one in 1843 and the other in 1846-47. His health failed and obliged him to relinquish preaching. He afterwards resumed it in the west and finally died at Springfield, Ark., Sept. 5, 1871, aged 61 years. His widow and family are now residents of Wakefield.
Rev. H. C. Coombes was next; preaching for a year and six months.
In the years 1851-52 Rev. Arthur A. Ross served them as pastor about 10 months. At this time Second Advent doctrines caused some excitement in this church.
In 1852 the present house of worship was completed and dedicated December 15, 1852, Rev. Edward Hiscox preaching the dedication sermon. The new house was erected beside the old one, which was afterwards moved across the street and converted into a dwelling house. The debt incurred in building this house remained until 1864, when it was entirely removed.
The first pastor in the new house was Rev. I. M. Church, who labored until April 1, 1854. Mr. Church after leaving here preached in the new church, erected by Mr. Stephen A. Wright across the river, a number of months. The venture not proving successful it was sold to the Catholics, who now use it for their mode of worship. Mr. Church died in Davisville, R. I., October 28, 1874, aged 67 years.
Rev. Nathan A. Reed commenced a second pastorate with the church in August, 1854, and remained two years. His labors were blessed with a revival in which about 60 persons were baptized. Mr. Reed is still engaged in the ministry being now settled at Amboy, 111.
The pastorate of Rev. Albert G. Palmer commenced October 1, 1857, and continued three and a half years. During a revival in 1858 about 40 persons were added to the church. Dr. Palmer is now pastor of a church in Stonington, Conn. His present and a previous pastorate over the same church cover a period of 29 years.
Rev. Thomas Atwood and Mr. Henry A. Cooke, the latter not ordained, each served the church for about four months in the years 1862 and 1863. Mr. Atwood died last year, (1880) in Marshfield, Mass. Rev. Mr. Cooke is now pastor of the Seaman’s Bethel Church, Boston.
Rev. Christopher Rhodes became pastor June 1, 1864, and remained one and a half years. He is now pastor of a church in Brooklyn, N. Y.
A revival broke out unexpectedly in the winter of 1866 and 1867. The interest was great and resulted in adding about 90 persons to the church. Revs. I. M. Church and A. B. Burdick, of Westerly, conducted the services. The first of November following Rev. E. S. Wheeler was welcomed to the pastorate and remained two and a half years.
Rev. Lyman Partridge followed him and continued one and three-quarters years.
Rev. Wm. H. Kling was next continuing until August 1, 1875, a period of two years and seven months.
Rev. Joseph W. Carpenter, of the Exeter church, and Rev. E. K. Fuller, of Providence, each supplied the pulpit a short time, and until November 1, 1876, when the Rev. S. F. Hancock became pastor and remained three years. He was immediately followed by Rev. Wm. H. Pendleton who is the present pastor.
On the 100th anniversary of this church a special service was held in commemoration of the event, the principal features of which were, –
Saturday, May 14th.
2 P. M. Devotional meeting. Led by Rev. E. 0. Bartlett, of the Congregational Church, Kingston.
3 P. M. Address of welcome and congratulation by the pastor. Rev. Wm. H. Pendleton.
3.30 P. M. Historical paper by Rev. S. F. Hancock, of Ohio, from which we have drawn largely to write out the above sketch of the church.
7.30 P. M. A Centennial Poem, by Rev. A. G. Palmer, of Stonington, Conn.
Sunday, May 15th.
10.30 A. M. Centennial sermon by Rev. E. T. Hiscox, of N. Y.
2 P. M. Devotional meeting. Led by Rev. O. P. Emerson of the Congregational Church, Peace Dale.
2.45 P. M. Address, by D. M. C. Steadman.
3.15 P. M. Historical Paper, by Rev. F. Denison, of Rhode Island.
4 P. M. General Conference. Reminiscences of the Past.
7.30 P. M. Sermon by Rev. A. G. Palmer, of Stonington, Conn.
Monday, May 16th.
7.30 P. M. a Supplemental Temperance Meeting. Addresses by J. G. Perry, of Wakefield, and Rev. C. C. Frost, of Conn.
The church is in a very prosperous condition at present, and a deep interest seems to be felt in its future welfare and usefulness.
We are under obligation to Mr. D. M. C. Steadman for a copy of the centennial volume, and also to Rev. Dr. Pendleton, the pastor, for the use of the above illustration of the church.
SOURCE:  Page(s): 42-49; The Narragansett, Volume 1. July, 1882  Number 1
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