The Narragansett Historical Register,
Volume II. July, 1883. No. 1.
A magazine devoted to the antiquities, genealogy and historical matter illustrating the History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  James N. Arnold, Ed.
Narragansett Historical Publishing Co., Hamilton, R. I.
E. L. Freeman & Co., Printers, Central Falls, R. I.



HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH IN EXETER
Prepared by W. H. Arnold. pp. 1 - 23.

The Baptist Church in Exeter was founded in 1750, by Elder David Sprague, who was a native of Hingham, Mass., from whence he removed to Scituate, R. I., where he was converted and received as a member of the Six Principle Baptist Church in that town, then under the ministry of Rev. Samuel Fiske.  Here he began preaching with great acceptance, but not holding Arminian views, was soon a little unpopular.  He next removed to North Kingstown, united with the Six Principle Baptist Church, located near Stony Lane Road in that town, and preached very acceptably among them for many years, gaining the confidence of the Church and people.  He was ordained in 1737 as colleague to Elder Richard Sweet, who had become aged, leaving the ministerial duties chiefly devolving upon Elder Sprague, who, soon after his ordination, began again to advocate Calvinistic views, causing much uneasiness and dissatisfaction in the Church.  He was often admonished, but still persisted.  Finding that he could not be reclaimed, he was dismissed from the Church, and refused the privilege of preaching in their meeting house upon a petition to the Church signed by seventy-four members for that purpose.  Mr. Sprague next went to the Six Principle Baptist Church in South Kingstown in 1750, still preaching Calvanistic-Baptist views, which soon caused divisions, and finally in time the Church became extinct.  In the autumn of 1750 he removed to Exeter, and founded the Baptist Church in Exeter, made up largely of what were then terms New Lights.

illustration on facing page:
etching of Rev. Joseph Wanton Allen.

The Organization and First Pastorate.
Among the records of the Church there appears nothing relative to its organization.  However, as early as August 22d, O.S. 1751, Articles of Faith were adopted by the Church, setting forth the views of the Calvin Baptist denomination, with which the Church soon entered into associational accord.  In 1753 an effort was made by the Church to obtain a piece of land upon which to erect a meeting-house and a place suitable to bury the dead.  This undertaking was brought to a successful issue.  A deed of trust was obtained from Simon Smith, a member of the Church, to Elder Sprague and the deacons of the Church, of a piece of land in Exeter, a copy of which deed I here insert as an illustration of the careful manner in which the rights and privileges to this property were guarded as the rolling centuries continue to pass by.

[COPY.]
This Indenture made this twelfth Day of February, In the Twenth Six [sic] year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the second, King of Great Brittan, &c., and in the year of our Lord A. D. 1753, Between Simon Smith of the town of Exeter in King's County, Blacksmith, of the one part, and David Sprague, Elder, and Joseph Rogers and Philip Jinkins, Deacons of the Church of Jesus Christ in Exeter, on the other part, Witness, the said Simon Smith for and in consideration of the Love and good will that he barest the said David Sprague, Elder, and Joseph Rogers and Philip Jinkins, Deacons, and to the Church of Christ in Exeter, as aforesaid, With Divers other good Causes and Considerations me hereunto mooving, Hath Demised, Set and Let, and by the Presents Doth Demise Set and to Land Let unto the said David Sprague, Elder, and Joseph Rogers and Philip Jinkins Deacons and theire successors in their said office, and to the Church of Christ in Exeter, Constituted and Practising according to an article of faith Bareing Date August the Twenty Second O. S. 1751, and to their successors in Said Principles one Lot of Land Lying and being in Exeter aforesaid, and is Butted and bounded as followeth, Southerly on a highway Called and Known by the Name of the Ten Rod highway, westerly Northerly and Easterly by lands of Samuel Weight, Said lot of land Being Ten Rods Long and Six Rods wide containing a Quarter and Half Quarter of an acre of Land, which lot of Land is Specially Intended and Devoted for to Build a Meeting house on and for a Buring Place on and for the use of said Church and their successors in Said Principles and none else, During the full term of Nine Hundred and ninety-nine years from and after the Date hereof, and no Longer, to have and to hold the Said Bargained and Leased Premices with all the Priviledges and appurtenances Thereon and thereunto Belonging or in any wise appertaining to the Said David Sprague, Elder, and Joseph Rogers and Philip Jinkins Deacons and their successors in said officers and Principles or articles of faith as afore Said to and for the use afore Said During the term of time Expressed and no longer.

Further more I the Said Simon Smith for me, my heirs executors and administrators Do Covenant and Grant the above bargained and Leased Premices to the above Said Elder and Deacons and Church as afore Said against the Lawful Claims or Demands of any person or persons to warrant and Secure During Said term of Leas and also to Defend.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my Seal the Day and year above Said.

Signed, Sealed and Delivered in the Presence of George Reynolds, Jonathan Corey.

Simon Smith [his mark]

King County, S. S.
The Subscriber Simon Smith acknowledged the afore written Instrument to be his Act and Deed the 13th Day of february A. D. 1753, Before me
Benoni Hall, Just. Peace.
Recorded March 22th, A. D. 1754, by B. Hall, T. Clark.

On the 23d of May, 1753, a large gathering of the New Light Churches of New England, representing twenty-five Churches, met with the Exeter Church to settle terms of fellowship and communion at the Lord's Table.  At this Council Elder Sprague was chosen in company with Elders Werden, Lee and Peck, to visit Middleborough, Mass., and sit in council on the troubles there in the Church of Mr. Backus.  A second and similar Council, representing twelve Churches, was held with the Church on the second Tuesday in September, 1754.

Of this last meeting Elder Sprague was chosen Moderator, and Isaac Backus, Clerk.  The decisions of these two Councils in Exeter were in favor of open communion.  Elder Sprague being a strict Baptist in his views, shortly left not only the New Lights, but the pastorate of Exeter Church.

The first record which we have been able to find is a meeting of the Church, September 17th, 1757, at the meeting-house, to hear from their pastor, Elder Sprague, the reasons for his long absence; he not being present, the meeting was adjourned to October 1, 1757.  At the Oct. meeting, at the desire of Elder Sprague, the proceedings of a Council, held at the meeting-house, July 15, 1757, were read, after which he 'read an epistle in which he laid down many reasons for his not meeting with us for a long time, and also enjoined many things for the Church to remove, confess and retract, before he could walk with us.'  Deacon Joseph Rogers attempted some reply, which Elder Sprague would not hear, and abruptly left the house.  On the 19th of November following, the Church next met, and after reading the result of a Council held on the 3d of November, which advised and entreated them to withdraw from their pastor, they proceeded to read a letter of withdrawal, which Deacons Joseph Rogers and Philip Jenkins [sic]  had previously prepared, which was adopted, and messengers appoint to carry it to him.

Soon after, Deacon Philip Jenkins felt that he was called to preach the gospel and take the watch-care of the Church, but the Church not being agreed on this matter, he left it, together with a number of those who were attached to him.

Deacon Joseph Rogers about the same time had a grievous difficulty with another brother, in consequence of which he also left the Church.

The following is a copy of the record of a Church meeting, held in the early days of the Church's history, and also the names of those present:

At a church meeting especially appointed preparatory to communion, at the meeting-house in Exeter, May ye 27 day 1758, after solemn prayer and supplication to God for wisdom to direct, proceeded as followeth:

To own our covenant with God and one with another.
Brother Joseph Rogers appeared and owned his covenant.
Philip Jenkins,
John Gardner
Samuel Garner
Daniel Gill,
Simon Smith,
Thomas Place
Anna Aylesworth,
Anna Harrington
Catharine Potter
Margaret Spencer
Sarah Smith.

From this time until 1763, no record of any business meetings appear.

The records again commence May 21, 1763, of a church meeting with Solomon Sprague, Moderator, and Seth Eldred, Clerk.  It appears from the record of this meeting that a better state of feeling existed than had for the past four years, and that the membership desired to honor God in the renewal of their covenants, and in having more fellowship with each other.  Soon after this the Church voted unanimously to call brother Solomon Sprague to the pastorate, but his mind as yet was not clear on that point.

In July, 1766, Elder David Sprague, their former pastor, returned, and was cordially received to their membership.  He also at the same meeting tendered his services to the Church as pastor, which was followed by a declination, evidently showing a preference for his son.  At this date the Church numbered about seventy-seven, a list of whose names I give below, it being the first that appears among the records.

Solomon Sprague, Joseph Case, George Reynolds, Robert Whitford,  Daniel Gill,  John Weight, Susanna Rice, David Sprague, Robert Carr, Reynolds Cahoon, John Joslin, Marbry Whitford, Thomas Place, John Gardner, Charles Carr, Seth Eldred, Thomas Joslin, Samuel Cottrell, Stephen Harrington, James Reynolds, John West, Robert Sweet, Peter Wells, William Chadsey, Johnathan Bly, Budgel Hammond, Primus Rathbun, Peter Congdon, Thankful Browne, Lydia Sweet, Martha Card, Eunice Bly, Susanna Pierce, Mary Eldred, Sarah Bradford, Elizabeth Jones, Anna Hambleton, Mary Allen, Mary Spencer, Margaret Rice, Isabel Sprague, Elizabeth Sweet, Amy Gardner, Lydia Simmons, Elizabeth Gardner, Sarah Joslin, Hannah Carr, Mercy Browne, Abigail Rathbun, Sarah Case, Joanna Reynolds, Lydia Browne, Susanna Wells, Abigail Cottrell, Mary Cole, Elizabeth Ellis, Phillis Whitford, Sarah Browne, Lydia Holloway, Deborah Wilcox, Margaret Spencer, Mary Pierce, Elizabeth Sweet, Rebecca Cahoon, Mehitable Greene, Mercy Rice, Martha Carr, Mary Greene, Deborah Rathbun, Eunice Reynolds, Mary Weight, Sarah Baker, Elizabeth Browne, Anna Baker, Joanna Joslin, Margaret Briggs, Sarah Havens.

During the absence of Elder Sprague from the Church, he had preached for a season at New London, Conn., and on Block Island.  After his return the Church was evidently in accord with him on those points which once divided them, they having adopted his views, viz., that scriptural baptism was pre-requisite to communion.

He died in Exeter, 1777, after a faithful ministry of forty years.  He was buried beside the old Church reared chiefly through his instrumentality, and the dews of summer and the frosts of winter have silently fallen upon  his grave for more than a hundred years.  He was represented as being a man of pure character, superior abilities, happy address, and winning spirit.  Believing that Baptist principles had their foundation laid on the immutable word of God, he held to them tenaciously, though rejected by his brethren and suffering exclusion, until after a number of years, he lived to witness the old Church of Christ in Exeter fully in accord with his long cherished convictions of truth and righteousness.

The Second Pastorate.
The second pastorate of the Church was Solomon Sprague, son of David Sprague, born April 2, 1730, converted in early life, and ordained in the Church of his father, June 1, 1769.  He was a physician as well as a preacher, and honored both professions.  At a meeting of the Church, November 8, 1770, the record states that 'our articles of faith and belief being copied of the original, with some additions and explanations, which the Church approbated, seeing their minds fuller explained than in the former.'  The labor of copying and making additions and explanations was performed by Elder Solomon Sprague, as appears in the record of a previous meeting in October.  This 'declaration of the faith and practice of the Church of Christ in Exeter under the pastoral care of Solomon Sprague, Elder', are among the records of the Church in a state of good preservation.

In October, 1772, he relates to the Church his trials and inability to make pastoral visits among his people on account of his occupation as a physician; whereupon the Church appointed a number of faithful and gifted brethren to assist him in visiting his flock.  In September, 1775, the Church voted to send Elder Solomon Sprague, Elder David Sprague, their former pastor, Joseph Case, jr., and other brethren, to assist in the ordination of Elisha Greene to the pastoral care of the Church in West Greenwich.  Elder Solomon Sprague was Moderator of the Stonington Union Association, to which body this Church belonged, in 1776, and was preacher before that body in 1781.  The Church entertained the Association during his pastorals in 1783 and 1789.

He was assisted in the ministry by Joseph Case, who removed in 1791 to Peterburg in the State of New York.  Elder Solomon Sprague died February 26, 1794, after an honored pastorate of about twenty-five years.  As a pastor he was faithful, much beloved, and successful.

It appears that after leaving the Church, Deacon Philip Jenkins went into East Greenwich, and either established a Church or entered one already established, and became its pastor.  It also appears, by a memorandum among the records, that at some time during this pastorate, Elder Philip Jenkins made a confession to the Church that he was too fast in saying what he did on leaving the Church; and the Church in turn made a retraction to Elder Jenkins, stating that their action was premature, and that not sufficient labor was done with him and those that were attached to him and left the Church with him.

The conclusion of this memorandum reads as follows:

'And we, the Committee appointed by the Church of Exeter under the pastoral care of Elder Solomon Sprague, and by the Church of East Greenwich under the pastoral care of Elder Philip Jenkins, after considering the above-said confession and retraction, do mutually agree to approbate the same, as witness our hand -- whereby we do heartily agree to advise the door to be effectually thrown open for the improvement of each other's gifts in a gospel manner.'

After Elder Sprague's death, Pardon Tillinghast became a leader in the Church, who also felt called to preach the gospel and take the pastorate, but they were not agreed in calling him to this work, and remained without a pastor until 1806.  The following is a copy of the heading of a subscription, written during the pastorate of Elder Sprague, over a hundred years ago, that sets forth very clear views of the duty of the Church in regard to the maintenance of its pastor:

'The members of the Church of Christ at Exeter, under the pastoral care of Solomon Sprague, Elder, whose names are hereafter written, having solemnly covenanted with God and with one another as a Church of Christ, to make the sacred Scriptures the Rule of our Faith and Practice, and having diligently searched and read the same, do find it to be an indispensable duty of every member of a Church of Christ to contribute to the support or maintenance of their minister, that he may attend wholly on teaching and give himself up to the ministry of the word and to prayer.  Acts 6:4.

'The reasons thereof are evident by a threefold law.  First, the law of nature, from whence the Apostle argues, 1 Cor. 9: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 verses; secondly, the Levitical Law, from whence the Apostle also argues, 1 cor. 9: 13 verse; thirdly, the Gospel enjoineth and requireth the same, Gal. 6: 6, 1 Cor. 9:14.  Therefore let the above-cited places of Scripture be well considered with many others of like importance, and the nature and tendency of the work of the ministry be well weighted, and it will be clear that it is a duty required of God himself, and that not in a way of giving alms as to the poor, which is another standing ordinance of Christ, but is to be performed in love to Christ and in obedience to his laws in order to support and carry on the interest of the Gospel, by all the members in the Church that are able.  Yet this is not to be given to any one that may pretend to be a minister or thrust himself into a Church, or to such as run without a mission for filthy lucre's sake.

But Churches ought to take especial care who to call forth to the work of the ministry according to the rule of instruction given by inspiration of God, be they learned or unlearned as to human learning - be they poor or rich as to worldly wealth and the liberality of the people (if they be able) should surmount the necessity of the minister, so as that he may exercise those rights of love and hospitality as is required of such, that therein he may be exemplary in good works, &c.

'Therefore considering our duty to Christ and our covenant obligations to our Elder, and considering his long and grievous indisposition of body, and the weakness of his wife, our sister, and their poor sick child, we find ourselves bound in duty to contribute as followeth, our names hereto subscribed.'

Third Pastorate.
Elder Gershom Palmer was installed pastor of the Church, April 5, 1806, which position he occupied with remarkable success for about twenty years, the membership of the Church having increased in 1825 to seven hundred thirty-eight members.  It appears by the records that the old Church first built was too small to accommodate the people that attended in 1814, and needed repairs.  From the account of an aged citizen, who once attended school in the old Church, that it was built two-story and had a gallery around the house, excepting the north side, where stood the pulpit, with a fireplace near the center of the house.

The following is a record of a meeting of the Church called for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of building a new house:

'Whereas the Baptist Church of Christ in Exeter on the 20th day of August, A. D. 1814, met and took into consideration the present condition of our meeting-house and finding it to be so much out of repair and considering it so much smaller than we could wish, so that of times a great number of the people that attend meeting cannot get in and those that can are so much crowded that it is very uncomfortable;

'Therefore it was agreed to build a new one by subscription to be drawn and shown to all those who have a willing heart; both professors and nonprofesssors may subscribe in order that the public worship of God may be attended more comfortable.  The meeting-house is to be 34 feet by 40 on the ground with a convenient gallery and a row of pews round the walls of the house below and the remainder of the house above and below is to be seated, except two alleys, and free as the old one, for those who wish to occupy them; the two alleys shall  lead from the doors to the pulpit three feet wide.

'And when the meeting-house is finished, the pews are to be sold at auction to the highest bidder by a committee appointed by the Church for that purpose, who shall notify the sales of said pews and have power to adjourn from time to time as said committee shall think best.  Only subscribers shall have a right to bid on said pews, whether professor or nonprofessor - and whosoever shall bid off a pew, if he shall have subscribed to the amount and paid the same, it shall be considered paid for - if not he shall pay the balance to the committee.

'And it is further agreed that all pew-holders shall have and hold their pews, they, their heirs and assigns after them, so long as they shall comply with good order; and all the pew-holders hold themselves bound to pay their parts according to the value of their pews in keeping the house in repair hereafter; and it is further agreed that no person shall bid off more than one pew for themselves.  Said meeting-house is to be built on the lot where the old one now stands.

'And we agree to begin said meeting-house when there shall be fourteen hundred dollars subscribed and a sufficiency of money and materials paid in.

'And whereas we, the subscribers, having read and considered on the contents of the foregoing pages, and being agreed therewith, do hereby promise and agree to pay the sums set against our names unto Jeremiah G. Northup, who was appointed by the Church to superintend the building of said meeting-house.'

The new Church was erected by Daniel Spink in 1816, and on July 16th the pews were sold at auction by Gould Gardner, auctioneer.

pew, name, price
1, John Vaughn, $42.75
2, Johnathan Congdon, $40.00
3, William Greene, $40.50
4, Benjamin C. Gardner, $49.00
5, Nathan Dawley, $40.00
6, Robert H. Brown, $40.50
7, Whitman Thurston, $42.00
8, Jeremiah G. Northup, $45.00
9, Caleb Arnold, jr., $13.50
10, George Gardner, $31.00
11, Benjamin Lawton, $18.50
12, Gardner Champlin, $16.00
13, Daniel Champlin, $45.00
14, Arnold Ellis, $44.00
15, Samuel Shearman, $42.50
16, Thomas Phillips, jr., $43.00
17, Benjamin Fowler, $50.00
18, Clark Sisson, $43.00
19, Pardon Whitford, $48.00
20, Russel Joslin, $58.00

In the same year occurred one of the most powerful revivals of religion which the Church has ever experienced, the number of two hundred having been added to their membership.

illustration at top of page:
drawing, Elder Palmer's old church

The Church entertained the Association while Elder Palmer was pastor in 1808 and 1821; he was the preacher before that body in 1823.  In September, 1823, brethren Clark Sisson, Michael Dawley, Nathan Tefft, John Wilcox, and Jabez Palmer were set apart and ordained to the office of Deacons in the Church.  On April 15, 1826, brother C. C. Greene was appointed Clerk in the place of brother Beriah Brown, with whom the Church had some difficulty.  But the wonderful success and prosperity which had hitherto attended the Church during the pastorate of Elder Palmer was sadly interrupted.

In April, 1827, the Church commenced labor with a number of brethren who had stopped their travel on account of being grieved with Elder Palmer for reporting a story that they deemed repugnant to the truth.  At a subsequent meeting in May, after hearing the charges against Elder Palmer made by these brethren, the Church voted that they were not satisfactorily proved.

But the difficulty remained; these brethren were not satisfied, and finally the Church at their request agreed, April 19, 1828, to call a Council of neighbouring Churches to advise with the Church respecting their decision in this matter.  This council met May 17, 1828, with Elder Jonathan Wilson, Moderator, and Smith Chapman, Clerk.

After carefully bearing and weighing the evidences, they decided that these grieved brethren had some cause of grief, and advised the Church to treat them tenderly, and advised these brethren to strive for reconciliation, and also advised our beloved brother Palmer to strive with all his power to help the minds of these brethren.

On the 11th of June, 1829, another Council convened at the meeting-house in Exeter by request of the aggrieved members of the Exeter Church.  This Council consisted of twenty pastors and brethren representing eight Churches in the Stonington Union Association.  After hearing additional evidence from what was given at the last Council, their decision was as follows:

'Dear aggrieved brethren - After careful, diligent, and prayerful attention to the subject presented us by you, involving the difficulty between Elder Gershom Palmer and the Church of Exeter, with mature deliberation on the results of two former Councils, and additional evidences this day offered, have been conducted to the following conclusion:  Resolved, That we consider the portion of the Church of Exeter who now style themselves as the Church have upheld Elder Gershom Palmer in a palpable falsehood, for which cause we consider they have departed from gospel order, and as the portion of the Church styling themselves aggrieved members have in our opinion taken gospel measures to effect reconciliation and have perpetuated their efforts till the door was closed against them and all hope of success expired; from the above considerations we do give fellowship to said aggrieved members as the Baptist Church of Exeter.

'Resolved, That we recommend to said Church to represent itself as such to our next Association.

Jon. Miner, Moderator.
Smith Chapman, Clerk.'

But still this decision did not lead to a peaceable adjustment of the difficulty, and another Council called by vote of the Church was held, a copy of which is as follows:

'At an ecclesiastical Council held with the Baptist Church in Exeter, R. I., July 2d, A. D. 1829, by request of said Church as a body, after solemn prayer proceeded to business by making choice of Elder Jonathan Miner, Moderator, and Elder Peleg Peckham, Clerk.  2dly, Proceeded to ascertain the number of delegates from the several Churches composing this Council, and it appeared the following members were present, viz.:

2d Church in Groton - Elder Boswell Burrows, Dea. Elisha Rathbun.

1st North Stonington - Eld. Jonathan Miner, Dea. Samuel Peabody.

2nd North Stonington - Eld. Asher Miner

Plainfield - Eld. Nathaniel Cole

Coventry and Sterling - Eld. Peleg Peckham, Dea. Philip Kenyon

North Kingstown - Dea. Samuel Tillinghast, Nathaniel Reynolds

Warwick and East Greenwich  -- Dea. John Sweet, Dea. Wm. Greene, Samuel Bennett, Henry Tibbits, Joseph P. Briggs

South Kingstown  -- Christopher Steadman, Frederick Chappel

South Kingstown or Queen's River  --  Eld. Henry C. Hubbard

Richmond  --  Elder Benjamin Barnes

'Elder Jonathan Wilson and Elder Levi Walker being present were invited to a seat in the Council.
'Voted by Exeter Church that the above-named compose the Council.

'Voted, That the doings of the last Council be read, together with Elder G. Palmer's letter of confession (so-called); the same being read.
'Voted, That we adjourn one hour.  Met agreeable to adjournment, and proceeded to business that was before the Council.  After considerable labour,
'Voted, That we retire to a private room to make up our advise and decision - when retired, which is as follows:

'To the Church of Exeter, - Dear Brethren:  It is the opinion of this Council that the difficulty that the disaffected members of this Church have manifested in relation to the decisions of the three former Councils, judging as they do that said decisions were inconsistent one with the other - we are of opinion that there is no such inconsistencies existing, and that all the difference is in a more full and explicit decision in one that in another.

'The inquiry was made of the disaffected brethren if there was any new evidence, matters, or things relating to the subject-matter of difficulty that had not been considered by the former Councils which they wished this Council to hear and advise upon.  It was answered in the negative.  This Council do therefore fully approve of the decisions of the last Council, and do earnestly exhort all the members of this Church to regulate their walk accordingly.  Upon the subject of the inquiry made by the Church of this Council for advise as to their duty in relation to the disaffected and delinquent members of this Church and of Elder G. Palmer in particular --

'It is the unanimous opinion of this Council that the power of discipline is in the portion of the Church fellowshipped by the last Council, and that they will be fellowshipped by the Churches in our connection in all their acts of discipline towards the delinquents of this Church as well with Elder G. Palmer as any private member, if it be done in gospel order.

Jonathan Miner, Moderator.
Peleg Peckham, Clerk.

Exeter, July 29, A.D. 1829.'

After this the Church commenced later with Elder Palmer, and on the 15th of August, 1829, voted to withdraw the hand of fellowship.  Quite a large number of other members, including three of the five deacons of the Church, were called upon at different times, and after labor with them the hand of fellowship was withdrawn.

Fourth Pastorate.
Elder Levi Meech united with the Church and became its pastor in 1831.

During his three years' pastorate his labors were blessed in the conversation of nearly fifty persons.

On the 7th of September, 1831, a Council met by request of the Church and ordained Russel Joslin and Daniel Sweet to the office of deacons of the Church.

Previous to this date the Church had not received any Act of incorporation.  In October, 1831, the Church petitioned the General Assembly, and were incorporated, retaining the original name of the Baptist Church in Exeter.

This charter restricted the Church to hold all property aforesaid, to lease, grant, convey and dispose of in such manner as they may deem expedient, at their will and pleasure - provided, however, that all legacies and donations shall be appropriated strictly according to the direction or design of the donors or testators.

On September 15, 1832, the Church voted to repair the door of the Church, and put on a lock sufficiently strong to guard said house.

But the meeting-house was owned by proprietors or pew-owners, as has been previously noticed it could not be claimed as the property of the Church nor as being under their control.  Consequently those following Elder Palmer contended that they had an equal right to hold meetings in the house with the Church.  This state of affairs constantly produced confusion and proved detrimental to the successful advancement of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, amid all these difficulties, during the year 1832 the Church held meetings that resulted in a glorious revival of religion.

On May 17, 1834, Elder Meech received a letter of dismission, and the Church was again without a pastor.  In August, 1836, the Church voted to sever their connections with the Stonington Union Association and unite with the Warren, on account of the greater convenience of attending.  In their annual letter to the Association in 1836 they report a membership of four hundred seventy-four.

Fifth Pastorate.
On October 14, 1837, Elder Benedict Johnson was invited to become the pastor of the Church, and accepted the invitation.  On the 16th of December following, the Church took into consideration the propriety of building a new house of worship, and after mature deliberation,

'Voted, To make an effort to build a meeting-house 40 by 32 feet, to be located on Christopher Greene's land near Solomon Lawton's, on the hill; to be built by subscription.  The seats are to be free, but the house is to be the property of the Baptist Church in Exeter, and exclusively under the control and direction of the same at all times.'

Deacons Russel Joslin and Daniel Sweet together with brethren C. C. Greene and Stephen H. Gardiner were appointed a committee to superintend the building of the house.  The house was built by Deacon Russel Joslin and brother Henry V. Joslin, at a cost of about $1,500, on land give by brother C. C. Greene, on the Ten Rod Road, about one mile west of the old one, and was dedicated on the 4th of October, 1838.  The bell on the Church was presented by Deacon William Greene.  Mr. Charles Reynolds gave the timber for building the house, and his son, brother Henry Reynolds, claims to have struck the first blow in cutting.

line drawing illustration of meeting-house (no caption)

Following the services of the dedication a very interesting revival took place, as a result of which more than thirty professed faith in the saving power of Christ and were buried in baptism and received into the Church.  Sept. 6, 1845, brethren Nathan Dutemple and Alfred B. Tefft were set apart as deacons in the Church.

In April, 1845, the long-standing difficulty existing in the Church in consequence of Elder Palmer was satisfactorily settled, and a certificate signed to this effect by the clerk of this Church and the clerk of the Church under Elder Palmer, and also recognised each other as sister Churches of Jesus Christ in fellowship.

On March 20, 1847, brother Gershom P. Sherman, grandson of Elder Palmer, was licensed to preach the gospel.  Brother George R. Northup was received into membership by letter from First Baptist Church in Newport, March 17, 1849, and commenced preaching for the Church.  Elder Johnson resigned the pastorate, April 1, 1849, which was accepted.

Sixth Pastorate.
In March, 1850, brother George R. Northup withdrew from the field, and Elder Johnson returned to the pastoral care of the Church.  A Council met June 15, 1854, by request of the Church, to examine brother Gardner Tillinghast with a view to ordination, and voted to ordain on the 5th of July following, at which time he was ordained as an assistant pastor in the Church.

A license was granted by the Church, October 20, 1855, to brother Alfred B. Tefft to preach the gospel.  July, 1854, brother T. A. Hall was set apart as deacon of the Church.

Seventh Pastorate.
Rev. Benedict Johnson removed from the Church in the spring of 1856, and the Church was supplied by Rev. Gardner Tillinghast, who in August following became pastor of the Church, and died the following December.  In  his short ministry, he manifested a faithfulness and zeal which gave promise of much future usefulness, but the Master called and he cheerfully obeyed the summons.

Eighth Pastorate.
Rev. Benedict Johnson returned to the Church in the spring of 1858, and preached a portion of the the time for the next two years.  In the winters of 1857 and 1858, union meetings of this Church and our sister Liberty Church were held at the Jefferson Hall, Fisherville, that resulted in bringing a large number to Christ - forty-four of whom were baptised into this Church.

Ninth Pastorate.
In the autumn of 1860, Rev. George R. Northup took the pastoral care of the Church and labored faithfully for two-and-a-half years to build up the cause of Christ.  In 1863 the Church was again without a pastor, but was supplied a portion of the time by Rev. J. W. Carpenter.  From 1864 for a number of years, brother George Chappel supplied the desk and led the Church.  In the spring of 1866, the Church engaged the services of Rev. J. L. Wightman, who labored among us as his health would permit until the autumn of 1867, at which time the Church entertained the Narragansett Association, with which it united at the time of its organization, 1860.

Tenth Pastorate.
On June 6, 1869, Rev. Benedict Johnson, who had figured so largely in the history of the Church, again united with it and began pastoral labor.  But his earthly labors were nearly done.  On the 28th of June following, about three weeks from the time of his union with the Church, he died, in the vigor of manhood, aged 64 years.

In person he was large, well-formed, and commanding, with a voice that in his earnestness in preaching he often lifted up like a trumpet.  He was kind and genial in social intercourse and a warm-hearted and devoted friend.  When with clasped hands and uplifted head in prayer he uttered with great  reverence the words 'Almighty God', it kindled anew the fires of divine love in the Christian heart, and caused the heart of the sinner to tremble.  Though his voice has been hushed in death for more than thirteen years, its echo still lingers in our hearts and memories.  He was buried in Exeter Cemetery, near the Church in which he preached the gospel so many years, and his son, William G. Johnson, who died Jan. 15, 1871, and his wife, Ruth Johnson, who died Nov. 19, 1877, were soon laid beside him.

Eleventh Pastorate.
On April 10, 1870, Rev. G. R. Northup united with the Church and began pastoral labor.  During the winter and spring of 1872 an interesting revival of religion took place, and 38 were baptized and added to the Church.  On August 31, 1872, brother Willet H. Arnold was appointed clerk of the Church, and on the 2d of Nov. following was set apart as deacon of the Church.

During Mr. Northup's pastorate there were 39 baptized, 2 restored, and 1 united by letter.

In the summer of 1876 the Adventists led by Elder E. R. Wood took possession of the site on which the old meeting-house had stood on the land leased by Simon Smith to this Church in 1753, and erected a house of worship thereon.

The last service held in the old meeting-house was the funeral service of sister Mary Gardiner in September, 1861, conducted by Rev. Benedict Johnson.  From this time onward the house rapidly decayed and threatened to fall.  An application in the form of a petition, signed by citizens in the vicinity, was made to the Town Council of Exeter to have the house removed.  The Council granted the prayer of the petition, and ordered the house sold at public auction.  The conditions of sale were that the purchaser should remove the house and build a good substantial wall in the place in front left vacant.

The Committee, Philip B. Davis, appointed by the Town Council to sell the house, paid the proceeds from the sale, amounting to $30.75, into the Town Treasury, July 17, 1872.  The purchaser of the house failed to fulfill the conditions of sale, thus leaving the timbers and debris scattered promiscuously about the grounds.

Elder E. R. Wood had a lease drawn resembling the old one somewhat in phraseology, to E. R. Wood, Elder, and George T. Cranston, Deacon, and the Advent Christian Church of Exeter, 'established on the principles taught by Jesus Christ and his Apostles, and the doctrines of religious faith and worship set forth in the Old and New Testaments,' &c., and applied to Rev. J. W. Carpenter and Deacon William C. Potter of our sister Church whose charter name is the First Baptist Society in Exeter, Incorporated it in 1856, and prevailed upon them to execute it in behalf of the Baptist Church in Exeter, the charter name of this Church, incorporated in 1831.

This Church respecting the expressed wishes of our deceased brother, in the old lease, that this property should be occupied by this Church, practicing according to defined and stated principles and none else, raised her voice against it by a vote of the Church, as follows:

'Whereas our deceased brother Simon Smith, for the love and good-will and for other divers good causes and considerations, did lease to the Elder and Deacons of this Church and to the Church a certain lot of land described by said lease given on the 26th day of February, A. D. 1753, and recorded in the Town Clerk's office March 22d, 1754; and whereas certain persons by present indications have taken unlawful possision [sic] of said ground and are about to erect a Church thereon;

'Therefore voted and resolved, That we claim the leased rights and privileges given in said lease of said ground as the property of the Baptist Church in Exeter, and we protest against any person or persons occupying said ground, thereby violating the expressed wishes of the dead.  We therefore direct the Clerk to post a notice on said land in the name and by the authority of said Church forbidding any person or persons or society whatever to trespass or erect any buildings on said ground under penalty of the law.'

On March 4, 1877, Rev. G. R. Northup removed from the Church, and again the Church was without a pastor.  On the 3rd of June, 1877, Rev. S. D. Burlingame was engaged to supply the Church two Sabbaths in a month for no definite time.

Brother Burlingame supplied until April 1, 1878.

During the previous winter special meetings were held, resulting in the conversion and baptism of eight into the Church.  On Brother Burlingam's removal, Rev. J. H. Edwards engaged to supply the Church two Sabbaths in a month, which he did until January, 1881.

From this time forward to April, 1882, the Church was supplied by Rev. Justus Aldrich, State Missionary, and Deacon Whitman L. Wood.

Twelfth Pastorate.
On May 6, 1882, the Church voted to call Rev. J. H. Edwards to the pastorate.  Brother Edwards began his labors and has been untiring in his efforts to build up the cause of Christ.  During the spring of 1881 special meetings were held, resulting in an addition of eight to the Church.

On May 7, 1882, the Church voted to make an effort to paint and renovate their house of worship.

The work has been pushed steadily forward, until to-night (Jan. 14, 1883) we meet to re-dedicate it anew to the service of God, and return thanks to Him, for His goodness and mercy that endureth forever.

Thus for 132 years has the labor of sowing and reaping been moving steadily onward, while time has swept into eternity those who have rejected Him.  Sometimes dark clouds have hovered over and fierce storms have beaten upon the Old Church, but soon the clouds would roll back, the storm cease its beatings, and the beautiful sunshine of God's eternal love shine in.  Situated as we are in a sparsely-settled community, our numbers are not large.

But we thank God that many noble Christian men and women, who have been necessitated on business and other accounts to go out into other fields away from us, can look back upon the Old Exeter Church as their birthplace into the everlasting kingdom of God.  As the Bridegroom loves and cares for the Bride, to whose strong encircling arms she flies for protection, so with infinitely greater love has our Saviour Jesus Christ protected and remembered Zion.

In the years to come, when the author of these lines shall have done with scenes of mortality, may he who shall attempt to move forward the history of Zion have greater revival events to chronicle of immortal souls saved by the mighty and effacious power of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The clerks of the Church have been:
Joseph Rogers, 1757.
Thomas Joslin, 1760.
Joseph Gardiner, Jan. 6, 1770.
Joseph Case, jr., Sept. 12, 1770.
Benjamin Fowler, 1772.
Jonathan Dean, about 1790.
Pardon Tillinahast, ab't 1796.
James Clark, 1805.
George Sisson, 1814.
Beriah Brown, 1821.
Christopher C. Greene, 1826.
Nathan Dutemple, 1860.
Willet H. Arnold, Aug. 31, 1872.

The Church numbered in 1776 about 77; in 1783, 210; in 1818, 588; in 1825, 738; in 1830, 584; in 1836, 474; in 1858, 188; in 1867, 138; in 1882, 78.

The Church reported revivals and additions as follows:  In 1807, 48; in 1813, 101; in 1816, 200; in 1819, 71; in 1823, 69; in 1829, 51; in 1839, 38; in 1843, 50; in 1850, 30; in 1858, 48; in 1872, 38; in 1878, 8; in 1881, 8.

Willet H. Arnold, Church-Clerk.

Approved by the Church, March 3, 1883.


These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Washington County, Rhode Island USGenWeb Project. Transcription and pictures 2003 by Beth Hurd


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