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.
*It will be found that this sketch of the Quidnesset Church differs in some important particulars from that published with the minutes of the Narragansett Association, 1882. This is the later copy, and the changes made are to render the sketch more accurate.
Living within the bounds of Quidnesset Neck at this time, were a few families of Baptists, members of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown. Among them were two men, near relatives, named Allen, each alike distinguished in after years for his unusual devotedness to the work of the Master. One, George Allen, became a deacon of the First Baptist Church, an office he held and honored to the day of his death. The other, Joseph W. Allen, was destined for even a more remarkable career. He early manifested a decided talent for preaching, and was soon (about 1815) licensed by the First Church 'to preach the gospel wherever God should open the way.' The proper field of labor for the young brother was soon proved to be around his own home, among his own associates and neighbors, and here he labored for a few years with marked success. The tokens of Divine favor which were constantly attending him in the gospel work led directly on to his ordination. At the call of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown, a council met in the village of Wickford, May 30, 1822, 'for the purpose of receiving and ordaining Brother Joseph W. Allen to the work of the gospel ministry.' The council numbered twelve - four ministers and eight laymen - representing three churches, the First, Exeter; East Greenwich and Warwick; and the First, North Kingstown. It was unanimously decided to ordain the brother, but it was also expressly stipulated that 'the young brother should be ordained an elder in the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown, under the watch and care of elder William Northrop.' The order of services was as follows: Prayer, Elder Daniel Greene, of Pawtucket; Sermon, Elder Gershom Palmer, of Exeter, from the text, 1 Tim. iv., 16: 'Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself, and them that hear thee;' Ordaining Prayer, Elder John Ormsbee, of ----- ; Charge to the candidate, Elder William Northrop, of North Kingstown. Brother Allen, as indeed it was expressly intended at his ordination, made every arrangement to continue his work in Quidnesset Neck. From house to house, in barn or open field, wherever the opportunity offered, he preached the gospel of Christ. In every respect he showed himself 'a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.' Yea, the history of the Baptist cause and of the growth of Baptist principles in Quidnesset for the next forty years, is virtually the history of this devoted and godly man.
Six years now rolled on. They were years of toil to this honored servant of the Lord. No perfect record has been left us of the work done. It is known, however, that there were frequent baptisms, but as those baptized at this time became members of the First Church, their number cannot be ascertained. That the work was deemed successful is indicated by a record made June 1, 1828. It was an action on the part of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown, signed by pastor and deacons, and reads thus:
'The church of Christ in North Kingstown under the pastoral care of Elder William Northrop, taking into consideration the local situation of a number of brethren and sisters in Quidnesset Neck and vicinity, have thought proper to set them off as a branch of the above named church, in full fellowship and communion with us, deposing in them and giving them equal authority and power of a constituted church; still they remain a Branch with the above said body, and yet, with power to receive and discipline members abstractly and separately from the church; and that Brother Joseph W. Allen have charge and care of the said Branch. And we agree that when it is their wish to be set off as a separate church to assist and constitute them as such.'
In connection with this record it is further added, 'Religious services were performed in Brother James Allen's barn, from the fact that the congregation could not be seated in his house.' Elder William Northrop preached the sermon, from the text, Luke II: 16 : 'The babe lying in a manger.' At the close of the services ten were baptized. Among that number was a young lad, James Clarke, who is still a member of the Quidnesset church. Two other young men, brothers, named Eldred, were also of that ten, and are mentioned here on account of the tragic death that befell them a few months after. They had gone out in their sailboat upon the bay after fowl. The night came on cool, and, going into the cabin of the little vessel, they built a charcoal fire in a portable furnace they had with them, and lay down to a slumber from which they never awoke. The gas from the furnace, owing to the tightly closed doors of the cabin, found no escape, and they were asphyxiated.
The minutes of the Branch, unfortunately, have not been preserved. From the memories of some of the older members of the church, however, these facts have been learned. For a time after the Branch had been set off, the little band of Christians, following the apostolic custom, met from house to house. But so much did they need a house of worship that the most strenuous efforts were put forth to obtain one. Deacon George Allen, of the mother church, gave the land, and a sufficient sum of money was raised among the other friends of the enterprise on Quidnesset Neck, to erect, in 1829, a small but substantial building, designed to be used for school, as well as religious purposes. It was familiarly known from that time on, so long as it was used as a house of worship, as the UNION MEETING HOUSE."
illustration on page 85: line drawing of school/meeting-house.
At the formation of the Branch, it is also worthy of note, that a young brother, Thomas Hill, was ordained to the office of deacon, and having officiated in this capacity during the time the relation of the Branch was sustained, he became the first deacon of the church at its organization, an office that he held also for more than forty years afterwards.
The relation of the Branch with the mother church continued for nearly eleven years. These were, moreover, years of spiritual prosperity and success. Many were baptized. The little one grew apace. But she forgot not the mother who had given her birth. The pleasantest relations ever existed between mother and child. It was a frequent custom for the members of the Branch to suspend their own services on the third Sunday of the month, and go in one united band over the seven miles that separated them from the mother church, and there they observed together the memorial supper of their common Master and Lord.
On Jan. 12, 1839, the records show that, as a preparatory step towards a distinct church organization, the Branch adopted 'Articles of Faith', and 'A Church Covenant'.
On April 4, 1839, a council met at the Union Meeting House in Quidnesset Neck, 'to take in consideration the propriety of recognizing the Quidnesset Branch of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown as a distinct and independent church.' Elder Benj. C. Grafton was moderator of that council. Nine churches were represented by sixteen delegates. The Pine Street, Providence; The First, East Greenwich; the First, Pawtucket; the First, Valley Falls; the First, Wickford; the First, Exeter; the Second, Richmond; the Warwick and Coventry; the First, Wakefield. The council approved the 'Articles of Faith', and the 'Church Covenant.' It was voted to recognize the Quidnesset Branch as an independent church. The sermon was by Rev. John Dowling, of Providence. Brethren Byram, Tew, Grafton, Johnson, Thomas Dowling, E. K. Fuller and J. H. Baker, also took part in the services. The recognition services were duly published in the next issues of The Gospel Witness, and The Christian Watchman. The constituent members numbered thirty-eight.
The First Pastorate.
The little church, once organized, had but a single thought. It was that he who under God's blessing had been so instrumental in its formation, might become its spiritual guide. A call was therefore extended to Brother Allen to become their pastor, and he, accepting that call, began his pastoral office with the day of the church organization. Scarcely had the relation been assumed when it was evident that God's special favor and blessing was resting upon them. There were additions by baptism every month of the following summer, and the church membership was more than doubled ere the year closed. With the spring of 1840 the good work was revived. In fact it may be said it had scarcely ceased, as many during the winter months had made a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On Sunday, May 8, eight were baptized. Among the number an old lady of eighty-three, the mother of Elder Allen, who for a number of years had been an helpless invalid. Borne down into the water in a chair, she by the hands of her own son was there baptized, and came forth rejoicing that she had thus been able to follow in the footsteps of her Lord. Again and again were the waters visited that summer, until fourteen happy converts had been buried in baptism. A quiet work of grace, with occasional baptisms, continued throughout the next year. Then came the year 1842, a year remarkable in the history of the Quidnesset Baptist church in two respects.
It was the year of the Dorr War. But the little church was agitated with other than state troubles or gubernatorial conflicts. The question of slavery, destined a number of years later to terminate in a national conflict, had already begun to be agitated. Already an honest indignation was creeping over the North at this, our national shame. A few slaves were still held even in Rhode Island. The Quidnesset church at once took occasion to express a decided conviction respecting this all -important question. In April of this year the church unanimously adopted the following resolution:
'Whereas, We, the members of the Quidnesset Baptist Church, in North Kingstown, R. I., believing it to be wrong to hold any of our fellow-beings in slavery, and that it is contrary to our religious principles, and also contrary to the precepts of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
"Therefore Resolved, That all persons holding a slave or slaves, and not treating them as subjects of their own family, and also who do not intend to emancipate them at the first proper and suitable opportunity, shall be excluded from the communion and fellowship of this church.'
The animus of the church respecting this question is still further shown by a resolution presented a few years later by one of its deacons. It was a frequent occurrence for Southern Baptists, often slave-holders, who were visiting in Rhode Island, to sit at the table of the Lord with their Northern brethren of the same faith and order. The resolution of the deacon, taking cognizance of this fact, was, in effect: 'That the Quidnesset church should decline to receive any slave-holder, however good his standing in the church of which he was a member, to the table of the Lord; and furthermore, that the church should refuse to fellowship those churches which did invite such slave-holders to the Lord's Supper.' This resolution, while freely discussed and heartily sympathized with by the church, was finally withdrawn. The church taking the occasion, however, to express 'the hope that all churches with whom they were in fellowship might be led to adopt a similar position with themselves respecting this vital question.'
Another matter, more local in its influence, claimed also the attention of the church at this time. Their house of worship had long been too small for their use. It also was not sufficiently central in its location as to be adapted to the best development of the religious interests of the field. It was decided, therefore, to build anew. Samuel Austin, a member of a neighboring Six Principle Baptist church, gave the building site, situated on the post-road from Wickford to East Greenwich, about equal distance from each village, and near the three manufacturing villages of the Quidnesset field. Possibly no site could have been selected more central, or better adapted to the wants of the Quidnesset people than this. Funds were raised by subscription on the field itself to build the new meeting-house, which was dedicated Thursday, Aug. 11, 1842, free from debt. The dedication sermon was preached by Rev. John Dowling, of Providence, from the text, Haggai ii.,7: 'And I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.'
This new sacrifice on the part of the church seemed to meet also the approval of the Lord, for the Holy Spirit was manifest with renewed power. Souls were converted, baptisms were frequent, and the good work did not cease until the following year, fifty-four in all having been baptized.
In 1844 the Quidnesset church, in common with many others at this time, was agitated by what may be termed a musical war. For some time the question had been discussed, 'Shall musical instruments be used in the worship of the Lord?' On January 13, the church put all discussion for the time being at an end by voting that 'all instrumental music be excluded from the house of God.'
It was the same day also, that the question of allowing the sisters to have a voice in the church government, was emphatically decided as follows:; 'All the members of this church, male and female, shall have equal privileges in the government and discipline of the church, believing this to be agreeable to the letter and spirit of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.' This resolution is in force at the present hour.
In November of this year a stranger came into the community representing himself as a minister of Christ. He was frequently invited to preach to the Quidnesset people, who heard him with marked favor. In the emphatic language of one who then heard him, it may be said, 'he could preach.' Rumors soon came, followed close after by the facts, showing that the stranger was not an accredited minister of the gospel, either by ordination, or church membership, or manner of life. This led the church to place on record the following resolution, which it has ever since enforced, and to-day has no cause for regret:
'Believing it to be a Christian duty to regard and fellowship the servants of our common Lord and Saviour, whom he has commissioned and sent into the Gospel field; yet it becomes our duty as a church to guard against imposition, inasmuch as the glory of God is more or less affected by whom we invite to break to us the bread of life.
'Therefore, Resolved, That we will not invite any stranger to hold forth in our preaching house in the future who does not come accredited from the church of which he is a member, or recommended as a minister of Christ.'
It may be added that these years in the history of the Church, marked by so many resolutions, were years of spiritual success and life.
A few years now followed of spiritual dearth. Business depression affected much the spiritual progress and life of the church. There were many removals, and this, with other causes, weakened the church in both spiritual and temporal things. On May 12, 1849, Mr. Allen, owing to ill health, resigned his pastoral charge. For ten years and two months he had been pastor of the church. In that time one hundred and forty had been baptized, and the church membership had more than quadrupled. But what was better, under the wise and earnest leadership of Brother Allen, the foundation for further growth and usefulness had been successfully laid.
The Second Pastorate.
On July 22 of the same year, 1849, the church called Rev. Charles C. Lewis, of Hopkinton, to the pastorate, at a salary of $300. He accepted the call, and began his work among them July 29th. At the beginning of this pastorate the resolution against the use of instrumental music in the house of God, passed five years before, was repealed. On the 8th of September of this year the church joined the Warren Association. In 1850 special religious services were held, resulting in the baptism of fifteen. On August 9, 1851, Brother Lewis resigned, the resignation to take effect the following October. He went to New Shoreham. His pastorate had been a brief one of two years and two months. Twenty had been baptized during this time. But there had also been several cases of severe discipline, and the result was to weaken, for a time at least, the spiritual power of the church.
The Third Pastorate.
On November 8, 1851, one month after the departure of Brother Lewis, Brother Joseph W. Allen, who still resided in Quidnesset Neck, and whose health was restored, was invited to assume for the second time the pastoral care of the church. He accepted, and at once entered upon his duties. There were occasional tokens of Divine favor during the next five years. In 1856 the meeting-house was repaired and painted. A few months after a most gracious revival began. It pleased God to pour out His Spirit in abundant measure. Through the fall and winter of '57, it continued, on into the following summer. Fifty-four were baptized. In 1860, at the formation of the Narragansett Association, the Quidnesset church, in common with the other Baptist churches west of the Bay, withdrew from the Warren, and joined the new association. Eight years now followed of marked prosperity and growth on the part of the church. On April 15, 1868, Brother Allen, old and feeble, resigned the pastorate, and retired from active ministerial service. This pastorate had lasted over sixteen years. If we add to this the ten years of the first pastorate, the eleven years he had served the Branch, and the six years he had labored in Quidnesset Neck before the formation of the Branch, we have the long and exceptional service of over forty-three years in one field, and to one people. During the second pastorate, ninety-eight had been baptized, making for the two pastorates a total of two hundred and thirty-eight. How many Brother Allen had baptized previous to the organization of the church is now unknown. For five years after his resignation, Brother Allen continued to live among the people for whom he had so long labored. On May 2, 1873, God called him from earth, may we not believe to a renewed strength and more efficient service? Resolutions appropriate to his long and devoted labors were adopted by the Quidnesset church. To-day his name is held in honored respect throughout the community where he so long preached the gospel of Christ.
The Fourth Pastorate.
More than a year and a half now passed, during which the Quidnesset church was without a pastor. But meanwhile the church was preparing itself for a more efficient usefulness. The summer of 1868 was spent in enlarging and repairing the house of worship at an expense of nearly fifteen hundred dollars. This expense was met by two of the members of the church -- Brother Henry Sweet and James M. Davis. The house was re-dedicated November 12th of this year. Rev. Joseph W. Allen, the late pastor preached the sermon. Text, Psalm xciii., 5: 'Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever.' Brothers Fuller, Aldrich, Brayton, Tilton, Howard and Wightman took part in the services.
On November 22, 1868, the church extended a unanimous call to Rev. Amasa Howard, of Providence, to become their pastor, at a salary of $800. This call was declined. For some months the church was served by different supplies. On September 19, 1869, Rev. C. C. Burrows, of Newton Centre, was called to the pastorate. He accepted, beginning his labors October 1. The church at this time experienced great difficulty in finding a suitable residence for their pastor. But through the liberality of Brother James M. Davis, this want was soon met. He caused to be erected at his own expense, in the village of Davisville, near depot and post-office, and but one mile from the church building, a large and commodious parsonage. This, while still the property of Brother Davis, has nevertheless been occupied ever since, free of rent, by the pastor of Quidnesset church. Another great want of the church was also met at this time. It was the erection of large and convenient sheds in the rear of the meeting-house. This involved an expense of $1,200, also, which was met by the church itself.
Never in its history had the Quidnesset church made the necessary sacrifices for improving its church-building and adapting it to more increased usefulness, but what the direct blessing of God's Spirit had followed. The present time was no exception. They had now expended the largest amount, and made the greatest sacrifices financially, in all their history. God answered in direct proportion with their giving, and poured out the fullest and most extensive blessing the church had ever seen. With the fall of 1869 a deep sense of its responsibility for the salvation of souls fell upon the church. The people of God were moved to action. Cold and lukewarm members were aroused. Souls began to inquire the way to Jesus. In January, 1870, twenty-five were baptized. There was no cessation of monthly baptisms during the year. Many who witnessed this revival pronounce it the most powerful that ever came under their observation. It seemed at one time as if there was scarcely a sinner in the neighborhood but what was crying unto God for salvation. One hundred and five were baptized that year. In March, 1871, Brother Burrows, for reasons that seemed ample to himself, tendered his resignation. It was, however, not accepted. Another prosperous year followed. June 1, 1872, Mr. Burrows, for a second time, resigned his pastoral charge. The church again refusing to accept the resignation, prevailed upon Brother Burrows to remain with them. On August 17, 1873, he again sent in his resignation, to take effect the following October. This time it was accepted, though with much regret on the part of the church. This pastorate was of exactly four years. It had been in many regards highly successful. One hundred and eleven had been baptized, and the church had reached a membership of two hundred and fifty-eight.
The Fifth Pastorate.
November 9, 1873, five weeks after the departure of Brother Burrows, the church extended a call to Rev. Thomas Crudgington, of Stepney, Conn., to become their pastor. He accepted, and began his duties November 30. This pastorate was a brief one of two years and one month, as Brother Crudgington sent in his resignation September 5, 1875, to take effect at the end of the year. Owing to peculiar difficulties that combined to hinder Brother Crudgington in his work, his pastorate is marked with little apparent success. When he assumed the pastorate he found a large number of the church-members wholly unmindful of their covenant vows. The severe hand of discipline was necessarily enforced, and over forty members during his pastorate were excluded or erased. Only four were added by baptism.
The Sixth Pastorate.
During the winter and spring of 1876, the church pulpit was supplied by different preachers. Early in the spring a call was extended to Rev. Frederic Denison, of Providence, to become their pastor, but he declined. On August 13th W. P. Chipman, a student from Rochester Theological Seminary, supplied the pulpit. At the request of the church committee, he continued to supply the pulpit for the remainder of the month. September 1st he was invited to become stated supply for three months. December 1st he was called to the pastorate. He, accepting the call, began his labors January 1, 1877. His ordination took place at the Quidnesset meeting-house, January 3d. Rev. E. Dewhurst, of Mystic, Conn., was moderator of the council, and Rev. G. Robbins, of East Greenwich, was clerk. Rev. Dr. E. G. Taylor, of Providence, preached the ordination sermon, from the text, 2 Tim., iv., 5: 'Make full proof of thy ministry.'
This pastorate still continues with unbroken harmony. Of its work, some other than the present writer can more fittingly speak. Several facts may, however, be properly stated. At the beginning of the pastorate the church membership numbered 215. Of this number, some were non-resident, some were walking disorderly, while the whereabouts of others was unknown. It has been the request of the church that all absent members should, so far as possible, take letters to churches nearer their places of residence. Discipline has been enforced. Exclusion and erasure have been frequent. Death has not withheld its hand. These combined causes have reduced the membership, notwithstanding the additions.
illustration: line drawing of meeting-house
The house of worship has, within the present year (1882), been enlarged and renovated at an expense of about four thousand dollars; all of which was raised on the home field. It was re-dedicated Sunday, September 10th, with the following order of services: Historical Address, by the pastor, Rev. W. P. Chipman. An Address, 'The Church and Community', by Rev. J. H. Edwards. An Address, 'The Church and The Commission', by Rev. F. W. Ryder. An Address, 'The Church and the Times', by Rev. E. S. Wheeler.
No marked revival has been witnessed during the pastorate. Each year there have been a few baptisms. The additions of the pastorate are: Baptisms, 30; Letter, 14; Experience, 2; Total, 46.
The original membership of the church was 38. During the entire history of the church there have been baptized, 403; received by letter, 69; received by experience, 16; making the total additions, 526. There have been dismissed, 86; died, 93; excluded, 32, erased, 118; making a total diminution of 329; the present membership is 197 (September 1, 1882.)
The Deacons of the church have been:
Thomas Hill, from the formation of Branch, June 1, 1828, to his death,
Sept. 16, 1880, a period of over fifty years.
Charles Spencer, from June 29, 1843, to his death, March, 1870.
Alfred B. Chadsey, from Dec. 11, 1859, to October, 1877, when he took a letter to the Wickford Baptist Church.
Smith W. Pearce, from Dec. 11, 1859, to the present time, except one year of absence, 1864-5.
Russel C. Baton, from Jan. 11, 1862, to the present time.
Thomas W. Arnold, from Jan. 7, 1878, to the present time.
The clerks of the church have been:
Henry Sweet, from May, 1839, to Nov. 8, 1845.
James M. Davis, from Nov. 8, 1845, to April 18, 1846.
James L. Congdon, from April 18, 1846, to Jan. 7, 1856.
Reuben H. Alexander, from Jan. 7, 1856, to April 5, 1868.
William H. Congdon, from April 5, 1868, to Dec. 11, 1869.
Reuben H. Alexander, from Dec. 11, 1869, to Aug. 7, 1870.
Allen Reynolds, from Aug. 7, 1870, to the present time.
Two have been licensed by the church to preach. Bowen Reynolds, in May, 1846. This license was recalled three years after. Joseph R. Verie, in January, 1881, who is now at Worcester Academy, preparing himself for the ministry.
The Quidnesset church since its organization has only been a trifle over two years without a pastor. It never has had a church debt. It has never received outside aid. On the other hand, it has contributed to a more or less extent to send the gospel of Christ to other parts of the State and world. It has expended, during the forty-three years of its history, on the home field not far from twenty-five thousand dollars. The amount it has contributed to outside work is unknown, but during the last five years these contributions exceed eight hundred dollars.