Saving Grace: Baptist Archives and Historical Collections in North America

Article excerpt

The scope of Baptist archives and historical collections in North America is as diverse as the many varieties of Baptists on the continent. (1)

Some large and longer established collections have well-defined procedures for collecting, preserving, and making records available to in-house researchers and via the worldwide web. Other new and smaller repositories may offer limited accessibility options. Baptist historical collections may be located at national or state offices, publishing boards, or at seminaries and universities.

In 1990, Lynn E. May, Jr., compiled the International Directory of Baptist Archives/Libraries. Sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance's Commission on Baptist Heritage, the directory provides entries for eighty-five historical collections around the world, listing contact information, research facilities and services, and collection descriptions. (2) Bill Sumners's article in the proceedings of the Baptist History Celebration, 2007, provided updates to many collections listed in May's work. (3) The following article presents an overview of the rich assortment of Baptist repositories in North America. While listing collections of major Baptist groups in Canada and the United States, attention is also given to African American and smaller Baptists bodies. This article also describes additional opportunities for Baptist research as well as references to an increasing amount of historical information available online; all websites referenced below are active as of July 2009.

Baptist Collections in Canada

Canada is home to three major Baptist archival collections. The Canadian Baptist Archives (CBA) at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, is the largest repository of Canadian Baptist materials. The collection includes institutional records for the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, Baptist Union of Western Canada, and the Union d'Eglises Baptist Francaises au Canada; several hundred records of local Baptist churches; over 3,000 volumes of Baptistiana; numerous biographical files on Canadian Baptists; pamphlets; and periodicals. Other significant CBA holdings include materials on British Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, the Plymouth Brethren, the John Milton Society for the Blind, and the recently-acquired papers of former Baptist missionary and martyr in Bolivia, Norman Dabbs. The CBA is open for research by appointment.

The Esther Clark Wright Archives at Acadia University is the official repository for the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches (CABC), which includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Church records contain minutes, membership rolls, Woman's Missionary Society proceedings, ministers' files, bulletins, and descriptions of youth activities and special events. The collection also includes administrative records, vertical files of CABC ministers and missionaries, and photographs. The Wright Archives is open for research on weekday afternoons.

The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches (FEBCC) in Canada maintains an archive at the FEBCC headquarters in Willowdale, Ontario. Materials in the collection include official minutes and reports, periodicals, various publications by and about FEBCC ministers and laypersons, correspondence, photographs, and audio visual materials. The collection is open by appointment.

American Baptist Collections

The American Baptist Historical Society (ABHS), located on the Atlanta campus of Mercer University, is one of the oldest and most impressive collections of Baptist records in America. Founded in 1853, the society houses the official records of the American Baptist Churches, USA (ABC), including annual reports, minutes, yearbooks, and directories of the ABC's Boards of International and National Ministries (former Foreign and Home Mission Societies); Baptist World Alliance files; the Judson Press Collection; and many manuscript holdings including Adoniram Judson's correspondence and the Walter Rauschenbusch papers. …