What Were Baptists in America like 200 Years Ago? One of the Best Places to Go to Answer the Question Is to David Benedict's (1779-1874) Fifty Years among the Baptists

By Shurden, Walter B. | Baptist History and Heritage, Summer-Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

What Were Baptists in America like 200 Years Ago? One of the Best Places to Go to Answer the Question Is to David Benedict's (1779-1874) Fifty Years among the Baptists


Shurden, Walter B., Baptist History and Heritage


Published in 1860, Benedict's book described by decades the history of Baptists in America from 1800 to 1850. One only wishes that we had such a book by a Baptist historian for every fifty-year period for Baptists in America.

According to Benedict, what were Baptists like in 18007

Baptist Statistics in 1800: Benedict counted about 80,000 Baptists in America in 1800. One-fourth of all those were in Virginia; Massachusetts and North Carolina had 8,000 each; New York had a bit over 5,000. By 1860, Baptists in America numbered 1 million.

The Baptist Character in 1800: Baptists were at peace, "free from jars and schisms, ites, and isms, the apples of discord and the bones of contention" (21). Religious liberty was almost won. Baptists had very few educated ministers. Brown University was the only Baptist college.

Baptist Missions: Baptists had no foreign missionary enterprise and only a few domestic mission societies. Even in terms of domestic missions, Baptists had no organizational structure or permanent missionaries. Baptists possessed no Bible societies or Sunday Schools, and the minutes of associations served as the primary means of communication among Baptists.

The Baptist Image: "A few of their ministers, in the principal cities and towns, were admitted to be men of some decency, but the sect as a whole was denounced as the dregs of Christendom" (33). An old lady said to Benedict when he began his ministry: "Your society are much more like other folks now (1800-1810) than they were when I was young. Then there was a company of them in the back part of our town, and an outlandish set of people they certainly were. You yourself would say so, if you had seen them. As it was told to me, you could hardly find one among them but what was deformed, in some way or other. …

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