Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Seventh Day Baptist and Independence

On Independence Day it is particularly appropriate for Seventh Day Baptists to remember Governor Samuel Ward of Rhode Island.

Samuel Ward
1725–1776

Samuel Ward was Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, son of a governor of Rhode Island, three times governor himself, and presiding officer over the Continental Congress when it was meeting in Committee of the Whole.

Samuel Ward
He was the only colonial governor who refused to enforce the Stamp Act, and was actively involved in resistance to British authority – organizing committees of intelligence in every Rhode Island community.

Ward was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774. There he was a close ally of Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts. Perhaps his closest friend and political ally was Benjamin Franklin. He is remembered as the man who nominated George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. He was a close friend of and correspondent with Nathanael Greene - perhaps Washington’s best general. He advocated an American navy and introduced the resolution authorizing the construction of its first ships.

He died of smallpox in Philadelphia on March 25, 1776, having delayed inoculation out of fear that it would incapacitate him when important work needed to be done. The entire Congress attended his funeral.

He was a Seventh Day Baptist, a member of the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton. His profession of faith and request for membership is in the possession of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society.
To the Sabbatarian Church of Christ in Westerly & Hopkinton:

Being fully satisfied that Baptism is a Christian Duty I desire to be admitted to that Ordinance this Day: my Life & Conversation are well known; my religious Sentiments are That there is one God the Father of whom are all Things and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all Things, That the Universe thus created has been preserved and governed by infinite Wisdom, Power and Goodness from the Beginning, That mankind having fallen into the most gross & unnatural Idolatry, Superstition and Wickedness it pleased God for their Recovery to make a Revelation of his mind & will in the holy Scriptures which (excepting the ceremonial Law and some part of the Judicial Law peculiar to the Jews) It is the Duty of all mankind to whom they are made known sincerely to believe and obey: my Sins I sincerely & heartily repent of and firmly rely upon the unbounded Goodness and Mercy of God in his only begotten Son Christ Jesus for Pardon & eternal Life: and I sincerely desire and Resolve by his Grace for the future to walk in all the Commandments and Ordinances of the Lord

Sam: Ward
August 5, 1769
information from Kenneth E. Smith, Sam: Ward: Founding Father, Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, 1967

A site devoted to the Ward family provides this about Samuel Ward:
...[I]n 1763, he won election as Governor of Rhode Island. He was reelected in 1765 and held office until 1767. When the British parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act which imposed taxes on imports into the American Colonies — without any representation of these colonists in that legislative body — the Americans became infuriated. Samuel was the only one of the governors of the 13 colonies who refused to sign a required oath to sustain and enforce it.

He was appointed a delegate from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress to be held at Philadelphia as tensions heightened in the period leading up to the American Revolution.

The drama of revolution and war opened with all its horrors of bloodshed and devastation, and all its glorious scenes of devotion to the rights of man, and determination to obtain liberty, at any and every cost. Samuel played a prominent part in these scenes and performed it well. Samuel wrote a letter in 1775 to his brother, speaking of his own position and his feelings; he said:
"I have traced the progress of this unnatural war, through burning towns, devastation of the country, and every subsequent evil. I have realized, with regard to myself, the bullet, the bayonet and the halter; and, compared with the immense object I have in view, they are all less than nothing. No man living, perhaps, is more fond of his children than I am, and I am not so old as to be tired of life; and yet, as far as I can now judge, the tenderest connections and the most important private concerns are very minute objects. Heaven save our country, I was going to say, is my first, my last, and almost my only prayer"
Samuel took an active part in helping organize the Rhode Island Militia for the war. His son Samuel Jr., recently out of college, entered the Colonial Army with the commission of captain.

When the Continental Congress met, Samuel was chosen Chairman of the "Committee of the Whole". The committee recommended "...that a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty." This was passed and George Washington was chosen by ballot to take command of American forces.

Samuel was a devoted admirer of Gen. Washington, and a sincere advocate of his election. A few weeks after the appointment, he wrote to Gen. Washington:
"I most cheerfully entered upon a solemn engagement, upon your appointment, to support you with my life and my fortune; and I shall most religiously, and with the highest pleasure, endeavor to discharge that duty."
We find Governor Ward a most active member of Congress, and untiring in his efforts to organize and advance the preparations for defence on the part of the colonists. He was warmly in favor of pronouncing a declaration of independence; and, although he did not live to sign the Declaration, yet he was one of the most active and determined among those who consummated it.

During the Congress, Samuel contracted smallpox and fell ill in March 1776. He last attended sessions on Mar 15. He died 26 Mar and was buried at the First Baptist Church Cemetery in Philadelphia. All the members of the Congress and a large crowd of friends and supporters attended his funeral.

The remains of Governor Ward were exhumed and removed to the Old Cemetery at Newport, Rhode Island in 1860. The slab over his grave, contains the following inscription, written by John Jay (Supreme Court Justice):
"In memory of the Honorable Samuel Ward, formerly Governor of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; afterwards delegated from that colony to the General Congress; in which station, he died, at Philadelphia, of the small pox, March 26th, 1776, in the fifty-first year of his age. His great abilities, his unshaken integrity, his ardor in the cause of freedom, his fidelity in the offices he filled, induced the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations to erect this grateful testimony of their respect."
Wards in the United States Congress, Part 2