Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Seventh Day Baptist History II

Rhode Island to Independence
America, 1670-1790

Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House, Newport, RI
British colonial settlement in what later became the United States began in the early 1600s, first in Virginia and Massachusetts and then up and down the eastern seaboard. Most of these British colonies had government supported religious establishments. Often, even groups that had been persecuted in England were intolerant of dissent once they were in control. One of the few colonies which practiced religious tolerance on principle was Rhode Island. Another was Pennsylvania.

The First American Church. The first Seventh Day Baptists in North America, Stephen and Anne Mumford, came to Newport, Rhode Island in 1664. They worshiped with a Baptist church. In 1671 several members of that church who had become convinced of the Sabbath separated from it and joined with them to form the first Seventh Day Baptist church in America. From that Newport church came others in New England. Pennsylvania was a center of activity in the 1690s. In the early 1700s groups in New Jersey identified themselves with Seventh Day Baptists. All of these churches were soon in contact and cooperation with one another.

German Seventh Day Baptists. Also in Pennsylvania, some German Pietists became convinced of the seventh-day Sabbath and adopted it. From that developed, at Ephrata, a separate German Seventh Day Baptist group.

Gov. Samuel Ward, RI
The Revolution. Seventh Day Baptists were heavily involved in the American War for Independence. A few conscientiously objected to war. A few were Tories. But most supported independence and many expressed their support by serving in the Continental Army or the militia.

Samuel Ward of Rhode Island was the most prominent Seventh Day Baptist on the Patriot side. He was a member of the Westerly church [First Hopkinton SDB Church], a former governor of the state, a close friend and correspondent of General Nathaniel Greene, and a Rhode Island delegate to the Continental Congress. There he strongly supported military preparedness and, but for his death from smallpox, would have been a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The war had an especially strong impact on some of the churches. An Ephrata building was used as a hospital for the Continental Army. The Shrewsbury church in New Jersey was near the Monmouth battlefield. Newport was occupied and Piscataway, New Jersey, was pillaged by the British.

After the war, and as a result of the peace, territory opened for settlement in western New York and over the Appalachians. Seventh Day Baptists would soon be among those migrating west.

Source: Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

The first picture is of the high pulpit in the Newport, R.I., Seventh Day Baptist Church, the first Seventh Day Baptist Church in North America. The person pictured is Samuel Ward, governor of Rhode Island and delegate to the Continental Congress

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History III - A Denomination Takes Form"

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.


  1. This is well done, Jim. A couple of brief things.

    It's splitting hairs, but unless you are speaking of Stephen Mumford, the first American SDB's (the Hubbards) were convinced of the Baptists principles first, went to Newport, and only after became Sabbath Keepers. 6 members of the First Baptist Church of Newport (John Clarke's church) left and covenanted with Mumford in 1671. Forgive my hair splitting. I don't know to fix it so that it doesn't give the impression that all the American SDB's came from England.

    Also, just in terms of typing, Piscataway is in New Jersey, not Rhode Island. (in the second-to-last paragraph.) I figure thats a scribal error. =D

  2. Thanks for the corrections, Nick. It's useful to have a historian vetting the blog.

    I've corrected the state. It was the Mumfords who came in 1664, I think,and they were SDBs at the time?

  3. Anonymous3:21 PM

    You said that Samuel Ward was a member of the Westerly church. The statement is true, but might be misleading. He was a member of the church in westerly Rhode Island (the First Hopkinton SDB Church) which is not the church in the current city of Westerly. The casual reader could be misdirected by the "westerly!"


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