Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History III

A Denomination Takes Form
1790 - 1860

The first half of the 19th Century was a time of rapid change in the United States. The frontier moved westward as settlers crossed the mountains into the Ohio valley and on into the Northwest Territories. The construction of canals and railroads made access easier and communication less difficult. It was also a time of religious ferment. The Second Great Awakening meant revival – increased interest in Christian commitment and in Biblical doctrine.

Rev. Henry Clarke
Moving West. Seventh Day Baptists were a part of all of this. Members of Seventh Day Baptist churches moved with the settlements, first into western New York and western Virginia [now West Virginia] and then to the northwest, into what would soon be Ohio and Wisconsin, establishing new churches where they settled. The first Seventh Day Baptist missionaries helped maintain a connection among these scattered groups – and, taking advantage of opportunities, preached the gospel and introduced the Sabbath to those open to conviction.

A Denomination. As the number of Seventh Day Baptists and Seventh Day Baptist churches grew, and new needs and opportunities were recognized, an organizational structure began to appear.
  • In 1802 eight of the churches decided to form the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference. The churches surrendered none of their autonomy to the new organization, but saw it as a way to maintain a connection with each other and to promote the doctrinal distinctives of the emerging denomination. In 1833, the first “Expose of Sentiments” was published, described as “as an exhibition of the views generally held by the denomination,” but having no binding effect on churches or members.
  • In 1818 the first of several missionary societies was created primarily to send missionaries to the frontier. In 1844, though, it was decided to also send missionaries “to other parts of the world” and the still existing Seventh Day Baptist Missionary Society came into being.
    Milton Academy, Milton, WI
  • Seventh Day Baptists promoted religious education in the churches by establishing Sabbath Schools. They also created institutions to promote learning in their communities. Before public schools were generally available churches and groups of churches organized academies for the education of both their own children and those of others in their communities. Institutions of higher education grew out of some of those academies including Alfred University in New York [1857] and Milton College in Wisconsin [1867]. The colleges associated with Seventh Day Baptists later included Salem College in West Virginia [1888].
    George B. Utter
  • The earliest Seventh Day Baptists printed and circulated tracts and books. Now they also began to publish periodicals. There were several short-lived newspapers and then, in 1844, the American Sabbath Tract Society began publishing The Sabbath Recorder – a weekly newspaper during most of the 19th century – which continues as a monthly magazine today.
By the time of the American Civil War, Seventh Day Baptist churches were scattered from their origins in the East to the new states of the Midwest.

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

The silhouette is of Rev. Henry Clarke, one of those instrumental in the creation of General Conference in 1802. The next is Milton Academy, Milton Wisconsin, later expanded to become Milton College, chartered in 1867. George B. Utter, the final picture, edited the Sabbath Recorder from its founding, for twenty-five years.

The next in the series: "Seventh Day Baptist History IV - "A Nation cannot long endure..."

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. Your articles forget to mention the role of Elder John Crandall. He was the preacher of the Rhode Island church.

  2. He was indeed.

    The articles are far from exhaustive. They are intended to be only a summary of some aspects of SDB history in the context of American history.


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