Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seventh Day Baptists and Abolitionism

In the course of some research I've been doing about the history of Seventh Day Baptists, I came across several references to their involvement in the abolitionist movement. A few examples of what I found:

Pardon Davis
Prisoner in Louisiana

Pardon Davis was a Seventh Day Baptist who was arrested in Louisiana in 1854, charged with aiding escaping slaves, and sentenced to twenty years. The fleeing slaves had come to him for refuge, and he had provided them with food and shelter. They were discovered by a slave-catcher, and – upon being flogged – confessed that Davis had assisted them. They apparently knew of him as someone from whom they could get help. Whether he had previously assisted escaping slaves is not known, but he was clearly an abolitionist. From jail, he wrote to his home church in Berlin, Wisconsin:
If you could be on the plantation near where I lived, and at night, when the cotton was weighed, out of two hundred, not less than twelve are whipped every night – O! could you hear the shrieks, cries, groans, prayers – yes, if you could see the victim on his knees praying with all the earnestness a man is capable of, to that brutal overseer, and promising to strain every nerve on the morrow to pick more cotton – it is enough to melt the heart of any one. Who can look on such scenes as these, and not be moved? …. I wait with the greatest anxiety to hear from you, to know whether I shall receive your sympathies and prayers, or whether I have done wrong, and am considered a heathen.
He did, indeed receive their sympathies and prayers – and their efforts to gain his release. He regained his freedom in 1856.

[the article is from the July 5, 1855, Sabbath Recorder, the denominational newspaper]

See also "Pardon Davis: A Prisoner in Louisiana" by Don Sanford

The Greenmanville Church

The Greenmanville Seventh-Day Baptist Church was built at the height of shipbuilding activity in Mystic, Connecticut, about 1850. The congregation was an offshoot of the Greenman brothers' church in Westerly, R.I.

George Greenman
The Greenman brothers were abolitionists and active supporters of the cause, going so far as to subsidize free state emigrants to Kansas, as well as supporting the Underground Railroad. The Greenmanville church made abolition a point in its Statement of Faith. The eleventh article of the Greenmanville Seventh Day Baptist Chuch’s Statement of Faith is unequivocal with respect to slavery:
11th That slavery is a violation of the principles of Christianity and therefore a sin against God.
The church was located in the midst of the shipyards. Although, of course, the Greenman yard didn’t work on the Sabbath, other shipyards did. On at least one occasion, worship was interrupted so the congregation could cheer a launching. With the decline of the shipyard during the 1870s and 1880s, the congregation was depleted and the church was finally closed in 1904.

Today the church building is a part of Mystic Seaport museum. The original site of the church is adjacent to the present main entrance to Mystic Seaport.

Joseph Goodrich

Joseph Goodrich was born in Hancock, Massachusetts, in 1800; he married Nancy Maxon in 1819, and in 1821, moved to Alfred, New York. He lived in Alfred until 1838, when he and his family moved to Milton, Wisconsin, where he was a founding member of the town and of the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church. Goodrich built the Milton House, a stagecoach inn, and one of the first poured grout buildings in the United States, in 1844.

Milton House, Milton, Wisconsin
Joseph Goodrich was well-known in the area as a strong anti-slavery man. “. . . He was for many years a decided anti-slavery man, a member of the old Whig party . . .” [U. S. Biographical Dictionary, Wisconsin Volume, 1877]
In the stirring days during which the fugitive slave law was the most important matter of public interest the good people around Milton and Albion did not generally advertise their participation in resistance to it in the face of imprisonment in a federal prison and a $1,000 fine. However, it has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the territorial road and the stations along its route in the basement of the Milton House and the Albion church constituted part of the extensive system provided for the escape of the fugitive slaves. [Old Albion Academy . . ., August 4, 1949]
The Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church of which Goodrich was a founding member was actively abolitionist. In 1854 the church adopted this resolution:
That the action of the present administration of the government of the United States, in the passage of acts promoting and extending the system of slavery, is unworthy of the support of liberty-loving voters, and that any person supporting this Administration, or any one not pledged against Slavery, by his vote, commits an act which ought to exclude him from membership in [the Seventh Day Baptist Church]...
[The picture of the Milton House is early 20th century. Escaping slaves are thought to have been hidden in a tunnel running from the basement to a log cabin behind the inn]

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