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General History of the Northern Freewill Baptists

The first Free Will Baptist church in North America was founded by Paul Palmer in Chowan, North Carolina, in 1727. In large part the new denomination of Baptists was a response to the lack of support from the General Baptist association in England for America's General Baptists. In addition to adhering to believer baptism by immersion, rather than baptism at birth, the church believed in the autonomy of individual churches, the authority of the scriptures, and that salvation comes by faith alone.

Palmer went on to organize two more Free Will Baptist churches. By 1755, there were more than 20 southern Free Will Baptist churches, but over the next twenty years missionary efforts by the Philadelphia Baptist Association converted most of these churches to the Particular Baptist denomination.

While the southern churches were disappearing, however, in the north Benjamin Randall picked up Palmer's mantle. In 1780, Randall organized a Freewill Baptist church in New Durham, New Hampshire, and within two years an additional 11 churches had been organized. The northern churches expanded rapidly over the next century and a quarter, reaching a total membership of more than 87,000 by 1908.

In 1911, the majority of the northern congregations merged with the Northern Baptist Convention. In 1935, the churches in the Palmer and Randall lines met and reorganized as the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

From A treatise on the faith of the Free-will Baptists (1851)

In the year 1770, BENJAMIN RANDALL, who, under God, was the founder of the Free-will Baptist denomination, was converted through the instrumentality of George Whitefield. In 1776, he was baptized by Eld. Wm. Hooper, of Madbury, and united with the Baptist denomination. At this time divisions respecting doctrine were little known among the Baptists in New England. Randall, however, held to general sentiments; nor was he at first aware that he differed from his brethren, as discussions upon this subject were not then frequent. He felt a serious conviction of duty to come forward as a preacher of the gospel, and soon after commenced his public labors. Shortly after this, a difference of sentiment was perceived among the preachers, and Randall was publicly called to an account, because he did not preach Calvinian election, but free salvation. As the brethren came to exarnine these points, a division was manifest; for some found themselves in fellowship with the doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation, while others thought it erroneous. Hence, they took different positions, according to their views. Randall joined a church in Barrington that held general sentiments; and, in 1780, was ordained an evangelist. In the same year he gathered a church in New Durham, New iHampshire. As Randall held to the freedom of the will, and that all men may be regenerated in this life and fitted for heaven, through improving the means of grace which God has bestowed upon them, he and his adherents were by their opponents, reproachfully called.Freewillers. Hence this church received the distinctive title, Free-will Baptist. They took the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice; and Elder Randall was selected to write a summary of the doctrine contained in the Scriptures. Accordingly, he wrote thirteen articles and a covenant, which the members of the church all signed. These articles, however, were afterwards laid aside. The church held a conference once a month, which was called a monthly meeting. As their number increased, it was soon found impracticable for all to meet at one place, and other monthly meetings were established. They also held a general meeting once in three months, which was called a quarterly.meeting. The vine shortly extended to other towns and states, and other quarterly meetings were held. At length, yearly meetings were organized by a delegation from the quarterly meetings; and in 1827 the General Conference was instituted by a delegation from the several yearly meetings. In this Conference, twenty-five yearly meetings are associated. There are now [1854] in connexion, 129 quarterly meetings, comprising 1146 churches, 916 ordained preachers, 153 licentiates, and 49,274 members.

THE SCRIPTURES OUR ONLY RULE OF FAITH AND PRACTICE. The Holy Scriptures are the writings of the Old and New Testaments. The apostle says, 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17, " All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;-that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Consequently, the Scriptures have the highest authority over man, so far as they reveal the will of God to make one wise unto salvation, perfect, and thoroughly furnished unto all good works, they reveal the will of God sufficiently to direct us in all important duties, and should be held by every Christian as his only infallible rule of faith and practice. Randall, on giving the Scriptures a critical examination, became convinced that erroneous constructions had been put upon certain portions of them by the different denominations. Hence, he and his associates, from a sense of duty, took a stand by themselves, and publicly advocated their doctrine. As other denominations receive the Scriptures as the foundation of their belief, it is asked,'Does the Bible contain different systems of doctrine. If not, where is the line of distinction between the Free-will Baptists and others2' Answer. The Bible contains one, and only one, system of doctrine; and this, if rightly understood, is perfectley harmonious. The line of distinction is not in the Bible, but in the different constructions put upon it by men.

Activities

Mission work. (See The Encyclopædia of missions, Edited by Rev. Edwin Munsell Bliss, 1891. See also Foreign missions: their relations and claims, Rufus Anderson, Boston, Congregational publishing society, 1874 and Autobiography of Rosina Batson Price, 1915)

Temperance and Abolition. Freewill Baptist churches across the north joined in the temperance reform movement of the last half of the Nineteenth Century and joined other activist Christian denominations in denouncing slavery in the strongest terms. Of one church in Warsaw, New York, it has been written:

The Warsaw Baptist Church, formerly known as the Free Will Baptist Church, located directly across the street from the United Church of Warsaw was also the site of early, pervading anti-slavery sentiment. The attitude of the church on the slavery question may be judged from the fact that a record states that on April 22, 1854, an offering was made to aid fugitive slaves. It has been said the church thus owned some shares in the "underground railroad."

Andrew W. Young, author of the History Warsaw, wrote in 1869: "This church has ever been against Slavery. Its records contain some very strong resolutions against it.

The church equally decided in favor of Temperance.

Among the small congregation of Fairwater, Wisconsin, with a membership of twenty, more than one congregant was excluded for not being sufficiently fervent in the cause against slavery.

Historic Photographs

Fathers of the Northern Freewill Baptist church, undated Centennial Picture of the Fathers of the Northern Freewill Baptist church (1880)

( From the upper right, reading from right to left to right and so on alternately.)

1. Rev. Hiram Whitcher, Brockport, N.Y., Age 71 years
2. Rev. D. Waterman, Laconia, N.H., Age 73 years
3. Rev. D. Moody, North Sutton, N.H., Age 76 years
4. Rev. John Cook, Barnham, Me., Age 71 years
5. Rev. D. Jackson, Varysburg, N.Y., Age 76 years
6. Rev. A. Moulton, Stanstead, P.Q., Age 82 years
7. Rev. G. Perkins, Lewiston, Me., Age 79 years
8. Rev. J. Woodman, Jackson, N.H., Age 82 years
9. Rev. John Chaney, Auburn, Me., Age 87 years
10. Rev. Silas Curtis, Concord, N.H., Age 76 years
11. Rev. John L. Sinclair, Lake Village, N.H., Age 71 years
12. Rev. S.P. Fernald, Melvin, N.H., Age 71 years
13. Rev. E. Fisk, Bristol, N.H., Age 78 years
14. Rev. E. Harding, Elsworth, Me., Age 70 years
15. Rev. C. Herd, Missawippi, P.Q., Age 71 years
16. Rev. Alvah Buzzell, Franklin, N.H., Age 78 years
17. Rev. N.W. Bixby, Ehlgewood, Iowa, Age 71 years
18. Rev. H.J. Carr, Jackson, Ohio, Age 70 years

First Northern Freewill Baptist church building, New Hampshire (undated) The first Northern Freewill Baptist church building, New Hampshire (1880)
Interior of the first Northern Freewill church building, New Hampshire (undated) Interior of the first Northern Freewill church building, New Hampshire (1880)
Benjamin Randall's grave site (undated) Benjamin Randall's grave site (1880)
Photograph of Freewill baptism (undated) Freewill baptism (undated)