An American Family History

The Pennepek Baptist Church-The Early Years

Pennepek Church
from the History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by By John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, published by L.H. Everts, 1884
Lower Dublin Township was located in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and adjoined Moreland and Byberry Townships. The township was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia
Baptist churches were found in early colonial settlements and grew out of the English Separatist movement and the doctrine of John Smyth who rejected infant baptism.

The Pennepek (or Lower Dublin) Baptist Church is the sacred spot from which an influence radiated, and pioneer ministers went forth throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Its present edifice, the third built upon the same piece of ground, stands in the Twenty-third Ward of Philadelphia, near the softly-flowing and tree-bordered Pennepek [or Pennypack] Creek.

The story of its organization is a remarkable one. Elias Keach son of the celebrated Benjamin Reach, of London, a Baptist minister and author, arrived in Philadelphia in 1686. He was "a very wild young spark," plucky, talented, audacious, and well posted on Biblical quotations and theological phrases. For the purpose of obtaining amusement he dressed in black, wore a band, and pretended to be a minister. As clergymen of all denominations were scarce, he soon had an invitation to preach "in the house of a Baptist at Lower Dublin."

A large congregation assembled, and he began to preach, and, says Rev. Morgan Edwards, " he performed well enough until he had advanced pretty far into the sermon; then, stopping short, he looked like a man astonished. The audience concluded that he had been seized with a sudden disorder, but, on asking what the matter was, received from him a confession of the imposture, with tears in his eyes and much trembling. Great was his distress, though it ended happily, for from this time he dated his conversion.

He heard there was a Baptist minister at Cold Spring, in Bucks County, between Bristol and Trenton. To him did he repair to seek counsel and comfort, and by him was he baptized. In January, 1688, he formed a church of twelve persons at Pennepek, and became their minister. These twelve were Elias Keach, John Eaton, George Eaton and his wife, Jane, Sarah Eaton, Samuel Jones, John Baker, Samuel Vaus, Joseph Ashton and Jane, his wife, William Fisher and John Watts. The last four were baptized in the Pennepek. Samuel Vaus was chosen deacon, and Mr. Reach began to establish "missions," or preaching stations.

He preached and baptized at the Falls (Trenton), Cold Spring, Cohansey, near Bridgeton, N. J., Salem, Penn's Neck, Middleton, Burlington, and Philadelphia. "They were all one church, and Pennepek the point of union," says Morgan Edwards, and he explains that as many of the communicants as possible met there, but for the sake of distant members there were quarterly administrations of the Lord's Supper at Burlington, Cohansey, Chester, and Philadelphia. Cohansey, Middletown, and Piscataway, N. J., became separate churches within three years. Baptist emigrants from abroad and from other colonies increased the strength of these and other churches. In 1692, Rev. Elias Keach returned to London, and there organized a church, baptizing one hundred and thirty persons in nine months.

The Pennepek (Pennepack) Baptist Church, also known as Lower Dublin is in in Bustleton, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Society of Friends (Quakers) began in England in the 1650s, when they broke away from the Puritans. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, as a safe place for Friends to live and practice their faith.

Rev. John Watts, who became his successor at Pennepek, had been baptized there by Elias Keach, Nov. 21, 1687, and called to the ministry the following year. He continued in the Pennepek pastorate until his death (from smallpox), Aug. 27,1702. His wife was Sarah Eaton, also one of the original twelve members, and they had six children.

Religious controversies began in 1697 at the Pennepek Church. When William Davis, who had left the Friends at the same time with the noted George Keith, joined the Baptist communion, and soon commenced to air his own doctrinal views, finally publishing, in 1700, a book entitled "Jesus, the Crucified Man, the Eternal Son of God," the blending of the divine and the human natures, the God-Man, in short, without being properly God or man was the theme. Davis was expelled 'for heresy in 1698, and joined the Seventh-Day Baptists. Rev. John Watts wrote a reply to his book, "Davis Disabled," and it was, in 1705, ordered printed, though for some reason this was never done. This controversy may have helped to decide Rev. Elias Reach's departure.

The congregation in the city of Philadelphia was small at first, and so arranged harmoniously with the few Presbyterians, about April, 1695, to use the same building together. Rev. John Watts agreed to preach every other Sabbath, and Presbyterian ministers could usually be procured for the alternate Sabbaths, and so, for three years, the two congregations managed, doubtless often hearing each other's sermons.

John Holme, author of "A True Relation of the Flourishing State of Pennsylvania," was the first Baptist in Philadelphia of whom we have record, having arrived in 1686. He became a judge of the Provincial Court in 1691, and a few years later removed to Salem, N. J. In 1696,

John Farmer and wife arrived from London, and the next year Joseph Todd and Rebecca Woosencroft, of Limmington, Hampshire, William Elton and wife, Mary Shepherd, and William Silverstone, making, with those before named, nine church-members, completed the little group who met on the second Sunday in December, 1698, in the store-house on the lot of the Barbadoes Company, northwest corner of Chestnut and Second Streets, to organize a Baptist Church.

They were few and weak, and for forty-eight years the feeble church was supplied by Rev. Elias Keach, Rev. John Watts, Rev. Thomas Rillingworth, then at Cohansey, and others, there being no settled pastor. But when they first organized, in 1698, trouble arose with the Presbyterians, who had just secured Rev. Jedediah Andrews as pastor, and showed some desire to occupy the store-house entirely by themselves. The following letter was then sent:

Smallpox is caused by of two viruses: Variola major and Variola minor. Symptoms include a rash and blisters. The mortality rate for V. major is 30–35% and for V. minor is about 1%. Long-term complications include scars, blindness, and limb deformities.
Early Quakers were persecuted. In the Massachusetts Bay colony, Friends were banished on pain of death.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania is one of three original Pennsylvania Counties and was formed in 1682. Originally it was a large territory that included all of what would later be Berks, Northampton, and Lehigh.

"To our dear and well-beloved friends and brethren, Mr. Jedediah Andrews, John Green, Joshua Story, and Samuel Richardson, and the rest of the Presbyterian judgment belonging to the meeting in Philadelphia.

The Church of Christ, baptized on confession of faith, over which Rev. John Watts is pastor, tend salutation of grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jeans Christ,

Dearly beloved: Having seriously, and In the fear of God, considered our duties of love to and bearing with one another, and receiving the weak in faith, and knowing that love, peace, and unity tend much to the honor of Christ and Christianity, and to the conviction and conversion of sinners, and the comfort and establishment of believers, and being desirous of your company heavenward as far as may be, and as much as we can to heal the breach betwixt us, occasioned by our difference in judgment (none being yet perfect In knowledge), we have thought It necessary to make you this proposition following for peace as being the necessary term upon which we may safely, comfortably, and peaceably hold Christian communion together.

In the things wherein we agree In the public worship of God and common duties of religion, as In prayer, preaching, praising God, rending and hearing the Word, viz.: we do freely confess and promise for ourselves that we can and do own and allow of your approved ministers, who are fitly qualified and sound In the faith, and of holy lives, to pray and preach In our assemblies. If you can also freely confess and promise for yourselves that you can and will own and allow of our approved ministers, who are fitly qualified and sound In the faith, and of holy lives, to preach in your assemblies; that so each side may own, embrace, and accept of each other as fellow-brethren and ministers of Christ, and hold and maintain Christian communion and fellowship. Unto which proposition for peace (that further disputes and vain jangtings may be prevented) we shall desire, if yon please, your plain and direct answer, that it maybe left for us at Widow Elton's house,

In Philadelphia. Subscribed in behalf of the rest of the congregation the 30th of 8th month [October], 1698.

John Watts, Thomas Bibb, Samuel Jones, "Thomas Potts, George Eaton.

The Presbyterians sent, on November 3d, a reply signed by Rev. Andrews, John Green, Samuel Richardson, David Giffing, Herbert Corry, John Vanlear, and Daniel Green, requesting a conference, which was afterward appointed for Saturday, November 19th, at the common meetinghouse in the store on the Barbadoes lot.

Messrs. Watts, Jones, and Morgan went there at the proper time, but found none of the Presbyterians, and none came, though sent for. Late in the afternoon, before leaving the bouse, the three Baptists wrote a letter, saying that they were disappointed, and added, "Considering what the desires of divers people are, and how they stand affected, and that we are not likely to receive answer to our reasonable proposition, necessity constrains us to meet apart from you until such time as we receive an answer, and we are assured that you can own us so as we can do you, though we still remain the same as before, and stand by what we have written."

The New England Meetinghouse was the only municipal building in a town. Both worship and civil meetings were held there. It was customary for men and women to sit separately and the town chose a committee once a year to assign seats according to what was paid, age, and dignity.

The next day they met at Anthony Morris' brewhouse, under the bank and near the dock. Rev. Morgan Edwards writes,—"This was what the Presbyterians wanted In reality, as more plainly appeared soon after, particularly In a letter directed to one Thomas Reveil, of Burlington, andd signed ' Jedediah Andrews, wherein are these wurds: 'Though we have got the Anabaptists out of the house, yet our continuance there is uncertain, and therefore must think of building, notwithstanding our poverty.

This little congregation met contentedly in the brew-house for several years, and while there penned a lengthy reply to a letter from Rev. Thomas Clayton, the minister of the Church of England, asking them to return to the Episcopalian fold. . .


George Keith, an impetuous Scotchman, left the Orthodox Quakers in 1691, with his friends, and after holding together for a few years as Keithian Quakers, and publishing a "Confession of Faith," some were reconciled. Keith himself turned Episcopalian, and many became Baptists, and were called Quaker Baptists, because they retained the garb and language of their earlier associations. . .

In 1701 the changeable Keithians became exercised over the proper day for observance as the Sabbath. The dispute shattered the congregations, and most of the members became Seventh-Day Baptists forthwith, though many joined the regular Baptists.

They had three Seventh-Day Churches in Chester County, but only one in Philadelphia County, that at Pennepek, established in 1701. The next year this last built a church, but in 1711 their pastor, Rev. William Davis, deserted them, but the Wells, Wansells, Pratts, and Ashmeads clung to the cause, and in 1770 they still had nine members. In 1716, Richard Sparks, a carpenter, left a plot of ground as a cemetery for Seventh-Day Baptists, the piece being "one hundred feet of the back end of a lot on the south side of High Street, Philadelphia." There yet remains a small portion of this lot, walled in, on Fifth Street, and there may be seen a marble tablet inscribed to the memory of Sparks.

The Regular Baptist Church at Pennepek, on the death of Mr. Watts, in 1702, elected Rev. Evan Morgan as their pastor. . .



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©Roberta Tuller 2023
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