Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: February, 1953 Volume 7 Number 4, Pages 71–85

The Baptist Church in the Great Valley

Robert Warner

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People living at Pennypack, Pa., in the year 1701, had little in common with people living in Berwyn today. Their homes were crude, they wore a different kind of clothing, and they were directly dependent on nature to supply their needs. However, one thing they did have in common with us is that they had two Baptist Churches — in fact the only two in all of Pennsylvania.

One was the Lower Dublin Baptist Church, composed mostly of English speaking settlers. This group founded what is now the oldest Baptist Church in the state in 1688.

The other congregation was formed in Wales and moved to the community as a unit. Like other Baptist Churches in Wales at that time they believed in the ordinance of the imposing of hands upon new members while the church of English background did not. Because of this neither would recognize the other's members.

After a short stay, the Welsh group packed up and moved to New Castle, in what is now the State of Delaware, where they took the name of Welsh Tract Baptist Church. When this occurred, in 1705, a group of Baptists had already been meeting for one or two years in private homes near Radnor.

During the controversy over the ordinance of laying on of hands, 24 persons were appointed by the two churches to meet in the first ecclesiastical council recorded in the denomination. It was held at the home of Richard Miles, in Radnor, on June 22, 1706 — the house where most of the worship programs of the Baptists in Radnor were held — to try to reach an understanding. An agreement was reached to "transiently commune with each other without entering into membership."

It was probably from this meeting that the Welsh Baptists in Radnor developed their relationship with the Delaware group — a relationship that grew until they came to consider themselves a branch of the New Castle church.

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Meetings of the Radnor group continued until they were in about the ninth year at which time a minister named Hugh David arrived from Wales and settled in the area. Shortly after that, with a membership of 16, they called upon the Welsh Tract congregation to institute them as a separate church.

Thus on April 22, 1711, the Baptist Church in the Great Valley was founded. The Rev. Elisha Thomas, pastor of the Welsh Tract Church presided. Hugh David was chosen pastor while Alexander Owen and William Rees were made ruling elders. Alexander Owen was made deacon until Griffith John, ordained as a deacon in Wales, joined the church in February of 1712.

The church continued to worship in private homes until 1722. At that time a meeting house was built on half an acre of ground in Tredyffrin — present location of the church.

It was described by the Rev. W. M. Whitehead, in his history of the church.

"The house was built of logs, was twenty-eight feet square; had galleries upon the west and southern sides, with the pulpit upon the north. The entrance was by two doorways, one beneath each gallery; and the gallery was gained by a stairway in the south-east corner of the house. It is recorded as a noticeable thing that there was a stove in it."

The building stood in what is now the northern part of the graveyard, and, after the erection of the present meeting house, was torn down with the material in it being sold for $55.00, and "used in building the west end of the house at the head of this road on the Pike," as Rev. Whitehead wrote in 1872.

In 1726, there was a disagreement in the young church

"when several brethren, with their families, withdrew because they believed in the continued obligation of the Fourth Commandment, and the observance therefore of Saturday as the Sabbath."

The same trouble occurred in several of the other churches of our faith. In most cases, as was the case at Great Valley, the objectors withdrew and formed their own church. Thus the French Creek Seventh-Day Baptist Church, of East Nantmeal Township, was founded with five families that withdrew from Great Valley.

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"Thus we continued,"

an old church record book of 1742 says,

"in peace and unity amongst our selves, with increase of our members, until the year 1737, when one William Davis came from Wales, who was an ordained minister of our denomination, and after sometime settled himself near the Yellow Springs in the township of Vincent, where many of our members did reside."

Log chuch built 1722, drawn from the description by Rev. W.M. Whitehead

Since Great Valley was the only Baptist church in Chester County, and because transportation was difficult, the church established a branch in Vincent Township. In a Baptist History written by Morgan Edwards in 1770 he described the Great Valley Church,

"The Church exists in two branches, the one near; the other in Yellow Springs, in the Township of Vincent, about 12 miles off where is a meeting house, a school house and a stable. The house is 30 feet by 20 stands on a lot of four acres, the gift of Mr. Cox."

Three men preached at the Vincent meeting house.

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Artist conception of First Baptist Church in the valley built of logs

There was William Davis who stayed in the area only a few years; the Pastor, Hugh David; and his assistant John Davis who had been ordained by the church in 1732. Hugh David died in 1755 leaving only John Davis to serve both groups.

John Davis was one of the most remarkable men ever to fill the pulpit of the Great Valley Church. He served for 10 years as an assistant pastor and then became the head preacher for 36 more. For 10 years he was responsible for leading both the Tredyffrin group and its Vincent branch. To add to his difficulties at this time he was losing his eyesight.

Another of his contributions to the church was starting its first history which was hand written in a record book. He called it

"An account of the first beginning of that small congregation or church of Jesus Christ holding and owning believers' baptism, laying of hands, person election, of free grace and final perseverance in grace, residing in the Great Valley or Tredyffrin and pieces adjacent thereunto, in the County of Chester and Province of Pennsylvania."

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Also during his pastorate a second branch of the Valley Church was established. Located near the present town of Bryn Mawr, it was known as the Montgomery Branch and eventually became Lower Merion Baptist Church.

When John Davis died he was buried in the yard of the church he had so faithfully served with this inscription on his headstone:

Forty six years
  with pleasure to Serve.
The Gospel to Preach
  The Truth to Preserve.
Now He's called home
  his reward to receive
And he with his God
  forever to live.

On the twelfth of October, 1771, Vincent Baptist Church was constituted as the second daughter of Great Valley with the Rev. John Blackwell as its first pastor.

The next pastor of the Tredyffrin church was no less outstanding although he did not equal John Davis in length of service. He was David Jones.

When war broke out between England and the Colonies, David Jones was sharing the duties of pastor with the aged John Davis. He was born in White Clay Creek Hundred, near Newark, Delaware, on May 12, 1736. Of Welsh parents, he was, at the age of 21, baptized into the fellowship of the Welsh Tract Church. He was educated at Hopewell (N.J.) Academy, Ordination, on December 12, 1766, followed his study of theology under Abel Morgan. Before coming to Great Valley, Rev. Jones made two missionary visits to the Indians in Ohio.

While visiting the Valley to see if he would like to live there, he was asked to accept pastor's duties in the church. After deliberation, he accepted for one year "provided matters might be suited to the support of him and family."

On April 11, 1775, David Jones and his family arrived from his former church at "Freehold in the Jersies." He made his home in the parsonage (not

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David Jones

the building now standing opposite the church) which, along with fifty acres of land and out-buildings had been given to the church prior to 1770 by Henry Davis.

Before the year for which Rev. Jones had agreed to take the pastoral duties had passed, war broke out and he immediately enlisted as a chaplain in the Continental Army. He continued in this capacity for the rest of the war. Preaching, for the first few years of this time, was done by Thomas Jones, a Baptist minister who had moved into this area several years before.

During the fall and winter of 1777, the land which one can see from the church yard, served as the camping ground for two armies. Some of the farm houses which still dot the Valley served, within two months, as quarters for generals of the opposing forces, The British army was first to come to the region. It encamped west of the old meeting house from September 17, to the 21st. During this time, along with the homes of many American patriots, the meeting house and parsonage were entered. The pastor's home was robbed of more than $400 worth of household goods.

Among the claims submitted to the Commissioners of Chester County at West Chester was the following:

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An account of a sacrilege in the Baptist Meeting House, in Tredyffrin, in the County of Chester, in the state of Pennsylvania, by some of the British army, under General Howe, in their march from the Head of Elk to Philadelphia, the 18th, 19th or 20th days of September, when said Meeting House was broke open and was stole from thence the sacramental dishes! viz.:

2 pewter dishes, 0 15 0
2 pewter pints, 0 8 0
1 diaper table cloth, 0 12 0
1 Bible of the English Language, 0 15 0
A change of raiment for the administration of baptism, viz.:
2 linen shirts, 0 16 0
1 pair of linen drawers, 0 10 0
The lock of the chest the goods were in, 0 5 0
The sexton's tools for burials , viz.:
1 grubbing hoe, 8s, 1 spade, 7s 6d
They destroyed and burnt on the parsonage farm, 135 pannel of fence, equal to 810 rails, at 4s per hundred, 1 12 4
Attested by
James Davis, Elder.

The second army to encamp near the Church was the Continental Army. It spent that fatal winter, following the loss of Philadelphia, on the northern slope of the Valley near the ruins of the Valley Forge.

The leadership of General Washington was challenged during this time by those who favored the recently victorious Gates. Henry Woodman, a Quaker preacher, writing in 1850 for the Doylestown Intelligencer, followed the list of Generals who stood by Washington in this trial with the following tribute:

"There is one, however inconsistent his conduct may appear to many, as a professed minister of Christian religion, and incompatible with the gospel of truth, yet his patriotism and devotion to the cause, and his firmness in adhering to it, during the gloomy period of the Revolution, may claim a few passing remarks, I mean the Rev. David Jones, chaplain to General Wayne's brigade, and for many years pastor of the Baptist congregation in the Great Valley. He early manifested a deadly hatred and hostility to the

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measures of the British government, and soon after the commencement of the Revolution, published a work in vindication of defensive war. I have understood that it was his practice to preach at different stations during the time, and to encourage the officers and soldiers in his discourses to persevere in contending against their enemies, frequently on these occasions using for his text the fourteenth and nineteenth verses of the fourth chapter of tho book of Nehemiah."

With the coming of spring the troops were moved from Valley Forge and the war did not bring them to the Valley area again.

The patriotism of David Jones has come to be legendary in the Great Valley Church. Because of this great patriotism and his ability to rouse the spirit of the troops, he was sought by the British. At one time, when some British soldiers were searching for him in the Valley, they were directed to another preacher by the name of Miller who lived in the area. Miller, who somewhat resembled Rev. Jones, was then arrested and taken to the headquarters. Be was able, however, to prove his identity and innocence, and was promptly discharged.

The first paragraph of this letter from Wayne to Franklin shows the respect of the general for his chaplain:

"Ticonderoga 29th July 1776.
Dear sir, - We are so far removed from the seat of Govern't or the free and independent states of America - and such an Insurmountable Barrier, Albany, between us that not one letter, or the least intelligence of any thing that's doing with you can reach us. Through the medium of my Chaplain (the Rev. Mr. Jones), I hope this will reach you as he has promised to blow out any man's brains who will attempt to take it from him."

During the absence of David Jones the Church was without a leader until Nicholas Cox, pastor of a Baptist church at "Newtown in the Jerseys," offered to take pastoral charge of the Valley Church. The church agreed to accept his proposal for one year and on May 25, 1783, four days after his arrival he preached his first sermon.

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Before the year had passed, he expressed his doubt as to whether the imposition of hands on baptized believers should be administered in "ordinary times." A debate on this matter then arose during which the church suspended communion,

"it being an ordinance which we unanimously believed and practiced."

While the controversy in the church continued, "he had an inclination to move his residence from us to the church at Kingwood (N.J.)." He was dismissed from the pastoral care of the Valley Church April 5, 1784.

Later, David Jones withdrew as pastor of the Valley Church and accepted the pastorate of the South Hampton Church in 1786. For several years after this, transient ministers served the Tredyffrin congregation. On the 22nd, of April, 1792, David Jones came back to live on his property in Easttown Township.

Since this farm was closer to the Valley Church than it was to South Hampton, he brought his membership to the Valley. However, because of the distance of his property from the meeting house, he would not accept any pastoral duties. Nevertheless, the church unanimously agreed to call him on August 25. Again he declined — this time until some matters among the members were regulated. On July 27, 1793, he finally accepted the call

"under these limitations Considering the distance he was from the meeting house and the Roughness of the Road; if a more favorable situation would present, he would embrace it and leave us."

No more favorable situation presented itself so David Jones continued as pastor for twenty-seven years. He left the Valley twice during this time to serve as a chaplain — first from 1794 to 1796 with General Anthony Wayne in the Indian wars in Ohio and Indiana, and then 1812 to 1814.

During his second ministry, many improvements were made to the physical property of the church. In 1805, the present "old Church in the Valley" or meeting house, as it was called, was built. In 1816 the parsonage in the Valley was built (now the Ehrenzeller house) and in 1823 the barn was added to the parsonage farm.

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More important then the improvements to the property was the development of the church and the furthering of Christianity under the Rev. Jones' guidance. Three men were licensed as ministers — Horatio Gates Jones, 1800; Thomas G. Jones, 1801; and Isaac Eaton, 1801. The former of these, fourth and youngest son of David Jones, was pastor of the Montgomery Branch when, in 1808, it became the Lower Merion Baptist Church.

It was during Rev. Jones' second pastorate that the church was chartered under its present corporate name. It received a charter on March 27, 1799, as the Baptist Church in the Great Valley.

Three men served as co-pastors with Rev. David Jones during his two ministries. This was made necessary by his service with the army and his extensive travel in the West.

Jenkin David was co-pastor of the Valley Church from 1795 to 1798. He came to the Valley from the British Isles, where he studied at Bristol academy and established a church on the Island of Anglesea. He became pastor at Cape May, N.J., after leaving the Tredyffrin congregation.

The Rev. John Boggs, who was co-pastor from 1799 to 1801, left the Presbyterian Church to unite with the fellowship of the Welsh Tract baptist Church at the age of 30. Ten years later, in 1781, he was ordained and took charge of the Welsh Tract Church. His labors were greatly blessed for, in one ten year period (1784 to 1794), he baptized 111 persons into that church. Like David Jones, he was active in the Philadelphia Association.

David Jones was frequently called upon to speak at local events. The late Joseph J. Lewis, of West Chester, wrote the following account of General Wayne's re-interment at St. David's Church, July 4, 1809, which was published in Charles J. Stille's "Major-General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line in the Continental Army":

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** The Rev. David Jones delivered the funeral oration He had been a guest at the General's table before the war of the Revolution. He had been his Chaplain, he had been with him in camp, in council, raid on the Battle - field; and no one had a better opportunity of forming a proper estimate of his character as a man and as an officer, and he was enabled to furnish graphic illustrations of his theme from his own observation. This he did with excellent effect. A high platform was erected close by the open grave to serve as a stand for the speaker, and from this Mr. Jones addressed the multitude. Thirty-three years before he had preached within the church building, appealing to the young men of the period to take arms in defense of their liberties, and now at the age of seventy-three (David Jones was 76 when he left to serve with the army in the war of 1812.) he came to speak of the merits and services of the hero who may have led some of those same men to victory. The speaker was himself of heroic mould, and his statements of what had passed beneath his eye had the value of history. The curiosity to hear "the old man eloquent" was universal, and the interest was intense. The people in a compact mass crowded around the stand, and many even climbed the surrounding trees and sat among the branches, the better to catch the words of the speaker. He spoke particularly of the night of the battle of Paoli, where he had himself narrowly escaped death, and corrected by his own recollections of the events some erroneous rumors then current. No report of the address, we believe, is now extant except in some unimportant particulars. The day was extremely hot, but the heat was not permitted to interfere with the proper celebration of the obsequies.

On September 20, 1817, David Jones, who always wore a cue, cockade hat, breeches with knee buckles and buckled shoes, officiated for the last time in public when he delivered the address at the dedication of the first monument on the Paoli massacre grounds.

David Jones died February 5, 1820, in his eighty-fourth year and was buried near the meeting house built during his ministry. At that time Thomas Roberts, a co-pastor since 1815, became pastor.

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Thomas Roberts, who came to America from Wales in 1803, stayed as pastor for only two years after Rev. Jones' death. He was then dismissed with Evan Jones, Isaac Cleaver, John Farrier, Elizabeth Roberts, Elizabeth Jones, and Rachel Cleaver to go as missionaries to the Cherokee Indians.

The next three pastors, Thomas J. Kitts, John Chive Jenkins, and Thomas Brown, were all active in the Philadelphia Baptist Association. Rev. Kitts was licensed in 1818 at the First Baptist Church of Wilmington, Del. He came to Great Valley from a pastorate at Canton, N.J. in 1822, and left a year later to accept a call to the Second Baptist Church of Philadelphia, where he served for fifteen years. He was a clerk of the Delaware Baptist Association during his work in Wilmington and a clerk and moderator of the Philadelphia Association after he left Great Valley.

Rev. Jenkins was born in Gwynedd, Montgomery County, in 1789. He was baptized in 1816 and licensed in 1818 by our daughter church at Montgomery (Lower Merion). Lower Providence Church was his pastorate before accepting the call to Great Valley in 1823. He served the congregation in Tredyffrin until 1828 when he returned to Lower Providence. Rev. Jenkins also served as both Clerk and moderator of the Philadelphia Association.

For some reason the church withdrew from the Association during Rev. Jenkins' pastorate. No reason is given for this in the church records which show December 22, 1827, as the date of the withdrawal. The membership at the time was 97. It may be that the church stayed out of the historic family of eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey churches until July 22, 1841, because on that date the church voted to take up membership in the Philadelphia Association, the congregation not being associated with any other.

The tenth pastor, Thomas Brown, was as a boy in Newark, N.J., a member of the Presbyterian Church. When he reached his majority in 1800 he joined Newark Baptist Church., Three years later he was licensed and went to study with Dr. Samuel Jones at Pennepek (Lower Dublin). His first pastorate began in 1805 at Salem, N.J. After three years he went to Scotch

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Plains, N.J. where he stayed for about twenty years. In 1828 he became pastor of the Great Valley Baptist congregation and one daughter church, Phoenixville, was founded during his ministry. His work here was ended by death in 1831.

A missionary spirit had filled the church throughout its early days. When new churches were needed in southeastern Pennsylvania, Great Valley established daughter churches — three before the church was one hundred years old. Rev. David Jones, and Rev. Thomas Roberts and his followers went out to the frontier to preach among the Indians. Again in these opening years of the second century of Great Valley's history, when church membership was less than one hundred, the women formed a society to support foreign missions and were able to contribute $130.OO a year. This concern for missions was the forerunner of a great awakening of Christians here in the United States.

This great wave of social consciousness, which brought many of the institutions and ideas that effect us today — labor unions, political conventions, temperance, public schools, state colleges and abolition - came to the Great Valley in 1852 in the person of the Rev. Leonard Fletcher.

Dr. Whitehead, in his history, describes Rev. Fletcher's arrival as pastor:

"The church was without a pastor, yet their desire for the salvation of souls led them to appoint a four days' meeting. Ministering brethren came, among them the one whose pastorate was in succeeding years so graciously blessed. The opening sermon was preached by one of the church's own sons, Rev. H. G. Jones. From the first it was felt that He who had promised to be with His people was present. As in the days of Pentecost, the spirit was poured out, and sinners, as then, anxiously asked what they should do. Day after day the house was thronged with rejoicing worshippers and weeping penitents. Hundreds were brought to Christ in that revival; for we may say that it continued with but little cessation during Brother Fletcher's entire stay. Many of you here today remember with tenderest emotion those precious days and the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. During the eight years of his labors here, he baptized more than four hundred into the membership of the church."

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Rev. Fletcher was active in community affairs. He was largely responsible for the movement against slavery in this area. Despite the unpopularity of abolition at the time, he played an important part in the work of the Wilberforce Anti-Slavery Society. This organization, founded about 1337, is closely woven in its early history to the Great Valley Baptist Church.

During several parts of its history the organization used the meeting house, the school house, and the yard in front of the parsonage. However, the society lost much of its force when Rev. Fletcher, one of its most frequent speakers left in 1840. Abolition was an issue among the members at the time our youngest daughter church, the Radnor Baptist Church, was founded in 1841. At that time, members favoring immediate emancipation left the church and the Wilberforce Society moved its meetings to their meeting house near Wayne.

The school house mentioned above was built in a period when separation of church and state did not interfere with cooperation between the two. It was located at the end of the lane leading to the parsonage. The land belonged to the church while the building was erected by Tredyffrin Township in 1831. It was not operated by the church but, in exchange for the use of the property, it had the use of the building when school was not in session.

Missionary work of the Great Valley Church under Rev. Fletcher's leadership is also described by Rev. Whitehead in his history.

"The missionary spirit again filled tho church. Norristown had no Baptist church. The pastor, deacons, and brethren went there to preach the gospel, as their hearts earnestly received it. And, although at first they were denied a place in which to meet, yet were they not discouraged, but made the Court House steps their pulpit, and God's unfettered firmament their canopy. This was the origin of the Norristown Baptist Church, 1832. Then West Chester called for their prayers and efforts. Again the little band went forth, and as Paul stood in the Areopagus on Mars Hill to proclaim Christ and the resurrection, so did the pastor of the Valley stand in the Court House, freely offered, with the

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Same message. Hence the West Chester Church (1834). At length his work seemed done; with a weary heart he went to tread a pilgrimage of twenty years. He labored amid the sunny fruitfulness of the south, yet as year after year passed slowly away, his heart was ever returning to the people here, whom he loved so well. And, as God heard the prayer of Jacob and brought him back to his father's house in peace, so He brought Brother Fletcher back in the evening of life, that his flesh might repose in the midst of those he had led to Jesus, awaiting with them the resurrection of the just."

Between the foundings of the two churches mentioned by Rev. Whitehead, there is one that he omitted — Willistown (now Malvern) which was organized in 1833 and made a record of one church started each year for three years.

Charles Bright Keyes succeeded Leonard Fletcher in the pastorate of the church. Most of the thirty-eight years after his birth at Bennington, Vermont, was spent in New York state. He was not college trained, but was ordained because of his more than ordinary talents. After serving two years at the Third Baptist Church of Philadelphia, he came to Great Valley and served from 1840 to 1845. It was during this time that the Radnor Baptist Church was instituted.

The next pastor of the church, James Fuller Brown, was not a stranger to the members of the congregation. He had lived in the parsonage and helped his father, the Rev. Thomas Brown, till the parson's farm. He was nine years old when his father opened his ministry of a little over two years.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he was ordained in 1843 as pastor of a church at Gainesville, Alabama. From Gainesville, he came to Great Valley and became a leader in the Philadelphia Association. When he left Great Valley, in 1854 he returned to "Scotch Plains, N.J., the place of his birth and another church that was served by both father and son.

Thus the first hundred and fifty years of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley reflected the development of the counties surrounding Philadelphia. It was a period of expansion and growth that was not to be stopped for another forty years. The church showed a quality of alertness to need and willingness to serve that is found in few churches today. Mission fields were not something far off that are reached through a denominational board. They were the next town or the next state and the missionaries were average church members.


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