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First Baptist Church of Philadelphia records, 1690-1906


Held at: American Baptist Historical Society [Contact Us]3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta,GA 30341-4115

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the American Baptist Historical Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Notable for its early leadership in Baptist organization and evangelism, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was prominent both in its region and city and in the transatlantic community of Baptists. Begun in 1698 as a mission of the more suburban Pennepack (now, Lower Dublin) Baptist Church, First Baptist soon became the leading congregation for the city, region, and colonies, gaining independent status from Pennepack in 1746.

In 1707 the church hosted the organizing meeting of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, the first lasting inter-regional organization of Baptists in America, and over the years provided a disproportionate share of this group’s officers. From the beginning, the lives of this association and the First Baptist congregation were intertwined, with the church meeting house hosting meetings of the association and welcoming delegates, called messengers by the Baptists, from as far south as Charleston and as far north as Boston. By the 1760s, the first decade for which minutes survive, the congregation had gained prominence beyond its modest size, including among the transatlantic Baptist network. This prominence had to do with its leaders hosting and shaping the role of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, to which far-flung congregations wrote letters that began, “Dear Mother.”

The life of the congregation and its leaders was also intertwined with that of its city, with several ministers taking teaching posts at the University of Pennsylvania, then the College and Academy of Philadelphia. William Rogers, for example, came from New England to pastor the church but remained in that post for only three years, though active in the congregation and as a supply preacher until his death in 1824. Like several other Baptist ministers, Rogers served as a military chaplain during the American Revolution, an event that made havoc of the congregation’s finances and leadership. While these Baptists supported the American rebellion as a fight for necessary liberties, their former pastor Morgan Edwards criticized the rebels until 1775 when he was convinced to revise his opinion. With his excellent preaching, historical research and publications on early Baptists, and support for formal education leading to the founding and support of Brown University, Edwards embodied the strengths of Baptists. It was under Edwards’ leadership that First Baptist built a new and larger meeting house at the same time accepting the need to lend their pastor to the larger Baptist cause and arranging for supply preaching while Edwards traveled the colonies as an evangelist, church organizer, and historian of Baptists. Despite these successful efforts toward gaining respect and leaders for Baptists, Edwards’ connection with the Philadelphia congregation grew strained during the 1780s, largely because Edwards struggled through bouts of drinking and subsequent church meetings for discipline, only being restored to the congregation’s fellowship in late 1788.

When in 1814 Baptists from twelve states gathered to form a national organization in support of Baptist missions, the meeting was at the First Baptist meeting house in Philadelphia, with two of the four officials chosen being laymen from that congregation and a third, William Staughton, a former pastor. Throughout the next century, the congregation grew in numbers and influence in the city and in national and global mission programs, despite conflicts related to theology, leadership, and relationships with daughter churches, including two competing First African Baptist congregations. Its early interest in circulating religious pamphlets, as well as Philadelphia’s wealth of printers, made it feasible for American Baptists to locate their publishing operations in the city, where they remained until 1961, when operations moved to a new building and printing plant in Valley Forge.

First Baptist Church Philadelphia is a series in the larger collection held by the American Baptist Historical Society entitled "Original Church Records." The First Baptist Church Philadelphia series is further divided into the following subseries: Annual reports; Membership records; Service sheets and bulletins; Ministers; Volumes; Board of Deacons records; Board of Trustees; Treasurer's and financial records; Pew committee; Bible School, Sunday school, Board of Christian Education; Women's and missionary groups; History, Archives and anniversary celebrations; Scrapbooks; General church affairs, minutes; Miscellaneous records; Biographies; and Churches, missions, chapels associated with FBC Philadelphia. Further information on these series can be found in the American Baptist Historical Society finding aid

Selected materials from this collection were digitized from 2018-2021 as part of the Philadelphia Congregations Early Records project. The Philadelphia Congregations Early Records project was made possible by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Digtized materials are viewable on the website. Some items have been transcribed, and users are invited to contribute to the transcription effort. In addition, all of the digitized records are available in the ATLA (American Theological Library Association) Digital Library, and archival copies of the scanned images are preserved on the OPenn website at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Links to Digital Resources for this Collection:

American Baptist Historical Society
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Finding aid prepared by project staff
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The digitization of materials was made possible by a Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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The collection is open for research. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and copyright holder. Staff may refuse copying of fragile or at-risk materials.

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