The third company of Baptists, which came to Virginia, extended their labors into North Carolina and Georgia.
"North Carolina, in the days of her colonial dependence," says one of her historians, "was the refuge of the poor and the oppressed. In her borders the emigrant, the fugitive, and the exile found a home. Whatever may have been the cause of leaving the land of their nativitypolitical servitudetyranny over conscienceor poverty of means, with the hope of bettering their conditionthe descendants of these enterprising, suffering, afflicted, yet prosperous people, have cause to bless the kind Providence that led their fathers, in their wanderings, to such a place of rest" (Foote, Sketches of North Carolina Historical and Biographical, illustrative of the principles of a portion of her Early Settlers. New York, 1846).
The exact date of permanent settlement in the present limits of North Carolina has not been clearly ascertained. The first Assembly that made laws for the State convened in the fall of 1669. "Here was a colony of men," says Bancroft, "scattered among forests, hermits with wives and children resting on the bosom of nature, in perfect harmony with the wilderness of their gentle clime. The planters of Albermarle were more led to the choice of their residence from a hatred of restraint. Are there any who doubt mans capacity for self-government? Let them study the history of North Carolina. Its inhabitants were restless and turbulent in their imperfect submission to a Government imported from abroad; the administration of the colony was firm, and tranquil when they were left to take care of themselves.
"Any government but one of their own institution was oppressive. North Carolina was settled by the freest of the free. The settlers were gentle in their tempers, of serene minds, enemies of violence and bloodshed. Not all the successive revolutions had kindled vindictive passions; freedom, entire freedom was enjoyed without anxiety as without guarantees. The charities of life were scattered at their feet like the flowers of their meadows" (Bancroft, History of the United States, II).
No freer country was ever organized by man. Freedom of conscience, exemption from taxation, except by their own consent, gratuities in land to every emigrant, and other wholesome regulations claimed the prompt legislative action of the infant colony. "These simple laws suited a simple people, who were as free as the air of their mountains; and when oppressed, were as rough as the billows of the ocean." (Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina, I. 30. Philadelphia, 1851)
There had been individual Baptists in North Carolina as early as 1695.
On May 2, 1718, there was one who pretended to "be a physician, fortune teller and conjurer, always chosen Burgess, for that precinct and a leading man in our assemblies" who was an Anabaptist (Colonial Records of North Carolina, I. 304). William Orr, the Episcopal rector, says he had "one convert from the sect of the Anabaptists" (Ibid, IV. 608).
Clement Hall, 1745, baptized one "brought up an Anabaptist" (Ibid, IV. 753). Hall likewise rejoiced at Edenton, May 19, 1752, that he baptized four "brought up in anabaptism and Quakerism" (Ibid, VI. 1315). Mr. Reed likewise baptized the Honorable Chief Justice of the Province, July 2, 1771. "He was bred and born an Anabaptist, but had never been baptized, and as I suspected that he might still retain a particular liking for Anabaptism, I offered to baptize him by total immersion. But he refused and said his prejudices were vanished, that he regarded the moral more than the mode" (Ibid, IX. 6). Such are some of the examples.
The first real church was gathered by Paul Palmer, about the year 1727, at a place called Perquimans, on Chowan river, in the northeast part of North Carolina.
The first organized Baptist movement into North Carolina originated with the Separatists of Connecticut. It was led by Shubeal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. This Shubeal Stearns was a remarkable man. He was a product of the Whitefield revival, and in 1745 united with the New Lights. Immediately afterwards, his mind became impressed with the obligation to preach the gospel, and, accordingly he entered upon this responsible work.
He continued with the Pedobaptists till 1751, when examining the Word of God, he became convinced that in failing to submit to the ordinance of immersion he had neglected a most important command of his Redeemer. The futility of infant baptism was also discovered, and he determined to take up his cross, be baptized, and unite himself with the Baptists. This he accordingly did and was immersed by Wait Palmer, at Toland, Connecticut, May 20, 1751.
For two or three years he continued his labors in New England; but he became impressed that he must preach the gospel to more destitute sections of the country. He pursued a southwesternly direction scarcely knowing where he was going. In the course of time he arrived at Opeckon Creek, where there was already a Baptist church. Here he met his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall. This church, under the influence of this new preaching, became very warm and much animated in their religious exercises. They soon went such lengths in the New Light career that some of the less-engaged members preferred charges against them in the association. The matter was finally adjusted favorably to the Separatists and the work continued to prosper.
It was not long till Stearns settled in Guilford County, North Carolina. Here he permanently remained. The great spiritual destitution which prevailed seems to have induced his removal to that section. Such was the anxiety to hear the gospel preached that people frequently traveled a days journey to hear it. He began his labors by building a house of worship and constituting a church of sixteen members.
The First Baptist Church, often referred to as the "Mother Church of Southern Baptists," is the oldest Baptist Church in the South. The church was designed by the noted architect, Robert Mills, and dedicated in 1822. Robert Mills considered the First Baptist Church to be "the best specimen of correct taste in architecture of all the modern buildings in this city." Mills described the building as "purely Greek in its style," although it is more accurately described as a Georgian Composition. The trim Doric portico topped with triglyphed entablature and pediment are decidedly Greek in style, however, they are juxtaposed Roman arches and Tuscan columns.
The Church was founded in 1682 and originally organized in Kittery, Maine by the Rev. William Screven. Due to persecution, the Church remained in Kittery for only one year. In 1683, the Baptists relocated to South Carolina. Upon arriving in South Carolina, the Baptists first settled in Somerton, on the Cooper River near Charleston.
The first Church meetings were held in the King Street home of William Chapman. In 1699, the present lot was donated to the Church by William Elliot and a frame building was constructed. During the Revolutionary War, the Church was seized by the British troops and used as a storage facility for salt beef and other provisions. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, "feared the prayers of the young Baptist minister more than the armies of Marion and Sumter." The "young Baptist minister" he spoke of was the Rev. Richard Furman, founder of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina: the first Baptist college in the South.
Baptists were another early group of religious dissenters in South Carolina. They were in the colony by 1670. An excellent reference on the history of the Baptists in South Carolina is "South Carolina Baptists 1670 - 1805," by Leah Townshed. Many of the Baptist communities were on the frontier, but there was at least one congregation in Charles Town.
In 1734, a large group of Baptists moved from the Welch Neck area of Pennsylvania, now Delaware, to the Pee Dee River. They created St. David's Parish and established the Welsh Neck settlement. Some of the names associated with settlement inlcude Perkins, Reese, and Lucas.
The historical records for the South Carolina Baptist Convention are housed at Furman Universtiy. The library may be accessed at http://library.furman.edu/specialcollections/baptist/baptist_resources.htm (link current as of September, 2015)