As alluded to in last week’s article about the historic Pennepek Baptist Church, the Welshmen who arrived in 1701, although warmly received, had disagreements over the practice of the laying on of hands. The Welshmen thought the practice to be of great importance, so much so they “couldn’t fellowship with them in the Lords-supper”, according to Records of the Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting. In 1703 the majority who had earlier attended the Pennepek church upon arrival in America decided to purchase land in Newcastle County, Delaware.
The place where they settled was known as “Welsh Tract” or “Welshtract” and their church as “Welsh Tract Baptist Church”. This was just one of several churches which “sprung” from the mother church at Pennepek. In 1707 Pennepek and several other churches in Pennsylvania and New Jersey joined together to form the Philadelphia Baptist Association. That same year the Welsh Tract church approached the Pennepek church for a meeting. Several concerns were discussed, most focusing on their doctrinal differences.
Still, Welsh Tract wanted to remain on friendly terms with the mother church. As reported in the Records of the Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting, the meeting ended with the conclusion: “that they with us and we with them might hold transient or occasional communion; but that we might not be obliged to receive into membership any that were not under laying-on-of-hands.” In other words, they agreed to disagree but still desired fellowship from time to time.
Welsh Tract Baptist also came to be referred to as the “Baptist church of Iron Hill”, the church being built at the foot of Iron Hill. Following their meeting with Pennepek and the subsequent agreement, Welsh Tract set about to lay the groundwork for their own congregation to grow and flourish. Several men, including Thomas Griffith, the minister who had led the 1701 immigrants, signed the agreement.
The agreement was revisited in 1709 after more brethren arrived in America. According to Records of the Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting, the new arrivals needed to be “streightened in their minds whether the said agreement was agreeable to the will of God!” The leaders still felt they were on the right track, since fifty-five persons had been added to their congregation through the laying on of hands following the original agreement.
In 1716 a formal confession of faith was signed by around one hundred of Welsh Tract’s congregants. Abel Morgan, a Philadelphia minister, had translated the confession into Welsh. The confession emphasized, of course, laying on of hands, singing Psalms and church covenants. Thomas Griffith served as pastor of the church for twenty-five years and was followed by Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Owen Thomas and David Davis, all Welshmen.
An interesting side note, it appears that some members of the Welsh Tract church were ancestors of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His grandfather Evan Davis had been one of the early Welsh immigrants apparently. A record of a Martha David (Davis or Dafis) appeared in the Records of Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting, entitled “The Case of Martha David”. At the end of the section, it refers to her as the mother of President Davis. If it is meant to refer to Jefferson Davis, I think she might have been possibly his grandmother instead, for his father Samuel was born in 1756 and Martha’s troubles occurred in 1732.
Briefly, it seems Martha David had a streak of rebelliousness against the church. Martha opposed the truth she at one time had professed, refused instruction, and broke covenant with the church by “carrying unconnected pieces of what was talked in the church to the Presbyterians to have their opinion upon them.” For carrying tales to the Presbyterians, she was accused of “curtailing the truth”. On March 4, 1732, she was excommunicated from Welsh Tract Baptist Church.
Martha David wasn’t the first nor the last to part ways with Welsh Tract. Some were excommunicated for inappropriate dress, failing to show up for church, association with godless men and other scandalous types of behavior. One congregant, Philip Truax, was “dismembered” (their term for his dismissal) on January 6, 1722. The reasons were as follows:
(1) His neglecting to come to church meeting for several years; (2) His slighting and neglecting the call of the church by their messengers; (3) His neglecting his business to the hurt of his family and creditors; (4) His leaving his affairs unsettled and his poor family unprovided for; (5) Because, after his return, he refused to appear before the church tho’ summoned many a time.
Clearly, in that time, the church served as a moral compass for the community and its own congregants. Still, some, although “turned out”, repented and were presumably reinstated. On April 4, 1717, John Pain was turned out for “gross conduct in his life and for disobeying the rules of the church.” In 1723 he repented.
The first pastor to have been born in America was John Suttan, installed following the death of the David Davis. According to an account of the church’s bi-centennial celebration in 1903, Welsh Tract was originally part of the Philadelphia Baptist Association and in 1794 requested “approprobation (sic) and dismission” from the association so that a Delaware association could be constituted.
Consent was granted and in 1796 the first meeting of the Delaware Association was held. By 1825 the association was comprised of nine churches with almost six hundred members. By 1879 membership had declined dramatically from a division which occurred in 1832.
As the bi-centennial account reported, from 1800 to 1830 the “Baptists became very much entangled with Missionary and Tract societies.” In 1832, newly installed pastor and former elder Samuel Trott, strongly denounced the entanglement:
We receive Christ as our pattern, hence we do not walk in the observance of many things which have been introduced among the Baptists generally, and received as great importance in advancing the cause of religion, &c. We desire to keep in His footsteps, believing it to be the safest path. We rely on His wisdom and power to gather in His elect and extend the knowledge of His salvation.
He further condemned the missions, their salaried ministers and their theological seminaries. In 1836 the association declined to receive into fellowship via baptism those who had “engaged in the new-fangled systems of the day.” By 1856, the minutes of their annual meeting read “The Delaware Old School Baptist Association.”
The tenets set forth in Trott’s letter seem more in line with those of the Primitive Baptists. In 1952, the Wilmington Journal referred to it as such: “Welsh Tract Primitive Baptist Church south of Newark at the foot of Iron Hill celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding December 9, 1951.”
It appears the church is still active, although I found no web site. The original building was replaced in 1746 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In 1951 it was known to be the oldest “Old School” Baptist church in America. The Old Welsh Tract Baptist Cemetery has over five hundred interments, some with births dating back to the early eighteenth century.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.