Early American Faith: Pardon Tillinghast

EarlyAmerFaithPardon Tillinghast was born in the 1620’s in Streat, Sussex, England.  Most historians believe he was born in 1622 but a baptismal record indicates he was baptized on January 2, 1625.  He was the son of Pardon and Sarah (Browne) Tillinghast and his paternal grandparents were John and Alice (Pardon) Tillinghast.

John Tillinghast graduated from Cambridge in 1578 and received a Masters Degree in 1585.  In 1590 he was ordained and later appointed as Rector of Streat in 1593, serving as Vicar until his death in1624.  He would be the last in the family line who served the Church of England, however.  During John’s service in Streat, the times were changing, Puritanism were on the rise, as was the General Baptist movement in nearby Ditchling.

Some historians believe that Pardon (Jr.) served in Oliver Cromwell’s army during the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.  However, records indicate that in 1643 he immigrated to America, perhaps to escape religious intolerance.  A record indicates that Pardon was in Providence, Rhode Island in January of 1646.  At the time, Rhode Island was a “Baptist haven” where many who had originally lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony chose to live without persecution and scrutiny from the Puritans.

By trade, and like his father, he was a cooper who came to New England with little to his name.  In 1658 he was made a freeman, approximately three years after his marriage to Sarah Butterworth, mother of three children: Sarah, John and Mary.  John later married Isabel William, the granddaughter of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island.  In 1659, Pardon received a deed of land from Governor Benedict Arnold, whose great-grandson Benedict Arnold would come to be known for his treasonous acts during the Revolutionary War.

Following Sarah’s death in 1661, Pardon married Lydia (or Liddea) Tabor Mason, a widow, and together they had nine children: Lydia, Pardon, Phillip, Benjamin, Joseph, Mercy, Hannah, Mary and Abigail.  From this line of descendants who married into prominent families, Pardon Tillinghast was linked to well-known historical figures such as General Benedict Arnold (the traitor), Julia Ward Howe who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Stephen Arnold Douglas who debated Abraham Lincoln in 1868 and later lost the 1860 presidential election to Lincoln.

Pardon was active in community and civic affairs, serving in various offices, including Overseer of the Poor in 1687.  He was a successful merchant and built the first wharf in Providence, making him one of the founder’s of Providence’s maritime trade.  With the wharf, trade opened up with not only neighboring colonies but as far away as West Indies and Europe.  Pardon became a somewhat wealthy man, at least for those times.

At some point, Pardon became a fervent adherent of the Baptist faith.  He and a fellow Baptist, Stephen Harding, went to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1674, and while visiting the town of Mendon were arrested and charged with seducing the townspeople with their opinions.  For more about Baptists and Puritans, you can read an article I wrote here.

In 1681 he became the pastor of Providence’s First Baptist Church, and because of his own financial successes, refused remuneration while serving there.  The First Baptist Church of Providence, established by Roger Williams in 1638, was the first and now the oldest Baptist congregation in America.  For several years their meetings were held in private homes or in the open air.

In 1700, Pardon built the first church building at his own expense, a four hundred square-foot structure, and donated the church and the land, described as the General Six-Principle Baptist Church, in 1711.  The six principles upon which the church was founded included: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment.  In 1689, Pardon authored Water-Baptism Plainly Proved by the Scripture to be a Gospel Precept.

While serving as the pastor, Pardon continued to be involved in community and civic affairs, and since Pardon was a man of means, he refused compensation for his services as pastor.  Around the age of fifty-nine he had accepted the assignment and served for another thirty-seven years until his death on January 28, 1718.

I marvel at the faith of our ancestors like Pardon Tillinghast, who late in life accepted the call to serve and then continued to serve faithfully until his last breath.  I also can’t help but wonder what Pardon would say about our churches today, and especially so-called televangelists . . . hmm?

NOTE: In case you missed a recent article about the eighth Baptist church founded in America, Pennepack Baptist Church, check it out here – a unique story about both the founding of this historic church and its founder’s dramatic conversion.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.



  1. Thanks for the history. Pardon is a grandfather (nine generations back). When I was a boy, I was told my grandfather had a deed to the first baptist church of Providence. I never saw it though. This story is most interesting to me because I am Baptist and a pastor and I work just like my ancestors providing my own means while planting a baptist church in Maine.

    • History repeating itself! Did you read the linked story about the Pennepack Baptist Church? I think that one is such an awesome story. Thanks for stopping by and sharing — God Bless!


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