Freewill Baptist Resources

Founded as a Freewill Baptist educational institution, Bates College possesses one of the most important and comprehensive collections of archival and library material related to this denomination in the country. The collection includes a variety of records and manuscripts, as well as most of the published primary sources. Many of the earliest books in the Bates library were purchased by the Freewill Baptist Education Society, and the records of this Society are available. In addition, there are records of other Freewill Baptist institutions, such as the New Hampton Literary Institution and the Whitestown Seminary, published and unpublished records of the Home and Foreign Mission Societies, and records of a number of the denomination’s Quarterly Meetings.

Background Information

Benjamin Randall (1749-1808) was the founder of the northern or “Randall” line of the Freewill Baptist church which eventually gave rise of Bates College. Randall was born in 1749, in New Castle, New Hampshire. As a young man, Randall grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Congregational church, and in 1776 joined the Baptist church in Berwick, Maine, was baptized, and became a minister. In 1778 he moved his family to New Durham, New Hampshire, bought a farm, and continued preaching.

Randall preached the idea of free atonement, that grace was free for all who would accept salvation. This contradicted basic Calvinistic ideas, embraced by New England Baptists, which held that one’s chance for salvation was pre-determined. Because of this contradiction, Randall was called by the Baptist brethren to answer for his errors, and was finally expelled from the church. The ministers made a “public declaration of non-fellowship with Randall’s principles.” But Randall continued to preach, and in 1779, a newly formed church in Barrington ordained Randall as an evangelist while a new church in Loudon and Canterbury voiced protest against the Calvinistic tradition. In the summer of 1780, a church was formed at New Durham, and the articles of faith and covenant were drawn up by Randall. By the end of the year the church numbered seven men and thirteen women.

John Buzzell was an early follower of Benjamin Randall, and was even baptized by him. In 1823, Buzzell published the denominations first hymnal, Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. In 1827, he published The Life of Benjamin Randall. In 1808, after Randall died, he was appointed Randall’s successor, and the denominational records and papers were given to his care. Buzzell was involved in establishing the Morning Star, and was even senior editor for some years. In 1831, Buzzell began to urge the denomination to establish a ‘book concern’ and an educational institution. The establishment of the Parsonsfield Seminary, a private high school in Parsonsfield, Maine, in 1832 was in no small part due to his efforts. Buzzell’s influence in the denomination was immense.

In September 1854 Parsonsfield Seminary burned to the ground. Upon learning the news, Oren B. Cheney, a Freewill Baptist minister in Augusta, Maine, resolved to commit his life to building a new educational institution, centrally located in Maine. Cheney had attended Parsonsfield, and later served it as a teacher and principal. With a charter from the Maine State Legislature, along with state and private funding, Cheney established the Maine State Seminary in 1855. In 1862, a “collegiate department” was added to the school, and two years later it was renamed and rechartered as Bates College, named for the Boston and Lewiston industrialist Benjamin E. Bates, its primary benefactor. Cheney served for thirty years as the President of Bates College, until 1894, when he was succeeded by George Chase. For additional information about the history of Bates College, see A Historical Essay on Bates Values.

Freewill Baptist Manuscript Collections

David Marks Papers

David Marks was a Freewill Baptist minister. The collection consists of his notes pertaining to church services in Portsmouth, N.H. (1835); Rochester, N.Y, (1837); and Oberlin, Ohio (1844-45). Marks comments on lectures and sermons delivered by Amos Sutton, Asa Mahan, President of Oberlin Collegiate Institute; and Charles Finney, professor of theology at Oberlin. Also included are his own sermons, notes concerning Freewill Baptist missions in India, and minutes from several meetings of the Foreign Mission Society (April 1835).

Jonathan Woodman Diary

In 1847 Rev. Jonathan Woodman was elected by the Freewill Baptist General Conference as a delegate to the General Baptists conference in England. This diary records his travels through England for this purpose in 1848, and includes information about meeting Rev. Jabez Burns and Rev. Joseph Goadby, visiting several General Baptist churches in London, attending Baptist Missionary meetings and temperance meetings, and meeting with members of the British Anti-Slavery Society.

Josiah Spooner Swift Papers

Josiah Spooner Swift (1813-1883) was a Freewill Baptist minister, farmer, amateur artist, and publisher. The collection contains his journals, sketchbooks, and other documents, including a family biography.

Lavinia C. Coombs Letters

Nine letters written by Freewill Baptist missionary Lavinia Coombs from Midnapore and Balasore, India, to Nellie Whittemore of Bowdoinham, Maine.

David Crowe Collection

This collection is comprised of a variety of photocopied material pertaining to the Freewill Baptists. It includes seven letters from the Rev. John Buzzell to his brother Aaron (1793-1843); eleven letters from Alfred W. Anthony (1912-1932), all but one of which are to Joseph W. Mauck, president of the General Conference of Free Baptists; and twenty letters between Joseph W. Mauck and several members of the Freewill Baptist denomination (1911-1934). The letters discuss various issues related to the Freewill Baptists during these years. There are also photocopies of school catalogues as well as other historical material. One paper discusses the role of Freewill Baptists in the abolition movement and another discusses the historical, theological, and social perspectives of the Freewill Baptists. The collection also contains ten missionary reports from the Rev. J.J. Tatum who was serving in Bryan, Texas (1917-1930) and a geneaology of Roger Williams.

Other Freewill Baptist Collections

Freewill Baptist Records

The collection is comprised primarily of record books, containing meeting minutes and financial information, from several organizations of the northern branch of the Freewill Baptists, including the Free Baptist Education Society, Bowdoin Quarterly Meeting, the Free Baptist Foreign Mission Society, the Free Baptist Pastors’ Correspondence School, and the General Conference of Free Baptists. The collection also contains the annual meeting minutes of the Maine Free Baptist Association.

Free Baptist Church Records (microfilm)

Includes Androscoggin Quarterly Meeting, 1868-1880; Androscoggin United Annual Meeting, 1916-1942; Anson Quarterly Meeting, 1863-1915; Central Yearly Meeting, 1867-1890; Eastern Quarterly Conference, 1845-1876; Eastern Yearly Meeting, 1826-1862; Ellsworth Quarterly Meeting, 1851-1917; Exeter Quarterly Meeting, 1824-1860; Oxford Quarterly Meeting, 1866-1906; Oxford Quarterly Meeting, 1906-1956; Oxford Yearly Meeting; Parsonsfield Quarterly Meeting, 1833-1889; Parsonsfield Quarterly Meeting, 1833-1920; Penobscot Yearly Meeting, 1832-1890; Poland First Free Will Baptist Church, 1828-1887; South Aroostook Quarterly Meeting, 1895-1914; Waterville Quarterly Meeting, 1838-1873; Western Quarterly Conference, 1872-1905; and Western Quarterly Meeting, 1843-1871.

Freewill Baptist Book Collection

This collection of over 400 titles contains books, journals, pamphlets, sermons, hymnals, and biographies by and about prominent Freewill Baptist ministers, as well as a wealth of information reflecting the growth and outlook of the Freewill Baptists. The collection also contains extensive information relating to Freewill Baptist missionary work in India dating from the 1830s through the turn of the century.

Freewill Baptist Serials

A Religious Magazine (Vol 1., 1811-1812 ; Vol 2., 1820-1822)

A Religious Magazine was published by the Rev. John Buzzell. Only two volumes of this publication were printed, and these were printed almost 10 years apart. Includes denominational, biographical, and historical information.

The Religious Informer (1819-1821)

A semi-monthly pamphlet, published by the Rev. Ebenezer Chase. Contains the earliest reports of Quarterly Meetings.

The Religious Informer and Free-will Baptist Register (1822)

This is a continuation of The Religious Informer published by the Rev. Ebenezer Chase.

The Freewill Baptist Register (1825-1908)

First issued in 1825, written and published by the Rev. Samuel Burbank. By 1828, the Register had become denominational property, and was issued by the book agent, David Marks.

The Morning Star (1826-1911)

The Morning Star is perhaps the most important Freewill Baptist publication to consult for a broad historical perspective on the growth of the denomination. Contains discussions of doctrinal issues including temperance and anti-slavery; reports of abolition efforts by Freewill Baptists and others; reports from Freewill Baptist missionaries in India; national and international news; letters; editorials; and a variety of other biographical and historical information.

Minutes of the General Conference of the Freewill Baptist Connection (1827-1917)

The central governing body of the Freewill Baptist denomination was the General Conference, at which the various churches made reports to the entire body. In the early years of the denomination, Freewill Baptists organized themselves around Quarterly Meetings (Q.M.), which served as a regular link between churches of the same geographic locality. As the denomination grew, additional meetings were organized to facilitate communication between churches that were spread out across a greater and greater region. To oversee this growth, a series of meetings was organized. A representative of every Q.M. would make reports to the state organization at Yearly Meetings, and at each Yearly Meeting a representative would be selected to report to the Annual General Conference.

The Free-will Baptist Magazine (1826-1830)

Published in Providence, by the Elders of the Rhode Island Quarterly Meeting.

The Freewill Baptist Quarterly Magazine (1839-1841)

Published by the Freewill Baptist Printing Establishment, this is a series of 41 essays on issues of interest to the denomination. Includes essays on ‘Missions’; ‘Church Organization’; ‘Sabbath Schools’; ‘Education in the Ministry’ ; and a five-part series on the ‘History of the Freewill Baptists’ by Hosea Quinby.

The Freewill Baptist Quarterly (1853-1869)

A yearly compilation of essays on issues of interest to the denomination. Published in Providence, R.I., by “an Association”. Numerous essays on slavery. Each volume has an alphabetical index of essays.

Foreign Mission Reports (1835-1880)

The Freewill Baptist Foreign Mission Society was organized in 1833 at a meeting called by Rev. John Buzzell, who became its first president, and who held that office for 13 years. A close collaboration with Amos Sutton, a English General Baptist, who was doing mission work in Orissa, India was established. The first Freewill Baptist missionaries to go to India sailed from Boston in 1835. Freewill Baptist missionaries established churches, schools, and orphanages.

Freewill Baptist missionaries in India included Lavina Crawford, Rev. Jeremiah Phillips, Mrs. Mary Ann (Grimsditch) Phillips, Mrs. Hannah (Cummings) Phillips, Rev. Otis R. Bacheler, Mrs. Sarah P. (Merrill) Bacheler, Mrs. Dorcas (Folsom) Smith, Rev. James L. Phillips, Mrs. Mary R. (Sayles) Phillips, Rev. Thomas Wesley Burkholder, Mrs. Julia E. (Phillips) Burkholder, Lavinia Coombs, and others.

Home Mission Reports (1836-1880)

The Freewill Baptist Home Mission Society was formed in 1834 at a meeting organized by David Marks. The denomination saw opportunities to establish both churches and schools in frontier settlements in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa, as well as areas of northern Maine, and Nova Scotia. During the Civil War, the Home Mission Society established meeting houses in South Carolina and worked in other southern states. The Society was also instrumental in establishing Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, W.VA., in 1867 as a normal school for the education of freed slaves.

A number of prominent Freewill Baptists did mission work for the Home Mission Society, including Jonathan Woodman, Ebenezer Knowlton, Nathan Cook Brackett, Sarah Jane Foster, and Anne Dudley.

India Reports (1863-1910)

Reports of the American Free Baptist Mission. Freewill Baptist missionary work was concentrated in the Midnapore district of northern Orissa, India, and centered in the cities of Jellasore [Jaleswar] and Midnapore. These reports cover all Freewill Baptist mission work in the district. These were published at the Mission Press in Midnapore, a press originally built by Rev. Otis R. Bacheler and his wife, Sarah, who began operating the mission at Midnapore in 1863.

Annual Reports of the Maine Free Baptist Home Missionary Society (1872-1889)

The Maine Free Baptist Home Missionary Society was formed in 1871 to aid destitute churches, and to establish new churches, in the State of Maine.

The Missionary Helper (1878-1919)

The Free Baptist Women’s Missionary Society was organized in 1873. The Missionary Helper was established to fill a need to voice the work of women of the denomination. Marila Marks Brewster, its founder, remained its publisher and editor for nine years, at which time the denomination took over publication. Included in this publication are reports from various arenas of the work of the Society, including India.

The Myrtle (1847-1891)

The Myrtle was a children’s publication, possibly used in the Sunday Schools. It was published every two weeks.

The Little Star (1873-1888)

This publication was also aimed at children, and was also published every two weeks, alternating with The Myrtle (see above). It’s editors were Mrs. F.S. Mosher, until 1881, and Sarah A. Perkins, until 1888 when it became the organ of the Advocates of Christian Fidelity. A.C.F. was an umbrella organization for the ‘young people’s societies’ within the denomination. In 1889 Little Star was discontinued and a new publication, Our Dayspring, took its place.

Our Dayspring (1889-1894)

Sarah A. Perkins stayed on as editor of Our Dayspring which was the organ of the Advocates of Christian Fidelity, an umbrella organization for the ‘young people’s societies’ of the Freewill Baptist denomination.

The Free Baptist (1882-1901)

Published in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this emerged as the Western Denominational paper.

Freewill Baptist Missionary (1843-1845)

Published bimonthly from March 1843 to July 1845, this publication was continued by the title Gospel Rill.

The Christian Freeman (1867-1870)

Published weekly from 1867 through 1870, this was a newspaper by the Western Freewill Baptist Publishing Association, printed in Chicago, IL, and Hillsdale, MI. Bates has paper copies of volume 1 only.