During the 18th century, the Freewill Baptists were one of many religious sects seeking spiritual satisfaction outside of the traditional denominations. They fiercely opposed the institution of slavery, believed in the equality of men and women with regard to spiritual and intellectual matters and established many educational institutions, including what would become Bates College.
Benjamin Randall (1749-1808) was the founder of the northern or "Randall" line of the Freewill Baptist denomination. He 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.
Along with free atonement, the doctrines of the the new denomination included free grace, free will and free communion. The denomination practiced baptism by immersion and had a church govenment that was independent and congregational. Its members were known by several names including Church of Christ, Baptist, New Durham Connection, General Provisioners and Free-Willers. The name Freewill Baptist was subsequently adopted and used until 1841 when the Free Communion Baptists of New York united with them. The names Free Baptist and Freewill Baptist were used interchangeably until eventually the name Free Baptist became more common.
The churches formed an organization consisting of quarterly meetings of local churches, yearly meetings of quarterly meeting churches and general or triennial conferences of yearly meetings. On December 6, 1783, the first quarterly meeting was held at Little Falls (Hollis), Maine. The first General Conference meeting was held in 1827. The denomination experienced rapid growth in New England and the Midwest as well as eastern Canada.
John Buzzell was an early follower of Benjamin Randall, and was even baptized by him. In 1823, Buzzell published the demoninations 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 demonination to establish a 'book concern' and an educational institution. The establishment of the Parsonsfield Seminary, a private high school in Parsonfield, Maine, in 1832 was in no small part due to his efforts. Buzzell's influence in the denomination was immense.
The Free Baptist Education Society was organized in 1840 to provide a means for the intellectual and moral improvement of young ministers and to that end established a Library Department with 700 volumes, in connection with Parsonfield Seminary The following year the name was changed to the Biblical Department and in 1842 the Department was moved to Dracut, MA as an independent Biblical School. In 1844 the School moved to Whitestown, N.Y. where it remained for ten years, associated with Whitestown Seminary. The School became part of the New Hampton Literary Institution in New Hampton, N.H. in 1854 and for the first time extended monetary aid to students.
In September 1854 Parsonfield 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 Parsonfield, 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 rechartered and renamed Bates College for the Boston and Lewiston industrialist Benjamin E. Bates.
Seeking a permanent home, the Biblical School was transferred from New Hampton, N.H. to Lewiston, Maine in 1870, where it became a department of Bates College. Referred to as the Theological Department or the Bates Theological Seminary, it was renamed Cobb Divnity School in 1887 in honor of the Honorable J.L.H. Cobb of Lewiston, a generous contributor. Cobb Divinity School disbanded in 1908 and its faculty and certain courses merged with those of Bates College.
In 1889 the General Conference adopted a resolution to establish a Correspondence School of Theology, also known as the Free Baptist Pastors' Correspondence School, for ministers and approved candidates for the ministry who could not attend educational institutions. Faculty from Cobb Divinity School and Hillsdale College in Michigan, comprised the faculty of the Correspondence School.
By the early 1900's the harsh Calvinist theology which had separated the Baptists from the Free Baptists had diminished and talk of unification began. In 1911 the national missionary funds and forces of the Northern Baptist Convention and the Freewill Baptists merged. The organization is now known as the American Baptist Churches, USA.
In 1915, the Maine Free Baptist Association, formed in 1888 by the merger of the three Maine Yearly Meetings along with the Freewill Baptist Home Mission Society, united with the Maine Baptist Missionary Convention to form the United Baptist Convention of Maine, now known as the American Baptist Churches of Maine.
Material in the collection is primarily comprised of record books containing meeting minutes and financial information of several Freewill Baptist organizations. Also includes several application forms from students applying to the Free Baptist Education Society for financial aid; Freewill Register statistical report forms filled out by churches in the Bowdoin Quarterly Meeting; some correspondence, including a few letters written to Alfred Williams Anthony and a few from individual churches in the Bowdoin Quarterly Meeting giving additional information about their churches. Additional material includes programs from two Free Baptist General Conferences; a missionary and birthday calendar published by the Free Baptist Woman's Missionary Society; an article writtten by Kate J. Anthony concerning Freewill Baptist work in Harpers Ferry, VA.; photocopies of a series of articles from the Free Baptist Repository written by John Buzzell about his life; and a certificate of ordination for Ephraim Stinchfield, an early Freewill Baptist minister, signed by Benjamin Randall, John Buzzell and Pelatiah Tingley. Other material includes an etching of the Zechariah Boodey House, where the first church was organized in New Durham, NH, and several photographs of the Boodey House and denominational members, taken at the Centennial celebration in 1880. Also included in the collection are meeting minutes of a Calvinist Baptist church in Litchfield, ME.; an article and pamphlet containing incidents involving Calvinist Baptist churches in Augusta and Bath, ME.; a booklet on the Squirrel Island Chapel Association and an annumal meeting program and other assorted material on the Burma Baptist Convention.
Arranged alphabetically by folder title.
The collection is open for research.
The collection is the physical property of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library. Bates College holds literary rights only for material created by College personnel working on official behalf of the College, or for material which was given to the College with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication or other purposes that exceed fair use.
David Marks Papers, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC030.html
Jonathan Woodman Diary, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC050.html
Josiah Spooner Swift Collection, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC010.html
Lavinia C. Coombs Letters, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC042.html
Alfred Williams Anthony Papers, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC007.html
Harry W. Rowe Papers, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, http://www.bates.edu/muskie-archives/EADFindingAids/MC071.html
Alfred W. Anthony Papers, American Baptist-Samuel Colgate Historical Library of the American Baptist Historical Society, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 1106 South Goodman St., Rochester, New York 14620-2532
These records are indexed under the following headings in the Bates College Library catalog. Researchers wishing to find related materials should search the catalog under these index terms.
Anthony, Alfred Williams, 1860-1939
Buzzell, John, 1766-1863
Bates College (Lewiston, Me.) -- History
Free Will Baptists (1780?-1911)--Archives
No provenance information available. Accession No.: None.
Freewill Baptist records, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College.
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