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BRIEF HISTORY OF OLD WELSH TRACT CHURCH

Extract from the Bi-Centennial Address, held October 19th, 1903.


Welsh Tract Church

At the foot of Iron Hill, on this present site, they built a small meeting-house, in which they worshiped until 1746, when the present structure was erected. In the cemetery surrounding this building sleep the successive generations which have in their time and turn worshipped in this place. The present meeting-house is of brick, brought from Wales, and conveyed from the boat at New Castle to this place on pack mules.


To the Welsh Tract Old School Baptist Church, and its congregation, and all who are present at this meeting, which is the two hundredth anniversary of the planting of the Baptist Church of Christ on these premises, in New Castle County, the State of Deleware. (October 19, 1903).

It becomes our pleasant duty to address you on this occasion with the hope that we may transmit to you both valuable and interesting information, regarding the life, trials and prosperity of this church, during its two hundred years of life in this country. Its life has been varied, and full of stirring and momentous events, its trials have brought into manifestations the sturdy character and the indomitable will of the Baptist pioneers, who were actuated by the Spirit of the Master, to perpetuate the name of Baptist on Deleware soil and its adjoining states. With characteristic Welsh determination, these saints of God, in time of war and danger, worshipped in this building, with stacked arms, seeking God in all that awaited them in the providence of their God. And now, their prosperity is a living witness of the power of their faith. For the past seventy-one years, (since the memorable meeting, which convened at Black Rock, Md., Sept. 28, 1832) this church with many others, has been designated as "Old School or Primitive Baptists." They have been hated and persecuted because they "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine", and "went (not) in the way of Cain" and "ran (not) greedily after the error of Balaam for reward." Many predictions have gone forth from that time, from those who appose us, that in a very short time from each prediction, the last Old School Baptist would die, which would have been the end of a sect everywhere spoken against. But instead of that, we are glad to inform you, that from the little seed sown in this country, a little over two hundred years ago, we have now (according to statistics taken from the International Encyclopedia) 1800 churches, 900 ministers, and 45,000 members, under the name of Primitive Baptists.* In order to arrive at the origin of this, the first Baptist church in the state of Deleware, we must take you across the ocean, and thence to South Wales, where it had its beginning. In the spring of 1701, sixteen Baptists, in the counties of Pembroke and Carmarthen, South Wales, resolved to go to America. They formed themselves into a church, with Thomas Griffith, one of their number, as Pastor. They embarked at Milford Haven in June, 1701, arriving in Philadelphia Sept. 8th, the same year. In their wanderings they were courteously received by the few Baptists then in Philadelphia, and were advised to settle about Pennepek, a few miles north of Philadelphia, on a creek of that name, which they did, and remained there about a year and a half, during which time their church membership increased from sixteen to thirty-seven. The names of those who constituted a church in Wales are as follows: Thomas Griffith, their pastor, Griffith Nicholas, Evan Edmond, John Edward, Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Richard David, James David, Lewis Edmonds, Elizabeth Griffith, Jennet Morris; in all sixteen.** In the year 1701, some of us, who were members of the churches of Jesus Christ in the counties of Pembroke and Carmathen, South Wales, in Great Britain, (professing believers in baptism, laying on of hands, election, and final perseverance in grace), were moved and encouraged in our minds, to come to these parts, namely, Pennsylvania. And after obtaining leave of the churches, it seemed good to the Lord, and to us, that we should be formed into church order, as we were a sufficient number, and as one of us was a minister, that was accomplished, and withal letters commendatory were given us, that if we should meet with any congregations or Christian people, who held the same faith with us, we might be received with them as brethren in Christ. Our number was sixteen, and after bidding farewell to our brethren in Wales we sailed from Milford Haven in June, 1701, in the ship James and Mary, and landed in Philadelphia on September 8th following. We were received in a loving manner, on account of the gospel, by the congregation, meeting in Philadelphia and Pennepek, who held the same faith with us, (excepting the laying on of hands on every particular member) with whom we wished to hold communion at the Lord's table. But we could not be in fellowship with them in the Lord's supper, because they bore not testimony for God touching the forementioned ordinance. There were some among them who believe in the ordinance, but they neither preached nor practiced it in that church, for which cause we kept separate from them for some years. We had several meetings on this account, but could not come to any agreement, yet were in union with them (except only in the Lord's supper, and some particulars relative to the church.) After our arrival we lived much scattered for about a year and a half, yet kept up our weekly meetings among ourselves, during which time it pleased God to add to our numbers about twenty members, in which time we, and many other Welsh people, purchased a tract of land in New Castle County, Delaware, which was called "Welsh Tract." In the year 1703 we began to get our living out of it, and to set our meetings in order, and to build a place of worship, which was commonly known by the name of "The Baptist Meeting House by the Iron Hill." In the year 1706, we, and the congregation meeting in Philadelphia and Pennepek, appointed a meeting to come together once more, in order to try at union in the good ways of the Lord, setting up our prayers and supplications on this great occasion, and purposing to do as the Lord should give us light. The following considerations induced us to come to the above conclusions. First, because they and we were so desirous of union in the privileges of the gospel. Second, because we were not likely to gain them by keeping asunder from them. Third, because they without, were taking occasion to mock, because of so much variance among the Baptists. Fourth, because some of our members were far from us and near them, and some of their members were from them and that these members might sit down in the meeting next to them. Fifth, because as we all come to the yearly meetings, we might have a general union at the Lord's table. In the said meeting, (after seeking God by prayers and supplications) we came to the following conclusions, namely: 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. This agreement was set down in writing ** etc.

* Editor's Note: Emphasis should be placed on the "under the name of Primitive Baptists," for it will be remembered that it was in 1900-10 that another general withdrawal was made from the means element.

** In 1701, by reason of a great addition by letters from churches in Wales, and by admission here, they came to another consideration, and thought best to be constituted again. We will read you the full copy of the new church covenant, as we feel sure it will interest you. It is as follows:

THE CHURCH COVENANT

The solemn covenant of ye church at its constitution, owned and professed by us whose names are underwritten in ye year 1710. We who desire to walk together in ye fear of ye Lord, do, through ye assistance of His Holy Spirit, profess our deep and serious humiliation for all our transgressions, and we do also, solemnly in ye presence of God, and of each other, in ye sense of our unworthiness, give up ourselves to ye Lord, in a church state, according to ye Apostolical constitution, that He may be our God, and we may be His people, through ye everlasting covenant of His free grace, in which alone we hope to be accepted by Him, through His blessed Son Jesus Christ, who we hope to be our High Priest, to justify and sanctify us, and our Prophet to teach us, and to be subject to Him as our Lawgiver, and ye King of saints. And to conform to all His holy laws and ordinances, for our growth, establishment and consolation, that we may be a holy spouse unto Him, and serve Him in our generation, and wait for His second appearance, as our glorious Bridegroom. Be fully satisfied in ye way of church communion, and ye growth of grace (as we hope) in some good measure on one another's spirits. We do solemnly join ourselves together in holy union and fellowship, humbly submitting of ye discipline of gospel, and all holy duties required of a people in such a spiritual relation. We do promise and engage to walk in all holiness and godliness, humility and brotherly love, as much as in us lieth, to render our communion delightful to God, comfortable to ourselves, and to the rest of the Lord's people. We do promise to watch over each other's conversations, and not to suffer sin upon one another, so far as God shall discover it to us, or any of us, and to stir up one another to love and to do good works, to warn, rebuke and admonish one another with meekness, according to ye rules left to us of Christ in ye behalf. We do promise in a special manner, to pray for one another, in all conditions, both outward and inward, as God in His providence shall cast any of us into. We do promise to bear with one another's weakness, failings and infirmities, with much tenderness, not discovering to any without the church, nor within, unless according to church rule, and ye order of ye gospel provided in that causes. We do promise to strive together for the truths of the gospel, and purity of God's ways and ordinances, to avoide causes, occasions of divisions, and endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We do promise to meet together on Lord's days, and at other times, as the Lord shall give us opportunities, to serve and glorify God in ye way of His worship to edify one another, and to continue in the good of His Church. We do promise according to our ability, or as God shall bless us with ye good things of this world, to communicate to ye majesty of ye church. These and all other gospel duties we humbly submit unto promising and purposing to perform, not in our own strength, but conscious to our own weakness, and in ye power and strength of our blessed God, whose we are, and whom we desire to serve, to whom be glory now and forevermore. Amen.

The century confession was in America long before the year 1716, but without the articles which relate to these subjects. In that year (1716) they were added by Abel Morgan, who translated the confession to Welsh. It was signed by 122 Welsh Tract members. The whole was adopted by the Association in 1742. Welsh Tract was the principal, if not the sole means of introducing imposition of hands, ruling Elders, church covenants and singing, into the churches of the middle states. This is the mother church to that of Pedee, London Tract, Duck Creek, Wilmington, Cow Marsh, and others. In 1736, 37 and 41, twenty-eight members were dismissed, to form a church in Pedee, South Carolina. On November 22nd, 1780, about eighteen members of Welsh Tract were constituted a church at London Tract. In 1781, Duck Creek was constituted, and another at Cow Marsh the same year. In 1783 at Mespillion, in 1785 at Wilmington. The land forming the "Welsh Tract" (about 30,000 acres) was purchased from William Penn, by Messers Davis, Evens and Willits, from whom the Welsh Baptists took up land and settled throughout New Castle County. At the foot of Iron Hill, on this present site, they built a small meeting-house, in which they worshipped until 1746, when the present structure was erected. In the cemetery surrounding this building sleep the successive generations which have in their time and turn worshipped in this place. The present meeting-house is of brick, brought from Wales, and conveyed from the boat at New Castle to this place on pack mules. The lot comprised six acres of ground, for of which were given by James James.***

In order of their succession, the names of the Pastors are as follows:

First. Thomas Griffith, who emigrated with the church, which he served as pastor for twenty-five years. Elisha Thomas, Enoch Morgan, Owen Thomas, David Davis, Until the death of Elder Davis – 1769 – the pastors of this church were Welshmen. The sixth, John Suttan, the first Pastor of the church born in this country, John Boggs, Gideon Thomas Barton, George W. Staton, John G. Sawin, Joseph L. Staton, William Grafton, John G. Eubanks, and the present Pastor, Elder H. H. Lefferts.**

As a mother church, numerous branches have sprung up, among these were Middletown, Piscataqua, Cohansy, Burlington, and Salem, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Montgomery, Southampton, Brandywin, Frankford and Holmesburg, in Pennyslvania. The Philadelphia Baptist Association was organized under the auspices of this church. This was the first body, or gathering of people, that was called an association. The churches uniting to form this first association in America were Pennepek, Welsh Tract, Middletown, Piscataqua and Cohansy.**

The Deleware Association was organized in 1795. According to the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association, in 1794 Welsh Tract, Cow Marsh, Duck Creek, and Wilmington churches requested "approbation and dismission" from the association to join another; consent was granted. The Philadelphia Association sent both letter and messenger to them in 1796, which was the first meeting held after the organization. The Deleware Association in 1801, was composed of five churches and 293 members; in 1825, of nine churches and 596 members; in 1879, seven churches and 197 members. The falling off which you notice between 1825 and 1979 was due to the division which took place in 1932. Bethel was a branch of Welsh Tract Church, started in 1786, the house stands on the eastern limit of the Welsh Tract, it was dissolved in 1871.

From 1800 to 1830 the Baptists became very much entangled with Missionary and Tract societies. In 1832 Elder Samuel Trott became Pastor at Welsh Tract, and in his corresponding letter he says: "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." In the Circular Letter in 1832, he condemns missions, salaried ministries and Theological Seminaries. Elder Thomas Barton in 1832 writes: "We hope none of us are prepared to adopt the invitation of Jehu: "Come, see my zeal for the Lord of Hosts," but with humility would acknowledge our shortcomings; we know that the work of salvation is of God, and why He does not convert more sinners among us we leave to Him". In 1836 the association refused by vote to receive into fellowship persons baptized by those who are engaged in the new-fangled systems of the day. In 1856, for the first time, the association was called in the Minutes, "The Deleware Old School Baptist Association."

At a session of the Baltimore Association in 1831 Elder Thomas Barton suggested the propriety at a convention, to consult as to what was to be done. The Baptists had become a divided house. The Baptists ministers came to the meetings with another doctrine, and confusion stared us in the face. The brethren of the church at Black Rock acted on our proposition, and invited the convention to be held with them; a general response followed. An article was drawn up and adopted, planting themselves firmly upon the faith and practice of the fathers; it was unanimously signed. This was the memorable convention at Black Rock.

In conclusion, I desire to state that the greater part of the historical information in these pages has been collected (with much labor and carefulness) by Miss Sarah A. Campbell, a sister in this church. With love in her heart for this historic old church and the precious memories connected with it, she has devoted much time and patience, both to research and formulary. The present condition of the Church is about is it has been for the last half century. The Minutes to the association this year report a membership of forty. Elder John G. Eubanks the present Pastor, is now in his second year of pastoral care of the church. Like his predecessors, he contends for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Note from Brother J. B. Miller, present Clerk of Welsh Tract Church:
You may add in your compilation of Welsh Tract history, that Elder H. H. Lefferts today stands for the same old doctrine once delivered to the saints; and often in his sermons he directs his hand out of the windows to those whose dust once honored the walls of the old meeting-house. I often wonder, am I one, or am I not; may He keep me. He knoweth my frame – an old sinner.

- J. B. M.

And now we feel that the highest tribute that we can pay to this old Welsh Tract Church, and its sister churches, is that they "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine." And as the generations multiply that go in and out at this place, may God continue to be glorified, His name be exalted and have all the praise.


A more current picture of the Welsh Tract Church below. And then beside that picture is a picture of Elder Chet A. Dirkes who is currently serving Welsh Tract with his wife Marie. Elder Dirkes also provided me with a few more current pictures of the church. And then underneath the current pictures are some older pictures (click on the thumbnails to see a bigger picture).

 


Pictures below were taken in 1936

 

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