from Genealogical and Biographical Memorials of the Reading, Howell, Yerkes Families by Josiah Granville Leach
The Pennepek church, the second congregation of this denomination organized in Pennsylvania and the first in Philadelphia county...
The church of this faith previously formed by the Reverend Thomas Dungan, at Cold Spring, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, was substantially disbanded upon the death of its founder in 1688, and at the time Mr. Watts' ministry began the Pennepek church was the only one in the province, and long remained the centre of Baptist influence in the middle colonies, and to-day occupies an historic position as the first organization in Pennsylvania of what is now the second largest Protestant denomination in America.
Mr. Watts' labors, however, were not confined to this church. He visited the scattered companies of Baptists in New Jersey to preach and baptize, and was for some years virtually the minister of the small congregation at Philadelphia, which later became the First Baptist church [Philadelphia] of that city, and of which he is to be regarded as the first pastor.
From 1695 until 1698 the Philadelphia Baptists amicably occupied a common place of worship with the Presbyterians in the storehouse on the lot of the Barbadoes Company at Chestnut and Second streets, Mr. Watts preaching on alternate Sundays.
In the latter year the Presbyterians secured the Reverend Jedediah Andrews as their pastor, when trouble arose as to the joint occupancy of the building. No doubt the Presbyterians, under Mr. Andrews' influence, were unwilling to listen so frequently to an exposition of Baptist principles by Mr. Watts. Several letters, still extant, passed between the two societies. One of those from the Baptists, of which Mr. Watts was doubtless the author, is here given:
To our dear and well-beloved friends and brethren, Mr. Jedediah Andrews, John Green, Joshua Story, and Samuel Richardson, and the rest of the Presbyterian judgment belonging to the
The history of this church will lead us back to the year 1686, when one John Eaton, George Eaton and Jane his wife, Sarah Eaton and Samuel Jones, members of a Baptist church residing in Llanddewi and Nantmel, in Radnorshire, whereof Rev. Henry Gregory was pastor; also John Baker, member of a church in Kilkenny, in Ireland, under the pastoral care of Rev. Christopher Blackwell, and one Samuel Vaus, from England, arrived and settled on the banks of Pennepek, formerly written Pennapeka. In the year 1687, Rev. Elias Reach, of London, came among them and baptized one Joseph Ashton and Jane his wife, William Fisher and John Watts, which increased their number to twelve souls, including the minister.
These twelve did, by mutual consent, form themselves into a church in the month of January, 1688, choosing Mr. Reach to be their minister, and Samuel Vaus to be deacon. Soon after, the few emigrated Baptists in this province and West Jersey joined them ; also those whom Mr. Reach baptized at the Falls, Coldspring, Burlington, Cohansey, Salem, Penn's-Neck, Chester, Philadelphia, &c. They were all one church, and Pennepek the centre of union, where, as many as could, met to celebrate the Lord's Supper; and for the sake of distant members they administered the ordinance quarterly at Burlington, Cohansey, Chester, and Philadelphia; which quarterly meetings have since been transformed into three yearly meetings and an Association. Thus, for some time, continued their Zion with lengthened cords, till the brethren in remote parts set about forming themselves into distinct churches, which began in 1699. By these detachments it was reduced to narrow bounds, but continued among the churches, as a mother in the midst of many daughters." (Benedict's History of the Baptists, Volume 1. p. 580.) meeting in Philadelphia: The church of Christ, baptized on confession of faith, over which Rev. John Watts is pastor, send salutation of grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Dearly Beloved : Having, seriously and in fear of God, considered our duties of love to and bearing with one another, and receiving the weak in faith, and knowing that love, peace, and unity tend much to the honor of Christ and Christianity, and to the conviction and conversion of sinners, and the comfort and establishment of believers, and being desirous of your company heavenward as far as may be, and as much as we can to heal the breach betwixt us, occasioned by our difference in judgment (none yet being perfect in knowledge), we have thought it necessary to make you this proposition following for peace (as being the necessary term upon which we may safely, comfortably, and peaceably hold Christian communion together in the things wherein we agree in the public worship of God and common duties of religion, as in prayer, preaching, praising God, reading and hearing the Word), viz.: we do freely confess and promise for ourselves that we can and do own and allow of your approved ministers, who are fitly qualified and sound in faith, and of holy lives, to pray and preach in our assemblies. If you can also freely confess and promise for yourselves that you can and will own and allow of our approved ministers, who are fitly qualified and sound in the faith, and of holy lives, to preach in your assemblies ; that so each side may own, embrace, and accept of each other as fellow-brethren and ministers of Christ, and hold and maintain Christian communion and fellowship. Unto which proposition for peace (that further disputes and vain janglings may be prevented) we shall desire, if you please, your plain and direct answer, that it may be left for us at Widow Elton's house, in Philadelphia. Subscribed in behalf of the rest of the congregation the 3oth of 8th month (October), 1698.
The Presbyterians sent, on November 3, a reply signed by Mr. Andrews, John Green, Samuel Richarson, David Giffing, Herbert Corry, John Vanlear, and Daniel Green, requesting a conference, which was afterwards appointed for Saturday, November 19, at the common meeting-house. Messrs. Watts, Jones, and Morgan were there at the proper time, but found none of the Presbyterians, and none came, though sent for. Late in the afternoon, before leaving the house, the three Baptists wrote a letter, saying that they were disappointed, and added,
Considering what the desires of divers people are, and how they stand affected, and that we are not likely to receive answer to our reasonable proposition, necessity constrains us to meet apart from you until such time as we receive an answer, and we are assured that you can own us so as we can you, though we still remain the same as before, and stand by what we have written.
In this connection the eminent Morgan Edwards writes,This was what the Presbyterians wanted in reality, as more plainly appeared soon after, particularly in a letter directed to one Thomas Reveil, of Burlington, and signed Jedediah An
History of Philadelphia, by Scharf and Westcott, Volume II. p. 1304. drews,' wherein are these words: Though we have got the Anabaptists out of the house, yet our continuance there is uncertain, and therefore must think of building, notwithstanding our poverty.
The next day the Baptists met at Anthony Morris' brew-house, under the bank and near the dock, and here continued until 1707, when by invitation of the Keithian Baptists they removed to Second street below Mulberry, where they remained until the erection of their edifice at Broad and Arch streets.
During the year 1698 they were invited by the Reverend Thomas Clayton, rector of Christ church, Philadelphia, to return to the Church of England. The lengthy reply to this invitation is an interesting and ably written paper. Mr. Watts is the first of the signers thereto, and doubtless its author.
Morgan Edwards, in his noted History of the Baptists, pronounced Mr. Watts a "sound divine." That he was a man of scholarly attainment is abundantly evidenced in his writings. He was the author of the Baptist Catechism printed in 1700, one of the earliest publications in the province. He also wrote a work entitled Davis Disabled, a reply to Jesus the Crucified Man, the Eternal Son of God, written by William Davis. The main doctrine set forth in Davis' book was
that the divine nature and human were so blended in the person of Christ, that he was not properly God, nor properly man, but a compound of both."
Davis had been a preacher among the Friends, but left this society in the separation of 1690, with George Keith, and was one of the forty-eight who signed the reasons and causes of such separation. In 1697 he embraced the principles of the Baptists and joined the Pennepek church, where he began to inculcate the above-named doctrine with great assiduity. Mr. Watts and his congregation deemed such teaching heresy, and on 17 February, 1698, expelled Mr. Davis from their church.