We know from history that there were three attempts to start a Baptist church in New York. The first attempt to plant a church was made in the year 1709 by a Baptist minister from Rhode Island by the name of Wickenden. We know two things about the ministry of Wickenden. First is that he preached in New York for about two years with no apparent success from a human standpoint. We also know he stood firm on the principle of freedom of conscience and suffered for his stand. In 1712, he was imprisoned for three months for preaching the gospel message without a license.
Mr. Whitman from Connecticut came to New York in 1712 and preached until 1715. During that time the work grew with several professions of faith, baptisms and at least one man named Mr. Ayres, surrendering to preach the Gospel. In 1724 the group of people soon organized into a church. Their first official act was to call Mr. Ayres as their pastor. He remained pastor until 1731 when he moved to Newport, Rhode Island. Shortly after this, the church went through hard times and ceased to exist.
The third and lasting work was the First Baptist Church, New York City. This work originated in 1745, when Jeremiah Dodge, a member of the Fishkill Baptist Church, moved to New York and opened his house for public worship. According to an article written by S. H. Cone, 1846 "Elder, Benjamin Miller, of New Jersey, preached here in that year, and baptized Joseph Meeks, who continued to be a very valuable member of the First Church until the 6th of October, 1782, when he died, aged 73 years. Robert North, and a few others who had belonged to the Arminian Church, having learned the way of the Lord more perfectly, now united with brethren Dodge and Meeks to sustain the Baptist cause. Mr. John Pine, a Licentiate of the Fishkill Church, preached for them until l750, when he died.” In 1753 the mission work decided to become a branch of Scotch Plains Baptist Church, New Jersey. Benjamin Miller had first preached in the mission work in the home of Jeremiah Dodge and baptized their first converts. The Lord blessed the mission work and it grew under the preaching of Benjamin Miller. On March 14, 1760, the mission was able to begin meeting in a church house they had built. The church then called a friend of Benjamin Miller to be their pastor, Brother John Gano, pastor of Morristown Church, New Jersey. He agreed to the call if they would give him liberty to fulfill previous commitments, which they did.
On June 19, 1762, the records show "twenty-seven members of Scotch Plains, having received previously letters of dismission, were publicly recognized as an independent Gospel Church. Brethren Miller and Gano conducted the religious exercises upon this interesting occasion; the latter was received into the fellowship of the Church, the same day upon the credit of his letter of dismission from the Yadkin Church, and entered immediately upon his pastoral charge. Many flocked together to hear him preach Christ crucified; in two or three years, the number of members exceeded two hundred; the meeting house was considerably enlarged, so as to measure fifty-two feet by forty two, and was then too small for the congregation."
The records of Scotch Plains Baptist Church show the following to be the charter membership of First Baptist Church New York: John Carman, Jeremiah Dodge, Andrew Thompson, Samuel Edmonds, John Degray, Elias Balis, Jos. Meeks, Wm. Colegrove, Samuel Dodge, Catherine Degray, Mary Stillwell, Hannah Hayton, Hannah French, Mary Murphy, Margaret Dodge, Sarah Meeks, Sarah Thompson, Jane Calwell, Mary Edmonds, Susannah Mires, Ruth Perine, Mary Smith, Eliza VanDike, Mary Simmons, Rachel Williams, and Catherine Leonard, who had received letters of dismission for the purpose from this church organized the first regular Baptist church of New York City.
The First Baptist Church of New York has a very interesting history. Here are a few interesting facts taken from their web page. “The British occupation of the city during the Revolutionary War nearly destroyed the church. Because the pastor and many of its members had joined the Revolution, the British used the building as a horse stable. Gano served as chaplain to Colonel Webb, General Clinton and later General Washington. The present building is located on the site of the ambush of Gano’s regiment as they fled after defeats on Long Island to join Washington. When the Treaty of Peace celebration took place in Newburgh, Washington called on Gano to offer the prayer of thanksgiving. Washington also requested Gano to baptize him because he had studied the Scriptures and concluded that as a believer he should be immersed.”
On his return to the city, Gano found thirty-seven members. They immediately restored the church building, and within a few years had grown back to two hundred members. Gano left for Kentucky in 1788 because the government offered the former soldiers land of the frontier. There he started several Baptist churches. Gano was also a founder of the Baptist Brown University in Rhode Island.
“In 1802 the church had to tear down its building and built a new stone structure on Gold Street. Under the leadership of Dr. Spencer Cone, the church relocated in 1842 to Elizabeth and Broome St., a gothic structure still used as a church today. The church began to outgrow that facility, and, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Anderson, moved to the corner of 39th Street and Park Avenue. A magnificent gothic brown stone building was constructed, along with a separate Bible School building.
“Six years after the arrival of Dr. I. M. Haldeman as pastor, the church relocated to its present facility. With a growing congregation, and many moving to the Upper West Side, this site at 79th Street and Broadway seemed more favorable. Haldeman was also assured by the city that a subway station would be located at our corner.
“Altogether, 19 pastors have served the church. Two were noted as chaplains of the U.S. Congress. Two served as college presidents. Two founded colleges. Together they have written over 300 books. Many have served in leadership roles of our Baptist denomination and other Christian associations. All have held to the fundamental truths of the Word of God."