Cold Spring Baptist Church
1684 - 1702
In the history of Pennepack we saw that Elias Keach was led to the Lord and baptized by Thomas Dungan of the Cold Spring Baptist Church. Cold Spring Baptist Church was located on a farm owned by the Dungan family. On this farm was a spring that supplied water for the family and neighbors all around. It is believed that the area derived its name from that cold spring. The present day spring is pictured on the left. As far as history can tell, the church never met in a meetinghouse built for the purpose of church services. It is believed that the church met in the Dungan log cabin or in the barn.
The first and only pastor of the church was a man named Thomas Dungan. Local records of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, show that Thomas Dungan’s son, William, came to Cold Spring in 1683. The father came the next year and settled on a two hundred acre grant of land received from William Penn. It was almost all wilderness at that time. We know from history Thomas Dungan had fled to America from Ireland because of the persecution of the Baptist. When arriving in America he joined himself to the First Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island, where John Clarke was the pastor. We find the following in a book, The Historical Sketch of the First Baptist Church, Newport, Rhode Island written in 1876, by C.E. Barrows, who at that time was pastor of the church: “The first Baptist minister in the Province ‘now the state of Pennsylvania’, was Thomas Dungan, who was dismissed from this church and went to Cold Spring, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about the year 1684.”
Cold Spring Baptist Church, a church started out of First Baptist Church, Rhode Island, was short lived yet had a great impact on history. Thomas Dungan died in 1688 and Cold Spring Baptist Church dissolved in 1702 when many of the remaining members joined the Piscataway Baptist Church. Cold Spring Baptist Church left a legacy. She gave birth to Pennepack Baptist Church, which became known as the mother of all Baptist churches in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania.
First Baptist Church
1638/1644 – present
“I will either make them of conform, or I will harry them out of my kingdom.” King James I of England spoke these words with deep conviction. He ruled over England from 1603 until 1625. King James I believed strongly in the Divine Rights of Kings, and believed in the use of force for defense of those rights. Though the Lord did use him in giving to us the King James Bible in the English language, he was not a friend to those who would challenge his authority in religious matters. For this reason many fled to Holland where they found the surroundings in the Netherlands were not favorable to them. Their writings tell us they found the language harsh, the weather undesirable and their environments were not satisfactory in many ways. So they came to America and settled at Plymouth. In 1630 many Puritans (Puritans were not looking for religious freedom for others but desired to purify the Church of England) fled England to come to America and settled in Boston, founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Such were the conditions into which John Clarke was born. In a book written by Wilbur Nelson, The Life of John Clarke, we find the following statement: “John Clarke was born at Westhorpe, Suffolk County, England, October 8, 1609. His father’s name was Thomas Clarke. His mother’s maiden name was Rose Kerrich. He was one of eight children, six of who came to America and settled in different parts of New England.”
There seems to be very few records of the early life of John Clarke. As time continues on history continues to reveal glimpses into his early life. We know by his writing and his skill as a doctor that he received a formal education. Records show that he graduated from the University of Lyden in Holland. We know he came to America in 1637 along with his wife Elizabeth. Upon their arrival he used his skills as a physician to minister to the needs of the people. Soon after his arrival in Boston the “magistrates law” was passed and people could only worship in approved churches. The Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island, lists the following accomplishments of John Clarke during his lifetime.
“Physician, minister, statesman and pioneer of religious liberty, he was one of the cofounders who purchased this island from the Indians on March 24, 1638, he signed the agreement on April 28, 1638, thus marking the establishment of Newport….
“Dr. Clarke was responsible for the first written constitution guaranteeing the right to religious freedom as the author of the Charter of Rhode Island of 1633; he secured it with the signature and the seal of King Charles II on July 8, 1663. It stipulated that this colony would be known as ‘The Colony of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations’…
“On April 20,1676, the day Dr. John Clarke died, he wrote his will which, in part, asked that a trust be created for educational purposes…
“Currently, the John Clarke Trust is the oldest educational fund in the U.S. The original document has been preserved by the Newport Historical Society.”
The First Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island, was the first Baptist church in America started between 1638 and 1644. We know that it existed in infancy stage in 1638. In the winter of 1638 John Clarke, his family and eighteen other families began their travels in search of religious freedom. This group left Boston where they were persecuted for their Baptist faith and traveled to New Hampshire where they found the freedom they desired. There is no written record of church services being held here, it is hard to accept that those who were fleeing persecution for their faith would neglect the command found in Hebrew 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Upon their arrival in New Hampshire they soon realized the winters were too severe for them to survive; therefore in the middle of the winter they were once again on the move. This time they moved southward and then into the Narragansett Bay where they lodged with the sympathetic Rodger Williams. At this time is when they decided to come to rest on the island of Aquetneck.
There are many historians and the website of United John Clarke Memorial Baptist Church (New name of First Baptist Church of Newport) who date the founding of the First Baptist Church while they were in Portsmouth in 1638. The date of their founding will always be a question. We do know that there were no records of any other Baptist church at this time. There are many who lay claim that Rodger Williams started the first Baptist church in America. We know Rodger Williams leaned toward Baptist tendencies he had learned over time and that he started his church by allowing Ezekiel Holliman to administer baptism to him. He in turn baptized Ezekiel Holman. This is not the pattern set forth in the New Testament. After watching a baptism administered by John Clarke, he said he believed it was the closet thing to scriptural baptism he had seen.
John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes pastored the church until the death of John Clarke on April 20, 1676.
As the colony grew, the influential John Clarke was very active in civil government. He traveled several times for long lengths of stay to England. During his absences from the church, Obadiah Holmes pastored the church. After the death of John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes pastored until his death in 1681. In his last will and testament, John Clarke left his land on Tanner Street (now Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard) for the use of the church as a burial ground. There are many pastors who are buried there; Dr. Clarke, John Calendar, and Michael Eddy are among those buried there. In 1707, the first meetinghouse in Newport at Green End was sold and another built on land on Tanner Street, given to the church by John Clarke. The church on Tanner Street was sold, and in 1737, Hezekiah Carpenter and Josiah Lyons donated land on Spring Street to the church. A building was erected on this site the following year. In 1771 plans were made and the building was enlarged.
“In 1778, this building was occupied by British troops. The structure was moved to front on Sherman Street in 1846, and was eventually demolished in 1929.” In 1846, the present building of the United Baptist Church was built on the Spring Street site. Until 1946, it was known as the First Baptist Church (John Clarke Memorial).
On one of John Clarke’s trips to England there was a division in the church. Twenty-one members left and formed the Second Baptist Church. In 1847 there was a division in the Second Baptist Church. Forty-three members left and started the Central Baptist Church. Then in 1906, the Central Baptist Church consolidated with the Second Baptist Church. On May 2, 1946, the First and Second Baptist Churches voted to unite into a single church. The new congregation was called the United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial.