1680 – present
In 1689, the Piscataway Baptist Church of Shelton, Middlesex County, New Jersey was organized as an independent church. Until that time it had been a branch of the Lower Dublin Baptist Church (later called Pennepack Baptist Church) under the ministry of Elias Keach. Very little is known of the church’s early life.
History tells us that the residents of this area had emigrated from Piscataqua District in the province of Maine and that they gave the same name to the district settled by them in the province of New Jersey. In early writings we find the same name spelled two ways: Piscataway and Piscataqua.
We learn the origin and the history of Piscataway Baptist Church from the records of churches that were started in the area around her. No records exist of this church until 1781. The records were destroyed over time. It is believed that there are two reasons for the church having none of their records. First, British soldiers destroyed many records during the Revolutionary War while they were in control of New Brunswick. It is also believed a disgruntled church clerk destroyed the records.
We have learned from the history of Pennepack Baptist Church that after her first pastor Elias Keach resigned, he was very active in starting churches all around New Jersey. At that time, Pennepek claimed to be the mother of all New Jersey churches.
In his book Historical Sketch of the Lower Dublin (or Pennepek) Baptist Church, published in 1869, Horatio Jones gives the following account of the formation of the Piscataqua Baptist Church: “These, were such other Baptists as he found among the new immigrants joined the Pennepek Church, so that, at one time, all the Baptists of Pennsylvania and New Jersey were regarded as general members of this church.” We know from other readings that the church would have general meetings so that all the Baptists of the area could come to partake of the Lord’s Table and to conduct business. “As the number of baptized believers increased in places at a distance from Pennepek, it was considered best to form separate churches: and, hence, in New Jersey, the following were constituted, viz: Middletown, in the winter of 1688: Piscataqua in the spring of 1689; and Cohansey in the spring of 1690.”
The first pastor of Piscataway Baptist Church was Reverend John Drake. The Baptist History Homepage tells us this about Reverend John Drake: “Mr. Drake was ordained as pastor of the church at the time of its organization, and continued to occupy this relation til his death in 1739, a period of 50 years. Nothing definite is known of Mr. Drake’s ministry or the condition of the church during his pastorate.”
The following paragraph, taken from the website of the Shelton Baptist Church (the new name of the Piscataway Baptist Church): “…the Shelton Baptist Church is in Edison, New Jersey. It is the second oldest Baptist church in New Jersey and the tenth oldest in the United States…among its original members was the Steele family, after whom the Stelton section of Edison, New Jersey is named. Up until 1875 the church was known as the First Baptist Church of Piscataway. The land occupied by the church and cemetery was purchased in April of 1731. The first church was erected in 1748 and that building was taken down and rebuilt in 1825. This building was destroyed by fire on New Years Day; January 1, 1851…The building which took its place was destroyed in a fire in 1924. The present building was erected in 1925.”
1688 – present
We learned in our last chapter that the church at Piscataway was started out of the Pennepack Baptist Church now known as the Shelton Baptist Church. In his book America in Crimson Red, Brother Beller makes the following statement regarding the work done by Pennepack Baptist Church: “However the Baptist of America do have a place where they first steadied their ship, got their bearing, and sailed off to save souls. That place was Philadelphia.”
We now look into the history of the Pennepack Baptist Church. One of the most known Baptists in all of England was a man named Benjamin Keach. Benjamin Keach had a son, Elias Keach who has been described as “a wild scamp” who came to Pennsylvania in 1688. He came pretending to follow in his father’s footsteps. Because his father was well known in America, he was able to draw a crowd. While preaching in the town of Pennepack, he was so overcome with conviction that he immediately confessed to the crowd that he was not saved and threw himself on their mercy asking forgiveness. The crowd recommended he go talk to a pastor who was at a nearby church named Thomas Dungan. Mr. Dungan met with the young man, led him to Christ and baptized him. He immediately returned to Pennepack and continued preaching with great power and boldness. Souls were saved, people were baptized, and a church was constituted in 1688.
The Lord greatly used the church at Pennepack to evangelize the area. The Lord not only added to the church through deep-water baptism but many who came to Pennsylvania seeking religious freedom were already Baptist who had great zeal for the Lord. In his book A History of the Baptist Thomas Armitage records the following accounts of some of these people. He recorded a group from Wales. “By the good providence of God, there came certain persons out of Radnorshire, in Wales, over into tills Province of Pennsylvania, and settled in the township of Dublin, in the county of Philadelphia, namely John Eaton, George Eaton, and Jane, his wife, Samuel Jones and Sarah Eaton, who had been baptized upon confession of faith, and received into the communion of the Church of Christ meeting in the parishes of Llandewi and Nantmel, in Radnorshire.” There was also a record of a man who came from Ireland. “John Baker, who had been baptized, and a member of a congregation of baptized believers in Kilkenny.”
In their early records we also find a man who came from England, Samuel Vans.
Along with this group of mature believers and the new converts, the church evangelized and baptized so many in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that it was said that all Baptist in these areas were members of the Pennepack Baptist Church except for the members of Cold Spring Baptist Church. As the groups in these different areas of the state grew, they were organized into independent churches.
The Pennepack Baptist Church is still in existence today. At first they took turns meeting in the homes of their members. In 1707 Samuel Jones gave a plot of land to the church, and they erected their first house of worship. This was a very simple structure being only twenty-five feet square. It was enlarged to thirty by forty feet in 1774. The size increase, along with the addition of pews and a stove, made it much more comfortable for the members. The present building was built in 1805 and is still standing today. In 1885 the church moved from their location to a new meetinghouse in the Village of Bustleton under the name Lower Dublin Baptist Church. In 2006, because of decline in attendance and funds being low, the decision was made to move back to the building that was built in 1805 and revert back to the name Pennepack Baptist Church. From the inception of the church in 1688 until the present time the church has had forty pastors and three interim pastors.