Central Baptist Church of Southington Connecticut


Church Planters You Should Know - Part 1: Shubal Stearns

  • Jim Townsley
  • Jul 7, 2014
Colonial America experienced a great revival which included Baptist church planting. One of the first notable Baptist preachers was Dr. John Clarke of Boston. Also, another man of great influence was Obadiah Holmes who was whipped at Boston Common for preaching the gospel. These men among other Baptists refused to pay the clergy tax to the state sanctioned Congregational church. As a result of the puritan persecution many Baptists moved to Rhode Island to find reprieve.
           One of the families that moved to Rhode Island was the Wightman family. In 1705 their son, Valentine Wightman, moved from Rhode Island to Groton, Connecticut where he established the first Baptist Church in that state. Valentine Wightman was a grandson of Edward Wightman, the last man burned at the stake in England in 1612. Wightman pastored in Groton for 42 years and was succeeded by his son, Timothy Wightman, who was succeeded by his son, John Gano Wightman. These three Wightman men continuously pastored this church for nearly 125 years. In 1743 Valentine Wightman and his church began a mission church at North Stonington Connecticut. Waitt Palmer was the first pastor. Valentine Wightman also started a church in New York.
          Shubal Stearns was born in Boston on January 28, 1706. His family moved to Tolland, Connecticut, where they were members of the Congregational church. In 1745 Shubal Stearns was converted under the preaching of George Whitefield. Soon he withdrew from his church and sought baptism at the hands of Waitt Palmer. By March, Shubal Stearns was ordained into the Baptist ministry by Wait Palmer. His church of "Separates", by becoming Baptists, were from then on to be known as the Separate Baptists. Little did anyone know at the time the great sphere of influence this man's ministry would have.
        In 1754, Stearns and some of his followers moved south to Opequon, Virginia, at that time on the western frontier. Here he joined Daniel Marshall and wife Martha (Stearns' sister), who were already active in a Baptist church there.
            On November 22, 1755, Stearns and his party moved further south to Sandy Creek, in Guilford County, North Carolinato build a new church. This party consisted of eight men and their wives, mostly relatives of Stearns. He pastored at Sandy Creek until his death. From there, Separate Baptists spread in the South. The church quickly grew from 16 members to 606. Church members moved to other areas and started other churches.
          The Sandy Creek Association was formed in 1758. Morgan Edwards, a Baptist minister who visited Sandy Creek the year after Stearns' death, recorded that, "in 17 years, [Sandy Creek] has spread its branches westward as far as the great river Mississippi; southward as far as Georgia; eastward to the sea and Chesapeake  Bay; and northward to the waters of the Potomac; it, in 17 years, is become mother, to 42 churches, from which sprang 125 ministers." Within 50 years it had 1000 daughter churches. Based on the testimony of those who remembered him, Edwards described Stearns as fervent and charismatic preacher who was capable of inspiring the most powerful emotions in his congregation. His voice was musical and strong, which he managed in such a manner as, one while, to make soft impressions on the heart, and fetch tears from the eyes in a mechanical way; and anon, to shake the very nerves and throw the animal system into tumults and perturbations. His character was indisputably good, both as a man, a Christian and a preacher." 
            On his monument at Sandy Creek are the words: On this site in November-December 1755 Rev. Shubal Stearns, his wife, and those who came with him, seven other families, sixteen souls in all, built their first meeting house where they administered the Lord's supper. "It is a mother church, nay a grandmother and a great grandmother. All the Separate Baptists sprang hence: not only eastward towards the sea, but westward towards the great river Mississippi, but northward to Virginia and southward to South Carolina and Georgia. The Word went forth from this Sion. And great was the company of them who published it in so much that her converts were as drops of morning dew."