"It is a little-known fact that it was a Baptist, John Brown of Rhode Island, who is said to have begun the Revolutionary War."
Baptists and the American Revolution
With fond memories, every worthy American treasures the last words of Nathan Hale, when he said on September 22, 1776, ?I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.? During the American Revolutionary War, only one Baptist preacher was known as a British sympathizer. That one man was Morgan Edwards, who had come to America from Great Britain. Undoubtedly his loyalty wavered due to the fact that he had a son who was an officer in the British military. In the brief biography of 3,200 Tories, given by Sabine in his History of American Loyalists, forty-six clergymen of one denomination, six of another, and three of another are listed, but only one Baptist pastor is mentioned, the Reverend Morgan Edwards.1
Following the Revolutionary War, the Committee of the Virginia Baptist Churches received a glorious tribute from the commander in chief, President George Washington. The tribute reads, ?I recollect, with satisfaction that the religious society of which you are a member has been unanimously the firm friends of civil liberty and the persevering promoters of our glorious Revolution. I cannot hesitate to believe that they will be faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government.?2
Writing to the Baptist church of Buck Mountain, Albermarle County, Virginia, at his retirement from the presidency of our young republic, President Thomas Jefferson wrote, ?I thank you, my friends and neighbors, for your kind congratulations on my return to my native home and on the opportunities it will give me of enjoying amidst your affections the comforts of retirement and rest. . . . We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution, and we have contributed, each in a line allotted us, our endeavors to render its issue a permanent blessing to our country.?3
We reflect with pleasure that on May 4, 1776, two months before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Rhode Island, the strongly Baptist state, repudiated every form of allegiance to King George III. In the first volume of this work, mention was made of the fact that Baptist pastors were among the first and foremost to volunteer to serve the American troops as chaplains in the great war of freedom.4
It is a little-known fact that it was a Baptist, John Brown of Rhode Island, who is said to have begun the Revolutionary War. John Brown was a brother of the better known Nicholas Brown, after whom Brown University was named. Every friend of liberty should revere the name of John Brown.
Mr. John Brown was the owner of twenty ships, and every one of them could have been seized at any time by the British navy. In 1772 a British armed schooner called the Gaspee entered Narragansett Bay to carry out orders from the British commissioners of custom in Boston, with a view to prevent violations of the revenue laws. The Gaspee had been a continual annoyance to the various ship owners as she interfered with htier business. On June 9, 1772, the Gaspee ran aground on the Namquit below Pawtuxet. Hearing the report, Mr. Brown immediately ordered eight large boats manned by sixty-four of his armed men to be placed in the charge of Captain Abraham Whipple. About 2:00 A.M., Mr. Brown and his ships approached the Gaspee. Two shots were exchanged, one of which wounded Lieutenant Duddingston. That was actually the first British blood to be shed in the great War of Independence. The crew and officers left the Gaspee quickly, and Captain Whipple blew up the ship. John Brown was the last man on board before explosives on the ship were detonated.
In Bartlett?s Colonial Records, during four years from the beginning of 1776, Brown?s name occurs in ?important committees and in connection with various public services twenty-six times.? Bartlett mentioned John Brown more than any other person in his volume.5
America owes much to the memory of brave, generous patriots such as John Brown the Baptist!
This Day in Baptist History II by David L. Cummins and E. Wayne Thompson
1 William Cathcart, Baptist Patriots and the American Revolution (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Guardian Press, 1976), pp. 70-71.
2 Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (New York: Bryan, Taylor and Co., 1890), 2:807.
3 Cathcart, pp. 64-65.
4 E. Wayne Thompson and David L. Cummins, This Day in Baptist History (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1993), p. 177.
5 Cathcart, p. 60-61.