The Origin and Perpetuity of the Baptists
The Baptist Examiner

Baptists Did Not Begin With John Smyth,
The Münsterites
, or Roger Williams


The author has before him two pieces of Roman Catholic literature, both of which try to establish the notion that Jesus built the Roman Catholic Church. One of the pieces ("Just One Minute Please") has a chart which marks the beginning of Baptists in the seventeenth century, John Smyth as founder.

The other piece of literature ("The Truth About Catholics") has a chart which shows Baptists beginning with Roger Williams in 1639.

A Campbellite piece of literature states that Baptists began at Münster with the "fanatical Anabaptists."

Because the three above mentioned teachings are the most popular among anti-Baptists as to Baptist history, we shall devote this chapter to showing the error of them.

John Smyth

Opponents of the Baptists claim to perpetuity from Christ often assert that Baptists originated with John Smyth in the early seventeenth century. It is erroneously said that Smyth baptized himself (and some wrongly say he sprinkled or poured for baptism) and that Baptists derived their baptism from this source.

"This perversion of the facts of history was first started by Thos. Wall for the selfsame purpose that prompts my opponent to repeat it, to injure Baptists," stated J. R. Graves in his debate with Elder Ditzler of the Methodist society (page 893). "It is wholly false," Graves declared. "The Baptists of England, when it was first made, pronounced it false—and proved it to be false—(see) Crosby, Ivemy, Evans, Kiffin."

Graves proceeds to present the following facts with regard to John Smyth and his company:

"First. John Smyth was a minister of the established Church of England."

"Second. About the year 1606, Mr. Smyth led a company of exiles-Separatists or Brownists—from England to Amsterdam, in Holland."

"Third. He here united with the English church of Brownists, under the pastorship of Mr. Ainsworth."

"Fourth. A difficulty occurred in Mr. Ainsworth's church, on account of John Smyth's opposition to infant baptism, which resulted in the exclusion of Smyth and his party from said church."

"Fifth. John Smyth and his party proceeded to administer baptism, and to the formation of a church. There is no evidence that Smyth baptized himself, but it is probable that one of his company baptized him."

"Sixth. John Smyth and a part of his company soon became dissatisfied with their rash proceedings, upon which a difficulty arose between them and the majority of the church, on account of which Smyth and his party were excluded. Thus, it appears that John Smyth was excluded from this 'Baptist church' of which he was the founder. Of this, Mr. Evans, the historian, says: 'It is admitted, on all hands, that, from some cause or other; the church over which Smyth and Helwys presided was divided, but the cause of division is not so manifest. Smyth, with some twenty-four persons, was excluded from the church, and these sought communion with one of the Mennonite churches in the city.'"

"Seventh. Mr. Smyth repudiated his own baptism and church organization as invalid, and, with his party, sought admission into one of the Mennonite churches in Amsterdam, and, was received after making the following confession: 'The names of the English who confess this their error, and repent of it, viz.: that they undertook to baptize themselves, contrary to the order appointed by Christ, and who now desire, on this account, to be brought back to the true Church of Christ as quickly as may be suffered.'"

"'We unanimously desire that this, our wish, should be signified to the church.'"

"Names of Men. —'Hugh Bromhead, Jarvase Neville, John Smyth, Thomas Canadyne, Edward Hankin, John Hardy, Thomas Pygott, Francis Pygott, Robert Stanley, Alexander Fleming, Alexander Hodgkins, John Grindall, Solomon Thompson, Samuel Holton, Thomas Dolphin.'"

"Names of Women. —'Ann Bromhead, Jane Southworth, Mary Smyth, Joan Halton, Alis Amfield, Isobel Thomson, Margaret Stanley, Mary Grindall, Mother Pygott, Alis Pygott, Margaret Pygott, Betteris Dickinson, Mary Dickinson, Ellyn Paynter, Alis Parsons, Joane Briggs, Jane Argon.'"

"The above confession may also be found in Latin, on page 244 of Evans' Early Eng. Bap. His., Vol. 1 ."

"Eighth. After Mr. Smyth and his party were 'cast out' from his own church, and confessed their error in setting up for themselves, on their humble petition, they were received into a Mennonite church, whose 'mode of baptism was by sprinkling or affusion.'"

"Ninth. Not long after this, 1610, John Smyth died in Holland. He never returned to England. He never belonged to any English Baptism church; neither did he ever belong to a legitimate Baptist Church at all."

"Tenth. The remnant of the John Smyth church left in Amsterdam, united with the Mennonite Church in 1615, and thus became extinct." (Ibid. pages 894-895) .

"John Smyth never was connected with any Baptist Church in his life, and no Baptist Church with him." (Ibid., page 845) .

So the idea that Baptists descended from Smyth is not to be accepted. Baptists had been in existence in many countries—including England (see Jarrell, chapter 23) —long years before the birth of the man.

The historian Crosby says of Smyth: "If he were guilty of what they charge him with (as to baptism), it is no blemish on the English Baptists, who neither approved of any such method, nor did they receive their baptism from him." (History of English Baptists, pages 445, 446) .

The Anabaptists of MÜNster

Some enemies of Baptist perpetuity say that Baptists originated with the "madmen of Münster," a name used of the sixteenth century Anabaptists who supposedly caused great disturbances in that city, according to some Protestant historians.

Graves, in his debate with Ditzler, clearly answers this historical error (see Pages 890-893) .

It is a well established and notorious fact of history that the "Münsterites" were sprinklers, and not Baptists, they were Protestants. They had followed Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli out of Rome, and broke away from their influence and ran into fanaticism and excesses of all sorts. Was this the origin of the Baptists—were these my ancestors, or those of my opponents? Mosheim the Lutheran, whose history is published by the M. E. church, says:

"The true origin of that sect which acquired the name of Anabaptists by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites from that famous man to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, IS HID IN THE REMOTE DEPTHS OF ANTIQUITY, and is consequently, extremely difficult to be ascertained." —Vol. iv. p. 427.

Have the Baptists of America and England any connection with the sprinkling Anabaptists of Germany? Merle D'Aubigne, the distinguished author of the History of the Reformation, says:

"On one point it; seems necessary to guard against misapprehension. Some persons imagine that the Anabaptists of the times of the reformation and the Baptists of our day are the same. But they are as different as possible."

To this testimony we add that of Fessenden. In his Encyclopedia quoted with approbation by D'Aubigne, he says:

"ANABAPTISTS. —The English and Dutch Baptists do not consider the word as at all applicable to their sect. It is but justice to observe that the Baptists of Holland, England and the United States are to be held essentially distinct from those seditious and fanatical individuals above mentioned, as they profess an equal aversion to all principles of rebellion of the one, and enthusiasm of the other." —Pref. to Ref. p. 10.

Dr. Barnas Sears, late President of Brown University, has recently contributed an article upon the History of the German Anabaptists of the sixteenth century and has proved to the world that the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century were the veritable followers of the Zwickau prophets, and originated in the year 1522, were Protestants and sprinklers and not Baptists. He says:

"It should be remembered that THIS sect appeared at first not under the name of Anabaptists, but of the Zwickau Prophets, and that for several years those in Germany with whom Luther and Melanchthon were concerned, cared little about baptism in any way, and did not practice differently from the church. Of Munzer, the leader of the Anabaptists, Scidemann his latest and most critical biographer says: Oecolampadius says that Munzer visited him in Basle, near the beginning of 1521, which was about three years after the Zwickau party was formed. Oecolampadius asked him how he administered baptism, to which he replied, 'I baptize publicly, once in two or three months, all the children of the parish that are born during this interval.' Both Fussli and Schreiber says that Munzer never rebaptized any person. The first instance of rebaptism, say they, occurred near Zurich in 1524.

"In 1521 and 1522, Stork, Munzer and others broached the Anabaptist doctrines in Wittenberg, Zwickau, and other places in Saxony. But, as 1 have said, none of them at that time went farther than to discuss the theory of infant baptism, and that was quite incidental as relating to a mere subordinate question. They did not rebaptize adults. The first rebaptism by the Anabaptists of this period did not take place in Germany, but in Switzerland; and was not performed by the disciples of Luther, but by those of Zwingli; and not in the year 1521, but in 1524.

"Conrad Grebel, in a secret assembly in Zurich, baptized Gorge Blaurock in the spring of 1524. The original account runs substantially thus; 'Blaurock arose in the assembly and in an ecstatic state threw himself prostate upon the floor. When he came out of that state, he said it was the will of God (as revealed to him) that they should, without delay, be rebaptized by Grebel. Then he in turn baptized the rest.' This is the first definite account we have of rebaptism by this sect." See "The Baptist," v. 9, p. 123.


Let this fact be remembered and used in repelling the charge of Elder Ditzler.

I conclude with an article from the New American Cyclopedia "Art. Anabaptists":

"There was another class of Anabaptists, widely different from those who have been described (the Münster men). In some instances, undoubtedly, when the former class fell back upon their purely spiritual views, the two parties coalesced. Brandt refers to on instance in which the moderate were brought into difficulty by being found in such association with the fanatical. The distinction, however, is real, and may be traced. It is a mistake to suppose that the rejection of infant baptism during the reformation, was found among the unlearned only. Melanchthon, Zwingli and Oecolampadius were all troubled by the questions which arose respecting the adjustment of this rite to the personal faith required by Protestantism.

"Some of those who became leaders of the Anabaptists were the associates and equals of these reformers. Mantz, Grebel and Hubmeyer were men of learning, the lost of great genius and eloquence. Mantz had been the friend and fellow-student of Zwingli, and was on early martyr in the cause of the Anabaptists, Zwingli himself pronouncing the sentence in the words 'Qui iterarn mergit mergatur.' The persecution of such men and their followers in Switzerland, shocked the moderate of all parties. In expressing his views of this persecution, Erasmus pays a tribute to the character of the sufferers in these words: 'A people against whom there is very little to be said, and concerning whom we are assured there are many who have been reformed from the worst to the best lives; and though, perhaps, they may foolishly err in certain opinions, yet have they never stormed towns nor churches, nor entered into any combinations against the authority of the magistrate, nor driven anybody from his government or estate.'

"These people, so persecuted, demanded a church composed of spiritual persons, introduced into it by a voluntary baptism. They demanded likewise the separation of the church from the state, and the non-interference of the magistrate in matters of religion.

"Anabaptists of the same class were found in the Netherlands in large numbers. The records of their sufferings, their martyrs multiplied by thousands, furnishes a melancholy and affecting chapter in human history. William of Orange, founder of the Dutch republic, was sustained in the gloomiest hours of his struggles by their sympathy and aid, and has left his testimony to their loyalty, industry and virtue. That great Prince, however importuned, steadfastly refused to persecute them.

"The same class were found in England during the reign of Edward VI; and Burnet declares that not books, but flames, were used in reply to their arguments. Simon Menno, born at the close of the fifteenth, or, as some say, at the commencement of the sixteenth century, educated for the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, and converted in the prime of manhood to the faith of the Anabaptists, became their chief leader, and the instrument of their organization into a recognized body of Protestant Christians. Menno disavowed for himself and his brethren any connection whatever with the fanatics of Münster, though it is not impossible that some of the more rational of the furious party were won by him to great sobriety of views, and to peaceful lives. Mennonites and Anabaptists have from his time been interchangeable terms, and the communities so called have descended to the present time. Even while he lived, however; they became separated into two great divisions the 'Fire' and the 'Gross,' the former claiming a more strict adherence to the austerity of the older Anabaptists, and the latter relaxing into closer resemblance to Protestants generally."

John T. Christian says of the matter:

"It may be concluded that Münzer was a follower and friend of Luther; he practiced infant baptism to the close of his life; he was never in the practice of Anabaptism; he was opposed by the Baptist leaders; held doctrinal views radically different from the Baptists on the use of the sword; and he was never intimately associated with the Baptists.

"All parties seem anxious to rid themselves of the responsibility of the Münster affair. The Roman Catholics charge the Lutherans with the disturbances, and the Lutherans in return lay all the blame on the Anabaptists. It suited the purposes of each party to make the account of the disturbances as horrible as possible. This is only one more instance of how the dominant class of every age writes history in its own interest, and how it has hitherto succeeded not only in imposing its views on the average intelligence of its own time, but in passing it down to the second-hand historians of subsequent ages (Bax Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists, 173) . The accounts given by the enemies of a party, are to be received with caution. This is doubly true in this instance, since the Lutherans were trying to shield themselves from the Roman Catholics, and were endeavoring to lay the blame on the Anabaptists. The Lutherans became the historians, and they wrote what they pleased, and there was no one to correct them." (A History of The Baptists, pages 157-158).

Roger Williams

In the book, The First Baptist Church in America Not Founded by Roger Williams, by Graves and Adlam, it is revealed that the popular idea that Roger Williams founded the first Baptist Church on this continent rests solely upon an unreliable historical compilation made by John Stanford, nearly one hundred and fifty years after the Williams church was supposedly organized. The sources of Stanford's compilation are shown to be not at all reliable.

On page 31 of this book, Mr. Caldwell, pastor of the Providence church for many years, is quoted as saying: "No records before the coming of Manning, in fact, prior to 1775, have been preserved. They may have departed with Winsor and his church, and disappeared, we know not where. One hundred and fifty years of the story now told has had to be taken wherever it could be found, tend not from any records preserved and authenticated by the church itself."

David Benedict, the Baptist historian who stated that he "did not go beyond the church records" with regard to the history of the Providence church said, before he died, "The more I study on this subject, the more I am unsettled and confused." (History of Baptists, page 443).

Caldwell, on April 28 of 1889, stated: "We celebrate, after all, an Unknown Day. There is no Record of the Exact Date of our Beginnings." (Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Address).

The truth of the matter is given by J. R. Graves on pages 120-124 of his little work, Trilemma; or, Death by Three Horns:

The facts are, that Roger Williams never was a member, much less a minister, of any Baptist Church in England or America. He was converted to, and advocated, their views of baptism and civil and religious liberty. It is true that he immersed Ezekiel Holliman, who, in turn, baptized him; and he again, ten or eleven others; and so formed a society: but he continued with it only four months, when he repudiated what he had done, and his society soon, came to nothing. Cotton Mather, the contemporary of Williams, a distinguished Pedobaptist Puritan minister, (see Mather's History,) said it soon came to nothing.

It can not be shown that any Baptist Church sprang from Williams' affair.

Nor can it be proved that the baptism of any Baptist minister came from Williams' hands.

The oldest Baptist Church in America is the one now existing, with her original articles of faith, in Newport, R.I., and she was planted by Dr. John Clark before Williams was baptized. He received his baptism in Elder Stillwell's Church in London, and that Church received hers from the Dutch Baptists of Holland, sending over a minister to be baptized by them. These Baptists descended from the Waldenses, whose historical line reaches far back and connects with the Donatists, and theirs to the Apostolical Churches.

A writer in the Christian Review condenses the facts of history into the following eleven statements, which can be confidently relied upon:

"l. Roger Williams was baptized by Ezekiel Holliman, March, 1639, and immediately after, he baptized Mr. Holliman and ten others.

"2. These formed a Church, or Society, of which Roger Williams was the pastor.

"3. Four months after his baptism, that is, in July following, Williams left the Church, and never afterward returned to it. As his doubts respecting baptism and the perpetuity of the Church, which led to this step, must have commenced soon after his baptism, it is not likely that he baptized any others.

"4. The Church which Williams formed, 'Came to nothing,' or was dissolved soon after he left it.

"5. It was reorganized, or another was formed a few days afterward, under Mr. Thomas Olney as its pastor, who was one of the eleven baptized by Roger Williams. Olney continued to be the pastor of this Church until his death, in 1682, somewhat over 30 years.

"6. In 1653 or '54, which was a few years after the formation of Olney's Church, there was a division in that Church on the question of 'laying on of hands' in the reception of members, and a separate Church was formed for the maintenance of this ceremony, under the pastorship of Chad Browne, Wickenden, and Dexter. This Church was perpetuated, having, in 1808, given up its original faith as to the laying on of hands, and is now the First Baptist Church in Providence.

"7. The parent Church, under Olney, gradually dwindled away, and became extinct about the year 1718, some seventy years from its origin.

"8. No Church was formed from Olney's after the division already mentioned, and no ministers are known to have gone out from it. Olney's baptism, whether valid or invalid, was not propagated.

"9. Nearly a century passed before the Church formed from Olney's began to colonize, in, 1730.

"10. None of its ministers, or the ministers of the Churches formed from it, received their baptism from Williams, or from any one whose baptism descended from his.

"11. The Baptist Churches of America, then, could not have descended from Roger Williams, or from the temporary society which he formed. Their true descent is from the Baptist Churches of Wales and Piedmont, extending back to the apostles' times."

The first Baptist Church in America was the one pastored by John Clarke and was organized in Newport, R. I., in 1638.

S. H. Ford, in vindication of this great man, John Clarke, and the Newport Church, wrote:

But historic facts proven beyond doubt that Roger Williams was not the founder of the Providence Church, and further, that the church he established, and which crumbled to pieces four months after it was gathered, was not the first church in America. It is recorded in the minutes of the Philadelphia Association, when the first Church in Newport was one hundred years old in 1738, Mr. John Callender, their minister, delivered and published a sermon on the occasion.

Williams, indeed, touched the Baptist standard, but ere he raised it, his hand trembled, and it fell. It was seized by a steadier hand; at Newport it was raised, and far and near they came to it; it was carried into the heart of Massachusetts, and a work was commenced which till the last setting of the sun, shall never cease; and this, before we have any evidence that a church in Providence had begun to be.

Among the evils that have resulted from the wrong date of the Providence Church, has been the prominence given to Roger Williams. It is greatly to be regretted, that it ever entered into the mind of any one to make him, in America, the founder of our denomination. In no sense was he so. Well would it be for Baptists, and for Williams himself, could his short and fitful attempt to become a Baptist be obliterated from the minds of men. A man only four months a Baptist, and then renouncing his baptism forever, to be lauded and magnified as the founder of the Baptist denomination in the New World! As a leader in civil and religious liberty, I do him homage; as a Baptist, I owe him nothing.

There is another name; long, too long concealed, by Williams being placed before him, who will in after times be regarded with unmingled affection and respect, as the true founder of the Baptist cause in this country. That orb of purest luster will yet shine forth, and Baptists, whether they regarded his spotless character, his talents, his learning, the services he rendered, the urbanity and the modesty that distinguished him, will mention John Clarke as the real founder of our denomination in America. And when Baptist history is better understood than it is at present, every one, pointing to that venerable church which, on one of earth's loveliest spots he established, will say, "This is the mother of us all!"

But in Virginia were Baptists ere Rhode Island had its charter; in Massachusetts were Baptist congregations before Williams was baptized. In the language of the legislative act already cited, "since our coming to New England," before Roger Williams saw it, "divers of this kind"—Baptists, pleading for soul-liberty and Christian immersion trod these shores of the New World, stained or hallowed by their blood. "Some of the first planters in New England were Baptists." This is the language of Dr. Mather, their bitter foe who lived in that persecuting age; and his language, corroborated as it is by colonial laws and documents still extant, is conclusive.

Here, then, closes our first milestone up the blood-stained path which Baptists have been forced to travel. Here we look on the bleak, wild forests of New England and Virginia, as this mighty nation was lifting its mountain summits into the morning mists of historic light. And here, before Williams lived, or Clarke or Holmes suffered and bled, we have found these Baptists.

We subjoin the epitaph of this noble man of God, whose memory should be held in vivid and grateful recollection by every lover of truth and freedom.

To the Memory of

One of the original purchasers and proprietors of
this island, and one of the founders of the
First Baptist Church in Newport,
its first pastor and munificent benefactor;
He was a native of Bedfordshire, England,
and a practitioner of physic in London.
He, with his associates, came to this island from Mass.,
in March, 1638, O. S., and on the 24th
of the same month obtained a deed thereof from
the Indians. He shortly after gathered
the Church aforesaid, and became its pastor.
In 1651, he, with Roger Williams, was sent to England,
by the people of Rhode Island Colony,
to negotiate the business of the Colony with the
British ministry: Mr. Clarke was instrumental
in obtaining the Charter of 1663 from Charles II, which
secured to the people of the State free and
full enjoyment of judgment and conscience in matters
of religion. He remained in England
to watch over the interests of the Colony until 1664,
and then returned to Newport and
resumed the pastoral care of his Church.
Mr. Clarke and Mr. Williams, two fathers of the Colony,
strenuously and fearlessly maintained that
none but Jesus Christ had authority
over the affairs of conscience. He died
April 20, 1676, in the 66th year
of his age, and is here interred.

J. M Carroll states: "In the year 1651 (?) Roger Williams and John Clarke were sent by the colony to England to secure, if possible, legal permission to establish their colony. When they reached England, Oliver Cromwell was in charge of the government, but for some reason he failed to grant their request. Roger Williams returned home to America. John Clarke remained in England to continue to press his plea. Year after year went by, Clarke continued to remain. Finally Cromwell lost his position and Charles II sat upon the throne of England. While Charles is regarded in history as one of the bitterest of persecutors of Christians, he finally, in 1663, granted that charter. So Clarke, after 12 long years of waiting returned home with that charter. So in 1663, the Rhode Island colony became a real legal institution, and the Baptists could write their own constitution." —The Trail of Blood, page 42.