Isaac Backus, Champion of Separation of Church and Government

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The old site of the Norwichtown Congregaonal Church, once located on top of Meeng House Rocks, west of the present day Meeng House locaon across from the green.
Isaac Backus was born January 9, 1724 in the village of Yantic, part of the settlement of Norwich, located in the colony of Connecticut. The son of Samuel and Elizabeth Backus, both members of the Congregational Church which is today located on the green in Norwichtown, Isaac was raised in this church. In an autobiography written late in his life, Isaac recalls that on August 24, 1741, he had “come to experience personal salvation in Christ at age 18” while plowing a field on his parent’s farm.
Engraving of Isaac Backus from the late 1700’s
Initially joining the Congregational Church in Norwichtown after this experience, he became disillusioned and left, along with a number of others, to form a separatist church. About this same time, remember, the Great Awakening was taking place, spearheaded by George Whitefield (from England) and Jonathan Edwards (originally from East Windsor, CT) causing many Congregational churches to split into New Light and Old Light camps.

In 1746 Isaac made the decision to answer the call to become a pastor, his first sermon preached Sept. 28, 1746. He began preaching throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. He was called in 1747 to Middleborough, Massachusetts and there was ordained in 1748 as the pastor of the separatist North Congregational Church. This church congregation tried to be peacefully dismissed from the Congregational church by an ecclesiastical council but this was not allowed, and as an ultimate result, withdrew. The members of this separatist church continued to be taxed to support the state sponsored Congregational church. The issue of believer’s baptism within this church caused some members to become Baptists and they received an exemption from the state tax.

Home of Rev. Isaac Backus in Middleborough, MA
In August 1751, Elder Pierce of Warwick, RI, baptized Isaac Backus by immersion. On January 16, 1756, Isaac, along with several others met in his home and decided to organize a church called the Baptist Church of Christ in Middleborough, Bridgewater and Raynham. This split from the Congregational Church was based on his conviction that baptism is for those have a made personal decision to give their lives to Jesus Christ and profess their faith with Baptism by immersion. On June 23, 1756, Isaac was ordained pastor of this new church and within a year, a new meeting house was constructed. Rev. Isaac Backus remained pastor of this church to the end of his life.
In 1772, Rev. Backus was chosen as an agent for the Warren Association of Baptist Churches in Massachusetts and in 1774 travelled by horseback to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Here he attempted to persuade the delegates to the First Congress on the importance of religious freedom, but failed initially to prove his cause. He championed the cause for greater religious liberty and became one of the leading spokesmen espousing that there be no connection between Church and State. He published a number of his sermons including one in 1778 titled “Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed”.
For thirty-four years he held the position of an elected trustee of Brown University beginning in 1765. In 1789, Rev. Backus made another horseback trip visiting Virginia and North Carolina for six months to strengthen the churches in the area, reaching 126 sermons along the way.

Mr. Backus continued his duties as a pastor to within a short time of his death, which occurred Nov. 20, 1806. His grave is located in the Titicut Paris Cemetery in Middleborough, MA.