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Brief History of Connecticut Baptists

The first Baptist churches formed in America appeared in Providence (1638) and Newport (1644), Rhode Island. There were nine Baptist churches in the colonies in 1700, but not one was in Connecticut because it had a “Standing Order” church which was supported by taxes, so all residents were required to attend and support the local parish church. Meanwhile Rhode Island had obtained a Royal Charter from the King of England in 1663 which granted freedom of worship to all residents of the colony. 

By 1674, illegal Baptist sentiments from Rhode Island managed to seep into southeastern Connecticut and, in 1704, a dozen people in that area petitioned the General Court (legislature) of Connecticut for permission to establish a Baptist church. Receiving no reply, they established a church in Groton the following year and called Newport’s Valentine Wightman to be their pastor. Only five years later, on the outskirts of New London, a second Baptist church was founded and called Stephen Gorton to be its pastor. However, only one new Baptist church, pastored by John Merriman, established in 1738 in Wallingford, was formed in the colony before 1740 due to resistance from the Standing Order Congregational Church and the legislature.

Around this time, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield sparked the Great Awakening, causing revivals in many of the Standing Order churches. This movement caused schisms in many of them, resulting in the formation of new Baptist churches, New Light Congregational (revivalist) and Old Light Congregational (non-revivalist) churches. Before 1800, many of the New Light Congregational churches became Baptist churches while others remained Separatist Congregational churches. During this time, members of Baptist churches could apply for “permission” to avoid taxation from the Standing Order churches, but members of Separatist churches were expected to pay both the Sanding Order and the Separatist “fees”.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted Freedom of Religion in 1791. However, the Connecticut government became more intolerant to other denominations as its taxes decreased. Finally, in 1818, most of the denominations, including Baptists, suffering great difficulty in obtaining permission to worship, gained control of the legislature, and wrote the first Connecticut State Constitution, enabling all Christians to have freedom of worship. These changes resulted in the formation of the Connecticut Baptist Convention in 1823, a Connecticut Baptist seminary in Suffield in 1833, and several African Baptist Churches and some German Baptist Churches before 1900. The stream of immigrants from the late 1800s and into the 2000s led to the formation of churches for people from Sweden, Denmark, Italy, China, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Many new churches have been established by African-Americans. Connecticut Baptists have recognized the need for Senior housing and nursing facilities, adult group homes, and Christian camping and retreat opportunities for people of all ages. Despite the fact that churches for many of the nationalities have been renamed, have disappeared, or have left ABCCONN, this organization has become more diverse as years have passed, and as ABCCONN churches have merged with each other and with churches of other denominations.