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Stearns and Marshall Form Sandy Creek Baptist

Title page of Purefoy's oft-cited History of Sandy Creek Baptist Association.

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?ACCORDING TO ONE of Daniel Marshall’s friends, historian Morgan Edwards, Marshall was “a weak man, a stammerer, and no scholar...a man of no bright parts, nor eloquence nor learning. Piety, earnestness and honesty are all he can boast of.” Marshall’s brother-in-law Shubal Stearns was a short man with little education. Nonetheless, their zeal was so great that a thousand Baptists churches in the southern United States look back to them as founding fathers. 

Both men were from New England—Marshall from Connecticut and Stearns from Massachusetts—and both had been profoundly influenced by the ministry of George Whitefield. Although neither knew the other to begin with, their zeal to convert others drew their paths together. Finding the established Congregational churches lifeless, they became “Separates” and eventually Baptists. Both were evangelists and pastors when they met in Virginia. They attempted to found a church at Cacapon Creek, Virginia, without much success. 

In 1755 the two headed southward with their families. They settled near Greensboro, North Carolina. On this day 22 November 1755 Shubal Stearns, Daniel Marshall, and fourteen others founded the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in North Carolina. Although they were ridiculed because of the trembling and screams of those who heard them preach, the church soon had six hundred members. From the very start, even while their own numbers were small, they spread the gospel into the surrounding region, and several other Baptist churches sprang up. Within three years, they formed those churches into an association. 

Marshall moved to South Carolina, where he planted more Separate Baptist churches and then moved on to Georgia where he continued to plant churches even when he was old and infirm. Baptists of the day were persecuted and Marshall certainly received the brunt of it. Arrested in Georgia and told never to preach again, he simply replied that he must obey God, not man. Three of those involved in his arrest became converts. 

Marshall’s last words were, “My breath is almost gone. I have been praying that I may go home to-night. I had great happiness in our worship this morning; particularly in singing, which will make a part of my exercises in a blessed eternity.”

Stearns remained at Sandy Creek. In 1771, its congregation plunged to just fifteen people. Many of the democratically-inclined Separates had joined a rebellion (the War of Regulation). When it was crushed, they fled west. They founded new churches wherever they settled, so that by Stearns’s death that year, there were forty-two Separate Baptist churches. Sandy Creek had sent out one hundred and twenty-five ministers. Many Separate churches were eventually assimilated by other Baptist denominations.

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