Stained glass window in the Sanctuary in the Lower Merion Baptist Church

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Lower Merion Baptist Church
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


by Gavin Morton Walker, D.D.


Church Beginnings



 History
 Beginnings
 Creed
 Covenant
 Charles Thomson
 Horatio Gates Jones
 Gavin Morton Walker
 Meeting-House
 The Years Tell of Changes
 Rev. War Memorial
 Woodrow Wilson
The Lower Merion Baptist Church was organized in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in 1808. This section was largely settled by Welsh Friends, who early erected Merion Meeting House, wherein to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience and to find spiritual development and growth in grace, as well as to give to each new generation the gospel of the Christian faith. Among these Godfearing people was Rowland Ellis, Merion Baptist Meeting House, built 1809 scholar and preacher, who had been imprisoned in Wales for not resorting to the Church of England and refusing to take an oath. Coming to this country he made his home in this community and named his place Bryn Mawr, from his beloved home in Wales. The Baptist Meeting House and cemetery ground were part of the original Bryn Mawr. Where the college, across the road, and the village came into being, the early name was Humphreyville, later changed to Bryn Mawr. Richard Harrison, a wealthy Friend and slave owner, came into possession of the Rowland Ellis estate and changed the name to Harriton. Many of the slaves are buried in the little cemetery in the woods. The Hon. Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, married Hannah Harrison, and they resided in Harriton. Gulph Road (named for the British royal family) is historic ground. William Penn is said to have ridden along this route and superintended the erection of milestones (with the Penn coat-of-arms), some of which still remain. Eight Conestoga wagons, with six mules each, passed here with clothing for the soldiers at Valley Forge, and the drivers were patriot women. Nearby was the mill where the paper for the Continental notes was made. An engagement in the War of the Revolution took place in this vicinity. Colonel James Potter, of the Pennsylvania militia, reported in December, 1777: "I was encamped at Charles Thomson's place, where I stacconed two Regements, who attacted the enemy with Viger." Col. Potter was a better fighter than speller. Down Gulph Road came Captain Allan McLane and a detachment of Light Horse from Valley Forge to occupy Philadelphia, when the British evacuated the City of Brotherly Love.

Into this section came many settlers, English-speaking and German, who were not of the Quaker faith. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1774, sent a letter to all Friends, bidding them beware of sedition and strife and assume no part in the defiant rebellion against their King. Friends have ever been opposed to war and were then naturally opposed to breaking down the Penn instrument of 'government. But many Friends did not see eye to eye with their Meeting on the question. Episcopalians generally were Tories, lined up with the British Government and with the Church of England. But nevertheless many of them came out on the Colonial side. Among Lutherans the lack of services in English encouraged those who were not familiar with German to go to other Churches. In addition to the diversities caused by immigration and economic conditions and the divisions caused by war, at this time, too, there was a decided tendency to the definitely evangelical faiths. The Methodists came to the adjoining township. It did not hurt the Presbyterians and Baptists either that they were practically a hundred percent with the Colonial cause. Conditions in Lower Merion seemed to point to an Evangelical Church, unreservedly patriotic, and the Secretary of the Continental Congress had a little schoolhouse on his property.

A young man in Philadelphia named Thomas Fleeson, son of one of the Admiralty Judges, organist in Christ Church, became a Baptist and later a minister stationed in Wilmington. He had the misfortune to lose his sight and was known as "the blind preacher," having a wonderful memory which partly offset his affliction. Becoming a member of the Roxborough Baptist Church, Philadelphia County, and young men in the Church being willing to go along as guides, Rev. Thomas Fleeson came and preached in the Thomson schoolhouse. He was evidently an earnest, winsome personality. In addition to this Baptist minister, others came and conducted service in the schoolhouse, particularly the pastor of the Middletown Presbyterian Church.

Meanwhile, there was being prepared another to bring the work to fruition. Rev. David Jones, pastor of Great Valley Baptist Church, chaplain in the Revolutionary Army and friend of its leaders, had a son, Horatio Gates Jones, who felt called to the ministry, attended Allison's Academy in Bordentown, N.J., and then studied theology under his father. His first pastorate was in Salem, N.J., where he was ordained. Four years later, in 1806, be moved to a farm near the mouth of the Wissahickon, Roxborough Township. Rev. Thomas Fleeson invited him to continue the services in Lower Merion, which he did energetically, multiplying the dates and places of meeting. For two years the work of Mr. Jones showed no visible results in baptism, but in the spring of 1808 the fruits began to appear. "A visible alteration was observed in a few individuals and an anxiety to hear was manifested by many." Ruth Armstrong, wife of Edward Armstrong, on May 15, 1808, was baptized in Mill Creek, contiguous to where the Meeting House is. On the 29th of May three others were baptized, and on the 26th of June four more followed the footsteps of the Lord. The 28th of August saw four and the 11th of September three showed forth the death and resurrection of the Savior. It was then thought necessary to be formally organized as a Gospel Church, and William Rogers, D.D., and William Staughton, D.D, of Philadelphia, were invited to assist on the occasion. It is noteworthy that all the constituent members were baptized here, except the pastor, who had a letter from Great Valley.

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