Maine Genealogy Blog

History of the First Baptist Church of Paris

Source: Deacon George B. Crockett, Consolidated History of the Churches of the Oxford Baptist Association, State of Maine, and a Historical Sketch of the Association (Bryant's Pond, Me.: A. M. Chase & Co., Printers, 1905).

[p. 13]

WHAT is now the town of Paris began to be settled about the year 1780. It was then a part of the state of Massachusetts and known as "Number Four." The town was incorporated under its present name on July 16, 1793. The first settlers of the town people of a high grade of intelligence and enterprise and, coming from the old Puritan towns of Massachusetts, they brought with them religious sentiments and convictions which had been formed in the religious atmosphere in which they had lived. Among the first settlers of the township were some members of Baptist churches and with them were others of kindred sympathy and these soon established and maintained Baptist meetings. And while they had no settled pastor of this faith, they were occasionally visited by some of the early pioneer ministers among whom were Elder James Potter and Elder Elisha Snow. In 1799, on the occasion of a visit of the former occurred what is known as the "first revival ever enjoyed in the town." And thus the way was prepared for the organization of a church.

On the eighteenth day of November, 1791, Elder Snow being present and assisting, twenty persons, ten brethren and ten sisters, handed themselves together in church covenant and the First Baptist church was formed. We would like very much to be able to record the names of these twenty persons who made up the constituent membership of the church, and to know more of them, but, unfortunately no records of the transactions of the church for the first thirty-eight years, or until March 26, 1829, can be found. And the most that is known of the earlier years has been gathered from some papers left by the first pastor and much more from a very excellent historical sketch of the church written by the second pastor in 1847, [p. 14] while two of the first members were still living. This history was recorded in the Minutes of the Oxford Association of that year.

In this history he says that seven of the members of the Baptist church in Middleborough, Massachusetts, were among those who came to Paris and a search of the records of this old church has revealed this entry under date of August 16, 1791 : "Heard a letter read from our Brethren and Sisters living in No. 4, wherein they requested a dismission from this church to a church in that town and accordingly Levi Jackson, Isaac Jackson, John Willis, Japeth Washburn, Jemima Jackson, Patience Willis, and Sardinie Jackson were dismissed." Among these names we find that of the wife and two sons of Lemuel Jackson of whom Elder Hooper in his short history of Paris says: "Soon after this, (1780), old Mr. Lemuel Jackson came to Paris and brought with him fourteen hundred dollars and greatly helped the settlement of the town." It is also recorded of him in Maxim's History of Paris that "he made purchases that made him the owner of one-eighth of the township." And we notice also the name of John Willis, who was the first deacon of the church, and who, like Stephen of old, was "a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost." Of him, Elder Hooper among other things wrote as follows: "Deacon John Willis and his wife were the first family that came into the town of Paris. He had a great knowledge of the Bible and was a sound predestrinarian [sic] and was able to vindicate the cause of God and would not yield a hair's breadth to any man. He was meek and humble and bore the infirmities of his brethren beyond any man I ever saw. Brother Willis was most like his Master, Jesus Christ, of any man I ever saw..." He was ordained an evangelist in 1810 but only lived two years after that time.

We know but little if anything regarding the others who made up the constituent membership of the church, or of those who united with the church in its earlier years. We believe they must have been men and women of sterling christian character "Sound in the faith once delivered to the saints," and who, amid the dangers and hardships incident to a settlement in a new country, did not forget their obligations to, or their dependence on God; were faithful in his worship; and laid the foundation of [p. 15] a church that has continued to be a beacon light for more than a century.

For twelve years the church had no house of worship, but, like so many of the early churches, held their meetings in barns in the Summer and in private houses and school-houses in the Winter. As the church grew in numbers, they realized more and more the need of a suitable house of worship and in 1798 an article was introduced in the warrant calling the town meeting "To see if the town would vote to build a meeting-house in said town." The article was voted out but a few years later a more successful effort was made, the matter being placed in the hands of a committee consisting of Ebenezer Rawson, James Shaw, Lemuel Jackson, Jr., Benjamin Hammond and Nathan Woodbury. The pews were sold to the amount of two thousand dollars and the frame was raised in June 1803, and the house was finished and dedicated the thirtieth day of May, 1804: Elder Hooper preaching from the text taken from 1 Kings, 8:63, "So the King and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord." This first meeting-house in the town of Paris was built in the old style of New England Architecture. It had two tiers of windows, a lofty massive tower with three entrance doors, one in front and one on each side of the tower. Square pews with seats on two sides, one fronting the puipit and the other fronting the door of the pew. There were galleries on three sides of the house. It was built of very heavy timbers and would give one the impression that it would last for a century, but in the space of a single generation it became dilapidated, unfit for use, and, like the old dispensation when Christ came, it was ready to vanish away and give place to another.

In 1838, thirty-four years after the first one was finished, the present house was built nearly on the same site and dedicated on the sixth day of December, 1838. The dedication sermon was preached by the pastor, Rev. Caleb B. Davis, from the text in Gen. 28:17, "This is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven."

This house has been repaired three times: first in 1851 and next in 1860, at which time the doors were removed from the pews; the pulpit was lowered; the door carpeted. This with painting and some other improvements cost about $600.00. The house was again repaired in 1875 when the cost of painting, carpeting, [p. 16] a complete set of pulpit furniture, and inside blinds for the windows was $622.16. In 1864, a vestry was built in the rear of the house and attached to it at a cost of $892.67. In 1821, a bell was procured at a cost of $427.25, about one-third of which was contributed by the county and entitled them to the use of the same. A clock was placed in the tower of the church in 1883, a gift to the village by Hon. Hannibal Hamlin.

For the first three years the church had but little preaching. In the records of the Bowdoinham Association in 1792, we find that Elder Potter, Elder Stinson, and Elder Macomber were directed to supply at Number Four, one Lord's day each, and the two following years two sabbaths in each. year were supplied in the same way.

The first pastor of the church was Rev. James Hooper, who came to Paris the sixth day of November, 1794, and was ordained June 25, 1795. The ordination service was held in Lemuel Jackson's barn, and the sermon was by his brother Rev. William Hooper, who, it is said, was the first Baptist minister to be ordained in the state of Maine. Elder Hooper continued as pastor of the church for the long period of forty-three years, but not being physically strong his ministry was subject to frequent interruptions by sickness. He was a man of strong personality and much has been said and written regarding his characteristics. He was a man of great energy, of indomitable will and strong convictions. As a preacher he was a bold defender of the gospel, thoroughly doctrinal and at home among the deep things of God's word. He also took an active interest in the politics of the times, and was twice sent by the town as its representative to the legislature, and was a member of the convention that framed the constitution of the state. He died December 24, 1842, at the age of seventy-three years.

We have no means of knowing how many were added to the church during his pastorate but in his autobiography Elder Hooper says: "I have not been so successful in winning souls to Christ as some of my brethren in the ministry; I have never baptized so many as some of my brethren and I have never kept an account of those I have baptized, but I think no doubt I baptized several hundred." We know in some of the years of his pastorate there was great revival interest, for instance, in 1814, there were twenty added to the church; in 1817, twenty-nine; in 1825, sixty-four; and in 1831, fifty-two.

[p. 17] The second pastor of the church was Caleb B. Davis, who commenced his pastorate in April, 1838, and was ordained on June 27th of that year. The ordination service was held in the new house, although unfinished, it being prepared with temporary floor and seats for the occasion. The ordaining sermon was by Rev. Alvan Felch, of New Gloucester; the ordaining prayer by Elder Hooper. The charge to the candidate was by Rev. John Tripp, then seventy-seven years of age, and in the fortieth year of his pastorate at Hebron, and the charge to the church by Rev. Reuben Milner of Norway. The date of this ordination was forty-three years and two days after that of Elder Hooper. The whole ministry of Mr. Davis, like his predecessor, was spent in this church, although only one-third as long, as failing health compelled his resignation in September, 1852. He died January 12, 1855.

He was a man well fitted to succeed the first pastor of the church and to inaugurate reform and changes that were at that time very much needed. He was possessed of that tact and wisdom which enabled him to induce the church to adopt those reforms and changes with the least possible friction. He was intensely interested in the cause of temperance; in the work of the Sabbath-school; in home and foreign missions; and succeeded in awakening a kindred interest in the church which up to this time had not existed. The church was very much increased in numbers and spiritual power during this period and, in 1843, reported a membership of two hundred and one, the largest number ever reported as belonging to the church at any one time. Much more might be written of this pastor but as this is designed to be a history of the church rather than that of its leaders we will only say that the result of the pastorate was what we would expect when under the pastoral leading of a man of whom it was said by one who had an intimate acquaintanceship with him, "He is the holiest man on this earth." There were one hundred and sixty added to the church.

The next and third pastor of the church was Adam Wilson, D. D., who served the church five years, from 1852 to 1857. Dr. Wilson was a man too well known among the Baptists of Maine to need any extended notice in the history of this church. He was a graduate of Bowdoin College in 1819; ordained in 1820; [p. 18] and at different times served several of the churches in the Oxford Association. He was the founder and for sixteen years the Editor of Zion's Advocate. Being a man of remarkable physical vigor, strong intellect, and deep spiritual life, he exerted a great influence in the work of the denomination throughout the state. He died in Waterville, January 16, 1871. There was no marked revival interest in the church during this pastorate but sixteen were added to the church.

Dr. Wilson was succeeded in the pastorate by William H. S. Ventres, who came as a supply in February, 1858, and so continued until his ordination in Portland, the following July; when he became pastor of the church, and continued in that capacity for eight years and four months, resigning in October, 1856, to become pastor of the church in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. He returned to Maine a few years later and is at present pastor of the church in East Corinth. The church shared in the great revival of 1858 and 1859 receiving thirty additions during those years. This was followed by the period of our Civil war, and this church together with so many others suffered from the political agitation existing at that time. During this pastorate the vestry was built which was a much needed improvement. The number of members added during this period was fifty-eight.

The next and fifth pastor was Rev. W. H. Walker, who began his labors in 1867 and resigned three years later to accept a pastorate in Greenville, N. H. There were thirteen added to the membership during his stay.

Mr. Walker's successor was Albert A. Ford, who was ordained here as pastor of the church, November 2, 1870. The ordination sermon was by S. R. Mason, D. D., of Cambridge, Massachusetts; the ordaining prayer by A. K. P. Small, D. D.; and the charge to the candidate by Adam Wilson, D. D. He served the church very acceptably for two years from the date of.his ordination, resigning, November 2, 1872. He was afterwards pastor of the church in Belfast for three years and served other Maine churches until 1884, when failing health compelled him to withdraw from the active work of the ministry and his life of great usefulness and fervent devotion to the work of the Master came to a close at Kent's Hill, June 2, 1887. There were added to the church during this pastorate, nine members.

Mr. Ford was succeeded in the pastorate by Hiram C. Estes, D. D., who commenced his labors here on the first of January, [p. 19] 1873 and closed them in June, 1883. This was the third longest pastorate that the church has had. Dr. Estes was born and spent his early years within the limits of the Association and while he had served churches in other parts of Maine, and Massachusetts and Vermont, he had always kept in touch with the work in this, his native field and had never lost his interest in the welfare of the home churches. And, coming as he did after years of experience in other pastorates, with his ripe scholarship, deep insight into the Word of God, and his great ability as a sermonizer and expounder of God's Word, he was eminently qualified to take up and carry along the work of the church. While no seasons of special revival occurred during this period the church was kept in a strong, healthy condition. The Sabbath-school was built up and increased and much interest awakened along the line of christian benevolence. There were thirty-nine added to the church.

The next pastor was Rev. J. E. Cochrane, who commenced his labors the first of September, 1883, and tendered his resignation to take effect on the first of August, 1880, he having received and accepted an appointment as missionary to Burmah. There were eleven added to the church during this pastorate, but it was during this period that nineteen members were dismissed to help form the new church at South Paris, and, during the last few months, Mr. Cochrane served both churches as pastor.

The ninth pastor of the church was Rev. Gideon Mayo, who served the church together with the South Paris church from 1887 to 1889, when he resigned and became pastor of the church in Harrington. Three were added to the church. During several months following, this church and the South Paris church was supplied by Rev. W. C. Barrows, then of Lewiston.

Mr. Mays was succeeded in the pastorate by Arthur P. Wedge, who was ordained here November 7, 1889. The ordaining sermon was by Rev. W. C. Barrows and the prayer by Rev. W. C. Potter, grandfather of the candidate. Mr. Wedge served the church until March 31, 1895, when he resigned to accept a pastorate in Rockville, Connecticut. Twenty were added to the church. The next pastor was Horace A. Roberts, who was ordained January 1, 1896, and served the church until April 6, 1900, when he resigned and accepted a call to the church in Block Island. [p. 20] Rhode Island. Twenty were added to the church during this pastorate.

The present pastor of the church, Rev. Harvey H. Bishop, came as a supply, May 27, 1900, and was ordained pastor August 21st of the same year. The church has experienced a season of revival during this pastorate and forty have been added to the church.

Seventeen persons have served the church in the office of deacon. Their names and terms of service are as follows:

John Willis, 1791-1812; William Parsons, 1797-1806; Stephen Chase, 1805-1830; Daniel Forbes, 1806-1814; Josiah Smith, 1811-1839; Joseph Lindsay, 1817-1824; Benjamin Chandler, 1824-1827; Isaac Mann, 1826-1838; Luke Chase, 1829-1839; Thomas Stevens, 1839-1865; Joel B. Thayer, 1839-1874; Austin Chase, 1854-1874; Henry F. Morton, 1874-1885; William Rice, 1875-1891; Alexander Edwards, 1885-1895; Carrol B. King, 1891.

Six members of the church have become ordained ministers of the gospel.

George Ricker, baptized by Elder Hooper in October, 1799, was ordained pastor of the Second Buckfield church in 1805, and was pastor there for five years; and then, removing to Minot, was pastor of the church in East Auburn, forty years.

John Willis, who has been already mentioned as the first deacon of the church was ordained as an evangelist, March 7, 1810, although he had preached for some years previous to this time. He died July 23, 1812.

George M. P. King, baptized by Mr. Davis, July 8, 1849, was licensed by this church to preach in 1850, and ordained at Farmington in 1858, which church he served for one year. Afterwards he became pastor of churches at East Providence, Rhode Island; and Natick, Massachusetts; but the large part of his active life has been spent in Wayland Seminary, Washington, D. C., of which institution he became president in 1867. This seminary has grown to a position of influence among the schools of learning established for the education and elevation of the colored people of the land.

George D. B. Stevens was baptized by Mr. Ventres, July 18, 1858, and ordained at Richland Center, Wisconsin. He has [p. 21] served several churches in that state and done much missionary work in the West.

Otis Bent Rawson was baptized by Dr. Wilson, June 5, 1870; licensed to preach in July of that year; and ordained at Bethel, November 4, 1871. Of this church he was pastor, four years, and afterwards served churches in Connecticut, where he died, August 24, 1885.

Judson Wade Shaw was baptized by Mr. Davis, July 8, 1849. After completing his college course he was engaged in teaching for several years. In 1887, he was ordained and installed as pastor of the Congregational church at Royalston, Massachusetts. After a pastorate of two years, he engaged in work of the "Christian Learners' and Helpers' Union."

Since its organization the church has been connected with three Associations. In 1792, it became a part of the Bowdoinham organization and about eighteen years later, in 1811, it was dismissed with twenty-three others to form the Cumberland Association. Then being dismissed again from this Association together with twenty-one other churches to form the Oxford Association in 1829.

The earliest mention of the Sabbath-school is in the Minutes of 1837, when it is stated there were fifty scholars and nine teachers and one hundred and fifty volumes in its library. Some years before this Dr. Benjamin Chandler had bequeathed to the church four acres of land, the income of which was to be used in the "instruction and encouragement of a Sunday-school." The proceeds have been used generally for the purchase of books for the library so that at one time over seven hundred volumes were on the shelves. The Sabbath-school has always proved a help to the success of the church.

Two parsonages have been bequeathed to the church, the first, consisting of house and stable and one-half acre of land, was the gift of Mr. Thomas Crocker in 1858. The second was the bequest of Mrs. Anna Hamlin Brown, situated across the street from the meeting-house, comprising house, stable and four acres of valuable land. The church came into possession of this at the donor's death, May 13, 1890. The church has also been favored by other donations, among which was a gift of one thousand dollars from Mrs. L. G. D. Thayer who was formerly the wife of the second pastor of the church. Also gifts of one hundred [p. 22] dollars each from Deacons Austin Chase and Joel B. Thayer, J. C. Cummings and Mrs. Harriet Perkins.

This church can well be called "the mother of churches." Once the field occupied by the church was very large comprising not only the town of Paris, but also Poland, Oxford, Norway, Woodstock, Greenwood and Hamlin's Grant. In course of time churches have been formed in these different towns and the territory has now been narrowed to the central part of the town on and around the Hill. Nine churches have been formed wholly or in part by members dismissed from this church. These churches, with the years in which they formed and the number of members dismissed to each, is as follows:

Second Buckfield,
Woodstock and Greenwood,
Hamlin's Grant,
Paris and Woodstock,
Buckfield Village,
South Paris,

About eight hundred persons have been connected with this church since its formation and its present membership is ninety-two.

We have endeavored in this history to bring before the reader some of the more important features connected with the work of this church. For a more extended and minute record of the church, and of those who have been conspicuous in its history, we would refer to Dr. Estes' admirable address, which was delivered at the Centennial of the church, October 1, 1891, and has been printed. For much contained in this article we are indebted to this work, and for the statistics herein given, to S. M. King, the present clerk of the church. Situated, as it is, in the oldest village in the county, one which for one hundred years was the county seat and the home of many families, some of whose members have become famous in state and nation, this church has, for one hundred and twelve years, occupied a very important position. For about seventy years this was the only church in the village and the influence for good that it has [p. 23] exerted throughout this region is beyond computation. While the church is much smaller than it has been during the larger part of its history and its circle of work much narrower, yet it has still a goodly number of consecrated members, a fine, convenient house of worship, a valuable parsonage, all free from debt. We believe that this old church will continue to occupy for many years in the future as it has in the past, a very prominent position among the churches of the Oxford Association.

 Published June 26, 2010