THE OLDEST BAPTIST CHURCH IN NEW YORK STATE
By Dr. Larry A. Maxwell
Patterson Baptist Church, along with its sister church in North East, is the oldest continuously operating Baptist Church in New York State and is among the oldest in America. Its history and theology pre-date the French and Indian War, yet its’ ministries reach into the future utilizing the latest technologies. The church has played an active role in the community for more than 225 years, helping to meet spiritual, social and physical needs. Its membership has represented the diversity of people living in the area, with people from five different continents being part of the church at one time. Throughout its history, it has been a concerned voice and active leader in contemporary issues: providing manpower and supplies to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War; granting women the right to vote before the rest of country; and seeking to eliminate substandard housing as a founder of Habitat for Humanity in Putnam County. It has reached out not only around the block but also around the world, sending and supporting missionaries and mission projects for more than 200 years.
In order to understand the history of Patterson Baptist Church there are a few things you need to understand about Baptists. The first is the fact that Baptists are not Protestants. All Protestant Churches have a history tracing back to the Roman Catholic Church. At some point in their history, every Protestant Church, or the groups they came out of, protested some aspect of the Roman Church and formed a separate entity. Baptists did not protest or come out of the Roman Church. They have a separate ancestry tracing back to John the Baptist and the first followers of Christ.
Patterson Baptist has proclaimed the historic Baptist faith, which has a strong evangelical stance. Evangelicals place a priority on proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is the message George Whitfield preached when he came to America in 1738 and traveled throughout the colonies. His critics said he proclaimed, “New Light.” He challenged people to find forgiveness and a vibrant personal relationship with God. A number of Protestant churches embraced Whitfield’s evangelical message. Some opposed Whitefield’s teachings, which led thousands to leave those churches and join the Baptists. Those churches sent people to towns like Patterson to start more Baptist Churches.
At Patterson Baptist Church, they have always taught the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that it shows mankind how to find salvation and live life to its fullest. They do not believe someone has to be a Baptist to go to Heaven. They offer the plan of salvation to all, but believe it is up to the individual to accept it. They have always defended the right of individuals to choose and express their own religious beliefs. The Bible, rather than man, is their final authority for faith and practice. They believe everyone should read the Bible and that God can help anyone understand it. Because of that belief, they have helped publish and distribute thousands of Bibles for many years.
Patterson Baptist holds a traditional Messianic view of Christ. They teach Christ is the Messiah promised to the Jews. They believe God offers salvation to the Jew first and then to any who will receive it. That belief has caused Baptists to take a strong stand defending the Jews. This belief has often kept them outside of the mainstream of religious life and caused them to be the object of persecution by other churches and governments. As a result, many Baptists were killed in inquisitions in France and Spain, burned at the stake as heretics throughout Europe, killed in gas chambers in Nazis Germany, imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag, oppressed in work camps in China and subjected to brutal treatment in other places. Over the years, Patterson Baptist has offered prayers and support to its persecuted brethren worldwide.
Baptists Come from New England to Plant Churches
Patterson Baptist Church owes its existence to Baptists who came to America hoping to find freedom to practice their religion. Finding Baptists persecuted and jailed by other colonies and forbidden to organize a church, Roger Williams and John Clarke, took a group of Baptists and founded the Colony of Rhode Island. They started the first officially organized Baptist Churches in America and declared Rhode Island a refuge where people could find religious freedom. Baptists spread from there to other colonies. They started Baptist churches, which championed their historic beliefs, including the principles of religious liberty and tolerance. Some of those Baptists came to Patterson.
Like other historic Baptist churches, Patterson Baptist Church has always been an autonomous, self-governing congregation. Unlike many other denominations, Baptists do not have an overseeing body, which exercises control over individual churches. Each church has its own budget, selects its own ministers, and determines its own principles of faith and practice. Over the years, Baptists have formed associations to encourage each other through networking and sharing ideas. They work together to start new churches but do not relinquish control of any aspect of their church life and government to any other organization. In 1707, a number of churches formed the Philadelphia Baptist Association. Over the years, that association sent ministers to Dutchess County (which included Putnam County), to officially organize a number of congregations.
Before 1750, Baptists were holding meetings in the center of Dutchess County, in the area which would later be called Patterson. On November 6, 1751, they officially organized the first Baptist church in Dutchess County. They called it The Baptist Church of Phillips' Patent, Government of York. Its members came from what was later called Patterson and the surrounding towns. Among the founders were: Simon & Rebecca Dakin, Reuben Cloos and Barzillai King of Patterson; Elijah & Sarah Calkin of Kent; Matthew Rowlee and Elisha Cole of Carmel; Josiah & Obedience Baker of Southeast and Stephen Pepper of Pawling. After this church was started, Simon Dakin and Elisha Cole played a prominent role helping to establish other Baptist Churches in the area.
In 1753, the Baptist Church of Phillip’s Patent, also referred to as The Baptist Church at Fredericksburg, chose Simon Dakin to become its Pastor. Dakin was called a “New Light”preacher, after the manner of Whitfield. In 1761, the church started construction on a Log Church, on property given to them by the Ludington family. It was located on the corner of Route 311 and Brickhouse Road. They finished the building early the next year. Across the street, they established the first cemetery in Patterson. The church and cemetery appear on Erskine’s Military Map, used during the Revolutionary War.
Sister Churches Formed
In November 1765, members of the church were among local residents upset at the English Manor Lords’ unjust attempts to take their land. One of their members, John Towner, held a meeting at his Inn (next door to the future site of the church). Other leaders from the church, including Elisha Cole, along with leaders from the community were present. They agreed to defend their friends and neighbors and became part of the Settler’s Revolt, the Prelude to the Revolution. After months of fighting the English Manor Lords and British Troops, Elisha Cole, and others, were arrested and fined.
That conflict led Simon Dakin, and others in the church to look to move away. In 1773, they found a place, far enough away from the English Manor Lords. Dakin, and a few other families, moved to the town of North East, in the northeastern corner of Dutchess County. On May 1, 1773, the families, which moved, officially established themselves as The Baptist Church of North East. The rest of the congregation, which did not move, continued to meet in Fredricksburg and choose Nathan Cole as Pastor. Over the years, they remained sister churches, with frequent marriages between families.
The Name of the Town & Church Change
When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the Baptist Church became a leader supporting the Patriot cause. Members of the church helped provide men and supplies to the Continental Army. On March 28, 1778, Gen. Israel Putnam of the Continental Army, acknowledged receiving 2,000 pounds of clothing from Roswell Wilcox, one of the trustees of the church. When the Continental Army camped in Fredericksburg in 1778, and again in 1780, the church held services for the soldiers. On October 24, 1784, the year after the war ended, Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere, and daughter of Col. Henry Ludington, married Revolutionary War veteran Edmond Ogden at the Church.
In 1788, after the Revolution, the town was renamed Frederickstown. On December 1, 1790, the church changed its name to The First Baptist Church of Frederickstown. When Baptists in the neighboring Town of Kent (also part of Frederickstown at that time), started a church, they called it The Second Baptist Church of Fredrickstown.
On November 23, 1793, the church began its long history of sending out missionaries. They sent their own Pastor Enoch Ferris to Oswego, New York, to serve as a home missionary with The Baptist Missionary Society. Pastor Ferris had a successful ministry organizing a number of churches. The church later supported Adonirum Judson, America’s first foreign missionary, who went to India and then to Burma.
In June 1795, Frederickstown was divided into four different towns. The Town of Frederick(which later was renamed Kent) and The Town of Carmel, came entirely from Frederickstown. Part of Frederickstown, was added to Southeast and became the Town of Southeast. The remaining part of Southeast was added to the Northeastern part of Frederickstown and became the Town of Franklin. The church was in the Town of Franklin. In December 1797, the church changed its name to Franklin Baptist Church, to match the name of the town. In 1808, the name of the town changed again and became the Town of Patterson. In 1812, when Putnam County was divided from Dutchess County, the name of the town remained the same. It was not until December 1876, that the church finally changed its name and became Patterson Baptist Church.
Over the years, some people have used various nicknames to identify the church such as Four Corners Baptist Church and Towners Baptist Church. That is because it is located in the area of Patterson, called Towners Four Corners. It has also been called The Rock Church, because the building sits on a bedrock outcropping. Those names has never been official names for the church
During its long history, the church has always associated with other Baptist Churches. In 1770, it joined the Philadelphia Baptist Association. In 1790, it joined the Danbury Baptist Association. In 1809, Patterson Baptist Church and its sister church in North East helped form the Union Association, a fellowship of Baptist Churches from New York and Connecticut. Annual meetings were held in Patterson well into the 1950’s. In 1907, the Union Association became part of the Northern Baptist Convention. In 1950, when the Northern Baptist Convention became part of the American Baptist Convention, Patterson Baptist Church would not join because the new convention held to doctrinal positions, which deviated from their historic Baptist beliefs. The church began to associate with the Conservative Baptist Association, then the New England Baptist Fellowship, then the Baptist Bible Fellowship. In 2005, the church began to associate with the Southern Baptist Convention, which recently returned to its historic Baptist beliefs. The church has drawn strength and shared its resources with those associations but has never relinquished its autonomy.
The Church Keeps Growing
In 1812, John Towner, who had been part of the church for many years, gave the church some land next to his home, near Towner’s Four Corners. The congregation moved the log meeting house to the new site. The next year they built a second meeting house on that site. In 1828, Towner donated his family cemetery to the church. The church bought additional land and expanded the cemetery to include more than 1,000 gravesites.
In 1825, the church became a leader in women’s rights, granting women the right to vote. 23 years before the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 and 95 years before the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
In 1833, during the ministry of Rev. Nathaniel Robinson, the church grew and began to build a larger meetinghouse. It was completed and dedicated in March 1836. It was not long before the church outgrew that facility. They waited to build a larger one, until the men returned from helping preserve the Union, during the War Between the States. In church records and local histories, they called that war, The War of the Rebellion. Later it was called, The Civil War. In June 1866, they started construction on the building, under the leadership of Pastor Andrew W. Valentine, and dedicated in on October 16, 1867.
Over the years, they made several additions and improvements to the church. In 1882, when Rev. Matthew Johnson was pastor, they installed a new church bell in the steeple. In 1886, they added stained glass windows. In 1920, with Pastor Cornelius F. Otto, they raised funds to buy a pipe organ and installed it in 1924. In 1926, with Pastor J. T. Jones, electricity was added, along with an addition, which provided a fellowship room and more space for Sunday School. The addition was finished right before tragedy struck.
On December 19, 1926, a train derailed and caught on fire, just past the May Peck’s House (on the corner of Caroline Drive and Route 311), not far from the church. There were explosives on the train. Alfred “Pete” O’Hara, was 7 years old at the time, his mother was organist in the church and his great grandfather, Rev. Nathaniel Robinson, was a former pastor of the church. Pete ran and warned the church, which was in session. The people left before the train exploded. The blast blew out all the stained glass windows in the front and side of the church, and embedded glass in the pews. It damaged the ceiling and plaster walls. If the people had not evacuated the church when they did, many would have died. The blast also blew the church bell out of the belfry. It bounced off one of the iron railings in front of the church. The bend, which the bell left in the railing, remains as a reminder of that fateful day.
After World War II indoor plumbing was installed and a kitchen and bathrooms were added. An old millstone from the Towner’s Mill became the well cover.
In 1985, under the leadership of Pastor Earl Eastwood, the church exchanged the parsonage and the land on the corner of Route 311 and Cushman Road, for land adjoining the Church. They made a new driveway entrance to provide safer access to the church. They also built a new parsonage.
In 1995 the church called, author and evangelist, Dr. Larry A. Maxwell, to serve as Pastor. Dr. Maxwell was ordained by Dr. Jerry Falwell and Thomas Road Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Virginia. Under Dr. Maxwell’s leadership, the church affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention, two of the largest associations of Baptist worldwide. Its leaders received training as counselors from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and served in his last great New York City Crusade in 2005. The church expanded its missions program, started a weekly television broadcast and purchased additional land to build a larger facility. It expanded its practical outreach locally by helping start Habitat for Humanity of Putnam County, and internationally by becoming a regional relay station for Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian aid organization. It started the fun-filled annual Patterson Day Celebration.
As the years passed, many moved away to settle other parts across the country, but others moved to the area and started attending the church. Over the past 255 years, more than 45 good men served the church as pastor. All earned the respect of the community.
Over the years, the church has held true to its distinctive traditional Baptist beliefs while utilizing both old and new methods to help minister to the needs of those in Patterson and around the world.
COPYRIGHT 2006 – Dr. Larry A. Maxwell – All Rights Reserved.