Brief Baptist history: “I Remember Mama”
I have borrowed a familiar radio and TV title to introduce a few words about old Morattico church (mother of Northern Neck Baptist churches). The old radio and later TV show (1949-1957) was inspirational and nostalgic in as much as the weekly theme was introduced as having to do with a young Norwegian woman’s fond memories of her mother. We children ought to take heed. Today, we pay too little attention to Morattico Church.
Toward the advent of Baptist work here, our ancestors had divided into two main camps. Some held to a Calvinistic type of theology adhering to the beliefs of Philadelphia Baptists (1707). By 1757 they were the predominant group of Baptists near the hub of the colonies. They were mission-minded and sent pastors west to the native Americans and south to the colonials. They organized, preached and taught around the stack pole of the Philadelphia Confession. It was doctrine.
The Separate Baptists were heirs to the influence of the Edwards-Whitfield New England revival of the 1740s. They soon became too revivalistic for their Puritan neighbors and looked south unto harvest. Early preachers to represent this movement were Shubal Stearns and his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall.
In 1778 at Morattico Hall, on the banks of the creek that divides Richmond and Lancaster counties, Lewis Lundsford led a group, to which he had ministered on and off again during the summers since 1772, to constitute into a church. He was then preaching at three points. To his good fortune he caught eye, ear and heart of a wealthy young planter, Colonel Robert Carter of Nomini Hall, a former vestryman of the Cople Parish Church (Westmoreland). He was believed to be the wealthiest chap about. (Carter later sided with the Baltimore Armenians, still later the Swedenborgians and finally, like Jefferson, became a seeker.) For a time, at least, he threw himself into his new religious quest. Lundsford preached; Carter paid the bills.
Early on they had a vision for the whole Northern Neck. They looked south toward the lower center of the peninsula (Kilmarnock area). Baptist ranks were thin, we were less segmented into camps, i.e., Separate and Regular. Both factions mingled. Aligned in 1783 with the Dover Baptist Association (east of Richmond), by 1787 local Baptists were an amalgamation of the two. Our local Baptists incorporated in 1843 into the Rappahannock Baptist Association at Coan Church, where our son R. Lee Farmer has pastored since 2000.
The four counties of the Northern Neck divided into districts. The upper district became Nomini, formed in 1786 under the ministry of Elder John Toler. The adjoining Lundsford district formed into the Yeocomico Church in 1788 and was home to planter Carter. It fell away following the defection of Carter and deaths of Lundsford and Deacon Peter Cox. It burned in 1798. It was not rebuilt. The remnant congregation looked toward the Coan Baptist Church and lent their support. Following a brief revival in 1812 it finally faded away.
The middle district became Farnham, constituted into service in 1790, thanks to the fervor of William Mullan and James Greenwood (missionaries from across the Rappahannock).
The lower district held forth at the Morattico Meeting House (just off Route 200, east of Kilmarnock).
During that period the Episcopal Church was hard pressed to hold on. The Anglican faith so associated the mother country was losing favor. We Baptists stood waiting at the door. We flourished.
It is reported that when the Dover Association met at Morattico in the summer of 1786 that “some two thousand people assembled to hear three days of preaching,” Lundsford and Toler being the two most popular. In 1798 the crowd of enthusiasts dwindled to a few hundred. Reports of hundreds of baptisms were touted among the churches of the various districts.
Out of Morattico came Claybrook (Weems), Irvington, Kilmarnock and White Stone churches, children of the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Frederick G. Claybrook (1844-1914), an eager, conservative preacher who throughly believed in the power of the pulpit: “If we are to make progress, as Baptists, we must not have religious mugwumps in our pulpits; but earnest, dedicated Baptist preachers who have the courage of their convictions and will proclaim the truth without fear or favor.” Frederick W. Claybrook, 1893.
Morattico welcomed their present pastor, the Rev. Mr. H. Craig Smith, in 1998. I have enjoyed his friendship since seminary days, 1976. Like Lundsford before him, he has pastored at both Nomini and Morattico. Our fervent prayers and very best wishes continue for both pastor and congregation. I certainly hope that we children will “remember mama” and pay her a soon reunion visit. The church that held a few, then thousands, later hundreds is again a small band of faithful believers. If you don’t have a church home, give them a try. They will welcome you.