Historic Baptist Church (1767-1907)


“The Church at Jacobstown has on its Roll the names of some very prominent Burlington County famlies,” reads the subtitle of this article, which was originally published on December 12, 1907 in the Allentown Messenger.  


One of the earliest church societies of New Hanover township, in Burlington county, was the Baptist. In 1767 the Baptists of Jacobstown purchased a lot measuring one-half an acre, on which a church was then erected, and for eighteen years Jacobstown was a preaching station, supplied mainly from the Upper Freehold church, the Rev. David Jones, D. D., [known for his revolutionary war activities, both pastoral and military] often leading in the services.


In 1785 the following persons, resident in the vicinity of Jacobstown, and all members of the Baptist church in Upper Freehold, asked to be constituted a society at Jacobstown: Asher Cox, Caleb Carmen, William Snowden, Samuel Sexton, James Cox, Daniel E. Sexton, Richard Sexton, Joseph Emley, James Tilton Sexton, Rebecca Sexton, Sarah Sexton, Phebe Emley, Mehitable Ewing, Beersheba Jobs, Mary Jackaway, Eliza Potts, Frances Stevens, C. Reed, Mary Potts, Phebe Wardell.


The church was duly organized October 19, 1785. The following were chosen deacons: Peter Sexton, Asher Cox and Joseph Emley; clerk, James Cox.


The first church erected was a frame structure 32 by 30 feet in dimensions, with galleries extending around three sides. For thirty-four years of its extended occupancy it was unplastered and stoveless, the only heating apparatus in use having been a brazier in the center of the room filled with glowing charcoal, and in some pews were foot stoves. Candles were used for lighting and the floor was sanded for special meetings.


For a few months after the organization of the church preaching was given by Rev. Peter Wilson, of Hightstown. Near the close of the year 1785 Rev. Burgess Allison was installed as the first pastor, and remained in charge until 1813. Rev. Richard Proudfoot, the second pastor, came in 1814, remaining until 1817. From this date until 1837 the church supplied was supplied by the pastors from Upper Freehold, Rev. James M. Challis serving from 1823 to 1833; and Rev. William D. Hires from 1834 to 1836. The third settled pastor was Charles J. Hopkins, who came in 1837, and remained for two years. Those who have succeeded are as follows: William Smith, 1840-44; Joshua E. Rue, 1845-47; C. Brinckerhoff, 1847-51; John M. Carpenter, 1851-64; Charles Kain, 1864-71; A. J. Hay, 1878-85; W. Warlow, 1885-88. The present pastor, the Rev. W. E. Cornwell, began his labors April 1, 1889.


The old church was removed and sold at public sale in 1853, and relics of it still remaining are prized by the possessors. The present brick house of worship was then erected and dedicated in December of the above year by Rev. Dr. Dowling. It is a substantial building, 52 by 38 feet, with spire and bell, and will seat comfortably 400 persons.


In 1821 seventeen members took letters to constitute the church at Bordentown. So reduced was the church in 1823 that her total membership was but 26. In 1860, ’66, ’67, and ’74 large accessions were made, there being in the latter year alone 113 who were received into membership. This is remembered as the Pentecost of the church. In 1871 there was another depletion by dismissing 59 members to form the church at Recklesstown [Chesterfield].


In 1873, a Sabbath-school at Hornerstown, organized two years previously, became a mission of the Jacobstown Church. From this humble beginning there arose by 1891 a mission of sufficient strength to commence the erection of a church building. In 1897 the Jacobstown church granted letters of dismission to 29 members in order to organize a church at Hornerstown, which then became an independent body under the name of the “First Baptist Church of Hornerstown.” After the organization, the trustees of the Jacobstown church, who had held the deed for the property in trust, conveyed this deed to the trustees of the Hornerstown church.


The successful result of the mission at that place is due largely to the Rev. W. E. Cornwell, who after the commencement of his present pastorate assumed care of the mission and continued faithfully to direct its work until it was organized, eight years afterwards. He preached twice a month and has general oversight. He refused to accept any remuneration for his services other than his regular salary at Jacobstown. His interest in the work only ceased when the church was recognized by the denomination on September 29, 1897, at which meeting Mr. Cornwell was the moderator.


The burying plot of the Jacobstown church is the oldest in the township. Half an acre was bought in May 1787, for one ear of Indian corn, from Richard Harrison, by the Rev. John Blackwell, Peter Sexton and James Sexton, for the Antipedobaptist communion for a graveyard and meeting house. By various additions the ground now covers six and a half acres. In this old-time enclosure lie the remains of many of the pioneer of this section. Here are the grand and great-grandparents of the present generation of people inhabiting this part of the township. Among the inscriptions still legible is the following: “Lizzie Estell the first interment in this yard 1765.” This is the oldest date, and is cut on a thin slab stone of shelly nature. The next oldest is “In memory of Dr. Aaron Swain who departed this life the 11th day of September 1791.” Other old stones are to the memory of members of the Emley and Sexton families, who are interred in the early part of the succeeding century.


The church now [1907] has a membership of 98. The deacons are Richard Sexton, Budd Poinsett and S. W. K. Sexton. The board of trustees are Wright Longstreet, Charles Lamb, Budd Poinsett, W. E. Borden, Eugene Emley, Zaccheus Harris, S. W. K. Sexton, Walter N. Kesler and Joel Wainwright. The church treasurer is S. W. K. Sexton; treasurer for the trustees, Walter N. Kester; superintendent of the Sabbath-school, S. W. K. Sexton; church clerk, Mary B. Sexton; financial secretary, W. E. Borden; assistant financial secretary, Mary S. Bullock.


A great deal of anxious and hard work has been done during the last eighteen years. Special meetings have been held in which the pastor has been assisted by ministers from a distance. These meetings have been productive of good results. In 1893 the audience room of the church edifice was remodeled at an expense of more than $1,200. The Sunday-school room and basement have been repaired.


The Jacobstown Church has for many years manifested a commendable interest in the work of missions; and that interest is yet in evidence. Many of the prominent and faithful workers of this church have been called to their eternal home, and many others have removed from the vicinity. The losses are deeply felt.