20 History of Wake Forest College
labored in North Carolina had a classical education until the arrival of
Thomas Meredith in Chowan County in 1817. Many of the Baptist
preachers of that period were indeed men of much native ability and
had enough education to enable them to preach the Gospel with much
power and to defend their faith against all adversaries. Paul Palmer,
our first Baptist preacher, was declared by the talented John Comer of
New England to be a "man of parts," and he had written a tract for
publication. William Burgess, first pastor of the Shiloh Church, John
Thomas of Toisnot, William Hill of Yadkin, Lemuel Burkitt of Bertie,
Henry Abbot of Shiloh, William Lancaster of Franklin, and Ezekiel
Hunter of Onslow, are among those Baptist ministers whose talents
were such as brought them prominently into the political affairs of
their time. There were many others who like Shubal Stearns had small
share of learning, but were "pretty well acquainted with books."2
Many others were, like Jonathan Freeman of Bertie, men of
"considerable fortune" and substantial farmers, whose main
equipment for the work of the ministry was good native genius, sound
judgment, oratorical ability, a pious life, and a knowledge of the
Bible. They at least had enough education to get a clear conception of
New Testament doctrines and to preach the simple truth of the Gospel
to the unlettered people of the North Carolina of their day. In the eyes
of the missionaries of the Establishment they were "grossly ignorant"
and ranters; perhaps some were such, but in general they spoke the
words of soberness and truth. This was in the period before the
Revolution.
In the quarter of a century following the close of the Revolutionary
War, however, the Baptists suffered greatly for want of a sufficient
number of ministers with even a tolerable education. During the War
of Independence nearly all schools had been suspended; the attention
of all the people was absorbed in the doubtful conflict; too little
thought was given to matters of religion. The older preachers were
dying out and few young
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2 Morgan Edwards, op.
cit.
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