First Baptist Church, Bristol, RI

Our History

A Brief History of the
First Baptist Church of Bristol,
Rhode Island

Excerpts from an Historical Sketch by the Rev. Howard M. Jones*
In 1811, there were enough, it was thought, to constitute a church, which was accordingly formed on August 22 of that year, with twenty-three members. By the close of the following year, this number was more than doubled. Preaching was maintained at intervals by different ministers, then statedly by the Rev. Simeon Coombs. Rev. James M. Winchell, the first Pastor, commenced his labors in October 1812. By an act of marked courtesy on the part of Bishop Griswold, then Rector of St. Michael’s Church, the ordination services took place in that church, the sermon being preached by President Messer, of Brown University. At this time, the Baptist place of worship was in the house of Dr. Nelson, on what is now 82 State Street, a large upper room having been finished by him for the purpose. The house is still standing next east of the present Baptist parsonage. Meanwhile arrangements were made to build the substantial stone edifice still occupied by the church, which was dedicated in November 1814.
* The Story of the Mount Hope Lands, by W. H. Munro 1977


Significant Dates in Our History

1811 – On August 22, Dr. Nelson led in founding our church with 23 members.
1813 – Reverend James M. Winchell became our first ordained minister on June 23.
1814 – Dedication of the Federal style “Stone Chapel.” Our building is on land granted by the Town of Bristol. Built with granite blocks, it has a gable roof supported by post and beam construction.
1814 – Reverend Barnabas Bates became pastor; in 1816, at his suggestion, the first Sunday school in town was established. The Baptist and Congregational Churches often collaborated in this endeavor.
1868 – A pipe organ was installed for $1,100.
1869 – The church spire was blown off in the “Great September Gale” and crashed through the roof.
1882 – We renovated our meetinghouse with a single entrance. John Brown Herreshoff donated funds to build the baptistery, prior to this baptisms took place in Bristol Harbor.
1883 – At the request of Spencer Rounds, Chief Engineer of the Bristol Fire Department, our church granted the use of its bell for fire alarms.
1911 – We celebrated our 100th anniversary; the burning of the mortgage took place at the Sunday evening service; Reverend Alfred S. Stowell “applied the match and the paper were consumed in the presence of a large congregation.”
1952 In January, we voted to increase the pastor’s salary from $12 to $15 weekly.
1954 – Members of our congregation designed and built the “Chapel by the Sea” at Colt State Park.
1961 – We celebrated our 150th anniversary. Pastor Walter Swanson led the service.
1981 – Reverend Frederick (Fred) Gilbert became our 44th Pastor.
2001 – After more than 20 years of dedicated service, Reverend Fred Gilbert retired.
2006 – We installed the Reverend Fred Gilbert as our first pastor emeritus on November 5, 2006
2008 –  On August 24, 197 years after our founding, Pastor Nathaniel Manderson was ordained in Christian Ministry, the first ordination in our church in living memory.
2013-  On Sunday, November 10, we called Jacob McGuire, as our 47th pastor.


Children's Ministry

Ages:  5-10

We believe that kids should have a blast at church every single week - and at First Baptist, we make this a priority.   We want them to love coming to church each week and use a variety of teaching methods so that learning about the Bible is fun and engaging.

Children’s Ministries partners with parents in the spiritual development of their families through a variety of programs and resources.



Small Groups Ministry

If you are feeling the need to strengthen your prayer life then this Zoom small group session is for you! Beginning on Wednesday January 20th at 7 p.m., Pastor Jake, Pastor Mike, and the Deacons will be leading teachings on the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer along with guided discussions of prayers of individuals from the Bible who exemplify each petition. Imagine discussing the prophet Elijah’s prayer against the 450 false prophets of Baal in the context of Jesus teaching to pray “Thy Kingdom Come”. We will also engage in a group prayer time and provide suggestions to enrich your personal prayer life. Please contact Pastor Jake for the Zoom link and discussion materials.





Adult Ministry

Woman's Group -The women of the church will be gathering again for a women's Bible study via Zoom beginning Monday, January 25th at 9 a.m. for a nine-week study on the Book of James.  The focus of the study -- "We all want a faith that won't let us down in times of trouble or loss, uncertainty or fear. A faith that can pull us through the worst - and best - times in our lives. This is the kind of faith that James writes about. It is the faith that we practice day by day. Studying James will help us grow a steadfast faith that can carry us through life."  Contact Karen via email no later than Sunday, January 3rd, if you are interested in attending to allow time for her to place the Bible study book order.