First Baptist Church, Bristol, RI

Our History
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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


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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.