This Sunday in Baptist History
The persecution with which the Jews tried to stifle the early Christians, provided the impetus for the scattering of God’s evangelists throughout the Mediterranean. The same thing occurred in North Carolina 1700 years later.
The Colony of North Carolina had already levied three sets of taxes – a property tax, a tax upon the sale of goods and a parish tax for support of the Episcopal church. When Governor William Tyron wanted to build a new, expensive castle home, he threatened even more taxes. At that point, smoldering fires ignited and pockets of resistence, called “Regulators,” spread across the colony. Many of these Regulators were Separate Baptists, who were being persecuted in ways other than just taxes, such as the non-recognition of their marriages.
On May 16, 1771 two thousand Regulators faced an equal number of government troops at the Battle of Alamance, which many consider to be the first conflict of the Revolutionary War. During the two hour battle there were 9 men killed on both sides, but the Regulators were routed. Tyron then sought the life of the Baptist preacher, Joseph Murphy, who was considered to be one of the Regulator leaders. The governor camped along the Sandy Creek, watching the home of Benjamin Merrill, one of the leaders of the Baptist church at Jersey Settlement. Murphy escaped but Merrill was taken and publically hanged, and then his body was cut in pieces – “quartered-and-squared.”
On this day, August 12, 1771, three months after the news spread, The Boston Gazette gave the following report: “Merrill died in the most heroic manner, his children being around him at the place of his execution. He declared that he died at peace with his Maker and in the cause of his oppressed countrymen.”
Governor Tyron had accomplished his will in intimidating the Separate Baptists. This resulted in about 1,500 brethren leaving North Carolina and settling in Tennessee and Kentucky. Everywhere they went they enthusiastically carried the gospel, beginning a glorious Baptist history in the “West.”
As for Tyron – after winning the first battle of the war, in June he moved in great glory to New York to become governor there. But then he met defeat at the hands of General George Washington and the Continental Army.