The Baptist church in Hopewell, New Jersey, was organized on April 23, 1715 with fifteen members. Hopewell was, and still is to some degree, a small rural community in western New Jersey over a few hills from the Delaware River. For its first 32 years the church met in private homes, primarily that of Jonathan Stout. Then in 1747, during a period of revival and growth, property was given to the church by John Hart, the only local man who was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. Isaac Eaton was the church’s first full-time pastor, serving from 1748 until his death in 1772. Other than a few famous members, probably the church’s most significant claim to fame was that Bro. Eaton established the first Baptist school in America for the training of God’s servants. Three of the school’s alumni include John Gano, the pastor of the first permanent Baptist church in New York and chaplain in the Revolutionary War, Hezekiah Smith another pastor and chaplain, and James Manning the founder of a school in Rhode Island which eventually became known as Brown University. But it’s not to these that I refer for this date in our history.
On Sunday, April 23, 1775, news of the Battle of Lexington reached Hopewell while the church service was going on. As people began to exit the building, Joab Houghton, one of the members, climbed up on the block of stone used to help ladies disembark from their wagons. Once he had everyone’s attention, he challenged the men of the church with his love of liberty and desire for independence. It is said that every man there that day volunteered to take up arms and to join Houghton in traveling to New England to fight the British. On October 19, 1776, Joab Houghton was made a captain, and on this day (March 15) in 1777 he became a Lieutenant Colonel.
A few months after Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware on a bitterly cold December 25th, he and his advisors gathered in the Hopewell Church and began strategizing for their attack on the British and Hessians at Princeton – a battle which became a turning point in the war.