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Guide to the Ebenezer Old School Baptist Church Records
1825–1961 (bulk, 1825–1905)
 MS 3131

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Joseph Ditta

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on January 07, 2020
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

"Old School" or "Primitive" Baptists (also known as "Hard Shell" or "Foot Washing" Baptists) are conservative Baptists who, while technically opposed to Calvinist theology, nevertheless adhere to some points of Calvinism. The adjective "primitive" is used in the sense of "original," meaning that Old School Baptists reject mission boards, and tract and temperance societies as creations of man, not of God, and so cleave to an earlier, or truer, form of worship. The New Testament contains no command to play instruments, so music in Old School Baptist churches is sung unaccompanied. Likewise, the New Testament does not sanction theological seminaries or Sunday school education, so Primitive Baptist preachers are trained informally and children expected to attend church services (at least in part) with their families. Most followers perform symbolic foot washing of fellow worshippers in recognition of their equality.

According to an anonymous history (see Box 1, Folder 26), the Ebenezer Old School Baptist Church in New York City was organized in 1806, but retained no records dated before May 8, 1825. On September 13 of that year the church voted to call Elder Leonard G. Marsh as pastor. Jonathan Greenleaf, in his  History of the Churches, of All Denominations, in the City of New York, From the First Settlement to the Year 1846 (1846), agrees that Marsh was first pastor of the congregation, but states that the church organized in 1825. Rosalie Fellows Bailey, author of  Guide to Genealogical and Biographical Sources for New York City (Manhattan), 1783–1898 (1954), suggests that New York had two Ebenezer Baptist churches in the early nineteenth century—one, organized in 1805 [sic] and located through 1811 on Anthony (now Worth) Street, and another, organized in 1825 and dissolved in 1849. Either Bailey mistakenly thought they were different churches, or perhaps there really was no connection between the 1806 and 1825 organizations.

In any case, the Ebenezer Old School Baptist Church represented by the present collection of records met on Broome Street between 1825 and 1829, when the meeting house was sold. The congregation next rented space at the corner of Eldridge and Walker Streets, and then, from 1830 to 1850, had meeting houses at North (now East Houston) and Suffolk Streets, and at Avenue A and East Second Street. In 1850 the church acquired property and built a meeting house at 154 West 36th Street, a location it occupied for nearly fifty years. After the 36th Street meeting house was sold in 1899, the congregation met in rented spaces at 226 West 58th Street (then home to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society) in 1901–1902, and at 8th Avenue and West 19th Street (the Stephen Merritt Building) in 1903–1907.

In 1908 the church purchased a building site at the intersection of Intervale Avenue and Home Street in the Bronx, and there constructed a new meeting house, which saw its first service on November 21, 1909 (see the postcard in Box 1, Folder 25). In 1925 this building (which still stands) was sold to a Lutheran congregation, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church once more took up temporary spaces at 106 West 59th Street in 1926, at 168 East 70th Street (auditorium of the Lawrence-Smith School) in 1927–1939, and at 221 West 57th Street (the Barnard Club) beginning on June 1, 1939.

The latest dated items in the collection—deeds to property held in Brooklyn—suggest that the Ebenezer Old School Baptist Church (by then called the Ebenezer Baptist Church and Congregation) survived into the 1960s.