John Healey (1764-1848)
In 1794, Mr. Healey and five other believers resolved to go to America. They made a covenant before their departure, to remain together as a religious society, and to maintain the worship of God among themselves, in the distant country to which they were bound. They were New Connection Baptists, a type of English General Baptist that arose from the Evangelical Awakening begun by John Wesley. Healey, a member at Friar Lane, in Leicester, England, and acquaintance with William Carey, had become much concerned for the people of Baltimore. He had read in ‘Morse’s Geography’ that the people of Baltimore were ‘Nothingarians,’ which suggested that they had no particular beliefs.
On July 4, 1794, John Healey boarded the sailing ship “Independence” bound for New York with five other baptized believers under his leadership. After a brief stay in New York, the group embarked for Baltimore in February, 1795, arriving at Fells Point at the foot of Broadway. John Healey never returned to Old England.
A Baltimore Episcopal missionary loaned them a sail loft where they held their first services. In 1797 the little community organized as a church under a council of two visiting English pastors and began to erect a building. A yellow fever epidemic struck Baltimore and half of the congregation died. Healey was the only male member who survived.
In 1797 it was appointed “that Brother John Healey do preach the Gospel statedly among us, in season and out of season and that he administer the ordinances of God unto us regularly as our Pastor.” At age 32, Healey became the pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Baltimore.
In its first year as a constituted church within Baltimore, Healey’s little Second Baptist congregation resolved that there be kept up a prayer meeting the first Monday in every month, “for the express purpose of a revival of the kingdom of Christ, over the whole world.” Second Baptist was a church which “began with the world in its heart.”
John Healey tried a novel means to alleviate the desperate economic situation afflicting his little band of Baptists at Fell’s Point. He joined with two other non-Baptist churches, according to the Second Baptist Minutes of 1803, in receiving permission from the state to hold a lottery to raise funds. It was done. The next year, a query from Seneca to the association asked: “How far is gaming justifiable to help build meeting houses . . . ?” The association answered: “We conceive of every kind [of gaming] to be wrong and as lotterys are a species thereof we disapprove of them.”
Healey and his associates were General Baptists. On that account, for a time, they were exposed to many suspicions and much embarrassment. The Baptists in Baltimore, were, generally speaking, strongly Calvinistic. There was no fellowship for a number of years. The differences gradually subsided and a full and happy union formed.
Under Healey, pastor for fifty-four years, Second Baptist Church of Baltimore made significant contributions to early Baptist life in Maryland, including the first Sunday School and the earliest recorded statement of a global mission perspective.
Spreading the gospel occupied Healey’s heart, waking and sleeping. Joseph H. Jones reported a dream Healey had in which the Lord appeared to him and told him he had “a mission to distribute his word to the destitute of the city.” In the dream the Bible was brought to the minister, and he was given two great wings to fly from house to house. Healey believed the American Bible Society was prophesied in this way.
Healey assisted with the first African-American Baptist church which was constituted February 20, 1836. Moses Clayton was the planter. Healey died in June 1848.
Materials used in this biography were taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen
Historical files of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
Second & Fourth Baptist Church 200th Anniversary Book
Fundamental Baptist Institute website