September 7, 2016
John Williams (1820-1894) had far-reaching impact upon Maryland Baptists. He set the face of First Baptist, Baltimore, toward the Southern Baptist Convention. Maryland had strong ties to both North and South. Williams brought his allegiance to Southern ways from Virginia and planted them deep in his Maryland congregation. He also led the church which led the way in recognizing women’s leadership in faith communities at a time when the Women’s Movement was being born in the United States. The ministry of First Baptist, Baltimore’s women joined the Maryland Baptist lay heritage of Henry Slater and his wife, Dorcas; the housewives who helped Father Healey save Second Baptist; and the sacrifices of businessman William Crane.
Williams was born in Virginia in 1820. He was educated at Columbian College and Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. After five years at various churches in Virginia, he accepted the call to First Baptist, Baltimore.
His decision to accept the call had far-reaching impact upon Maryland Baptists. He preached the doctrines that make us a peculiar people; argued the superiority of the South’s convention method and opposed interdenominational evangelistic union meetings on the grounds that such meetings put a platform over our baptistries.
Williams became a champion of female laity. At the Oread Institute on Martha’s Vineyard, he said, “The influence of woman must also be used. Man is, indeed, the head according to the Bible; but a woman is the neck that turns it.”
He also created an interest among the churches of raising money for the work of the association, which gave the church members the privilege of giving to its ministries. The practice at that time had the central leaders assuming financial responsibility when funds were needed.
Williams also introduced a source of increased yield in baptisms by harvesting a younger crop. Of the thousand individuals he baptized in Baltimore, about one quarter were under fifteen years of age. When he confessed to having baptized several as young as nine years of age, it was considered news fit to print.
His persuasive pulpit powers helped birth the Baltimore Baptist Church Extension Society in 1853. Williams, along with William Crane and Franklin Wilson, started a number of meetinghouses by purchasing land and constructing meeting houses which congregations were then invited to occupy. Franklin Square and Lee Street were started in this fashion.
Williams served on a provisional Board, under the MBUA, to act on behalf of the Board in securing and transmitting funds for the use of missionaries during the war. They received permission from the Foreign Mission Board to carry funds and correspondence between Baltimore and Richmond under a flag of truce. Williams served as corresponding secretary for this Board.
Williams baptized Annie Graves, who was the mother of Rosewell, who became a missionary to China.
William’s wife, Corinthia Read Williams founded a Baltimore branch of the Union Woman’s Missionary Society. In 1870 Williams launched a society solely for Baptist women, the Baptist Woman’s Mission to Woman. Williams led in founding Southern Baptist home mission work by beginning societies in First Baptist Church and Eutaw Place Baptist, Baltimore.
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen