My original intention was to publish an article by Jonathan M. Hoppock on the history of the Baptist Church in Locktown. And that is what I will do here, but after reading his article, I discovered that some of the ministers he listed had troubled careers, and that, of course, makes them interesting. But first, here is Mr. Hoppock’s history of the Church.

The Old School Baptist Church at Locktown

by Jonathan M. Hoppock
published in the Democrat-Advertiser, January 4, 1906

Interior of the Locktown Baptist Church, 1905

Interior of the Locktown Baptist Church, 1905

The above view shows the interior of the Baptist Church at Locktown. This old pioneer church has the unique distinction of having one of its faithful pastors, Rev. David Bateman, who officiated from 1818 to 1832, buried within the enclosure. The tablet shown—standing in front of the pulpit—marks the place where, underneath the floor, his remains are resting. They were deposited there at his own request.

The pious and God-fearing old divine1 so loved the flock over whom he watched that when he felt the time approaching when the Master would call him home, he made the request to be laid inside of the walls of the edifice where he so long and faithfully had ministered to the spiritual up-building of his followers.

On the tablet above mentioned is the following inscription:

Sacred to the memory
of
REV. DAVID BATEMAN,
Whom Jesus called from this life September 10th, A.D. 1832, 
In the 55th year of his age.
As an affectionate husband, indulgent parent, sincere friend, 
pious and faithful minister of the Gospel five and twenty years: 
 he shone conspicuous and died by all esteemed, respected and lamented.
Beneath this marble affection’s tribute paid,
 This much lov’d pastor’s dear remains were laid,
 Could friendly aid or the physician’s skill 
Rescued him from death he would have been with us still.
 Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.

This denomination is among the oldest and first organized Christian bodies in this part of the State, having been established about one hundred and sixty years ago. It has numbered among its membership numerous men and women whose piety, honesty and industry were important factors in spreading the Gospel, upholding the law, maintaining order and developing the resources of this part of our State.

For the following facts relating to the history of this Church we are mainly indebted to Mr. Cyrus Risler, of Locktown, through whose courtesy we obtained them:

The Baptist Church of Kingwood, now worshipping at Locktown, was organized July 27th, 1745, at Baptisttown. The original or constituent members were: Elder Thomas Curtis (also first pastor), John Walter (church clerk), William Fowler, John Burt, David Drake, Jas. Wolverton, _____ Ruckman, Job Warford, Thomas Hill, Eleanor Hunt, Edward Slater, Elsie Curtis, Martha Burtis, Agnes Drake, Abigail Wolverton, Elizabeth Warford, Elizabeth Collins, Ann Larue, Elizabeth Barris, Mary Still and Mary Green.

The first meeting house was built in 1750, of logs 30×38 feet, on a lot donated to the church by George Burket. The second was a frame building, and the present structure, of stone, was built in the year 1819. The first two stood on or near the site of the present edifice.2

Thomas Curtis remained pastor from its organization till his death in 1749. He was succeeded in 1749 by Malachi Bonham, who remained until February 17th, 1757. The next minister, David Sutton, from March 26th, 1764 to August 3, 1783, when he resigned. He was succeeded by Nicholas Cox, who ministered from November 4th, 1784 to June 5th, 1790. He was followed by Garner A. Hunt, October 5th, 1795, who continued until May 1st, 1807, when he left the Baptists and joined the Presbyterians. The next pastor was James McLaughlin, November 1st, 1808, for about one year. In the spring of 1813, the church called John Ellis, who continued till the spring of 1817.3

He was succeeded in the spring of 1818 by Elder David Bateman, who officiated until August 10th, 1832. On April 1st, 1833, William Curtis was chosen, but he resigned at the end of six months. August 30th, 1834, James W. Wigg came and continued till February 2d, 1839. April 1st, 1840 Elder J. Felty took charge, but resigned at the end of one year. In January 1841, Elder William Hause became pastor, continuing till April 1st, 1845. Elder G. Conkling was his successor May 16th, 1846, and remained until his death April 16, 1868. May 28th, 1870, the church called Elder A. B. Francis to the pastorate, which he retained until November, 1881. He was a Virginian by birth, a devout Christian and an able speaker. He was succeeded in the above named year by Elder Balis Bundy of Otsego, New York, and remained in charge until his death, 1901. Elder D. Marian Vail was then called, and is still in charge. He is very highly esteemed by all who know him.4

This church, whose history stretches back into other centuries, has never forgotten Him to whose honor and glory it was reared and dedicated. All through the misty years of Time the Cross of Jesus Christ has been kept in view, and those who follow the founders of the sacred edifice are faithful to the trust which comes to them as the heritage of their forefathers. May the old church continue the good work so long ago undertaken by a noble ancestry, and may the spirit of David Bateman be as the guiding star to all generations yet to come.
J. M. Hoppock

This conclusion gives us a glimpse of the sincerely devout feelings attached to the old churches of Hunterdon County. In 1906, there was reason to think the church and its congregation would continue on indefinitely. But that was not to be. The church closed its doors in 1967. But it was saved from conversion to a residence in 1973 and again in 1986, and is now a public building under the care of the Friends of the Locktown Stone Church.

Locktown Baptist Church, after restoration

Locktown Baptist Church, after restoration

As I researched some of the pastors mentioned by Mr. Hoppock, it dawned on me that several of them had a controversial ministry, despite being popular with many of their congregants. They were Malakiah Bonham, David Sutton, Nicholas Cox, Garner A. Hunt, James W. Wigg and Aaron Francis. Following the careers of these ministers takes us through a short history of America, starting before the Revolution and taking us to the years following the Civil War.

Rev. Malakiah Bonham

Rev. Bonham’s troubles were mostly of the romantic variety, as I wrote in Mary Fox and Malakiah Bonham and What Happened to Malakiah Bonham.

Rev. David Sutton

Rev. Sutton was born Feb. 12, 1730 in Basking Ridge, Somerset County, the son of Rev. David Sutton Sr. and Elizabeth Cox. About 1760 he married Phebe Ann Winter, born 1730 in Middletown, Monmouth County. I suspect that she was the daughter of Andrew Winter of Middletown, who was one of those who signed a document authorizing creation of the Kingwood Baptist Church in 1745.5

The first appearance of Rev. Sutton in the minutes of the Kingwood church was on Feb. 21, 1763 when “David Sutten” was chosen to clerk the meeting. The next mention was on May 7, 1764, when “Brother David Sutton, Minister of the Gospel, was received by letter of dismission from the Scotch Plains.”6

During David Sutton’s ministry the church experienced “a considerable stir . . . relative to the rite of washing feet.” In the writings of Morgan Edwards about Baptist churches,7 he pays tribute to David Sutton commenting that “he has been often compared to Nathanael, of whom it is said, that there was no guile in him.” He served the Kingwood Baptist Church for almost twenty years, during which he helped to establish a Baptist Church at Flemington, and thereafter was pastor to both churches.

But during the Revolution, Rev. Sutton had a crisis of conscience. In 1777 he was fined for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Patriot cause.8 It has been written that he eventually did take the oath, but his reluctance caused concern when he prayed for King George anyway. One of his parishioners, John Jewell, was so offended that he locked Rev. Sutton out of the Flemington Baptist meeting house.9 This incident seems to presage another lock-out that took place in 1839.

Rev. Sutton must have been highly regarded by his church, because was not dismissed for his seemingly neutral stance on the Revolution. Some other ministers were not so successful. Sadly, the Kingwood Baptist Church minute book for this period is silent.

Once the war had ended and things began to settle down, Rev. Sutton chose to depart, apparently on his own terms. He was 53 in 1783. On June 20, 1783, the Kingwood church minutes read, “David Suten intends to move from us in a short time and is desirous to know if any members or others that gave money ‘tords’ paying for the place he now lives on has any demand on him for money they paid. We house names are under written believe that affair was settled and that there is no demand.” Signed: Andrew Bray, James Bray, Peter Rettinghousen, Cornelius Quick and Elisha Bird.10 Then on August 9th, David Sutton, minister, and his wife, Anne were “dismissed with letter.” They moved to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and remained there for the rest of their lives. Rev. Sutton died on Oct. 22, 1812, age 82. His wife Phebe Ann died on Dec. 25, 1817. They were buried in the Lone Pine Cemetery in Washington County.11

Rev. Nicholas Cox

Just as controversial was Rev. Nicholas Cox. He was born in New Castle, Delaware on March 1742, and married Rebecca Potts in Philadelphia on March 14, 1764. Unlike his predecessor, he was a committed patriot, and served as chaplain for the Continental Army during the Revolution. He took up the ministry at Kingwood in 1784 and was very effective, baptizing 61 people in 1788, including Gen. Daniel Bray.

In 1790, he turned away from the Baptist teachings and became a fervent proponent of Universalism. At the meeting held at John Robason’s house on April 3, 1790, Mr. Cox declared that he was “altred from the foundation in regard to universial redemption.”12 The contributor to Snell’s History describing the Amwell Baptist Church, wrote “This was a great shock, and prostrated the church for some time. There was but little preaching for the next four years.”13

Cox struggled to persuade the Baptists of Kingwood and Flemington that Universalism was the correct religion, even attempting to take over one of the church buildings. Most of his congregation, much as they had loved him before this, were not moved, and forbade him to preach in their churches. However, many of his congregants did stand by him, and were excluded for their Universalist views.

Members of the Baptist Church who sided with Cox were: Richard Opdyke, John McVay, Simond Myers, Daniel Everitt & Rachel Everitt, Peter Rettenhouse and wife Sarah, Lot Rettenhouse, Jona. Woovlerton, John Robason, Sarah Worford, Thomas Lake, John Hide, Mary Cartrit, Jamima Lake, Hannah Michel, Benjamin Ruttenhouse & wife, Richard Heath & wife, Thomas Shearman and wife, John Heath, Leah Bonham, Joseph Horn, Susanah Ruttenhouse, Elisabeth Worts, Lavina Robason, Rebecah Cox and Caterine Hogaland.

John W. Lequear wrote that “some of them soon returned to the Church. Others did not return until several years after and a few never returned.”

After this, Rev. Cox traveled through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, preaching Universalism, but without much success. He lived a long life, which ended in 1826 when he was 83. At that time he was living in Warren County, and one writer thinks he suffered from alcoholism. His wife Rebecca died in 1818.14

His daughter Martha married Henry Dilts of Kingwood, about 1785, soon after her father took up the ministry in Kingwood. However, the marriage was not listed in the church minutes (because the list did not start until 1800). Henry Dilts was born 1764 to Christopher Dilts. I am uncertain about the other children. Daughter Lydia may have married William Mettler.

Rev. Garner A. Hunt

John W. Lequear wrote a short history of the Baptist Church in the Hunterdon Republican newspaper, which included this paragraph on Rev. Hunt:

After Cox was excluded, the Church experienced many trials and continued without a pastor until October 26, 1795, when they called Rev. Garner A. Hunt to be their pastor. He, in the hand of the Lord, was the means of gathering together and uniting the members of the Church. He preached for them with acceptance until about May 1st, 1807.

Rev. Hunt was born on June 16, 1764 in Westchester, NY. His father was Maj. Gen. Augustine Hunt of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. When the war was over, Maj. Hunt settled in New York with his wife Lydia Holloway. Their second son was Holloway Whitfield Hunt, who was born in 1769.

Rev. Garner Hunt was ministering in Cumberland County when he was called to replace Nicholas Cox in Kingwood. Interestingly, Cumberland County is also where Rev. David Bateman came from. Shortly before leaving Cumberland, in 1793, Garner Hunt married Ruth Page (1775-1813), daughter of David Page. They had at least five children, but apparently none before the Hunts arrived in Hunterdon County.15

Rev. Hunt had a successful ministry for many years. Finding Hunterdon County congenial, he most likely persuaded his brother Holloway to accept the charge to minister to the Presbyterian churches in Kingwood, Mt. Pleasant and Union Township in 1802. It would be interesting to learn why one brother chose to be a Baptist and the other a Presbyterian.

All was going well when suddenly (and not unlike his predecessor Nicholas Cox), Rev. Garner A. Hunt had a change of heart. Without any warning to his parishioners, in 1807, he converted to Presbyterianism. I would not be surprised to learn that his brother, Rev. H. W. Hunt, had something to do with this.

The minutes of the Kingwood Baptist Church show that on February 7, 1807, Rev. Garner A. Hunt delivered a receipt for $233, which represented his salary from 1800 to December 1809. Only two months later, he left the Baptists to join with the Presbyterians. The church minute for May 16th read:

“Thomas Roberson and Richard Heth [Heath] to ask Garner Hunt why he was departed from our faith and order. The subscriptions to be held by Thomas Lequear for report of Mr. Hunt of 6 Dec 1807.”

The subscriptions referred to were collections from the congregation to pay for Rev. Hunt’s salary. Thomas Lequear was the church treasurer. The minutes do not indicate that Rev. Hunt appeared to explain himself, but one historian has written that he had a change of heart and asked to be readmitted.16 I have not found that request in the church minutes. John W. Lequear wrote that “he went away without making any disturbance.”17

What I did find in the minutes was mention of a letter from Rev. Hunt in December 1807 “requesting pay for the last six months he preached with us.” As an indication of the church’s still vivid sense of betrayal, the clerk wrote: “Decided not to give him a penny.”

From this time on, Rev. Garner A. Hunt was a Presbyterian minister. He “was called” to the church in Harmony Township, Warren County in 1809 and also the Scott’s Mountain Church. He retired in 1827, but continued to preach in private homes until his death in 1849, at the age of 84. Rev. Hunt was buried in the Harmony Presbyterian Church Cemetery next to his first wife, Ruth, who died in 1813. His second wife, who survived him, was Jemima Prall, the daughter of John Prall Sr. and Susanna Barber.18

Elder James W. Wigg

I have already written about Elder Wigg and the trouble he had with his congregation—trouble that brought about the name of Locktown. You can read his history in “Baptists Divided” and “A Scandal in Baptistown.”

Elder Aaron B. Francis

Elder Aaron B. Francis

Elder Aaron B. Francis

Elder Francis was born in Virginia, on May 14, 1842, and married wife Laura Page Middleton in Loudon County on Aug. 23, 1870. One month later, on Sep. 15, he became pastor to the Locktown Baptist Church, where he served until 1882. He built a house for his family on Upper Creek Road, later owned by the Schoenherr family.

As J. M. Hoppock wrote, “he was a Virginian by birth, a devout Christian and an able speaker.” But he had a past. He was a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, who fought with the “Warrenton Rifles” and the 17th Virginia Infantry. He was wounded and was a prisoner of war.19

One might expect his record to disqualify him for a position in the North so soon after the war had ended, but apparently not in Locktown. There were many in that vicinity who were died-in-the-wool Democrats and had little sympathy for the Union cause, or for anything advocated by President Lincoln. They were generally known as Copperheads. Hiring such a person like Elder Francis may have felt to many people like a way to make a statement.

In later years, Elder Francis wrote a memoir of his life; here is an excerpt concerning his time in Locktown:

“On the 15th of September 1870, I with my wife went to live in Hunterdon Co. New Jersey. I had been called to the pastorate of the Kingwood Old School Baptist Church located at Locktown, a Small village in Hunterdon Co. seven miles west of Flemington the county-seat.  In the following year 1871, I bought a piece of land eighteen acres, about half  mile south of Locktown, and built a house into which we moved the first of November of that year.  Our first child, Robert Middleton was then five years [sic; months] old.  We lived there until the first of May 1882.  During our residence at that place our eldest child died of Scarlet Fever March 10, 1873 and three other children were born, Ernest Page, March 2, 1874; Rozier Leavitt, February 1, 1876 and Edith Bise, February 26, 1879.  During my pastorate of the Kingwood Church, I baptized quite a number, but the deaths fully equaled the additions.”

In 1882 the Francis family left New Jersey and returned to Virginia. But before he left, I suspect he might have had something to do with the church pulpit, pictured at the beginning of this article. It was probably installed during the time that Elder Francis was in Locktown, and replaced the original, far more modest one built in 1819.

The Risler Family

When Elder Francis first came to Hunterdon, he brought with him his sister Anna Hume Francis, born Aug. 7, 1844. On June 16, 1875, she married her neighbor, John T. Risler, Jr., son of Deacon John T. Risler and Keturah Rittenhouse. John Taylor Risler, Sr. was deacon of the Kingwood/Locktown Baptist Church for many years, and was considered very devout.

John T. Risler, Jr. was also the brother of the Cyrus Risler mentioned above, who provided Jonathan M. Hoppock with information for his church history. Cyrus Risler was a well-known figure in the neighborhood of Locktown. He was born November 21, 1828.

On Oct. 3, 1855, Cyrus Risler married Sarah Pyatt Rittenhouse, born April 27, 1834 to Daniel Bray Rittenhouse and Rachel Miriam Pyatt.20 Their four children were Ella (1856-1950, married Daniel S. Fox); Willis (1858-1946, married Jane M. Pettit); James Pyatt (1863-1946, married Sarah Catharine Slout); and Cyrus Jr. (1876-1956, married Edith Brattan).

Cyrus Risler Sr. owned the family farm on Featherbed Lane, and was, like his father, an active member of the Locktown Baptist congregation. He was also a member of the Delaware Twp. Committee in 1866. He died on Nov. 1, 1921 at the age of 92, and was buried in the Rosemont Cemetery next to his wife Sarah who had died on May 31, 1900, age 66. I am a little surprised that the couple was not buried in the Baptist cemetery in Locktown. But Sarah Rittenhouse Risler was the daughter of Daniel and Rachel Rittenhouse who were also buried at Rosemont, so that might explain it.

Cyrus and Sarah’s son, Cyrus Risler Jr. left Hunterdon County sometime before 1900 when he married his wife Edith Brattan in Maryland. Soon afterwards, they moved to New York City, where they remained, until Cyrus died in 1956. His widow Edith died in 1962 in Swissvale, PA. Their son, Clark Britton Risler, became a family genealogist and shared his work with me. He was born in New York in 1914 and died in 2003.

Footnotes:

  1. Rev. Bateman was not really old. He was only 54 when he died. He left a widow with three young children, plus three older children from his first marriage.
  2. This conveyance was not recorded; George Burket is not listed in the Index to Colonial Conveyances. It is not at all certain that the log church house was built at Locktown; more likely it was built at Baptistown. It is important to remember that the congregation at Baptistown was just as active as the one at Locktown.
  3. Malakiah Bonham was one of the most colorful of the church’s pastors. For his history, see “Mary Fox and Malakiah Bonham” and “What Happened to Malakiah Bonham.”
  4. For my own view of the schism in the Kingwood Baptist Church, see “Baptists Divided” and “A Scandal in Baptistown.
  5. Phyllis D’Autrechy, Some Records of Old Hunterdon, 1979, p. 74; also Steven Zdepski’s History of the Kingwood Baptist Church, p. 9.
  6. D’Autrechy, 1979, p. 79.
  7. Morgan Edwards, “Materials Toward a History of the Baptists in New Jersey,” Philadelphia, 1792.
  8. E. Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of New Jersey, 1927, p. 308.
  9. Snell, p. 318.
  10. D’Autrechy, p. 84.
  11. Find-a-Grave.
  12. D’Autrechy, 1979, p. 89.
  13. Snell p. 318.
  14. William Curtis, “Century Old History of the Baptist Church at Kingwood,” 1833, published by Hiram Deats, available at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. Curtis was pastor in 1833, after the death of David Bateman and before Elder Wigg was called.
  15. Much of the biographical information here comes from “The History of the Hunt Family” by Jesse Sinclair of Holland, NJ, 1894, revised and published by William Wilson Hunt of Jersey City, 1900. A copy was sent to Hiram E. Deats in 1931, and can be found in the Deats Genealogical Files, Hunt Family. Birth and death dates from the Garner Hunt Family Bible, GSNJ Bible Collection.
  16. Zdepski, p. 11.
  17. John W. Lequear, “Early Settlement and History of the Baptists in Hunterdon County,” Hunterdon Co. Republican, Feb. 9, 1887.
  18. The Belvidere Apollo published an obituary of Rev. Garner A. Hunt in its Feb. 20, 1849 issue. I have not seen it.
  19. Thanks to Ian Schoenherr for finding these facts about A. B. Francis, as well as the carte de visite.
  20. They were married in the Baptist Church, but the wedding is not listed in Deats’ Hunterdon Co. Marriages.