Baptist History Spotlight: Thomas Dungan

October 15, 2014

Dr. Dan Nelson | Pastor
First Baptist Church, Camarillo, CA

From early beginnings in Massachusetts the Baptist movement spread to Pennsylvania. The colony of Pennsylvania had been settled by William Penn, a Quaker, who guaranteed religious liberty to dissenters who came there. It was logical that Baptist churches would pop up here since they had such a struggle in Massachusetts with their right to exist and disagree with the church/state relationship.

One of the earliest Baptist churches in Pennsylvania was started by Thomas Dungan who came there from Rhode Island having been influenced by the ministry of Roger Williams and John Clarke. Dungan came to Rhode Island from England in 1638 with his mother and step-father after his father had died in England. They were some of the first settlers in Newport Rhode Island. These were the days during the banishment of Roger Williams and John Clarke from the Plymouth colony. The Dungan family was some of the first settlers to be under the teaching of Williams and Clarke. Thomas, as a young man, developed under their instruction. Dungan was married in 1663 to Elizabeth Weaver. They had nine children.

In 1684 Dungan moved to Cold Spring, Pennsylvania and established a Baptist church where he served as pastor. Morgan Edwards records how Cold Spring was in Buck County between Bristol and Trenton. He had the distinction of being the first Baptist Pastor in the province. Dungan only served as pastor for four years before dying there.

Despite Dungan’s short tenure of four years he built a meeting house. He was buried in the graveyard that was begun during his ministry. Within the span of 4 years Dungan was able to baptize Elias Keach, the son of the famous English pastor Benjamin Keach, and ordain him to the gospel ministry. From that church in Cold Spring Keach led a few others to start the lower Dublin church which became known as the Pennepeck Baptist Church. The Pennepeck church still exists as the Leigh Valley Baptist Church and is the oldest surviving Baptist Church in Pennsylvania.

The church that Dungan started was  small–but it was a vital one. Baptist churches were able to move outside of the place of their original birth in America. Despite early oppression at the hands of the Puritans the Massachusetts, Rhode Island colony survived and later thrived in the next century especially with the establishment of what became Brown University.

The planting of the church in Cold Spring under Dungan represented the missionary enterprise beginning for Baptists outside of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although we don’t know much about Dungan we do know he was a man of vision to move his large family to this area which was remote at this period of history. The expansion of the work under Keach continued the growth of Baptists in Pennsylvania resulting in the formation of the first Baptist association in America. We should never despise “the day of small things” for we never know what God can do through it.