Isaac Backus

Preacher, Historian, Defender of Liberty

Isaac was born at Norwich, Conn. on Jan. 9, 1724. Although his parents were members of the Congregational church, Isaac was slow to join that congregation. At the age of 17, Isaac was influenced by the Great Awakening taking place in New England. He was converted in 1741, but chose not to join the Congregational Church because of its lack of church discipline and low spiritual life until 10 months later. He and others soon separated and began another church that was committed to spiritual life. He then began to preach and his ability was noticed by others. In 1748 he was called to his first pastorate of a separate church at Middleborough and was ordained in 1748. He continued as the pastor during which a two year struggle began and the church argued the subject of baptism. Isaac studied this subject thoroughly and finally took his stand with Baptist baptism at the hands of Pastor Pierce from Rhode Island. His church then disciplined him out of membership.

During his life, Baptists were subject to great persecution by the civil powers of Mass. They were taxed to support the state churches and when they refused to pay, their houses, land and possessions were confiscated. They were put in prison for refusing to support false religion! In 1774 Isaac was asked by the Baptists to represent them in this matter, both in Mass. and the new Congress. For 10 years he labored for religious liberty. In 1774 he went to the Continental Congress and set forth the oppressions that Baptists were under. His pleas were misconstrued and vicious lies were told. He was accused of presenting false charges of oppression to keep the colonies from uniting in defending liberty. He then went back to the Congress and secured a document declaring what he had said and clarifying the issue. He spent the next five years writing articles to explain the need of religious liberty. Finally a new constitution was adopted which allowed Baptists, if they gave in certificates to the ruling sect that they belonged to a Baptist society, and desired their money to go to the minister thereof, he, the minister, could sue the money out of the hands of those who took it. In 1785 Isaac went back to the congressional committee of grievances to object to this compromise. However the committee refused to listen. It was not for almost 50 years until full religious liberty was finally granted. Although he saw some relief, the entire fruit of his work was not enjoyed until 1833 following his death. We owe our religious liberty to the tireless efforts of this great man of God.

Written by Doug Hammett