October 23, 2014
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Shawomet Baptist Church 1: Tracing the roots
Then and Now
Terry D'Amato Spencer

The present day Shawomet Baptist Church at 1542 West Shore Road in Warwick traces its origins back to the old Six Principle Baptist Church. According to the meager records on ecclesiastical history that exists, this congregation built the first meetinghouse in Warwick. When this church became in such disrepair that it could no longer serve the congregation, a new church building was erected on the corner of Sandy Lane and West Shore Road. This eventually became the Old Warwick Baptist Church and then Shawomet Baptist Church.

Under their pastor Job Manchester (1828-1843), the church prospered. Elder Manchester was known for his great mechanical ability as well as for his preaching. In 1815 he invented a power loom for weaving cotton cloth, and this invention did much to promote the textile industry in Rhode Island. In time, however, the Six Principle Baptist began to see their numbers decreasing due to the death of the older members and the failure to attract new members.

In the fall of 1842, the Reverend Jonathan E. Forbush met with a “five brethren and eleven sisters” at the home of Brother John W. Greene for the purpose of organizing a “Regular Baptist Church” under the auspices of the Rhode Island Baptist State Convention.

The 18 participants were organized as the Old Warwick Baptist Church (later the name was changed to that of the Shawomet Baptist Church of Warwick). Reverend Forbush was chosen as pastor, Benjamin Greene as deacon and John Holden as clerk. The group selected a committee of three to approach the Old Six Principle Baptists for use of their meetinghouse. According to Oliver P. Fuller’s History of Warwick, “the Six Principle Church being quite feeble” became interested in the organization of a new church and granted the new group the use of the building.

The Reverend Forbush was regarded as a dynamic leader and several additions occurred during his pastorate. When Rev. Forbush left in 1845 he was succeeded by the Reverend Alfred Colburn. It was at this time that John W. Greene began his 25 consecutive years of service as church clerk. Much of the success of the church has been credited to his zeal and loyalty and of that of Reverend Colburn (1845-1848) and Reverend George A. Willard (1850-1859). Even after Rev. Willard resigned as pastor, he remained as a member of the church until 1868 and did a great deal of work for the church. It was while Rev. Willard was pastor that a parsonage was built in 1851, and in that same year the church’s name was changed to Shawomet Baptist Church. While Mr. Willard occupied the parsonage, it was kept as a boy’s boarding school. In time, however, repairs were not made and the parsonage fell into disrepair.

According to the church history in March 1860, the Reverend H.G. Stewart became pastor. Within a year the Civil War broke out and Rev. Stewart felt it his duty to serve as a Union Army chaplain. While the war raged on, a number of ministers served the church. Despite the lack of a permanent pastor, the congregation grew in numbers as this was a period when the textile industry boomed in Warwick and many new workers came into the area.

From 1868 until 1882 Shawomet Baptist church prospered under the pastorate of Reverend Josiah Torrey Smith. In 1871 Pastor Smith was able to see the church, make needed repairs on the old meetinghouse and to purchase land in the hopes of building a new edifice. This dream came through by 1885 when a new church was built and on Aug. 7, 1885 it was dedicated to the delight of its members. Unfortunately, the building was short-lived, as on Oct. 17, 1886 it was consumed by flames.

On that Sunday morning the janitor, Frank Capwell, had built a fire in one of the furnaces to take the chill from the air. He left the church for a very short time and when he returned he found the floor above the furnace in flames. With a few minutes the whole structure was a fierce mass of fire. According to Clinton A. Phillips, who wrote of the fire, “While the edifice was yet burning the good people were called together [to]...hold a service in the Old Warwick League building...and with the burning building visible from the windows of the League room, devout prayers were offered up.”

That same day a special meeting was called to consider plans for a new church. Work began in a short time and in 1888 the present structure was completed in the lot at the corner of West Shore Road and Armstrong St.

The story of Shawomet Baptist Church will be continued.


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