Baptist influence in the Fredericksburg area first took
hold in the 1760’s when Lewis and Elijah Craig, Spotsylvania residents, were
converted by itinerant Baptist preachers and began preaching the Gospel in Spotsylvania County. Their evangelistic efforts angered the local
government and in 1768, Lewis Craig, John Waller, James Childs, James Reed
and William Marsh were imprisoned in the Fredericksburg jail for 4 to 6 weeks. When the Baptists in Fredericksburg began to gather formally as a church body is not known
with certainty. It has been determined, however, that the church had been
founded by 1804 and was meeting in a frame building on Lafayette Boulevard where the Amtrak train station currently stands. The
first pastor was the Rev. Andrew B. Broaddus of Caroline County, a minister well respected in early Baptist life in Virginia. During his tenure, the second oldest woman’s
missionary society in the South was constituted in 1814. Following Broaddus’
departure in 1818, the congregation moved to a new brick meeting house on Sophia Street where Shiloh (Old
Site) now stands. Named Shiloh, the church experienced many difficulties in its early
years including a schism that found several of its members leaving to begin a
local Disciples of Christ church in 1832.
The fledgling church persevered and grew in strength
and numbers. By the late 1840’s, the church claimed over 800 members, nearly
three-fourths of them slaves and free blacks. Desiring a new facility, the
church purchased a lot at the corner of Princess Anne and Amelia Streets and
proceeded with a building fund program. Success of this effort was in doubt
until a widely known and respected minister, the Rev. William F. Broaddus,
was called as pastor in 1853. Under his guidance, the building campaign ended
successfully in 1855 with the completion of the current sanctuary building.
The white members of the church moved to the new building and renamed
themselves Fredericksburg Baptist Church. The former meeting house on Sophia Street was sold to the black congregants who became an
independent body. With an inspiring pastor and a beautiful new house of
worship, Fredericksburg Baptist Church looked to the future with anticipation and excitement.
The onset of the Civil War
clouded this hopeful future. In July of 1862, Rev. Broaddus was seized as a
hostage by Federal authorities and imprisoned in Washington, D.C. until his release in September. The following
December, the city experienced tremendous damage during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The church building suffered extensive damage
resulting from an artillery bombardment and its later use as an army field
hospital. The devastation forced most townspeople to flee to other areas to
live, including Rev. Broaddus who relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia where he assumed a pastorate. No services were
conducted at the church from December of 1862 until the end of the war in
1865. Following the war, members of the church returned to find their church
building requiring substantial repair. Despite their own economic hardships,
the members determined to restore their place of worship. In the spring of 1866, the church called a new pastor, the Rev. T.S.
Dunaway, to lead them through the rebuilding process. Under his leadership
the church building was repaired, membership enlarged, and financial health
restored. He remained as pastor until his retirement in 1898, having served
for 32 years, the longest pastorate of any minister in the church’s history.
In 1966 during an
exterior repair and repainting of the church, a loaded, ten inch long Union
Parrott artillery shell weighing 12 to 14 pounds was found embedded in and
removed from the Amelia Street wall where it had reposed for some 104 years
since the Battle of Fredericksburg.
At the turn of the century Fredericksburg Baptist Church was a thriving congregation influential in the
religious life of Fredericksburg and the affairs of Baptists in Virginia. Under the strong spiritual leadership of pastors such
as Emerson Swift and Robert F. Caverlee (Dr. Bob), FBC became increasingly involved in, and supportive of,
educational programs that focused on Bible study, church training, and
mission endeavors. "Dr. Bob" was pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church for 29 years, the second longest pastorate
in her history. Following "Dr. Bob's" retirement in 1961, Rev. J.
Howard Cates, who for 7 years in the early 50s had been Associate Pastor and
Minister of Music, was called to be pastor. Rev. Cates was pastor for 22
years until his retirement in 1984. His was the third longest tenure in the
history of the church.
FBC either started, or
assisted in starting, many other local Baptist churches. These include Falmouth, Ferry Farms, Friendship, Fairview, Spotswood, Chancellor, the Fredericksburg Baptist Activities Center and many others. While always financially supportive
of foreign missions, the church in the 1980’s began sending teams of
volunteers to participate in hands-on mission projects in Haiti, Chile,
Mexico, the Czech Republic, and St. Lucia. In the 1990’s, these efforts
expanded to include home mission efforts in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. As a result of increasing participation and a desire
to offer increased opportunities for fellowship and ministry, the church has expanded
its physical plant four times in the last eighty years. The most recent
expansion was the acquisition and renovation in 1990 of the former Victoria Theater building on Caroline Street.
The history of this church
is really a history of a people of God - a people of faith, vision, love,
commitment, and hope. That history continues today as strongly as ever.
In order to preserve the
history of Fredericksburg Baptist Church in celebration of its distinguished heritage and to serve
as an educational resource for the future, FBC has established a history
room. The room features displays of pictures, relics, and documents that
interpret the many facets of the church’s history. The room is open each
Sunday and at other times by request.
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