The Distinguished Heritage of Fredericksburg Baptist Church
The Early Years
When the Baptists in Fredericksburg began to gather formally as a church body is not known with certainty. It can be accurately 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. NamedShiloh, the church experienced several 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 Church Grows
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 well 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 FredericksburgBaptist 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 “Blackout" Years
”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 inWashington, 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 as a result of 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 the longest pastorate of any minister in the church’s history.
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, FBC became increasingly involved in, and supportive of, educational programs that focused on Bible study, church training, and mission endeavors. FBC either started, or assisted in starting, several other local Baptist churches. These include Falmouth, Ferry Farms, Friendship, Fairview, Spotswood, Chancellor, and the Fredericksburg BaptistActivities Center. 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. Fredericksburg Baptist Church is now affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
Preserving the Story
The history of this church is really a history of a people of God-a people of faith, vision, love, commitment, and hope. That heritage continues today as strongly as ever. The story of FBC is preserved in the Heritage Gallery, a museum and archives that serves as a repository for record, documents, photographs, and artifacts that help to educate about the history of FBC. The Gallery is open on Sundays and other times by request. The story is also preserved in “Out of Our Hearts”, a 400 page book published in conjunction with the church’s anniversary in 2004.