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The first Baptist college in America was Rhode Island
College founded in 1764, now known as Brown University. The school was begun at
Warren, Rhode Island, but moved to Providence in 1770. It became Brown
University in 1804 and was named for Nicholas Brown, an alumnus.
Rhode Island College was founded primarily to train young
men for the ministry. The college was promoted by the Philadelphia, Charleston,
and Warren Baptist associations. It fostered religious liberty and freedom in
its teachings and practice. The 1764 charter specified that there would be no
creedal barriers to student admission. Students and faculty had no religious
tests required and by 1770 Jews were also admitted as students. This commitment
to religious liberty gave the school a reputation of stability and openness.
The school had only nine presidents in its first 150 years of existence.
Baptist Brown was an answer to the Congregationalist Yale and
Harvard, Presbyterian Princeton, Episcopalian Penn and Columbia. The school was
begun in Rhode Island because many of its legislators were Baptists and were in
favor of religious liberty.
The school had financial struggles from the beginning.
Morgan Edwards toured England to raise funds and Hezekiah Smith toured the
south to raise money and support. Nicholas Brown gave a total of $160,000 to
the school and set an example in giving and concern for higher education.
Brown organized a medical program in 1811, graduate school
in 1850 and first admitted women in 1891. Brown does not have a Baptist
affiliation in 2009, but proudly publicizes the early influence of Roger
of the most influential presidents of Brown University was Francis Wayland (1796-1865).
He was born in New York City, the son of a Baptist preacher. Wayland graduated
from Union College in 1813 and after three years of medical studies was called
into the ministry. In 1821, Wayland became pastor of First Baptist Church,
Boston (1821-1826), and in 1827 became the fourth president of Brown
University. Since Brown was only the seventh college in America, Wayland had
the opportunity to be very innovative in academics and set some policies that
are still followed nearly 200 years later.
served as president of Brown for 28 years (1827-1855) and introduced courses in
science and modern languages. His primary academic contribution was in the area
of curriculum. In 1850, Wayland wrote: “The various courses should be so
arranged that, insofar as practicable, every student might study what he chose,
all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose.” This open ended course
selection was innovative and reached out again to the concepts of religious
liberty and personal freedom.
Francis Wayland did not have the gift of preaching, but had
the gifts of administration and communication. He supported local church
autonomy, missions and was one of the earliest Baptist writers who wrote
against the evils of slavery.
Jerry Windsor is
executive secretary of the Florida Baptist Historical Society and retired
professor of preaching at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.