When the Baptist church in Raleigh was organized in 1812 on the second floor of the original state Capitol building, there were 23 charter members—9 white and 14 black. In 1868 there was a peaceful separation of the two groups when the newly emancipated members established their own congregation.
Using the Bible as its sole guide for faith and practice, the first statement of beliefs of the church in 1812 consisted only of selected passages of scripture. Worship services and styles were in keeping with the customs of the culture at the time. Robert Daniel was the first pastor, and the first meeting-house was constructed in 1816 on South Person Street when Josiah Crudup was pastor.
Thomas Crocker became pastor of the church in 1821 and baptized Lucinda Briggs in 1822, reportedly by breaking ice in the river during the midst of winter. The membership grew to a total of 224 in 1826. A new building was completed and dedicated in 1840 on the site where First Baptist Church, Wilmington Street, is now located. Thomas Meredith (namesake of Meredith College), editor of the Biblical Recorder and a member of the church, was the dedication speaker. The first president of the Baptist State Convention of N. C., organized in 1830, was Patrick W. Dowd, pastor of our church.
The church suffered internal difficulties in the 1830s and nearly died, but the faithfulness of a few members preserved the church, and in the 1850s, the congregation experienced rapid growth and renewed vitality under the leadership of Pastor Thomas E. Skinner, who led the church to construct the present sanctuary in 1859. The lower level of the building was used as a Confederate hospital during the war between the states.
The congregation has produced some of the most influential leaders in Baptist life, such as Fannie E.S. Heck who was instrumental in the formation of the first missions organization for women in North Carolina, and the national Woman’s Missionary Union, auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention. Women have served as deacons at First Baptist since 1874 and our policy now requires an equal number of women and men serving on our diaconate. We have also ordained several women to the gospel ministry.
Pastors of the church have often been biblical scholars who served as professors and/or presidents of colleges and seminaries sometime during their career. Respect for scripture and education has nurtured First Baptist members who are biblically literate and world mission-minded. The congregation has directly launched or aided at least 36 other churches in getting started. We also point with pride to the fact that the initial meetings concerning the establishment of a college for NC Baptist women (now Meredith College) were held in our facilities.