UU Minute #91

Elhanan Winchester, part 1

American Universalisms’s Progenitors and Founders began with George de Benneville – an itinerant preacher who never ministered a congregation or did anything to establish a denomination, but whose universalist ideas paved the way for those who did.

John Murray founded universalist congregations in Gloucester, then Boston, and established Universalism as a legitimate denomination with legal rights and a measure of social acceptability.

We come now to Elhanan Winchester, 10 years younger than John Murray. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, he began preaching as a youth. At age 19, he moved to Canterbury, Connecticut where he became a Baptist and was soon ordained as a Baptist pastor. At age 23, he traveled to South Carolina and accepted a call to serve a Baptist Church there.

Five years later, Elhanan, growing increasingly troubled about slavery, at a South Carolina revival meeting, preached to fifty whites and about a hundred blacks, one of the first to share the gospel openly with enslaved people. In fact, a church was organized for blacks, despite resistance from whites, and Winchester ministered to both congregations.

During this time, he was reading universalist writings and starting to maybe believe in universal salvation. Settling then in Philadelphia, and accepting a call to serve First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Winchester was slowly becoming more public about his Universalist views, though he refrained from preaching universalism.

Winchester took to visiting Universalist George de Benneville. The two traveled on missionary tours through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.

Learning of his Universalist opinions, a faction of his congregation moved to have him dismissed. Winchester’s supporters organized themselves as the Society of Universal Baptists.

For what Elhanan Winchester said and wrote, be sure to catch our next thrilling episode!

NEXT: Elhanan Winchester, part 2