Churches of the Area
Chemung County NY
History of First Baptist Church -  Wellsburg NY in Chemung County
Home Page
Town of Ashland Page
More Churches
Booklet submitted by Sylvia DENTON Smith 
and retyped by Deborah JUDGE Spencer
Formatted & Published by Joyce M. Tice March 2005
Original Church, shown at left, burned in 1965. Its replacement uses similar architecture and design.
A particularly nice view of the newer First Baptist Church taken in 1997 by Joan NASH O'Dell. 
First Baptist Church

Wellsburg, New York


One of the most important expeditions of the American Revolutionary War under General John Sullivan in 1779 was the means of opening up Western New York to early settlers. It broke entirely the power of the Indians but left the entire fertile region a waste and a wilderness. That the pioneers had to "subdue" the forest is literally true; deer were killed by the hundreds in season, bears and rattlesnakes were so numerous that surveyors were tired of keeping account of those killed. The government had no money to pay the soldiers but it had plenty of land and any soldier could draw one of these lots for himself. Drawings took place in 1791 and many soldiers returned to the valley to make their permanent homes. Most of them were from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., from Orange Co., N.Y. and from Connecticut. Following the Susquehanna River the pioneers came by horseback, by boat, or by foot and settled by the Chemung, the Canisteo and the Genesee rivers. Among them were Baptists from Wyoming and Pittston, Pa. in the Wyoming Valley. On Sept. 2, 1789, a mere handful of the early comers realizing the need of meeting together for religious purposes formed a church in the Chemung Valley. Their names have been preserved in the minutes of the Wellsburg church. They were Roswell Goff, William Buck, John Hillman, Peter Roberts, Jesse Locey, John Van Camp and Elizabeth Hillman. The first record in the minutes of the church is under date of September 2, 1789. It reads: "Whereas, we a number of members belong to different Baptist churches having our lots cast in this wilderness land of the Town of Chemung, do find ourselves bound under the obligations of the Gospel of Christ as we being far distant from the privileges of any Gospel church of Christ do give up ourselves to the watch and care of each other and covenant to walk together in the rules of the Gospel, and agree to meet on the first Tuesday of each month for a conference, likewise on the first day of every week for the public worship of God, according to the direction of the Gospel of Christ." The next entry in this interesting record is on February 3rd, 1791, and is to the effect that it was agreed to keep a record of the business transacted by the church. The first matter is a record that "brother Roswell Goff being recommended by the Baptist church of Pits Town as one having a measure of the Dispensation of the Gospel committed to him and we having had opportunity with him to give him the right hand of fellowship therein." There is nothing in the records to indicate how long Elder Goff had been preaching in the community. Apparently the little church was convinced that he was worthy to be their pastor and this action was tantamount to a call. In the same meeting the disorderly conduct of some of the members was discussed and the hand of fellowship withdrawn from one. The early record leaves no doubt that the Wellsburg Church was formed before Roswell Goff appeared. Also that the church actually came into being in 1789 though it was not recognized by a Baptist Association until October 13, 1791 when delegates from sister Baptist churches in Pits Town, Pleasant Valley and Choconut came to examine the faith and order of the church in Chemung. These delegates composing the council were satisfied as to the faith and order of the church and voted to recognize it as constituted according to the Gospel plan. The local church then requested the same council to set apart Roswell Goff to the work of the ministry and the pastoral care of this church according to the ordinances of the Gospel. After examining him "to the satisfaction of their minds" they ordained Roswell Goff. This good man continued in the pastorate of this church until 1812. He was evidently an outstanding man in the community. He was a cobbler in addition to being a farmer and preacher. Some amusing stories have come down through the years regarding his methods of dealing with parishioners and customers. However, Elder Goff was highly respected and affectionately revered among those who knew him as pastor and friend. An interesting history of the position Elder Goff occupied is contained in a manuscript written by a friend of his and now in the possession of the Library of the American Baptist Historical Society at Crozer Seminary, Chester, Pennsylvania. Twenty members made up the membership when the church was formally recognized. Two were baptized on the day the church was recognized. Others were soon received into membership. Many of the leading citizens of the rapidly developing community became members of this church which was for a number of years the only church for many miles. In fact, one who is familiar with the names of the pioneer families in this valley will note in the minutes of the church meetings of those days the mention of the names of practically all those pioneer families because at least one representative of nearly all those families were affiliated with this church at one time of another. It is doubtful if the tremendous influence of this little church upon the pioneer life of the community has ever been fully realized. The strong influence of the local church in its own community is all the more impressive when considered in relation to the following facts. Baptist views had been introduced in America in 1639, exactly 150 years before the founding of the Wellsburg Church, but Baptists had not gained a large following for in 1790 there were less than 65,000 Baptists among the approximately four million inhabitants of the United States. It is also interesting to remember that when this church was founded, the Constitution of the United States had been adopted by only a few of the colonies which were just then being recognized as States. George Washington had just a few months before been inaugurated as the first President of the United States. The boundary line between New York and Pennsylvania had been surveyed only one year before. There were no roads through the valley worthy of the name. All travel for any distance was by water. There were no public schools. Elmira was unheard of. Its site was occupied by a very small village called Newtown. In 1797 a plan for financing the church was outlined. The budget was thirty-two pounds (English Sterling) which was to be raised by levying a tax on each male according to the value of his possessions. By this time the church had grown to nearly 100 members. However the strength of this church was never numerical. Probably in all its history, the membership never reached 200 at any time. Elder Goff was missionary minded in spite of the Calvinistic doctrines which he and the church professed. He preached in many of the communities which began to develop about this time in the Southern Tier. The records mention Apple Orchard, Horseheads, Elmira, Baintrim, Sugar Creek, New Bedford, Bath and other points as places where he ministered from time to time. He went regularly on the fourth Sabbath to Horseheads for some time. Following Elder Goff's pastorate, the work continued to prosper. A meeting house was elected on land sold to the church by Abner Wells for fifty cents. The frame was raised July 12, 1812. The present building is an enlargement of the original. The present Wellsburg church is located one mile from the log house where Roswell Goff began his pastorate and a monument has been erected on the farm of Smith Burt which bears the following information: "The site of the first church of any denomination in Chemung Valley was one fourth mile north by Roswell Goff, first pastor and William Buck, Jesse Locey, John Hillman, Elizabeth Hillman, Peter Roberts, John Roberts, John Van Camp, all Baptists. The beginning of Christian Organizations in Chemung and neighboring Valleys."

In 1865 a new epoch in the life of the church was begun with the calling of the Rev. James Madison Coley as pastor at $200 a year. He led the church in a great forward movement. In 1861, the building was remodelled. Before this time the furnishings consisted of backless benches and there was a gallery running around all four walls. The gallery was again remodelled into a lecture room in 1882. The parsonage was purchased in 1888 and a large centennial celebration was held in 1889. The baptistry and robing rooms were added in 1896. The building was wired for electric lights, and a new hard wood floor was laid and the separate entrances for men and women from the narthex to the auditorium were combined into one in the extensive improvements made in 1914. The pews and pulpit furniture of the Wellsville Church were moved into this church in 1933, a gift from the New York State Baptist Convention. The Bible used in the original Wellsburg Baptist Church by Roswell Goff, was presented to the church March 29, 1952 by Mrs. Sarah E. Smith of Oneonta, N. Y. who is the great-great granddaughter of Rev. Roswell Goff, the first pastor of the church. During the pastorate of the the Rev. L. Paul Rockwell, many improvements were made. In March 1951, the church basement was completed and our first Easter Sunrise service followed by an Easter breakfast, was held at the church. On July 12, 1952, 45 persons met at the church for an all day painting job and the entire exterior of the church with the exception of the steeple was painted in one day. In May 1953, a new roof was put on the Church. In March 1957, the sanctuary was redecorated. While workmen were removing layers of wall paper from the east wall behind the pulpit, they began to uncover foot high letters in red paint. When all the paper was removed, an inscription stood forth: "Praise the Lord---All Ye People." No one seems to know how long the invitation to thanksgiving was spread on the plastered wall. Alterations known to have been made some 60 years prior to this had destroyed some of the lettering. It is possible that this lettering goes back a century, perhaps more. However, the church voted to have have this lettering restored and Harry B. Kelsey, one of the area's leading historians, volunteered to restore it without cost to the church as you now see it. At this time a painting in the Baptistry was given to the church by the Burt family who were descendants of David Burt, one of the first trustees of the church.

The Chemung Association constituted in November 1796, was the earliest and for a time the only Baptist corresponding body in a wide extent of thinly settled country now comprising many large bodies of the Baptist faith and order. Its constituents were five small churches--Chemung, 1789 (Wellsburg); Fredericktown, (Wayne) 1794; Romulus, Seneca Co. 1795; New Bedford (Owego), 1796; Braintrim, Wyoming Co., Pa. For many years the Association met with the Chemung (Wellsburg) church. In 1797 the moderator was David Jayne, who preached the introductory sermon. The session generally lasted two days--sometimes three. Sermons were at times three hours long. Campbellism and Antinomianism at that day were rending the churches but the original Chemung Association churches remained true to the gospel. There were outstanding revivals which refreshed these small folds in the earlier years. The Massachusetts Missionary Society found many friends among them, and later, the New York State Convention and the Education Societies from Hamilton and Rochester were represented by their annual visiting agents. In 1921, the association formed the Chemung Missionary Society--now the Chemung River Baptist Association. "The facts pertaining to the Chemung River Association were taken from ' The Chronicle,' a Baptist Historical Quarterly and written by the Rev. Thomas W. Carter, a former pastor of the Wellsburg Church in the year 1905."


The following circular letter was written to the five churches of the Chemung Baptist Association by Rev. Roswell Goff, just previous to their annual meeting held at Chemung October 8th, 1813. It is copied from page 62, of Thomas Smiley's Book of Chemung Baptist Association Records, found in the library at Crozer Seminary in Chester, Pa. Rev. Goff was the first man to preach the Gospel of Christ in the vast wilderness centering in the Chemung River Valley, and in 1789 organized in his own log cabin in the old township of Chemung the first church of any denomination in this area. This became the First Baptist Church of Wellsburg, New York. The letter follows: To the churches with whom we are connected. Beloved Brethren: Being favored with the privilege of another anniversary interview we can truly, with the disciples of our Lord, say "it is good for us to be here." Nor do we forget the different branches of our Saviour's flock in this wilderness to which we belong. Therefore we think it meet to lay before you the Book of Divine Providence, which in this day is marvelously unfolded, praying you with solemn attention to read the opening leaves. It is a day in which the arm of Almighty God is lifted up in vengeance to punish the nations of the earth. Nor can we think it strange when profaneness and crimes of the blackest cast are signs that mark the present times; for which things sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience. Hence--Brethren it is very right that we view the few steps of Jehovah in the display of His judgment. If for a moment we glance a thought and contemplate the present state of Europe involved in war and bloodshed as though gathered together to the great day of God Almighty, and he comparatively calling to the fowls of heaven to eat the flesh of the slain, of kings, of captains, and of mighty men. There is much to call our attention, but we must not dwell entirely on the awful calamities and fearful judgments God is pouring forth on other nations, when the thundering cannon, glittering spear and bloody sword, with hostile bands of cruel savages, as well as haughty tyrants, beset us round by sea and land--we are constrained to say in the language of scripture, "destruction and misery are in every way," and to cry out with the holy men of old," "Help Lord, for the faithful among men fail, the love of many wax cold, and iniquity prevails." In the long favored land in which it hath pleased God to cast our lot where we have been favored with innumerable blessings, spiritual and temporal, we have, like Israel in the wilderness, sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play--while the meat was in our mouths we have sinned against the holy one of Israel. He has smitten our cities with pestilential diseases, let in the heathen to slay the inhabitants and mangle our defenceless frontiers; and besides, hath stirred up the haughty power of Great Britain against us--many of our young men have been slain in battle and others led away captive to dwell in gloomy prisons or floating dungeons--sweeping sickness has bespread much of our land--The father sits solitary---tears are on the cheeks of the bereaved mother--disconsolate windows are numerous in our streets--many mournful sighs of orphans are heard in our land; and Zion is much covered with a gloomy cloud--Brethren, we feel to mourn Columbia's awful state. Hence we observe that God has often punished nations for their sins, when grown desperately wicked, of which the holy scriptures furnish us with abundant proof--See the earth deluged with water because the wickedness of man was very great--the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone, which are set forth for an example to those who afterward should live ungodly-- The plagues sent on Egypt--the many chastisements the Jews met with for their transgressions in former ages, and remaining with the vail over their hearts, scatter almost among all other nations to this day--together with the many fearful judgments poured out on sundry other nations, of which we have clear account in the word of God. If, therefore sin be the cause of national and individual calamities, we must say from scriptural authority that the day is evil. Modern nations have not, and former times scarcely experienced the like calamities. The earth has trembled beneath our sin and guilt. Brethren, shall we like Jonah, sleep while the righteousness judgments of God are abroad in the earth? Let us arise and call on the Lord Jehovah that we perish not as a nation; and that our candlesticks as churches be not removed out of their places. As ministers of the Gospel let us sound an alarm in the mount of God, as watchman of the night, blow the trumpet and warn the wicked, as servants of the most high; and be like the wise virgins waiting with our lamps trimmed, and the oil of grace burning in our earthen vessels. Let our churches awake to righteousness and rise above the vanities of this present evil world, and Christ will give us light. While the smitten and troubled nations are dashing to pieces, let us come out from among them that we partake not in all their plagues and taking shelter beneath the eternal rock of ages, enter into our chambers and shut the doors until the indignation be overpast. Though the waters rise and the mountains shake, God is our refuge, and there is a river whose streams do make glad the city of our God. For our encouragement therefore, we recall the thought of the declaration of our blessed Lord, that in the last days nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, together with famines and pestilences and earthquakes in divers places, beholding daily with our own eyes the fulfillment of His predictions, let our faith be strengthened and our hope more and more confirmed. With the gospel glass in our hands and by the eye of faith we may look through present clouds and behold our King and Saviour, not crowned with thorns but with immortal glory. Not on a torturing cross, but on a topless throne, fulfilling what he promised us while here below. Let us therefore with an humble dependence on His divine promise, believe that all things work together for good, to the called according to his purpose, and with patience wait the happy day when peace shall spread her balmy wings from east to west, from north to south. May we not expect with the sacred pages in our hands, that the Lord will overturn, overturn, overturn, until the crown shall be set on the head of Jesus, who alone is worthy to wear it, and that in the kingdom of his providence he will thus pave the way for the general spread of the gospel, and the still more extensive reign of sovereign grace. The time is coming and we anticipate it as near at hand, when the overthrow of Babylon, the mother of harlots, shall add new triumphs to Immanuel's cross. When papal power, Mahometan dilusion, and every wind of false doctrine, together with human power tyranizing over men's consciences, shall be no more. Seeing that we look for such things, let us be found in Him diligent, without spot and blameless. We commend you to God, and to the words of His grace, who is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified. (Printing by Grant Chambers, Elmira, New York). Then Pastor Northside Baptist Church.

The First Trustees of the Baptist Church, Wellsburg, NY

Abner Wells, Henry Wells, Stephen Brown, Jacob Comfort, Jessee Moore, David Burt

Present Church Officers 1964---175th Anniversary


Merkle Stanton, Wayne Stanton, William Lewis Sr., Donald MacKenzie


Marian Burt, Rachel Stanton, Janet Shanks, Virginia Brown


George Shanks, Gordon Brown, Clyde Evans, William Lewis Sr.,  Robert Hutton,

Church Clerk...........................................................Marian Burt

Treasurer................................................................Wanda Williams

Mission Treasurer....................................................Janet Shanks

Organist.................................................................Cora Wilcox

President Ladies Society.........................................Barbara MacKenzie

Pastor, Rev. Dale Brown

The oldest church in Chemung Valley still stands on the hill to tell the story Jesus shed His blood upon the Cross. Praise the Lord, to Him be glory. "For He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord" Acts 11:24 "The facts contained in this history were taken from the records of the Church by Dr. R.L. Decker who went into the ministry from this church and is now pastor of the Temple Baptist Church, Kansas City, Missouri."
Chemung County NY

Published On 22 MAR 2005
By Joyce M. Tice

You are our welcome visitor 22 MAR 2005