The awakening of the Freewill Baptists: Benjamin Randall and the founding of an American religious tradition.
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Bryant, Scott E.
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The last decades of the eighteenth century brought numerous changes to the citizens of colonial New England. As the colonists were joining together in their fight for independence from England, a collection of like-minded believers in Southern New Hampshire forged an identity as a new religious tradition. Benjamin Randall (1749-1808), a principal founder of the Freewill Baptist movement in colonial New England, was one of the many eighteenth century colonists that enjoyed a conversion experience as a result of the revival ministry of George Whitefield. Randall's conversion included a direct revelation from God that communicated God's universal love and grace for all people. As a result of his conversion he began evaluating the spiritual condition of his fellow parishioners and he was disappointed that his peers did not share his newfound zeal for spiritual matters. His spiritual zeal prompted him to examine the scriptures on his own and he questioned the practice of infant baptism. Randall completed his separation from the Congregational church of his youth when he contacted a Baptist congregation and submitted himself for baptism. When Randall was introduced to the Baptists in New England, he was made aware that his theology, including God's universal love and universal grace, was at odds with Calvin's doctrine of election that was affirmed by the other Baptists. Randall's spiritual journey continued as he began to preach revival services throughout the region. His ministry was well received and he established a new congregation in New Durham, New Hampshire, in 1780. The congregation in New Durham served as Randall's base of operation as he led revival services throughout New Hampshire and Southern Maine. Randall's travels introduced him to many colonists who accepted his message of universal love and universal grace and a movement was born as Randall formed many congregations throughout the region. Randall spent the remainder of his life organizing, guiding, and leading the Freewill Baptists as they developed into a religious tradition that included thousands of adherents spread throughout New England and into Canada.