1807: Preacher drowns baptism candidate; others not so keen

In the early 1800s, travelogue writer Charles W. Janson told of winter baptisms in New England where the preacher “ducked” baptismal candidates in half-frozen rivers. Janson described his first experience of these chilly baptisms:

“During this unnatural ceremony, I was no less entertained with the remarks of the spectators. One of them observed that severe as the discipline was, they seldom took cold or suffered subsequent bodily pains, adding that their enthusiasm was so great, and their minds were wrought up to such a degree of religious frenzy, that no room was left for reflection or sense of danger.”

Janson then reported one baptism in Connecticut that ended in tragedy:

“It was performed in a small but rapid river covered with ice, except a place cut for the purpose. The minister, with his followers, advanced to the proper distance into the water. After the usual introductory prayer, being in the act of immersing the first, he [the preacher] accidentally lost his hold of the unfortunate person, who was in an instant carried down the stream, still running under the ice, and irrecoverably lost.”

The preacher, apparently unflustered by this disastrous turn of events, pressed on:

“The good man finding his subject gone, with a happy serenity of mind exclaimed: “The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Come another of you, my children.” The remainder, astonished and confounded, lost their faith, and fled.”

Source: Charles William Janson, The Stranger in America, 1807. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.