Fathers of an Extensive Country: The Lives and Ministries of Daniel Merrill and Jonathan Fisher
by Ryan Rindels and Vance Salisbury
A narrative lens can illustrate and illuminate a historical period’s unique significance. With deep Puritan roots, Daniel Merrill (1765-1833) and Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847) were New Light Congregationalist clergymen born a generation after the Great Awakening, trained at elite theological institutions, who would themselves ignite and experience revival in Maine’s Eastern Frontier, early in the19th century.
Merrill’s decision to become a Baptist in 1804 was both an effect and a cause of tectonic shifts in the young Republic’s social and religious landscape, including disestablishment, which toppled the power structures of New England’s Standing Order. Disagreement over baptism was a constant source of conflict, yet Merrill and Fisher continued to focus their energies and attention toward familiar endeavors, shared under the broader evangelical umbrella.
Both were characteristically active evangelicals, engaged in a wide array of causes from circuit preaching to temperance and the formation of Bible societies. The mistreatment of black slaves and indigenous peoples were evils which they confronted through preaching, in print, and advocacy. Each contributed to the founding of educational institutions, some of which continue to the present. As “Fathers,” they shaped the communities they served in ways that would extend past their lifetimes, and to regions far beyond New England.
“Ryan Rindels and Vance Salisbury have given us a much-needed study, as well as recovery, of sorely-neglected church history. While we treasure our beloved American forefathers of the faith (e.g. Edwards, Judson, Hodge, Warfield, Machen, etc.), it is also important for us to remember others who were greatly used by God to carry forth the gospel of the kingdom to the farthest reaches of the wilderness frontier. Fathers of an Extensive Country is a welcome exploration into the lives and pastoral ministries of Congregationalist Jonathan Fisher and Baptist Daniel Merrill. Not only is it well-written and engaging, it is also helpful and encouraging. As this generation of scholars continues to labor for historical recovery, I am grateful to Rindels and Salisbury for their commendable and heartfelt work.”
Pastor, Harvest Bible Church, Gilmanton Iron Works, NH;
Author of Reviving New England and How to Eat Your Bible
“Fathers of an Extensive Country is an enlightening analysis of the theology and impact of Reverends Jonathan Fisher and Daniel Merrill of Maine. Rindels and Salisbury successfully examine the theological environment of Maine during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, while also situating Fisher and Merrill in the greater context of the evolving religious culture of the American Early Republic. Rindels and Salisbury explore the distinctions between Christians during the period of study while acutely observing that Fisher and Merrill ultimately shared a desire to spread the gospel. This work demonstrates that then, as now, theology has the power to divide and unite and can have both immediate and long-ranging impacts.”
Assistant Professor of History,
University of Pikeville
“Rindels and Salisbury carefully examine two important figures in the religious history of Evangelical Christianity in Maine. Daniel Merrill’s leadership among the Baptists is an example of the positive social benefits of advocating for theological conviction while working within society to address tangible needs. This well-researched volume provides a great contribution to the history of Baptists in Maine in light of a fresh examination of primary sources. It also gives a case study for determining how churches can collaborate without violating doctrinal distinctives.”
Associate Professor of Theological Research,
Strengthened by the discovery of a number of new sources, this study illuminates the development of Evangelical Christianity in the early United States by juxtaposing the careers of two pastors in Downeast Maine who began as collegial Congregationalist neighbors: Jonathan Fisher (b. 1769) of Blue Hill, committed all his life to the Standing Order; and Daniel Merrill (b. 1765) of Sedgwick, fifteen miles away, who discovered credobaptism in 1803 and soon took his congregation (and much of Fisher’s) into new Baptist churches in both communities. The authors argue convincingly that in the end their similarities proved more significant than their theological differences: that their common devotion to Calvinist principles, their missionary zeal, and their successful efforts to establish educational institutions for coming generations, shaped Maine’s emerging religious culture so as to allow collaboration among Evangelicals in spite of doctrinal disagreement.
Wells Professor of History (emeritus),
University of North Carolina
“Historians of the early American republic tend to overlook any cooperation between Baptists and Congregationalists in New England, a place not known for its religious toleration. But the eastern frontier of Maine was a different animal. In Fathers of an Extensive Country, Ryan Rindels and Vance Salisbury demonstrate how the explosive issue of baptism did not prevent two pastors in historically rival denominations from nation-shaping with those of other convictions. This is a side of the New England tradition not often told, and Rindels and Salisbury tell it well. A great read.”
Obbie Tyler Todd
Pastor, Third Baptist Church Marion, IL;
Adjunct Professor of History,
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary