By Jeff Faggart
The First Baptist Church of Connecticut was organized near Groton in 1705, though Baptists lived in the colony prior to the eighteenth century. By 1738, baptized believers began to gather in homes nearby. They were, for a while, known as the Baptist church at Farmington. The first meetinghouse, a plain structure 40 by 30 feet, was built in 1792 at a cost of 104 pounds. It was described as a place where “God was pleased to reveal Himself from time to time in power and mercy”. The church name was officially recorded under compact, December 2, 1793, as “The Baptist Society in Southington”.
The church at Southington was the fourth Baptist church gathered in this state and its founders occupy an illustrious part of the history of Connecticut Baptists.
Elder John Merriman, born October 16, 1691, ministered to the saints in this area for many years and usually held services in his home. He was one of the many Baptists who suffered for conscience sake in Connecticut. It is recorded that Merriman was, “Arrested by the civil authority, tried by a court of justice, and his feet made fast in the stocks, for no other crime than preaching those sentiments which distinguish the Baptists, and when released from prison was charged not to preach any more in ‘this name’ but upon his liberation, he repaired to his own company and contended for the faith once delivered to the saints”. He died February 17, 1784, and is buried in Merriman Cemetery. His son, a revolutionary soldier is buried here.
Elder John Wightman, born April 17, 1726, was another of the early labourers among the Southington Baptists. He possessed a Baptist pedigree equaled by few. His father, Valentine Wightman, was founder of the First Baptist Church in Connecticut. His great–great–grandfather was the English martyr, Edward Wightman, who was burned at the stake for his Baptist faith in that country, in 1612. His maternal great–grandfather, Obadiah Holmes, was beaten for his Baptist beliefs, in Boston, in 1651.
Isaac Backus, Baptist Historian, said of Wightman, “He was a shining example of uniform piety and benevolence, until death put an end to his useful life.” John Wightman came to this area in 1770. His home stood west of this spot. He died April 4, 1781 and was the first person buried in this cemetery.
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5