It took a long time. 213 years to be exact. But in February 2006, one of Columbia County’s leading ladies was finally honored for her outstanding achievements. The Women in Ministry of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship honored Martha Stearns Marshall by naming February 2006 and every February after that as Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching to recognize women called to preach and to encourage all churches to enlist a woman to preach.
Martha Stearns Marshall (1732–1793) blazed the pioneer trail for women preachers and pastors in spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment of the 18th century. She was the most famous of many Separatist Baptist women preachers, deacons, and elders from that era.
Marshall was a Holy Ghost anointed Baptist preacher. According to her contemporaries was of singular piety, zeal, and surprising elocution. Her exhortations melted her audience into tears. She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields. It wasn’t unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the Gospel message.
In 1747, she married Rev. Daniel Marshall, a Presbyterian “New Light” from Connecticut and convinced him to become a Separate Baptist. Both of them had come under the spell of British Evangelist George Whitfield’s powerful preaching who is credited with being the catalyst for the Great Awakening.
Soon after their marriage, the Marshall’s sold everything they had and departed for the mission field in New York’s Susquehanna Valley to bring the gospel to the Mohawk Indians.
After the French and Indian War broke out, they had to leave and joined Martha’s brother, Rev. Shubal Stearns, at Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Guilford County, North Carolina. A tremendous revival broke out from that church spreading north, south, east, and across the Appalachian Mountains. Separate Baptist Churches were established. Ministers ordained. Multitudes converted to Christ and joined the newly formed Baptist churches.
Shubal recognized his sister’s divine gift and along with her husband, encouraged her to preach, and preach she did! She even was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel even though she was three months pregnant at the time.
Martha and her husband migrated down the Piedmont into South Carolina and Georgia in spite of the colonial authorities ordering them to stop preaching in those two colonies.
In defiance of this unjust order and the laws that prohibited religious freedom for unlicensed groups such as the Baptists, the Marshall’s settled on Kiokee Creek near Appling in Columbia County in 1771.
Daniel Marshall was a wanted man and was soon arrested for preaching the gospel without government licensure in Augusta. He was convicted, and Martha was furious. She let loose with scriptures that she had memorized using them to support her case for religious liberty challenging the arresting constable and the magistrate saying that she and her husband would obey God rather than the laws of men. The British constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so moved by her passionate oratory that he converted and became a noted Baptist church planter and preacher.
From their base of operations, Martha continued to preach and Daniel and his son, Abraham, established the first Baptist Church in Georgia, Kiokee Baptist Church in 1772 and numerous other Baptist churches in Georgia and South Carolina.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship through the Women in Ministry recognizes God’s call and gifts upon women to preach and pastor this month and honors a Columbia County pioneer woman Baptist preacher in naming this month Martha Stearns Marshall month. And, I am especially proud too. My wife, Joyce, and mother-in-law, Ramona Baston Smith, are direct descendants of this magnificent trail-blazing lady preacher from the banks of Kiokee Creek.
The Marshall’s home site and the Old Kiokee Church building are not far from our home. It is on Tubman Road off Washington Road in Columbia County, Georgia. The home site has interpretive markers and is well worth a visit.
Rev. Dan White is founder and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA, and a free lance writer published in secular and Christian newspapers and articles.
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