A question I’ve been puzzling over since I first read the history of Hampden Methodist Protestant Church (now Hampden United Methodist Church, on Falls Rd. south of 36th St.) is the make-up of the original members of the congregation, who bolted from the existing Methodist Episcopal Church in Hampden. Were they workers, managers, owners, or middle-class business people? Or were they a motley assortment from all of these groups? I can’t yet say that I’ve found the answer, but after a trip to the Lovely Lane Methodist Museum and Archives (www.lovelylanemuseum.com
) right here in Baltimore, I’ve found some intriguing clues.
First, some background on Methodism. Founded in Britain during the 18th century by John Wesley, Methodism quickly spread to the colonies and became particularly popular in the mid-Atlantic states. The Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church was officially organized in 1784. By the 1820s a number of lay Methodists had grown discouraged with the refusal of the church hierarchy to allow lay participation in matters of church governance, and in 1830 they split off to form the Methodist Protestant (MP) Church. Both the ME and MP churches later split again over the issue of slavery; the MP church reunited in 1877, while the ME Church and the ME Church, South remained apart until the reunification of the ME and MP churches in 1939. Shortly thereafter, this new group joined with several other Methodist denominations to form today’s United Methodist Church.
Hampden MP Church was founded in 1867, reportedly because the “Establishment” of the ME Church in Hampden did not approve of the emotional, expressive form of worship preferred by some of its members. The leader of the rebel faction was one John Knight, a resident of “The Clipper” section of Hampden, and he and 34 others decided to form their own congregation and join the Baltimore Circuit of the MP Church. Knight at first held services in his own home on Clipper Road, before Cox’s Chapel (named for Knight’s co-rebel) was built in 1868.
In Edward Stone’s 1917 history of the church, the following description of John Knight appears:
In the main, “The Clipper” is made of small houses built of Falls road stone. These houses are owned by the mill company and rented for a small sum to those who work in the mills. In one of these little stone houses lived John Knight, in whose heart burned a love for Jesus Christ and a yearning to see men saved. How strange to some of us, when God wishes to do a great work, He goes so often among the poor and obscure to find His man. . . . From the cotton duck mills of Hampden village God raised up John Knight and those who labored with him to enter into a great work. (Stone, The History of Hampden Methodist Protestant Church 1867-1917, pg. 10)
Stone clearly implies that John Knight was a humble mill operative, renting his abode from his employers and living a life generally free from luxury. (Stone’s rather uncritical depiction of work in the mills is another story.) Certainly this is the interpretation given in a later document, “A Century of Service, 1867-1967,” published by Hampden Methodist Church (previously Hampden MP Church) on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. But is this correct? Was John Knight really a lowly mill operative? Furthermore, why does he drop out of the story of Hampden MP Church after the construction of Cox’s Chapel?
As is my habit, I will cut off this already overly long post and leave the answers to these questions until a later date.