FREE BAPTISTS, formerly called (but no longer officially) Freewill Baptists, an American denomination holding anti-paedobaptist and anti-Calvinistic doctrines, and practically identical in creed with the General Baptists of Great Britain. Many of the early Baptist churches in Rhode Island and throughout the South were believers in "general redemption" (hence called "general" Baptists); and there was a largely attended conference of this Arminian branch of the church at Newport in 1729. But the denomination known as "Free-willers" had its rise in 1779-1780, when anti-Calvinists in Loudon, Barrington and Canterbury, New Hampshire, seceded and were organized by Benjamin Randall (1749-1808), a native of New Hampshire. Randall was an itinerant missionary, who had been preaching for two years before his ordination in 1780; in the same year he was censured for "heterodox" teaching. The work of the church suffered a relapse after his death, and a movement to join the Freewill Baptists with the "Christians," who were led by Elias Smith (1769-1846) and had been bitterly opposed by Randall, was nearly successful. Between 1820 and 1830 the denomination made considerable progress, especially in New England and the Middle West. The Freewill Baptists were joined in 1841 by many "open-communion Baptists" - those in the Carolinas who did not join the larger body distinguishing themselves by the name of Original Freewill Baptists - and soon afterwards by some of the General Baptists of North Carolina and some of the Six Principle Baptists of Rhode Island (who had added the "laying on of hands" to the Five Principles hitherto held); and the abbreviation of the denominational name to "Free Baptists" suggests their liberal policy - indeed open communion is the main if not the only hindrance to union with the "regular" Baptist Church.
Colleges founded by the denomination, all co-educational, are: Hillsdale College, opened at Spring Harbor as Michigan Central College in 1844, and established at Hillsdale, Michigan, in 1855; Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, 1863, now non-sectarian; Rio Grande College, Rio Grande, Ohio, 1876; and Parker College, Winnebago City, Minnesota, opened in 1888. At the close of 1909 there were 1294 ministers, 1303 churches, and 73,536 members of the denomination in the United States. The Morning Star of Boston, established in 1826, is the most prominent journal published by the church. In British North America, according to a Canadian census bulletin of 1902, there were, in 1901, 24,229 Free Baptists, of whom 15,502 were inhabitants of New Brunswick, 8355 of Nova Scotia, 246 of Ontario, and 87 of Quebec. The United Societies of Free Baptist Young People, an international organization founded in 1888, had in 1907 about 15,000 members. At the close of 1907 the "Original Freewill Baptists" had 120 ministers, 167 churches, and 12,000 members, practically all in the Carolinas.
See I. D. Stewart, History of the Free Will Baptists (Dover, N. H., 1862) for 1780-1830, and his edition of the Minutes of the General Conference of the Free Will Baptist Connection (Boston, 1887); James B. Taylor, The Centennial Record of the Free Will Baptists (Dover, 1881); John Buzzell, Memoir of Elder Benjamin Randall (Parsonfield, Maine, 1827); and P. Richardson, "Randall and the Free Will Baptists," in The Christian Review, vol. xxiii. (Baltimore, 1858).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)