Baptist traditions had a long history in the American South, and much of the “Southern Baptist” identity began to form in the 1680s. The traditions and beliefs of Baptists in the South were diverse and unorganized. The Baptist denomination in the South was formally organized by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, which focused on four main issues: synthesizing Baptist traditions, missionary work, identity, and finally race and slavery.
The Baptist Church had two main divisions that had to be developed: the Particular Baptists and the Separate Baptists. The Particular Baptists were characterized by puritansim, Calvinistic confessionalism, denominational connectionalism, and concern for ministerial education. On the other hand, the Separate Baptists called for religious freedom, rivivalism, anti-creedalism (against forming a formal creed such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed), and suspicion of ministerial education. The churchly and organized traditions of the Particulars and the evangelism of the Separates both shaped Baptism in the South.
During American expansion westward, Baptists followed, spread their beliefs, and grew in new directions. Life on the frontier developed the Baptists’ identity of individualism in ethics, congregationalism in church life, revivalism in ministry, and simplicity in worship. It also sprouted the idea that Baptists were comprised of common, mostly agrarian, people.
Spreading the gospel and Baptist traditions through missionary works were important for Baptists. They were very concerned with salvation, both their own and that of others. They believed that by spreading the word of God as they interpreted it, they could help save people’s souls. Baptist missionaries were sent to locations both in the United States and in foreign countries, including nations in Africa. During the Southern Baptist Convention of 1845, there were two missionary boards created: one domestic and one foreign.
Lastly, slavery of course made a major impact on the Baptists in the South. Most Baptists viewed slavery as biblically sanctioned. The question of slavery caused a rift between the Northern Baptists and the Southern Baptists, resulting the the Southern Baptist Convention. Additionally, many slaves followed the beliefs of their owners, which is why many freed slaves maintained these beliefs during and after enslavement.
African American Baptist congregations operated separately from the more formal white Baptists. During the antebellum period, black church members met in services that were supervised by whites (which was mandated by law) but were controlled by African Americans. After the Civil War in 1865, independent black Baptist churches were founded, based on largely the same principles as the white Baptist churches except for the belief in Biblically justified slavery.