Paul Palmer ( ? -1747)

Written By North Carolina History Project

Known as the “father of Free Will Baptists in North Carolina,” Paul Palmer started the first Baptist church in the colony of North Carolina.  

In 1727, the church formed in Perquimans County; some say it began in Chowan County and some say Camden County.  Either way, the first Baptist church was started in the Albemarle region in what would become North Carolina.  And that is no surprise because the region served as a haven for religious dissenters from Virginia. Quakers and Baptists, in particular, fled southward to avoid persecution, and some historians argue that they were among the first settlers in the region.  

Palmer moved to Carolina from Maryland in the 1690s.  Records show that he asked to be removed from the membership rolls of a Quaker church, and he started traveling across what is now northeastern North Carolina and delivering sermons.  

In 1727, he formed a church in Perquimans County, and in two years, its membership reached thirty-two.  In 1755, the “Palmer Line” had grown to approximately 20 churches, and its members were called “Freewillers” by those who adhered to Calvinist teachings.  

Many Southern Free Will Baptist churches were part of what was called the “Palmer Line.”  In 1935, they joined the “Randall Line” (northern churches) and formed the National Association of Free Will Baptists.