History of Martha Stearns Marshall
Martha Stearns Marshall was an eighteenth-century Separate Baptist preacher. She often stood alongside her brother Shubal Stearns and spoke at Baptist meetings. She also assisted her husband Daniel Marshall in his churches and preached to his congregations. In 1810, Virginia Baptist historian Robert Semple wrote of Martha’s contributions to Baptist work:
Mr. Marshall had a rare felicity of finding in this lady, a Priscilla, a helper in the gospel. In fact, it should not be concealed that his extraordinary success in the ministry, is ascribable in no small degree, to Mrs. Marshall’s unwearied, and zealous co-operation. Without the shadow of a usurped authority over the other sex, Mrs. Marshall, being a lady of good sense, singular piety, and surprising elocution, has, in countless instances melted a whole concourse into tears by her prayers and exhortations!
Baptist historian George Paschal, in his History of North Carolina Baptists, wrote of Daniel and Martha: “As a result of the labors of this earnest and fervent evangelist, in which he doubtless had the assistance of his saintly and gifted wife, Mrs. Martha Stearns Marshall, great numbers turned to the Lord.”
In the late 1750s, the Marshalls founded a Separate Baptist church at Abbott’s Creek in North Carolina. There Martha served alongside her husband and “was noted for her zeal and eloquence,” and her preaching “added greatly to the interest of meetings conducted by her husband.” The first difficulty the new church encountered was that no minister would cooperate with Stearns in ordaining Daniel. A pastor in South Carolina refused to participate in an ordination service because Daniel and the Separate Baptists “allowed women to pray in public and illiterate men to preach, and encouraged noise and confusion in their meetings.” The ordination service finally took place when Elder Ledbetter, Daniel’s brother-in-law, agreed to participate in the ordination.
In 1771, the Marshalls moved to Columbia County, Georgia, where they founded the first Baptist church in Georgia, located at Kiokee. A. H. Newman wrote of their efforts in founding this work: “Marshall was now sixty-four years old and had behind him a truly apostolic record. Almost equally useful was his wife, a sister of Shubal Stearns.”