There are different ways to approach a history of Baptists. One is by studying the Chronology, Creeds, and Organizations. Another way is by comparing the beliefs and looking for similarities and differences among different groups. “The Trail of Blood” http://www.biblepreaching.com/trailofblood.html uses this second method. Some of the groups it mentions are Donatists, Walendsians Petrobrusians and Anabaptists. The position of the Trail of Blood is that these groups make a trail of belief back to John the Baptist. They are looking for a connection in belief rather than organic unity, as opposed to the Catholic and Orthodox churches which rely on organizational ties and connections (Pope to Pope, Patriarch to Patriarch, for example.)
Another method is by using a combination approach of the first two methods. I will use this method and be dealing with American Baptists. American Baptists begin with Roger Williams and the New Providence Colony. The Pilgrims were English Separatists. Separatists did not think the Church of England could be fixed and so they “separated” from it. The Massachusetts Colony consisted of Puritans. Puritans wanted to remain in the Church of England and “purify” it from errors they saw.
Roger Williams was an ordained Puritan Minister in Massachusetts. He went to England and obtained a charter for a new colony. He paid Indians for their land. He had many people who were thrown out of other colonies join him as refugees. He searched the Scriptures to learn what they taught about Church government and set up a congregational form. He closely followed the Puritan/Separatist form of church government.
The individual congregations owned their property. There was no denominational or outside organization. As Americans expanded westward many others accepted this Baptist belief or system. They merged with German Anabaptists, though the true German Anabaptists are represented today by the Amish/Mennonite communities, over 10 million strong in North America.
The Philadelphia Confession of Faith is the major American Baptist statement of faith. http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/phila.htm ” On this site it gives two dates. “The Philadelphia Confession is identical to the Second London Confession of Faith (1689), except that chapters 23 and 31 have been added (with other chapters appropriately renumbered). This [more recent] confession was first issued by the Philadelphia Association in 1742.”
Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were the three major denominations as Americans moved westward. Methodists emphasized Arminianism with camp meetings and well-educated clergy, creating a shortage of pastors and the Circuit Rider with many small congregations.
Presbyterians also emphasized well-educated clergy and Calvinism. They were likely to be found in more established towns but less likely on the frontier. Both Methodists and Presbyterians had denominational ownership of property and denominationally-appointed clergy.
Baptists were often Calvinistic but varied widely. Freewill Baptists opposed Calvinism and Predestination. They often cooperated with Methodists in evangelistic meetings because they both believed in the need to make a decision for salvation rather than predestination.
Each Baptists congregation calls and pays its own pastor unlike the other denominations. At one time this was true of all Baptist churches but it caused severe problems in raising missionary support. Associations were created to raise missionary support. The largest is the Southern Baptist Convention. Northern Baptist Churches split from Southern Baptist Churches during the Civil War. The Northern Baptists from this split came to be known as the General Association of Regular Baptists. There are many other Baptist conventions/associations.
Two good reference sources on Baptists are:
Dr. David Beale’s book, In Pursuit of Purity http://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Purity-Soft-David-Beale/dp/0890843503 Is a very good source on Baptists.
George W. Dollar The History of Fundamentalism in America http://www.amazon.com/History-Fundamentalism-America-George-Dollar/dp/B0000EEKZL