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Oliver Hart Collection: Biography
Oliver Hart
Drawing of Oliver Hart from Oliver Hart Collection

Rev. Oliver Hart’s family originated in Witney, Oxfordshire, England. His father was John Hart, a deacon at Southampton Baptist Church, Pennsylvania while his mother was Eleanor Crispen, a cousin of William Penn. Rev. Oliver Hart was born in Warminster Township, in Buck County, Pennsylvania in 1723. He grew up learning the carpentry trade and studying the Gospels. By age eighteen, in 1741, he was baptized and began pursuing a career with the church. Preaching his first sermon February 21, 1748, Rev. Hart impressed his congregation and the church leaders and he was told he was free to preach anywhere he was needed. Coincidentally, there was a great need for a pastor of the Baptist church in Charleston, South Carolina. Rev. Hart left Pennsylvania for Charleston on November 13, 1749, arriving at his destination, fortuitously on December 2 of the same year, the date of the burial of the late pastor of the church. The Charlestonians felt his arrival was providential and by February of 1750 Rev. Hart was installed as the pastor of the Charleston Baptist Church.

In 1751, Rev. Hart founded the Charleston Baptist Association, only the second such association in the country and the first in the South. He modeled this association on the Philadelphia Association, founded in 1707, hoping for similar results from the “union and regular intercourse among those churches that maintained the same faith and order.” For the next 25 years, Rev. Hart built up his new association and devoted his time to the growth of the Baptist church in Charleston.

When war broke out in 1775, Rev. Hart sided with the colonists. He was sent by Provincial Congress of South Carolina to the upstate to spread word of the growing conflict and “enforce the necessity of a general union in order to preserve themselves and their children from slavery.” Rev. Hart, among others, dutifully fulfilled this task, and made a similar trip to High Hills of Santee in 1776. By 1780, the British were about to take the city of Charleston, and Rev. Hart was begged to flee the city. He did, leaving his family and personal effects behind. He returned to his home of Warminster, Pennsylvania, and began preaching there for several years. In 1783, when Charleston was reclaimed by the colonists, Rev. Hart was asked to return by Rev. Richard Furman. Hart declined, saying he had been called to serve in Hopewell, New Jersey, rather than return to South Carolina. Upon declination, the Charleston Baptist Church chose Rev. Furman to take his place, opening a new chapter in the life of the church.

Rev. Hart remained at Hopewell, New Jersey for the remainder of his life. Rev. Hart passed away on December 31, 1795, his family by his side. He was buried at the Southampton Meeting House, in the city where he first preached. Rev. Hart was best known for his founding of the Charleston Association and for his emphasis on education through the Baptist church and is even known as “the father of the education movement among South Carolina Baptists.” He was also awarded an honorary Master of Arts from Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1769.