Shubal Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 28, 1706. He was the son of Shubal Stearns and Rebecca Larriford. About 1745, Stearns joined the New Lights, as the converted Congregational communities that originated from, the ministry of George Whitefield in New England were designated. Called of God to proclaim the unsearchable of Christ, he speedily became a minister among the pious New Lights, and exercised his gifts among them until 1751. At this time, like many of his brethren, he was constrained by reading the Scriptures to accept believer’s immersion as the baptism of the New Testament; and after receiving this conviction, as the Saviour alone was his Master, he came out boldly as a Baptist. He was immersed on a profession of his faith, in Tolland, Connecticut, by Wait Palmer, in 1751, and on May 20th of that year he was ordained to the Baptist ministry by Wait Palmer and Joshua Morse.
Shubal Stearns received an impression, as he thought from God, that there was a great work for him to do outside of New England, and he obeyed what was undoubtedly a divine call, and started in 1754 for his expected field of labor. He had no definite section to which he directed his steps, but expecting divine guidance, he was constantly looking out for providential openings. He stopped for a time at Opeckon Creek, Virginia, where there was a church under the pastoral care of Elder Heton. Stearns rested for a short time at Cacapon, near Winchester, but anticipating greater success in his ministry than he enjoyed in that place, he removed, with his relatives, to Sandy Creek, North Carolina. There, as soon as he arrived, he constituted a Baptist church of sixteen persons. Shubal Stearns was elected pastor of the infant church. These devoted servants of God immediately built a meeting-house for public worship. Daniel Marshall and Joseph Breed were appointed to assist the pastor in his ministerial duties.
In the region around Sandy Creek the people knew nothing of the Christian religion except what they had learned from Episcopal clergymen, who in that section, at that time, were unconverted men, and their irreligious darkness was dense. The new heart to them was an unknown mystery, and paltry and commonly unpractised duties, instead of the Saviour’s sufferings, were the only known means of salvation. The instructions of Mr. Stearns and the godly lives of the church members were an astonishing revelation to their neighbors. Soon some of them were called by the Spirit into the liberty of the gospel, and their experience filled their acquaintances with even greater wonder.
A mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon the truth proclaimed by the pastor and the licensed preachers of Sandy Creek church, and as a result throngs of converts surrounded the gospel banner, and mission communities were organized far and near. The parent body in a few years had 606 members, and in seventeen years from its origin it had branches southward as far as Georgia, eastward to the sea and the Chesapeake Bay, and northward to the waters of the Potomac. It had become the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of forty-two churches, from which 125 ministers were sent out as licentiates or ordained clergymen. And in after years the power that God gave Shubal Stearns and his Sandy Creek church in its early years swept over Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina with resistless force, and brought immense throngs to Christ, and established multitudes of Baptist churches. There are today probably thousands of churches that arose from the efforts of Shubal Stearns and the church of Sandy Creek.
Elder Stearns traveled extensively in his own region, preaching Jesus, organizing churches, and giving counsel to the new communities which were formed. And his labors in every department of his work were remarkably blessed. Shubal Stearns,
“…was of small stature, had a very expressive and penetrating eye, and a voice singularly harmonious; his enemies, it is said, were sometimes captivated by his musical voice. Many things are related of the enchanting sound of his voice, and the glance of his eyes, which had a meaning in every movement.”
Shubal Stearns was undoubtedly one of the greatest ministers that ever presented Jesus to perishing multitudes, and one of the most successful soul-winners that ever unfurled the banner of Calvary. He died in November or 1771 and is buried at the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Liberty, North Carolina.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia