Of momentous importance for the diffusion of Baptist principles throughout the South was the enthusiastic evangelism of Shubael Stearns and Daniel Marshall, “New Light” Baptists from New England (1754 onward).
Stearns had become a Baptist in New England (1751) and had felt an irresistible impulse to devote his life to missionary work in the South. Marshall was led to Baptist views after his arrival in Virginia from contact with Baptists of the Philadelphia Association type.
Within the next thirty years multitudes were converted and accepted Baptist views through their ministry, and churches were organized in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Sandy Creek (North Carolina) church was organized by Stearns in 1755 and in a few years it had over 600 members.
In 1758 the Sandy Creek Association was formed, which for years embraced all the churches of the Separate type in the South. In seventeen years the connection had grown to forty-two churches with 125 ministers. The evangelism of Stearns and Marshall was characterized by an enthusiasm that verged upon fanaticism. Many new converts, without previous educational equipment or subsequent training, entered zealously upon the work of evangelization and the people heard with gladness their uncouth but earnest testimony to the power of the Gospel.
Because of their fiery enthusiasm and their unwillingness to take out licenses and conform to the Colonial conditions of toleration the Separate Baptists of Virginia suffered much persecution in genuine martyr fashion and thereby won for themselves great popular acceptance and made the episcopal establishment highly odious.
Virginia Baptists of the older type conformed to the laws and suffered little persecution, and looked with disfavor upon the Separate Baptists as unduly enthusiastic and as allowing untrained and untried men (and even women) freely to evangelize.
Stearns was disposed to lay more stress on the interdependence than the independence of the numerous and widely scattered churches of the Sandy Creek Association. Under his influence overtures from the Regular Baptists for the union of Regulars and Separates were rejected (1767) by a small majority.
Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908–1914), 472.