The First Baptist Church, which has been the scene of Brown commencements since 1776, was the first Baptist Church in America. When Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for his religious and political beliefs, he came in 1636 with five others to a place he named Providence. Joined by other Separatists, he became the first pastor of the group of about twelve persons which constituted the Church in 1638. In 1771, after the removal of the College to Providence, President James Manning became pastor of the church, continuing until 1791. Other Brown presidents who served as pastor were Jonathan Maxcy, who served for one year, 1791-1792, resigning when he became president of the college, and Francis Wayland, who was acting pastor from March 1857 to June 1858.
Manning was described by Reverend Henry Melville King, a later pastor, as “the first educated pastor since Roger Williams.” It was during his ministry that the Society resolved in February 1774 to build a meeting-house “for the publick Worship of Almighty GOD; and also for holding Commencement in.” The building cost 7000 pounds, of which 2000 pounds was raised by a state-authorized lottery. The meeting house was dedicated on May 28, 1775. Since 1776 all Commencements have been held there, except for those of 1804 and 1832.