Williams left Massachusetts in 1636, and sought and received a Royal Charter to found the Rhode Island colony in 1644. This colony, founded on the ideal of religious freedom, was the home of the first Baptist church in North America, founded in 1639 in Providence. He continued to debate the issue of religious liberty with John Cotton of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, most notably in his The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution, written in 1644. Williams welcomed all persons to Rhode Island, believing that people should be free to worship whomever and however they wanted, or to choose not to worship at all. Because of his insistence on religious liberty, the first Jewish synagogue in North America was founded in Providence, Rhode Island as well. By 1700, there were approximately 10 churches with around 300 members in the New England colonies. New Baptist churches continued to develop in both England and the North American colonies. As more churches were established, Baptists began to join together in associations of churches. General and Particular Baptists continued to feud in England, with the resulting establishment of a variety of associations and confessional statements.
The Baptist experience in North America was similar to that in the British Isles during this period. The first organization of Baptist churches in North America came in 1707 with the Philadelphia Baptist Association. This association was formed by five churches in Philadelphia, and eventually produced the Philadelphia Confession of Faith in 1742, based almost solely on the Second London Confession. This Association and Confession was very influential in Baptist life in North America for years to come. Baptists in North America also struggled with the debate between the more Arminian-minded and the more Calvinistic churches. The Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th century served to polarize the issues between these two groups. As in most other groups, such as the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, there were supporters of the Great Awakening and those opposed to its efforts. This led to splits in most of these groups, and the Baptists were no different. The more revivalistic Baptists, those favoring the Great Awakening, came to be known as the Separate Baptists. They were more Arminian in their beliefs, and placed a strong emphasis on evangelism, while believing that humans could respond to the preaching of the Gospel. They were the equivalent of the General Baptists in England. Those opposing the Awakening and its revivals were known as Regular Baptists. They were more Calvinistic in their beliefs and argued that no human efforts could lead one to salvation. They were like the Particular Baptists in England who argued that humans were incapable of making such decisions because all humanity inherited the sin initiated by Adam and Eve. God had preordained before the beginning of time those chosen for heaven and those left behind. No amount of human efforts, evangelistic or otherwise, could change that eternal decree. Baptist Churches began organizing Associations according to these theological differences.
Two of the most influential Associations after Philadelphia were formed in the South. William Screven, who had strong connections with the Calvinistic Baptists of the Philadelphia Association, started the first Baptist church in the South. He founded a Baptist church in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1690s. By 1751, a Charleston Association of Baptist churches was formed. This "Charleston tradition" as it came to be called, was the source of Calvinistic thought in Baptist churches in the South well into the 20th century. In 1758, the Sandy Creek Association of Baptist churches was formed in Sandy Creek, North Carolina. This Association was initiated with the preaching of two preachers, Shubal Stearns (1706-1771) and Daniel Marshall (1706-1784), both of whom had been influenced by the Great Awakenings in the New England and middle colonies. Eventually these two traditions would set aside their theological differences to organize around the purposes of missions, evangelism, education, and the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-19th century.
Baptists continued to grow from that point on with a strong emphasis on global missions. There were always tensions over issues like the Arminian/ Calvinist debates, but most Baptists decided that the call to send missionaries was greater than the debates that separated them. This foreign missionary emphasis derived from the work of Luther Rice (1783-1836) and Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), who originally went to India in 1812 as missionaries of the Congregationalists from the New England area. While in the field they came to accept the idea of believer's baptism by immersion and decided to become Baptists. Judson went on to Burma, and Rice returned to the United States to seek funding for their efforts from the Baptists. In the process, he toured the country seeking financial support for their work, and under his leadership started the "Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in India and other Foreign Parts." This became the root of what became a national organization of Baptist churches in 1814 called "The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Mission." It was also known by its shorter name, "The Triennial Convention," because it would meet for business every three years.