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beasts of the field become the avengers of the Lord's anointed.
With the coming of the Separate Baptists north of James River, this opposition of the lower classes soon ceased. It was found that these men were reformers and not incendiaries. The people seem soon to have recognized that the Baptists were fighting their battles. After about 1770, the attacks and arrests were rarely made by the populace, and this year may be taken as roughly marking the popular reaction in favor of the Baptists and the beginning of the persecution by the civil authorities.
As we have already seen, Colonel Harriss was arrested and brought before the Court in Culpeper county; nor is it surprising that the civil authority should have laid hold of men whom their familiar acquaintances took to be either drunk or crazy, so new and strange seemed the manner and the matter of their talk. The magistrate who had Moore arrested while preaching (in Fairfax county, 1773) and ordered him to prison, wrote "his mittimus ... in these remarkable words: 'I send you herewith the body of Jeremiah Moore, who is a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and also a stroller.' ” 28 When Waller and some others were arrested in Middlesex county, in 1771, the authorities "first searched their saddle-bags to find treasonable papers.”* There were many honest, well-meaning people in Virginia to whom Baptist called up Anabaptist with a force that sent the cold shivers down their backsand fear is proverbially cruel."
“The first instance of actual imprisonment, we believe, that ever took place in Virginia, was in the county of Spottsylvania. On the fourth of June, 1768, John Waller, Lewis Craig, James Childs, etc., were seized by the sheriff
28 Semple, 309.
Ibid., 18. 80 Fristoe, 65 ff., “They were charged with design when once they supposed themselves sufficiently strong, that they would fall on their fellow subjects, massacre the inhabitants and take possession of the country.”
and hauled before three magistrates, who stood in the meeting-house yard, and who bound them in the penalty of one thousand pounds, to appear at the court two days after. At court they were arraigned as disturbers of the peace. ... They (the Court) offered to release them if they would promise to preach no more in the county for a year and a day. This they refused, and, therefore, were sent into close jail. As they were moving on from the courthouse to the prison, through the streets of Fredericksburg they sang the hymn
Broad is the road that leads to death,' etc. This had an awful appearance.” After four weeks confinement, Lewis Craig was released from prison, and immediately went down to Williamsburg to get a release for his companions. He waited on the deputy-governor, the Hon. John Blair, stated the case before him," and received a
31 This letter has been often referred to and sometimes quoted. It deserves to be better known. The sidelight it throws upon both the Established Church and the Baptists is interesting.
Sir:-I lately received a letter, signed by a good number of worthy gentlemen, who are not here, complaining of the Baptists; the particulars of their misbehaviour are not told, any further than their running into private houses and making dissensions. Mr. Craig and Mr. Benjamin Waller are now with me, and deny the charge; they tell me they are willing to take the oaths, as others have. I told them I had consulted the Attorney-General who is of opinion that the general court only have a right to grant licenses, and, therefore, I referred them to the court. But on their application to the attorney-general, they brought me his letter, advising me to write to you, that their petition was a matter of right, and that you may not molest these conscientious people so long as they behave themselves in a manner becoming pious Christians, and in obedience to the laws, till the court, when they intend to apply for license, and when the gentlemen, who complain, may make their objections and be heard. The act of toleration (it being found by experience that persecuting dissenters increases their numbers) has given them a right to apply, in a proper manner for licensed houses, for the worship of God, according to their consciences; and I persuade myself, the gentlemen will quietly overlook their meetings, till the Court. I am told they administer the Sacrament of the Lord's supper near the manner we do, and
noble letter for the King's Attorney in Spottsylvania, in which the deputy-governor said that the prisoners had a right to petition the General Court for licenses and urged moderation and toleration of their meetings until the next meeting of the court. “When the letter came to the Attorney, he would have nothing to say in the affair. Waller and the others continued in jail forty-three days, and were then discharged without any conditions. While in prison they constantly preached through the grates. The mob without used every exertion to prevent the people from hearing, but to little purpose,
.” 82 for converts were made notwithstanding
This was a great triumph for the Baptist prisoners and their principles, a triumph at once over the civil authorities and over a hostile mob.
In like manner, in December, 1770, William Webber and Joseph Anthony went from Goochland across James River to Chesterfield and began preaching. They were promptly arrested and put into prison, where, as they refused to bind themselves, they staid until March following, in the meantime preaching through the prison grates to many people."
Commenting on this occurrence, Campbell says: " "The persecutions of the Baptists commenced in Chesterfield in 1770, and in no county was it carried further. According to tradition, Colonel Archibald Cary, of Ampthill, was the
differ in nothing from our Church, but that of Baptism, and their renewing the ancient discipline, by which they have reformed some sinners and brought them to be truly penitent. Nay, if a man of theirs is idle and neglects to labor and provide for his family as he ought, he incurs their censures, which have had good effects. If this be their behaviour, it were to be wished we had some of it among us. But, at least, I hope all may remain quiet till the Court. I am, with great respects to the Gentlemen, sir,
Your humble servant, Williamsburg, July 16, 1768.”
JOHN BLAIR. Given by Semple, 15-16, and also found in Foote, Sketches of Virginia, i, 316, and elsewhere. Semple, 16-17.
33 Semple, 17, ff. ** Campbell
, History of Virginia, 555.
arch-persecutor. In few counties have the Baptists been more numerous than in Chesterfield.”
On August 10, 1771, William Webber and John Waller arrived in Middlesex on a course of meetings. That night about nine o'clock, with two others, James Greenwood and Robert Ware, they were lodged in the jail, which swarmed with fleas. They preached the next day, Sunday, in jail; and preached every Wednesday and Sunday to crowds. On the 24th they were taken into court and ordered to give bond for good behavior and not to preach in the county again for one year. On refusing, they were remanded to prison and fed on only bread and water for four days. They were liberated, on giving bond for good behavior, after forty-six days of confinement.
In August, 1772, James Greenwood and William Lovel were preaching in King and Queen county. They were seized, put in jail, kept there for sixteen days, until Court convened, and then discharged on giving bond for good behavior. On March 13, 1774,
On March 13, 1774, “the day on which Piscataway Church was constituted,” John Waller, John Shackleford and Robert Ware were imprisoned in Essex county, remaining in jail until Court day, March 21, when Ware and Shackleford gave bond for good behavior for twelve months. Waller refused, was imprisoned fourteen days longer, then gave bond, and went home.*
Semple, writing in 1809 the history of the Middle District Association, says on this subject: This makes five Baptist churches already mentioned in the county of Chesterfield. And most of them large and respectable. It is worthy of remark, that generally the Baptist cause has flourished most extensively where it met with most severe opposition in the offset. In Chesterfield jail seven preachers were confined for preaching, viz., William Webber, Joseph Anthony, Augustine Eastin, John Weatherford, John Tanner, Jeremiah Walker and David Tinsley. Some were whipped by individuals, several fined. They kept up their persecution after other counties had laid it de. They have now in the county more than 500 in communion, among whom are four magistrates, two majors, and five captains.” Semple, 207.
About a month later, on the second Saturday in May, 1774, the Association met at Hall's in Halifax county.
Letters were received at the Association from preachers confined in prison, particularly from David Tinsley, then confined in Chesterfield jail. The hearts of the brethren were affected at their sufferings, in consequence of which it was agreed to raise contributions for them. The following resolution was also entered into: 'Agreed to set apart the second and third Saturday in June as public fast days in behalf of our poor blind persecutors, and for the releasement of our brethren.' The effect on the public mind of such fast days so ordered must have been great.
Other similar cases of imprisonment might be cited. Between 1768 and 1775 inclusive, there seem to have been about thirty-four imprisonments. "About thirty of the preachers,” according to Leland, were honored with a dungeon, and a few others besides. Some of them were imprisoned as often as four times, besides all the mobs and perils they went through. The dragon roared with hideous peals but was not red—the Beast appeared formidable, but was not scarlet-colored. Virginia soil has never been stained with vital blood for conscience sake." 88
Semple, 56. These radical Baptists did a very curious thing in their Association held in the autumn of this year, 1774. They appointed Samuel Harriss, for the Southern District, and John Waller and Elijah Craig, for the Northern District, “ Apostles” to superintend the churches and report to the next Association. Semple gravely observes: “These Apostles made their report to the next Association rather in discouraging terms, and no others ever were appointed. The judicious reader will quickly discover that this is only the old plan of bishops, etc., under a new name. In the last decision it was agreed that the office of apostles, like that of prophets, was the effect of miraculous inspiration, and did not belong to ordinary times ” (p. 59). Thus exit the Baptist “ Apostles,” but the Baptist Church made a narrow escape. The episode illustrates the immense power of the forms of institutions to persist and to compel imitation.
* Leland, Writings, 107. Rev. C. F. James, in his “ Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia” (see Religious Herald, Jan. 5, 1899, Richmond, Va.), has collected these