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February this bill was reported, read a second time, and committed to the Committee for Religion."
Another similar petition was presented from Caroline county on March 14, and was laid on the table.
On March 17, “Mr. Treasurer reported from Committee for Religion, to whom the bill for extending the benefit of the several Acts of Toleration to His Majesty's Protestant subjects in this Colony, dissenting from the Church of England, was committed." The bill was ordered to be engrossed and to be "read the third time upon the first day of July next.” But the House was prorogued on April 11, “ to the 25th day of June next.” The Journal shows no further entries until March 4, 1773. The house was prorogued again, March 13, by Lord Dunmore, and did not meet until May 5, 1774.
This Toleration Bill, proposed in February, 1772, was opposed by Baptists and by other dissenters as the next petition shows.
The year 1774 was a year of committees and correspondence, of petitions and expectation. The Virginia Committee of Correspondence was busily at work. The Virginia Burgesses had recommended the annual Congress of the Colonies, and its first meeting took place in September of this year in Philadelphia. Men's minds were excited in anticipation of coming change. Events were moving rapidly. The Baptists begun their general forward movement in the spring. At first it was defensive as before; it soon became offensive. It began with a petition for the improvement of their condition.
On May 12, 1774, “A petition of sundry persons of the community of Christians called Baptists, and other Protestant dissenters, whose names are thereunto subscribed, was presented to the House and read, setting forth that the toleration proposed by the bill, ordered at the last session of the General Assembly to be printed and published, not
admitting public worship, except in the daytime, is inconsistent with the laws of England, as well as the practice and usage of the primitive churches, and even of the English Church itself; that the night season may sometimes be better spared by the petitioners from the necessary duties of their callings; and that they wish for no indulgences which may disturb the peace of Government; and therefore praying the House to take their case into consideration, and to grant them suitable redress.” 76
The House does not seem to have taken any action on the matter beyond referring it to the Committee for Religion, The petitioners, it is seen, were men busy at work during the daytime. This petition appears to be the joint work of individuals, Baptists and others. Perhaps it was shrewdly intended to accompany or precede the next petition noticed by the Assembly.
Four days later, on May 16, 1774, the House of Burgesses
" Ordered, that the Committee of Propositions and Grievances be discharged from proceeding upon the petition of sundry Baptist ministers, from different parts of this country, convened together in Loudon county at their Annual Association, which came certified to this Assembly, praying that an Act of Toleration may be made, giving the Petitioners and other Protestant dissenting Ministers, Liberty to preach in all proper Places, and at all Seasons, without Restraint. Ordered, that said Petition be referred to the consideration of the Committee for Religion; and that they do examine the Matter thereof, and report the same, with their Opinion thereon, to the House." "
This is an official petition from the Baptist representative body. It may have come from the Ketocton Association of the Regular Baptists held at Brent Town in 1774, although Brent Town was in Fauquier. The Separate
79 Journal of House of Burgesses, May 12, 1774; also Meade, ii, 439.
Journal of Burgesses, May 16, 1774.
Association for the Northern District was not held until the fourth Saturday in May, 1774, at Picket's MeetingHouse in Fauquier county. The Separate Association for the Southern District * met on the second Saturday in May, as we have already seen," and passed a resolution appointing fast days; but nothing is said of any petition to the Assembly.
It is a noteworthy conjunction of circumstances that on this same day, May 16, the Burgesses “Ordered, that Mr. Washington, Mr. Gray, Mr. Munford and Mr. Syme be added to the Committee for Religion.” On the next day, May 17, Mr. Andrew Lewis, Mr. Macdowell and Mr. James Taylor were added to the same Committee. Jefferson had been added on May 9.
The Assembly was dissolved by Dunmore on May 26, and no legislative action was taken during the rest of the year.
With the advent of 1775, the political current began to run so strongly that all other interests were swept along with it. The Baptists, both from principle and from interest, were thorough republicans and ardent supporters of the revolutionary party. Speaking of it from the religious point of view, Semple says: “This was a very favorable
for the Baptists. Having been much ground under the British laws, or at least by the interpretation of them in Virginia, they were to a man favourable to any revolution by which they could obtain freedom of religion. And Armitage, looking back across a hundred years at the situation, says: the Baptists demanded both (civil and religious liberty), and this accounts for the
Semple does not note any petition from either of these associations to the General Assembly, nor do I find any note either of this petition or of the meeting of the Ketocton Association in Fristoe. Cf. Semple, 298, 301. Dr. C. F. James thinks this petition of the Ketocton Association may date back to 1771. Cf. Religious Herald, Jan. 12, 1899. See p. 16.
desperation with which they threw themselves into the struggle, so that we have no record of so much as one thorough Baptist tory.” 81 Thomas McClanahan, a preacher, raised a company of Baptists in Culpeper and took them into the army; John Gano and a number of other Baptist preachers are mentioned as being in active service; an increasing number of officers were or became Baptists as the war went on, and the rank and file was full of Baptist soldiers from the very beginning. Washington's testimony is given in his letter cited farther on."
In May, 1775, both districts met as one association at Manakin-town or Dover meeting-house, Goochland county. Sixty churches were represented. The time was spent chiefly in prolonged and distressing debate on the question, "Is salvation by Christ made possible for every individual of the human race?' The petition “of sundry persons ....
called Baptists, and other Protestant dissenters," already quoted, which had been presented to the Burgesses on May 12, 1774, was now presented to the Burgesses on June 13, 1775, and was ordered to lie upon the table. **
The districts met again as one association at Dupuy's meeting-house, Powhatan county in August, 1775, and proceeded vigorously to examine the things of this present world. “It seems that one great object of uniting the two districts at this time, was to strive together for the abolition of the hierarchy or Church establishment in Virginia.
It was therefore resolved at this session to circulate petitions to the Virginia Convention or General Assembly, throughout the State, in order to obtain signatures. The
Armitage, History of Baptists, 777. 82 Life of Gano, pp. 94 ff.
This record should be made out and preserved. I would respectfully suggest to the learned and careful Editor of Semple's History of the Baptists, that he add to his services to Baptist history in particular and to Virginia history in general by drawing up a sketch of the Baptists from Virginia in the Revolutionary army. Semple, 55.
$4 Journal of Burgesses, June 13, 1775.
prayer of these was that the Church establishment should be abolished and religion left to stand upon its own merits, and that all religious societies should be protected in the peaceable enjoyment of their own religious principles and modes of worship. . . . They also determined to petition the Assembly for leave to preach to the army.' Jeremiah Walker, John Williams, and George Roberts were appointed a committee to wait on the convention. This matter is recorded in the Journal of the Convention as follows; “ An address from the Baptists in this Colony was presented to the Convention and read, setting forth—that however distinguished from their countrymen, by appelatives and sentiments of a religious nature, they nevertheless consider themselves as members of the same community in respect to matters of a civil nature, and embarked in the same common cause; that, alarmed at the oppression which hangs over America, they had considered what part it would be proper for them to take in the unhappy contest, and had determined that in some cases it was lawful to go to war, and that they ought to make a military resistance against Great Britain, in her unjust invasion, tyrannical oppressions, and repeated hostilities; that their brethren were left at discretion to enlist, without incurring the censure of their religious community; and, under these circumstances many of them had enlisted as soldiers, and many more were ready to do so, who had an earnest desire their ministers should preach to them during the campaign; that they had therefore appointed four of their brethren to make application to this Convention for the liberty of preaching to the troops at convenient times, without molestation and abuse, and praying the same may be granted to them.
“Resolved, that it be an instruction to the commanding officers of the regiments of troops to be raised, that they permit the dissenting clergymen to celebrate divine wor