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99 86 66

ship, and to preach to the soldiers, or exhort, from time to time, as the various operations of the military service may permit, for the ease of such scrupulous consciences as may not choose to attend divine services as celebrated by the chaplain. This," says Dr. Hawks, "it is believed was the first step made towards placing the clergy, of all denominations, upon an equal footing in Virginia."" It was the work of the Baptists alone, it is to be observed, and the step, though only a step, was a long one.

The occasion of this action of the Association was the ordinance of the Convention which met at "Richmond town" on July 17, 1775-" an Ordinance for raising and embodying a sufficient force for the defence and protection of this Colony." This provided for two regiments of regulars and also for sixteen regiments and battalions of minute-men in the sixteen districts into which the Colony was for that purpose divided. Each of these regiments and battalions was to have a chaplain to be appointed by the field-officers and captains, and when on duty the chaplain was to have a tent and be paid ten shillings a day-the pay of a major." Of course these positions would go to the clergy of the Establishment, ten shillings a day and all. The Baptists could hardly hope to get any of the appointments, nor does there seem to be any evidence that they tried to do so at this time. But to have their preachers appear before the men and preach under the authority of the Convention was a dear assertion of practical equality, and as new as it was dear. This petition then was no blind blow in the dark. But to the hopes of the preachers, the sequel must have been disappointing. "Jeremiah Walker' and John Williams," says the candid Semple, “being appointed by this Association, went and preached to the soldiers, when encamped in the lower parts of Virginia, they,

96 Journal of Convention of Aug. 16, 1775.


Hawks, Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia, 138.

Hening, Statutes at Large, ix, 9 ff.


not meeting with much encouragement, declined it, after a short time.'

99 89

Though the interval of time be brief, it is a far cry from John Waller and John Schackleford, put in jail for preaching in March, 1774, to Jeremiah Walker and John Williams preaching to the soldiers under the authority of the Convention of the whole Colony in October or November of 1775.

This same ordinance classed together "all clergymen and dissenting ministers," along with the Committee of Safety and the president, professors, students, and scholars of William and Mary College, among the exempts from enlistment for military duty." The usual exemption of "all Quakers, and the people called Menonites" from serving in the militia, is made in a separate section " as a matter of course and is without the significance attaching to this new classification. The ordinance also makes one provision which may have given the Baptists some influence in the matter of chaplains. It provides that the captains of the companies and the field-officers should be appointed by the committees of the various districts into which the Colony was divided. The field-officers and the captains appointed the chaplains. Thus it may have been possible for the Baptists to affect these appointments.

The Convention classed together the clergy and the dissenting preachers in a prohibition also. In the ordinance regulating the election of delegates to the Convention, it provided: "That all clergymen of the Church of England, and all dissenting ministers or teachers, should be incapable of being elected as a delegate, or sitting and voting in Convention."


Semple, 62.

"Hening, ix, 28. This section with fine courtesy exempts also "the members of His Majesty's Council." Hening, ibid., 34.


2 Hening, ix, 57. This provision was distasteful to many Baptists, as the following extract from Leland shows: "If the office of a preacher were lucrative, there would be some propriety in


At the session at Richmond in December, 1775, the Convention provided for increasing the size of the two regiments and for raising six more regiments. In this ordinance it is directed that, in the great majority of counties, the captains should be appointed by the County Committees and the field-officers by the District Committees." This would give the Baptists increased opportunity to exercise their influence, if they were disposed to do so.


The same ordinance makes another provision which shows how thoroughly the public needs and not abstract considerations of the rights of citizens were in the ascend“And be it further ordained, That hereafter no dissenting minister, who is not duly licensed by the general court, or the society to which he belongs, shall be exempted from bearing arms in the militia of this Colony." Apparently the number of preachers was being unduly increased by the exemption from service formerly declared. Greatness, too, has its penalties.

How desirous the State government was to conciliate all its citizens and to keep its forces in good condition is shown by the "Act for speedily recruiting the Virginia Regiments, etc.," passed two years later at the October session, 1777. One section provides: "And whereas there are within this commonwealth some religious societies, particularly Baptists and Methodists, the members of which may be averse to serving in the some companies or regiments with others, and under officers of different principles, though they would willingly engage in the defence of their country under the command of officers of their own religion: Be it enacted

his ineligibility; but as the office is not lucrative, the proscription is cruel. . . . In Virginia, their parsons are exempt from bearing arms. Though this is an indulgence that I feel, yet it is not consistent with my theory of politics; . . . an exemption from bearing arms is but a legal indulgence, but the ineligibility is constitutional proscription, and no legal reward is sufficient for a constitutional prohibition." (Writings, 122.) One is tempted to regret that Leland was not in the Convention.


Hening, ibid., 75 ff.; ibid., 89.

"That such persons may raise companies, and if enough companies are raised, may form regiments having their own field-officers, chaplains, and so on.'

99 94

In the spring and summer of 1776, the Virginia Convention prepared and adopted the Declaration of Rights, with its immortal sixteenth section," pronouncing religion henceforth free in Virginia (June 12, 1776), and also adopted the Constitution. In all this it does not appear that the Baptists as such took any direct part, though they doubtless did their duty as citizens, particularly at the polls.

The following remark by Fristoe makes it likely that they may have influenced the membership of this convention of 1776 as well as that of subsequent General Assemblies. Fristoe is speaking of the year 1776. "The business then was to unite, as an oppressed people, in using our influence and give our voice in electing members of the State Legislature-members favorable to religious liberty and the rights of conscience. Although the Baptists were not numerous, when there was anything near a division among the other inhabitants in a county, the Baptists, together with their influence, gave a caste to the scale, by which means many a worthy and useful member was lodged in the House of Assembly and answered a valuable purpose there.'

99 96


Hening, ix, 348.

95 This famous section is as follows: "A Declaration of Rights made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free Convention; which rights do pertain to them and to their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government. (Unanimously adopted June 12, 1776.)

"16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other."

Hening, ix, 109-112; cf. Bitting, Strawberry Association, p. 18. 96 Fristoe, 90.

Eight days after the adoption of the Declaration of Rights, "A petition of sundry persons of the Baptist Church, in the County of Prince William, whose names are thereunto subscribed, was presented to the Convention and read; setting forth that at a time when this colony, with others, is contending for the civil rights of mankind, against the enslaving schemes of a powerful enemy, they are persuaded the strictest unanimity is necessary, among ourselves; and, that every remaining cause of division may, if possible, be removed, they think it their duty to petition for the following religious privileges, which they have not yet been indulged with in this part of the world, to wit: That they be allowed to worship God in their own way, without interruption; that they be permitted to maintain their own ministers and none others; that they be married, buried, and the like, without paying the clergy of other denominations; that, these things granted, they will gladly unite with their brethren, and to the utmost of their ability promote the common cause." The petition was referred to the Committee of Propositions and Grievances, which was ordered to "inquire into the allegations thereof, and report the same, with their opinion thereupon, to the Convention." "

This petition was probably from the Regular Baptist Church at Occoquon of which David Thomas was pastor," and may be considered the forerunner of the petitions to the convention and of its consequent action at its next meeting in October as the General Assembly.


The next association had been appointed for Thompson's meeting-house, Louisa county, on the second Saturday in August, 1776. "They met accordingly," says Semple, "and letters from 74 churches were received, bringing mournful tidings of coldness and declension. This declen


Journal of Convention, under date.

Semple; James, Religious Herald, Feb. 23, 1899.


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