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This additional extract from Semple shows the times: “It seems that many of the Baptists preachers, presuming upon a future sanction, had gone on to marry such people as applied for marriage. It was determined that a memorial should be sent from this Association requesting that all such marriages should be sanctioned by a law for that purpose. For a set of preachers to proceed to solemnize the rites of matrimony without any law to authorize them, might at first view appear incorrect and indeed censurable; but we are informed that they were advised to this measure by Mr. Patrick Henry, as being the most certain method of obtaining the law. It succeeded.” **
The House Journal notes under October 25, 1779,petition of the Baptist Association, setting forth that doubts have arisen whether marriages solemnized by dissenting ministers are lawful, and praying that an act may pass to declare such marriages lawful.” On the same day a bill “concerning Religion" was presented by Mr. James Henry and read the first time, and was read again the next day, and sent to the committee of the whole House, for the following Tuesday, Nov. 2. A petition of sundry inhabitants of Amherst county was presented on Nov. I, praying for the passage of the bill of the last Assembly “for establishing religious freedom.”
On November 8, the Committee for Religion reported that the request of the Baptists as to marriages was reasonable, and the House ordered a suitable bill to be brought in.
November 10, 1779. “Divers of the freeholders and other free inhabitants of Amherst county," who afterwards describe themselves as “composed of Church of England men, Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists," "unanimously and with one voice declare their hearty assent, concurrence, and approbation of the Act of January, 1779, declaring all church laws null, and the Act of Religious Freedom the true exposition of the Bill of Rights. Signed by a great number. Many for and against." 123
in Ibid., 65-66. 122 Journal of House of Delegates, Oct. 25, 1779, and ff.
On November 15, the bill concerning religion was put off“ till first of March next,” and Messrs. Mason, Henry, and General Nelson were ordered to bring in a bill “For saving and securing the property of the Church heretofore by law established," which bill was reported on November 26; and on November 29, the bill to amend an act concerning marriages was rejected.
On December 13, after being suspended since the October session of 1776, the bill for the support of the regular clergy was finally repealed by the House, and the Senate agreed. This repealing clause is as follows: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly—That so much of the act entitled-An act for the support of the clergy, and for the regular collecting and paying the parish levies, and of all and every other act or acts providing for the ministers, and authorizing the vestries to levy the same, shall be, and the same is hereby repealed.” This act severed the most important economic bond between Church and State in Virginia. It is not apparent that the Baptists had any immediately distinctive share in bringing about its passage.
The next Association met at Waller's meeting-house Spottsylvania county, May, 1780. No records. This Association seems to have petitioned the Assembly as appears under June 5, below.
The House Journal for 1780 notes: “May 12.-Petition from Amelia that marriages by dissenting ministers be declared lawful, also that vestries be dissolved.-Referred to Committee for Religion.” Many petitions for the dissolution of the vestries had been presented in preceding sessions. This is the first time that such a petition seems to have come from the Baptists.
123 Cited from MS. Archives by Meade, vol. ii, 444-445. I give this for what it is worth. It seems inaccurate as it stands. 124 Hening, x, 197.
See House Journal under dates cited, here and hereafter.
Bishop Meade' has the following entry concerning this petition:
May 12, 1780.–Sundry inhabitants of Amelia pray that marriage licenses shall not continue to be directed, in the old form, to Episcopal ministers; that certain persons therefore doubted the validity of marriages by other than the Episcopal clergy; they pray that the ceremony without the use of the ring and the service' may be declared lawful. Successful. It led to the bill legitimizing children of all such marriages by Dissenting ministers. The Baptist Association, at Sandy Creek, Charlotte, petition for the same. Also other Baptist Associations." 128
One June 5, “a petition from the Society of people called Baptists was presented to the House expressing doubts as to the lawfulness of the marriages by their ministers, and praying that a law pass legalizing them. Referred to Committee for Religion.”
On June 8, George Carrington from the Committee for Religion reported that they had had the two petitions under consideration, and that both were reasonable. The Committee was ordered to bring in bills accordingly.
On June 28 a bill " for the dissolving of Vestries and electing overseers of the poor” was ordered.
On July 4, a bill declaring “what shall be lawful marriage” was read once; it was read again on July 6, and was committed to the Committee on Propositions and Griev
On July 7, this Committee reported the bill without amendment, whereupon the bill was engrossed, read a third time, and sent to the Senate. It did not become a law at this session.
On July 7 the bill for dissolving several vestries and electing overseers of the poor was read the third time and passed. It became a law" on July 11.***
128 Meade, vol. ii, 445. This reference to the Association at Sandy Creek must be a mistake, for the May Association was at Waller's.
197 Hening, x, 288. 128 Overseers of the poor were substitutes for vestries in the back counties,” Rockbridge, Botetourt, Montgomery, Washington, Greenbrier, Augusta and Frederick.
The next Association was held at Sandy Creek, Charlotte county, October, 1780. Twenty-nine churches were represented. A committee from the Regular Baptists requested that a similar committee should be appointed by this Association to consider national grievances in conjunction with them. Reuben Ford, John Williams and E. Craig were appointed on the Committee. “The third Thursday in November following was appointed a day of fasting and prayer in consequence of the alarming and distressing times." 129
At the fall meeting of the Legislature on November 8, 1780, a memorial and petition from the Baptist Association was presented, praying for a law for marriages by dissenting ministers and for the abolition of the existing vestry law. Referred.
On November 21, the Committee for Religion reported that they had considered the memorial of the Baptists asking for a marriage law for dissenting ministers, and that the request was reasonable. The Committee. was ordered to prepare a bill accordingly. The Committee reported also in favor of dissolving the vestries. The resolution was tabled.
On December 2, the Committee for Religion reported a bill declaring "what shall be lawful marriage," and it was read once.
The bill was read a second time on December 4, and re-committed. On December 15, the Committee reported the bill with amendments, and it was engrossed and read a third time. On December 18, the bill was passed and sent to the Senate, and became a law soon after. 180 The act provides: "For encouraging marriages and for removing doubts concerning the validity of marriages celebrated by ministers other than the Church of England, be it enacted by the General Assembly—That it shall and may be lawful for any minister of any society or congregation of Christians, and for the Society of Christians called
Hening, x, 361.
Quakers and Menonists, to celebrate the rites of matrimony, and to join together as man and wife, those who may apply to them agreeable to the rules and usage of the respective societies to which the parties to be married respectively belong, and such marriage, as well as those heretofore celebrated by dissenting ministers, shall be, and they are hereby, declared good and valid in law.” The second section makes special provision for Quakers and Menonists. The third section fixes the marriage fee; and the fourth fixes the penalty for failure to return the marriage certificate to the Clerk of the County. The fifth section authorizes the County Courts to grant licenses to not more than four dissenting ministers of any one sect in any one county to join in matrimony persons within their county only. The act was to go into force on January 1, 1781. It is easy to imagine the relief brought by this act to many husbands and wives who were also fathers and mothers; and easy also to imagine the social heart-burnings and the bitter hatred against the Establishment that its delay had caused.
About May, 1781, Lord Cornwallis was marching through Virginia from the South, and consequently only sixteen churches met in Buckingham county in Association and quickly adjourned till October, 1782. For the same reason the General Assembly was a peripatetic body during its spring session and took no action on religious matters.
At the fall session, on November 22, 1781, “Sundry inhabitants of Prince Edward county prayed that all the old vestries may be dissolved by Act of Assembly and new ones elected by the body of the community at large. Dissenters to be equally competent with conformists to the post of vestrymen, and the sole proviso to be attachment to the present form of government. This was referred to the next Assembly on December 22, and finally rejected.
131 Meade, ii, 445; cf. Journal of Delegates, Nov. 22.