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next year he was ordained pastor at Shrewsberry, by the Presbytery of East Jersey, which had been set off from the Philadelphia Presbytery. Five years after, the Presbytery of New Brunswick was formed and he was a member. In the fall of 1739, by the advice of Presbytery, Mr. Blair removed to New Londonderry in Faggs Manor Chester county, Pennsylvania. The next year his congregation was visited with a powerful awakening, which spread to the neighbouring congregations, and ultimately reached Virginia under the preaching of Mr. Robinson, who found the soil prepared to his hand. Mr. Blair opened a school in which were educated some noted ministers of the Presbyterian Church-Alexander Cumming, settled in Boston,-John Rodgers, in New York,-John Blair Professor of Divinity at Nassau Hall,-Rev. James Finley, Hugh Henry, and Samuel Davies whose name is dear to Virginia and Nassau Hall. The attachment of Davies to Mr. Blair may be seen in his Journal. The feelings of tenderness and sentiments of respect expressed on a visit to the dwelling of the widow are worthy of the pupil and his teacher. Dr. Green tells us, in his History of the College of New Jersey, that Mr. Davies, on his return from Britain, in reply to an inquiry respecting the pulpit , orators he had heard abroad, replied, “ that there was scarce one of them who exceeded, and most of them came far short of his old master, Mr. Blair, both as to the matter of their discourses, and the impression produced by their delivery. He died July 5th, 1751, at the early age of thirty-nine years and twenty-one days. His last sickness was brought on by a journey to Nassau Hall to attend a meeting of the Trustees. He lay a long time in Philadelphia ; and feeling his end approaching, he sent for the elders of his church, and two members from each quarter of his congregation, and gave them his dying council. This was preserved and printed by his brother-in-law the Rev. Robert Smith of Pequa. Dr. Finley says,—“strict holiness was his choice."
These gentlemen, the Tennents and Finley and Blair, it is supposed visited the other Presbyterians in Virginia, as well as those in Hanover. Of this however we have no written document, or direct tradition further than—“Hat Creek in Campbell county was consecrated with the prayers of Gilbert Tennent.
“After Mr. Tennent and Blair were gone”-says Mr. Morris—“Mr. Whitefield came and preached four or five days, which was the happy means of giving us further encouragement, and of engaging others to the Lord, especially amongst the church people, who received the gospel more readily from him than from ministers of the Presbyterian denomination.
After his departure we were destitute of a minister, and followed our usual method of reading and prayer at our meetings, till the Rev. Mr. Davies, our present pastor, was sent us' by the Presbytery to supply a few Sabbaths in the spring of 1747, when our discouragements from Government were renewed and multiplied.”
The early Presbyterians in Virginia were enlightened by a galaxy of ministers, of which the church might glory in her best days. In the height of the religious excitement, they were called, in derision, by the clergy of the established church, and others who opposed, — dissenters,--enthusiasts,-fanatics,-new lights,-hypocrites,--while they themselves gloried in the names of Christians—and Presbyterians. Davies in writing to the Bishop of London acknowledged himself one of those designated by opposers—as “new lights;" but he shows that it was a misnomer. In Virginia the word “new light,” in a little time, lost its opprobrium, and became among Presbyterians a technical phrase; but was never recognised as their proper
The labours of these men, Robinson, Roan, the Blairs, and the Tennents, laid the foundation on which Davies builded; and all united have had a controlling influence over Virginia Presbyterians in creed and practice, to this day. From the time of these men, the Virginia ministers and people have believed in awakenings,-in spiritual exercises in religion,--and the
power of godliness in men's hearts and lives. From deep conviction they have been believers in the depravity of human nature,—the sovereignty of God,-original sin,—the divinity of Christ,—the influences of the Holy Spirit as a divine person,—and the absolute necessity of the new birth. Hoping for justification by the righteousness of Christ made theirs by faith, believing it would be safe to appear in it, in the judgment to come, ministers and people rejoiced in the unsearchable riches of Christ, through trials and difficulties that would make ordinary spirits tremble and quit the field. By the help of God they have left us a good report.
VIRGINIA IN 1743; COMMISSARY BLAIR; WILLIAM AND MARY
At the death of Rev. James Blair, one of the greatest benefactors of Virginia, in the year 1743, the ecclesiastical and political condition of the colony had not ostensibly much changed, except by expansion. Looking back upon the progress of things, we now see the colony was even then on the eve of changes and revolutions that went on with rapidly increasing force and extending influence till consummated in complete political and religious liberty, the liberty of choice and of law.
The population had greatly increased, and was taking possession of the vallies beyond the Blue Ridge. The frontiers had been removed several days journey west of the head of tide water. Emigrations were flowing in, destined to have a greater influence on the State, than mere numbers, or wealth however increased. Virginia was esteemed loyal through all the changes and revolutions that shook the throne of England in the time of the Charleses, and the Jameses, and Cromwell, and the Prince of Orange. There was nothing to make her otherwise. She had a State religion with which the overwhelming majority were satisfied, and would probably have been forever had it been rightly administered. In her assembly she claimed and exercised all the independence a colony in her condition desired. Too weak to stand alone, she clung to the throne of England by which she had not felt herself oppressed. In the collisions with proprietors and the Board in London, the King had appeared the friend of the colony, which had not yet questioned his prerogative in Church and State. She had been indulged in her Legislature more than ever the Parliament of England had been, on account of her distance, and the apparent unimportance of the political bearing of her independent acts. And yet by her increasing area and population, by her habits of personal independence and increasing wealth, Virginia was rapidly preparing for the change from the most loyal to the most republican colony.
In her ecclesiastical concerns the elements of change were ready to be developed. The number of the clergy had increased with the increasing parishes, but had not improved in general character or influence. The Bishop of London said
of them, about this time,in his letter to Dr. Doddridge“Of those who are sent from hence, a great part are the Scotch or Irish, who can get no employment at home, and enter into the service more out of necessity than choice. Some others are willing to go abroad to retrieve either lost fortune or lost character. For these reasons and others of less weight I did apply to the King, as soon as I was Bishop of London, to have two or three bishops appointed for the plantations to reside there."
The support of the clergy was regulated somewhat differently, at this time, from the law and custom of 1688. At that period, as stated in chapter first, a tax of sixteen pounds of tobacco was levied on each of the titheables of the parish, for the support of the minister. His support varied, consequently, with the number of his titheable parishioners, as well as with the quality of the tobacco cultivated. But in 1696, to remove in part this inequality and secure a competent salary in all parishes, it was enacted,—“that all and every parish minister, or ministers, in all and every parish and parishes, in this dominion, incumbent in said parish or parishes, and therein officiating as minister, or ministers, shall have and receive for his or their meantenance the sume of sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco besides their perquisites.” This law remained in force till the Revolution. In the fluctuations of trade and the consequent changes in the price of tobacco, the operations of this law were a source of great complaint to the clergy, and constant vexation to the whole country. The preamble of the law sets forth, that this law was made for the advantage of religion and its ministers; history declares it was the cause of sorrow and endless disputes to both ministers and people, and embittered the revolutionary contest. Beverly tells us—“When these salaries were granted, the Assembly valued tobacco at ten shillings per hundred; but in all parishes where the sweet scented grew, since the law for appointing agents to view the tobacco was made, it has generally been sold for double that value. The fee for a funeral sermon is forty shillings, or four hundred pounds of tobacco; for a marriage, by license, twenty shillings, or two hundred pounds of tobacco; and when the bans are proclaimed only five shillings or fifty pounds of tobac
There was also a dwelling house and glebe lands, &c.“in some parishes likewise, there are, by donation, stocks of cattle and negroes, on the glebes, which are also allowed to the minister, for his use and encouragement.” The amount of support given the clergy taken in connexion with their general influence and their seeking from the Legislature greater emoluments, had an influence on the public mind preparatory to the change which now began to appear.
In some particulars, the clergy of the established church have not received justice, at the hands of historians. Some of them were men of piety, whose death was triumphant. Many were men of classical education, who brought libraries of valu from the mother country. Some of these, from necessity, and others from choice, opened classical schools, and taught thoroughly and extensively. The sons of the wealthy were instructed at these schools. To the parsons, whose morals were often distressingly loose, and whose religion was but a name, Eastern Virginia was for a long time indebted for her supply of educated men.
The citizens of Virginia were advancing in wealth and refinement; and in courtly manners, had no peers in the colonies, except in Boston, Massachusetts, Edenton and Newbern, North Carolina, and in parts of South Carolina. Williamsburg was the centre of taste and fashion and refinement. The sessions of the General Court, and the house of burgesses, collected the wealth and talent of Virginia, that vied in splendour with the representative of royalty. The entertainments of the Governor and Council in the capital were answered by entertainments in the country; and a season of revelry in the city was followed by a tour of visiting in the country. Young men seeking refinement of manners had specimens of the English gentlemen to copy. Wealth, dress, and address were every thing: and the two latter were often obtained at the expense of the former. A season unfavourable for tobacco brought dismay to those who were in the habit of anticipating their income. Sometimes, unhappily, the father left his son expensive habits, a worn out plantation, and a heavy debt; then degradation by poverty, premature death, or emigration to the western borders, were the alternatives. Too spirited to be degraded, and too proud to be mean, many families carried to new settlements, in the wilderness, easy manners, dear bought experience, and social refinement; and commencing life anew, ran a new course, less splendid and expensive, but not less amiable; less captivating, but not the less useful to the State. The farther the removal from Williamsburg, the less the dependence on the King: the more embosomed in the mountains, the more resolutely did the pioneers contend against authority that was not warranted by necessity and the plainest dictates of law. Above tide-water, the people simple in their habits, plain in manners, and accustomed to a roving and independent life, questioned every demand made upon their property, their persons, or their enjoyments. They were still loyal, because they had not been provoked by oppression. Their children were republicans; in England they would have been styled rebels.
The Rev. James Blair led the way for improvement in lite