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Dr. Hawks, the historian of the Episcopal Church, comments thus: "The ministers (says Leland) were imprisoned, and the disciples buffeted. This is but too true. No dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time harsher treatment than did the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned; and cruelty taxed its ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance. The usual consequences followed; persecution made friends for its victims; and the men who were not permitted to speak in public, found willing auditors in the sympathizing crowds who gathered around the prisons to hear them preach from the grated windows."

It is to be observed that these arrests were made on peace warrants. The Baptists contended that this was a subterfuge; that the real persecutor was the Established Church; that there was no law for their arrest; and that they had all the rights of Dissenters in England under the toleration act. A very significant comment upon this claim was made

names in a paragraph, as follows: "In December, 1770, William Webber and Joseph Anthony were imprisoned in Chesterfield jail, and in May, 1774, David Tinsley, Augustine Eastin, John Weatherford, John Tanner, and Jeremiah Walker were imprisoned in the same jail. In Middlesex county, William Webber, John Waller, James Greenwood, and Robert Ware were imprisoned in August, 1771. (Semple, pp. 17, 18.) In Caroline county, Lewis Craig, John Burrus, John Young, Edward Herndon, James Goodrich, and Bartholomew Chewning were imprisoned, but the year is not given. (See Taylor's Virginia Baptist Ministers, vol. i, pp. 81, 82.) In King and Queen county, James Greenwood and William Lovel were imprisoned in August, 1772, and John Waller, John Shackleford, Robert Ware, and Ivison Lewis in March, 1774. (See Semple, p. 22.) Dr. Taylor, in his sketch of Elijah Craig, says he was imprisoned in Orange county, but does not give the year. According to Taylor's Virginia Baptist Ministers, there were confined in Culpeper jail, at different times, James Ireland, John Corbeley, Elijah Craig, Thomas Ammon, Adam Banks and Thomas Maxfield."

Dr. G. S. Bailey says 66 The father of Henry Clay was thus imprisoned, as a Baptist minister, in Virginia, as I was informed by Rev. Porter Clay, a brother of Henry Clay.” Cf. “Trials and Victories of Religious Liberty in America," p. 40.

39 Hawks, Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, p. 121.

by the House of Delegates in its action in 1778. On November 14 of that year, a petition of Jeremiah Walker, one of the most prominent of the Baptist preachers and at that time in good standing with his people, was presented praying for the reconsideration of "his being taxed with prison charges" for the time he was in jail in Chesterfield county in 1773 and 1774 "for preaching." The petition was referred to the Committee for Religion. On November 20, the Committee brought in a resolution, That the petition of Jeremiah Walker for refunding the value of prison fees levied on him for the time "whilst confined in the jail of Chesterfield county for a breach of the peace,” be rejected. The resolution was read, amended, agreed to, and the petition rejected, the House endorsing the view that Walker's offence had been a breach of the peace." This action was taken in the midst of the Revolution when all the help of all the Baptists was needed.

It is to be observed, also, that these persecutions took place chiefly in the older counties, that is, in the counties lying along the great rivers of tidewater Virginia and in the northeastern part of the colony. This is just the country and the society that bred the men who led the Revolution, and we remember that among the staunchest patriots were some who at first were strong for the mother country and for the Mother Church. This is the section of country also in which were found the most worthless as well as some of the best of the ministers of the Established Church. There was, accordingly, a sharp clash of ecclesiastical interests as well as of theological opinions in these parishes. A review of the course of these events, however, renders it exceedingly doubtful if, as a class, the ministers themselves of the Established Church took an active part in the persecutions, though the Baptists believed so." But the


40 Journal of House of Delegates, November 14 and 20, 1778.


Semple, 119, cites the friendly offer of a clergyman of one of the parishes in Caroline to be security for Waller and Craig while in Fredericksburg jail, if they wished to give bond.

Church Establishment, as an institution bound up with the political organization of Virginia society, was largely responsible for them.

Along the mountain border there were but few instances of persecution after the first year or two, and almost none in what were then the southwestern counties, nor any south of James River as a whole, Chesterfield county excepted.

Under such conditions of mind of the Virginia public and of the Baptists themselves, let us see what was the progress made by them, and the causes as well as the results of their growth.


The year 1770 may be taken as the starting point for this examination. In that year, the Separate Baptists of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, after about ten or twelve years of joint association meeting, decided to divide and to hold thenceforward their associations in their respective colonies." ". . . At the commencement of the year 1770," says Semple, "there were but two [three]" Separate churches in all Virginia north of James river; and we may add, there were not more than about four on the south side.' In addition to these, in 1770, as we have already seen, there was one church in southeastern Virginia, and the Regular Baptists had ten churches, chiefly in the northeastern part of the colony.

99 45

This year, 1770, furnishes also the first petition from the Baptists to the Colonial Legislature for religious relief. The Journal of the House of Burgesses for May 26, 1770, contains "A petition of several persons, being Protestant dissenters of the Baptist persuasion, whose names are thereunto subscribed, was presented to the House and read, setting forth the inconveniences of compelling their licensed preachers to bear arms under the militia law and to attend musters, by which they are unable to perform the duties

"Backus, History of Baptists of N. E., iii, 274; Bitting, Strawberry Assn., 9, note.



Semple, 47. Compare Semple, pp. 11 and 25. Semple, 25.


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of their function, and further setting forth the hardships they suffer from the prohibition to their ministers to preach in meeting-houses, not particularly mentioned in their licenses; and, therefore, praying the House to take their grievances into consideration, and to grant them relief."

This petition evidently came from the Regular Baptists, whose ministers were regularly licensed, as was not the case ordinarily, if ever, with the Separate Baptists at this time.

The petition was referred to the "Committee for Religion," which reported in a few days, June 1, "Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee that so much of the said petition as prays that the ministers or preachers of the Baptist persuasion may not be compelled to bear arms or attend musters, be rejected."

The resolution was adopted by the House."

The first session of the Virginia Separate Baptist Association was held at Craig's Meeting-house in Orange county in May, 1771. Delegates from fourteen churches were present, representing thirteen hundred and eighty-five members." It is not known what was done at the meeting in 1772. At the session held in 1773, a division of the association was made into two districts, one north and one south of James River." Now the years from 1768 to 1774 inclusive were the time of the greatest persecution of the Baptists in Virginia. How little it availed is shown by the records of these District Association meetings. In 1774 the Northern District met at Carter's Run in Fauquier county in May, and letters were received from twenty-four churches reporting a membership of 1921; the Southern District held its second session at Walker's Meeting-house in Amelia county in October, and letters were received from thirty churches reporting a membership of 2083, a total of over four thousand members. This total does not include

"Journal, House of Burgesses, May 26, June 1, 1770.

47 Semple, 49; Bitting, Strawberry Assn., 12, says twelve churches. 48 Ibid., 55 ff.

the membership of any Separate churches not sending delegates to these two meetings; nor does it include the four churches in southeastern Virginia-three new since 1770, two in Sussex and one in Isle of Wight," with a membership of over 150; nor does it include the fourteen churches of the Regular Baptists-four new since 1770, two in Fauquier, one in Frederick, one in the Redstone Settlement (Great Bethel, Monongalia county, Virginia) with a membership of about 800. Making these additions, we get approximately five thousand as the number of Baptist church members in Virginia in the fall of 1774. Such a growth is astonishing from eighteen or nineteen churches, with something like eight hundred and fifty members in 1770, to seventy-two churches, with a membership of over five thousand in the fall of 1774, less than five years.


The causes of such popular religious movements it is not easy to ascertain and to state precisely. As we read this story, we are reminded of the Puritan movement in England; of the Wicklifites in the fourteenth century; even of the Barefoot Friars of the thirteenth century. The resemblance is a general one. More particularly, in the case of the Virginia Baptists, we doubtless see an outgrowth of that same principle of Protestant evolution which, beginning formally with the Reformation, culminated in the latter half of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries in the immense development of the Methodists. This is the principle of direct personal communion with God, of independent soul-experience. Its last great impulse in England and America came with the preaching of the Wesleys and Whitefield. As "The Great Awakening," " it made for


Semple, 343.

Fristoe, 9.

51 I am unable to say whether any, and if so how many, of these members were negroes; possibly a few. The impression left by the works of Leland, Semple, Benedict, and others is, I think, that the negroes did not begin to come into the churches until somewhat later, unless in very small numbers.


Tracy, The Great Awakening.



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