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In fact, this economic cause had a hundred years before been largely instrumental in bringing about Bacon's Rebellion, of which the Baptist uprising against the Establishment during the Revolutionary period may be regarded as the final outcome. The law of March, 1662,02 which changed the Vestry from an elective body to a self-perpetuating close corporation in the hands of the landowners, was abrogated by Bacon's Assembly in 1676, was revived by the next Assembly in 1677, and was the object of prolonged and successful attack by the Dissenters during the Revolution. This is not surprising when we remember that the Vestry "apportioned the taxes, elected the churchwardens, who were in many places the tax-collectors, 'processioned' the bounds of lands, thus affecting the record of land-titles, supervised the counting of tobacco, and presented the minister for induction."
The Vestry therefore touched the sensitive pocket nerve on all sides, and was correspondingly detested by those who had no share in its selection or its deliberations, and who had come to differ from its members in religious opinion. As we shall see, the economic struggle against what had been the Established Church continued long after religious freedom had been attained.
A fourth cause, more powerful than any one of those mentioned, as taking them all, in part, up into itself, was political. Liberty was getting to be in the air-liberty, the heritage of his race, all the dearer to the poor man in that he was poor. And yet he had to submit to be married, to have his father buried, to have his child baptized by the minister, often scandalously unfit, of a lordly church which forced from him his hated tithes, and whose clergy were even now (April-June, 1771) trying to make it more aristocratic by the institution of an American Bishopric. Now the
62 Hening, ii, 44-45.
* For an interesting discussion of this subject in connection with Bacon's Rebellion, cf. Fiske, Old Virginia, ii, 96 ff.
Baptist organization is the most democratic" of the great Protestant bodies. Each church is a little republic in which each member has his rights and may maintain them among his fellows. Such a system appealed powerfully to the political instincts of the Virginian of those days, as was proved by the sympathy for and with the Baptists shown by Henry, Jefferson, Madison, and other representative men."
Thus urged by their religious, social, economic, and political likes and dislikes, the plain people of Virginia flocked into the Baptist Church and were only exasperated, not hindered, by the persecution to which their leaders were subjected.
The greatest gains made during this short period were
The government of the Baptist Church.-. . . Being a distinct body, or corporation, it is entrusted with the whole prerogative of judicature respecting itself. . . . (1) We have particular meetings appointed . . . every member is to attend. (2) We allow none to be present but our own members. . . . (3) At these meetings we meddle not with any state affairs. No; we leave such things to the Commonwealth to which alone they belong. We concern not ourselves with the government of the colony; nor any point relating to it; unless it be to pray for both the temporal and eternal welfare of all the inhabitants. We form no intrigues. We lay no schemes to advance ourselves, nor make any attempts to alter the constitution of the Kingdom to which we belong. . . . (4) At these meetings we consider and adjust all matters relating to the peace, order and edification of the Church. . . We enquire into the conduct of our members, . . . acquit the innocent, receive the penitent, and pass judgment upon all irreclaimable offenders . . . and the incorrigible . . . are excommunicated." Thomas, The Virginian Baptist, 31-33.
This was doubtless a perfectly sincere statement when Thomas wrote it in 1773. But compare it with what Semple says about petitions to overturn the Church Establishment towards the close of 1774,a and with the proposal of the Committee of the Regular Baptists in 1780 to the General Association as to national grievances, and with the whole history of the General Committee.c Times change, and we change with them.
'Curry, J. L. M., Establishment and Disestablishment, 94. "The fact is incontestable, that religious and political ameliorations are contemporaneous, and have been accomplished by the same per
a See p. 27 ff.
b See p. 52.
c See pp. 54-69.
in those parts of Virginia, the oldest and most thickly settled, in which the Established Church had been longest given its opportunity of doing good: In tidewater and lower Virginia-in James City county (first home of Englishmen in Virginia), in King and Queen, Middlesex, Essex, Caroline, Goochland, Louisa, Spottsylvania,* Stafford;* over the Blue Ridge-in Frederick,* Berkeley,* Shenandoah,* Rockingham;* back in Piedmont Virginia, along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge—in Loudoun,* Fauquier,* Culpeper, Madison, Orange,* Albemarle, Fluvanna, Amherst; across the James River in Southside Virginia-in Buckingham, Prince Edward, Charlotte, Bedford, Franklin; on the North Carolina border-in Henry, Pittsylvania,* Halifax,* Mecklenburg; thence northerly and easterly-in Lunenburg, Nottoway,* Amelia, Powhatan, Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Isle of Wight, and so to Princess Anne* and the Atlantic Ocean. In thirteen (those marked with the asterisk) of these thirty-nine counties, possibly in more, the Baptists had effected some sort of lodgment before 1770, in these they increased their numbers. In the remaining twenty-six counties they established churches for the first time after 1770 (as far as I can ascertain), though itinerant preachers went through many, perhaps all, of these counties also at an earlier date, making many converts as they went."
However that may be, the Baptists constituted in 1774 a large body of the people inspired by a new-born zeal, animated by an almost fierce spirit of proselytism, organized into vigorous and widely distributed branches with centralized organ of common action, and held together by a common resistance and hatred of their spiritual oppressor the Established Church.
These people were formidable in numbers, though it is hard to determine just how numerous they were. Benedic
"The names of the counties are given as they stand in Semple (in 1809-10). Many of these counties were not laid off in 1774 (see map).
writing in 1813, after prolonged travels among his co-religionists, says: From the many observations I have made on the spread of Baptist principles, I am inclined to think, that without counting that class in Massachusetts and Connecticut, who hang to the denomination merely by certificates, we may reckon seven adherents to one communicant."" According to this estimate, the five thousand Virginia Baptist members in 1774 would find themselves supported by an army of thirty-five thousand sympathizers in a total population of probably 400,000 free inhabitants— about one in every ten. That estimate seems high. But taking two-thirds or even one-half of this number as a correct estimate, we can easily understand the politico-relig
'David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination, Boston, 1813, vol. ii, p. 553.
Note on Population of Virginia and Number of Baptists. It is not possible to do more than approximate the number of people in Virginia at this time. The "Virginia Almanac " for 1776 gives (p. 2) “An estimate of the number of souls in the following provinces, made in Congress, September, 1774:
Leland says in his Virginia Baptist Chronicle, which was published in Virginia in 1790, “Mr. Jefferson says, that in 1782, there were in this State 567,614 inhabitants, of every age, sex and condition. Of which 296,852 were free, and 270,762 were slaves. Mr. Randolph, in 1788, stated the round numbers . (at) 588,000. These gentlemen had both official accounts being both governors of Virginia, but the returns from the counties are imperfect, and from some counties no returns at all are made to the executive." The census report of 1790 gives the number for Virginia as: free whites, 442,117; other free persons, 12,863; slaves, 292,627; total,
ious agitation that now began. "So favorable did their prospects appear," says Semple, "that towards the close of the year 1774, they began to entertain serious hopes, not
747,610. The population would be likely to decrease during the Revolutionary War because of the war, and still more, both during and after the war, because of the rapid emigration to Kentucky.
The number of Baptists likewise can only be approximated. Leland says: "There were a few Baptists in Virginia before the year 1760, but they did not spread so as to be taken notice of by the people, much less by the rulers, till after that date."
The churches increased in number from eighteen in 1770 to about ninety in 1776, and it seems altogether probable that the number of members was not far from as large then as it was for some years afterwards, owing to the constant emigration to Kentucky.
In 1790, Leland says there were "I General Committee; II associations; 202 churches; 150 ministers; 20,000 members."a
Rippon's Baptist Register, under the heading “A View of the Baptist Associations, etc., in the United States of America and Vermont October, 1790" (p. 72), gives the following table of Associations and the comment thereon:
Lower District and Kehukee*..
Roanoke and North Carolina*..
Ministers Churches Members
The nine associations in the above list marked with asterisks meet in a General Committee by their representatives at Richmond in the month of May annually. Due allowance being made for North Carolina, North Kentucky and Ohio in this list, the results conform fairly to the estimate of Leland.
Semple says: Asplund's Register for 1791, soon after the great revival, makes the number of Baptists 20,439 in Virginia.” b
a Leland, Writings, 117.
c Benedict, Fifty Years among Baptists.
Benedict, after prolonged travel and consideration of the subject, thinks (1860) that "in 1800 there were only about 80,000 Baptists in North America and about 20,000 in Virginia." c
A more recent authority still, Armitage (1887), concludes that
as nearly as we can get at the figures, there were but 97 Baptist
b Semple, 446.