Anglican parsons often reacted badly to the evangelical interlopers. Among the
most vocal Anglican critics was Patrick Henry, the Anglican rector of St.
Paul's Parish, Hanover, and the uncle of the future governor Patrick Henry. Parson Henry
heard reports that people were flocking to the new evangelical meetings, which
featured the emotional style of piety that Anglicans rarely countenanced. Henry
also heard that some of the new evangelicals even questioned whether the Anglican
ministers were actually converted believers. The staid Henry deplored the
The revivals divided the Henry family. Despite the fact that her husband, John Henry, was an Anglican vestryman, young Patrick's mother, Sarah Henry, took her twelve-year-old boy to the evangelical Presbyterian meetings in Hanover County, and always had him repeat back the Scripture passage and summarize the day's message. Sarah Henry attended the church of Pastor Samuel Davies, whom her son reportedly later described as the greatest orator he had ever heard. Davies first came to Hanover County from Pennsylvania in 1747, and then settled as a pastor in Hanover in 1748. Davies was moderate in both style and theology, despite Anglicans' accusations that he was a fanatic. Davies made his case to the Virginia colonial authorities, as well as officials in London, arguing that the Act of Toleration (1689) in England applied to the colonies' religious dissenters, who should not be forced to attend Anglican services.
Baptists and Methodists
Some Separate Baptists in New England became interested in spreading their gospel to the South. Minister Shubal Stearns established the most influential Baptist congregation in the colonial South at Sandy Creek, North Carolina, in 1755. From there, Baptist preachers radiated into the rest of the coastal South, including Virginia, where Stearns's brother-in-law Daniel Marshall began preaching late in the 1750s. A Separate Baptist congregation was founded in 1760 on the Dan River in Virginia. By late in the 1760s the Baptists had begun to expand throughout the colony.
The quick growth of the Baptists, their challenge to the Anglican establishment, and their unwillingness to seek official licenses to preach, brought down the wrath of Virginia authorities, leading to an intense season of persecution early in the 1770s. In 1771 an Anglican minister disrupted a Baptist service by beating the preacher at the pulpit and dragging him outside, where the sheriff of Caroline County gave him twenty lashes with a bullwhip. About thirty-four Baptist preachers were jailed for disturbing the peace and for holding unlawful assemblies. But this seemed only to steel their resolve. Pastor James Ireland was imprisoned in Culpeper, yet he continued to preach to followers through a grate. Ruffians harassed Ireland, however, and some even urinated on him as he attempted to address the crowd. His antagonists also burned brimstone and pepper to try to suffocate him.
Blacks had the right to bring charges against whites in Baptist disciplinary proceedings. While these actions had predictable limitations and often seemed to favor whites' testimony over blacks', they were the only judicial formats in colonial Virginia in which slaves could expect their grievances to be taken seriously. Occasionally, white masters were punished for treating their slaves harshly, as in a 1772 case at the Meherrin Baptist Church in Lunenburg County when master Charles Cook was rebuked for burning one of his slaves. But Cook gained readmission to the congregation a month later when he asked for forgiveness before the membership, presumably including the blacks.
Anglican opponents of the Baptists saw them as violating the traditional social order. The Virginia Gazette expressed the fears of many when it claimed that because of the Baptists, "Wives are drawn from their Husbands, Children from their Parents, and Slaves from the Obedience of their Masters. Thus the very Heartstrings of those little Societies which form the greater are torn in sunder, and all their Peace destroyed." Many women faced the unpleasant prospect of going against their husbands' wishes to attend the Baptist meetings, and a Virginia law made clear that slaves could not join any congregation without permission from their masters.
The Baptists' meetings offered a source of fellowship and emotional release unavailable in most of the established congregations. Rituals such as the baptism of believers by immersion, and the laying on of hands on new converts, gave a tactile aspect to their religious practices that often produced fervent reactions. Pastor Daniel Fristoe recorded an outdoor service in 1771 with thousands of observers watching twenty-nine people receive baptism. The service led some to weep openly, with some "so affected that they lifted up their hands and faces towards heaven and discovered such chearful countenances in the midst of flowing tears as I had never seen before."
The Methodists were relatively late in coming to the religious scene in colonial Virginia, but on the eve of the American Revolution they too had added to the burgeoning spiritual diversity in the colony. In 1775 and 1776 the Methodists organized major revivals in south-central Virginia before the war hampered their efforts; the Methodists struggled to escape a reputation for Loyalism, and most of their ministers left America or went into seclusion during the conflict. The Methodists' great era of growth began shortly after the war's conclusion.
The conditions of religious pluralism, and the persecutions of the early 1770s, helped to galvanize the movement for religious liberty in Virginia. James Madison and Patrick Henry helped to draft the sixteenth article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, which assured dissenters that they would enjoy the right to free exercise of religion. During the Revolution, the Virginia government stopped funding the Anglican Church, but this came about more as a wartime exigency than as a clear decision for disestablishment. Henry parted ways with Madison and Jefferson over the issue of religious establishment in the 1780s, with Henry favoring a general assessment for religion, where Virginians would have to pay taxes to support a church, but they could designate the recipient. Madison, backed by the state's Baptists, supported full religious freedom and no state support for religion.
December 14, 1739 - The Anglican itinerant preacher George Whitefield visits Williamsburg, Virginia.
1740 - About this year, inspired by the Anglican itinerant preacher George Whitefield's writings and sermons, the bricklayer Samuel Morris helps initiate evangelical revival in Hanover County, Virginia.
1743 - Evangelical Presbyterian pastors from New Jersey and Pennsylvania begin preaching in Virginia.
1745 - By this year, Virginia lieutenant governor Sir William Gooch has begun to call for the suppression of illicit "ministers under the pretended influence of new light, extraordinary impulse, and such like fanatical and enthusiastic knowledge."
February 19, 1747 - Evangelical Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies is ordained and accepts a mission to Hanover County, where several years earlier some residents had begun to challenge tenets of the established Church of England.
May 1748 - Samuel Davies moves to Virginia and becomes a settled minister in Hanover County.
1752 - Philadelphia Baptist Association dispatches four ministers, including Benjamin Miller, John Thomas, and John Gano, to Ketocton and Mill Creek churches in Fairfax and Frederick counties respectively, where they bring these congregations into Regular Baptist fellowship.
1755 - By this year, the Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies, in Hanover County, Virginia, is regularly preaching to about 300 slaves, about 100 of whom he has baptized.
Late 1750s - The first preaching tours of Separate Baptists to Southside Virginia from Sandy Creek, North Carolina, take place.
1760 - A church affiliated with the Sandy Creek Baptists is established on the Dan River in Virginia.
April 1765 - Robert Bolling hears George Whitefield preach at Bristol Parish in Blandford and satirizes his revivalistic style.
1770 - The General Association of the Separate Baptists of Virginia is formed out of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association.
1771 - An Anglican minister disrupts a Baptist service by beating the preacher at the pulpit and dragging him outside, where the sheriff of Caroline County gives him twenty lashes with a bullwhip.
1772 - Robert Williams, one of the first licensed Methodist preachers, moves from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
1773 - Methodist preacher Robert Williams begins to work with Devereux Jarratt in south-central Virginia.
1774 - Robert Williams organizes the Brunswick Circuit (first organized as the Petersburg Circuit), the first Methodist preaching circuit in Virginia.
1775–1776 - The first major Methodist awakening in Virginia takes place. During this time, Virginia's population of Methodists nearly doubles.
1785–1788 - A second major Methodist revival engulfs Virginia.
1786 - The Virginia General Assembly passes the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which effectively disestablishes the Church of England and gives dissenters full and equal legal privileges.
1787 - Separate and Regular Baptists unify in the General Committee of Baptist Associations.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Kidd, T. S. The Great Awakening in Virginia. (2013, July 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Great_Awakening_in_Virginia_The.
- MLA Citation:
Kidd, Thomas S. "The Great Awakening in Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 11 Jul. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 1, 2011 | Last modified: July 11, 2013
Contributed by Thomas S. Kidd, an associate professor of history at Baylor University.