Special to WorldTribune.com
Editors’ Note: Virginia branded itself with the slogan ‘Virginia Is For Lovers’ in 1969. Historian Bill Federer explores the focus by the state’s and nation’s Founding Fathers on defending preachers out of sync with group think in the 1700s.
By Bill Federer, April 6, 2023
Following the crisis of the French and Indian War, Americans turned to Christ in religious revivals.
Virginia’s government, though, was established Anglican, and imposed strict lockdowns on unapproved church gatherings.
A Virginia historical marker reads:
“John Weatherford’s Grave … Baptist Preacher … and early advocate of religious liberty, jailed for five months … for unlicensed preaching. His release was secured by Patrick Henry.”
Another marker stated:
“Crooked Run Baptist Church … Thomas Ammon became a minister and was imprisoned in the Culpeper jail for preaching.”
A marker in Caroline County, Virginia, stated:
“1771, The Hermon Baptist Association to commemorate the heroism of Bartholomew Chewing, John Young, Lewis Craig, Edward Herndon, John Burrus, James Goodrich, who by the order of the court … were imprisoned in the Caroline County jail … on the charge of ‘teaching and preaching the Gospel without having Episcopal ordination or a license from the General Court.'” …
Established Anglican clergy, called “parsons” received income in the form of tobacco from farmers. In 1763, there was a poor harvest and farmers were being forced off their farms to pay debts, yet the parsons insisted on being paid the usual amount. The “Parson’s Cause” case went before King George III, who sided with the established clergy.
Patrick Henry, in his first major public appearance as an attorney, December 1763, successfully convinced the jury to reduce the damages farmers had to pay to one penny, declaring: “That a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects’ obedience.”
James Madison wrote to William Bradford, January 24, 1774, about the fate of Baptist ministers who were canceled and imprisoned by official state clergy: “That diabolical hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal infamy the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such business. This vexes me the most of anything whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent Culpeper County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in jail for publishing their religious sentiments which in the main are very orthodox.”….
In 1768, three Baptist ministers, John Waller, Lewis Craig, and James Childs, were arrested in Spottsylvania County, Virginia, for preaching to a crowd in violation of the government lockdown orders. … After 8 more weeks in prison, John Waller and James Childs were brought to trial for “preaching the Gospel contrary to law.”
Patrick Henry rode 50 miles to defend them.
Patrick Henry: ‘Did I hear an expression that these men, whom you worships are about to try for misdemeanor, are charged with preaching the Gospel of the Son of God?’
The prosecuting attorney told the judge: “May it please your worship, these men are great disturbers of the peace: they can not meet a man upon the road, but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat!”
In their defense, Henry addressed the court: “May it please your lordships, what did I hear? Did I hear an expression that these men, whom you worships are about to try for misdemeanor, are charged with preaching the Gospel of the Son of God?”
Henry successfully secured their release….
In Middlesex County several Baptist ministers were canceled, denied rights, and imprisoned. The Virginia Gazette, 1772, reported that authorities: “… sought to justify the persecution, charging Baptists with heresy and hateful doctrines, with disturbing the peace of religion, and denying that they were entitled to the benefit of the toleration act.”
Rev. James Ireland was a Baptist preacher. A plaque stated:
In memory of James Ireland, Minister of the Gospel, Born in Edinburgh, Scotland and converted in Frederick County, Va. Baptized and ordained at Sandy Creek, NC.
Imprisoned at Culpeper, Va. for preaching the gospel. Organizer of Baptist churches, pastor of Buckmarsh Baptist Church 1786-1806. His body lies in Buckmarsh Cemetery near here.
‘Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ Acts IV: 19-20
James Ireland was one of thirty Baptist preachers imprisoned in Virginia from 1768-1770. Warned that he would be arrested if he preached, he stood on a table and began speaking. Two men seized him and dragged him to jail.
Thrown in a cell infested with mice and spiders, the jailer, who owned the local tavern, encouraged drunks to beat him up. Ireland still summoned strength to preach through the bars of his cell window to the crowd gathered outside. …
Ireland wrote letters to his friends: “From My Palace in Culpepper.” Ireland went on to plant many Baptist churches. …
James Madison was born March 16, 1751, in King George County, Virginia, the oldest of 12 children.
‘That Religion, or the duty we owe to our CREATOR, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity toward each other.’
Madison recalled as a boy standing with his father outside the jail in the village of Orange and hear Baptists preaching from cell windows — their crime was preaching without approval from the government. …
Madison helped revise Article 16 of Virginia Declaration of Rights (Papers of Madison, I, 171-75) to read:
“That Religion, or the duty we owe to our CREATOR, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity toward each other.”
The next year, 1777, Jefferson wrote his initial draft of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:
“Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.”
In support of Jefferson’s Statute, Madison wrote Religious Freedom — A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, June 20, 1785:
The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.
This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator …”
Madison continued: “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to Him … Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe … We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.
…. In 1787, Madison attended the Constitutional Convention, where he took a prominent role, resulting in him being referred to by some as the Father or Chief Architect of the Constitution. ….
After the Constitution was ratified, a popular Baptist preacher Rev. John Leland considered campaigning to be a Representative from Virginia to the first session of the U.S. Congress. His main issue was religious freedom.
John Leland wrote Rights of Conscience Inalienable, 1791, that Baptists wanted not just toleration, but equality:
Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience.
If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.
Leland reportedly met with James Madison in Orange County and after Madison’s promise to introduce an Amendment protecting religious liberty, Leland convinced Baptists to get involved in politics and support Madison for Congress.
British Admiral George Cockburn entered the White House, ate dinner, then set the house on fire. He had British soldiers enter the U.S. Capitol Building and sit in the Congressmen’s chairs, holding a mock Congress. He asked, who was in favor of burning the U.S. Capitol, and the soldiers yelled, “aye,” after which they proceeded to torch the Capitol, the Treasury, the Library of Congress, and attack the Navy Yard.
George Mason proposed wording for the First Amendment: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural, and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no particular religious sect, or society of Christians, ought to be favored or established by law, in preference to others.'”
True to his promise, in the first session of Congress, June 7, 1789, Madison introduced: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship.” This would eventually become the First Amendment.
In 1793, a Yellow Fever epidemic hit Philadelphia, killing 10 percent of the city’s population. Among the dead was Todd Payne, who was survived by his widow, Dolley Payne, and their son, John Payne Todd. The following year, 25-year-old Dolley Payne married 43-year-old James Madison. James and Dolley Madison often visited with Jefferson. …
James Madison was elected the fourth President of the United States.
In his First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1809. he stated: “My confidence will under every difficulty be best placed … in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.” …
On August 24, 1814, a force of 4,500 British soldiers marched toward Washington, D.C. In a panic, citizens hastily evacuated. Dolley Madison is credited with having the White House staff save the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington by having it cut out of its frame.
With the help of their servant, Paul Jennings, her carriage was able to make it safely out of the city as British Admiral George Cockburn was riding in. Cockburn entered the White House, ate dinner, then set the house on fire. He had British soldiers enter the U.S. Capitol Building and sit in the Congressmen’s chairs, holding a mock Congress.
He asked, who was in favor of burning the U.S. Capitol, and the soldiers yelled, “aye,” after which they proceeded to torch the Capitol, the Treasury, the Library of Congress, and attack the Navy Yard. The Patent Office was the only government office not burned by the British.
A tornado touched down sending debris flying, blowing off roofs, knocking down chimneys and walls on British troops. The book, Washington Weather, recorded British Adm. George Cockburn exclaiming to a lady: “Great God, Madam! Is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?” To which the lady replied: “No, Sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city.”
Suddenly, dark clouds rolled in, wind and thunder grew into a “frightening roar,” and lightning began striking.
A tornado touched down sending debris flying, blowing off roofs, knocking down chimneys and walls on British troops.
Two cannons were lifted off the ground and dropped yards away. Violent winds slammed both horse and rider to the ground.
The book, Washington Weather, recorded British Adm. George Cockburn exclaiming to a lady: “Great God, Madam! Is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?”
To which the lady replied: “No, Sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city.”
A British historian wrote: “More British soldiers were killed by this stroke of nature than from all the firearms the American troops had mustered in the feeble defense of their city.”
As British forces fled, torrential rains fell for two hours, extinguishing the fires.
After marching back to their ships over roads covered with downed trees, they found two of their ships blown ashore and others with damaged riggings.
On September 1, 1814, Madison wrote: “The enemy by a sudden incursion has succeeded in invading the capitol of the nation … During their possession … though for a single day only, they wantonly destroyed the public edifices … An occasion which appeals so forcibly to the … patriotic devotion of the American people, none will forget … Independence … is now to be maintained … with the strength and resources which … Heaven has blessed.”
Less than 3 months later, Madison proclaimed a National Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting & Prayer to Almighty God on Nov. 16, 1814, stating:
“The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war, a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace … of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance … that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses … I have deemed it proper … to recommend … a day of … humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe.”