The conversion of Samuel Harris in 1758 provided the Separate Baptists with their first prominent member. Until that time most of those who joined the Baptist churches were unknown with little, if any, education. Harris, born in Hanover County in 1724, received good classical training for that period. On moving to what is now Pittsylvania County in 1752, he lived on his large Fall Creek Plantation just north of present day Danville. Holding a number of coveted public offices, he was a member of the House of Burgesses, judge of the county court, justice of the peace, deputy-sheriff, colonel in the county militia, captain of Fort Mayo and church warden. With all his honored positions he was troubled about his spiritual life. On one of his official military tours he passed a small house where preaching was being conducted by two Separate Baptists, Joseph and William Murphy. He had heard about the Baptists and was anxious to attend their services. Dressed in an impressive uniform and unwilling to draw attention to himself, he took a seat behind a loom and listened with great interest to the soul-searching preaching. After the meeting he was found kneeling with his head and hands hanging over a bench as if in a trance. When he came to himself, he smiled before the small group of astonished people. In a shout of joy he exclaimed, "Glory, glory, glory!" At last he had found peace of soul. In July, 1759, he was baptized by Daniel Marshall.
Soon after his conversion Harris returned to Fort Mayo with provisions for the garrison. He preached to the officers who were surprised and began to taunt him. One said, "Colonel! you have sucked much eloquence from the rum cask today! Pray let us taste that we may declaim as well when it comes our turn!" "I am not drunk," Harris replied and continued preaching. Soon another interrupted, "Sam! you say you are not drunk! Pray, are you not mad then? What the devil ails you?" Harris said, "I am not mad, most noble gentleman," and was so convincing the officer listened attentively and later became a Christian.
Not long after becoming a Baptist, Harris resigned all his public offices and forfeited the handsome income they brought. At the time of his conversion he was building a large new home for his family. When it was completed, he used it for church purposes and continued to live in a small house. A large portion of his income was given to charitable causes.
[From Moore & Lumpkin, Meaningful Moments in Virginia Baptist Life, 1715-1972, #5. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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