The First Settlers of Virginia - The Episcopalians - Contrasts with New England - First Efforts of the Baptists - The Church of England Established by Law - The Virginia Charter - No Toleration Allowed - The Bloody Laws - "Neck and Heels" in Jail for not Attending Church - The First Act of Parliament - The Salary of the Clergy Paid in Tobacco - Dissenters Must Depart the Colony - Whippings and Brandings - Ordination from the Church of England Demanded - Quakers and Baptists in Virginia - Infant Baptism - Presbyterians Tolerated for a Strange Reason - Baptists Slow in Entering the State - Marvelous Growth - Dr. Hawks - Bishop Perry - The Statement of Semple - The First Baptists from England - Robert Norden - Collections of Money in England for Baptists - Church at Burley - Churches in Berkeley and Loudon Counties - The Statement of John Gano - David Thomas.
Virginia is famous for being the oldest State in the Union; in early days it contained the largest number of inhabitants, and produced many distinguished men. "The first settlers of the country were emigrants from England, of the English Church, just at a point of time, when it was flushed with complete victory over the religions of all other persuasions." Possessed as they became of the power of making, administering, and executing the laws, they showed intolerance to all other religious beliefs.The Episcopalians retained full possession of the country about a century. Other opinions began to creep in; and the care of the government to support their own church, having begotten an equal degree of indolence in its clergy, two-thirds of the people had become dissenters at the commencement of the Revolution. The laws indeed were still oppressive on them; but the spirit of the one party had subsided into moderation, and on the other, had arisen to a degree of determination which commanded respect" (Morse, Geography, I.).There were strange contrasts which prevailed between the conditions in New England and Virginia; but in the fierceness of persecutions of Baptists there were no differences. Baptists here, as everywhere else, met with the keenest opposition."The endeavor to found Baptist churches in Virginia was in its earlier stages an extraordinary and unique religious movement, unparalleled elsewhere in the history of Christianity on the American continent, and the like of which, it is not supposed, will ever occur again. The cause of this may be traced in the origin and history of the colony of Virginia, the successful undertaking of which found its most zealous and effective advocate in a prebendary of the Established Church of England, whose pen drafted the rules of government under which the first expedition sailed. Priests of the church accompanied the earliest and most important voyages, and formally signalized their landings on James river with their prayers. Among the earliest buildings reared at Jamestown was one consecrated to the services of the church. The most zealous care of the Colonial Assembly for more than a century after the settlement was to cement the union between the government and the church, and to make the claims and officers of the latter as binding as possible upon the people. Thus legalized, the church anticipated the birth of the children of the colony, and did not forsake them in their death. It offered its blessings on the natal hour in prayer 'for all women in the perils of child birth.' It sealed their tender infancy with its baptismal sacrament, under rubrics which provided: 'The priest shall take the child in his hands, and naming the child, shall dip it in the water "discreetly and warily."' It published the bands of matrimony on its church doors, and solemnized the rite with its formula. It enforced Sabbath worship in accordance with its ritual and creed, and under heavy penalties for its neglect; and the obsequies of the dead it directed after its own impressive burial service. Even its church yards were made by law cemeteries, so that the Establishment which nursed its children so closely in life, ceased not to covet them with its shadows in death" (Semple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia).The charter of the colony made the Church of England an established part of the law of the land. The first charter granted by James I, April 10, 1608, was for a time the organic law. That part of the charter which relates to religion is as follows:We do especially ordain, and require the said Presidents, and Councils, and the Ministers of the said several colonies respectively, within their limits and precincts, that they with all diligence, care and respect do provide that the true word and service of God, and Christian faith, be preached, planted, and used, not only within every one of the said several colonies and plantations, but also as much as they may among the savage people which do or shall adjoin unto them, according to the doctrine, rites and religion now professed, and established within our realm of England; and that they shall not suffer any person or persons, to withdraw and of the subjects or people inhabiting or shall inhabit within any of the said several colonies and plantations from the same, or from their due allegiance to us and our heirs and successors, as their immediate sovereign under God; and if they shall find within the said colonies and plantations any person or persons so seeking to withdraw any of the subjects of us, our heirs or successors, or any of the people of these lands or territories within the precincts aforesaid, they shall with all diligence, him or them so offending cause to be apprehended, arrested and imprisoned, until he shall fully and thoroughly reform himself; or otherwise, when the cause so requireth, that he shall with all convenient speed, be sent into the realm of England, here to receive condign punishment for his or their said offence or offences (Hening, Statutes at Large, being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature, I. 68. New York, 1823).This charter was granted upon the principle of intolerance and persecution. There was at no time any intention of recognizing human liberty. This was never a part of the creed of the Stuarts. "Toleration in the forms of religion," says Foote, "was unknown in Virginia in 1688. From the commencement of the colony, the necessity of the religious element was felt. The company knew not how to control the members composing the colony but by religion and law" (Foote, Sketches of Virginia Historical and Biographical, I. 25. New York, 1850).
The provisions of the charter were further strengthened by "The Code of Sir Thomas Dale," of 1611. This code carried the following terrible enactments relating to religion:There is not one man nor woman in this colony, now present nor hereafter to arrive, but shall give an account of his or their faith and religion, and repair unto the minister, that by his conference with them, he may understand and gather whether they have been sufficiently instructed and catechised in the principles and grounds of religion; whose weakness and ignorance, the minister finding, and advising them in love and charity to repair often to him, to receive therein a greater measure of knowledge, if they shall refuse to repair unto him, and he, the minister, give notice thereof to the governor, or the chief officers of that town or fort, wherein he or she, the parties so offending shall remain, the governor shall cause the offender for the first time of refusal, to be whipped; for the second time, to be whipped twice, and to acknowledge his fault upon the Sabbath day in the congregation; and for the third time, to be whipped every day, until he hath made the same acknowledgment, and asked forgiveness for the same, and shall repair unto the minister to be further instructed as aforesaid; and upon the Sabbath when the minister shall catechise, and demand any question concerning his faith and knowledge, he shall not refuse to make answer, upon the same peril (Laws, &c. Strachey. London, 1612. Howison, History of Virginia, II. 148).Captain Argall, who became governor, in 1617, decreed "that every person should go to Church, Sundays and Holidays, or lye Neck and Heels that Night, and be a Slave to the Colony the following week; for the second offence he should be a Slave for a month; and for the third, a year and a day" (Stith). "These were times when religion was to be taught with the whip," says Howison, "when the heart was to be affected with the punishment of the body, and when prayer was the only means of escaping the gibbet. This code was too cruel to be rigidly enforced, yet we have reason to believe it was not entirely a dead letter. When Argall became governor, he took special delight in reviving it, and many Colonists learned in sadness that the Church was the occasion of stripes, rather than freedom and happiness" (Howison, II.).
No wonder that Bishop Perry, of Iowa, calls this code "impolitic and inhuman," "stern and inhuman" (Perry, History of the American Episcopal Church, I). The historian Stith says of these laws: "These were very bloody and severe, and no ways agreeable to a free people and the British Constitution; neither had they any Sanction or Authority from the Council and Company of England. However, Sir Thomas Dale, being sadly troubled and pester'd with mutinous Humors of the People, caused them to be published, and put into Execution with the utmost Rigor. And altho' the manner was harsh and unusual to Englishmen, yet had not these military laws been so strictly executed at this time, there were little Hopes or Probability of preventing the utter subversion of the Colony" (Stith, The History of the First Discovery and Settlement of Virginia, 122, 123. Williamsbourg, 1747). Dale's Code has been chiefly remembered because of the penalty for blasphemy, which was the thrusting of a bodkin through the blasphemer's tongue. Sabbath observance was enforced by whipping, and speaking against the Trinity or the Christian religion by death (H. J. Eckenrode, Separation of Church and State in Virginia, 6. Richmond, 1910).
By the first Act of Parliament of 1623 it is provided that in every plantation or settlement there shall be a house or room set apart for the worship of God. But it soon appears that this worship was only to be according to the Church of England, to which a strict uniformity was enjoined. A person absenting himself from divine service on Sunday without a reasonable excuse, forfeited a pound of tobacco; and he that absented himself a month, forfeited fifty pounds. Any minister who was absent from his church above two months in a year, forfeited half his salary; and he who absented himself four months, forfeited the whole. Whoever disparaged a minister whereby the minds of his parishioners might be alienated, was compelled to pay 500 pounds of tobacco and ask the minister's pardon publicly in the congregation. No man was permitted to dispose of any of his tobacco till the minister was satisfied under penalty of forfeiting double his part of the minister's salary (Hening, I.).
The first allowance made to the ministers was ten pounds of tobacco and a bushel of corn for each tithable; and every laboring person, of what quality or condition, was bound to contribute. In the year 1631 the Assembly granted to ministers, besides the former allowance ten pounds of tobacco and a bushel of corn, the twelfth calf, the twentieth kid and the twentieth pig (Semple).
To preserve the purity of doctrine and unity of the church, it was enacted in 1643 that all ministers should be conformable to the orders and constitution of the Church of England, and that no other persons be permitted to preach publicly or privately. It was further provided that the governor and council should take care that all non-conformists departed the colony with all conveniency (Semple). Accordingly this came to pass: "In 1643, Sir William Berkeley, Royal Governor of Virginia," says Hassell,"strove, by whippings and brandings, to make the inhabitants of that colony conform to the Established Church, and thus drove out the Baptists and Quakers, who found a refuge in Albermarle county of North Carolina, a colony which 'was settled,' says Bancroft, 'by the freest of the free - by men to whom the restraints of other colonies were too severe'" (Hassell, Church History).After the restoration of Charles II, May, 1660, heavier burdens were laid upon Dissenters in Virginia. No minister was permitted to preach unless he had received ordination from some bishop in England; and the rites of matrimony must be celebrated by a minister of the Established Church according to the ceremony prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer.
About this time the Quakers and Baptists came into Virginia in numbers. This greatly aroused the authorities so that in 1661-2 the following act was passed:WHEREAS many schismatical persons, out of their averseness to the orthodox established religion, or out of the new-fangled conceits of their own heretical inventions, refuse to have their children baptized; be it, therefore, enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that all persons that, in contempt of the divine sacrament of baptism, shall refuse, when they may carry their child (children) to a lawful minister in that country to have them baptized, shall be emerced two thousand pounds of tobacco, half to the informer, half to the public (Hening, II. 165, 166).Upon the accession of William and Mary to the throne of England, the Act of Toleration was, in 1689, passed; but in Virginia the provisions of this act were not recognized for ten years later. It was not published in that State and the terms were obscured. It was never interpreted in Virginia as giving any liberty to Dissenters. "The people are generally of the Church of England," explains Beverley, "which is the religion established by law in the country, from which there are few dissenters. Yet liberty of conscience is given to all other congregations pretending to Christianity, on condition they submit to all parish duties" (Beverley, History of the Present State of Virginia, 226. London, 1722).
There arose at this date, a strange condition of circumstances, accompanied by a stranger reason for the toleration of certain Presbyterians in Virginia. Francis Makemie made application for a license to preach, which was granted. Beverley explains this as follows:They (dissenters) have no more than five conventicles amongst them - namely: three small meetings of Quakers and two of Presbyterians. Tis observed that those counties where the Presbyterian meetings are produce very mean tobacco, and for that reason can't get an orthodox minister to stay among them.Upon this action Foote, the Presbyterian historian, makes the following quaint remarks:It appears on account of the poorness of the tobacco the established clergy left some counties, although in 1696 their salary had been fixed at sixteen thousand pound weight of that commodity. If this statement be true, we can more easily understand why Makemie had not been molested. We suppose he took his residence in Accomac soon after his marriage. There was no Episcopal minister to complain of him, and many of the inhabitants preferred to hear Makemie to passing silent Sabbaths, and many others were true Presbyterians (Foote, Sketches of Virginia, I.).From 1732 to 1738 Presbyterian families had been moving into the Valley of Virginia. They asked for the privilege of preaching and Governor Gooch granted the request. Foote explains it in the following manner:Poverty and intolerance drove them (the Presbyterians) from their mother country, and the necessity of providing a frontier line of brave people west of the Blue Mountains compelled Virginia to relax her rigor and open her borders.... The reasons that actuated Governor Gooch to promise protection in the exercise of their religious forms, in a State whose laws for uniformity were precise and enforced with rigor, were two: let. He wished a frontier line at a greater distance from Williamsburg; if possible, west of the great mountains. 2d. He knew these people to be firm, enterprising, hardy, brave, good citizens and soldiers. To form a complete line of defense against the savage inroads, he welcomed these Presbyterian emigrants, the Quakers, and colonies from the different German States to the beautiful and luxuriant prairies of the great Valley of the Shenandoah, on the head waters of the James, and along the Roanoke. At so great a distance from the older settlements, he anticipated no danger or trouble to the established church of the colony; perhaps he never seriously considered the subject in the probable influence of the necessary collision of religious opinions (Foote; also Gillet, The Presbyterian Church in the United States, I.).These were remarkable reasons for toleration. In some counties the tobacco was too poor to pay an Episcopal rector to live among the people; and in others brave men were needed to defend the borders of Virginia from the Indians. In none of these provisions was there any toleration extended toward the Baptists.
Baptists had existed in Virginia from early times, but they had left no impression on the unpropitious seventeenth century. In 1714 a colony settled in the southeast part of the State but it did not flourish (Eckenrode); and nearly thirty years afterwards another body came from Maryland, and occupied a place in one of the northern counties, then thinly inhabited. These were the Regular Baptists, and though they were not without zeal, they were speedily eclipsed by more enthusiastic brethren (Howison, II.). The first New Light Baptist church, in Virginia, was organized August, 1760; but soon the number of such churches greatly increased. It is certain from this date they greatly flourished. Fervent declamation distinguished them; the prominent motives of the gospel were presented in language made strong by earnestness; the joys of heaven and the torments of hell were opened to the eyes of the hearers, and men were urged to immediate repentance, faith and baptism. The practice of immersion forcibly addressed the senses, and gave something more substantial upon which to dwell than the simple rites of other churches. The people heard the Baptists gladly; day after day added fresh accessions, and it was apparent that they could no longer be without weight in the counsels of the colony (Howison, II.).
Several causes account for their progress. When people are persecuted there always follows in their favor a reaction. Likewise the colonists were greatly disturbed on account of the French and Indian wars; and in religion they sought consolation. The Baptist preacher was a plain man, with a message, and he had a great appeal to these distressed people. A Mr. Wright, a Presbyterian preacher, in the frontier county of Cumberland, August 18, 1755, makes this statement:People generally begin to believe the divine government, and our judgments are inflicted for our sins. They now hear sermons with solemnity and attention; they acknowledge their wickedness and ignorance, and believe that the new light clergy and adherents are right (Foote, I.).This feeling became quite universal.
The Episcopal clergy developed a most distressing moral and religious situation. Unless fully attested one could hardly credit how low the clergy of the Established Church, at this time, had fallen. The testimony, however, comes from the most reliable sources; and so far as known has not been questioned.
This situation was of long standing. Few men of ability would leave England for the colony; those who came were usually inferior in ability and perhaps in character."The ministers and publick dispensers of the Gospel which were sent into that Plantation, are for the most part, not only far short of those qualifications required of ministers, but men of opposite qualities and tempers, such as either by their loose lives, and un-Gospel becoming conversation, or by their known weakness and insufficiency of understanding and parts, do not only not gain or win upon those that are without, the Indian heathen, but cause more to go astray, and lose, many, very many of those that pretend to be within the English Christians . . . . The ministers of Virginia, too many of them, are very careless and negligent in dispensing God's words and sacraments, as also indecent and slovenly in their manner of dispensing them.... There are not a few of the ministers, whose wicked and prophane lives cause the worship of God, not only to be slighted, but to be little less than abhorred, when they officiate therein" (Public Good Without Private Interest (1657), 3, 14, 15).The Bishop of London, in 1743, said to Doddridge in a letter:Of those who are sent from hence, a great part are the Scotch or Irish, who can get no employment at home, and enter into the service more out of necessity than choice. Some others are willing to go abroad to retrieve either lost fortune or lost character.Dr. Hawks remarks:They could babble in a pulpit, roar in a tavern, exact from their parishioners, and rather by their dissoluteness destroy than feed the flock (Hawks, A Narrative of Events connected with the Rise and Progress of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, 65. New York 1836).Even the General Assembly of Virginia, in the year 1776, passed the following law:Be it further enacted by this Grand Assembly, and by the authority thereof, that such ministers as shall become notoriously scandalous by drunkenness, swearing, fornication, or other heinous and crying sins, and shall thereof be lawfully convicted, shall, for every such their heinous crime and wickedness, etc. (Hening, Statutes, II.).Bishop Perry sums up the situation in the following words:
It was in 1779, during the darkest days of the war, that the "establishment" in Virginia "was finally put down" (Hawks, I. 152). In the language of the annalist of the religious body to which this result was chiefly due, "the Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Deists, and the covetous had all prayed for this" (The Virginia Baptist Chronicle, by John Leland in Hawks, I. 139). To prayers had been added untiring and most energetic labor. Taking advantage of existing and acknowledged evils, growing out of the utter want of ecclesiastical discipline in restraining delinquent clergymen, and the lack of men of devout life and conspicuous ability among the incumbents of the vacant parishes, these sectaries had multiplied on every side. It was but natural that men of earnest convictions and inward spirituality should turn from those possessing only the form of godliness to hang upon the lips of the wandering evangelists and lay preachers whose sincerity and devotion could not be gainsaid, and who introduced and propagated dissent in various forms throughout the length and breadth of the land. It was not to be expected that men whose shining parts and exemplary character made them sought after at home would leave their comfortable livings in England to put themselves at the mercy of sordid and ignorant vestries in a distant colony where the "livings" yielded only a precarious support, and there was little hope of preferment (Perry, History of the American Episcopal Church, II.).
However this may be explained it gave the Baptists of Virginia their opportunity. "The great success and rapid increase of the Baptists in Virginia," says Semple, "must be ascribed primarily to the power of God working with them; yet it cannot be denied but there were subordinate, and cooperating causes, one of which, and the main one, was the loose and immoral deportment of the Established clergy, by which the people were left almost destitute of even the shadow of true religion. 'Tis true, they had some outward forms of worship, but the essential principles of Christianity were not only not understood among them, but by many never heard of. Some of the cardinal precepts of morality were disregarded, and actions plainly forbidden by the New Testament were often proclaimed by the clergy as harmless and innocent, or at worst, foibles of but little account. Having no discipline, every man followed the bent of his own inclination. It was not uncommon for the rectors of parishes to be men of the loosest morals. The Baptist preachers were, in almost every respect, the reverse of the Established clergy. The Baptist preachers were without learning, without patronage, generally very poor, very plain in their dress, unrefined in their manners, awkward in their address, all of which, by their enterprising zeal and unwearied perseverance, they either turned to advantage or prevented their ill effects. On the other hand, most of the ministers of the Establishment were men of classical and scientific education, patronized by men in power connected with great families, supported by competent salaries, and put into office by the strong arm of the civil power. Thus pampered and secure, the men of this order were rolling on the bed of luxury when the others began their extraordinary career. Their learning, riches, power, etc., seemed only to hasten their overthrow by producing an unguarded heedliness which is often the prelude to calamity and downfall" (Semple).
The Baptists of Virginia originated from three general sources. As has been indicated, the first came from England, about 1714. Some of these Baptists wrote letters to England asking for assistance. The Assembly of the General Baptists sent, in the same year, Robert Norden, of Warbleton, who was already an ordained minister, and Thomas White, who died Upon the journey. The order of the Assembly was as follows:To Stir them Up for Some Assistance for Robt. Norden and Thos. White who are Appointed & Approved by this Assembly to go to Virginia to propagate the Gospel of truth (The Minutes of the General Assembly of the General Baptist Churches in England, I.).For a period collections were taken in Kent to sustain this enterprise. In 1724 Norden wrote to the Assembly and the next year the question was raised whether he should return to England to solicit funds. The action of the Assembly was as follows:Agreed by this Assembly that Bror Norden being sent for Home from Virginia if he be Disposed to Returne be to Bror Henry Miller & Bror Robt. Mesers who are Impowered by this Assembly to Act in that Affair as they Shall Judge Necessary & Call Such Assistance from other Churches as they may think proper (Minutes, I.).Norden gathered a church at a place called Burley, in the county of the Isle of Wight. He was faithful in his labors and died in the year 1725. Two years after his death Casper Mintz and Richard Jones, two ministers, came over from England, and Jones became pastor of the church. The following additional information is given by Paul Palmer in a letter to John Comer, in 1729:There is a comely little church in the Isle of Wight county, of about thirty or forty members, the elder of which is one Richard Jones, a very sensible old gentleman, whom I have great love for. We see each other at every yearly meeting, and sometimes more often. There is another church in Surry county, where my brother Jones lives, I suppose of about thirty more.This church by 1756 embraced Calvinistic sentiments. The Church at Burley wrote the Philadelphia Association the following letter:
The church of Jesus Christ, in Isle of Wight county, holding adult. baptism, &c., to the Reverend and General Assembly or Association at Philadelphia, send greeting: We, the above mentioned church, confess ourselves to be under clouds of darkness, concerning the faith of Jesus Christ, not knowing whether we are on the right foundation, and the church much unsettled: wherefore we desire alliance with you, and that you will be pleased to send us helps to settle the church, and rectify what may be wrong, and subscribe ourselves, your loving brethren in Christ, Casper Mintz, Richard Jones, Randall Allen, Joseph Mattgum, Christopher Atkinson, David Atkinson, Thomas Cafer, Samuel Jones, William Jordan, John Allen, John Powell, Joseph Atkinson. Dec. 27, 1756 (Benedict).
These churches were not persecuted. Probably they were too obscure to attract much attention. It is also likely they secured a license to preach. It was not long till they ceased to exist.
The next appearance of the Baptists was in the counties of Berkeley and Loudon. Several churches were organized, of which Opeckon Creek seems to have been the most prominent. A number of the members of the General Baptist Church, at Chestnut Ridge, Maryland, in 1743, removed to Virginia. Soon after their minister followed them and he baptized several persons. He was soon excluded from the church on account of immorality. On this account the church was broken up and afterwards a Particular Baptist church was organized in its stead.
Many churches in this section of the country were loosely constituted, and serious trouble existed among them. On request the Philadelphia Association sent a committee composed of James Miller and David Thomas to settle their difficulties. This course was often pursued by that association. The committee was accompanied by John Gano, who was destined to become a most distinguished preacher.
The account of Gano is as follows:We examined them, and found they were not a regular church. We then examined those who offered themselves for the purpose, and those who gave us satisfaction we received, and constituted a church. Out of the whole who offered themselves, there were only three received. Some openly declared they knew they could not give an account of experiencing a work of grace, and therefore need not offer themselves. Others stood ready to offer if the church was formed. The three before mentioned were constituted, and six more were baptized, and joined with them. After the meeting ended, a number of old members went aside and sent for me. They expressed their deplorable state, and asked me if I would meet with them that evening, and try to instruct them. They were afraid the ministers blamed them. They had been misled, but it was not their fault, and they hoped I would pity them. I told them I would with all my heart, and endeavored to remove their suspicion of the ministers. They met, and I spoke to them from these words: "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." I hope I was assisted to speak to them in an impressive manner, and they to hear, at least some of them, so as to live. They afterwards professed and became zealous members, and remained so, I believe, until their death (Benedict).It was not long until David Thomas became connected with this company of Baptists. He was a tower of strength. He was born August 16, 1732, at London Tract, Pennsylvania, and had his education at Hopewell, New Jersey, under the celebrated Isaac Eaton. He received his Master's degree from Rhode Island College. He had often made missionary excursions to the State under the direction of the Philadelphia Association, He removed to this section in 1760. His experiences well illustrated the trials of the Baptist ministry of northern Virginia.
"Mr. Thomas is said to have been a minister of great distinction in the prime of his days. Besides the natural endowments of a vigorous mind, and the advantages of a classical and refined education, he had a melodious and piercing voice, a pathetic address, expressive action, and above all a heart filled with love for God and his fellow men. But for a few of his first years in Virginia, he met with much persecution. He was frequently assaulted both by individuals and mobs. Once he was pulled down while he was preaching, and dragged out of the house in a barbarous manner. At another time, a malevolent fellow attempted to shoot him, but a bystander wrenched his gun from him and thereby prevented the execution of this wicked purpose. The slanders and revilings he met with, says Mr. Edwards, were innumerable; and if we judge of a man's prevalency against the devil by the rage of the devil's children, Thomas prevailed like a prince. But the gospel had free course; and Broad Run Church, of which he was pastor, within six or eight years from its establishment, branched out and became the mother of five or six others.
"Elder Thomas traveled much, and the fame of his preaching drew the attention of the people throughout an extensive circle, so that in many instances they came fifty and sixty miles to hear him. It is remarkable about this time, there were multiplied instances in different parts of Virginia of persons, who had never heard anything like evangelical preaching, but who were brought, through divine grace, to see and feel their want of vital godliness. Many of these persons, when they heard Mr. Thomas and other Baptist preachers, would travel great distances to hear them, and to procure their services as ministers of the gospel. By this means the gospel was first carried into the county of Culpepper. Mr. Allen Wyley, a man of respectable standing in that county, had been thus turned to God, and not knowing of any preacher in whom he had confidence, he had sometimes gathered his neighbors, read the Scriptures, and exhorted them to repentance; but being informed of Mr. Thomas, he, with some of his friends, traveled to Farquier to hear him. As soon as he heard, he knew the joyful sound, submitted to baptism, and invited him to preach in his house. He also preached in the county of Orange, and, in company with Elder Garrard, carried the Word of life through all the upper counties of the Northern Neck.
"Elder Thomas ultimately removed to Kentucky. He lived to an advanced age, and sometime before his death was nearly blind" (Taylor, Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers, Series One).
Books for further reference:
Robert B. Semple, A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia. Richmond, 1810. A New Edition by Beale. Philadelphia, 1894.
B. F. Riley, A History of the Baptists in the Southern States East of the Mississippi. Philadelphia, 1898.
William Henry Foote, Sketches of Virginia Historical and Biographical. Philadelphia, 1850. 2 volumes.
[John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, 1926; rpt., pp. 186-193. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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