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they expected the undisturbed exercise of their forms of religion according to the promise of the Governor of Virginia; they expected more freedom in political matters, than was enjoyed in Ireland, not having fully fashioned in their own minds what that freedom was, except no Peers of the realm, no Diocesan Bishops were to make part of their community; they expected equal enjoyment of civil rights, and the protection of the laws with advantages to all according to their merits, and promotion to the most worthy. And in less than half a century, this excitement, and these principles, in the wilderness, moulded a nature made firm by resistance to oppression, and hard to roughness by toil, in their father land, into a form and share and temper such as Ireland and Scotland had never seen. The children realized, in their manhood, all their fathers panted for when they crossed the ocean, freedom in person,-freedom in property,-freedom in knowledge and religion. They possessed a land of rivers, plains, and mountains, which princes never traversed but in exile, were protected by equal laws and governed by rulers of their own choice.
Presbyterian ministers followed the steps of these colonies, first on short visits, then to become resident pastors of the infant congregations.
1st. James Gelston was sent from the Presbytery of Donegall in the year 1737, to visit the people on Opeckon. We do not hear of his making a second visit. The preaching place was near where Opeckon meeting house now stands.
2d. Mr. James Anderson was sent a special delegate from the Synod of Philadelphia in 1738, with a message to Governor Gooch. He visited the different colonies of Presbyterians in Virginia. He preached his first sermon in Augusta, supposed to be the first ever preached there, in the house of Mr. John Lewis near Staunton.
3d. A Mr. Dunlap, a probationer of the Presbytery of New York, spent about three months in the neighbourhood of Staunton, in the year 1739.
4th. Mr. John Thompson of the Presbytery of Donegall visited Virginia in the year 1739, and spent some time in the Opeckon neighbourhood,—in the neighbourhood of Staunton,on Rockfish in Nelson, -on Cub Creek,—at Buffaloe,—and in Campbell county. “He took up voluntary collections for
“ preachers of the gospel”—says the manuscript history of Lexington Presbytery—“and in doing justice to his memory it is proper to observe, that he was active in promoting the Presbyterian cause in Virginia.” He was a man of great vigour and took an active part in the affairs of the church. Through his instrumentality Messrs. Black and Craig were sent by Presbytery, the one to the Triple Forks, and the other to Rockfish.
He lived for a short time at Buffaloe, to which place Mr. Sankey, his son in law, removed with his congregation, and continued their pastor for many years. He removed to North Carolina, and there died in the bounds of Centre congregation.
5th. Mr. John Craig visited Augusta, in 1739, as probationer, from Donegall Presbytery, and ultimately became pastor of the Triple Forks, or Tinkling Spring and Augusta.
6th. About the same time Mr. Black took his residence on Rockfish in Nelson.
7th. The next of whom we have any knowledge was Wm. Robinson. He visited the congregations in the Valley near Winchester and above Staunton-went to Carolina, and on his return visited Hanover. His visit forms a chapter in Virginia Church History.
8th. The next was Mr. John Roan, whose visit to Hanover excited great bitterness in members of the Established Church.
9th. Mr. John Blair visited the Valley and places east of the Ridge in 1745, and again in 1746; and during his last visit organized the congregations of North Mountain, New Providence, Timber Ridge, and Forks of James.
After this, visits were frequent; and the congregations made efforts for stated ministers. The Governor of Virginia assured the Synod that ministers and congregations should enjoy all the privileges of the Act of Toleration. But in time there was a difficulty about the construction of that law; and also whether the common sense of men, and the law itself were to be the interpreters, or the caprice of rulers and the majority, when the minority claimed privileges under the law, and the majority denied them. In another form it was the old question--whether the minority had any rights of conscience. The people in Hanover said they had rights under the law of God, and by the Toleration Act: Davies maintained their position with ultimate triumph.
RISE OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN HANOVER COUNTY,
VIRGINIA; AND WILLIAM ROBINSON.
WHILE the settlements of the Scotch Irish were multiplying, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge, and on the waters of the Roanoke, forming a frontier line in defence of the "Ancient Dominion," and planting the germs of many Presbyterian congregations, which flourished in after days, events of singular interest began to show themselves in Hanover County, and in some neighbourhoods of the adjacent Counties, whose inhabitants were of true English descent, and in connection with the established church.
The history of the world shows, that there are times, when the public mind is readily turned to religion; and if, in such times, the gospel be presented in its purity and simplicity, the concerns of the soul become the all absorbing subject. One of these happy times of spiritual sunshine was enjoyed in Hanover in common with many other parts of the world, both in Europe and America. Reports of the religious exercises and excitements that prevailed in New Jersey, New England, and Pennsylvania, and some parts of Maryland, spread through Virginia. The coming in of the Presbyterian colonies gave interest to these reports, and reflecting men began to inquire respecting the nature of these things and their consequent importance. That some families, in Hanover and Louisa, were aroused to inquire for their salvation, by means not afforded in the parish churches, is a matter of undoubted history. The first human agency known to have had effect upon them, next after the reports concerning the revivals in the States to the North, was that of religious books, followed by discussions on the weighty truths contained. A few leaves of Boston's Fourfold State, in possession of a Scotch woman, fell into the hands of a gentleman, who in looking over them, felt a deep interest in the truth as there exhibited. The title of the book was on one of the leaves. He sent to England by the next ship, for the book. The perusal of that volume, in connection with the Bible, was blessed of God to bring him to a knowledge of himself,-of the way of life through Jesus Christ,-and, there is reason to believe, to a saving faith.
Another gentleman got possession of Luther on the Galatians. Deeply affected with what he read, so different from what he had been hearing from the pulpit of the parish Church, he never ceased to read and pray till he found
consolation in believing in Christ Jesus, the Lord his Righteous- ness.
Rev. Samuel Davies, in his letter to the Bishop of London, says—“About the year 1743, upon petition of the Presbyterians in the frontier counties of this colony, the Rev. Mr. Robinson, who now rests from his labours, and is happily advanced beyond the injudicious applauses and censure of mortals, was sent by order of Presbytery to officiate for some time among them. A little before this, about four or five persons, heads of families in Hanover, had dissented from the established church, not from any scruples about her ceremonial peculiarities, the usual cause of nonconformity, much less about her excellent articles of faith, but from a dislike to the doctrines generally delivered from the pulpit, as not savouring of experimental piety, nor suitably intermingled with the glorious peculiarities of the religion of Jesus. These families were wont to meet in a private house on Sundays to hear some good books read, particularly Luther's; whose writings I can assure your Lordship were the principal cause of their leaving the Church; which I hope is a presumption in their favour. After some time sundry others came to their society, and upon hearing these books, grew indifferent about going to church, and chose rather to frequent these societies for reading. At length the number became too great for a private house to contain them, and they agreed to build a meeting house, which they accordingly did. Thus far they had proceeded before they had heard a dissenting minister at all. They had not the least thought at this time of assuming the denomination of Presbyterian, as they were wholly ignorant of that church."
The Rev. James Hunt, of Montgomery county, Maryland, related to a gentleman, in Albemarle County, Virginia, who preserved the narrative, and published it in the 2d vol. of the Evangelical and Literary Magazine, edited by the Rev. John H. Rice, D.D.--"that in the County of Hanover four gentlemen, of whom his father was one, at the same time became convinced that the Gospel was not preached by the minister of the parish church, and that it was inconsistent with their duty to attend upon his ministrations. The consequence was they absented themselves on the same day. They having all been remarkably regular in their attendance; and if I recollect truly, having held some office in the parish, their absence was soon noticed, and a summons issued for them to appear before the proper officers to answer for their delinquency. As they had absented on the same day, it was their fortune to be called on the same day before the same officers. And here, for the first time, each found that three of his neighbours were delinquents as well as himself, and for the very same cause. Seeing no reason to change their opinions, or alter the course they had adopted, they determined to subject themselves to the payment of the fines imposed by law, and attended the church no more. They agreed to meet every Sabbath, alternately, at each others' houses, and spend the time with their families in prayer and reading the Scriptures, together with Luther's Commentary on the Galatians, an old volume which by some means had fallen into their hands."
Mr. Samuel Morris, in his statement made to Rev. Samuel Davies, says-“In the year 1740 Mr. Whitefield had preached at Williamsburg, at the invitation of Mr. Blair, our Commissary. But we being sixty miles distant from Williamsburg, he left the
colony before we had an opportunity of hearing him. But, in the year 1743, a young gentleman from Scotland had got a book of his sermons preached in Glasgow, taken from his mouth, in short hand, which after I had read with great benefit, I invited my neighbours to come and hear it; and the plainness and fervency of these discourses being attended with the power of the Lord, many were convinced of their undone situation, and constrained to seek deliverance with the greatest solicitude. A considerable number met to hear these sermons every Sabbath, and frequently on week days. The concern of some was so passionate and violent, that they could not avoid crying out, weeping bitterly, &c. And that, when such indications of religious concern were so strange and ridiculous that they could not be occasioned by example or sympathy, and the affectation of them would be so unprofitable an instance of hypocrisy, that none could be tempted to it."
Mr. Hunt's narrative says—“Curiosity prompted the desire to be amongst them,-one and another begged for admission, till their houses, on Sabbath, were crowded. And here a new scene opened upon their astonished view. Numbers were pricked to the heart,—the word became sharp and powerful, what shall we do,' was the general cry. What to do or say the principal leaders knew not. They themselves had been led by a small still voice, they hardly knew how, to an acquaintance with the truth; but now the Lord was speaking as on Mount Sinai, with a voice of thunder, and sinners, like that mountain itself, trembled to the centre. And it was not long before they had the happiness to see a goodly little number healed by the same word that had wounded them, and brought to rejoice understandingły in Christ.”
Mr. Morris says—“My dwelling house was at length too small to contain the people, whereupon we determined to build a meeting house merely for reading. And having never been used to social prayer, none of us durst attempt it.'
Mr. Hunt's narrative says—“And now their numbers became too large for any private house to contain them, another step is taken,—they build first one, and then another of what they called reading houses. Hence the number of attendants and the force of divine influence much increased."
Mr. Morris says—“By this single means”—that is reading—“several were awakened, and their conduct ever since is a proof of the continuance and happy issue of their impressions. When the report was spread abroad, I was invited to several places, to read these sermons, at a considerable distance, and by this means the concern was propagated.” The phrase Morris's Reading House has come down to us, by tradition, as connected inseparably with the rise of Presbyterianism in