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ing 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, 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
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 understandingly 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
Hanover; it was applied first to the house erected on Mr. Morris's land, and then to another and another as they were erected to accommodate the people. The assemblies held regularly in these houses, together with the desertion of the parish churches rendered these gentlemen peculiarly obnoxious to the laws of the colony; and as the new opinions gained. adherents in Hanover, it was urged that indulgence but encouraged the evil, and the strong arm of the law was invoked. "Our absenting ourselves from the church"-says Mr. Morris,-"contrary as was alleged to the laws of the land, was taken notice of, and we were called upon by the court to assign our reasons for it, and to declare what denomination we were of." Mr. Hunt says "They were no longer considered as individual delinquents whose obstinacy might be sufficiently punished by the civil magistrate; but as a malignant cabal, that required the interposition of the executive. They were accordingly cited to appear before the Governor and Council. The exaction of frequent fines for non attendance at church they bore, with patience and fortitude, for the sake of a good conscience; but to be charged with a crime, of the nature and extent and penalty of which they had but indistinct conceptions, spread a gloom over their minds, and filled them with anxious forebodings more easily conceived than described. They were certainly and obviously a religious society, separate and distinct from the only one, the established church, which either the government or the people knew in the country, and yet they were without a name. Their acquaintance with the operation of the Toleration Act of William and Mary, passed 1688, and acknowledged on the Virginia statute book in 1699, must have been very slight; perhaps they knew neither of the Virginia act, or the Act of Toleration, as no circumstance in their lives had brought them to view. It is not probable they knew any thing of Governor Gooch's promise made in 1738, because none of the Scotch Irish had emigrated to Hanover, and these people were descended from members of the English church. If they knew of the unlimited toleration granted to the German colony on the Rappahannoc, in Madison county; or of the favour extended to the French Refugees, at the Manakin towns, on the James River above the falls; they looked upon these as peculiar cases, and precedents in a general way only, if at all, to people that had no church organization, or even a name. They were frequently called upon to appear before the magistrates of the county in explanation and defence, and to be fined. At last they were required to appear at Williamsburg, and to declare their creed and name before the Governor and Council, who assumed the entire control of matters pertaining to dissenters.
Mr. Morris says-in reference to the visit-"as we know but little of any denomination of dissenters, except Quakers, we were at a loss what name to assume. At length recollecting that Luther was a noted Reformer, and that his book had been of special service to us, we declared ourselves Lutherans." It does not appear that this plea exempted them from fines, for absence from church, while it shielded them from prosecution as disturbers of the public peace. Mr. Hunt, in his narrative, gives an interesting account of a visit made, by his father and some other gentlemen, to Williamsburg, to have an interview. with the Governor and Council. He tells us that one of the company, travelling alone, was overtaken and detained, by a violent storm, at the house of a poor man on the road. He interested himself in looking over an old volume, which he found upon a shelf covered with dust. Upon perusing it he was amazed to find his own sentiments, as far as he had formed any on religious things, drawn out in appropriate language; and as far as he read, the whole summary met his approbation. Offering to purchase the book, the owner gave it to him. In Williamsburg, he examined the old book again, in company with his friends; they all agreed that it expressed their views on the doctrines of religion. When they appeared before the Governor they presented this old volume as their creed. Governor Gooch, himself of Scotch origin and education, upon looking at the volume, pronounced the men Presbyterians, as the book was the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; and that they were not only tolerated but acknowledged as a part of the established church of the realm. Mr. Hunt thought, and used to tell the circumstance with great earnestness, that a violent thunder storm shaking the house and wrapping all in sheets of fire, had a softening influence on the minds of the Governor and Council, inclining them to deal gently with their fellow men. When the storm abated, the men were dismissed with a gentle caution from the Governor not to excite any disturbance in his majesty's colony, nor by any irregularities disturb the good order of society in their parish. And it is to be remarked that in all the varied forms in which these men were had before the civil authorities, they were never accused of any other crime than absenting themselves from the parish church, and meeting in private houses for public worship, except in one case, and then the accusation was found to be false.
The first minister, not of the Church of England, these people heard preach was William Robinson, of whom President Davies says "That favoured man, Mr. Robinson, whose success, whenever I reflect upon it, astonishes me. Oh, he did much in a little time!—and who would not choose such an expeditious