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From Jamestown to Jefferson

From Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia

Paul Rasor
Richard E. Bond
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    From Jamestown to Jefferson
    Book Description:

    From Jamestown to Jeffersonsheds new light on the contexts surrounding Thomas Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom-and on the emergence of the American understanding of religious freedom-by examining its deep roots in colonial Virginia's remarkable religious diversity. Challenging traditional assumptions about life in early Virginia, the essays in this volume show that the colony was more religious, more diverse, and more tolerant than commonly supposed. The presence of groups as disparate as Quakers, African and African American slaves, and Presbyterians, alongside the established Anglicans, generated a dynamic tension between religious diversity and attempts at hegemonic authority that was apparent from Virginia's earliest days. The contributors, all renowned scholars of Virginia history, treat in detail the complex interactions among Virginia's varied religious groups, both in and out of power, as well as the seismic changes unleashed by the Statute's adoption in 1786.From Jamestown to Jeffersonsuggests that the daily religious practices and struggles that took place in the town halls, backwoods settlements, plantation houses, and slave quarters that dotted the colonial Virginia landscape helped create a social and political space within which a new understanding of religious freedom, represented by Jefferson's Statute, could emerge.

    Contributors:Edward L. Bond, Alabama A&M University * Richard E. Bond, Virginia Wesleyan College * Thomas E. Buckley, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University/Graduate Theological Union * Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University, School of Public Affairs * Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University * Monica Najar, Lehigh University * Paul Rasor, Virginia Wesleyan College * Brent Tarter, Library of Virginia

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3118-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Paul Rasor and Rich Bond
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Less than two weeks before his death on July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson wrote precise instructions for the inscription to be placed on his tombstone:

    Here was buried

    Thomas Jefferson

    Author of the Declaration of American Independence

    of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom

    & Father of the University of Virginia

    It is remarkable that of all his accomplishments, including two terms as president of the United States, these are the few for which he “wish[ed] most to be remembered.”¹ Commentators have often noted that Jefferson’s epitaph is a fitting tribute to his lifelong goal of expanding political, educational,...

  5. ONE Evidence of Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia
    (pp. 17-42)

    In the beginning—that is to say, in the spring of 1607 — Protestant Christianity got off to an inauspicious start in Virginia. Late in life, Captain John Smith penned a short recollection of “how we beganne to preach the Gospell in Virginia.” He wrote:

    Wee did hang an awning (which is an old saile) to three or foure trees to shadow us from the Sunne, our walls were rales of wood, our seats unhewed trees, till we cut plankes, our Pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighbouring trees, in foule weather we shifted into an old rotten tent...

  6. TWO Lived Religion in Colonial Virginia
    (pp. 43-73)

    Lived religion in colonial Virginia took many forms, ranging from prayer and preaching and Bible reading to actions people today might consider magical or superstitious. The “godcentered” men and women of early modern England, the same people who ventured to Virginia, focused intensely on religion and the supernatural in ways that individuals in the twenty-first century have a difficult time understanding.¹ Not only was their religious commitment often very different, but the world they inhabited was also very different. Try to imagine a world in which it simply was not possible to escape the supernatural, one in which both divine...

  7. THREE Religious Diversity in Colonial Virginia: Red, Black, and White
    (pp. 74-107)

    Early Virginia was a place of striking religious eclecticism. The colony contained little religious orthodoxy. Indeed, I was tempted to label this chapter “unorthodox religions” in colonial Virginia, butunorthodoxis an awkward term, reflecting unease about how to describe a broad but inchoate phenomenon that is in opposition to the nominally orthodox. When orthodoxy is minor or not well established, isunorthodoxythe appropriate term?Unorthodoxcould be construed as meaning anything other than Protestantism. Anglicanism, which from the beginnings of the English colonial venture at Jamestown became the de facto established church—and therefore the very archetype of...

  8. FOUR Sectarians and Strategies of Dissent in Colonial Virginia
    (pp. 108-137)

    In the 1760s and 1770s, as Virginians joined other colonists in laying claim to a host of natural and civil rights, many dissenters in the colony argued that persecution for religious beliefs was actually becoming more frequent and intense. Baptists reported their meetings were disrupted by armed men and malicious activity. Ministers were threatened with bullwhips, clubs, and guns. One minister was nearly drowned, a number were whipped, and at least one was shot. Many preachers were hauled into court, facing charges such as heresy, sedition, disturbing the peace, and being a public nuisance or vagabond; some were fined and...

  9. FIVE Establishing New Bases for Religious Authority
    (pp. 138-165)

    For many if not most Virginians on the eve of the Revolution against Great Britain, the idea of religious freedom as their descendants would later envision it made no sense whatsoever. Religion was too important to let any Tom, Dick, or Harry believe what ever nonsense came into his head, much less spread it through the neighborhood. Instead, the value Virginians placed on religion found expression in a formal religious establishment that linked church and state together by law, custom, and practice. This arrangement was the locus of religious authority, and it demanded religious conformity. As had their ancestors, eighteenth-century...

  10. SIX Virginia’s Contributions to the Enduring Themes of Religious Liberty in America
    (pp. 166-192)

    In the bicentennial year of the U.S. Constitution, a wordsmith for the Virginia Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution coined a clever slogan that was displayed prominently on commission literature and state promotional materials.¹ It read: “The Constitution: It has Virginia written all over it.” The tagline packs a lot of truth. The same could be said of religious liberty in the American experience: “It has Virginia written all over it.” The last third of the eighteenth century, especially, was a time of great innovation in Western thinking about religious liberty and church-state relationships, and Virginia played...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 193-194)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 195-203)