Anglicans/Episcopalians in Virginia

state and church were not separated in colonial Virginia - Anglican church buildings (such as Pohick Church in southern Fairfax County) and Anglican ministers were funded by mandatory taxes imposed by the vestry on local property owners
state and church were not separated in colonial Virginia - Anglican church buildings (such as Pohick Church in southern Fairfax County) and Anglican ministers were funded by mandatory taxes imposed by the vestry on local property owners
Source: Some Old Historic Landmarks of Virginia and Maryland, Marshall House (p.15)

From the settlement of Jamestown until several years after the American Revolution, the Anglican Church (the Church of England) was the church of colonial Virginia.

The head of state in England (i.e., the king or queen) had been head of the church as well for nearly 75 years before colonists arrived at Jamestown. King Henry VIII had separated England from the Catholic church in 1534, and the king in London replaced the Pope in Rome as the head of the church in England.

Consolidating power over church and state strengthened the monarchy. Henry VIII increased his wealth and power by seizing the monestaries and redistributing their land and wealth to his supporters. The government got to determine what religious beliefs and practices were acceptable, and to punish those it determined were guity of heresy.

Parliament approved a Book of Common Prayer that was used in Anglican services. Ongoing rivalry in the 1500's, 1600's and 1700's with Spain, a Catholic country, highlighted the sense that religious differences were also political differences and that non-Anglicans were non-patriotic.

When Lord de la Warr imposed martial law in 1610, he mandated church attendance to establish control over the servants of the Virginia Company:1

Services were held fourteen times a week, with sermons preached twice on Sunday and once on either Wednesday or Thursday. Two prayer services, one in the morning and one in the evening, were held Monday through Saturday... The Captain of the Watch was under instructions to round up all persons, except those sick or injured, and bring them to the Church at the appropriate times.

Pocahontas had to convert to Christianity and be baptised (in the Anglican faith) before marrying John Rolfe
Pocahontas had to convert to Christianity and be baptised (in the Anglican faith) before marrying John Rolfe
Source: Architect of the Capitol, Baptism of Pocahontas

In the Massacgusetts colony, the Puritans punished nonconformists and created a state-imposed religion even more rigid than Virginia. Puritans also came to Virginia, but the royal governors did not encourage them to stay. In England, religious differences led to a civil war that resulted in the execution of Charles I in 1649. Virginia stayed loyal to the king, earning the nickname "The Old Dominion," until Puritan forces arrived and displaced Gov. William Berkeley.

Other colonies were more flexible on religious activities. The Calverts in the Maryland colony recognized that toleration of non-Catholics was essential for attracting new colonists. When Virginia expelled Puritan preachers, Maryland welcomed them. William Penn's Pennsylvania colony was the most successful in attracting people with various Protestant beliefs.

Virginia's governors were always Anglicans. Only one Catholic, George Brent, was allowed to serve in the General Assembly during the colonial period. James II was a Catholic. After he succeded his brother Charles II, the new king issued a Declaration of Indulgence in 1687 to grant Catholics equal rights. George Brent was elected to the General Assembly in 1688 and served until the Glorious Revolution in England that year brought William and Mary to the throne.

Virginia's Anglican leaders first accepted religious diversity in the 1720's.

Governor Spotswood saw the advantage in welcoming immigrants that had come from Ireland and modern-day Germany to Pennsylvania, but desired to settle on cheaper land in the Shenandoah Valley. The Presbyterian Scotch-Irish and the "Pennsylvania Dutch" might worship and organize churches in ways different from the Anglicans, but new Protestant settlers on the western border would provide a buffer against the French and the Native Americans.

Governor Gooch followed Spotswood's policy. Starting in 1730, Gov. Gooch granted John and Isaac Van Meter 40,000 acres near Cedar Creek, Opequon Creek, and the Shenandoah River. Such large grants of land within the boundaries of the Fairfax Grant triggered Lord Fairfax's fight to survey and establish his claim, a dispute the Van Meter's avoided by selling their claims quickly to Joist Hite.

Hite recruited his buyers from recent immigrants in Pennsylvania. In 1732, Col. William Beverly obtained a grant further south in an area already known as the Irish Tract, and in 1739 a Quaker from New Jersey (Benjamin Borden) got a large grant to the south of Beverly Manor in what now is Rockbridge County. Beverly partnered with Irish ship captain James Patton, who brought immigrants directly from Ireland up the Potomac River and then walked them west across the Blue Ridge into the Shenandoah Valley. Later, Patton got his own grant on the New River. He populated Dunkard's Bottom, now flooded by Claytor Lake, with Anabaptists known as "Dunkers" (similar to Mennonites and Amish, and named for the practice of full-immersion adult baptism) from the German Pietist community in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

Some Anglicans in Tidewater also moved west of the Blue Ridge onto land grants originally issued by Fairfax's land agent, Robert "King" Carter. Cunningham's Chapel was built in 1747. Its 1793 replacement, now known as Old Chapel, is now the oldest Episcopal church west of the Blue Ridge.2

Large numbers of immigrants from Tidewater settled on eastern edge of the northern Shenandoah Valley late in the 1700's. The cultural differences in Frederick County between the area west of Opequon Creek settled by German/Scotch-Irish and the eastern edge settled by traditional Tidewater immigrants led to the creation of Clarke County in 1836.3

The close association of the Anglican church with the royal government had a severe impact in the American Revolution. Boycotts of British-made goods shifted public support away from the established, official Anglican church. Ministers who were loyal to England lost the support of their vestries. Most ended up returning to England, and attendance at church services declined.

The General Assembly suspended the requirement to pay for support of the Anglican church. Overseers of the Poor, part of county government, replaced the vestry as the provider of social services. In 1786, at Thomas Jefferson's urging and through the efforts of James Madison, the General assembly passed a law separating church and state, officially "disestablishing" the Anglican church. To limit state support for religion, Virginia would not allow any church or religious denomination to incorporate. That was overturned in 2002, when Rev. Jerry Falwell won a lawsuit and was able to incorporate Thomas Road Baptist Church.4

The faith was re-started as the Episcopal church. It retained the Book of Common Prayer, but eliminate any prayers for the royal family in England.

Anglican Vestries in Virginia

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the First Amendment

Voting in Colonial Virginia

the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) was chartered in 1701
the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) was chartered in 1701
Source: Anglicans Online, The Seal of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts

Links

References

1. "Religion at Jamestown," Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, http://www.historyisfun.org/pdf/Background-Essays/ReligionatJamestown.pdf (last checked June 11, 2014)
2. "Old Chapel 021-0058," Virginia Landmarks Register, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/register_Clarke.htm (last checked June 14, 2014)
3. "History," Clarke County, Virginia, http://www.clarkecounty.gov/local/history.html (last checked June 14, 2014)
4. "Falwell wins church-incorporation suit," Washington Times, April 17, 2002, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2002/apr/17/20020417-042025-9006r/ (last checked August 8, 2018)

Memorial Church - Jamestown
Memorial Church -
Jamestown
Bruton Parish - Williamsburg
Bruton Parish -
Williamsburg
Bruton Parish steeple
Bruton Parish
steeple
(click on images for larger versions)

Martha Dandridge married her second husband, George Washington, reportedly at St. Peter's Church in New Kent County (which Union forces visited in the Civil War...)
Martha Dandridge married her second husband, George Washington, reportedly at St. Peter's Church in New Kent County (which Union forces visited in the Civil War...)
Source: National Archives, St. Peter's Church, near the "White House", Virginia. (where G. Washington may have been married to Martha)


Religion in Virginia
Virginia Places