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The Puritan Beginnings Of The Ch

There is sufficient evidence that the three little vessels which on the
13th of May, 1607, were moored to the trees on the bank of the James
River brought to the soil of America the germ of a Christian church. We
may feel constrained to accept only at a large discount the pious
official professions of King James I., and critically to scrutinize many
of the statements of that brilliant and fascinating adventurer, Captain
John Smith, whether concerning his friends or concerning his enemies or
concerning himself. But the beauty and dignity of the Christian
character shine unmistakable in the life of the chaplain to the
expedition, the Rev. Robert Hunt, and all the more radiantly for the
dark and discouraging surroundings in which his ministry was to be

For the company which Captain Smith and that famous mariner, Captain
Bartholomew Gosnold, had by many months of labor and many a forgotten
pound of expense succeeded in recruiting for the enterprise was made up
of most unhopeful material for the founding of a Christian colony. Those
were the years of ignoble peace with which the reign of James began; and
the glittering hopes of gold might well attract some of the brave men
who had served by sea or land in the wars of Elizabeth. But the last
thirty years had furnished no instance of success, and many of
disastrous and sometimes tragical failure, in like attempts--the
enterprises of Humphrey Gilbert, of Raleigh, of John White, of Gosnold
himself, and of Popham and Gorges. Even brave men might hesitate to
volunteer for the forlorn hope of another experiment at colonizing.

The little squadron had hardly set sail when the unfitness of the
emigrants for their work began to discover itself. Lying weather-bound
within sight of home, some few, little better than atheists, of the
greatest rank among them, were busying themselves with scandalous
imputations upon the chaplain, then lying dangerously ill in his berth.
All through the four months' passage by way of the Canaries and the West
India Islands discontents and dissensions prevailed. Wingfield, who had
been named president of the colony, had Smith in irons, and at the
island of Nevis had the gallows set up for his execution on a charge of
conspiracy, when milder counsels prevailed, and he was brought to
Virginia, where he was tried and acquitted and his adversary mulcted in

Arrived at the place of settlement, the colonists set about the work of
building their houses, but found that their total number of one hundred
and five was made up in the proportion of four carpenters to forty-eight
gentlemen. Not inadequately provisioned for their work, they came
repeatedly almost to perishing through their sheer incapacity and
unthrift, and their needless quarrels with one another and with the
Indians. In five months one half of the company were dead. In January,
1608, eight months from the landing, when the second expedition arrived
with reinforcements and supplies, only thirty-eight were surviving out
of the one hundred and five, and of these the strongest were conspiring
to seize the pinnace and desert the settlement.

The newcomers were no better than the first. They were chiefly
gentlemen again, and goldsmiths, whose duty was to discover and refine
the quantities of gold that the stockholders in the enterprise were
resolved should be found in Virginia, whether it was there or not. The
ship took back on her return trip a full cargo of worthless dirt.

Reinforcements continued to arrive every few months, the quality of
which it might be unfair to judge simply from the disgusted complaints
of Captain Smith. He begs the Company to send but thirty honest laborers
and artisans, rather than a thousand such as we have, and reports the
next ship-load as fitter to breed a riot than to found a colony. The
wretched settlement became an object of derision to the wits of London,
and of sympathetic interest to serious minds. The Company, reorganized
under a new charter, was strengthened by the accession of some of the
foremost men in England, including four bishops, the Earl of
Southampton, and Sir Francis Bacon. Appeals were made to the Christian
public in behalf of an enterprise so full of promise of the furtherance
of the gospel. A fleet of nine ships was fitted out, carrying more than
five hundred emigrants, with ample supplies. Captain Smith, representing
what there was of civil authority in the colony, had a brief struggle
with their turbulence, and recognized them as of the same sort with the
former companies, for the most part poor gentlemen, tradesmen,
serving-men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoil a
commonwealth than either begin one or help to maintain one. When only
part of this expedition had arrived, Captain Smith departed for England,
disabled by an accidental wound, leaving a settlement of nearly five
hundred men, abundantly provisioned. It was not the will of God that
the new state should be formed of these materials.[41:1] In six months
the number of the colonists was reduced to sixty, and when relief
arrived it was reckoned that in ten days' longer delay they would have
perished to the last man. With one accord the wretched remnant of the
colony, together with the latest comers, deserted, without a tear of
regret, the scene of their misery. But their retreating vessels were met
and turned back from the mouth of the river by the approaching ships of
Lord de la Warr with emigrants and supplies. Such were the first three
unhappy and unhonored years of the first Christian colony on the soil of
the United States.

One almost shrinks from being assured that this worthless crew, through
all these years of suicidal crime and folly, had been assiduous in
religious duties. First under an awning made of an old sail, seated upon
logs, with a rail nailed to two trees for a pulpit, afterward in a poor
shanty of a church, that could neither well defend wind nor rain, they
had daily common prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons,
and every three months the holy communion, till their minister died;
and after that prayers daily, with an homily on Sundays, two or three
years, till more preachers came. The sturdy and terrible resolution of
Captain Smith, who in his marches through the wilderness was wont to
begin the day with prayer and psalm, and was not unequal to the duty,
when it was laid on him, of giving Christian exhortation as well as
righteous punishment, and the gentle Christian influence of the Rev.
Robert Hunt, were the salt that saved the colony from utterly perishing
of its vices. It was not many months before the frail body of the
chaplain sank under the hardships of pioneer life; he is commemorated by
his comrade, the captain, as an honest, religious, and courageous
divine, during whose life our factions were oft qualified, our wants and
greatest extremities so comforted that they seemed easy in comparison of
what we endured after his memorable death. When, in 1609, in a nobler
spirit than that of mere commercial enterprise, the reorganized Company,
under the new charter, was preparing the great reinforcement of five
hundred to go out under Lord de la Warr as governor of the colony,
counsel was taken with Abbot, the Puritan Bishop of London, himself a
member of the Virginia Company, and Richard Buck was selected as a
worthy successor to Robert Hunt in the office of chaplain. Such he
proved himself. Sailing in advance of the governor, in the ship with Sir
Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers, and wrecked with them off the
Bermudas, he did not forget his duty in the plenty, peace, and ease of
that paradise. The ship's bell was rescued from the wreck to ring for
morning and evening prayer, and for the two sermons every Sunday. There
were births and funerals and a marriage in the shipwrecked company, and
at length, when their makeshift vessel was ready, they embarked for
their desired haven, there to find only the starving threescore
survivors of the colony. They gathered together, a pitiable remnant, in
the church, where Master Buck made a zealous and sorrowful prayer; and
at once, without losing a day, they embarked for a last departure from
Virginia, but were met at the mouth of the river by the tardy ships of
Lord de la Warr. The next morning, Sunday, June 10, 1610, Lord de la
Warr landed at the fort, where Gates had drawn up his forlorn platoon of
starving men to receive him. The governor fell on his knees in prayer,
then led the way to the church, and, after service and a sermon from
the chaplain, made an address, assuming command of the colony.

Armed, under the new charter, with adequate authority, the new governor
was not slow in putting on the state of a viceroy. Among his first cares
was to provide for the external dignity of worship. The church, a
building sixty feet by twenty-four, built long enough before to be now
in need of repairs, was put into good condition, and a brave sight it
was on Sundays to see the Governor, with the Privy Council and the
Lieutenant-General and the Admiral and the Vice-Admiral and the Master
of the Horse, together with the body-guard of fifty halberdiers in fair
red cloaks, commanded by Captain Edward Brewster, assembled for worship,
the governor seated in the choir in a green velvet chair, with a velvet
cushion on a table before him. Few things could have been better adapted
to convince the peculiar public of Jamestown that divine worship was
indeed a serious matter. There was something more than the parade of
government manifested by his lordship in the few months of his reign;
but the inauguration of strong and effective control over the lazy,
disorderly, and seditious crowd to be dealt with at Jamestown was
reserved for his successor, Sir Thomas Dale, who arrived in May, 1611,
in company with the Rev. Alexander Whitaker, the apostle of Virginia.

It will not be possible for any to understand the relations of this
colony to the state of parties in England without distinctly recognizing
that the Puritans were not a party against the Church of England, but
a party in the Church of England. The Puritan party was the party of
reform, and was strong in a deep fervor of religious conviction widely
diffused among people and clergy, and extending to the highest places of
the nobility and the episcopate. The anti-Puritan party was the
conservative or reactionary party, strong in the vis inertiŠ, and in
the king's pig-headed prejudices and his monstrous conceit of
theological ability and supremacy in the church; strong also in a
considerable adhesion and zealous co÷peration from among his nominees,
the bishops. The religious division was also a political one, the
Puritans being known as the party of the people, their antagonists as
the court party. The struggle of the Puritans (as distinguished from the
inconsiderable number of the Separatists) was for the maintenance of
their rights within the church; the effort of their adversaries, with
the aid of the king's prerogative, was to drive or harry them out of the
church. It is not to be understood that the two parties were as yet
organized as such and distinctly bounded; but the two tendencies were
plainly recognized, and the sympathies of leading men in church or state
were no secret.

The Virginia Company was a Puritan corporation.[44:1] As such, its
meetings and debates were the object of popular interest and of the
royal jealousy. Among its corporators were the brothers Sandys, sons of
the Puritan Archbishop of York, one of whom held the manor of Scrooby.
Others of the corporation were William Brewster, of Scrooby, and his son
Edward. In the fleet of Sir Thomas Gates, May, 1609, were noted
Puritans, one of whom, Stephen Hopkins, who had much knowledge in the
Scriptures and could reason well therein, was clerk to that painful
preacher, but not strict conformist, Master Richard Buck. The intimate
and sometimes official relations of the Virginia Company not only with
leading representatives of the Puritan party, but with the Pilgrims of
Leyden, whom they would gladly have received into their own colony, are
matter of history and of record. It admits of proof that there was a
steady purpose in the Company, so far as it was not thwarted by the king
and the bishops of the court party, to hold their unruly and
ill-assorted colony under Puritan influences both of church and
government.[45:1] The fact throws light on the remoter as well as the
nearer history of Virginia. Especially it throws light on the memorable
administration of Sir Thomas Dale, which followed hard upon the
departure of Lord de la Warr and his body-guard in red cloaks.

The Company had picked their man with care--a man of good conscience
and knowledge in divinity, and a soldier and disciplinarian proved in
the wars of the Low Countries--a very prototype of the great Cromwell.
He understood what manner of task he had undertaken, and executed it
without flinching. As a matter of course--it was the way in that
colony--there was a conspiracy against his authority. There was no
second conspiracy under him. Punishment was inflicted on the ringleaders
so swift, so terrible, as to paralyze all future sedition. He put in
force, in the name of the Company, a code of Laws, Divine, Moral, and
Martial, to which no parallel can be found in the severest legislation
of New England. An invaluable service to the colony was the abolition of
that demoralizing socialism that had been enforced on the colonists, by
which all their labor was to be devoted to the common stock. He gave out
land in severalty, and the laborer enjoyed the fruits of his own
industry and thrift, or suffered the consequences of his laziness. The
culture of tobacco gave the colony a currency and a staple of export.

With Dale was associated as chaplain Alexander Whitaker, son of the
author of the Calvinistic Lambeth Articles, and brother of a Separatist
preacher of London. What was his position in relation to church parties
is shown by his letter to his cousin, the arch-Puritan, William Gouge,
written after three years' residence in Virginia, urging that
nonconformist clergymen should come over to Virginia, where no question
would be raised on the subject of subscription or the surplice. What
manner of man and minister he was is proved by a noble record of
faithful work. He found a true workfellow in Dale. When this
statesmanlike and soldierly governor founded his new city of Henrico up
the river, and laid out across the stream the suburb of Hope-in-Faith,
defended by Fort Charity and Fort Patience, he built there in sight from
his official residence the parsonage of the apostle of Virginia. The
course of Whitaker's ministry is described by himself in a letter to a
friend: Every Sabbath day we preach in the forenoon and catechise in
the afternoon. Every Saturday, at night, I exercise in Sir Thomas Dale's
house. But he and his fellow-clergymen did not labor without aid, even
in word and doctrine. When Mr. John Rolfe was perplexed with questions
of duty touching his love for Pocahontas, it was to the old soldier,
Dale, that he brought his burden, seeking spiritual counsel. And it was
this religious and valiant governor, as Whitaker calls him, this man
of great knowledge in divinity, and of a good conscience in all things,
that labored long to ground the faith of Jesus Christ in the Indian
maiden, and wrote concerning her, Were it but for the gaining of this
one soul, I will think my time, toils, and present stay well spent.

The progress of the gospel in reclaiming the unhappy colony to
Christian civilization varies with the varying fortunes of contending
parties in England. Energetic efforts were made by the Company under
Sandys, the friend of Brewster, to send out worthy colonists; and the
delicate task of finding young women of good character to be shipped as
wives to the settlers was undertaken conscientiously and successfully.
Generous gifts of money and land were contributed (although little came
from them) for the endowment of schools and a college for the promotion
of Christ's work among the white people and the red. But the course of
events on both sides of the sea may be best illustrated by a narrative
of personal incidents.

In the year 1621, an East India Company's chaplain, the Rev. Patrick
Copland, who perhaps deserves the title of the first English missionary
in India, on his way back from India met, probably at the Canaries, with
ships bound for Virginia with emigrants. Learning from these something
of the needs of the plantation, he stirred up his fellow-passengers on
the Royal James, and raised the sum of seventy pounds, which was paid
to the treasurer of the Virginia Company; and, being increased by other
gifts to one hundred and twenty-five pounds, was, in consultation with
Mr. Copland, appropriated for a free school to be called the East India

The affairs of the colony were most promising. It was growing in
population and in wealth and in the institutions of a Christian
commonwealth. The territory was divided into parishes for the work of
church and clergy. The stupid obstinacy of the king, against the
remonstrances of the Company, perpetrated the crime of sending out a
hundred convicts into the young community, extorting from Captain Smith
the protest that this act hath laid one of the finest countries of
America under the just scandal of being a mere hell upon earth. The
sweepings of the London and Bristol streets were exported for servants.
Of darker portent, though men perceived it not, was the landing of the
first cargo of negro slaves. But so grateful was the Company for the
general prosperity of the colony that it appointed a thanksgiving sermon
to be preached at Bow Church, April 17, 1622, by Mr. Copland, which was
printed under the title, Virginia's God Be Thanked. In July, 1622, the
Company, proceeding to the execution of a long-cherished plan, chose Mr.
Copland rector of the college to be built at Henrico from the endowments
already provided, when news arrived of the massacre which, in March of
that year, swept away one half of the four thousand colonists. All such
enterprises were at once arrested.

In 1624 the long contest of the king and the court party against the
Virginia Company was ended by a violent exercise of the prerogative
dissolving the Company, but not until it had established free
representative government in the colony. The revocation of the charter
was one of the last acts of James's ignoble reign. In 1625 he died, and
Charles I. became king. In 1628 the most hot-headed and hard-hearted of
prelates, William Laud, became Bishop of London, and in 1633 Archbishop
of Canterbury. But the Puritan principles of duty and liberty already
planted in Virginia were not destined to be eradicated.

From the year 1619, a settlement at Nansemond, near Norfolk, had
prospered, and had been in relations of trade with New England. In 1642
Philip Bennett, of Nansemond, visiting Boston in his coasting vessel,
bore with him a letter to the Boston church, signed by seventy-four
names, stating the needs of their great county, now without a pastor,
and offering a maintenance to three good ministers if they could be
found. A little later William Durand, of the same county, wrote for
himself and his neighbors to John Davenport, of New Haven, to whom some
of them had listened gladly in London (perhaps it was when he preached
the first annual sermon before the Virginia Company in 1621), speaking
of a revival of piety among them, and urging the request that had been
sent to the church in Boston. As result of this correspondence, three
eminently learned and faithful ministers of New England came to
Virginia, bringing letters of commendation from Governor Winthrop. But
they found that Virginia, now become a royal colony, had no welcome for
them. The newly arrived royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, a man
after Laud's own heart, forbade their preaching; but the Catholic
governor of Maryland sent them a free invitation, and one of them,
removing to Annapolis with some of the Virginia Puritans, so labored in
the gospel as to draw forth the public thanks of the legislative

The sequel of this story is a strange one. There must have been somewhat
in the character and bearing of these silenced and banished ministers
that touched the heart of Thomas Harrison, the governor's chaplain. He
made a confession of his insincere dealings toward them: that while he
had been showing them a fair face he had privately used his influence
to have them silenced. He himself began to preach in that earnest way of
righteousness, temperance, and judgment, which is fitted to make
governors tremble, until Berkeley cast him out as a Puritan, saying that
he did not wish so grave a chaplain; whereupon Harrison crossed the
river to Nansemond, became pastor of the church, and mightily built up
the cause which he had sought to destroy.

A few months later the Nansemond people had the opportunity of giving
succor and hospitality to a shipwrecked company of nine people, who had
been cast away, with loss of all their goods, in sailing from the
Bermudas to found a new settlement on one of the Bahamas. Among the
party was an aged and venerable man, that same Patrick Copland who
twenty-five years before had interested himself in the passing party of
emigrants. This was indeed entertaining an angel. Mr. Copland had long
been a nonconformist minister at the Bermudas, and he listened to the
complaints that were made to him of the persecution to which the people
were subjected by the malignant Berkeley. A free invitation was given to
the Nansemond church to go with their guests to the new settlement of
Eleuthera, in which freedom of conscience and non-interference of the
magistrate with the church were secured by charter.[50:1] Mr. Harrison
proceeded to Boston to take counsel of the churches over this
proposition. The people were advised by their Boston brethren to remain
in their lot until their case should become intolerable. Mr. Harrison
went on to London, where a number of things had happened since
Berkeley's appointment. The king had ceased to be; but an order from the
Council of State was sent to Berkeley, sharply reprimanding him for his
course, and directing him to restore Mr. Harrison to his parish. But Mr.
Harrison did not return. He fulfilled an honorable career as incumbent
of a London parish, as chaplain to Henry Cromwell, viceroy of Ireland,
and as a hunted and persecuted preacher in the evil days after the
Restoration. But the poetic justice with which this curious dramatic
episode should conclude is not reached until Berkeley is compelled to
surrender his jurisdiction to the Commonwealth, and Richard Bennett, one
of the banished Puritans of Nansemond, is chosen by the Assembly of
Burgesses to be governor in his stead.[51:1]

Of course this is a brief triumph. With the restoration of the Stuarts,
Berkeley comes back into power as royal governor, and for many years
afflicts the colony with his malignant Toryism. The last state is worse
than the first; for during the days of the Commonwealth old soldiers of
the king's army had come to Virginia in such numbers as to form an
appreciable and not wholly admirable element in the population.
Surrounded by such society, the governor was encouraged to indulge his
natural disposition to bigotry and tyranny. Under such a nursing father
the interests of the kingdom of Christ fared as might have been
expected. Rigorous measures were instituted for the suppression of
nonconformity, Quaker preachers were severely dealt with, and clergymen,
such as they were, were imposed upon the more or less reluctant
parishes. But though the governor held the right of presentation, the
vestry of each parish asserted and maintained the right of induction or
of refusing to induct. Without the consent of these representatives of
the people the candidate could secure for himself no more than the
people should from year to year consent to allow him. It was the only
protection of the people from absolute spiritual despotism. The power
might be used to repel a too faithful pastor, but if there was sometimes
a temptation to this, the occasion was far more frequent for putting the
people's reprobation upon the unfaithful and unfit. The colony, growing
in wealth and population, soon became infested with a rabble of
worthless and scandalous priests. In a report which has been often
quoted, Governor Berkeley, after giving account of the material
prosperity of the colony, sums up, under date of 1671, the results of
his fostering care over its spiritual interests in these words: There
are forty-eight parishes, and the ministers well paid. The clergy by my
consent would be better if they would pray oftener and preach less. But
of all other commodities, so of this, the worst are sent us. But I thank
God there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not
have, these hundred years.

The scandal of the Virginia clergy went on from bad to worse. Whatever
could be done by the courage and earnestness of one man was done by Dr.
Blair, who arrived in 1689 with limited powers as commissary of the
Bishop of London, and for more than fifty years struggled against
adverse influences to recover the church from its degradation. He
succeeded in getting a charter for William and Mary College, but the
generous endowments of the institution were wasted, and the college
languished in doing the work of a grammar school. Something was
accomplished in the way of discipline, though the cane of Governor
Nicholson over the back of an insolent priest was doubtless more
effective than the commissary's admonitions. But discipline, while it
may do something toward abating scandals, cannot create life from the
dead; and the church established in Virginia had hardly more than a name
to live. Its best estate is described by Spotswood, the best of the
royal governors, when, looking on the outward appearance, he reported:
This government is in perfect peace and tranquillity, under a due
obedience to the royal authority and a gentlemanly conformity to the
Church of England. The poor man was soon to find how uncertain is the
peace and tranquillity that is founded on a gentlemanly conformity.
The most honorable page in his record is the story of his effort for
the education of Indian children. His honest attempt at reformation in
the church brought him into collision not only with the worthless among
the clergy, but also on the one hand with the parish vestries, and on
the other hand with Commissary Blair. But all along the gentlemanly
conformity was undisturbed. A parish of French Huguenots was early
established in Henrico County, and in 1713 a parish of German exiles on
the Rappahannock, and these were expressly excepted from the Act of
Uniformity. Aside from these, the chief departures from the enforced
uniformity of worship throughout the colony in the early years of the
eighteenth century were found in a few meetings of persecuted and
vilified Quakers and Baptists. The government and clergy had little
notion of the significance of a slender stream of Scotch-Irish
emigration which, as early as 1720, began to flow into the valley of the
Shenandoah. So cheap a defense against the perils that threatened from
the western frontier it would have been folly to discourage by odious
religious proscription. The reasonable anxiety of the clergy as to what
might come of this invasion of a sturdy and uncompromising Puritanism
struggled without permanent success against the obvious interest of the
commonwealth. The addition of this new and potent element to the
Christian population of the seaboard colonies was part of the
unrecognized preparation for the Great Awakening.

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