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 inertiæ, 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 coöperation 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.