Project Canterbury

History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part First. The English Church in the Colonies

Chapter II. The Virginians

Raleigh's Colony; Georges' Colony; the Virginia Company; the first Church; English interest in Colonial ventures; Indian Missions; Pocahontas; first representative Assembly; laws concerning Religion; spirit of the laws; relaxation of manners.

The first organized attempt to found a colony was made in 1585. Sir Walter Raleigh gathered a company of one hundred and fifty people, largely composed of gentlemen of the sword, secured them an outfit and the means of transportation, which they used to find a land at Roanoke which they named "Virginia," for the maiden queen. They were not the stuff from which successful colonists are made. They were not set together in families. Only two women were in the colony. Of one of these, the daughter of the Governor, was born Virginia Dare, the first white child in America. Improvidence, brawling, ignorance of husbandry, and wanton quarrels with the natives, soon brought the ill-starred colony to want, destitution, and despair. Their governor, White, strove manfully to save them from the Indians and from themselves, but in vain. They sat down starving upon the shore, and when at their wits' end, hailed the sight of an English man-of-war on her way home from the West Indies. Her commander consented, to bear away with him those who wished to go, and promised to send speedy succor to those who stayed. The chaplain of the ship landed and baptized the little baby girl, Virginia Dare, together with Manteo, the first convert from the Indians. These were the first-fruits, not only of the Church of England, but of Christianity, in the colonies. Eighty of the company chose to stay, while the rest sailed away to merry England. Those who stayed, including the two women, were never heard of again. Their promised relief never came, or came so many years later that no living member of the colony was found. Half a century afterward Indians with blue eyes and brown hair were seen along the Potomac, who were supposed to have in their veins all that was left of the blood of the Raleigh colony.

In 1603 a ship's company spent the summer in Plymouth Harbor, on the coast of Massachusetts, but made no permanent lodgement.

In the spring of 1605 a company landed at the mouth of the Kennebec. While the summer lasted they throve in the cabins and little garden patches which they planted, but in the long, bleak winter which followed they were reduced to starvation and despair, and returned hungry to England, carrying with them three Indian chieftains. These were taken in charge by a wealthy gentleman and zealous Churchman, Sir Ferdinando Gorges. For three years he kept them in his house, teaching them English, and learning from them about their people. Then he organized an expedition at his own charge, and brought it out himself, landing again at the Kennebec in the summer of 1606. By the time winter came his company had built a fort, a log church, and fifty cabins. This settlement of Churchmen maintained a precarious existence for many years: indeed, it never became quite extinguished. But it had for its enemies a cruel climate and a barren soil, and a few years later the relentless enmity of the Massachusetts Puritans. The Church has had there a longer continuous existence than in any other place in America, but it did little more than live. It never became a colony, and hardly an organized church. It served for a century only to keep the lamp of the Church showing a flickering light in the New England.

All the "ventures," so far, were without recognition from either Church or State. They were the enterprises of individuals or companies without either political status or ecclesiastical authority.

It was to Virginia first that the Church and State of England were to be transplanted. Raleigh's ill-fated company had never been quite forgotten. Relief expeditions had been projected, and had come to nothing, until it was deemed too late to rescue them. But the memory of the flowery banks and fertile meadows of Albemarle had never quite passed away. London merchants thought of it as a new field for trade. Bishops and clergy thought of the Indians as heathen to be saved. Statesmen had it in mind as a place wherein to found new states. All England then dreamed of colonies. A company was formed, with archbishops, peers, merchants, and high officers of state for its members. Captain John Smith, who had come home from fighting the Turk under the walls of Constantinople, was secured as the military commander. The good priest Robert Hunt was commissioned chaplain. The Crown gave a grant of land from 34° to 45° north latitude,--from the Bay of Fundy to South Carolina. Substantial Churchmen, with their wives and children and goods, offered for colonists. Prayers were said in churches for the safety of the expedition. With the bishop's benediction, the king's favor, and the people's good will, they sailed away. Their plan was to take up again Raleigh's abandoned settlement, and they were not without hope of being welcomed by some of his people, who might still be living. But the fleet lost its reckoning, and, instead of making a landfall at Albemarle, they sailed into Chesapeake Bay in April, 1607. They named their settlement for the king, Jamestown. By their charter the Law and the Church of England were made bounden. Their first act, on landing, was to kneel and hear Chaplain Hunt read the prayers and thanksgiving for a safe voyage. It is not our task to trace the civil and industrial prosperity of the colony. Their church was built as soon as their cabins were, and as they moved into better houses God's house was adorned to correspond. Their first sanctuary was, the chaplain writes, "a pen of poles with a sail for a roof, and for a pulpit a bar lashed between two convenient trees." In this rude temple the Holy Communion was celebrated for the first time in America, according to the Liturgy of the Church. June 21, 1607,

Virginia was marked off from the settlements soon to follow by two things,--it was a royal colony, and a Church one. It was simply a little English parish, bringing its minister, its Prayer Book, its customs, and its thoughts, to set them down in the midst of an unoccupied land. It set about to reproduce the old home life, but it had to gain by bitter experience the knowledge of how to win a livelihood,--the knowledge which soon became a second nature to the settlers. They had to learn how to deal with the crafty natives, to coax a rich land to yield its substance, to learn new modes of husbandry, to adjust themselves to a new life. The task was a trying one. Cold, drought, malaria, and hunger brought them to the verge of despair, but through it all good Chaplain Hunt was their stay and comfort. If they were in perils oft, they were in prayer oft. At times they despaired. Once they determined to abandon the enterprise, but, while they were gathering to embark, the long-looked-for relief ship hove in sight, bearing supplies and new people. The shed in which the prayers had wont to be said was replaced by a more comfortable building, of which the chaplain speaks with grateful pleasantry as "a homely thing like a barn, set on cratchets, covered with rafters, sods, and brush."

A wide-spread and deep interest was created in the settlement among all classes at home. To "have a venture" to the colonies quickly came to be the fashion. Newcomers came out by the score. The population grew apace. Collections were taken by the Archbishop's orders in the province of Canterbury for the Church in Virginia. One sent Bibles and Prayer Books, and another, Communion plate. Chaplain Hunt did not long remain the only priest. Others came as they were needed. These first clergy were godly and well-learned men,--differing widely from the clerical adventurers who succeeded them a generation later. Good Church people at home promoted schemes for the advantage of their cousins in the Virginias. One society undertook to provide for them wives who should be worthy helpmeets for such men, and sent them over at a hundred pounds of tobacco a head. An official acknowledges in clerkly phrase the arrival of "two shiploads of women in fair condition."

Their religious duty to the aborigines was not neglected. The good priest Alexander Whittaker gained for himself the title of "Apostle to the Indians." Indian children were secured and placed in the homes of the settlers, to be trained in decency and Christianity. Pocahontas, the comely daughter of the unfriendly chief Powhatan, was secured. The newly widowed John Rolf was moved alike by her beauty and her heathenism, and to make her a convert took her to wife. Other missionaries joined Whittaker in his work among the Virginians and in the forest. They reported to the authorities at home that there was every promise of bringing these heathen soon to a knowledge of the Gospel, and asked for still more men. The Indians were friendly, hospitable, and full of interest. But before the missionaries' report reached England the treacherous savages burst into the settlement, with the great massacre of May 22, 1622. Missionaries, converts, and frontier settlers were all alike butchered, and the work came to an end. It had run swiftly through all the phases which characterized the projects to Christianize the Indians for two centuries and more.

It is of interest to note that Virginia was the only place where a colony of Church people lived their life in the presence of hostile savages. The Puritans on the banks of the Connecticut, the Moravians in the valley of the Wyoming, the Presbyterians on the Allegheny, and the Baptists on the Holston and the Tennessee bore their rifles with them to Church and gathered their corn while listening for the dreaded war-whoop. But. save in the early days of Virginia, this was never the experience of Church of England people. There are no Boones and Crocketts, Robertsons and Clarkes in the annals of the American Church. People of another faith soon passed beyond them and formed a barrier behind which the Churchman was safe from this peril. But as the Churchman was shut off from the danger, so he was shut out from the kindly fellow-feeling which bound together the other peoples who through generations shared a common peril. This lack of sympathy deepened into rooted malevolence when a hundred and fifty years later the British government, to whom the Church was bound, took for allies the unspeakable savages whom the Baptists and Presbyterians had been fighting with for four generations.

Virginia soon recovered from the massacre of 1622. The colonist had learned his foe. Their valiant Captain Smith scouted along the frontiers and carried the war into the enemy's country. When he was about to start upon an expedition into the backwoods he received from the authorities orders that "every day the Prayers should be read, with a psalm," at which order being carried out he gravely records that "the salvages were mightily amazed."

Meanwhile the colony had grown apace. Two thousand immigrants arrived in a single year. Land hunters pushed up the James, the Chickahominy, and the York. New settlements were planted and new parishes organized. The Church at home was mindful of its duty, and clergy came as fast as they were needed. In 1619, there were enough counties settled to send delegates who organized the first representative assembly in America. They met to establish self-government on this continent. By a strange irony, while they were in session, a Dutch ship, the "Jesus," brought to Jamestown and sold the first cargo of African slaves. [Williams : History of Negro Race in America, vol. i. p. 116.]

With the civil legislation of the Assembly we are not directly concerned. But their acts relating to religion show a vivid picture of the place and time. It was enacted [Anderson: vol. i. p. 460.] that:

Care should be taken by the officers that the people resort to church on the Sabbath Day, the penalty of absence to be a pound of tobacco, or for a month's absence fifty pounds; that all who till the ground, of what quality soever, pay tithes to the minister; that there be throughout the colony an uniformity of Doctrine and Worship; that Ministers and Church Wardens present to the Midsummer Assizes a return of official acts, and also the names and offences of all persons of profane and ungodly life, common swearers, drunkards, blasphemers, neglecters of the Sacraments, Sabbath-breakers, adulterers, fornicators, slanderers, and also of all Masters and Mistresses who neglect to catechise their children and servants; that no man shall disparage or speak lightly of a Magistrate or Minister, or be married other than by the Book of Common Prayer; that Ministers shall preach at each of their stations at least once a year; that they shall visit any one who is dangerously sick; shall administer the Sacrament at least three times a year; shall not drink to excess, dice or play cards for money; that each minister shall have a hundred pounds of tobacco per year, and also the twentieth calf, pig, and kid, these to be kept by the owner till weaned and then rendered by the Church Warden at a time and place publicly fixed; that if the Church Warden fail to render them the value be collected from him by distress; that the fee for each marriage shall be two shillings, for christening nothing, for churching one shilling, and for burying one shilling; that the cost of raising and repairing churches shall be assessed upon the parishes; that the members of the Legislature shall attend Divine Service "upon the thyrde beatinge of a drume" under a fine of two shillings sixpence.

The resemblance of these enactments of the Episcopalians of Virginia to those soon to be passed by the Puritan colony of Massachusetts will suggest itself at once. But when the two legislations come to be compared, both in matter and in spirit, the difference will be still more evident. They both trespass upon what seems to us to be liberty of conscience. But there is an inquisitory particularity of interference with personal rights, and a savage religiosity, in the Puritans' laws, which is not present in those of the Churchmen. They approached their task of lawmaking with radically different tempers and purposes. The Virginians were content when they had made such regulations as they deemed necessary to the wellbeing of society. The Puritans felt themselves responsible for the present and eternal destiny of the individual. The Churchmen legislated for this life only, and had sufficient understanding to fulfill their task fairly well. The Puritans legislated for the life eternal. It was because they encroached upon the prerogatives of God that they made havoc of men.

At first the acts of the Assembly were easily enforced; in fact they enforced themselves. They but expressed the wishes of the people in the premises. But with the increase of immigration the character of the population changed. At first it was all of those who were emphatically "for Church and Crown." The wives kindly sent out to the settlers were all Churchwomen. The Archbishop of Canterbury was their patron, and the Bishop of London was a director in the company. But as the country opened up, and the tobacco and fur trade became more lucrative, men of another sort began to come. Men who sat loosely to both Church and Crown came for fortunes, and Puritans and Quakers came for broader liberty. These last were not molested. The not very onerous tax needed to support the Establishment, regularly levied, was paid by them without any evidence of reluctance. A man in Virginia was much more ready to pay his tax to support a Church whose advantages for himself and his children he could have for the asking, than was a man in Massachusetts to support an Establishment whose spiritual benefactions were denied him until he should first pass a rigorous examination as to his own spiritual state. What men always and everywhere rebel against is the application of a human test to separate the sheep from the goats. In Massachusetts the sheep were marked and goats were branded. In Virginia sheep and goats were both alike shorn for the support of the fold which was open to them both. Little by little the Church relaxed its laws, and we must say also, its manners. Plantation life grew easy and abundant. Theology never throve in it. The clergy began to be planters on their own account, and were content, for the most part, to be good men and good neighbors. Missionary zeal slowly died out. The Dissenters built their meeting houses undisturbed, sometimes aided by the gift of a generous slice of land from the parson's own plantation. Colonel Esmond is a fair type of the Virginia Churchman, who began to be seen half a century earlier than Thackeray places him. The colony grew to be peaceful, prosperous, and safe. Complacent, with no very exalted ideals either in religion or morals, its general loyalty to Church and Crown remained unchanged. When the Commonwealth came, the Virginians utterly refused to recognize the disestablishment of the Church in England, and ignored the Perfect Model of the "Saints." At the Restoration they pursued the even tenor of a way they had never interrupted. When the eighteenth century opened, the Church was recognized by the law, and, upon the whole, contained the people, of the colony.

From it we now turn to look at that rival English people who first became its neighbors in the New World.

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