Page images
PDF
EPUB

Hanover; it was applied first to the house erected on Mr. Morris's land, and then to another and another as they were erected to accommodate the people. The assemblies held regularly in these houses, together with the desertion of the parish churches rendered these gentlemen peculiarly obnoxious to the laws of the colony; and as the new opinions gained adherents in Hanover, it was urged that indulgence but encouraged the evil, and the strong arm of the law was invoked. “Our absenting ourselves from the church”-says Mr. Morris,—“contrary as was alleged to the laws of the land, was taken notice of, and we were called upon by the court to assign our reasons for it, and to declare what denomination we were of.” Mr. Hunt says—“They were no longer considered as individual delinquents whose obstinacy might be sufficiently punished by the civil magistrate; but as a malignant cabal, that required the interposition of the executive. They were accordingly cited to appear before the Governor and Council. The exaction of frequent fines for non attendance at church they bore, with patience and fortitude, for the sake of a good conscience; but to be charged with a crime, of the nature and extent and penalty of which they had but indistinct conceptions, spread a gloom over their minds, and filled them with anxious forebodings more easily conceived than described. They were certainly and obviously a religious society, separate and distinct from the only one, the established church, which either the government or the people knew in the country, and yet they were without a name.” Their acquaintance with the operation of the Toleration Act of William and Mary, passed 1688, and acknowledged on the Virginia statute book in 1699, must have been very slight; perhaps they knew neither of the Virginia act, or the Act of Toleration, as no circumstance in their lives had brought them to view. It is not probable they knew any thing of Governor Gooch's promise made in 1738, because none of the Scotch Irish had emigrated to Hanover, and these people were descended from members of the English church. If they knew of the unlimited toleration granted to the German colony on the Rappahannoc, in Madison county; or of the favour extended to the French Refugees, at the Manakin towns, on the James River above the falls; they looked upon these as peculiar cases, and precedents in a general way only, if at all, to people that had no church organization, or even a name. They were frequently called upon to appear before the magistrates

of the county in explanation and defence, and to be fined. At last they were required to appear at Williamsburg, and to declare their creed and name before the Governor and Council, who assumed the entire control of matters pertaining to dissenters.

[graphic]

Mr. Morris says-in reference to the visit—"as we know but little of any denomination of dissenters, except Quakers, we were at a loss what name to assume. At length recollecting that Luther was a noted Reformer, and that his book had been of special service to us, we declared ourselves Lutherans.” It does not appear that this plea exempted them from fines, for absence from church, while it shielded them from prosecution as disturbers of the public peace. Mr. Hunt, in his narrative, gives an interesting account of a visit made, by his father and some other gentlemen, to Williamsburg, to have an interview with the Governor and Council. He tells us that one of the company, travelling alone, was overtaken and detained, by a violent storm, at the house of a poor man on the road. He interested himself in looking over an old volume, which he found upon a shelf covered with dust. Upon perusing it he was amazed to find his own sentiments, as far as he had formed any on religious things, drawn out in appropriate language; and as far as he read, the whole summary met his approbation. Offering to purchase the book, the owner gave it to him. In Williamsburg, he examined the old book again, in company with his friends; they all agreed that it expressed their views on the doctrines of religion. When they appeared before the Governor they presented this old volume as their creed. Governor Gooch, himself of Scotch origin and education, upon looking at the volume, pronounced the men Presbyterians, as the book was the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; and that they were not only tolerated but acknowledged as a part of the established church of the realm. Mr. Hunt thought, and used to tell the circumstance with great earnestness, that a violent thunder storm shaking the house and wrapping all in sheets of fire, had a softening influence on the min the Governor and Council, inclining them to deal gently with their fellow men. When the storm abated, the men were dismissed with a gentle caution from the Governor not to excite any disturbance in his majesty's colony, nor by any irregularities disturb the good order of society in their parish. And it is to be remarked that in all the varied forms in which these men were had before the civil authorities, they were never accused of any other crime than absenting themselves from the parish church, and meeting in private houses for public worship, except in one case, and then the accusation was found to be false.

The first minister, not of the Church of England, these people heard preach was William Robinson, of whom President Davies says-“That favoured man, Mr. Robinson, whose success, whenever I reflect upon it, astonishes me. Oh, he did much in a little time!-and who would not choose such an expeditious pilgrimage through the world !" Equal to Makemie in devotion to the cause, his superior, in all probability, in ardour and power over men's passions, he stands second in point of time on the list of those whom the Presbyterian Church in Virginia delights to honour, as an apostolic missionary, east of the Blue Ridge. Makemie's labours were on the sea shore; Robinson's at the head of tide-water; we see the fruits of the former in the still existing churches of Maryland and in the organization of the mother Presbytery of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church; and of the latter in the organization of those churches in Virginia, and the introduction of that master workman that gave character to the Presbytery of Hanover

[graphic]

the Synod of Virginia, and left an impress that a century of years has not done away. Some account of his life cannot be unacceptable.

Born near Carlyle, England, the son of a Quaker a physician of eminence and wealth, Robinson came to the years of maturity in expectation of an inheritance from his father and an aunt in London. On a visit to this aunt, he became entangled in the dissipation of the great metropolis, and contracted debts which his aunt refused to cancel, and which he had not the hardihood to present to his father. Resolved on emigrating to the colonies, in America, to improve his condition, he obtained from his aunt her reluctant consent, and a small sum of money to pay his passage. Taking his abode in New Jersey, he commenced teaching school as an honourable means of support and regaining his character. Thus far his career had been that of many other emigrants, who had hoped for that competence in America, which the condition of their birth, or their misguided actions had rendered hopeless in the land of their fathers. But here the similarity in a great measure ends. Though disgraced by his youthful irregularities, he was not degraded; ardent in his feelings and generous in his sentiments, he was not reckless; necessarily restrained from higher indulgences, he did not, like multitudes, compensate himself in those baser gratifications within his reach; far away from the inspection or control of relatives, he did not give himself up to the habits and appetites that have carried so many emigrants to an early and unhonoured grave.

Dr. Miller, in his Life of Rodgers, gives an interesting account of his conversion, during his residence in Hopewell, now Pennington, New Jersey. Riding late one night, while the moon and stars were shining with unusual lustre, he felt the first deep impression of heavenly things. Multitudes have said with the Psalmist,“ When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars which thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him." While admiring the beauty of the heavens, Mr. Robinson said to himself—“How transcendently glorious must be the Author of all this beauty and grandeur !" With the suddenness of lightning the inquiry darted to his soul,—" but what do I know of this God?—have I ever sought his favour?-or made him my friend ?” This impression, like a voice from heaven ringing in his ears, never left him till he found God reconciled to him in Christ Jesus. What he felt strongly, his ardent feelings forbid his concealing. Longing to make known the grace of that gospel in which he believed, he devoted himself to the service of God, in the Christian ministry. Being in the bounds of New Brunswick Presbytery he put himself under its care, April 1st, 1740, and on the 27th of the following May, at Neshaminy, he was licensed to preach the gospel. On the 4th of August 1741, he was ordained at New Brunswick. The next year he declined an invitation to be successor of the Rev. William Tennent at Neshaminy, and in November was sent as supply to the people of Nottingham, Maryland.

His race as a preacher was short but glorious: his vehement desires for the salvation of men consumed his body with the flames of love, and the monuments of his usefulness excited the astonishment of even Davies, a burning spirit in an exciting age. He was sent, as Evangelist

, by the Presbytery of New Castle, in the winter of 1742–3, in consequence of the earnest solicitations of the people, to visit the Presbyterian settlements in the Valley of the Shenandoah, and on the south side of James River, in Virginia; and the numerous settlements in North Carolina, on the Haw. On entering Virginia, he was seized near Winchester by the sheriff of Orange county, which then extended to the north branch of the Potomac, and was sent on his way to Williamsburg to answer to the Governor for preaching without license. Before he had proceeded far the sheriff released him to pursue his mission. He passed the winter in Carolina, and from the exposures to which his zeal subjected him, he contracted a disease from which he never recovered. On his return he preached with great success to the Presbyterian settlements in Charlotte, Prince Edward, Campbell and Albemarle. Here he was waited upon by a deputation that persuaded him to change his contemplated route to the head of the Shenandoah Valley, and turn back to the people of Hano

He had proceeded as far as Rockfish "Gap before he turned his course.

The messengers that waited on him were instructed to hear him preach, before they invited him to visit their county, and not to give him an invitation unless they thought his doctrines agreed with their views of religious truth. Mr. Hunt says

ver.

“already”-that is, previous to Mr. Robinson's arrival—“ difference of opinion had arisen which threatened the most serious evils. Some of their number, carrying some of the peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of the gospel to a licentious extreme, began to deny, not only the merit of good works, but their necessity-not only the efficacy of means, but their expediency, so that it was made a serious question among them, whether it was right to pray, as prayer could not, as it would be impious to desire it should, alter the divine purposes.” When the delegates heard Mr. Robinson they were divided in opinion respecting his doctrines. “One,” says Mr. Hunt, "thought that he was entirely evangelical: the other thought he dwelt too much on the necessity of works, and urged too strongly the use of means; and was afraid that thereby he at least clouded the doctrines of grace, and threw a veil over the glories of divine sovereignty in the salvation of man. But it was determined they should give him a cordial invitation in the name of the congregations." He at first declined; but their cordial and earnest invitation led him to think the call was from God, and after some deliberations in secret, he made arrangements for a visit to Hanover.

On the day appointed, Mr. Robinson, after a fatigueing journey, protracted through most of the night preceding, in order to prevent a disappointment, arrived, and found a large crowd assembled. Says Mr. Hunt -“their Reading House was soon filled to overflowing. But a venerable spreading oak embowered with the surrounding shades, gave him and the people shelter.” Mr. Morris and friends proceeded immediately on Mr. Robinson's arrival to have an interview with him in private. In this they inquired of him his denomination, his doctrinal and practical views of religion, and his method of procedure. He produced his testimonials which were full and satisfactory as it regarded his ministerial standing; and gave them his creed and views of practical religion. “Being satisfied”-says Mr. Morris,—“about the soundness of his principles, and being informed that the method of his preaching was awakening, we were very eager to hear him.” In none of the few particulars that are left us, of the proceedings of Mr. Robinson, does he show himself so worthy of his office as Evangelist, as in this interview. The knowledge of human nature, of the principles of the gospel, and the practical operations of grace in the heart, producing meekness and candour, — the giving an answer about his creed to those he came to instruct, and a reason of the hope that was in him to these people that did not know what they were themselves,—these things exhibited in this interview, show him to have been a man gifted from on high to be a teacher of babes and an instructor of wise

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »