Virginia's Religious Founding

Bill Federer

Ten years before William Shakespeare died, English settlers landed in the Colony of Virginia, named for the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth I.

Virginia's First Charter stated, April 10, 1606:

"Greatly commending ... their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty,

in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God."

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Autobiography, 1821:

"The first settlers of Virginia were Englishmen, loyal subjects to their King and Church,

and the grant to Sir Walter Raleigh contained an express proviso that their laws 'should not be against the true Christian faith, now professed in the Church of England.'"

On APRIL 26, 1607, English settlers landed at the site of Cape Henry, named for Prince Henry of Wales.

Their first act was to erect a wooden cross and commence a prayer meeting.

They ascended the James River, named for King James I, and settled Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.

The Second Charter of Virginia, May 23, 1609, stated:

"The principal Effect which we can expect or desire of this Action is the Conversion and reduction of the people in those parts unto the true worship of God and the Christian Religion ...

It shall be necessary for all such our loving Subjects ... to live together, in the Fear and true Worship of Almighty God, Christian Peace, and civil Quietness, with each other."

The Third Charter of Virginia, March 12, 1611, stated:

Our loving Subjects ... for the Propagation of Christian Religion, and Reclaiming of People barbarous, to Civility and Humanity, We have ... granted unto them ... the first Colony in Virginia."

In 1622, an Indian convert to Christianity named Chanco, saved the Jamestown Colony by warning Richard Pace.

The account to the London Company, stated:

"This Slaughter was a deep and grievous wound to the yet weak and infant colony; but it would have been much more general, and almost universal, if God had not put it into the Heart of a converted Indian, to make a discovery.

This convert (whose name was Chanco) lived with one Richard Pace, who treated him, as his own son.

The night before the massacre, another Indian, his brother, lay with him; and telling him the King's (Chief's) command, and that the execution would be performed the next day, he urged him to rise and kill Pace, as he intended to do by Perry, his Friend.

As soon as his brother was gone, the Christian Indian rose, and went and revealed the whole matter to Pace; who immediately gave notice thereof to Captain William Powel, and having secured his own house, rowed off before day to James-Town, and informed the Governor of it."

A plaque erected at Jamestown reads:

"In memory of Chanco, the Indian who lived with Richard Pace, at Pace's Paines in this county, and who on the night of March 22, 1622, informed Pace of Opechancanough's plot and thus saved the Jamestown Colony."

The Church of England was established as the official denomination in Virginia from 1606 till 1786.

Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary defined "establishment" of religion as:

"The episcopal form of religion, so called in England."

The Second Charter of Virginia, 1609, stated:

"None be permitted to pass in any voyage … into the said country, but such as first shall have taken the Oath of Supremacy."

England's Oath of Supremacy, 1535, stated:

"I declare … that the King’s Highness is the ONLY Supreme Governor of this Realm … in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical things."

On March 5, 1624, Virginia's legislature passed the ordinance:

"Whosoever shall absent himself from Divine service any Sunday without an allowable excuse shall forfeit a pound of tobacco."

In 1699, the Virginia Assembly adopted the statutes of monarchs William and Mary allowing for limited toleration of some Protestant dissenters.

James Madison wrote to Robert Walsh, March 2, 1819:

"The English Church was originally the established religion ...

Of other sects there were but few adherents, except the Presbyterians who predominated on the west side of the Blue Mountains ..."

Madison continued:

"A little time previous to the Revolutionary struggle, the Baptists sprang up, and made very rapid progress ...

At present the population is divided, with small exceptions, among the Protestant Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Baptists and the Methodists."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Lafayette Black wrote in Engel v. Vitale, 1962:

"As late as the time of the Revolutionary War, there were established Churches in at least eight of the thirteen former colonies ...

The successful Revolution against English political domination was shortly followed by intense opposition ... in Virginia where the minority religious groups such as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers and Baptists had gained such strength ..."

Justice Black continued:

"In 1785-1786, those opposed to the established Church ... obtained the enactment of the famous 'Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty' by which all religious groups were placed on an equal footing."

The 'Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty', drafted by Jefferson, prevented the government from infringing on the rights of conscience, January 16, 1786:

"Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint;

that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments ... are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion,

who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone ..."

Jefferson continued:

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical ...

that ... laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust ... unless he ... renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges ... to which ... he has a natural right ...

that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction;

that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion ... is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others ...

that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself ..."

Jefferson concluded:

"that no man shall be ... molested ... on account of his religious opinions or belief;

but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion."

Jefferson's view, that no man should be molested "on account of his religious opinions" would have pitted him against LGBTQ and hate crime laws, as they discriminate against individuals holding Biblical views of marriage and sexuality.

Another dilemma, is that sharia Islam is not just a religion, but also a political and military system, with an agenda to establish an intolerant system prohibiting freedom of religion or conscience.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, Article 16, ratified June 12, 1776, stated:

"That Religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;

and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience,

and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other."

During the colonial times, only a small number of Catholics settled in the Anglican Colony of Virginia.

Virginia's 1609 Charter decreed:

"We should be loath that any Person should be permitted to pass that we suspected to affect the Superstitions of the Church of Rome."

After the Revolution, the first Catholic Church in Virginia was erected in 1795, St. Mary Church in Alexandria.

The first permanent Jewish synagogue in Virginia was built in Richmond in 1820.

Named 'Kehilah ha Kadosh Beth Shalome', it is considered one of oldest colonial Jewish congregations in America, along with others in:

  • New York,

  • Philadelphia,

  • Newport,

  • Savannah, and

  • Charleston.

Virginian George Washington wrote November 27, 1783:

"Acknowledge ... our infinite obligations to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for rescuing our country from the brink of destruction;

I cannot fail ... to ascribe all the honor of our late success to the same glorious Being ...

The establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive which induced me to the Field ...

It now remains to be my earnest ... prayer, that the Citizens of the United States would make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings, placed before them."