I am once again on location in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Last time we were together, we were outside of Bruton Parish Church, an Anglican congregation that was founded in 1674. Williamsburg was founded in 1638. Jamestown was the original capital, but in 1699 the capital of the colony was moved here. And it held that capital until 1780 when, during the Revolutionary War, it was deemed that Richmond would be a safer place.
On June 17, 1765, a group of seventeen men got together and petitioned the court in Williamsburg. This is what they requested: “We intend to make use of a house in the city of Williamsburg situated on part of a lot belonging to Mr. George Davenport as a place for the public worship of God according to the Protestant Dissenters of the Presbyterian denomination.”
Virginia was an Anglican colony. The Anglican Church was the established church, and these seventeen Presbyterians wanted an authorized, legal Presbyterian church to be established. They actually added a PS to their petition: “As we are unable to obtain a settled minister, we intend this place at present only for occasional worship when we have opportunity to hear any legally qualified minister.”
The city of Williamsburg granted their request. They established their church. It was just a small, modest meetinghouse. As they mentioned, they were not even able to have a settled minister. I walked it off, and the property measures about twenty-two feet by thirty-six feet. In this very simple meetinghouse, these Presbyterians met.
Remember how Paul ends Romans by listing off a number of people? Well, here are seventeen names: William Smith, John Connelly, Walter Lennox, James Holdcroft, Robert Nicholson, John Orneston, James Douglas, James Atherton, William Gemmill, Edward Cummins, Thomas Skinner, Daniel Hoy, John Bell, James Smith, William Brown, John Morris, and Charles Hankins. These were carpenters and craftsmen. Some of them worked in the courthouse. These were the seventeen who started this church on June 17, 1765.
These Presbyterians came out of the Great Awakening. They were a New Side Presbyterian church. That meant that they were not only in favor of the Great Awakening, but many of these men were likely converted during the Great Awakening. Some of them might have been converted under the ministry of George Whitefield. Remember that sermon we heard Steve Lawson read?
Some of them might have been converted by Samuel Davies. Samuel Davies was a Presbyterian missionary to Virginia. His first wife died, and his second wife was Jane Holt. Her family was a prominent family here in Williamsburg. So Samuel Davies made many visits to the capital city, not only to see his in-laws, but also to petition before the Virginia legislature and before the Virginia governor for religious freedom. He no doubt bolstered these Presbyterians who were here in Williamsburg. Two of the ministers who came occasionally here to preach once they had established their meetinghouse were trained by Samuel Davies.
That’s the Presbyterian Meetinghouse in charming, quaint, Colonial Williamsburg.