I’m in Virginia to talk about the Missionary or Apostle to Virginia, as he was known, Samuel Davies. Samuel Davies was born on November 3, 1723. As a young man, he was educated at Blair’s Log College in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Samuel Blair’s Log College was modeled after the original Log College of Gilbert Tennent’s in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania. When Samuel Davies finished his education, he was ordained as a minister in 1747 at the age of twenty-four. The presbytery sent him to Hanover County, Virginia. George Whitfield had gone through Hanover County in 1745,so they sent along Samuel Davies to help some of those seeds that had been sown to grow.
The ten years that Samuel Davies was there, from 1747 through the end of 1757,are known as the years of the Hanover Revivals. During that time Davies started seven churches, and he pastored those seven churches. He taught not only many of the whites here in Virginia but also African Americans, some slaves, some freed. He taught Indians. He wanted to establish a Log College like the one where he had been trained, but he just wasn’t able to with all of those seven churches. So he had a college on wheels. He would carry along in his wagon books, and as he would go from church to church, he gave out books to various students, young men who showed promise in the church to be trained.
In 1753, he took a two-year hiatus from his ministry in Virginia and joined Gilbert Tennent to go to England on a fundraising tour for the College of New Jersey, which would come to be called Princeton. It was a very successful fundraising tour, and they were able to raise enough money to build Nassau Hall on the campus of Princeton. When it was built, it was the largest building in all of the American colonies—and Samuel Davies helped raise the money. After the death of Princeton’s president, Jonathan Edwards, the trustees of Princeton invited Samuel Davies to be president. He arrived sometime in the fall of 1759, he served for about eighteen months, and he died in 1761 of consumption.
As we look at Samuel Davies, we see five things that marked his life. First was his oratory. He was quite a speaker. Patrick Henry would come and hear Samuel Davies preach as often as he could because he was so impressed by his rhetorical skill—how he could hold an audience and be so persuasive with the spoken word. Second is religious liberty. This was an Anglican colony. He was a Dissenter. He was illegal here in Virginia, and he constantly had to petition for his presence and for these churches that he had planted to be established. He would argue in the capital at Williamsburg, based on the 1689 Act of Toleration, that there should be religious freedom here in the colonies. Thomas Jefferson used his arguments to later argue for religious liberty.
Third, Davies was committed to education, not only training students here as he pastored these churches but also as president of Princeton. Fourth, he was a poet. He wrote many poems. He wrote a hymn: “Who is a pardoning God like Thee, or who has grace so rich and free?” And finally, he was a preacher. He preached for the conversion and the salvation of men.