The power of the religious principle in moulding the civil and political institutions in Virginia has not been appreciated. The law for religious freedom, in the Statute book, cannot be duly estimated, while the history of the men, that thought and laboured and suffered for the unrestrained liberty we enjoy, remains unwritten.
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This liberty was not the offspring of mere greatness of mind, or of political 1. It was a child of principle, cradled in sufferings, and fed on tears. Afflicted beyond endurance, it fled from the old world, and suffered, and toiled in patience, and gained the victory in the new. It is the glory of Virginia that the contest for civil and religious liberty began so early in her borders, and was so soon followed by that phenomenon, entire freedom of conscience, novel to herself and strange to the old world. The object of the following sketches is to delineate some of the scenes witnessed in Virginia, and portray the characters of some of her children, and of some, who captivated by her beauty and fertility, cast in their lot, for life or for death, for glory and wealth, or poverty and suffering, and aided in the working out the system of things which has been, and is, the glory of Virginia.
These have not been given in any volume of History or Biography presented to the public; and their omission has rendered the history of Virginia enigmatical. Effects have been delineated for which no sufficient cause has been given. And readers of voluminous histories of Virginia have risen from this enjoyment, or task, with very imperfect, if not utterly erroneous views of the principles and doings of the past.
Some reference has been made in history to classes of people that, at different times, previous to , appeared, were opposed, persecuted, in part put down, in part driven away, but not annihilated; but history has not said that they finally wrought a change in the sentiments of the freeholders of Virginia, and consequently in her constitution. These sketches will attempt to set forth these men and their doings.
And if they appear to be sketches of a denomination, it is because the men whose acts have been worthy of something better than vituperation and forgetfulness were of that denomination. The materials for these sketches have been gathered in every section of the State. Records of Civil Courts and Ecclesiastical Judicatories, in manuscript, have been examined, volume after volume. Private journals, diaries, memoranda, and family genealogies have been fully consulted and freely used. Magazines of unquestioned standing, and pamphlets to be relied on, have contributed largely.
Comparatively little has been taken from any political history, in general circulation.
The events described in such history are supposed to be known; and are here introduced only to show the reader where. The writings of Captain John Smith are an exception. The sources of traditionary information have been examined. Over these the grave is rapidly closing; already the memory of what was done and said in the Revolution speaks out, at distant intervals, from here and there a solitary representative of the last century. Traditions have been compared with written documents, and nothing has been received from conjecture, or preconcieved hypothesis. The sources of information are faithfully given, in all cases, where the knowledge of the source is supposed to be of any importance.
No invidious comparisons are designed in these sketches, whose object is to rescue from oblivion the names and virtues of noble men,-" Sons of Liberty"-of that liberty which rejoices all good men. In making this rescue, facts and characters will be brought into view worthy of the study of the aged and the young, of the minister of the gospel and the statesman. The principles of liberty, in matters of religion and the State, will be seen struggling against error and misconceptions, gaining the ascendency step by step, conflict by conflict,-" the blood of the slain multiplying the martyrs,"-till at last the groans are lost in the shouts of victory.
And if in doing this, the names of men not yet recorded in their proper place in history, and the relation of events, not hitherto noticed, or slightly passed over, hold a prominent place, there can be no complaint.
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Truth is stronger and more strange than fiction. Every writer gives what he supposes, or wishes others to suppose, the most important in the past. Political writers seem to labour under a great difficulty in making record of the principles and doings of religious men,-at least of some religious men,-and also in stating the proper influence of religion, either in principle or in practice.
It has of late years become a matter of earnest inquiry,-What has the religious principle done? That strange, abused, inexplicable Carlyle has turned the current of English history for generations.
The obscure past outshines the present. The clouds that overhung the Puritans are dissolving, and long defamed names are resplendent in letters of glory. The labours of the man, who uncheered by any companions, through many years of toil and suffering, unstimulated by ap-'plause, in the colony or the mother land, laid the corner stone of a majestic spiritual building to the honour of the Lord Jesus, in the New World, are not now appreciated, because unknown. The importance of the congregations, gathered by his sufferings and solitary labours, is not felt because not understood.
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To understand these, and to appreciate the labours of such men as. Davies, Robinson, Waddel, Craig, Brown, Henry, and Todd, and the congregations gathered by them, and multiplied by the Smiths and Grahams and Hoge, and the men trained by their teaching and their example, it will be necessary to take a view of the civil and'religious condition of Virginia during the first seventy years of her colonial existence. Reference must be made to the condition of Ulster, Ireland, during the same period, and some preceding and some succeeding years, because so many Virginia families and Virginia principles claim Ireland, and through her Scotland, as their Mother Land.
The cavaliers of Virginia and the Puritans of New England agreed in thinking religion an essential part of the State; and that the will of the majority should decide in all ecclesiastical concerns. They each established their forms, and resolutely defended them. They each drove out from their borders, as far as practicable, all dissenters, and called it self-defence, the liberty of the majority. The emigrant from Ulster, contended for the liberty of the minority, and in this differed from the Cavaliers and the Puritans.
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On the subject of civil liberty, the Puritan and the Presbyterian agreed, and both for a time disagreed with the Cavalier. The union of the three wrought the American Revolution, and established the liberty of law. The part of history, not yet written, contains the developement of the principles of these people, modified by education and circumstances.
And if these sketches shall throw any light on important facts hitherto imperfectly known, they will have fulfilled the object for which they were designed. To a great extent, and generally as far as practicable, or useful, the important facts are given in the words of the original writer, or author of the tradition, that the reader may make his own construction. By this mearfs numerous footnotes are avoided, the searching out authorities for verification less necessary, and the liability to misconstruction greatly lessened. Due acknowledgment is made, or intended to be made, of the assistance rendered by friends of truth, in the chapters in which their assistance was given.
The reader will perceive that the treasury, from which these sketches have been drawn, is not exhausted. Whether another volume shall follow in succession will depend, other things being equal, much upon the reception this may meet with from an indulgent public. It is proper to state that great use has been made of Hening's Statutes at large.
The laws of Virginia that appear in the following sketches have been taken from that work. They are quoted by their number, and the year. It will be understood without continual reference, that the Extracts are from the laborious collections of W. I have also made frequent use of the labours of the Rev.jordants.org/components/reference/folktales-from-china.php
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His collections are a treasury of facts for an American Ecclesiastical historian. It is not impossible there may be valuable papers, illustrating particular facts, hereafter brought to light, which may modify or strengthen the statements made in these sketches. All things bow to the majesty of truth. THE year is an epoch in English history. The protestant succession was then secured to the crown of England. The protestant religion was established as the religion of the State; in England, under the form of prelacy, in Scotland, of presbytery.
Civil liberty made a great advance, and the anglo-saxon race ascended in the sight of all Europe, regaining what had been lost after Cromwell, and thenceforward holding the balance of power. The civil and ecclesiastical condition of Virginia, at that time, cannot fail to be interesting to those, who take pleasure in noticing the progress of the human race, in the discovery, the possession, and the defence of the rights of man.
Virginia, as she was then, and as she is now, exhibits strongly by contrast, colonial dependence on arbitrary power, and republican liberty. About that time, commenced in Virginia, a contest for religious liberty, which, after a hundred years of conflict, ended in the famous law entered on her statute book in , declaring the citizens of the commmonwealth as free in mind as in body, in religion as in politics.
Four score and two years had passed since the little fleet of three ships, whose whole capacity for burden did not exceed one hundred and sixty tons, set sail from Blackwall in England on the 19th of December, , under the command of that experienced navigator, Christopher Newport, bearing a company of adventurers to the wilderness of Virginia. Three of these enter-,prising men will be famous to all posterity, Bartholomew Gosnold, Rev.
Robert Hunt, and Captain John Smith. The names of the others have been saved from absolute oblivion by the famous Smith in his history of Virginia.
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