AND A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST COMPANY OF THE DENOMINATION, WHO SETTLED IN IT.
VIRGINIA is famous for being the oldest State in the Union, for always containing the largest number of inhabitants, for producing many distinguished statesmen; and, for about thirty years, it has been distinguished for containing within its bounds a larger number of the Baptist denomination, than any of the other States. “The first settlers of this country were emigrants from England, of the English church, just at a point of time, when it was flushed with complete victory over the religious of all other persuasions.
Possessed asthey became, of the powers of making, administering, and executing the laws, they shewed equal intolerance in this country, with their Presbyterian brethren, who had emigrated to the northern government. “The Episcopalians retained full possession of the country about a century. Other opinions began to creep in; and the great care of the government to support their own church, having begotten an equal degree of indolence in its clergy, two thirds of the people had become dissenters at the commencement of the revolution. The laws indeed were still oppressive on them; but the spirit of the one party had subsided into moderation, and of the other, had risen to a degree of determination which commanded respect.” We cannot learn that any of the original settlers of Virginia were Baptists, nor do we find any of this denomination in the country, until more than a century after its settlement. The accounts of their origin in the State, vary in dates and some other little matters; but the following statement, I believe, is the most correct: and circumstantial which can be obtained at this late period.
In consequence of letters from Virginia, Robert Nordin and Thomas White were ordained in London, in May, 1714, and soon sailed for Virginia. But White died by the way, and Nordin arrived in Virginia, and gathered a church at a place called Burley, in the county of the Isle of Wight. There were, probably, a number of Baptists settled in this place before the arrival of Nordin, by whose request, and for the service of whom, he and White were ordained, and undertook the distant voyage; but who, or how many these were, or how long they had been there, are inquiries which we cannot answer.
Mr. Nordin continued preaching at Burley and other places, until he died in a good old age in 1725. Two years after his death, viz. in 1727, Casper Mintz and Richard Jones, both preachers, arrived from England, and settled with the church at Burley, and Jones became their pastor. Both of these ministers were living in 1756, as appears by a letter which this church sent at that time, to the Philadelphia Association.
In the year 1729, as appears by a letter sent by Rev. Paul Palmer, from North. Carolina, to Rev. John Comer, of Newport, Rhode-lsland, there was, besides the church at Burley, another in the county of Surry.
Respecting these churches, Mr. Palmer wrote as follows: “There is a comely little church in the Isle of Wight county, of about thirty or forty members, the Elder of which is one Richard Jones, a very sensible old gentleman, whom I have great love for. We see each other at every Yearly Meeting, and sometimes more often. There is another church in Surry county, where my brother Jones lives, I suppose of about thirty more.”
How long these churches continued in existence, I cannot exactly learn.
Respecting the one in the county of Surry, no information can be obtained, except what is found in Mr. Palmer’s letter. The one in the Isle of Wight, we have good reason to believe continued on the ground where it was established between forty and fifty years, when, according to Morgan Edwards’s account, it was broken up, partly by sickness, and partly by the removal of families from hence to North-Carolina, where they gained many proselytes, and in ten years became sixteen churches. They were all General Baptists; but in a few years after their settlement in North- Carolina, they began to embrace the Calvinistick sentiments, as will be seen in the history of the Baptists in that State. In 1756, the church at Burley sent the following letter to the Philadelphia Association: “The church of Jesus Christ in Isle of Wight county, holding adult baptism, etc. to the Reverend and General Assembly or Association at Philadelphia, send greeting. We the abovementioned church, confess ourselves to be under clouds of darkness, concerning the faith of Jesus Christ, not knowing whether we are on the right foundation, and the church much unsettled; wherefore, we desire alliance with you, and that you will be pleased to send us helps, to settle the church, and rectify what may be wrong; and subscribe ourselves, your loving brethren in Christ, Casper Mintz, Richard Jones, Randal Allen, Joseph Mattgum, Christopher Atkinson, Benjamin Atkinson, David Atkinson, Thomas Cafer, Samuel Jones, William Jordan, John Allen, John Powell, Joseph Atkinson. — Dec. 27, 1756.”
This is the last account I can find of this church; what was done by the Association in their case I do not find. Messrs. Miller, Vanhorn, and Gano, traveled frequently into Virginia and North-Carolina, about this time, for the purpose of regulating the disordered churches, and it is probable, that in some of their journies, they visited this one which made such an honest confession of their deplorable state.
It does not appear that this company of Baptists suffered any persecution or civil embarrassments, from the time of their settlement in Virginia to that of their dispersion. They probably obtained legal licenses for their assemblies, in conformity to the act of toleration.
As this community appears to have been transferred from Virginia to North-Carolina, the reader is referred to the history of the Baptists in that State, where a more particular account of them will be given.