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Irreverent Empire: Anglican Inattention in an Atlantic World1

  • Jacob M. Blosser


On a Sunday morning, early in the eighteenth century, Anglican minister James Blair accused male members of his Virginia congregation of attending church “on the purpose that they may feed their lustful Eyes.” Criticizing his hearers for unleashing their “Wanton Desires” through “Undecent, Lascivious Glances, and ogling Gestures,” Blair called on them to keep their “Hearts … eagerly intent upon Devotion” so as to “keep out the Wandring both of Eyes and Heart.” James Blair was not the only Virginia minister worried about the “irregular Wandring” of his parishioners' eyes and minds during weekly services.



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2 Blair, James, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon on the Mount, Contain'd in the Vth, VIth, and VIIth Chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel, Explained: And the Practice of it Recommended in divers Sermons and Discourses, 4 vols. (London: Printed for J. Brotherton and J. Oswald, 1740), II:243. Although almost all of Blair's Virginia sermons were undated, they date from 1685 (when he began his ministry in the colony) to 1722 (when his sermons were first published in collected form).

3 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, IV:317, I:443; Charles Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a45), Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.

4 [Allestree, Richard], The Practice of Christian Graces. Or The Whole Duty of Man Laid Down in a Plaine and Familiar Way for the Use of All, but Especially the Meanest Reader (London: Printed by D. Maxwell for T. Garthwait, 1658), 43.

5 [Allestree], The Whole Duty of Man, 44. First published in 1658, Allestree's Whole Duty of Man was continually in print throughout the eighteenth century. Its popularity was so great that it was advertised in the Virginia Gazette, achieved a rare Williamsburg imprint in 1746, and was regularly sold in the colony. Richard Beale Davis has argued that, in Virginia households, The Whole Duty of Man was second in popularity only to the Bible. Writing a generation before Davis, George K. Smart argued that Allestree's work was “amazingly popular.” See Davis, Richard Beale, A Colonial Southern Bookshelf: Reading in the Eighteenth Century (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979), 68; Whiting, M., “Religious Literature in Virginia, 1685–1786: A Preface to a Study in the History of Ideas” (M.A. thesis, Emory University, 1975), 137139; Smart, George K., “Private Libraries in Colonial Virginia,” American Literature 10:1 (March 1938): 4445. See also Lockridge, Kenneth A., The Diary and Life of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674–1744 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 2021; Wright, Louis B., “Pious Reading in Colonial Virginia,” The Journal of Southern History 6:3 (August 1940): 384; Wright, Louis B., “The Purposeful Reading of Our Colonial Ancestors,” ELH: A Journal of English Literary History 4:2 (June 1937): 101102; Rivers, Isabel, “Dissenting and Methodist Books of Practical Divinity,” in Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Rivers, Isabel (New York: Leicester University Press and St. Martin's, 1982), 168, n. 128; Garrigus, Carl E. Jr., “The Reading Habits of Maryland's Planter Gentry, 1718–1747,” Maryland Historical Magazine 92:1 (Spring 1997): 41.

6 [Allestree], The Whole Duty of Man, 52, 44.

7 On colonial pulpits, see Upton, Dell, Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987), 133138.

8 The only scholarly examination of Virginia's Anglican sermons is Bond, Edward L., ed., Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2004). Bond's purpose in this edited collection is to articulate the penitent piety he equates with Virginia Anglicanism. Because his focus is on belief systems and not behavioral patterns, he does not examine inattention as a form of religious response.

9 For a partial discussion of the sermonic corpus, see Davis, Richard Beale, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, 1583–1763, 3 vols. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1978), II:727743.

10 James Blair was born and educated in Scotland; he immigrated to Virginia in 1685 and became the colony's commissary, or representative of the bishop of London, in 1689. Throughout a colonial career that spanned nearly six decades, Blair was a parish priest, church administrator, founder and first president of the College of William and Mary, member of Virginia's royal council, and acting governor of the colony. Blair's extant sermons were the only Virginia sermons to be published in London (two editions, 1722 and 1740). William Douglass was an Anglican priest in Goochland County, Virginia, from 1750 until 1777. He retired during the American Revolution rather than forswear his ordination vow of allegiance to the monarchy. His extant manuscript sermon collection suggests that he continued to deliver sermons, especially funeral sermons, in several Virginia counties through 1787. Charles Clay was parish priest in St. Anne's Church in Albemarle County from 1769 until 1785 and in Manchester Parish in Chesterfield County from 1785 to 1786. On Blair, see Bond, Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia, 171–175; Tate, Thad W., “James Blair,” in Dictionary of Virginia Biography, ed. Kneebone, John T., Looney, J. Jefferson, Tarter, Brent, and Treadway, Sandra Gioia (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998), 1:539543; Rouse, Parke Jr., James Blair of Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971); Bond, Edward L., “Prologue to a Biography of James Blair,” Anglican and Episcopal History 76:1 (March 2007): 1228; Bond, Edward L. and Gunderson, Joan R., “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 115:2 (2007): 183184. On Douglass, see Gundersen, Joan R., The Anglican Ministry in Virginia: A Study in Social Class (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989), 153, 169, 250. On Clay, see Bond, Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia, 559 n. 219; Gunderson, The Anglican Ministry in Uirginia, 245–246.

11 Theologically, the sermons represent a continuum of views from mild latitudinarianism to evangelicalism. Geographically, they were preached in both the Tidewater (Blair) and Piedmont (Douglass and Clay) regions.

12 It should be noted that Virginia sermons were frequently reused by ministers. Indeed, Charles Clay and William Douglass's surviving manuscript collections frequently note the dates on which they preached and re-preached their sermons. Because both Douglass and Clay were preaching to numerous churches and chapels within their parishes, they regularly repeated sermons. Not all of Douglass's and Clay's manuscript sermons show dates or frequency of delivery. None of Blair's published sermons show frequency of delivery, and only one is dated.

13 As late as 1978, Richard Beale Davis lamented the general historiographic neglect of southern homiletics. Speaking of sermons, Davis wrote, “Few general, intellectual or religious historians seem aware that such works exist”: Davis, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, II:704. More than twenty years later, Edward Bond became the first scholar to actively utilize Anglican sermons. Importantly, Bond has used sermons to elucidate the personal religious piety of Virginians—something he equates with repentance—and not to describe church behavioral patterns. It should be noted that not all scholars are in agreement about the use of sermons. As recently as 2001, John K. Nelson noted, “Sermons, to be sure, are essential sources for ascertaining the distinctive intellectual and spiritual climate of the eighteenth century, but to rely on them solely, or largely, for characterizing the operative religious faith and practice would, when all is said and done, be profoundly misleading”: Nelson, John K., A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690–1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 210.

14 The declensional model of Anglican historiography is best expressed in Meade, William K., Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1857); Gewehr, Wesley M., The Great Awakening in Virginia, 1740–1790 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1930); Bridenbaugh, Carl, Myths and Realities: Societies of the Colonial South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1952); Hofstadter, Richard, America at 1750: A Social Portrait (New York: Knopf, 1971); Morgan, Edmund, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton 1975); Isaac, Rhys, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1999); Upton, Holy Things and Profane.

15 Isaac, Transformation of Virginia, 58–65.

16 The revisionist historiography of the colonial Anglican Church generally breaks into two categories. The first is based on rehabilitating the declensional view of the church's institutional structure, including its negative perception of the colonial clergy; important works include Brydon, George McLaren, Virginia's Mother Church and the Political Conditions under Which It Grew (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1947); Detweiler, Robert, “Robert Rose, 1704–1751—Effective and Popular Minister of Colonial Virginia,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 41:2 (June 1972): 153162; Gundersen, Joan Rezner, “The Myth of the Independent Virginia Vestry,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 44 (June 1975): 133142; Gundersen, Joan R., “The Search for Good Men: Recruiting Ministers In Colonial Virginia,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 48 (December 1979): 453464; Gundersen, Joan R., “The Non-Institutional Church: The Religious Role of Women in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 51:4 (December 1982): 347358; Hockman, Dan M., “William Dawson: Master and Second President of the College of William and Mary, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 52:3 (September 1983): 199214; Gundersen, The Anglican Ministry in Virginia; Lohrenz, Otto, “An Analysis of the Life and Career of the Reverend David Currie, Lancaster County, Virginia, 1743–1791,” Anglican and Episcopal History 61:2 (June 1992): 142166; Nelson, A Blessed Company. The second historiographic category is more concerned with rehabilitating Anglican ideology; while treated by Nelson and Gundersen in their institutional studies, it has received larger treatment in Bond, Edward L., “Anglican Theology and Devotion in James Blair's Virginia 1685–1743: Private Piety in the Public Church,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 104 (Summer 1996): 313340; Bond, Edward L., “England's Soteriology of Empire and the Roots of Colonial Identity in Early Virginia,” Anglican and Episcopal History 66:4 (December 1997): 471499; Bond, Edward L., “Source of Knowledge, Source of Power: The Supernatural World of English Virginia, 1607–1624,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 108:2 (March 2000): 105137; Bond, Edward L., Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Colonial Virginia (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2000); Anne Sorrel Dent, “God and Gentry: Public and Private Religion in Tidewater Virginia, 1607–1800” (Ph.D. diss., University of Kentucky, 2001); Bond, ed., Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia; Tarter, Brent, “Reflections on the Church of England in Colonial Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 112:4 (September 2004): 338371; Bond and Gundersen, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007.”

17 Bond, Damned Souls, 245–285.

18 John Nelson has recently demonstrated that church attendance laws were regularly enforced; studying an 85-year period, he counted 3,685 instances of enforcement. He notes that enforcement rates were higher in the Tidewater than in the Piedmont or mountain regions. See Nelson, A Blessed Company, 244–249.

19 Rose, Robert, The Diary of Robert Rose: A View of Virginia by a Scottish Colonial Parson, edited and annotated by Fall, Ralph Emmett (Verona, Va.: McClure, 1977), 76, 94, 12, 57, 54. See also 75, 80, 82, 48, 106.

20 Byrd, William II, The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover 1709–1712, ed. Wright, Louis B. and Tinling, Marion (Richmond, Va.: Dietz, 1941), 6, 106, 128.

21 Bonomi, Patricia U. and Eisenstadt, Peter R., “Church Adherence in the Eighteenth-Century British American Colonies,” William and Mary Quarterly 39:2 (April 1982): 257258, 259, 281, 282, 280. Bonomi and Eisenstadt studied eleven Virginia parishes in which ministers recorded both attendance numbers and the approximate number of people living in their parish. Their ultimate findings were that 56 percent of Virginians actively attended the established church.

22 Bonomi and Eisenstadt, “Church Adherence,” 283; Meade, Old Ministers, II:78. Bonomi and Eisenstadt noted that given the extremely limited colonial authority of the bishop of London, Virginia ministers had few reasons to exaggerate their attendance figures. Additionally, the numbers' congruency with first-hand reports discussed earlier further contributes to their validity. For an excellent picture of a colonial bench perhaps reminiscent of those carried to the doors at St. Mark's Church, see Upton, Holy Things and Profane, 176.

23 Upton, Holy Things and Profane, 9–10.

24 Hatchett, Marion J., “A Sunday Service in 1778 or Thereabouts,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 45 (December 1976): 373. See also Radloff, Nancy Saultz, “Congregational Song in the Protestant Episcopal Church in Early America: Hopkinson, Eckhard, and Loud,” Anglican and Episcopal History 77:1 (March 2008): 2228. On colonial Anglican services, see Nelson, A Blessed Company, 187–199; Bond, “Anglican Theology and Devotion,” 330; Isaac, Transformation of Virginia, 63–64; Bond and Gunderson, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007,” 188. An earlier, more idealized portrait of Anglican worship can be found in Arthur Pierce Middleton, “Anglican Virginia: The Established Church in the Old Dominion, 1607–1787” (Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Research Report, 1954), 98–110. A highly entertaining and fictionally speculative account of a service can be found in Upton, Holy Things and Profane, 3–4.

25 Upton, Holy Things and Profane, 10. On the centrality of sermons to Anglican worship, see Nelson, A Blessed Company, 201; Bond and Gundersen, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007,” 188–189.

26 The most famous sermons to serve as templates for Virginia ministers were those written by Archbishop John Tillotson. This popular preacher's collected sermons were “standard fare in clergy libraries.” Tillotson's sermons have been described as “a favorite model for southern colonial preachers and favorite reading matter in their parishioners' homes”: see Gundersen, The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 163; Davis, Intellectual Life in the Colonial South, II:715.

27 For more on the Restoration evolution of Anglican homiletics, see Rivers, Isabel, Reason, Grace, and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660–1780, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Davies, Horton, Worship and Theology in England From Andrewes to Baxter and Fox, 1603–1690 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975); Sisson, C. H., The English Sermon Volume II: 1650–1750; An Anthology (Cheadle: Carcanet, 1976); Sykes, Norman, From Sheldon to Secker: Aspects of English Church History, 1660–1768 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959); Spellman, W. M., The Latitudinarians and the Church of England (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993); Spurr, John, The Restoration Church of England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991); Cragg, G. R., From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought Within the Church of England, 1660 to 1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950); Cragg, G. R., The Church and the Age of Reason, 1648–1789 (New York: Athenaeum, 1961); Cragg, G. R., Reason and Authority in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964); Curtis, L. P., Anglican Moods of the Eighteenth Century (Hamden: Archon, 1966); McAdoo, H. R., The Spirit of Anglicanism: A Survey of Anglican Theological Method in the Seventeenth Century (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1965).

28 Burnet, Gilbert, A Discourse of the Pastoral Care (London: Printed by R. R. for Ric. Chiswell, 1692), 217.

29 Wilkins, John, Ecclesiastes: Or A Discourse concerning the Gift of Preaching As it falls under the Rules of Art (London: Printed by T. R. and E. M. for Samuel Gellibrand, 1653), 2. Wilkins's work was first published in 1646 and retained its popularity among ministers for more than a century. For a publishing history of this influential preaching manual, see Rivers, Reason, Grace, and Sentiment, I:38–39.

30 [Glanvill, Joseph], A Seasonable Defence of Preaching: And the Plain Way of It (London: Printed for M. Clark and H. Brome, 1678), 10.

31 Two Letters to a Friend: Containing Certain Considerations Relating to the Pulpit (London: Printed for Tho. Bassett, 1692), 4.

32 [Dodsley, Robert], The Art of Preaching In Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry (Philadelphia: B. Franklin, 1739), 15. Attributed to Robert Dodsley, this often satirical pamphlet praised the great preachers of the church. It was printed in London in 1735, 1738, 1746, and 1762; Benjamin Franklin reprinted it in Philadelphia in 1739 and 1741; it achieved a Boston imprint in 1747. My thanks to Michael Warner for alerting me to the American imprints.

33 Nelson, A Blessed Company, 205.

34 Bond, Damned Souls, 247.

35 For examples of sermon commentary, see Byrd, Secret Diary, 29, 94, 106, 128, 149, 165, 260, 315, 428; Byrd, William II, The London Diary (1717–1721) and Other Writings, ed. Wright, Louis B. and Tinling, Marion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 61, 64, 74, 80, 90, 96, 119, 122, 129, 132, 135, 141, 150, 153, 156, 165, 168, 173, 176, 183, 186, 188, 193, 204, 206, 218, 228, 234, 240, 255, 261, 284, 300, 303, 306, 308, 311, 314, 324, 332, 335, 346, 349, 378, 383, 393, 401, 404, 409, 424, 429, 434, 439, 449, 457, 465, 474, 479, 485, 487, 493, 508, 510, 521; Byrd, William II, Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1739–1744, ed. Woodfin, Maude H. (Richmond: Dietz, 1942), 6, 12, 22, 40, 47, 59, 63–64, 65, 69, 77, 91, 102, 142, 155, 175; Carter, Landon, The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, 1752–1778, 2 vols., ed. Greene, Jack P. (Charlottesville: Published for the Virginia Historical Society by the University Press of Virginia, 1965), II:752.

36 Fithian, Philip Vickers, Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773–1774, ed. Farish, Hunter Dickinson (Charlottesville, Va.: Dominion, 1968), 22, 23, 28, 29, 41, 88, 89, 137, 172.

37 Harrower, John, The Journal of John Harrower: An Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia, 1773–1776, ed. Riley, Edward Miles (Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1963), 89, 51, 59, 71, 82, 96, 99, 103, 132, 134, 140, 144.

38 Byrd, Secret Diary, 428, 29; Byrd, Another Secret Diary, 40, 47; Fithian, Journal, 28, 172, 88.

39 Holmes, David L., A Brief History of the Episcopal Church (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 97; Upton, Holy Things and Profane, 133–137.

40 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, I:443.

41 Ibid., II:438.

42 Ibid., III:66.

43 Ibid., IV:314. Blair's published sermons are typically undated. However, the text of this sermon notes that “this is the two hundredth Year since Luther first began the Reformation.” Martin Luther issued his Ninety-five Theses on October 31, 1517. See Blair, IV:316.

44 Ibid., IV:317.

45 William Douglass, Mss. Sermon Book, Virginia Theological Seminary Archives, Bishop Payne Library, Alexandria, Va., 79.

46 Ibid., 131.

47 Ibid., 132.

48 Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a57). On popular ballads in eighteenth-century culture, see Friedman, Albert, The Ballad Revival (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).

49 Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a18).

50 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, IV:317.

51 Ibid., I:442.

52 Ibid., III:56.

53 Ibid., III:56–57.

54 Ibid., III:57.

55 Ibid., IV:369.

56 Ibid., IV:370.

57 Ibid., IV:370.

58 Ibid., I:442.

59 Douglass, Mss. Sermon Book, 30.

60 Ibid., 175.

61 Ibid., 79.

62 Ibid., 70.

63 Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a23).

64 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a32).

65 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a48).

66 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a56).

67 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a53).

68 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a18).

69 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a33).

70 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a47).

71 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a12).

72 Douglass, Mss. Sermon Book, 225.

73 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, II:243.

74 Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a35). See also ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a57).

75 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a18).

76 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a57).

77 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a23).

78 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a20).

79 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a45).

80 Ibid. (Mss1 C5795 a51).

81 Fithian, Journal, 89.

82 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, I:xxxii, xx.

83 Burnet, A Discourse of the Pastoral Care, 223.

84 Glanvill, An Essay Concerning Preaching, 63–64, 15, 18.

85 Burnet, A Discourse of the Pastoral Care, 223.

86 Wilkins, Ecclesiastes, 130, 128.

87 The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Church of England (London: Printed by His Majesty's Printers, 1662), preface.

88 [Allestree, Richard], The Ladies Calling (Oxford: Printed at the Theater, 1673), 118.

89 Ibid., 120.

90 Fithian, Journal, 195.

91 Ibid., 29.

92 Ibid., 20. The scripture reference is Acts 24:24–27.

93 Byrd, Secret Diary, 25.

94 Byrd, London Diary, 150. On other occasions, Byrd noted sleeping “a little” or, more commonly, “went to church where I slept”: see Byrd, London Diary, 116, 138, 273, 276, 279, 292, 341, 444.

95 Ibid., 474, 477, 479.

96 Ibid., 119, 404.

97 Carter, Diary, II:807.

98 Ibid., II:809.

99 Ibid., II:924.

100 Davis, Colonial Southern Bookshelf, 114. In Virginia, Williamsburg printers William Hunter and Joseph Royle sold twenty-six copies of the Spectator and Guardian during the four years for which their sales records are extant. The books were also advertised in the Virginia Gazette a total of thirty-four times between 1751 and 1778. See Stiverson, Gregory A. and Stiverson, Cynthia Z., Books Both Useful and Entertaining: A Study of Book Purchases and Reading Habits of Virginians in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1977), 146; John E. Molnar, “Publication and Retail Book Advertisements in the Virginia Gazette, 1736–1780” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1978), 547, 767, 783–784.

101 Addison, Joseph and Steele, Richard, et al. , The Spectator, ed. Bond, Donald F., 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), II:120.

102 Addison and Steele, Spectator, III:279.

103 Ibid., III:427.

104 The Guardian 26 May 1713 (London: Printed for J. Tonson).

105 Ibid.

106 Addison and Steele, Spectator, II:600.

107 Ibid., I:86.

108 Ibid., I:227.

109 [Ward, Edward], The Libertine's Choice: Or, The Mistaken Happiness of the Fool in Fashion (London: 1704), 24. This 27-page pamphlet was reissued in a 1709 London edition printed by H. Hills.

110 Byrd, London Diary, 106. See also 109, 112.

111 Ibid., 96.

112 Ibid., 345. On Byrd, see Lockridge, The Diary and Life of William Byrd II; Marambaud, Pierre, William Byrd of Westover, 1674–1744 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1970); Berland, Kevin, Gilliam, Jan Kristen, and Lockridge, Kenneth A., eds., The Commonplace Book of William Byrd II of Westover (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2001); Lockridge, Kenneth A., On the Sources of Patriarchal Rage: The Commonplace Books of William Byrd and Thomas Jefferson and the Gendering of Power in the Eighteenth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1992).

113 Byrd, London Diary, 473.

114 Ibid., 243.

115 Ibid., 272.

116 Ibid., 273.

117 Ibid., 268.

118 Ibid., 467.

119 Describing Virginia in the preface to his sermons, Blair wrote, “It is a particular Felicity of that Country, not to be infested with the Enemies of the Christian Faith; so that we have little or no Occasion in our Sermons to enter the Lists with Atheists, Deists, Arians, or Socinians; nor are we much troubled with either Popish or Protestant Recusants; or any of the unhappy Distinctions, by which the Church of England is most unfortunately subdivided in this our Mother Country”: Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, I:xx. Rhys Isaac notes, “The first signs of the coming disturbance [that is, revivalism] in traditionally Anglican parts of Virginia appeared in Hanover County in about 1743”: Isaac, Transformation of Virginia, 148. James Blair died in 1743. See also Edward L. Bond, “Anglican Theology and Devotion,” 340; Butler, Jon, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), 101.

120 On attendance laws, see Nelson, A Blessed Company, 244–249; Bond, Damned Souls, 283.

121 Bond, Damned Souls, 283.

122 Pettegree, Andrew, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 107109. See also Trevor-Roper, Patrick, The World Through Blunted Sight: An Inquiry into the Influence of Defective Vision on Art and Character (London: Thames & Hudson, 1970).

123 On drinking in early America, see Rorabaugh, W. J., The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (Oxford: Oxford: University Press, 1979), 2557; Lender, Mark Edward and Martin, James Kirby, Drinking in America: A History (New York: Free Press, 1982), 240; Burns, Eric, The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 745. Although beyond the scope of this essay, it should be noted that some ministers also drank to excess. As Joan Gundersen notes, in at least one case the vestry accused their minister of drinking “all the communion wine on the way to services.” Gundersen is careful to show that ministerial drunkenness was certainly the exception rather than the rule in colonial Anglican churches. For more information on ministerial drinking habits, see Gundersen, The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 71, 124, 128, 130–136, 140–141. See also Isaac, Transformation of Virginia, 190.

124 Byrd, Secret Diary, 53, 56, 75, 218, 233.

125 Ibid., 12.

126 Carter, Diary, II:722, I:559; I:363.

127 Clay, Clay Family Papers (Mss1 C5795 a46). This sermon, labeled “For Christmas Day,” was delivered every year, presumably at Christmas, from 1774 through 1778 and again in 1786.

128 Ibid., (Mss1 C5795 a47). Only partially present, this sermon is undated.

129 Ibid., (Mss1 C5795 a47). The passage is recorded in both Christmas sermons with minor variances. The version recorded in (Mss1 C5795 a46) reads: “do you not Rather look upon it as a Day privileged for the Commissioned of all kinds of wickedness; & accordingly you begin the soping feast in the morning, & are enflamed with Strong Drink.”

130 Rhys Isaac refers to Jefferson's bill as “a statute—utterly without precedent in the Atlantic World—declaring the unqualified separation of church from state”: Isaac, Transformation of Virginia, 284.

131 Nelson, A Blessed Company, 4. For the popularity of devotional works see: Bond, Damned Souls, 273–275.

132 Blair, Our Saviour's Divine Sermon, III:66.

133 Ibid., III:66.

134 Burnet, A Discourse of the Pastoral Care, 222.

135 Dodsley, The Art of Preaching, 13.

136 Glanvill, An Essay Concerning Preaching, 79.

137 It should be noted that some, but certainly not all, manuscript sermons provide authorial clues that they may have been delivered in stages over the course of two or more Sundays. Moreover, Philip Vickers Fithian claimed that sermons in his parish were “seldom under & never over twenty minutes.” Still, the length of surviving sermons (in the case of Charles Clay running to thirty or more manuscript pages; in the case of Blair running fifteen or more printed pages) suggests that sermons were much longer than twenty minutes. Fithian did comment on one occasion that “Parson Smith gave the usual Prayers for the Day and a long Sermon very suitable & well chosen”: see Fithian, Journal, 167, 88, 41, 29.

138 There is evidence that some parishioners stayed away from church during warm or cold weather. On Sundays, such as January 30, 1774, when “the trees hang Bending with Ice, & all the ways are all glassy & slippery,” or February 13, 1774, when it was “very blustry with wind & Snow,” Philip Vickers Fithian wrote that “None think of going to Church.” When Fithian did go to church on a winter Sunday, his parson determined that “it was too Cold a Day to give us a Sermon.” In a similar instance on a December Sunday in 1747, faced with “Extreme Cold” and “knowing few people [would] report to church,” Rev. Robert Rose “stayed home all day.” A week later, he set out for church but while en route he received news that “nobody was there.” At a service two weeks later, again in the midst of winter, “there were a few Men but not one Woman.” Although Landon Carter was known to attend church in chilly weather, in March 1777 he noted, “I am afraid it will be too cold for me to go to Church.” Alternatively, in July 1709, William Byrd wrote, “It was so very hot that I omitted going to church”: see Fithian, Journal 61, 65, 67; Rose, Diary, 23; Carter, Diary, II:1087; see also II:400, II:616; Byrd, Secret Diary, 63.

139 Virginians' reluctance to participate in Holy Communion is well documented. See Nelson, A Blessed Company, 196–199. Joan Gundersen provides another view of communicant participation in The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 185.

140 Fithian, Journal, 29, 167, 29.

141 Landon Carter, Diary, II:1074.

142 Hall, David D., Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 15, 16. “Theirs was thus a faith that settled at a lower pitch, the pitch of “horse-shed” Christians … Content to read about the martyrs without being such themselves, such ordinary Christians went to Church and between services talked animatedly of ‘their Farms, their Crops of Corn, their Horses, their Cows: or what's the Price of this or that Commodity’ ”: Hall, Worlds of Wonder, 138.

1 The author thanks Jessica Kross, Edward L. Bond, Robert W. Prichard, Valentine J. Belfiglio, Michael Chapman, Aaron Haberman, this journal's anonymous reviewers, and Kathy Blosser. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the June 2007 conference “Legacies and Promise: 400 Years of Anglican and Episcopal History” and at the Biennial Boston College Conference on the History of Religion in March 2008.

Jacob M. Blosser is an assistant professor of history at Texas Woman's University.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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