New River Notes -- "History of American Baptists - Virginia"

Lady Jane, July 7 2014

Cross Roads Baptist ChurchCross Roads Baptist Church, established in 1850 (photo by Jeff Weaver)

To the modern reader, Virginia and much of the South are generally regarded as strongholds of the Baptist sect. However, this was not always the case. When the colony was first established in the 17th century, Anglicanism was the established and dominant form of Christianity.

David Benedict's "History of American Baptists", written in 1848, recounts the process by which this state of affairs was altered.

For the first century of Virginia's existence, few if any Baptists settled in the state. When congregations were established beginning in the mid-1700s, some of them suffered harassment at the hands of the authorities, and from vigilant townsfolk who had doctrinal disagreements. Perhaps because of this, the sect first took hold in the more isolated upland regions of the state.

The rapid growth of the Baptists only began after mid-century. Part of it was from the general religious furor of the First Great Awakening. Much of it was in reaction to the decline of the Anglican church during and after the American Revolution. By Benedict's recounting, speaking of the established church, he says, "Having started the decaying edifice, every dissenter put to his shoulder to push it into irretrievable ruin. The revolutionary party found that the sacrifice must be made, and they made it."

By the 1840s, there were over 80,000 Baptists in Virginia, and the number continued to grow rapidly after Benedict's writing.

The full text of this work is hosted on New River Notes, which has extensive resources on the New River Valley of southwest Virginia and North Carolina. Many of these are primary sources and some date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

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