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Home arrow 50 Yrs Among The Baptists arrow History of the Ketocton Association-Chapter 6
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Written by William Fristoe   



The method pursued by the Baptist for redress of their grievances.

WE come now to give the reader, some account of our proceedings, in order to extricate, and relieve ourselves from those grievous burthens under which we have been long laboring.

Burthens they were, very sensibly felt, and truly afflicting in their nature, to be compelled to pay our proportion of an exorbitant salary to the person of the parish, whom we never went to hear, and knew full well it was to little purpose to go to hear with any prospect of being profited; to aid in building stately edifices, improperly called churches, and the furnishing such churches with vessels and furniture fit for a magnificent parade, and all this was collected by authority, and must be had if it took the last mite -the ruling power not contented here, but undertook to prescribe rules for our conscience and say in what way we should worship, or incur the penalty they thought proper to inflict.

All this considered, it was thought full time to struggle hard for liberty but as we were few in number in this association, and but few Baptists in anyone place; being scattered throughout the state, it was thought most advisable for the Baptists to form and cultivate an acquaintance with each other, that their united efforts, by way of petition, might have greater weight with the legislature of Virginia.

This made way, for what has been called, the Baptist committee. This committee was composed of persons chosen by the different associations within this state -each association having a right to send four members of her body, or fewer if she thought proper; each association having nominated their messengers, it was common for them to meet once in the year, in general committee: the place of their meeting was intended to be the centre of the state, or thereabouts, that it might be rendered convenient to every part: when met, they by letter or in some way, signified they had been chosen by the association to which they belonged, as their messengers -they then proceeded to a choice of moderator and clerk, and then considered themselves organized for business, and the discharge of their trust.

It was never intended by the churches, that this committee was to exercise a lordly power over the churches, or have anything to do with her internal government, nor infringe on the right of independence in church government; nor to enforce systems of doctrine or creeds, nor direct in discipline.

But the intent in forming a committee was to guard our privileges as a society distinct from all others, who call themselves Christians -to draw up petitions and present them to the legislature, for the removal of our burthens, and the extension of our privileges; to remonstrate against oppressive laws in order to get them repealed -and to conduct and aim in every possible way, to secure our just rights and liberties, with others of our countrymen and fellow citizens.

This mode appeared most convenient, and likely to be most successful; for when the different district associations over the whole state sent their messengers to committee, the wisdom of the whole centered in one body; information was obtained by this means whether the spirit of persecution continued to rage, or whether it was moderating; whether any leading characters had espoused our cause, and appeared inclined to advocate our liberties; whether the face of things bore a pleasing aspect, or whether we might not set down with dejection of mind, apprehensive that we should never succeed in obtaining our just rights.

By means of this committee when petitioning was thought necessary, or remonstrance, or memorial, it was done by the authority and the name of the committee, on behalf of the Baptists in general; but this was not always the case -for sometimes the substance of the petition was of great importance to great numbers of the people, and it was necessary their concurrence or disapprobation should be known, in which case a petition was drawn up by the general committee, a copy of which was bore to the different parts of the state; this gave an opportunity to the inhabitants of examining the purport of such petition, and signify their approbation by signing of it -for great numbers gave weight to a petition in the house of assembly.

The Baptists having labored under oppression for a long time, inclined them to seek redress, as soon as a favorable opportunity offered. In the year 1776, they united in a petition to the assembly of Virginia, stating the several grievances they labored under, requesting a repeal of all such laws as might occasion an odious distinction among citizens, laws securing to some exclusive privileges and emoluments, and inflicting distressing burthens, and partial, narrow, limited privileges to others; this petition the Baptists were determined to persevere in presenting to the assembly, till such times they were attended to, and they rescued from the hand of oppression, and their just liberties secured to them -and it appeared at that juncture the most favorable opportunity offered that had ever been, a time when nation was struggling for civil liberty, and casting off British tyranny, a time of aiming to support their independence, and relieving of themselves from monarchical usurpation.

It became a common saying about this time, "united we stand, divided we fall;" there was a necessity for an unanimity among all ranks, sects and denominations of people; when we had to withstand a powerful nation and expel her by force of arms, or submit to her arbitrary measures, and the state legislature become sensible that a division among the people would be fatal to this country; but the assembly being chiefly of the Episcopalian order, and being in the habit heretofore of governing with rigor, it was with great reluctance they could pass a law favorable to dissenters, and raise them upon a level with themselves. What inclined dissenters to be more anxiously engaged for their liberty was, that if time passed away and no repeal of those injurious laws, and the nation to which we belonged succeeded in supporting their independence, and our government settled down with these old prejudices in the hearts of those in power, and an establishment of religion survive our revolution, and religious tyranny raise its banners in our infant country –

It would leave us to the sore reflection, what have we been struggling for? For what have we spent so much treasure? Why was it that from sentiment we united with our fellow citizens in the cause of civil liberty? Girded on our sword or took our musket on our shoulder, endured the hardships of a tedious war? Why clash to arms? Why hear the heart-affecting shrieks of the wounded, and the awful scene of garments enrolled in blood, together with the entire loss of many of our relations, friends, acquaintances and fellow citizens -and after all this, to be exposed to religious oppression, and the deprivation of the rights of  conscience, in the discharge of the duties of religion, in which we are accountable to God alone and not to man?

The consideration of these things, stimulated and excited the Baptists in Virginia to use every effort, and adopt every measure embracing that particular crisis as the fittest time to succeed, which if past by might never offer again, and they and their posterity remain in perpetual fetters under an ecclesiastic tyranny.

The business then was to unite as an oppressed people in using our influence, and give our voice, in electing members of the state legislature; members favorable to religious liberty and the rights of conscience. Although the Baptists were not numerous, when there was anything near a division among the other inhabitants in a county, the Baptists together with their influence gave a cast to the scale, by which means many a worthy and useful member was lodged in the house of assembly, and answered a valuable purpose there.

Pursuant to their determined resolution the Baptists prepared their petition to present to the assembly, or rather instructions what we the people would have them do as our servants -for times had altered, we were addressing fellow citizens, and not a nobility. That we might the better be prepared to address the state legislature, petitions were circulated in every direction to the extremities of the state; the Presbyterians concurred with us, for they had in some respect been alike sufferers, and numbers of the Episcopalians had become sensible of the injustice with which we had been treated, and afforded their aid by signing our petition -so that when our address was presented in the house of assembly, the number of signers was found about ten thousand -and for the first time obtained a successful hearing, and by act of assembly, establishment of religion in part, was abolished so far as it respected compulsory measures to pay the parson's salary of sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco a year, and secured to every denomination the right of worshipping God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and that no person was to suffer in his person nor property on the account of his religious tenets, nor be prevented in the free exercise of them.

In this situation things continued for a number of years -the Episcopalian party appeared distressed, no provision by law to compel the people to pay for the support of religion, of course the clergy would come to want, the church would fall down, and scarce a trace of religion appear in a little time. Things being in this state, wore a disagreeable aspect; as a remedy for this disease, and the removal of this supposed consumption, a bill was brought into the house of assembly, and passed; the purport of which was to recommend to the people or inhabitants of this state, to maturely consider the necessity, expediency, and utility of a general assessment, and make up their minds and decide upon it, and signify at their next session their approbation or disapprobation, and thereby the public voice be manifest. Here note, this general assessment was for the support of religion, and should a law pass on that subject, it was intended to compel or oblige all and every individual to pay some preacher or other, only the person paying might have a choice and say to whom, but they were to pay at all events; if they had an objection to Christianity and were avowed infidels they were to pay, and should a Christian not have his choice of preacher, in the parish or district in which himself lived, he must pay, if the appropriation was for the support of free schools, etc.

Here again the Baptists considered themselves under the necessity of appearing on the public theatre and express their disapprobation to the above proposition, and use their influence to prevent its passing into a law, and that for the following reasons: -

First, it was contrary to their principles and avowed sentiments, the making provision for the support of religion by law, that the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical governments ought to be kept up without blending them together, that Christ Jesus hath given laws for the government of His kingdom and direction of His subjects, and gave instruction concerning collections for the various purposes of religion, and therefore needs not legislative interference.

Secondly, should a legislative body undertake to pass laws for the government of the church, for them to say what doctrines shall be believed, in what mode worship shall be performed, and what the sum collected shall be, what a dreadful precedent it would establish -for when such a right is claimed by a legislature, and given up by the people, by the same rule that they decide in one instance they may in every instance. Religion in this, is like the press, if government limits the press, and says this shall be printed, and that shall not, in the event it will destroy the freedom of the press -so when legislatures undertake to pass laws about religion, religion loses its form, and Christianity is reduced to a system of worldly policy.

Thirdly, it has been believed by us, that that almighty power that instituted religion, will support His own cause; that in the course of divine providence events will be overruled, and the influence of grace on the hearts of the Lord's people will incline them to afford and contribute what is necessary for the support of religion, and therefore there is no need for compulsory measures.

Fourthly, it would give an opportunity to the party that were most numerous, (and of course possessed the ruling power} to use their influence and exercise their art and cunning, and multiply signers to their own favorite party.

And last, the most deserving, the faithful preacher, who in a pointed manner reproved sin, and bore testimony against every species of vice and dissipation, would in all probability have been profited very little by such a law -while men-pleasers, the gay and fashionable, who can wink at sin and daub his hearers with untempered mortar, saying peace, peace, when there is no peace; who can layout his oratory in dealing out smooth things mingled with deception, the wicked, it is clear, would like to have it so; and it follows the irreligious and carnal part of the people would richly reward them for their flattery, and the undeserving go off with the gain.

When the assembly met next time, it was understood the proposed bill was disapproved of by a majority of the people and could not be submitted to; happy for us that this formidable imp was destroyed at the time of his formation, and never suffered to draw breath nor perform one action in this happy land of freedom.

But still there remained some vestiges of establishment; for according to the saying, neither Babel, nor Rome, was built in a day; and with truth it may be said, it is a work of time to demolish ecclesiastic establishments.

The reader is to understand that in every parish there was a tract of land purchased, and commodious buildings erected on it fit for the accommodation of a family, and all at the expense of the people within the parish; When a minister was inducted into a parish by the vestry, he was possessed with said plantation, called glebe land; now inasmuch as these glebe lands were purchased with money extorted from the people by an arbitrary law under a kingly government, it has been thought unreasonable, after a revolution has taken place, the shackles of monarchical government burst asunder, and republicanism set up, religious establishments abolished in part, and equal liberty secured to the different citizens, that this property should not return to the right owners, these original purchasers or their representatives.

And that it was a shameful partiality exercised by the government in favor of one particular sect, so incompatible with republican principles -moreover we were left to fear it would be made use of in a future day and the established church have it to say, there was a reserve of property to them in preference to all other sects, and that establishment was only in part abolished, and this cockatrice egg produce in time a fiery, flying serpent.

To remove this evil, a petition was drawn up and offered to the assembly, requesting them to pass a law for the sale of the glebe lands and appropriate the monies arising from such sale to public use as their wisdom might direct.

A memorial of this nature was continued to be offered to the assembly for several sessions; at length a law was passed, but with some reservation; though these lands were considered public property, yet inasmuch as the church of England clergy had been inducted into the different parishes and possessed with the glebe lands by a contract between them and the vestry of such parish, therefore the law reserved these glebe lands in the possession of such as had inducted under the old government, and considered the title claim vested in them during life -when the incumbent is removed, then the overseers of the poor in the county are to advertise and make sale of such vacant glebes, and the amount of sale to be appropriated to public use; and in proportion to the amount of sale, so proportionably the tax is lessened -so that in a long, roundabout and indirect way, the right owners came into the possession of what they had been deprived of for a long time.

An account of the life and death of Elder Robert Sanders.

ELDER ROBERT SANDERS, a native of Virginia, was born October 1743. During his youth he was accustomed to sport, recreations and diversions, common to youth in the neighborhood and place where he lived; the people being without the light of the gospel, and therefore free indulgence given to sensual appetites - though we never understood he was addicted to swearing and the grosser immoralities. About eighteen he married a reputable woman and formed a family; about this time God in providence directed the gospel into the neighborhood in which he lived, and was pleased to clothe it with power, so that it proved to him not the word of man, but in deed and truth the word of God, which proved the alarming of his soul. A discovery was made to him of the ruined state sin had involved him in, and the dreadful consequences that must follow, without a change of heart, and the removal of his guilt, by the peace speaking blood of Jesus Christ. When the Lord was pleased to remove his burthen of guilt, and impute to him the gospel righteousness, and afford him evidence of an interest in Christ, he conferred not with flesh and blood, but straightway in the twenty first year of his age, repaired to a Baptist minister and related his experience and was baptized; he then sued for admission into the Baptist church, and became a member, where he was singularly useful as a private member, for the following reasons: he was strictly circumspect in his walk, in keeping himself from a wicked and untoward generation, having nothing to do with its sinful customs and maxims, and by a prudent conduct manifested his abhorrence and detestation of the garment spotted by the flesh; his judgment was well formed, and his principles sound and orthodox; as he was careful of the chastity and sobriety of his life, he was likewise watchful over the lives of his fellow members, lest any root of bitterness should spring up among them and thereby many be defiled; this led to great usefulness in the church. His faithful and pointed reproofs in case of sin committed or duty neglected, compassion being mingled with faithfulness, proved the more successful; timely cautions were frequently administered by him to his brethren as a preventative to future evils; his endeavor was to keep clean the house of God, and that the vessels of the Lord should remain pure, and the wicked have no evil thing to say of them, his zeal for truth led him to exert himself whenever the doctrines of faith met with opposition, and he was ~Il equipped, and his manner well suited to stop the mouths of gainsayers; he was prudent in the pursuit of his temporal concerns, and, when duty required, he was generous, open and free, in whatever might be conducive to the interest of religion.

Such was his conduct in the church that procured the regard and esteem of Zion's citizens; by the world he was feared and respected; after a number of years of private usefulness, he was called by the church to the exercise of his public gifts, which met with their approbation; he was accordingly ordained and sent out; his custom as a preacher was to deal in plain and interesting subjects, and proved of considerable usefulness. He was not accustomed to travel far abroad, but confined his labor to a small circle, within which he proved a great good; he had not been employed but a few years in the work of the ministry before he was taken with a consumption, which continued to prey upon him until the earthly tabernacle was dissolved -he was removed by death, August nineteenth, in the year 1790; being the thirty-seventh year of his age; leaving a numerous family, brethren, friends and acquaintances, to mourn their loss. One satisfaction, although he has quit this region, the remembrance of his exemplary life, is similar to his speaking when alive.

A narrative of the life and death of Peter Cornwell.

ALTHOUGH Peter Cornwell was a private character, his history may be entertaining to the reader. The many occurrences accompanying this good man during his life, the statement here will be according to the relation given by himself. While young he became dissipated and shamefully wicked; and continued so a great part of the prime of life. But at a certain time, from what cause he was not able to say, conviction smote his breast; his actual transgressions were brought to his remembrance, and dreadful apprehensions of eternal damnation presented to his mind, as the just desert of his sin; when this presented to his mind, a resolution was taken up by him to reform his life, and act so wickedly no more; accordingly a reform took place; his outbreaking sins were quitted, wicked company forsaken, with a determination to be good, and if possible take the kingdom of Heaven; he engaged in fervent prayer; he reformed and prayed, until a persuasion prevailed with him that he was good, with which his mind was so transported, that when walking on foot he has run and leaped for joy, and concluded that others ought to layout concern about their souls; as for himself he was certain of a safe arrival in the kingdom of Heaven when he died; but here he met with a cross - his wife despised him and would ridicule and mock him, and shame him about his knees being dirty by kneeling down to pray; he aimed to disappoint his wife in that by taking down his stockings when he prayed and let his bare knees go to the ground: all this while he had no saving knowledge of Christ, nor salvation by Him, but entirely depending on his own performances for justification; neither had he as yet ever heard the gospel in its purity.

At length, providentially a sermon of Mr. George Whitfield's came to hand, wherein that author gave a relation of his own exercise, and how long he remained wedded to the law -he prayed several times a day, fasted twice in the week, partook of the Lord's Supper frequently, and performed a great many external duties, and yet a stranger to a work of grace, and knew nothing of Christ.

Upon reading of this, he discovered himself in the like situation, a stranger to grace -and that all his prayers, reformations and performances of every kind, were only as filthy rags, imperfection and sin accompanied the best of them, and therefore could not justify the soul -at which sight he was stripped of all his law righteousness, and appeared a naked sinner without anything to shelter him from the devouring wrath of God; and should he die in that state must perish everlastingly. He used to say he never had quiet in his conscience from that time until he enjoyed an application of the blood of Christ to his soul, purging his conscience from dead works, removing the burthen of guilt, and giving him to view that new and living way through the dear Son of God -wonderfully brought through the pangs of the new birth, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son before he had ever heard a gospel sermon. About this time he heard that there were a people called new-Lights living at the distance of about sixty miles from him -but although distance was far, and a rough tract of country between, his desire was so great to hear the gospel, that he repaired to the place of preaching, and for the first heard the gospel, and counted himself amply rewarded for his journey. It seems the word of the Lord was precious in those days.

Upon his second going to the same place he related his experience and was baptized; at which time he met with Elder David Thomas, and prevailed on him to come into the neighborhood where he Jived; and from that time to the present it has been a place of much preaching. When a meeting-house was erected it was near his dwelling; his manner of life, and spiritual conversation procured to him the name of St. Peter -and as he was a poor man and lived on rented land, which since has become a rich man's quarter, it is called after this good man, "Saint Hill Quarter", When he grew old it pleased God to afflict him with entire blindness, by covering his eyes with thick film; but although he had to labor under that heavy affliction of body, he appeared to enjoy much communication with God, and the lively exercise of grace in his soul. His conversation was much about the heavenly inheritance, and the blessed employment of the redeemed, he used to say in melting language it was so ordered that he could not see, but it was all right and beyond all question intended by infinite wisdom for his good. But a change would by and by take place and mortality put on immortality, and this corruptible body put on incorruption -then will these eyes behold my Redeemer for myself and not another; it was a common word with him, and spoken in full assurance, I shall have eyes at the resurrection of the just; then my sight will be clear eternally to behold the glory of God, and the Lamb, and my immortal powers be employed in the praise of Jehovah for ever and ever .

When he came to the close of life, as he had lived, in like manner he died -having an heart given him to love God, and to love the children of God. In his last words he desired his wife to remember his love to his brethren, and enjoined it on her to tell them he loved them -and then passed off the stage as though he was going a pleasant journey.

Love being the peculiar mark of the children of God, even when in health -how much more so when acting in full vigor, in the cold embraces of death. This beloved disciple departed this life, being old and full of days, leaving an ancient widow behind to make her way through this wilderness.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 November 2006 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.