For a Time, Jefferson’s Chosen Pastor Was an Evangelical

[File photo by Jerry Newcombe-interior of colonial American church] Recently, I quoted the opening portion of an agreement for the creation of a Christian church in Charlottesville that Thomas Jefferson wrote up in 1777. This provides ample evidence that he was a Christian at this stage of his life when he was in his 30s—a year after he wrote the Declaration of Independence and the same year he wrote up the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (passed in 1786). Here’s the continuation of this agreement Jefferson wrote (you can see my recent blog for the opening portion of the document): “In consideration whereof we expect that the said Charles Clay shall perform divine service and preach a sermon in the town of Charlottesville on every 4th Saturday till the end of the next session of general Assembly and after that on every 4th Sunday or oftener if a regular rotation with the other churches which shall have put themselves under his care will admit a more frequent attendance. And we further  mutually agree with each other that we will meet at Charlottesville on the 1st day of March in the present year and on (_____) in every year following so long as we continue our subscriptions and there make choice by ballot of three Wardens to collect our said subscriptions to take care of such books and vestments as shall be provided for the use of our church to call meetings of our Congregation when necessary and to transmit such other business relating to our said Congregation as we shall hereafter confide to them.”

Jefferson was the first and most generous benefactor to this up-and-coming church he called “our congregation.” The companion document at the same time, “Subscription to Support a Clerk of the Congregation in Charlottesville,” reads: We the Subscribers agree to pay on the 25th day of December in the present year 1777 and so on the 25th day of December annually in every year after till we shall notify the contrary in writing to the Wardens for our Congregation, the sums affixed to our respective names, to such person or persons as by a majority of our Congregation, to be called together by the wardens for that purpose, shall from time to time be appointed to the office of clerk for the said Congregation, to assist the reverend Charles Clay in (____) performing divine service whenever he shall attend at Charlottesville for that purpose.”

The fact that Jefferson voluntarily helped create and support a “Calvinistical Reformed” congregation that he cited as “our church” and whose pastor was Charles Clay, is one of the strongest indicators of the faith and religious preferences of Jefferson at this time in his life. (See for yourself an example of Rev. Clay’s preaching with 2 sermons reproduced in the Appendix that Jefferson helped support financially.)

It is possible the church lasted beyond 1782, but that is less clear.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *