As noted in a previous blog, Thomas Jefferson wrote up the self-charter to help establish an evangelical church. A subscription was the new way of indicating membership in a church (and involved paying money of support), and in 1777 Jefferson wasn’t a mere bystander in this. In the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, the editors say that it was Jefferson himself who “organized” this
new congregation.38 Indeed, Jefferson’s name appears first among the voluntary subscribers, and his financial pledge is the largest amount. Under his signature followed many of St. Anne’s former members and vestrymen, including a veritable who’s who of leading families of Charlottesville. Because of its historic importance, most of the February 1777 document is
shown as follows. Keep in mind as you read this that it was Thomas Jefferson himself who wrote it:
“Subscription to Support a Clergyman in Charlottesville
“Whereas by a late act of General assembly freedom of Religious opinion and worship is restored to all, and it is left to the member of each religious society to employ such teachers as they think fit for their own spiritual comfort and instruction, and to maintain the same by their free and voluntary contributions. We the subscribers, professing the most Catholic [i.e., universal] affection for other religious sectaries who happen to differ from us in points of conscience, yet desirous of encouraging and supporting the Calvinistical Reformed Church, and of deriving to our selves, through the ministry of its teachers, the benefits of Gospel knowledge and religious improvement; and at the same time of supporting those, who, having been at considerable expense in qualifying themselves by regular education for explaining the holy scriptures, have dedicated their time and labour to the service of the said church; and moreover approving highly the political conduct of the Revd. Charles Clay, who, early rejecting the tyrant and tyranny of Britain, proved his religion genuine by its harmony with the liberties of mankind, and, conforming his public prayers to the spirit and the injured rights of his country, ever addressed the God of battles for victory to our arms, while others impiously prayed that our enemies might vanquish and overcome us: do hereby oblige ourselves our heirs executors and administrators to pay to the said Charles Clay of Albemarle his executors or administrators the several sums affixed to our respective names…; 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 (_____)39 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.” Yet some people want to label Jefferson an atheist. Hardly. Later, his theology became less orthodox. Nonetheless, the Calvinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville showed he had a vibrant faith in Christ—at least at this stage in his life.