Jefferson Takes Initiative to Help Found a Gospel-Preaching Church

[File photo by Jerry Newcombe-of a box pew in a colonial church] Concrete indications of Jefferson’s own religious beliefs began to be clear in the early months of 1777, as he took voluntary initiatives to support a new church in his town. The legislature had created a new Anglican parish eastward in Fluvanna County, carved out of St. Anne’s Parish at the end of 1776, and this required a new vestry to be chosen for each. Jefferson, along with Wilson Cary and William Oglesby, were re-appointed to their vestry in February 1777, but all three refused to serve while a lawsuit was pending. Perhaps due to this legal mess, or perhaps simply due to a spiritual movement in the culture away from denominationalism, many of the vestry followed Jefferson’s lead to propose an entirely new independent congregation in February 1777.

Jefferson drafted a document entitled a “Subscription to Support a Clergyman in Charlottesville,” and a companion document called a “Subscription to Support a Clerk of the Congregation in Charlottesville.” Actually Jefferson drafted another document first that organized what was called the Protestant Episcopal Church, but it did not have good response, so the document cited above was then circulated for signatures and voluntary pledges of money to create a fund for a “Calvinistical Reformed Church” in the new era of non-state churches. 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. 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.

Note: Our book, “Doubting Thomas,” contains for the first time in print ever two of the sermons of the Rev. Charles Clay, who was the evangelical, Anglican-ordained minister called to serve at the Calvinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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