The Presbyterians Of The South, 1607-1861 -- By: Morton H. Smith

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 27:1 (Nov 1964)
Article: The Presbyterians Of The South, 1607-1861
Author: Morton H. Smith


The Presbyterians Of The South, 1607-1861

Morton H. Smith

Though the existence of a separate Presbyterian Church in the South can be dated only to 1861, the history of Presbyterianism in the South extends back to the first permanent settlement in Virginia in 1607. Ernest Trice Thompson in his recently published volume, Presbyterians in the South1 indicates that during the Colonial period there was no “South”, but simply three different societies in the Southern colonies: the Chesapeake society, based on tobacco; the Carolina society built on rice and indigo; and, finally, the Back Country, still in the process of formation at the time of the Revolution.

The Chesapeake society was the oldest. Though the Virginia Company’s charter prescribed that “the word and services of God be preached, planted and used according to the rites and doctrines of the Church of England”, the control of the Company was in the hands of the Puritans until the revocation of the charter in 1624. They opposed the Anglican Prayer Book, and many favored Presbyterianism. All the ministers brought to Virginia prior to 1624 were apparently Puritan in sympathy. With the assumption of royal control of the colony in 1624 an act of conformity was passed. During the 1640’s, while the Puritans in England were rising in revolt against Charles I, Governor William Berkeley, determined to hold them down in Virginia, sought to enforce conformity to the Church of England. This resulted in the departure of a number of colonists to Maryland at the invitation of Governor William Stone. They settled in Anne Arundel, Charles and Prince George counties, near the present city of Annapolis.2

During the period of the Commonwealth in England, the Puritans of Virginia were unmolested. A number of Scottish settlers came during the seventeenth Century, who settled along the Elizabeth River, near the present Norfolk. Others settled along the Rappahannock, James

and Potomac Rivers. Francis Makemie ministered in 1684 along the Elizabeth River. His successor was Josiah Mackie, who ministered in this area until his death in 1716. Though no further record is found for a century, Benjamin Porter Grigsby, a missionary touring Virginia, found a group of Presbyterians there in 1801. The First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk traces its origins back through this group to the early Puritans of Virginia.

Makemie’s main labors were on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland. He is sometimes known as the father of American Presbyterianism because of his leadership in organizing the first Presbytery in the colonie...

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