Archive | Early Virginia

When the Baptists Became Respectable

In mid-18th century Virginia, the Baptists were downright subversive.  The most subversive were the Separate Baptists, who welcomed slaves into their congregations as spiritual equals, who allowed slaves and even women to preach, and whose patterns of loud, emotional worship owed a great deal to the religious traditions of Africa.  In those early churches, most […]

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History Unearthed: the Genealogy Army

Adele Cobb Kerrigan was in her eighties in 1953, when she completed her 100-page typed manuscript on the genealogy of the Bettis family.  It is an extraordinary document, an indispensable source for Bettis  history, the record of a lifetime’s dedication to the memory of her and my ancestors. It is also crammed with errors, some […]

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What You Can Learn from Old Documents

What can you say about a group of obscure backwoodsmen who left no letters, no diaries, and hardly any wills, who were not even important enough to be included in local county histories?  How can you make their lives and their world come to life? The ancient records of county courts, registries of deeds, and […]

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When the Quakers became Baptists

The Black Creek Baptist Church was established in Southampton County, Virginia, during or shortly after the Revolution, on the same small creek where a Quaker Meeting had been established several years before.  Like all other early Baptist churches, it had both white and black members.  The church records show that the members considered complaints by […]

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Forgotten History: The Radical Baptists

Until the 1770s, when the Quakers suddenly turned against slavery, Virginia’s Anglican elites had more or less made up their minds to tolerate them.  But the Separate Baptists sowed terror in Anglican souls. The Baptists arrived in Virginia in two streams, the Regular and the Separate Baptists, beginning in the mid-1750s.  All of them shared […]

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The Southern Quakers Confront Slavery

In 1784, a traveling Quaker named Hugh Judge stayed for a night in the house of a woman who had converted to Quakerism, and whose husband was “very kind to Friends.”  In the evening, Judge and another visiting Quaker “had some friendly conversation with [the husband] concerning his holding a black man in bondage and […]

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Those Dreadful Borderers

“Carolina,” wrote Virginia Governor Thomas Culpeper in the 1680’s, “(I meane the North part of it) alwayes was and is the sinke of America, the Refuge of our Renagadoes.” The Rev. John Urmstone, minister of a local parish from 1710 to 1721, described the area as “an obscure corner of the world inhabited by the […]

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Bacon’s Rebellion and the Beginnings of the Racial Caste System

No one would have called Nathaniel Bacon a populist. He was, in fact, an ambitious young aristocrat who thought   that Virginia’s Governor Berkeley and his associates were too common for the positions they held. But in Virginia in 1676, there were plenty of discontented people with grievances for him to exploit. By 1660, two generations after Jamestown was founded,the […]

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Those Dangerous Quakers

  What could be more threatening, to an aristocratic member of a rigidly hierarchical society, than a man who refused to remove his hat for his betters? Who refused even to address his betters as “Master” or “Mistress,” and addressed everyone with the familiar “thee” instead of the respectful “you?” Quakers believed in the equal […]

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Forgotten History: The First African-Americans in Virginia

In 1648, two Virginia slaves, Philip Mongon and Domingo Mathews, were loaned by their owner to one of his creditors, for a term of four years. Unfortunately, they “were very stubborn and would not follow his business.” Eventually they refused to work at all, until their owner provided a written agreement stating that if they […]

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