Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings

By Richards, Jeffrey H. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings


Richards, Jeffrey H., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Sermons and Devotional Writings * Edward L. Bond, ed. * Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004 * xviii, 569 pp. * $199.00

The editor of this volume of primary documents has two major purposes for his collection. One is to gather in convenient book form sermons and related materials that heretofore have not been published or are otherwise hard to find in American libraries. The other is to counter what Edward L. Bond identifies as the "orthodox" history of religion in Virginia, that of a repressive and corrupt Anglican hierarchy quashing a few valiant dissenters. Bond's success with each purpose and his excellent notes make this volume a significant addition to the literature on colonial Virginia and American religious history.

Bond begins with a survey history of Christian religion in Virginia from Jamestown to the Revolution, one of the best compact treatments available of the colony's religious diversity and conflicts. Three chapters gather documents under topical headings. Chapter two focuses on "Family Religion and Private Piety"; chapters seven and nine examine the topics of slavery and moral issues, respectively. The remaining chapters present the work of single individuals: the Anglican ministers Robert Paxton, James Blair, and James Maury; the Presbyterian Samuel Davies; and the Baptist John Leland. As befitting a polity where the Church of England was the established church, the book is dominated by Anglican parsons and writers. Although the editor identifies the full range of religious denominations in Virginia in his introduction, dissenters are represented only by four Davies sermons and a few selections from Leland's The Virginia Chronicle. By contrast, Maury alone is represented by ten sermons and several letters.

Bond justifies the choices variously, but most importantly by previous unavailability. In the case of Maury, the volume prints every extant sermon from manuscript sources, providing scholars with easy access to material otherwise not represented in earlier published work. Maury comes across as a pleasant, direct writer of sermons, one who, as Bond carefully notes, often based his sermons on those delivered by such Anglican luminaries as John Tillotson.

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