PREACHING FROM A CHESTERFIELD JAIL

Released: Monday, May 21, 2018

(Material taken from This Day in Baptist History (1993), January 4 entry, pages 5-6. Article written by E. Wayne Thompson)

The colonial era in Virginia saw many Baptists and other dissenters suffer persecution for their faith. William Webber and Joseph Anthony were church planters from Virginia. The magistrates in Chesterfield County issued warrants for their arrest and “[Webber] was seized in Chesterfield County, December 7, 1770, and imprisoned in the county jail until March 7, 1771.”  In fact, the order book of the county, No. 4, page 489, January 4, 1771, records the charges as “misbehavior by itinerant preaching” and penalties totaling two-hundred pounds! Records show that “seven Baptist (Anabaptist) preachers were confined in its jail, which still stands. Some were brutally whipped and several fined.” Both men determined to hold preaching services from the window of the jail with the congregations gathered outside. “The strong bars could confine their bodies but could not confine their voices nor their souls. There were precious revival scenes and scores of conversions to Jesus Christ under those windows.”

“Baptist principles were largely advertised in Chesterfield County at the expense of the state, and ever since, these principles have molded the sentiments, controlled the consciences, and comforted the hearts of masses of people.”

Today, all religious groups enjoy freedom to worship in America. Persistence by Baptist preacher John Leland had much to do with the development of the first amendment to our Constitution and its eventual approval by enough states to see it adopted. It was a long, arduous process. This, and so much more, could be lost if we fail to properly educate each generation regarding these principles, and then raise our voices to those we elect to hold onto those rights.

Eddy Aliff, Executive Director VAIB