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Wellspring of LibertyHow Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty$

John A. Ragosta

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195388060

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388060.001.0001

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(p.185) Appendix B: Denominational Support for Mobilization in Virginia during the American Revolution

(p.185) Appendix B: Denominational Support for Mobilization in Virginia during the American Revolution

Wellspring of Liberty
Oxford University Press

Calculating the support given to mobilization by various denominations in Virginia during the American Revolution cannot be done directly and, even indirectly, poses a host of problems. Data for enlistment by denomination are not available. Moreover, even if such data did exist—either on a statewide basis or for several counties—at best rough estimates of the relative strength of denominations in revolutionary Virginia, generally or by county, are available. As noted in chapter 1, calculation of a dissenting denomination's strength in the eighteenth century is greatly complicated by the occasional conformity of many and by the fact that normally several times the number of people participated in dissenters' worship services than became “members” of the dissenting churches. Without information on the specific strength of each denomination in a given county, a detailed comparison of relative mobilization by denomination could not be made, even if enlistment by denomination was available.

Some effort to identify denominational support for mobilization can be made by identifying the relative strength of denominations by county. Beyond the general geographic distribution discussed in chapter 1, this can be done by locating dissenting churches by county.1 Here, too, several problems arise. First, many of the early meeting houses for both Baptist and Presbyterian dissenters were simply homes or farm buildings that were used for preaching or prayer meetings on an occasional basis. Furthermore, many churches established by dissenting congregations had several associated meeting houses, even though each meeting house could not necessarily be considered a separate congregation or church. A similar pattern existed in most Anglican parishes, with each parish in 1770, on average, associated with 2.7 churches or chapels.2 Nor can one easily identify Anglican strength by locating Anglican churches (data for which are more readily available) because the law required the presence of at least one Anglican church in each parish whether or not there were substantial numbers of Anglicans utilizing the facility.

(p.186) To address these concerns, published lists of Baptist and Presbyterian churches in Virginia in 1776 from Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia and Robert P. Davis, James H. Smylie, Dean K. Thompson, Ernest Trice Thompson, and William Newton Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755–1980) were used. Little's list was supplemented and revised using the underlying sources, Robert Semple's History of the Baptists and Morgan Edwards's journal, Materials towards a History, as Little failed to include a number of churches from Semple and included several churches twice using the different names for a single congregation from Semple and Edwards. The final, corrected list of Baptist churches follows at the end of this appendix. The list from Virginia Presbyterians appears to be relatively thorough. The resulting list of early Virginia dissenting churches yields eighty-nine Virginia Baptist churches and ninety-four Presbyterian churches from 1776.3 Although a few other churches might also claim roots in the period, these may represent affiliated meeting houses. Certainly on an aggregate basis, these lists provide a reasonable means to identify the presence of dissenting congregations and relative strength of dissenting denominations by county.

For these purposes, the 1776 dissenting churches had to be classified by county. Whereas Semple and Edwards generally provide county data, for many of the Presbyterian churches listed in Virginia Presbyterians, the county in which a church was formed and in which it was located in 1776 had to be identified, a task complicated by the creation of new counties throughout the period. Problems also arose for several of the Baptist churches that were identified by Semple as in a county that was formed after the creation of the church and after 1776, for example, Fluvanna (formed in 1777) for the Fork Church founded in 1774.

Once the counties of origin were identified, the number of Baptist and Presbyterian churches in a county in 1776 was used to classify a county as “Baptist” (B) or “Presbyterian” (P) presence if there was one such dissenting church present, or “Strong Baptist” (BB) or “Strong Presbyterian” (PP) presence if there were two or more such churches in the county. If there were no dissenting churches in a county, it was classified as “Other”—for our purposes, dominated by Anglicans. Of course, because some counties might have both Baptist and Presbyterian churches, a county could be designated as both Baptist and Strong Presbyterian, for instance, resulting in data from that county being considered in both categories. This imperfect system allows at least some consideration of relative dissenter strength by county.

As most of the available data by county on recruiting and requisitions were from the 1780 to 1781 period, counties that were formed between 1776 and 1781 were categorized according to the classification of the county or counties from which they were formed using the 1776 church lists.4 No effort was made to update the lists of churches to 1780 because all denominations faced very significant disruption during the war, and identifying churches that had been formed would be difficult and identifying those that were no longer meeting would be even more so. Certainly the information from 1776 provides an accurate general representation of the denominational strength in the counties throughout the war.5

(p.187) The strength of dissenter presence in the various Virginia counties was then compared to four sets of mobilization data available by county. First, Thomas Jefferson's papers include a table showing militia “rais[e]d” in 1776 by county—presumably to fill newly formed Continental and Virginia regiments—along with militia strength by county. Second, in October 1780, the Virginia General Assembly asked each county to provide a specific number of men in response to a requisition from the Continental Congress. Third, in 1781, Richmond called for a specified number of “six-month men” from each county to help repel Cornwallis's invasion. Finally, with hyperinflation and administrative problems making taxation and procurement largely ineffective in the final years of active warfare, Richmond requisitioned specific allotments of clothing for soldiers from each county under the 1780 Provision Law. In each of the latter three cases, records were submitted to Richmond permitting a comparison of a county's actual response to the number of men or amount of supplies that were requisitioned. Thus, a percentage of mobilization response could be calculated for each county (in the latter years, averaging the response for the 1780 and 1781 troop mobilizations and the 1781 requisition) and the results tabulated by category (Baptist, Strong Baptist, Presbyterian, Strong Presbyterian, and other (Anglican) counties).6

With respect to the information in Jefferson's papers concerning militia “rais[e]d 1776” by county, although his table is not perfectly clear, and neither the context nor other documents seem to explain the table, it would appear that in his capacity as a member of the General Assembly's committee on the army, he was recording each county's response to the mobilization of Virginia militia into the Continental Army or the Virginia regiments in 1776.7 From these data, the percentage of each county's militia that enlisted for Continental service could be calculated and then aggregated by county category (Baptist, Strong Baptist, etc.). The results are shown in table 4.1. In performing this analysis, several adjustments were necessary. First, this analysis uses Jefferson's 1776 figures for militia raised but the 1777 figures for total militia by county when available because Jefferson viewed these as more accurate than the 1776 data. In the limited instances when militia strength from 1777 was not available, 1776 data were utilized. Second, in several instances the reported data in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson listed a bracket ([ ]) where obviously a “0” was intended. Thus, “90[ ]” for the Albemarle militia was read as “900.” These adjustments were made based on the copy of the document available from the Library of Congress American Memories site.8 To make sense of the data, blanks left by Jefferson were treated as zeroes. Third, to calculate militia size in 1777 to compare to militia raised in 1776, Henry and Pittsylvania Counties were added together as were Albemarle and Fluvanna. Ohio, Monongalia, and Yohogania (formed from Augusta West) were excluded from this analysis because of the difficulty of creating a fair comparison between the available 1776 and 1777 data.

With respect to the three data sets from 1780 and 1781, several factors complicated calculations and analysis of the results. First and foremost, a very high percentage of the counties for each of the requisitions did not respond to Richmond's call for returns (noted as “no return” or “?” on the returns). Although it is likely that a “no return” often equated to the county's failure to supply any of the requisitioned troops or supplies, given the state of records and potential difficulties in communicating with Richmond in (p.188) 1780 and 1781, this could not simply be assumed. As a result, when no return was available from a county, it was simply ignored for calculating the response to that requisition.9

Second, given the high “no return” rate in some categories, the “averages” presented in table 4.2 are not simply the average of the three individual data sets reported in that table (1780 troops, 1781 troops, and 1781 materials). Simply averaging these columns would weight data sets with particularly high “no return” rates equally with other data sets. For example, the 1781 troop requisition for Presbyterian counties, with an almost 88 percent no response rate, would be weighted equally with the 1780 troop requisition in Presbyterian counties, with a less than 7 percent no response rate. To resolve this problem, the final figures presented are the average of each of the county averages; thus, each county, if it had any data at all, was treated equally (whether it had data for one, two, or all three of the reports on mobilization). Another means to address this problem would be simply to average every data point available (each county, each requisition). It was found, however, that this did not result in a significant variation from relying on the compilation of the county averages and, because this analysis is based on county results, that method was used. Still, the high rate of no returns, particularly among Anglican counties, gave individual data points more significance than they probably deserved. Given the limitations on the data, this appears unavoidable. The data do, however, provide at least a tentative analytical framework.

Any conclusions concerning the impact of dissenters on mobilization have to be tentative for several reasons. One could argue, for example, that response to requisitions in 1780 and 1781 from counties would, of necessity, be limited from those counties that responded most vigorously in the early years of the war. Alternatively, one might suggest that a growing latent Toryism in a war-weary Virginia makes analysis from 1780 and 1781 most apt. For example, H. J. Eckenrode, archivist at the Library of Virginia, noted that “towards the close of the Revolution the State contained an increasing number of passive Tories.”10 One must also consider other factors that could influence support for mobilization, for example, the need of a county to respond to possible Indian attacks or the unwillingness of the men to enlist when their homes and families might be directly threatened by British troops. In that regard, the relative rate of support for mobilization tends to be strongest in those areas away from the frontier and British troops, that is, the northern Piedmont and Northern Neck (see figure B.1.)

Nonetheless, the data that are available support the notion that dissenting counties mobilized at least as effectively as nondissenting counties and, as the war progressed, more so. The relative response rates from county groups early in the war are much more comparable when compared to the average rate of response, with the relative differences being much smaller than in the 1780–81 period. For the 1780–81 data, the strongest support came from those counties designated Strong Baptist and Presbyterian, and the differences were substantial. Interestingly, these counties had the highest available response rate and, if no return often corresponded to an inadequate response, the differences might have been even greater than suggested by table 4.2. The lowest mobilization rate, although only marginally so, was from Other, that is, Anglican, counties.


Appendix B: Denominational Support for Mobilization in Virginia during the American Revolution

figure b.1. Requisitions 1780–1781, by county. Response to Virginia's wartime requisitions were strongest in regions where dissenters had a strong presence and where British incursions had not directly disturbed the area.

On its face, this is an interesting conclusion given the prewar history of discrimination and persecution that might have justified grudging or limited support for the war by dissenters, not to mention the loyalist tendencies of many dissenters in North Carolina. In fact, one might conclude that even proportional mobilization by dissenters, given the treatment that they received at the hands of the establishment before the war, supports the notion that they negotiated for religious freedom in return for mobilization and that they delivered the promised support.

Although there are significant difficulties with this analysis, no other analysis of these data has been located, and this is a start. Previous sectarian histories lauding the bravery and loyalty of particular individuals can be fascinating but provide little comparative analysis of the relative strength of mobilization by sect.


Baptist Churches in Virginia, 1776


Loudon 1751

Opekon (Mill Creek)

Berkeley 1752 (1743)

Smith Linville's Creek

Rockingham 1756

Smith's Creek

Shenandoah 1758

Dan River

Pittsylvania 1760


Pittsylvania 1761


Pittsylvania 1761


Fauquier 1762

Pungo (Oak Grove)

Pr. Anne 1762


Stafford 1766


Loudon 1767

Upper Spotsylvania

Spotsylvania 1767


Loudon 1768

Mountain Run

Orange 1768


Pittsylvania 1769

Carter's Run

Culpeper 1769


Spotsylvania 1769


Orange 1769


Amelia 1769

Blue Run

Orange 1769

Fall Creek

Pittsylvania 1770


Louisa 1770

Mill Creek

Pittsylvania 1770


Culpeper 1771

Potomack (Hartwood)

Stafford 1771


Bedford 1771

Amherst (Ebenezer)

Amherst 1771


Fauquier 1771


Goochland 1771

Fiery Run

Culpeper 1771


Lunenburg 1771


Powhatan 1771

Cubb Creek*

Charlotte 1771


Buckingham 1772


Henry 1772

Racoon Swamp

Sussex 1772


Mecklenburg 1772

Crooken Run

Culpeper 1772

Lower King & Queen*

King & Queen 1772

Upper Essex*

Essex 1772

Glebe Landing*

Essex 1772

Mill Creek*

Fauquier 1772


Pr. Edward 1772

Thumb Run*

Fauquier 1772

Buck Marsh*

Frederick 1772

Pig River

Franklin 1773


Albemarle 1773

Battle Run

Culpeper 1773


Caroline 1773

Malone's (Geneto)

Mecklenburg 1773


Chesterfield 1773


Dinwiddie 1773


Halifax 1773

Upper Banister

Pittsylvania 1773


Halifax 1773


Sussex 1773


Goochland 1773

James City*

James City 1773


Caroline 1773


Pr. Edward 1773

Muddy Creek

Powhatan 1774


Albemarle 1774

Mill Swamp

Isle of Wight 1774


Halifax 1774


Culpeper 1774


Caroline 1774

Upper King & Queen*

King & Queen 1774


Essex 1774


Spotsylvania 1774

N. Fork, Pamunkey*

Orange 1774

Smith's Creek*

Shenandoah 1774


Buckingham 1774


Fincastle 1774


Albemarle 1775

Reedy Creek

Lunenburg 1775

Hunting Creek

Halifax 1775


Dinwiddie 1775

Upper College*

King William 1775


King & Queen 1775

Goose Creek*

Loudon 1775

Bull Run*

Fairfax 1775


Fairfax 1775

Simpson's Creek*

Monongalia 1775


?? 1775


Halifax 1776

Ready Creek

Brunswick 1776


Hanover 1776

Charles City*

Charles City 1776

Licking Hole*

Goochland 1776

Note: Some churches were classified as a branch of other congregations (Edwards notes this in places) and, thus, not listed. Others on Little's list were deleted as duplicates or different names of same church (e.g., Lower Spotsylvania and Waller's).

Sources: Robert B. Semple, A History of the Baptists in Virginia, ed. G. W. Beale (1894, reprint, Cottonport, La.: Polyanthos, 1972), and Morgan Edwards, Materials towards a History of the Baptists in the Provinces of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, vol. III (1772) (microfilm, University of Virginia Special Collections). Little's compilation of the data from Semple and Edwards (Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia [1938, reprint, Gallatin, Tenn.: Church History Research and Archives, 1987]) leaves out approximately twenty churches from Semple (*) without explanation.

(p.191) (p.192)


(1.) Counties in present-day Kentucky, although part of Virginia until 1792, were ignored for these purposes as involving relatively few people and inadequate records. Counties in present-day West Virginia are included.

(2.) John K. Nelson, A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690–1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 29.

(3.) Three Baptist churches listed by Little—Isle of Wight, Surry, and Prince George—were ignored because these churches dated to 1714 and an early Baptist formation in the colony that generally died out by mid-century. See Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia (1938; reprint, Gallatin, Tenn.: Church History Research and Archives, 1987). These aggregate figures seem reasonable. Terman says “estimates of numbers of Baptist churches in Virginia in 1776 run from seventy-four to ninety-three.” William Jennings Terman Jr., “The American Revolution and the Baptist and Presbyterian Clergy of Virginia: A Study of Dissenter Opinion and Action” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1974), 10, citing David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America (1813; reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 651, and Harry P. Kerr, “The Character of Political Sermons Preached at the Time of the American Revolution” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1962), 202. Helen Hill, George Mason: Constitutionalist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938), 44 (ninety Baptist churches). See also Otto Lohrenz, “The Virginia Clergy and the American Revolution, 1774–1799” (Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 1970), 15 (seventy-two Baptist churches in 1774). Terman estimated sixty-six Presbyterian congregations by 1778. “American Revolution,” 35, citing Kerr, “Character of Political Sermons,” 202. The list from Robert P. Davis, James H. Smylie, Dean K. Thompson, Ernest Trice Thompson, and William Newton Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755–1980) (Richmond, Va.: Hanover Presbytery, 1982) appears more complete.

(4.) Greenbrier was formed in 1777 from parts of Botetourt (PP) and Montgomery (B/PP). It is included in this analysis as B/PP. Other newly formed counties were listed by the designation of their predecessor county(ies) without complications.

(5.) See, for example, H. J. Eckenrode, The Revolution in Virginia (1916; reprint, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964), 295. See also William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. III, Presbyterians (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1865), 398; Robert B. Semple, A History of the Baptists in Virginia, rev. and extended by G. W. Beale (1894; reprint, Cottonport, La.: Polyanthos, 1972), 63.

(6.) Julian P. Boyd, Lyman H. Butterfield, and Mina R. Bryan, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950), II:130–32 (List of Militia by Counties, 1777). Returns for each of the later requisitions can be found in Virginia General Assembly, House of Delegates, Speaker, Executive Communications, Letters and returns, 1781 November 26, Accession no. 36912, state government records collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond. The 1781 requisition of materials under the 1780 Provision Law assigned to each county a quota of shirts, overalls, stockings, hats, and shoes; the response for these categories was averaged to provide a single percentage response to material requisition by county.

(7.) Boyd, Butterfield, and Bryan, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, II:130–32.

(9.) The supposition that a “no return” would often correspond to a “zero” or weak response is supported by data that are available. As table 4.2 shows, the highest rate of mobilization occurred in those counties (Strong Baptist and Presbyterian) that had the lowest rate of no return. The alternative conclusion—that counties with high no return rates would have shown higher rates of mobilization had more responses been made—makes little sense as a county had every incentive to provide information of a high response, especially because the state continued to seek an accounting of supplies well into 1782. For example, Virginia General Assembly, House of Delegates, Speaker, Executive Communications (May 29, 1782), Library of Virginia, Richmond, call no. 36912. Failure to apply a negative inference for no returns may be particularly telling as the no return rate for Other counties, a surrogate for Anglican, was 80 percent, by far the highest no return rate among the various groups.

(10.) Eckenrode, Revolution in Virginia, 242.