Anglicans dominated Virginia's colonial polity; dissenters were subject to Anglican church taxes—the largest tax in colonial Virginia—and punishment for failure to attend Anglican services. Marriages could only be performed by Anglican ministers, and Anglican vestries controlled poor relief and were responsible for orphans. While the number of dissenters grew rapidly after the Great Awakening, amounting to one‐fifth to one‐third or more of Virginians by the time of the Revolution, discrimination was maintained and laws were increasingly applied selectively against dissenters. By 1768, serious persecution erupted, with over 50 dissenters jailed for preaching without a license, disturbing the peace, or similar offenses. Others were beaten or dunked in rude parody of baptism. African American congregants were particularly savagely treated, as were incarcerated ministers. Throughout this period, British officials were seen as protecting dissenters' rights.
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