Where the Hanover Presbytery Was Founded

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Just north of Richmond, Virginia, in the town of Mechanicsville, a most unusual structure resides. The Historic Polegreen Church — today often the site of weddings and other events — commemorates the church organized by Samuel Davies with an open frame. The original building was destroyed in the War Between the States in 1864. The present structure marks the site of the church, along with the Samuel Morris Reading Room which led to the revival of religion in central Virginia, a story which we have outlined before here.

Historic Polegreen Church (photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

Historic Polegreen Church (photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

The historical significance of this place is well explained by markers at the site. Various signs tell the story of the birth of religious liberty here in the once-Anglican colony of Virginia, largely through the labors of Samuel Davies.

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

It was here that Hanover Presbytery was founded in 1755, the second presbytery in the American South, and the first to be connected to one of the main synods in the North.

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

Walking through the woods on a sunny day, despite the open-air nature of the structures, one can easily feel as though they were transported in time to a place where crowds assembled to hear the faithful preaching of God’s Word, or gathered simply to hear godly books read and discussed.

Samuel Morris Reading Room (photo credit: R. Andrew Myers).

Samuel Morris Reading Room (photo credit: R. Andrew Myers).

The past is not dead, as we say, and here especially the history of colonial Presbyterianism is very much alive in the midst of the central Virginia woods. If you can visit, this historical site is well worth your time. Meanwhile, take time to read the works of Samuel Davies, to better understand the ministry of the Word that once resounded from the pulpit here. The legacy of an 18th century Presbyterian revival speaks to us today in the 21st century.

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

(Photo credit: R. Andrew Myers)

The Sermon That Landed Francis Makemie in Jail

As Francis Makemie himself wrote on March 3, 1707: “This is the Sermon, for which I am now a prisoner.” He spoke of the sermon he preached in New York City on January 19, 1707 titled “A Good Conversation.” It was based on Psalm 50:23: “To him that ordereth his Conversation aright, will I shew the Salvation of God.” The texts cited on the cover page when it was published were Matthew 5:11 and Acts 5:29, which deal with persecution for the faith, and obedience to God over man. It was the preaching and publishing of this sermon without a license in Anglican New York that led to the imprisonment of the Presbyterian minister Francis Makemie. The case became a major landmark in the history of religious liberty in America.

Also of note is that this sermon is “probably the earliest Presbyterian sermon in America now extant, and was certainly the first preached in the City of New York.” It is certainly the earliest sermon currently available to read at Log College Press.

The “conversation” spoken of by Makemie, who utilized the King James Bible, is an older word for “conduct” or “manner of life.” As Makemie says,

A Conversation agreeable to First Table Commands and Second Table Commands, and to Gospel Precepts, is the only regular Conversation. How much therefore is it the concern of every Soul, to be acquainted with this Law, and to make conscience of conforming their Lives thereunto.

3. A Well-ordered Life and Conversation, consists in being adorned with the shining Grace, and gracious fruits of the Spirit of God; wherein the Gifts and Graces of the Renewing Spirit of God are legible and conspicuous, even in all parts of Conversation. This distinguishes the life of a Christian, from the Conversation of the most refined and polished Moralists in the world, and renders the Conversation of a true sincere Christian, to surpass by far the lives of Pagans.

The sermon is a lengthy treatise (originally designed for two discourses, as the author states) on how to live well for the glory of God and to make one’s calling and election sure. Far from being unorthodox, and far from being seditious, it was a testimony to lawful, submissive Christian living. Yet, without a license to preach, the sermon (especially being preached by an Irish-American) became, in the eyes of Lord Cornbury, the royal governor of New York, an intolerable symbol of resistance to the Crown.

Makemie further wrote about his experience in his “Narrative of the Imprisonment of Two Non-Conformist Ministers” (1707). In his account we learn about the time he spent in prison (two months) on the charge of preaching without a license before being released on bail, and the fact that during his trial he was able to produce the preaching license he was given previously in Barbados, after which he was acquitted and released, at great personal financial cost.

Both the sermon and the narrative are fascinating reads, and they give insight into the situation that Presbyterians in early America under British colonial rule faced. Take time to study these works, for your edification and understanding. They represent a window into a time and a heritage that America should never forget.