GLEBE CHURCH -
THE HISTORY BEHIND A PURITAN CHURCH
BUILT ON A GLEBE IN THE WILDERNESS
Submitted by Larry and Helen Todd, Co-chairs of the Glebe History Committee
December’s Glebe Gazette history article discussed the origin of Glebe Church which is located on land 3 miles west of the present church. Five hundred acres of land was patented to Percival Champion in c.1636-7 with his intention to establish a glebe farm on which would be built a parsonage followed by a church. The area he chose was truly a wilderness, remote from Jamestown, and heavily frequented by Native Americans for its hunting and fishing opportunities. This chapter of Glebe Church’s history will uncover why the church was a Puritan Church for its first hundred years; albeit a Puritan church built on a glebe, that was disestablished by the colonial government for non-conformity to Anglicanism. The history that makes Glebe Church unique among historic colonial churches will become evident and appreciated.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PURITANISM IN THE NEW COLONY
To fully understand Glebe Church’s history, it is first necessary to look back to the Virginia colony’s beginnings and first few decades. Many readers might be surprised that Puritans were among the early Jamestown settlers.
History often forgets that the Virginia Company, which was the responsible agency for managing the Jamestown Settlement from 1607 to 1624, was tolerant of including Puritans among the early emigrants (Early Puritanism…, p. 93). Since the major objective of the Virginia Company was to import as many English as possible to the new land to get the new colony established, discrimination wasn’t allowed to disturb that process at that point. Evidence of tolerance of the immigrant Puritans in the early Jamestown Settlement during the oversight of the Virginia Company is reflected in this prayer used during daily religious services in Jamestown which were among daily prayers mandated by the colonial governor…..
“Lord blesse England our sweet native countrey, save it from Popery, this land from Heathenism, & both from Athéisme.’’
In the four words, “save it from popery,” this prayer reflects the underlying reason the Puritans’ dissented against the Church of England in England and the new colony. Along with the distaste for the Roman Catholic Church and it centralized control over individuals’ lives, the Puritans loathed the monarchal control of the Church of England. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Puritans remained committed to "purify" the Church of England from its inherited "Catholic" practices.
In the most general of terms, Puritanism is the belief in the close personal relationship of man and God (Early Purtitanism…,P.75). And, associated with this concept was the fear of ritualism and ceremony as a barrier against a truly spiritual approach to the Creator (Early Purtitanism…,P.76).
In 1624, the Virginia Company's charter was revoked by King James I. And, as the Virginia Colony was transferred to royal authority as a crown colony, clearcut requirement for conformity to the Anglican Church became the law of the colony. This left the Puritans to be non-conforming and law-breaking if they gathered to worship under any other liturgical format other than the Anglican Prayerbook.
EVOLUTION OF PURITAN SETTLEMENT SOUTH OF THE JAMES RIVER
As has been previously discussed in the December article, the eastern Nansemond River region became heavily populated by Puritans who were escaping from England due to the distaste they had for a monarchy and especially one that limited religious preferences. The previous century in England was characterized by a migration of Puritans from England to Holland to escape the discomforts of being a dissenting religious group living life under a suppressive monarchy. Such migration was true for the extended Bennett family from Wiveliscombe, Somerset located 150 miles southwest of England.
Edward Bennett, a successful shipping merchant who had lived previously in Holland, was a Puritan settler who was granted a land patent on the south side of the James River in the Warrosquyoake area (now Isle of Wight). Named Bennetts Welcome, Edward plantation became the location of the first church south of the James River, a Puritan Church, of course. Edward’s success as an established English merchant made him a powerful figure in the colony, due to his, wealth and political power.
In c.1627, Edward brought his 20 year old nephew, Richard Bennett, also a Puritan who had also lived in Holland part of his life, to the colony to help with managing his plantation. Richard quickly showed great promise as a manager and leader who rose to power quickly and he soon became a large landowner in eastern Nansemond region. The Bennetts and a few other major landowners were responsible for bringing hundreds of indentured servants, many of whom were Puritan, to the Nansemond River area to assure their land was productive. Consequently the eastern Nansemond region grew quickly into a Puritan community in the 1630s and 1640s.
The Puritans fro Somerset had been known to be dissenting non-conformists in England and their dissenting nature continued in the Virginia Colony, especially the colony after King James 1 declared Virginia a crown colony in 1624. Settling in the East Nansemond wilderness remote from Jamestown’s oversight and easy reach was a natural location for them to live their lifestyle that revolved around religious freedom. The dissenting and non-conforming nature of the Virginia Puritans is what distinguishes them from Puritan settlers in New England and other colonies.
UNIQUE FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
And, naturally a church was needed East of the Nansemond River for the growing Puritan population. Enter, Pervical Champion, who gains a 500 acre land grant on what would become known as Glebe Point. Many parishes at that time in the colony had not attained a glebe for the minister’s and church’s support and almost always the establishment of a glebe farm followed the establishment of the church. Glebe Church is unique first because Percival attained the land grant to establish a glebe to be followed by a church. And then the second feature of Glebe’s uniqueness involves it beginning as a parish of Puritans who were resistant to the Anglican form of worship.
The 1642 church on Glebe Point was served by Puritan ministers, the most notable being Rev. Thomas Harrison who had previously served as chaplain for Governor Berkeley. When Rev. Harrison failed to comply with colonial requirements that services be Anglican, he was exiled to the Upper Norfolk Parish which included Glebe Point at the time. No historical evidence can be found as to why Pervical Champion and his wife disappeared from view in 1644, but one would have to wonder if they were victims of Native Americans hitting back at their presence on land and water they had frequented for thousands of years.
Governor Berkeley enforced the Act of Disestablishment in 1648 which gave cause for Puritans to go more underground with their religious worship. Loss of records has left us with little documentation regarding the Glebe Church after that year. Some Puritan settlers, including Richard Bennett, left the area for places like Maryland and Massachusetts. (
Anglican Virginia:…, P143
Now that we understand the colonial history that led to Glebe Church’s origin, the next chapter will reveal how Glebe Church transitioned from a Puritan Church to the 1738 construction of an Anglican Church under the impetus of Richard Bennett Jr, nephew of the Governor Richard Bennett. And as the pages of Glebe Church’s history unfold, its uniqueness among colonial churches becomes an even more evident.
Anglican Virginia: The Established Church of the Old Dominion 1607-1786
Arthur Pierce Middleton 1954
Early Puritanism in the Southern and Island Colonies. Babette M. Levy. Hunter College 1960
GLEBE CHURCH -
A PURITAN CHURCH BUILT ON A GLEBE IN THE WILDERNESS THAT
TRANSITIONED TO A COLONIAL ANGLICAN CHURCH 1642-1738
Submitted by Larry and Helen Todd, Co-chairs of the Glebe History Committee
This chapter of Glebe Church’s history will uncover how the church evolved from a Puritan Church, albeit located on a glebe (an Anglican tradition), that was disestablished by the colonial government to an Anglican church built through the efforts of Governor Richard Bennett’s nephew. The history that makes Glebe Church unique among historic colonial churches will become evident and appreciated. (From….https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Puritans_in_Colonial_Virginia#start_entry)
In the 1620s, Puritan leaders began to establish religious communities on the south side of the James River. Christopher Lawne, a leading Puritan who had settled in Holland for a time, emigrated to the Southside region with other dissenters in 1619; in November 1621, the Virginia Company granted land to Edward Bennett, a Puritan merchant from London, and other men "who undertook to settle 200 persons in the colony." Bennett established a large property called Bennett's Welcome near the former Indian village of Warraskoyack. His nephews, Philip and Richard Bennett, soon followed. By the end of the 1630s, the Bennetts held more than 10,000 acres in the colony. The Lawne and the Bennett families helped introduce several hundred Puritans to the southern reaches of Virginia. Another Puritan colonist, Daniel Gookin, transported nearly fifty people to the colony and, under the headright system, received a grant of 2,500 acres along the Nansemond River.
Unfortunately for Virginia's Puritan community, Governor Sir William Berkeley, who had arrived in Virginia in 1642, was not among the well-disposed. Berkeley was fiercely loyal to King Charles I, who sought to prevent in Virginia the type of religious and political unrest that had led to civil war in England. Berkeley had been ordered to oppose any religious nonconformity within Virginia. The colony's ministers were to swear an oath of allegiance to the Church of England; those who did not would be expelled. A short time after the New England ministers' arrival, according to their contemporary Edward Johnson, "the Governour and some other malignant spirits" ordered "all nonconformists" out of the colony. Before the year was out, the three men returned to New England, taking some Nansemond Puritans with them.
About a year later, on April 18, 1644, some Virginia Indians under the leadership of Opechancanough launched a devastating attack on English settlements in Virginia. Several hundred Virginians were killed, but the Puritan community was spared. (Virginia's Puritan settlers were no strangers to Indian attack, however; twenty-two years earlier, nearly half of the planters at Bennett's Welcome had been killed in an assault that also had been ordered by Opechancanough.) Some Puritans interpreted the attack as divine vengeance for the government's treatment of the New England pastors. Others reasoned that the Indians attacked because, as Winthrop recorded in his journal, they "understood that they [the English] were at war in England, and began to go to war among themselves …"
Indeed, tension between the colony's Puritan and Anglican settlers was rising. The news of the civil war raging in England had widened the divide between the two religious groups; meanwhile, the Berkeley administration, perhaps hoping to decrease political opposition within the colony, passed increasingly aggressive conformity policies. Men who had tacitly endorsed Puritan pastors early in the 1640s ceased to do so, and certain vestry leaders began to crack down on Puritan religious leadership.
This conflict played out in miniature against the backdrop of Lower Norfolk County late in the 1640s. In April 1645 Thomas Harrison, the Puritan minister of the county's Elizabeth River vestry, was charged with criminal nonconformity "for not reading the booke of Common Prayer and for not administering the sacrament of Baptisme according to the Cannons and order p[re]scribed." Harrison was well liked by the parish, and had been unanimously approved by the vestry five years earlier, but certain influential members of the parish opposed his nonconformity. In fact, most Puritan ministers rejected the Book of Common Prayer, and Parliament had even abolished it on January 3, 1645. But Berkeley continued to enforce its use in Virginia.
Harrison left Elizabeth River by 1647 and began ministering in neighboring Nansemond County, which had been without religious guidance since the New England ministers were driven out in 1643. Durand, acting as a lay preacher, began ministering to the Puritans of Lower Norfolk in Harrison's stead. In November 1647 the General Assembly passed an act reinforcing the use of the Book of Common Prayer by allowing parishioners to withhold tithes from nonconforming ministers. With this law, Berkeley's government delegated the enforcement of religious uniformity to individual parishes. On May 28, 1648, Durand was arrested at church by the county sheriff. With Durand's arrest and trial, the lines between nonconformists and Anglicans became more clearly drawn: those who supported Durand were declared "Abettors to much sedition and Mutiny." Shortly after the arrest, Berkeley became involved and banished Durand and Harrison from the colony. From…. https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org Puritans_in_Colonial_Virginia#start_entr
The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed. Puritanism played a significant role in English history, especially during The Protectorate.
The Puritans were in alliance with the growing commercial world, the parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative, and the Scottish Presbyterians in the late 1630s with whom they had much in common. Consequently, they became a major political force in England and came to power as a result of the First English Civil War (1642–1646). Almost all Puritan clergy left the Church of England after the Restoration of 1660 and the 1662 Uniformity Act. Many continued to practice their faith in nonconformist denominations, especially in Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches. The nature of the movement in England changed radically, although it retained its character for a much longer period in New England.
Puritans by definition were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England's tolerance of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and, in that sense, were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents). They also took note of radical criticisms of Zwingli in Zürich and Calvin in Geneva. In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. These separatist and independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a Presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church.
Puritanism was never a formally defined religion