Established by law and supported by taxation, the Church of England was the official religion of colonial Virginia. Church life revolved around the parish, a geographical area that supported a minister and functioned as a unit of local government. All Virginians were members of one parish or another. Governed by a select group of 12 men known as the vestry, the parish took on many important social roles, such as marking property lines, monitoring behavior, caring for the needy, and registering births, deaths and marriages. With the county court, the parish church exerted considerable influence over daily life for most Virginians and served as a vital center of the community. Over the eighteenth century, however, Presbyterians, Baptists and other dissenters challenged the Church of England’s authority and traditional role in Virginia society. In the Revolutionary period, Virginians brought forth religious liberty with landmark legislation that shaped our new nation in profound ways. This slideshow presentation will trace the story of how Virginia moved from a royal colony with few dissenters and a well-established Church of England to an independent commonwealth that declared religious freedom to be a natural right of mankind.
Robert Teagle is the Education Director & Curator at the Foundation for Historic Christ Church in Weems, Virginia, where he has worked since 2000. He earned his B.A. in History from the College of William and Mary and M.A. in American History from Virginia Tech. He lives in Gloucester County.