When Americans of today think about the history of equality, equal protection and equal civil rights, their thoughts are dominated by the history of desegregation, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the antislavery debates of the 1830s. However, long before the slavery debate, Virginians were debating different standards of equality regarding religious diversity. In eighteenth-century Virginia, there was one church rule, and in those days, the church was the law as the head of the church was the British monarch. These discussions and petitions and desires for religious freedom by rank and file Virginians had much to do with fomenting the American Revolution.
While American patriots of New England were throwing crates of tea into Boston Harbor objecting to British taxes, Virginians were standing for religious equality for all, including dissenters. With these petitions they were demanding disestablishment of the Church of England, the outlawing of the Church’s assessments, and the banishment of the Church’s ministers, who were working for the Crown.
This petition was signed by American Revolutionary War patriots of Buckingham County, Virginia on 7 December 1780. The signatories believed that “The Exercise of any of the learned professions gives their Professors an influence which improperly apply’d may prove dangerous to the State.” They therefore petitioned the government at Williamsburg to punish “professed Enemies to the State” by passing laws to “Silence all Nonjuring Preachers of every Denomination” and deprive them of their benefits, “to prohibit men who refuse to give proof of their attachment to the present Government from the Exercise of either the professions of Law or Physic, and to Levy double taxes upon all Nonjurors.”(“Nonjurors” meant those who were loyal to England.) These petitioners signed their names, knowing that their necks would be on the chopping block if England was able to squash the rebellion. This petition is available on-line at the Collection of the Library of Congress where there is much more information as to the relationship between these Virginia petitions and the quest for freedom that birthed a new nation, the United States of America.
My fifth great grandfather, DAVID STINSON, along with his brothers, were brave enough to sign this petition. I have made a transcript of this document HERE.