From Jamestown to Jefferson sheds new light on the contexts surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom—and on the emergence of the American understanding of religious freedom—by examining its deep roots in colonial Virginia’s remarkable religious diversity. Challenging traditional assumptions about life in early Virginia, the essays in this volume show that the colony was more religious, more diverse, and more tolerant than commonly supposed. The presence of groups as disparate as Quakers, African and African American slaves, and Presbyterians, alongside the established Anglicans, generated a dynamic tension between religious diversity and attempts at hegemonic authority that was apparent from Virginia’s earliest days. The contributors, all renowned scholars of Virginia history, treat in detail the complex interactions among Virginia’s varied religious groups, both in and out of power, as well as the seismic changes unleashed by the Statute’s adoption in 1786. From Jamestown to Jefferson suggests that the daily religious practices and struggles that took place in the town halls, backwoods settlements, plantation houses, and slave quarters that dotted the colonial Virginia landscape helped create a social and political space within which a new understanding of religious freedom, represented by Jefferson’s Statute, could emerge.
Contributors:Edward L. Bond, Alabama A&M University * Richard E. Bond, Virginia Wesleyan College * Thomas E. Buckley, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University/Graduate Theological Union * Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University, School of Public Affairs * Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University * Monica Najar, Lehigh University * Paul Rasor, Virginia Wesleyan College * Brent Tarter, Library of Virginia
No document is more essential to an understanding of religious liberty in America than Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom. Yet we too often ignore the historical context that gave shape to that seminal document. In From Jamestown to Jefferson, an uncommonly talented group of historians throws new and helpful light on religious groups and practices in colonial Virginia. Because Jefferson’s Statute is part of the nation’s patrimony, these essays help us make more sense of debates over religion and public life that continue to our own time.
From Jamestown to Jefferson is an important volume that frames the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in light of the long religious history of the colony. The essays all come from well-known historians, who offer a voice of authority that is deeply engaged and yield prose that is clear, compelling, and uncomplicated
Paul Rasor is Director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom and Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is the author of Faith without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the Twenty-First Century. Richard E. Bond is Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Wesleyan College and the coeditor of Perspectives on Life after the History Ph.D.M/i>