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Virginians Reborn

Anglican Monopoly, Evangelical Dissent, and the Rise of the Baptists in the Late Eighteenth Century
Jewel L. Spangler
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For most of the colonial period, Virginia’s spiritual landscape was thoroughly dominated by the Church of England, which enjoyed a legal, and virtually unchallenged, monopoly of faith. Evangelical Protestant dissenters dramatically remade Virginia’s religious terrain, however, when they rapidly coalesced into congregations in the decades just before the American Revolution, and then overwhelmed a weakened Anglican Church in the war’s aftermath. Virginians Reborn examines the intricate processes by which one of these groups, the Baptists, was able to take root, expand, and successfully compete for converts. By 1790, Virginia was the most Baptist state in America, as well as the point of origin of a massive early nineteenth-century western migration that helped spread the faith across the country.

Based primarily on church records, ministers’ writings, local records, imperial correspondence, and newspaper accounts, this study looks at the geographical patterns of Baptist expansion, the techniques dissenters used to gain adherents, the distinctiveness of Baptist worship, and its cultural resonances in Virginia. The book traces how the American Revolution created a new context favorable to Baptists and how the rise of this faith echoed and reinforced the development of a distinctive, proslavery form of republicanism. As Virginians embraced new political forms and sought to reconcile them with slavery and household patriarchy, the book argues, they could find instructive models in the particulars of Baptist fellowship.

Ultimately, the book chronicles a dual process of rebirth, as Virginians simultaneously formed a republic and became evangelical Christians.

Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth-century studies