• David Joyce

Samuel Morris and the Establishment of Reading Houses

Updated: Jan 6


In the 1740s when Samuel Morris began worshiping outside the Established Church of England, little did he know the historical impact this would have. Fully aware that he was breaking the law, he risked his reputation and career to find a more fulfilling form of worship. He had already been bought before Governor Gooch on the charges that he was “disturbing the peace’ and “staying away from church [the Anglican church] and holding worship in private,”1 however, the consequences of his actions did not go unnoticed. While he was exempt from the charge of being disruptive to the community, he was warned not to “disturb the good order of society in their Parish [Anglican parish].”2


Allowed to worship with other like-minded Christians, Morris and his colleagues began reading “A copy of Boston’s Fourfold State” and “a copy of Luther’s Galatians.”3 This movement began to expand until several reading houses were established. Seeking a more "personal ” relationship with God,4 Morris viewed the sermons of Anglican Ministers as lacking substance. Preferring the doctrine of the Presbyterian faith, he were again “called before the court and fined.”5 By 1747; however, the situation had changed with the arrival of Rev. Samuel Davies.


Becoming Minister of Polegreen Church in Hanover County, Virginia, Davies became one of the most influential pastors in the colony. After receiving permission from the Governor to preach, Davies built on the labors of Morris. A powerful and elegant orator, he rallied the reading houses together until December 3, 1755, when the Presbytery of Hanover was formed.6 Along with other prominent Presbyterian leaders, they officially established the denomination within Virginia and further south.


By now, the Anglican Parishes had become accustomed to members dissenting from church services. Helping to plant the seeds of religious freedom, it is due to pioneers like Samuel Morris this was possible. From being seen as a disruptive rebel to eventually being disliked by the Anglican community, his achievement of building reading societies came at great risk to himself. Without these efforts, though, the history of Virginia would have turned out differently.



Documentation:


1. Robert P. Davis, James H. Smylie, Dean K. Thompson, Ernest Trice Thompson, William Newton Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755-1980) (Richmond, Virginia: Hanover Presbytery, 1982), 20.

2. Davis, Smylie, Thompson, Thompson, Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755-1980), 20.

3. Robert P. Davis, James H. Smylie, Dean K. Thompson, Ernest Trice Thompson, William Newton Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755-1980) (Richmond, Virginia: Hanover Presbytery, 1982), 18-19.

4. Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodist: 2nd Edition (Nashville, Tennessee : Abingdon Press, 2013), 1; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 28 October 2018).

5. Davis, Smylie, Thompson, Thompson, Todd, Virginia Presbyterians in American Life: Hanover Presbytery (1755-1980), 19.

6. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.; Hanover Minutes, 1755-1756; Union Presbyterian Seminary, microfilm.

FOLLOW ME

  • Facebook Social Icon

© 2020 by David Joyce. Proudly created with Wix.com