Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
THIS PAGE HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Prince Edward County Petition

  • Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776
  • Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776
  • Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776
  • Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776
In this petition, Prince Edward County Presbyterians requested that the General Assembly allow Protestants full religious liberty.
Related documents:
  • Resolution Respecting a Baptist Petition
    Resolution Respecting a Baptist Petition, August 16, 1775
  • Virginia Declaration of Rights
    The Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776
  • Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
    Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786
  • Bill of Rights
    The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, December 15, 1791
« Return to Securing the Blessings of Liberty

Petition of 160 inhabitants of Prince Edward County, September 24, 1776

Beginning in the spring of 1776 and continuing without interruption for nearly ten years, dissenters, or people with any religion other than that of the Church of England, in Virginia petitioned the General Assembly to abolish all privileges of the Church of England in Virginia and to allow Protestants full religious liberty without having to pay taxes to support clergymen of any denomination, to allow clergymen of any denomination to perform marriages, and to terminate the Church of England's official connection with the government of Virginia. The petitions specifically linked the struggle for religious liberty in Virginia with the colonial struggle for political liberty from Great Britain. This eloquent early petition from Presbyterians in Prince Edward County to the House of Delegates explicitly invoked the final clause of the Virginia Declaration of Rights that the members of the General Assembly, acting as members of the fifth and final Virginia Revolutionary Convention, adopted in June 1776.

For Educators

Questions

1. What does ecclesiastic mean?

2. What did the petitioners mean by "pull down all Church Establishments"?

Further Discussion

1. Read the Virginia Declaration of Rights; do you think that the Prince Edward petitioners properly interpreted the last article? What do you think the convention intended that article to convey?

Suggested Reading

Thomas E. Buckley, S.J. Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776–1787. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977.

To the Honourable the President and House of Delegates of the Common Wealth of Virginia, to meet at Williamsburg the first Tuesday in October 1776.
The Petition of Sundry of the Inhabitants of Prince Edward County, respectfully sheweth, That we heartily approve and Chearfully submit ourselves to the form of Government adopted at your last Session: hoping that our united American States will long continue free and Independent. The last Article of the Bill of Rights we also esteem as the rising Sun of religious Liberty, to releave us from a long Night of ecclesiastic Bondage: And we do most earnestly request and expect that you would go on to complete what is so nobly begun; raise religious as well as civil Liberty to the Zenith of Glory, and make Virginia an Asylum for free enquiry, knowlege, and the virtuous of every Denomination. Justice to ourselves and Posterity, as well as a regard to the honour of the Common Wealth, makes it our indispensable Duty, in particular to intreat, That without Delay, You would pull down all Church E[s]tablishments; Abolish every Tax upon Conscience and private Judgment; and leave each Individual to rise or sink according to his Merit, and the general Laws of the Land. The whole amount of what we desire, is, That Our Honourable Legislature would blot out every Vestige of British Tyranny and Bondage, and define accurately between civil and ecclesiastic Authority; then leave our Lord Jesus Christ the Honour of being the Sole Lawgiver and Governor in his Church; and every one in the Things of Religion to stand or fall to Him; he being, in this respect the only rightful Master.
 And your Petitioners as in duty bound, shall every pray;—
September 24th 1776