Date of Award
Ph.D. in History
Arch Dalrymple III Department of History
Jeffrey R. Watt
The Church of England in the Virginia colony is an institution which has been much overlooked in historiography. Traditionally, historians have focused upon the weakness of the church, with its lack of a complete hierarchy and dearth of ministers. These weaknesses, combined with some of the more unsavory attitudes and actions of early colonists, have led many scholars to postulate that religion did not play much of a role in the Virginia colony. While the early colonists did struggle, and the church was weak, historians have overlooked the fact that most Virginians were seventeenth-century Englishmen, and inhabited a world that knew no sacred-secular divide. This lack of clear division is reflected in the manner in which Virginians shored up the weaknesses of their church: county courts took the place of ecclesiastical courts, and the governor and congregations filled the role of archbishop. In the end, Virginians created a peculiar hybrid of a church, one in which the Book of Common Prayer was taught and reverenced, but also one in which the vestries chose the ministers for individual congregations. This congregational Anglicanism proved strength to Virginia's Church of England when civil war struck England and the church was outlawed. Virginia's church was able to continue to function because, as long as individual congregations were pleased with their ministers, that minister's job was secure, whatever theological differences he may have had with those in power. The restoration in Virginia took only three years, too, because its church had never ceased to function. The colony's religious weakness became its strength.
Blank, Katherine Gray, "A Church Adrift: Virginia's Church Of England, 1607-1677" (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 333.