Colonial Williamsburg Research Division Web Site

Webography, Freeing Religion

English, African, and Native American religions converged in Virginia. The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment contributed to a ferment of doctrine, opinion, and practice that led to the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. Following are links to bibliographic and textual resources that relate to these societal changes in British America, especially Virginia.

Internet Resources from Colonial Williamsburg

Freeing Religion
The "Freeing Religion" story line surveys religious life in colonial Virginia and explains how Native American, African, and European religions in the colony were shaped by the legally sanctioned Church of England, by the evangelical movement that inspired many Virginians to abandon the established church for dissenting sects, and by the philosophical, political, and social changes that culminated in the passage of a law guaranteeing the free exercise of religion. For further understanding, please read the key points for this story line.

Religion in Early Virginia
Read about aspects of religious life in colonial and revolutionary Virginia.

Bruton Parish Churchyard
Graves of note include those of Governor Edward Nott, first rector Rowland Jones, the powerful Thomas Ludwell, merchant John Greenhow, and two infant children of Martha Custis Washington by her first husband.

Podcasts Transcripts

Thomas Jefferson on Religion (Bill Barker, July 17, 2006)

Patrick Henry on Religion (Richard Schumann, July 10, 2006)

Thomas Jefferson vs. Patrick Henry (Bill Barker and Richard Schumann continue their debate on the role of religion in government, July 24, 2006)

Religion in the Colonies (John Turner, April 17, 2006)

Williamsburg’s Evangelical Preacher (Ron Carnegie interprets the charismatic colonial preacher George Whitefield, April 10, 2006)
Transcriptions of “Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present” podcasts, with host Lloyd Dobyns.

Recommended Readings

The reading list features classic histories and recent monographs selected by historians in Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of Training and Historical Research. The list is recommended to interpreters, to teachers, and to general readers who want to learn more about early America and colonial Virginia. Periodically the list is refreshed with additions to an ever-growing literature.

Articles from Colonial Williamsburg: The Journal

In "the country wherein it hath pleased the divine providence to appoint our lot," Early American Jews Found Freedom to Celebrate Autumn's High Holy Days, by Robert Doares, Holiday, 2007.

“Alas, Poor…Who? Or, Melancholy Moments in Colonial and Later Virginia”, by Ivor Noël Hume, Spring 2005
As today, coffins came in grades and complexities reflecting real or supposed wealth or social status.

Eighteenth-Century Millennialism: To "start the world over again," politics and religion intertwined by James Breig, Autumn 2012
The millennialist tradition came early to America, entangling the religious longing for the return of Christ with the exploration of a new world where it might happen.

“Richman, Poorman, Beggarman, Thief: Down but Not Out in Colonial Virginia”, by Martha W. McCartney, Autumn 2000
In May 1755 the churchwardens of Bruton Parish sought the Burgesses' permission to convert a dwelling near Capitol Landing into "a Workhouse, where the Poor might be more cheaply maintained and usefully employed."

Search the Library Catalog


Baptists Virginia
Church and state
Church of England Virginia
Dissenters religious
Freedom of religion
Methodist Church Virginia
Presbyterian Church Virginia
Religion and politics
Sermons American
Virginia church history
Virginia religion

Other Internet Resources

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer
Services at Bruton Parish Church would have used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Read master printer John Baskerville's circa 1760 publication.

The Hall of Church History: Theology from a Bunch of Dead Guys
Chronologies, histories, and biographies and writings of church fathers through the centuries of the Christian tradition.

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University
Edwards (1703-1758), a Massachusetts clergyman, and prominent in the Great Awakening. subscribed to an experiential interpretation of Reformed theology that emphasized the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humankind, the reality of hell, and the necessity of a "New Birth" conversion. Includes “The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online”.

Letters from the Clergy of the Anglican Church in South Carolina c. 1696-1775
The largest group of private letters surviving from early South Carolina consists of those written by Anglican clergymen to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and to the Bishop of London.

Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics: Historic Church Documents
Creeds, confessions, catechisms, and sermons.

Library of Southern Literature
Literary works of the American South published before 1924 are offered fulltext and browsable by author, title or subject. Includes books on religious life, hymns and church history.

William Tennent III (1740-1777), Album of Collected Papers
Papers documenting Tennent’s life as a Presbyterian minister in the Colonies of New Jersey and Connecticut, the courtship of his wife despite her mother’s objections, and his 1772 arrival in Charleston, S.C., to serve the Independent or Congregational Church. Later papers reflecting his political activism include essay cautioning women against the evils of drinking tea, first-person accounts of Charleston in the age of Revolution, and speech delivered in the S.C. General Assembly that argued for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church.

Early Virginia Religious Petitions
A collaborative project between the Library of Congress and the Library of Virginia, this site provides images of 423 petitions submitted to the Virginia legislature between 1774 and 1802. The petitions concern such issues as the historic debate over the separation of church and state, the rights of dissenters, the sale and division of property in the established church, and the dissolution of unpopular vestries.

The Sermons of George Whitefield
Whitefield (1714-1770) made seven visits to America from his home in England. A proponent of the Great Awakening, he was the best known preacher in the American colonies, and he visited Williamsburg in December 1739 and preached at Bruton Parish Church. His activities were closely monitored in the Virginia Gazette and his books were sold locally. Searchable transcriptions of the full texts.

Subscription Resources

Available only on computers on the CWF network; contact Reference Desk, 757-565-8510, for assistance.

America: History and Life
Indexes over 2,000 history periodicals and includes citations of book reviews and doctoral dissertations. Try this “Advanced” search: Put “virginia” in the Keywords box, “church or religion” in the Subject Terms box, and 1700 to 1800 in the Time Periods boxes.

America's Historical Imprints
Search simultaneously: Early American Imprints Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 and Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819. (Available only on computers on the CWF network; contact Reference Desk, 565-8510, for assistance.)

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800
Full-text books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the renowned bibliography by Charles Evans - the definitive resource for information about every aspect of life in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America, from agriculture and auctions through foreign affairs, diplomacy, literature, music, religion, the Revolutionary War, temperance, witchcraft, and just about any other topic imaginable.

Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819
Full-text books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the distinguished bibliography by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker.