The Chesterfield County Museum, at 6813 Mimms Loop, is a replica of the 1749 courthouse where magistrates, during 1770-74, sentenced seven Baptist preachers to jail for preaching Christ without state-church approval. Where the jail once stood, there now stands the Religious Freedom Monument, a grantie memorial with a bronze tablet inscribed to the memory of those Baptist preachers. See the section, “Virginia Baptist Preachers Imprisoned in Chesterfield Jail 1770-74,” in Chapter 15.
copyrighted and used by permission from David Beale, Baptist History in England and America: Personalities, Positions, and Practices
On this spot were imprisoned 1770-1774
“Whether it be right in the sight of God
to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge me,
for we cannot but speak the things
which we have seen and heard.” Acts IV:19-20
In gratitude for the blessings of
spiritual religion and freedom of conscience
won through their sufferings
this memorial is erected by the churches of the
Middle District Baptist Association
Newspaper from Newspapers.com
Text by Dr. Wayne Thompson, from Painting “John Weatherford Preaching Through the Grates of Chesterfield County Jail, June-October, 1773”:
The jail in Chesterfield County, Virginia confined seven Baptist preachers for preaching the gospel of the grace of God without state church ordination or state license. Robert Baylor Semple tells us that Chesterfield County “kept up their persecution after other counties had laid it aside.”
John Weatherford was born in Charlotte County, Virginia in 1743 and entered the Baptist ministry in 1761. Wherever he went great crowds attended his preaching. This stirred up the jealously and wrath of the established clergy, and he was apprehended and arrested by Colonel Archibald Cary, May 15, 1773 for convening numbers of people and praching to them, “not being qualified by law so to do, which is contrary to law and tends to disturb the peace and good government of this colony.”
The event portrayed in this painting is of John Weatherford preaching through the grates of the window of Chesterfield County jail. You will notice a man stationed to the side of the window slashing his hands as he continued his demonstrative preaching sprinkling his startled listeners with his blood. He carried the white scars when his hands were folded across his breast in death on January 23, 1833. One who observed them later called them “the marks of the Lord Jesus – martyr marks of God’s hero.”
Notice also the drummer pounding away on his drum, and a horseman approaching to ride through the people peaceably assembled to hear God’s word. These were common practices to disturb the peace of those accused of disturbing the peace. Ultimately a wall was consructed to prevent the preachers from noticing when their congregations assembled. They then leaped upon the wall and said, “Preach on Preacher,” until glass and other sharp objects were placed there to discourage this, at which time a stick and handerkerchief became their preaching banners.
The preaching was fruitful, conversions multiplied, baptisms followed, strong churches were established and more men were called of God to preach the gospel. Patrick Henry befriended Weatherford as well as other Baptist preachers in Virginia. He defended them in court, relieved their sufferings in prison, paid their fines and secured their freedom.
God preserve the memory of godly Baptist preachers such as John Weatherford and courageous statesmen such as Patrick Henry, who sacrificed so much to establish religious liberty throughout the land.
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