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Prison Couldn’t Stop Them!

Brave Virginia preachers, who wouldn’t stop preaching even though they were imprisoned and fined, helped the new nation develop its famous principles of religious liberty.

By Hal Mayer

Neither religious liberty nor toleration were features of the Virginia colony for most of the first two centuries of its history. From the beginning, the colony believed they could only control their members by “religion and law. They exercised despotism in both.”1 

The Church of England was the established church of Virginia and sought to control pastors of other denominations as well. But many of these Nonconformists believed that their licenses were given to them by God, not by man. Hadn’t Jesus commanded, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel”? Mark 16:15. Despite imprisonment and heavy fines for the crime of “unauthorized preaching,” they preached anyway! 

Joseph Anthony and William Webber were zealous and effective young Baptist ministers. They once were invited to preach in Chesterfield County, Virginia—just south of Richmond. The magistrate, believing that the two were doing much harm to the established

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  1. Charles James, Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia (New York; Da Capo Press, 1971), p. 17. 

  2. Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia (Lynchburg, VA; J. P. Bell CO., Inc., 1938), pp. 209–213.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid

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About the author

Hal Mayer is the speaker/director of Keep the Faith Ministries, a ministry linking the fulfillment of current events to Bible prophecy.