Friday, June 8, 2018

Elizabeth Ann Curtis Waller (1742-1803) My 5th Great Grandmother on My Father's Side

King George II was the King of England when
Elizabeth was born in British America
Elizabeth Curtis was the daughter of Rice Curtis Jr. (1704-1787). Her mother was Susanna “Ann” Brock, daughter of Joseph and Mary Chew Brock. Rice was married three times and there is some confusion in the records I have found about which of his wives bore which children. But, in his will Joseph Brock named each of his children and the husbands of two of his daughters. This confirms that Susanna was Joseph’s daughter and the wife of Rice Curtis, Jr.
Elizabeth was born on August 19, 1742 in Spotsylvania when it was still part of British America, and George the II was the King of England. She had two sisters, Jane and Frances. She also had three half siblings who were the children of Rice’s first wife Martha Thacker. They were Martha, Mary and Rice Curtis III.

In 1757, Elizabeth and her sisters received a 150 acre tract of land from George Pendleton. Elizabeth was 14 at the time. This was property that her father had previously sold to Pendleton. The deed does not provide an explanation as to why Pendleton sold the proptery to the three girls.
When she was 23 Elizabeth married John Waller in Spotsylvania, Virginia in about 1764-65. John was a preacher in the Baptist Church for 35 years and spent a great deal of time travelling to the parishes he headed which were located in several different counties. John being away from home so much would have meant that Elizabeth had charge of caring for their nine children and their farm on her own much of the time.
Elizabeth was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia and
lived there until 1793 when she and John moved to
South Carolina
Their children included Ann born in 1765 who married Abraham Marshall who was also a preacher. Elizabeth’s son John Nicodemus was born in 1767. He became a reverend and carried on his father’s work. Benjamin born in 1768 is my fourth great grandfather. See my May 30, 2018 post for more about Benjamin. Frances Jane born in 1770 married Joseph Wardlaw. Daughter Mary Magdalene was born in 1774 and she married James Watson. Phoebe born 1775 married Edward Collier. Son Thomas Baxter was born in 1776 and he married Sarah White. I don’t know when their daughters Elizabeth or Dorothy Virginia were born. Dorothy married Carr McGehee and Elizabeth married James Sales. All of Elizabeth and John’s children were born while they were living in Spotsylvania, Virginia.

During their married life, and while Elizabeth was having their children, John was imprisoned at least three times – in 1768, 1771 and 1774 – because of his religious views and his preaching against the official Church of England. One can imagine that this made Elizabeth’s life more challenging than that of most of her peers. She also lived through the American Revolution between 1775 and 1783.

In 1793, when Elizabeth was 51 the family moved to Abbeville, South Carolina. Records explain that one of the reasons they moved was so they could be close to their daughter Ann and her husband Reverend Marshall. Another reason was the availability of cheap land.

Elizabeth died in 1803 at the age of 61, when Thomas Jefferson was the US President. She is buried in the Waller-Hacket Family Cemetery in Greenwood South Carolina. Her husband, sons John and Benjamin, and a few other family members are buried with her. The cemetery is located on the Vines home place on the road from Scotch Cross to Cambridge and is said to be near where the Waller family home was.
This is Elizabeth's will

Elizabeth left a will dated August 1, 1803 that was administered by her two sons Benjamin and Thomas. In it she made a point of leaving an extra $100 to her daughter Dorothy but the will did not explain why. Didn’t she realize her descendants would want an explanation? She also left money to her grandson Albert Waller, so he could purchase “a black sute of casamore”. I believe this means a black cashmere suit. All that remained, after her debts were paid, was to be divided equally among her eight children. She named all her children except John so he must have died before his mother.

I found one page of an inventory of her possessions in her probate packet while visiting Abbeville in 2017. Many of the items listed are illegible but of those I could read the assortment was different from many inventories I’ve read before. Those items included bees wax and honey, wheat, corn and oats, thread, black yarn, spun cotton, a bead quilt, lining fabric, flannel, pins, sugar, chewing tobacco, a small trunk, cotton seed and $130.50 in cash. I hope the chewing tobacco was for guests – not for Elizabeth.
This is one page of the inventory of
Elizabeth's estate from her probate packet
Sources for this post: Elizabeth’s Last Will; Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia by John Frederick Dorman; Descendants of Capt. Thomas Carter of Barford by Joseph Lyon Miller, Effie Shelton Campbell; A Crane's Foot by E. Stuart Gregg, Jr; Virginia County Records Spotsylvania Co. 1721-1800, Transcriptions from Original County Records Wills, Deeds, Admin & Guardian Bonds, Marriage Licenses and List of Rev. War Pensioners; Greenwood County Sketches by Margaret Watson; FindAGrave website; Abstracts of Old 96 & Abbeville District Wills & Bonds compiled by Willie Pauline Young.

John "Swearing Jack" Waller (1741-1802) My 5th Great Grandfather on My Father's Side Part 1

John Waller's headstone in the Waller-Hackett
Cemetery from Find-A-Grave website

John Waller was born two days before Christmas in 1741 in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He is possibly our most famous or notorious ancestors, having made a name for himself as a Baptist preacher. John was the son of Captain Edmund Waller (1718-1771) and Mary Pendleton (1720-1880).

He was the eldest of seven children. He had three brothers William Edmund, Benjamin and Leonard James Mourning Waller and three sisters Mary, Dorothy Jemima and Nancy Ann Waller.

When he was 18, he received a gift of 100 acres from his parents in St. George’s Parish in Spotsylvania County. When he was 24, he married Elizabeth Ann Curtis, daughter of Rice Curtis and Susanna Brock. That was in about 1765. See my blogpost on Elizabeth to learn about their children. Two years after they were married John sold a 92-acre piece of property in St. George’s Parish to Larkin Chew for 12 pounds. This was a piece of property that had been given to his wife Elizabeth by her uncle Henry Pendleton.

When John was a young man he developed a reputation as having a satirical wit. This caught the attention of his uncle Benjamin Waller who encouraged John to study for the law. John completed grammar school and went on to study the dead languages. According to a biography of John written by Robert Semple in 1810, “His uncle’s death, and his father’s narrow resources, added to his own unbridled inclinations to vice, prevented him from finishing even his classical education.” Instead of studying the law of the land, John took up the gaming table. Semple continues, “Letting himself loose to every species of wickedness and profanity, he quickly acquired for himself the infamous appellation of, Swearing Jack Waller and the Devil’s adjutant”. Apparently, he was up to so much mischief that at one point there were three warrants served on him at one time.

At some point John heard Mr. Lewis Craig preach and he was taken by the manner in which Craig spoke. He was so impressed by Craig that he decided he wanted to practice the same religion and began to attend Craig’s meetings. John found the Holy Spirit and his life changed. John “saw and felt himself a sinner. He now, for the first time, except in blaspheming, began to call upon the name of the Lord. His convictions were deep and pungent. He fasted for seven or eight months and was almost in despair.” 
John Waller's main church still exists and is very
active.
As the Baptist church gained followers the decision was made to start several new churches. One was located in lower Spotsylvania County and John was chosen to serve as their first pastor. The church was consecrated on December 2, 1769 at which time it had 154 members. Depending on the source, John was either ordained on January 2 or June 20th of 1770. John continued serving as pastor at that church, which became known as Waller’s, until 1793 when he and his family moved to South Carolina.

John had been preaching even before he was ordained and his doing so was strongly opposed by the official church. This resulted in his been arrested and put in prison multiple times. On June 4, 1768, Semple wrote, “he was imprisoned for the first time with Lewis Craig, James Childs and others. They were bound for 1000 pounds and held for 2 days. At court they were arraigned as disturbers of the peace. During their trial, "they were vehemently accused, by a certain lawyer, who said to the court, "May it please your worships, these men are great disturbers of the peace, they cannot meet a man upon the road, but they must ram a text of scripture down his throat." Mr. Waller made his own and his brethren's defense so ingeniously, that they were somewhat puzzled to know how to dispose of them.  They offered to release them, if they would promise to preach no more in the county, for a year and a day.  This they refused; and, therefore, were sent into close jail.”

This photograph is posted on the website for a Baptist History
tour in Spotsylvania. There was no caption. I believe it is
a depiction of Baptists being tried in court.
In November of 1770 John and his associate John Burris were preaching together and, "they continued preaching at, and near the same place, for three days; great crowds came out: Waller baptized five. Persecution began to rage. Some said they were deceivers; others that they were good men. On the second day, a magistrate attempted to pull Waller off the stage, but the clergyman of the parish prevented it. The next day, a man threw a stone at Waller while he was preaching; the stone missed Waller and struck a friend of the man that threw it..."

In May of 1771, John was appointed as the first Clerk of the Separate Baptists Association. The meeting took place at Craig’s Meeting House in Orange County, Virginia. On May 8, 1773 he was reappointed at their meeting held at Dover’s Meeting House in Goochland, Virginia. One year later they met again in May of 1774 and John was appointed to his third term as Clerk. The minutes of that meeting also noted that the largest congregation in Virginia was the church headed by John with 188 members. That meeting took place at the Fauquier Meeting House in the Northern District.

Historic sign about John's close associate William
Webber, pastor of Dover Baptist Church
John was arrested again on August 10, 1771 along with three other preachers – William Webber, James Greenwood and Robert Ware. The police had a warrant and instructions to arrest anyone who was preaching. They were tried by James Montague. “They first searched their saddlebags, to find treasonable papers; finding none, they proceeded to trial, taking them one by one, into private rooms, proposing to them, to give bond and security not to preach in the county again. Each of them expressly refused and the four were ordered to prison, and being conducted by two sheriffs, they were safely lodged in close jail that night, about 9 o'clock. The prison swarmed with fleas ; they borrowed a candle of the jailer; and, having sung the praises of that Redeemer, whose cross they bore, and from whose hands they expected a crown in the end; having returned thanks that it was a prison, and not hell that they were in ; praying for themselves, their friends, their enemies and persecutors.”

The jail in which Waller, Ware, Greenwood and Webber were confined was in the village of Urbana, at that time the county-seat of Middlesex.  A neat and commodious chapel, consecrated to the free service of God, now stands within a few feet of the spot on which the jail stood, and here a vigorous Baptist church are wont to meet statedly for worship. From a letter written by John Waller and dated " Urbana Prison, Middlesex County, August 12, 1771,"

Piscataway Baptist Church - one of many John was
associated with
On March 13, 1774, the day that the Piscataway Church was being constituted John was again arrested along with several others. “The men however, from first to last of their imprisonment, preached twice a week, gave much godly advice to such as came to visit them, read a great deal, and prayed almost without ceasing. In their stated devotion, morning, noon, and night, they were often joined by others. They continued in close confinement from the 13th to the 21st of March, which was court day. Being brought to trial, they were required to give bond and security for their good behavior for twelve months, or go back to prison. Ware and Shackleford gave bond and went home; Waller being always doubtful of the propriety of giving any bond whatever, determined to go back to jail.”

John was appointed as an Apostle for the area north of James River in October of 1774. On May 27, 1775 John was elected to his fourth term as Clerk and for the first time they named a second clerk, John Williams. During the meeting “The following query first occupied their attention: "Is salvation, by Christ, made possible for every individual of the human race?" The debate on this query took up the whole of Monday. Every thinking man in the Association felt himself seriously interested. Most of them spoke to it, more or less. The weight of talents and influence seems to have been on the Arminian side. Samuel Harriss, Jeremiah Walker, John Waller, and many other distinguished preachers stood forward and zealously, as well as ably, supported the argument in favor of universal provision.” One of the central tenants of the Arminian followers is the belief that all men can be “saved”. This contracted with the belief held by many that God preordained who could be saved.
This plaque describes the Baptist Association meeting of
August 15, 1775. It is signed by John Waller, Clerk

These battles that John was engaged in over religious freedom were a central issue during the American Revolution. In the revised edition of the “History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia”, 1894, Rev. G.W. Beale explains: “The discontents in America, arising from British oppression, were now drawing to a crisis; most of the colonies had determined to resist, and some went for independence. This was a favorable season for the Baptists. Having been much ground under the British laws, or at least by the interpretation of them in Virginia, they were to a man favorable to any revolution by which they could obtain freedom of religion. They had known from experience that mere toleration was not a sufficient check, having been imprisoned at a time when that law was considered by many as being in force. It was therefore resolved at this session to circulate petitions to the Virginia Convention or General Assembly throughout the State in order to obtain signatures. The prayer of these was that the church establishment should be abolished, and religion left to stand upon its own merits, and that all religious societies should be protected in the peaceable enjoyment of their own religious principles and modes of worship. They appointed Jeremiah Walker, John Williams and George Roberts to wait on the Legislature with these petitions. They also determined to petition the Assembly for leave to preach to the army, which was granted.

The next meeting of the Baptist Association was held in Louisa County at Lower Goldmine Church in August of 1776. Divisions among the members were an issue. It was at this time that John declared himself an independent Baptist, he withdrew from his Calvinist brethren and adopted the Arminian doctrine.
Jacobus Arminius, founder of the Arminian branch of the
Baptist Church which John followed


After they met, John Waller was appointed to preach, and took his text from I. Corinthians 13th and 11th. He had fully embraced the whole Arminian system, and was determined to preach it at every risk. Being called to account before the Association, he and all his adherents withdrew from the Baptists and immediately set up for independence.

This was an exceedingly sorrowful time. Waller was held high in estimation among the Baptists. Serious consequences might reasonably be expected. The Association, however, took such measures as were within their power to prevent unpleasant effects.

It appears that it was agreed at this Association to divide into four districts—probably such a division as afterwards took place in 1783, viz., two south and two north of James River. But as this division was not permanent, we shall pursue the narrative by attending to the whole under one view, as if no such division had taken place.”

Waller’s own church in Goochland was the site of the next general committee of the Association held on March 7, 1778. There were two primary issues up for debate. First was, “whether the new Federal Constitution, which had now lately made its appearance in public, made sufficient provision for the secure enjoyment of religious liberty; on which, it was agreed unanimously that, in the opinion of the General Committee, it did not.” And, second, “whether a petition shall be offered to the next General Assembly, praying for the sale of the vacant glebes. After much deliberation on this subject, it was finally determined that petitions should be presented to the next General Assembly, asking the sale of the vacant glebes, as being public property ; and accordingly four persons .were chosen from the General Committee to present their memorial, viz. : Eli Clay, Reuben Ford, John Waller and John Williams.” Note: A glebe is cultivatable land owned by the parish; selling this unused land would be a source of income for the churches.
Waller's Church building, still an active parish
At the central committee meeting held on Saturday October 1783 there were thirty-seven delegates in attendance including most of the active preachers in Virginia. John Webber served as moderator, and John Williams as Clerk. John Waller and Reuben Ford were appointed as delegates to the General Assembly and asked to present a memorial.

They met again at Waller’s meeting house on the second Saturday in May of 1780 but no account of that session is available. According to Frontier Baptist Preacher, Baptist Encyclopedia published in 1888, around 1787 John decided to rejoin his original churchmen. “That same year a very great revival began under his preaching and continued for several years, spreading far and wide.”

At the August 11, 1788 meeting of the General Committee, held at Duprey’s meeting house, a recommendation to build a seminary of Baptist learning was introduced by Rev. James Manning. A committee of five from each side of the James River was assigned to study this and included John Waller. At that same meeting they made a decision to publish a History of Virginia Baptist – thank heaven they did; otherwise this post would be much shorter and less interesting.



Sources for the 4 post on John Waller: John Waller’s Last Will and probate papers; History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia by Robert Semple Rev. Rev. G.W. Beale; A Crane's Foot by E. Stuart Gregg, Jr; Virginia County Records Spotsylvania Co. 1721-1800, Transcriptions from Original County Records Wills, Deeds, Admin & Guardian Bonds, Marriage Licenses and List of Rev. War Pensioners; Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia by John Frederick Dorman; DAR Record, Lineage Book of the Charter Members of the DAR Vol. 071; Greenwood County Sketches by Margaret Watson; FindAGrave website; 1800 census; Rootsweb website.

John "Swearing Jack" Waller (1741-1802) Part 2

This is a monument to John Waller. The photo is from an
annual tour of Virginia Baptist History hosted by the
Upper Spotsylvania Missionary Baptist Church

In addition to his own church Waller’s in Goochland, founded in 1769 John had a role in several other Baptist churches within three associations – Dover, Goshen and Culpepper Associations. One such facility was Roundabout which was located in Louisa County. Roundabout was founded in 1791 and John was nominated to serve as pastor in 1792. “As if God would clearly sanction the appointment, He granted a powerful revival of religion soon after he was called to the pastoral care. More than one hundred were baptized in the course of a few months.

Similarly, John had a role at Guinea’s Bridge parish (1774) that began under the leadership of Joseph Craig. He was replaced by N. Holloway. When Holloway moved to Halifax “the members of the parish then procured the stated ministrations of Elder John Waller, under whose care they were prospered. In 1797 the Lord poured out His Spirit abundantly, and many were turned to righteousness. More than one hundred were added. After the removal of Mr. J. Waller, in 1793, they were destitute of stated preaching for several years. So great was the decline that they had serious thoughts of dissolving their constitution, but finally, having obtained the regular ministrations of A. Waller, (John’s nephew Absalom Waller) they again raised their heads. In 1800 they had the happiness to see a precious work of God among them. As many as 104 were baptized, and some of them were clever and useful men. Their meeting house is a very short distance from the county line, in Caroline. Mr. A. Waller still attends them. This body did not continue to be represented long under the above name.”

John served as the first pastor of Burrus’s Church in Caroline County. He was assisted by Andrew Burrus. John Broaddus took over the parish when John moved to South Carolina, and served for thirty years. A new meeting house was dedicated in September of 1838 and the name of the church was changed to Carmel. Due to disagreements among its members Burrus’s nearly dissolved at one point. Instead in 1800 twelve members left the church to form Bethel Church.
Historic sign for the Massaponax Church, one of many that
John Waller inpacted

As John’s original church grew, groups broke off to form new parishes and continued to follow the Arminian teachings of John. Massaponax was founded sometime before 1785 and constituted in 1788. Mr. Mastin, who was ordained by John Waller was a confirmed Arminian. After some conflict arose John was asked to take over and under his leadership the parish thrived. Mine Road was one such parish that began in 1791 under the guidance of Henry Pendleton. John’s mother Mary was a Pendleton so Henry was likely related in some way. Piney Branch (1789) was another of Waller’s offshoots. It was located close to Fredericksburg.

County Line (1782) is another church that broke off from Waller’s. After County Line was constituted they called upon William Waller (John’s brother) to serve as pastor but when William moved to Kentucky in 1784 John Waller replaced him. William also served as pastor at Goldmine Church in Louisa County. At some point John’s nephew Absolom Waller took over County Line and he continued to serve there until his death in 1820.
Massaponax Church founded before 1785

William’s Church was located in Goochland and was for many years under the ministerial care of Elder John Waller. Ten other parishes where John had a role were Rappidan (1773), Powhatan, Goochland (1774), Lower King & Queen (1772), Dover (1773), Exol (1775), Chickahominy (1776), Licking Hole (1776), Scarrot’s (1777), and Little River (1791).

One account from John’s opponents bemoaned, “These new churches, filled with young and inexperienced members, were visited frequently by J. Waller, accompanied sometimes by one, and sometimes another of the preachers of his own vicinity. His ministrations were, on the one hand, exceedingly salutary and comfortable to his friends; but on the other, highly displeasing to the enemies of the Baptists. They viewed Waller as the ring-leader of all the confusion and disturbance that had befallen them. Great congregations of people attended the Baptist meetings, while very few went to the parish churches. The zealots for the old order were greatly embarrassed. " If" said they, " we permit them to go on, our church must come to nothing, and yet if -we punish them as far as we can stretch the law, it seems not to deter them; for they preach through prison windows in spite of our endeavors to prevent it."
Founded in 1772, John Waller served
as the first preacher

In 1793, John, his family and several relatives and other followers moved to Abbeville South Carolina. Prior to leaving John attended an Association meeting at Thompson’s meeting house in Louisa County on October 18, 1793. While there he received a letter of recommendation and was acknowledged as the oldest minister in the Association and among the oldest in Virginia.

As noted in Virginia deeds, John and his wife Elizabeth sold two tracts of land to Benjamin Waller in October of 1793. One was a 150 acre lot that sold for 75 pounds and the other 369 acres that sold for 275 pounds. John had an uncle, a brother and a son named Benjamin. The uncle was dead so these sales could have been to his brother but most likely were to his son Benjamin Waller (1768-1804). Note that seventeen years after the American Revolution the conversion to using dollars as currency had not occurred.

After settling in South Carolina John founded Bethabara Baptist Church near the Saluda River in Laurens County in 1794. He also founded Siloam Baptist Church in 1799. “The church organizing committee was composed of John Waller, Rev. David Lilly, William Chiles and Meshec Overby. There were 31 members. Charles Fooshe is listed as the first deacon and Joel Lipscomb, the second. Siloam Church is about five miles north of Ninety Six on state highway 101. Waller left shortly after the church was founded. By 1795 there were 56 members of the church. It was incorporated in 1805 and in about 1812 its name was changed to Fellowship”.  (Greenwood County Sketches) Both of these churches still exist, as does Waller’s in Virginia.
Bethabara Baptist Church which John founded
in Laurens County, south Carolina

John and Elizabeth appeared on the 1800 census living in Abbeville, South Carolina. They were partial owners of a sawmill and a gin house. John’s will, dated December 11, 1801 notes that he had 31 slaves at the time of his death and a 325 acre farm that he left to his wife. He left his half of the sawmill to his son John Nicadermus and divided his slaves, some household furnishings and livestock among all of his children. In his will he specifically asked his children to "rule the slaves I've given you with mercy and give them what is equal and right and not part man and wife among them if they can prevent it." I was glad to find this statement in John’s will and hope certainly that all of our slave owning ancestors treated their charges in a similarly just manner.

John died on July 4, 1802. He was 60 years old having lived an extraordinary life and contributed meaningfully to our American history. He is buried along with his wife and other family members in the Waller-Hackett Cemetery in Greenwood, South Carolina.
Siloam Baptist Church, the 2nd
church John founded in South
Carolina, 1799

According to Greenwood County Sketches, a book by Margaret Watson, there is a place in South Carolina known as Wallerville. It was located south of the intersection of Highways 25 and 178 on the west side of Mathews Road. Supposedly Wallerville was founded by descendants of Rev. John Waller. Accounts say that the Waller home which was owned by the Tolbert family burned some years after the Confederate War, and the site was called “the burnt place” for decades thereafter. I was not able to find any references or photos of Wallerville in a Google search.

John "Swearing Jack" Waller (1741-1802) Part 3

Waller's Church which still exists today in Partlow, Virginia

CHAPTER XIII
Historical Sketches of the Churches in the Goshen Association[1]
Waller's[2]

This is a mother church indeed. Their corresponding letter to the Association in 1791 says : " We have lately constituted two new churches, which make fifteen that have been taken off from our church." She was first called Lower Spotsylvania, in contradistinction to Upper Spotsylvania, now called Craig's. Elder John Waller was chosen pastor January 2, 1770, which was a few months after the church was constituted; he continued to fill that office until 1793, when he moved to South Carolina. 

When Mr. J. Waller declared himself independent, this church adhered to him, and was, of course, excluded from the Association. When he was reinstated, so was the church. It is worthy of remark, that although Mr. Waller was an Arminian, and on that account broke with the Association, and carried with him this church, yet the church was far from being unanimously Arminian.

Some of Mr. Waller's nearest relatives stood firm to the Gospel plan. At one time, previous to Mr. Waller's reinstatement into the Association, there were few, if any, less than 1,500 members in this church.  Although she has had various ebbs and flows, and knows well the difference between declensions and revivals, yet few, if any, have experienced more uninterrupted prosperity. 

Of so much importance to the good standing of a church is an exemplary preacher, who understands the art of combining the hearts of all in one great object, it seemed providential that, when their former pastor, who had grown old, and thought proper to change his place of residence, their present pastor was ripe, both in talents and experience, to fill his place ; and, it would seem, had obtained his uncle's mantle and a double portion of his spirit ; for under his care the church has flourished more than under that of their first pastor. They have one of the best built and most comfortable meeting-houses in Virginia. For, however the Baptists may excel in matters of greater magnitude, they cannot be admired for the elegance or convenience of their houses of worship.[3]

In 1787, the set time to favor this part of Zion arrived, and under the ministry of Elder Harriss, who was now on a visit to them, this revival burst forth on every hand, nor did the war cease until many of the sons and daughters of the enemy of God fell as victims to invincible grace. About two hundred were baptized. In 1790, as if to encourage their young and ardent pastor, God granted a heavenly move among the people, and Mr. Waller baptized fifty-four. Few years have elapsed in which there were not some baptized.
Convenient religion at Waller's Baptist Church


[1] This appears on pages 197-199 in the 1894 edition of History of the Rise and progress of the Baptists in Virginia by Robert B. Semple and Rv. G.W. Beale.

[2] The meeting-house of this church was situated about fourteen miles southwest of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The present house of worship, erected in 1874, occupies the original site. A former building was burned
in 1873. Elder John Waller was succeeded in the pastorate of this church by his nephew, Absalom Waller. The subsequent pastors have been John A. Billingsley, Charles A. Lewis, Joseph A. Billingsley, John Bray, Edward G. Baptist, Samuel B. Rice, F. L. Kregel, L. J. Haley, W. G. Roane, E. W. Winfrey and C. T. Taylor.

[3] The meeting houses of the early Virginia Baptists were commonly plain weather-boarded structures, without paint either on the outside or within. There were no facilities provided for heating them. As a rule, the windows were high and narrow, and the seats were rude benches without backs. To enlarge their accommodations, sheds were sometimes added on two sides, which gave to some of the churches a barn-like appearance.

John Waller's original church was part of the Goshen Association

Letter written in Middlesex Jail by Elder John Waller
Taken from Taylor's Virginia Baptist Ministers[1]
Urbanna Prison, Middlesex County, August 12, 1771. Dear Brother in the Lord: At a meeting which was held at Brother McCan's, in this county, last Saturday, while Brother William Webber was addressing the congregation from James ii., 18, there came running toward him, in a most furious rage, Captain James Montague, a magistrate of the county, followed by the parson of the parish and several others, who seemed greatly exasperated. The magistrate and another took hold of Brother Webber, and dragging him from the stage, delivered him, with Brethren Wafford, Robert Ware, Richard Faulkner, James Greenwood and myself, into custody, and commanded that we should be brought before him for trial. Brother Wafford was severely scourged[2], and Brother Henry Street received one lash from one of the persecutors, who was prevented from proceeding to further violence by his companions. To be short, I may inform you that we were carried before the above-mentioned magistrate, who, with the parson and some others, carried us one by one into a room and examined our pockets and wallets for firearms, etc., charging us with carrying on a meeting against the authority of the land. Finding none, we were asked if we had license to preach in the county; and learning we had not, it was required of us to give bond and security not to preach any more in this county, which we modestly refused to do; whereupon, after dismissing Brother Wafford, with a charge to make his escape out of the county by twelve o'clock the next day on pain of imprisonment, and dis missing Brother Faulkner, the rest of us were delivered to the sheriff and sent to close jail, with a charge not to let us walk in the air until court-day. Blessed be God, the sheriff and jailer have treated us with as much kind ness as could have been expected from strangers. May the Lord reward them for it! Yesterday we had a large number of people to hear us preach ; and among others, many of the great ones of the land, who behaved well while one of us discoursed on the new birth. We find the Lord gracious and kind to us beyond expression in our afflictions. We cannot tell how long we shall be kept in bonds; we therefore beseech, dear brother that you and the church supplicate night and day for us, our benefactors and our persecutors. I have to inform you that six of our brethren are con fined in Caroline jail, viz., Brethren Lewis Craig, John Burrus, John Young, Edward Herndon, James Goolrick and Bartholomew Choning. The most dreadful threatenings are raised in the neighboring counties against the Lord's faithful and humble followers. Excuse haste.
Adieu. John Waller. [The address of the above letter did not appear.]


[1] This letter appears in the appendix on p. 481-483 in the 1894 edition of History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptist in Virginia by Semple and Beale.
[2] There are multiple synonyms for the word “scourged” including flog, whip, beat, horsewhip, lash, flagellate, strap, cane, thrash as well as afflict, plague, torment, torture, curse, oppress, burden, bedevil and beset. It is not clear in the text what sort of punishment was being applied but whatever it was it does not sound good.





John "Swearing Jack" Waller (1741-1802) Part 4

Robert Baylor Semple, who wrote this biography of
John Waller for his book "History of the Rise and
Progress of the Baptists in Virginia" in 1810
 

JOHN WALLER[1]
No character has as yet passed before us, more worthy of notice than the present.
He was born, December 23, 1741, in Spotsylvania county; was a descendant of the honorable family of Wallers in England. At a very early period, he manifested a great talent for satyrical wit. This determined his uncle, who had the direction of his education, to bring him up for the law. He was put to a grammar school; and made an encouraging advancement in the dead languages. His uncle’s death and his father’s narrow resources, added to his own unbridled inclination to vice, prevented him from finishing even his classical education. He now began indeed to study, not the laws of the land, but those of the gaming table. Letting himself loose to every species of wickedness and profanity, he quickly acquired for himself the infamous appellation of, Swearing Jack Waller; by which he was distinguished from others of the same name. So far did he indulge his mischievous temper that he once had three warrants served on him at the same time, on account of one uproar. It was frequently remarked by the common people, “that there could be no deviltry among the people, unless Swearing Jack was at the head of it.” He was sometimes called, the Devil’s adjutant to muster his troops. To these, may be added, his fury against the Baptists. He was one of the grandjury who presented L. Craig for preaching. This happily terminated in his good. Craig, in order to turn their mischievous intentions into something beneficial, watched the demission of the grandjury; and in order to gain their attention, more certainly, bought them a mug of grog. After he had gotten them together, he began, “I thank you, gentlemen of the grandjury, for the honour you have done me. While I was wicked and injurious, you took no notice of me; but since I have altered my course of life, and endeavoured to reform my neighbours, you concern yourselves much about me. I have gotten this mug[2] of grog, to treat you with; and shall take the spoiling of my goods joyfully.” When Mr. W. heard him speak in that manner, and observed the meekness of his spirit, he was convinced that Craig was possessed of something that he had never seen in man before. He thought within himself, that he should be happy if he could be of the same religion with Mr. Craig. From this time, he began to attend their meetings. And was found of the Holy Spirit. The commandment came and he died. He saw and felt himself a sinner. He now, for the first time, except in blaspheming, began to call upon the name of the Lord. His convictions were deep and pungent. He ate no pleasant bread and drank no pleasant water, for seven or eight months. He was almost in despair. He relates his exercises in the following words:

“I had long felt the greatest abhorrence of myself; and began almost to despair of the mercy of God. However, I determined in my own soul, never to rest from seeing, until it pleased God to show mercy or cut me off. Under these impressions, I was at a certain place, fitting under preaching. On a sudden, a man exclaimed, that he found grace; and began to praise God. No mortal can describe the horror with which I was seized at that instant. I began to conclude my damnation was certain. Leaving the meeting I hastened into a neighbouring wood, and dropped on my knees before God, to beg for mercy. In an instant, I felt my heart melt, and a sweet application of the Redeemer’s love to my poor soul. The calm was great; but short.”

From this time, he felt some increase of strength; yet at some times, he felt the enemy break in upon him like a flood; and he would be almost ready to give up his hope. But the application of these words gave him great comfort; “Who is among you that feareth the Lord; that walkth in darkness and hath no light; let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” Isaiah50.10. And again: “By this we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the breather,”

By the time Messr. Harris and Read came on their next tour, he felt sufficiently confident to become a candidate for baptism; and going up into Orange county, was there baptized by Mr. Read, some time in the year 1767.  Baptism was to him, as it was been to thousands, a sanctified ordinance. His soul received great accession of strength and comfort. Christ was revealed in him.  Having contracted debts by dissipation, he sold property to pay them. He conferred not with flesh and blood, but began to preach, that men ought every where to repent. It was not long before his labours became effectual, at least, in one way. That arch enemy of souls, whom he had served so faithfully before, now began to roar in hideous peals against him. He succeeded in raising up a powerful opposition.

At length, it was thought proper to constitute a church, in Mr. Waller’s neighbourhood; who making choice of him as pastor, he was ordained to the work of the ministry, June 20th 1770. He now began to lengthen his cords. Bending his course downwards, he baptized Rev. William Webber, being the first he did baptize. October, 1770, accompanied by J. Burrus, he travelled down as far as Middlesex. Where ever he went, he was attended by a divine power; turning many to righteousness. His name sounded far and wide. By the ungodly, he was considered as a bold, inexorable fanatic, that would do much mischief unless restrained. The Baptists and their adherents looked upon him as set for the defense of their cause; and with much confidence rallied around him as their leader. His persecutions and imprisonment in Caroline, in Middlesex, in Essex, etc. have been already mentioned in our General History.

In this bright and burning way, Waller continued until 1775 or 1776, when he formed an acquaintance with one Williams, a preacher of some talents, apparent piety, and in Mr. Wesley’s connexion, consequently an Arminian; this man, by his conversation and books, so wrought upon Mr. Waller’s mind, as to bring him over to believe the Arminian system. Knowing this to be contrary to the opinions of his brethren, he resolved to make a bold effort to preach and argue his principles at the next association; and thereby convince his brethren; or failing in this to submit to be cut off from them. Accordingly, he took his text I Cor. 13. 11. In his exordium, he stated, that when young and inexperienced in religion, he had fallen in with the Calvinistic plan; but that becoming more expert in doctrine, or in the language of his text, when he became a man, he put away these childish notions. He then went lengthily into the arguments. For want of truth, or for want of talents, he made few, if any converts to his opinions; and of course, had to confront the whole host of preachers and members now assembled. Mr. Waller, foreseeing his fate, took the shorter and more reputable course. Instead of awaiting a fair trial, he proclaimed himself an independent Baptist preacher. This step was probably resorted to by Waller, under an expectation that his popularity was so great, that he should be able to bring over many of the churches to his party. Be it as it may, he immediately commenced his operations on an extensive plan. On his return from the association, he used his utmost endeavor to form a strong party. He preached from house to house; spread his wings over a large field of ministerial labour; ordained lay elders in every neighbourhood, to prevent inroads; and also several helps in the ministry. He also established what he called camp meetings; in which, they continued together several days, under certain written regulations, of which the following is an extract.

Camp Meeting Regulations
I.                    No female, on any account whatever, shall be permitted to stay in the camp, later than an hour by sun at night; nor appear in the camp, earlier than an hour by sun in the morning.
II.                  The persons in the camp, shall depend for sustenance, during the camp meeting, on the friendly hospitality of the neighbourhood.
III.               Any person in camp, waking at any period of the night may pray or sing, without disturbing the slumbers of others.

The novelty of these meetings, excited the attention of the people in such a manner, that great multitudes crowded after him.

By these means, his party gained strength daily. Few men possessed greater talents for heading a party of this description, than Mr. Waller. The only thing in which he was deficient, was, that he could not be happy while separated from his brethren. He used to say, that in the midst of apparent prosperity and the caresses of his friends, he still yearned after the people of God from whom he had withdrawn. Some years after his restoration, he said to a young preacher who was dissatisfied, and talked of dissenting, “If you could have a distant view of my suffering and leanness of soul, while a dissenter from my brethren, you would never again indulge such a thought”. He was again fully reinstated in connection with his brethren, in 1787; when a full union between Separates, Regulars and Independents was accomplished.[3]

A very great revival commenced under Mr. Waller’s ministry, in 1787. This continued for several years; and spread through all his places of preaching. In this revival he was greatly engaged; and baptized from first to last, many hundred. Early in this revival, Mr. A. Waller, son of his brother Benjamin, was brought in; and in some few years began to preach. Mr. Waller immediately recognized him as his successor; and declared that he believed his work in that part of the earth was finished. Accordingly, November 8th 1793 after taking the most affectionate farewell of the churches, he moved his family to Abbeville, in the state of South Carolina. This removal was said to have arisen, partly from economical considerations, and partly from a strong desire on his own, and on the part of his wife, to live near a beloved daughter; who had some time previously, married Rev. Abraham Marshall, of Georgia. Perhaps there might be other causes. His labours in his new residence, were also blessed; but not to a great extent. He remained, however, faithful in the cause, until his death; which took place, July the 4th, 1802.

His death was, as might be hoped and expected truly glorious. His eldest son describes it, in the following words:

“His conflict with death, as it respected bodily affliction, was truly hard; but his soul appeared to be happy indeed! Never did I witness such a resignation and Christian fortitude before! He was reduced to a perfect skeleton; and, in several places, the skin was rubbed off his bones. His pains appeared to be excruciating; but no murmur was heard from his lips. On the contrary, he would often say, “I have a good Master; who does not give me one stroke too hard, or one too many.”

“The last sermon he preached, was on the death of a young man. The text on which he preached, was Zachariah 2.4. `Run speak to this young man.’ He addressed himself chiefly to youth; in feeble, but animating strains: observing that he counted upon its being the last sermon he should ever preach; and fervently prayed, that, Sampson like, he might slay more at his death than he had done in his life. He continued speaking until his strength failed him. And with reeling steps, he advanced to a bed; where we thought he would have expired. From thence he was removed home in a carriage, for the last time. He said, as to his soul, he was under no concern; as he had given it to Jesus long since: and he was under no doubt but what his Master would provide a mansion for it. Just before his departure, he summoned all his family around him, black and white; and told them, he was anxious to be gone and to be present with Christ: and then warned them to walk in the fear of God; cordially shook hands with all; and soon after, with a pleasant countenance, breathed his last and fell asleep in Jesus. I looked on the corpse, with these words fresh in my mind:
“O lovely appearance of death.”
Thus this great man of God, conquered the last enemy and ascended to that rest, that remaineth for the people of God. He died in the sixty second year of his age; having been a minister of God’s word for about thirty five years; having in that time, lain in four different jails, for the space of one hundred and thirteen days, in all; besides buffetings, stripes, reproaches, etc. Nor was his labour in vain in the Lord. While in Virginia, he baptized more than two thousand persons; assisted in the ordination of twenty seven ministers; and helped to constitute eighteen churches. For many years, he had the ministerial care of five churches; to whom he preached statedly.

As a preacher, his talents in the pulpit, were not above mediocrity; but he was certainly a man of very strong mind. His talents for art and intrigue, were equaled by few. This he exercised sometimes, as it was thought, beyond the innocence of the dove. He was perhaps too emulous to carry his favourite points; especially in associations. Yet it must be owned, that such influence as he acquired in this way he always endeavoured to turn to the glory of God.

He had been married to Miss E. Curtis, previous to his becoming religious. By her he had a number of children; some of whom the old man had the happiness to see profess the same faith with himself.


[1] I transcribed this text with the original spellings and punctuation but changed the style of the letter “s” which in the 1810 text looked like an “f”.
[2] Mr. Craig was remarkably pious and zealous; availing himself of every opportunity to inculcate the gospel of Christ. He knew the grog was the most certain way to command the attention of the grandjury, to whom he desired to offer a lecture. “Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
[3] A partial restoration had taken place some years before this so that Mr. Waller and his party met in association with the Separate Baptists.