Thursday, November 12, 2020

The year is 1701. We remember the Vestry Act of 1701. The reading for today comes from an obscure Quaker named Henry White.

It is the 12th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1701. Today we turn our attention to the Anglican Church in England, in America, and especially the colony of North Carolina.

In 1701, wary of another succession crisis, the English passed the Act of Settlement. You may remember that the Glorious Revolution took out King James II and put on the throne his daughter, Mary II, and her husband, the Dutch Protestant William III. When Mary II died, and William remained childless, the Parliament decided that Mary's sister, Anne, would be next in line, followed by King James I granddaughter, Sophia, the Hanover's electoress. After Anne's reign, Sophia's son George would ascend the English throne, thus inaugurating the house of Hannover, which would reign in Britain through Queen Victoria.

1701 also saw the creation of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts" by Thomas Bray. With more and more foreign parts popping up on the map with English colonies, this society sought not only to propagate the Gospel but also to teach and assist indigenous peoples in these "foreign parts." It was a strictly Anglican group, although, in the new world, it could be dicey to make such an explicit connection to the Crown.

One such place that the Society would find fertile ground was in one of the two colonies named King Charles I, Carolina. Of course, the story of North Carolina, or what would become North Carolina, is one of the very first stories of the English in the New World. It was Sir Walter Raleigh that was given the task of forming an English colony by Queen Elizabeth. This would lead to the so-called "lost colony of Roanoke," which is perhaps only supplanted by Stonehenge for needlessly complicated conspiracy theories.

In 1701 North Carolina was just called Carolina. It was another decade before the two Carolina's were formed. The Great Deed of Grant had given the colony recognized status, and the discovery of deep-water inlets allowed for more accessible sailing and trade. Tobacco and whaling brought good money to the region, and soon the good Anglican Brits saw this as a place to settle. But this caused problems with the Quakers who were already there. What to do?

On this, the 12th of November, in 1701, the local assembly passed the Vestry Act of 1701. The Vestry Act brought political stability in that it divided the colony into five parishes, with each parish being represented by 12 men. A vestry, while technically the room where the vestments are donned, could also mean an assembly. You can think of vestry meetings in England like voters' meetings in churches today. But for ease of communication and rule, the Vestry Act of 1701 capped the decision making to just 12. It also formed a kind of legal and governing body as two of the men in the vestry would also be wardens in charge of doling out punishment and collecting required tithes. This was the rub. The Vestry Act made the Anglican Church the only recognized church body in the colony, and tithes were mandatory for the upkeep of Anglican churches and to pay their Anglican church leaders. Famous rebellions from Cary's Rebellion to the rise of the Regulators would stem from this perceived overreach.

While other colonies and denominations would adopt similar practices, connections to the Anglican Church were especially suspect by the time of the Revolution. Anglicanism would cease to have the same pronounced presence in the state until the later, post-Revolutionary creation of the Anglican Church in America (who we have decided to call Episcopalians).

But it was a moment for the colony and the Anglican Church in the new world when North Carolina passed the Vestry Act of 1701 on this, the 12th of November, in 1701.

The reading for today comes from an obscure Quaker named Henry White, who wrote what is considered the first piece of poetry, in English, in North Carolina around the time of the Vestry Act. This is a selection from that long unnamed poem:

But come, methinks I here proclaim
A restorer again for to be named
As woman pluck the fruit and thorn, dread
How seed should bruise the serpents head
Which seed is Christ as scripture saith
the same that all the holy saw by Faith
As good auld Jacob said unto his son
The Law can't depart till it is done
And Prophets of the Lord did plainly tell
That He should restore his people Israel
And be a light unto the Gentiles in his birth
And grant salvation to the ends of ye earth

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, a man whose favorite fictional Regulators include Emilio Estevez from Young Guns and Long Beach's own Warren G. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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