On this site in 1743 ordinary colonists began the successful struggle for greater civil and religious liberty, and inspired a series of events that changed the course of American history. Four years earlier the English evangelist, George Whitefield, preached a sermon at the Bruton Parish Anglican Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. His sermon emphasizing the need for a personal religious experience was enthusiastically received, and subsequently published and widely read throughout the colony. During the previous decade increasing numbers of Anglicans dissented from the state church to gather in homes to study the Bible and read religious material similar to Whitefield's sermon.
As this "Great Awakening" emerged the dissenting population grew, prompting men like Samuel Morris, a Hanover County brick mason, to petition the colonial government for the right to build "reading rooms" like this one. By the time the Reverend Samuel Davies arrived in Virginia in 1747, three more reading rooms had developed in other locations. The dissenter movement understandably alarmed the Anglican clergy who charged them with disturbing the peace, and filed complaints with the civil authorities. The Colonial Governor William Gooch issued the following proclamation and directed that it be widely distributed only ten days before Davies arrived
in Williamsburg to petition for his license to preach.
Transcript of above document:
By the Honble Sir William Gooch
Baronet his Majesty's Lieutenant
Governor and Commander in Chief of
the Colony and Dominion of Virginia
Whereas It is represented to me that
several Itinerate Preachers have lately
crept into this colony and that the Suffering
these Corrupters of our Faith and true
Religion to propagate their shocking
Doctrines may be of mischievous
Consequences. I have therefore thought
fit by and with the Advice of his Majesty's
Council to issue this Proclamation strictly
requiring all Magistrates and Officers
to discourage and prohibit as far as they
legally can all Itinerant Preachers whether
New-Light Men Moravians, or Methodists,
from Teaching Preaching or holding
any Meeting in this Colony: And that
all Persons be enjoined to be aiding and
assisting to that Purpose.
Given under my Hand at Williamsburgh
this third day of April 1747 and in the
xx Year of his Majesty's Reign.
God Save the King.