The Lexington Presbytery was taken from the Hanover Presbytery of central Virginia, arguably one of the most influential Christian organizations and regions of any in America’s Christian history. Founded by the Reverend Samuel Davies (known as “the Apostle of Virginia”) in 1753, Hanover was the mother presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the South. The Lexington Presbytery inherited a rich heritage from Hanover—that of teaching blacks to read so they could be evangelized and converted to Christ. According to one scholar, “No white person in colonial America was as successful as Davies in stimulating literacy among slaves in the South.” Davies’s purpose in teaching blacks to read was more than utilitarian. “Davies as a Presbyterian believed that the attainment of true religion by anyone, bond or free, black or white, required extensive knowledge that came from not only hearing the word of God but also reading it.”
Davies’s work among blacks “was the first sustained and successful program by a white clergyman in the South to stimulate large numbers of Africans and African Americans to read in English.” Davies, unlike many of his colonial contemporaries believed in the “full humanity of the African people.” In a 1757 sermon to slave owners, he proclaimed: “His immortality gives him a kind of infinite value. Let him be white or black, bond or free, a native or a foreigner, it is of no moment in this view: he is to live forever!”
Davies laid the responsibility for the slaves’ condition squarely at the feet of their masters: “Your Negroes may be ignorant and stupid as to divine things not for want of capacity, but for want of instruction;not through perverseness, but through your negligence. . . . They are generally as capable of instruction, as the white people.” Davies’s comments regarding slaves being “capable of instruction as the white people” put him at odds with many whites, particularly Northern slave traders and Southern slave holders. So successful were his efforts that James Davenport noted them in a letter to Jonathan Edwards, telling “of a remarkable work of conviction and conversion among whites and negroes, at Hanover in Virginia under the ministry of Mr. Davies.” One hundred years later, Davies’s mantle of success among blacks passed to Thomas J. Jackson. For a thorough treatment of Davies’s efforts, see Jeffrey H. Richards, “Samuel Davies and the Transatlantic Campaign for Slave Literacy in Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 111, no. 4 (2003).
*I'm still planning on posting a rebuttal to Michael's Tea Party criticisms . . . just a lot going on right now.