It Happened Here
by Larry S. Chowning
On August 12, 1771, Baptist Elder John Waller wrote a letter from inside Middlesex County’s jail in Urbanna to “Dear Brothers In The Lord” outlining his imprisonment. The letter was printed in Semple’s History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptist in Virginia.
The first printing of Robert B. Semple’s history was in 1810 and reprinted in 1892. A copy of this second edition, left by past generations, was in my house in Urbanna when I moved there in 1973.
My great-uncle, Charles Henry Palmer Jr., who had lived in the house before me, marked Waller’s letter on page 481 and he would on occasion read the letter to me when I was a child. The letter speaks to the plight of early Baptists preaching the gospel in areas such as Middlesex, where the King’s Anglican Church was in command.
Waller wrote, that “at a meeting held at Brother McCan’s (Water View area) in this county last Saturday, while Brother William Weber was addressing the congregation . . . there came running toward him, in a most furious rage Captain James Montague, a magistrate of the county, followed by the (Anglican) parson and several others, who seemed greatly exasperated.
“The magistrate (Montague) . . . took hold of Brother Weber, and dragging him from the stage, delivered him with (others) . . . into custody, and commanded that we should be brought before the court.
“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.”
While in jail, Waller preached to followers from the jail house window and he wrote, “Yesterday we had a large number of people to hear us preach . . . who behaved well while one of us discoursed on the new birth.”
Waller and others were found guilty and he was escorted out of the county; but another part of this story is that of Captain James Montague. Montague, just two years after dragging Brother Weber from the stage, was elected one of two burgesses for Middlesex County (1773-1776) who carried the torch of freedom during the Revolutionary period.
When I was a child, my great-uncle compared Montague to the villainous Captain Hook of Peter Pan. It was nearly 50 years later that I would learn of his role and leadership here during the American Revolution. I agree with his ancestor Robert Lynch Montague who wrote in 1922 that James Montague “broke the backbone of Tories in Middlesex.”
You can’t always judge a man’s life by one wrong action!
It happened Right Here in Rivah Country!