Jamestown: Rooted and grounded in the Anglican expression of Christianity
The first permanent English settlement in America – the Jamestown Settlement, in Virginia – was firmly rooted and grounded in the Anglican expression of the Christian faith.
When I first went to Virginia, I well remember, we did hang an awning (which is an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun, our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut planks; our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees; in foul weather we shifted into an old rotten tent, for we had few better…
This was our church, till we built a homely thing like a barn, set upon cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge and earth; so was also the walls; the best of our houses (were) of the like curiosity, but the most part far much worse workmanship, that neither could well defend wind nor rain, yet we had daily Common Prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months the holy Communion, till our minister died. But our prayers daily with an homily on Sundays, we continued two or three years after, till more preachers came.
— Captain John Smith, from his account of the Jamestown Settlement. The “minister” mentioned was the Rev’d Robert Hunt, of the Church of England, who died in 1607, the same year the colony was founded. Yet the people prayed on, according to the Order for Daily Morning and Evening Prayer of The Book of Common Prayer (which at that time would have been the 1559 edition). “For two or three years” after the death of their priest, “until more preachers came.”
That, my friends, is dedication to one’s faith.
Indeed, faith was part of the settlement from the beginning; in fact, from its inception! There is an interesting account of the founding of the first permanent English “New World” colony found here, which recounts its origin in the inspiration of
an Anglican priest named Richard Hakluyt – who was also one of the world’s leading authorities in navigation and seafaring. For nearly fifty years, Hakluyt had advocated for an English colony in the New World. As an advisor of Queen Elizabeth, he conducted in-depth research on global exploration and wrote and lectured often on the subject.
The same source notes that Hakluyt wrote a well-known treatise entitled Discourse on Western Planting, in which he presented 21 reasons why England should pursue the colonization of North America: chief of which, in Hakluyt’s view, was evangelism. A pamphlet published by the Virginia Company in 1610, a few years after the colony’s establishment, called “A True Declaration of the State of Virginia,” announced the purposes of the new colony: “… our primarie end is to plant religion, our secondary and subalternate ends are for the honour and profit of our nation.”
King James I, Queen Elizabeth's successor,
shared the vision for a colony that would carry British civilization and Christianity to the New World... On December 20, 1606, 105 colonist and 40 seamen set sail from England to plant this new settlement to the glory of God. Hakluyt, who was now an old man, was forbidden by the crown to make the dangerous crossing. Instead, he chose his secretary, friend, and fellow Anglican priest, Robert Hunt, to be the chaplain of the colony.
The settlers landed on the shores of Virginia on April 26, 1607, and it is reported that before permitting the colonists to continue inland, Rev. Hunt required that every person wait before God in a time of personal examination and cleansing. Three days later, on April 29, 1607, the expedition, led by Parson Hunt, went ashore to dedicate the continent to the glory of God:
The colonists and sailors gathered around the cross, holding the first formal prayer service in Virginia to give thanksgiving for God’s mercy and grace. As they knelt in the Virginia sand, Hunt reminded them of the admonition of the British Royal Council, taken from the Holy Scripture: “Every plantation, which my Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.”
So began the first permanent English colony on the North American continent: deeply rooted in the Anglican expression of the Christian faith!