Mechanicsville, VA High 75 Low 58
I love walking in the footsteps of those people who have had an impact on our country’s history. Learning about them and why they did or said what they did. This first stop at Saint John’s Episcopal Church was definitely one of the best ever.
This church was built in 1741. Think about that. This church is 273 years old. How proud it must be of the speech that was given within its walls and the important people who sat in its pews.
This is the back story behind this famous speech. As tensions with England grew in the 1770s, the Virginia Conventions were held. They were a series of five meetings in which representatives from the colonies gathered to decide the future relationship between the colonies and England.
The first convention was organized after Lord Dunmore dissolved the House of Burgesses when that group called for a day of fasting and prayer as a show of solidarity with the Boston Tea party. Angered by Lord Dunmore’s actions, the Burgesses moved to Raleigh Tavern to continue the meeting.The Burgesses declared support for Massachusetts and called for a congress of all the colonies, the Continental Congress.
Because Lord Dunmore could summon troops to arrest the Burgesses, the second convention met in Richmond which was a two day ride from Williamsburg. St. John’s was chosen because it was the largest public building in the city. (the church has been expanded over the years)
These are the original doors into the church.
Attending this meeting in March of 1775 were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry and other prominent Virginians.
Patrick Henry had several failures as he struggled to find his way. He started a couple of businesses that failed. His father gave him and his wife a small farm but the house burned down and he gave up on the farm life. His father-in-law offered him a job in his tavern but that didn’t work out either. However, he did succeed in one area – he was the father of 17 children.
One of those signers was George Wythe, America’s first law professor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is buried in St. John’s cemetery.
Back to the amazing Patrick Henry. He was considered a radical by colonists and England alike. He was a fiery orator and a very persuasive speaker. He became the first governor of the Virginia Commonwealth under its new constitution and served five terms.
He was selected to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. There, he met Sam Adams and, together, they stoked the fires for revolution. During the proceedings, Henry called for the colonists to unite in their opposition to British rule: "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."
Picture yourself sitting in this pew in this church, surrounded by famous historical figures. Several of the men do not want to go to war with England. They want to figure out a way to protect their rights without breaking from the Motherland.
Patrick is sitting in his pew listening to these men and then stands up and starts into a 25 to 30 minute passionate speech, using no notes, supporting a break from England. His speech ends with these words.
“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Less than two weeks later, the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.