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Nov 07

Davies recognized as a founding father of religious freedom

Posted on November 7, 2023 at 11:50 AM by Shelby Walker

The Rev. Samuel Davies wrote to a friend, “I want to live after I am dead, not in name, but in public usefulness.”

Three hundred years after his birth, he continues to live on through his espousal of religious freedom and his impact on a young man whose cry of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” still resounds in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Samuel Davies

The Rev. Samuel Davies was the leader of a group of Hanoverians who dissented from the notion that all must belong to the established Church of England. His Presbyterians sought religious freedom to worship in their own way, and many of them met in what we know as the historic Polegreen Church on Rural Point Road.Historic Polegreen Church sign

Among his congregants at Polegreen was a boy by the name of Patrick Henry — who decades later rose to fame as the “Voice of the Revolution” and credited Rev. Davies as being his greatest oratorical influence. 

Davies is said to have taught enslaved people to read and write, evangelizing perhaps hundreds of enslaved Africans. He also is credited with being the first American-born hymn writer and the leader of the religious “Great Awakening” in Virginia.

Davies was the first pastor (1748-59) of the Polegreen Church, which drew attendees from what is now the Pearson’s Corner area and beyond. Davies and his family lived near the crossroads of Pearson’s Corner and Route 301. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will place a roadside marker nearby recognizing this location and his place in history.  

Davis died at age 37 while president of what is now Princeton University, but his battle for religious freedom was ultimately won with the American Revolution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution years after his passing.

OSamuel Davies proclamation 11-3-23n October 11, the Hanover County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution recognizing Davies, whose defense of religious liberty and whose influence on Patrick Henry makes him an important figure in the history of Hanover County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States. The proclamation was presented by Board Chair Canova Peterson on November 3 at a special Founders Day dinner held by the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation in honor of Davies.

The State’s historic roadside marker will be placed on property owned by New Hanover Presbyterian Church across Rt. 301 from where Davies lived.