Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Patrick Henry, Christian Patriot

by C.J. Chase

One of my favorites of all the founding fathers is Patrick Henry (1736-1799). Best remembered for his 1775 speech that concluded with “…give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was also the first democratically elected governor of Virginia (1776-1779) and vocal proponent of the Bill of Rights.

Unlike a number of the other founders who held to deist or Unitarian beliefs, Henry was a devout Christian. Indeed, Henry developed much of his oratory style from listening to the preaching of Samuel Davies (1723-1761), one of the leaders of the Great Awakening. A Presbyterian, Davies was the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia.

Ironically, one of Davies’ main detractors in Virginia was an Anglican rector named Patrick Henry—uncle (and namesake) of the famous patriot. The Great Awakening divided the Henry family. The younger Patrick Henry’s father and uncle remained Anglican while his mother Sarah joined one of Davies’ Presbyterian congregations, a dissenter group during a time when the Anglican Church was Virginia’s state religion.

Sarah Henry frequently took her son to hear the evangelist, and Patrick Henry would later credit the minister with “a most profound influence” on him. Though the younger Patrick Henry maintained a lifelong membership in the Anglican/Episcopal denomination, Davies impacted Henry’s political and religious philosophies. Henry became a devoted advocate for religious freedom in Virginia and the newly independent United States.

I’d long wanted to go to the Patrick Henry National Memorial at Red Hill, the plantation where Henry and his second wife lived after he retired from political office. However, Red Hill is off the beaten path in south-central Virginia (about two hours southwest of Richmond) and we’d never made the trip. With my son now in college about an hour from the plantation (interestingly, at a school founded by Presbyterians with Patrick Henry as one of the first trustees), we decided to fit in time for a tour after we dropped him off at his dorm.

After Henry's death (1799), his heirs added onto the house at Red Hill several times, turning the small cottage into a veritable mansion. Unfortunately, the entire structure burned to the ground in 1919. The building there now is a re-creation.

Recreation of Henry house at Red Hill
However, later research determined that to be the design of the house after Henry's death. At the time Henry lived there with his wife and the 9 youngest of his surviving children, it was much smaller. I've cropped the picture to give you an idea just how small the place was for 11 people.

House as it would have appeared during Patrick Henry's tenure

The Henrys had the wealth to build a bigger house, but they chose to live in a smaller place. Rather humbling!

After he retired from politics, Henry returned to practicing law. His original office building remains on the property at Red Hill.

Patrick Henry's last law office
Henry died in 1799 and is buried at Red Hill. On his death bed, he witnessed to his doctor and friend, an atheist. “Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die." His two youngest sons, only 3 and 5 at the time of his death, inherited the property at Red Hill. The US Congress made Red Hill a national memorial in 1986.

I'll close with more of Henry's most famous words:

If we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. 

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!

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her current release, The Reluctant Earl, is now available  in online bookstores. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at www.cjchasebooks.com 


  1. Very interesting. He sees like he was a humble, genuine man. We could certainly use more of those in office.

    Thank you!

  2. DeAnna, and unlike a lot (most?) modern politicians, he knew when it was time to retire and return to private life!

  3. Very awesome, CJ. I am a great admirer of Patrick Henry. I wish I could have seen the house on Red Hill when I was visiting in Virginia. What I didn't know when I was visiting Williamsburg, is that my sister's husband is a descendant of Patrick Henry! Cool, huh?

  4. Suzie, when I was researching this, I saw there's an organization for Henry descendants. You'll have to let your b-i-l know.

    There's another Henry house open for tour (Scotchtown). I haven't been to that one, but after going to Red Hill, I decided I'd have to make it there too. (I think it's in the Richmond area, so not as remote. Except, for the next few years, we'll be going to South-Central VA.)

  5. Wonderful insight into this man. Thank you, C.J! I love the style of that speech. Written with so much passion, you can hear it and feel it.

    I hadn't heard of this historical site. Virginia is stuffed with them, of course!


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