There is an unfortunate notion that the elite leaders of colonial Virginia were somehow deists or agnostics, and that they operated in a sort of less-religious universe than Puritans up north. And it is true, of course, that Mayflower folk were leaving Europe for religious freedom, and the Virginia settlers came more for a better life, and often led a life of excess.
But I came across a fascinating anecdote while re-reading David Hackett Fisher’s Albion’s Seed, the 1989 survey of American folkways that explain how settlers from different areas of Britain created patterns of living in the U.S. that are prevalent today. In the book, author Fisher cites Philip Bruce’s 1907 history Social Life in Virginia to describe some of the 391 books in Ralph Wormeley’s library at Virginia’s Rosegill plantation in Middlesex County. Of those books, 123 volumes were religious in nature, indicating that the elite figures of Virginia society were in some cases, striving deeply to be better men. [Read more…]