- Time Period
Davies was a proponent of the First Great Awakening and a "New Side" Presbyterian. In 1747, the Presbyterian New York Synod ordained Davies and sent him to evangelize in Virginia. After less than a decade, Davies founded the Hanover Presbytery, the first presbytery in the South. This was a major feat considering how Anglicanism was the state-supported denomination in Virginia. Evangelical preachers like Davies and Isaac Backus helped push for religious disestablishment in Virginia, which came to fruition in 1786.Davies also helped raise enough money to move the College of New Jersey to Princeton and helped construct the school’s first major building, Nassau Hall. In 1758, Davies was elected as the fourth President of Princeton University. Though he initially declined, he finally agreed and took office the next year. He mentored a number of students who became influential during the Revolutionary War, including Benjamin Rush, future signer of the Declaration of Independence.
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Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
Davies was born in Delaware and educated at an unofficial school in Pennsylvania run by Samuel Blair, himself a graduate of William Tennent's original "Log College." Davies was a proponent of the First Great Awakening and a "New Side" Presbyterian. In 1747 the Presbyterian New York Synod ordained Davies and sent him to evangelize in Virginia. After less than a decade of work, Davies founded the Hanover Presbytery, the first presbytery in the South. That Davies was able to found a Presbyterian presbytery in the heart of Virginia, where Anglicanism was the state-supported denomination, was a testament to his clever politicking. His first stop upon arriving in Virginia was a visit to the governor and he obtained a license to preach from the state legislature, the first obtained by a dissenter in the colony. Hanover Presbytery would continue to be a hotbed of support for the rights of religious dissenters after Davies died. In 1776 the Presbytery sent an appeal to the state legislature calling for full disestablishment of the Anglican Church, a hope that finally came to fruition in 1786.Davies also curried influence with the colonial authorities through his forthright support for the British during the French and Indian War in the 1750s. He preached several pro-British sermons that were widely circulated in Virginia. Ironically, as historian Mark Noll observes, Davies's sermons "joined together themes of liberty, patriotism and Christian faith, that, one generation later, his American successors turned against British rule." One young admirer of Davies's oratory was Patrick Henry, who would credit the preacher with influencing his own rhetorical style. From 1753-1755, Davies traveled to Ireland and England with Gilbert Tennent to raise money for the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton. They raised enough funds to move the school from Elizabeth to Princeton and to construct the schools first major building, Nassau Hall. In 1758, Davies was elected as the fourth President of Princeton University. Though he initially declined, he finally agreed and took office the next year. He mentored a number of students who would become influential during the Revolutionary War, including Benjamin Rush, future signer of the Declaration of Independence. His final sermon, given to the students at Princeton on New Years' Day 1761, took its text from Jeremiah 28:16, "This year thou shalt die." While exhorting the students to not waste what time in this life remained to them, Davies stated, "Perhaps I may die this year." A month later, he was dead. Davies' sermons continued to be reprinted into the 19th century. While Davies's final sermon was well-remembered, the most popular sermon anecdote regarding the preacher was entirely apocryphal. As the story went, while on his fundraising tour in Britain, Davies was called to preach in the royal chapel for King George II. When the king started whispering to others in attendance, Davies stopped talking, fixed his gaze on the King, and said, "When the lion roars the beasts of the forest all tremble; when King Jesus speaks, the princes of the earth should keep silence." Davies kept a detailed diary during the trip and never mentioned the incident, but it speaks to the continued respect for Davies a century after his death. People could easily imagine the fiery Davies bearding King George II in his own chapel.
- Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other Timeline Event Entries
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other Timeline Biography Entries
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links
Princeton University Founded
Hanover Presbytery Organized in Virginia
Samuel Davies portrait- Internet Archive
Samuel Davies portrait- New York Public Library Digital Collections
Sermon on Religion and Patriotism by Samuel Davies, title page- Internet Archive
Samuel Davies communion token- Hathi Trust
Larson, Timothy and David Bebbington and Mark Noll, 2003. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.
- Web Page Contributor
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History