There were two other events that happened after the death of Samuel Davies (February 4, 1761) in which he played an indirect, but very close part. The first of those events was the Revolutionary War. That war has been called the ‘Presbyterian Rebellion’ because most of the leading voices in it were Presbyterians. That was certainly true of Patrick Henry (1736-1799) whose immortal words, “Give me liberty or give me death!” are well-known throughout the world even today. As I was preparing my speech for the three hundredth anniversary celebration of Samuel Davies’ birth on November 3, 2023, my wife and I went to lunch at a local restaurant. There was a young man there on that occasion who was wearing a shirt with Henry’s words on the front of it. Henry was a Presbyterian and had been a member of Davies’ church, Polegreen Presbyterian Church, from the very beginning, Henry’s mother was a daughter of one of Davies’ elders in that church and she drove him to the worship service in her horse drawn buggy every Lord’s Day from 1748 until his marriage in 1755. On the ride back home, Henry had to recite as much of the sermon as he could remember. It was in those exercises that the oratorical skills of Henry were developed and refined. As an adult, he referred to Davies as the greatest orator he ever heard.
The connection of Davies with the Revolutionary War is two-fold. First, there is the connection through Henry who would have heard the various war sermons of Davies in the 1750’s when the Virginian parson was rallying the citizens to a sense of their imminent danger with that French and Indian War. Davies never made a statement that exactly parallels Henry’s famous words before the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, but he said similar things. He talked about fighting for “life and liberty.” He warned of the loss of both religious and pollical freedom; the loss of life to the brutal attacks of the Indians; and, the necessity of fighting valiantly for those things that should not be lost without a fight. When Henry stood before the gathered body in St. John’s Church (known then as Henrico Parish Church) in Richmond, Virginia, the whole cause of the Revolutionary War was in the balance. The ensuing vote passed only by four votes. Either Henry swayed at least four people to vote on his side of the issue or his speech does not deserve to be called one of the most important speeches in the history of the world. Henry’s speech was the deciding factor in that vote, without a doubt. Those present there that day certainly considered it to be so and history has agreed. Samuel Davies was not alive on that day in 1775, but his words two decades earlier inspired the one who championed that day. Without Samuel Davies, would there have been a Patrick Henry to rally Virginians? Maybe, but it is doubtful.