Religious liberty wasn’t always guaranteed in
early America. In 1707 the Rev. Francis Makemie
was jailed and charged with flouting a
prohibition against Presbyterian religious
services in Taunton, Massachusetts.
English colonists hoped to import their
persecution of Presbyterians — mainly Scots and
Ulster Scots. But the Scots resisted with the
same fierce, sullen resentment evident in
Scotland and Ulster. The Scots were intensely
religious and saw no reason to compromise.
■ At his
trial in New York, the Rev. Makemie delivered a
powerful polemic on religious liberty that
brought about his acquittal. More important was
the fact that his masterly arguments were
disseminated widely and were a powerful force in
crystallizing public opinion on the side of
religious freedom in America.
was born about 1658 in Ulster of Scottish
parents. He studied for the Presbyterian
ministry at the University of Glasgow. Following
his ordination in Scotland in 1683, he came to
America to minister to Presbyterian
congregations in Maryland and Virginia.
Unfortunately, he died at the apex of his career
in 1708, only one year after his acquittal.
■ Though he
is not well known, even in his own church, the
Rev. Francis Makemie is distinguished as the
founder of the Presbyterian Church in America.
He was the organizer of the first American
Presbytery and was the first Moderator of the
American Presbyterian Church. Perhaps his
greatest contribution to America was his
influence on religious liberty.
■ In 1908,
exactly 200 years after his death, the American
Presbyterian Historical Society erected a
monument at his gravesite near Holden’s Creek,
Virginia, to one of the great figures in the
American Presbyterian Church.