Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Interview with Delegate Chris Peace

Virginia Gentleman: You were first elected to the House of Delegates in 2006 to represent the 97th House District. Where is the District?
Delegate Chris Peace: "Serving the people of the 97th District is the high honor of my life. Since 2006, voters of eastern Hanover, King William and New Kent have asked me to represent them and their families in Virginia’s General Assembly to the best of my ability."
Virginia Gentleman: Do you have a political hero, or role model?
Delegate Chris Peace: "As a lover of history and being a native Hanoverian Patrick Henry is an obvious choice. In fact, my son is named Henry. As the orator of the Revolution he gave a voice to liberty and his impact remains relevant today. I also revere the father of our country George Washington and James Monroe. Monroe ushered in the Era of Good Feelings, held every office one could hold and ran unopposed for President. In the more modern era, I have great respect for Teddy Roosevelt for his strong leadership in difficult times and one who could push for progress even as a conservative. An obscure figure for most who study the American Civil War, I have always admired James Longstreet. He was willing to challenge the most beloved figure in the South and of course, he became a Republican."
Virginia Gentleman: You are the Executive Director of the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation. Describe the Foundation, what is its mission?
Delegate Chris Peace: "From the founding of the Virginia Colony in 1607 at Jamestown Island until the American Revolution 170 years later, there was only one officially recognized religion in the colony. The Anglican Church operated as the established church. Church structures were built by the colonial government, and their ministers were paid by taxing the citizens. All other religious groups were discouraged, suppressed and harassed. In the late 1730's a powerful religious movement, which became known as the "Great Awakening" took hold in the middle colonies of America. It was initially energized by the preaching of George Whitefield, the itinerating British Methodist evangelist, and soon followed by a noticeable number of Presbyterian clergy. In 1739 Whitefield preached in Williamsburg. His sermon was published and widely read throughout Virginia. Shortly thereafter a Hanover County brick mason named Samuel Morris gathered his family and some neighbors into his home regularly on Sunday afternoons to read the Bible and religious tracts, including Whitefield's sermons. This was the beginning of the dissenter movement in Virginia. By 1743 the Governor's Council in Williamsburg licensed four dissenter "reading houses", three in Hanover County and one in Henrico. They were all named "Morris Reading Houses". The reading house built on Samuel Morris' land was named after George Polegreen, a land grant recipient of the previous century. At the request of the Hanover dissenters a newly ordained 23-year-old Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania arrived in 1747 to be pastor of the four congregations which had been licensed by the Colonial government in 1743. He was the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia. Davies remained in Virginia until 1759 and made a remarkable contribution to the religious and political climate of the colony. Among his achievements was his pioneering effort in the education of black slaves. The classic negro slave spiritual, "Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart" originated at Polegreen. Musicologists credit Davies with being the first American-born hymn writer. His poetry was published in Williamsburg in 1752. He had no peer as a pulpit orator in Virginia, or perhaps in all the colonies, during his lifetime. Patrick Henry worshipped with his mother, a Hanover dissenter, at Polegreen during the twelve years Davies was in Virginia. Before Henry's death he credited Davies with "teaching me what an orator should be." During the French and Indian War, Davies distinguished himself as an American patriot prompting Governor Dinwiddie to say, "Davies is the best recruiter in the colony". For more than a century the Polegreen Church stood as a monument to the Hanover Dissenters and Samuel Davies in their struggle for religious liberty in pre-revolutionary America. In 1864, during America's agonizing Civil War, General Grant, trying to take Richmond, made an attempt to break through General Lee's lines along the Totopotomoy Creek. Polegreen Church rested squarely in the center as the two armies faced each other. During an attack the Union forces overran the Confederate outer positions and occupied the church. In an effort to dislodge Union sharpshooters, Confederate artillery fired on the church. According to the diary of William S. White, a gunner with the Richmond Howitzers, his gun fired the shot that set the church ablaze. Ironically, his diary notes that his own father had been baptized in Polegreen Church. In war-ravaged Hanover County the congregation which had worshipped at Polegreen could not afford to rebuild the destroyed church. Over the years since 1864 all signs of the great center of the struggle for religious liberty vanished. In 1990 the Presbytery of the James, successor to Hanover Presbytery which had been founded at Polegreen in 1755, authorized the creation of a non-profit foundation, ecumenical in nature, to preserve, enhance and interpret the site of Polegreen Church. The first objective of the foundation was to locate the remains of the colonial church. Archaeologists from Virginia Commonwealth University oversaw the effort, and the remains of the church's foundation were revealed. On the basis of the physical evidence of the church's location and the easily documented record of the important events related to the Hanover Dissenters and Samuel Davies, in 1991 the U.S. National Park Service listed the Polegreen site in the Register of National Historic Places. The Polegreen Foundation has been the grateful recipient of the advice and counsel of the staff of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Through them the services of internationally known architect Carlton Abbott were obtained. Abbott designed the present unique enhancement over the site of the ancient Polegreen Church. For the first time in 137 years there is something to see on the place which represents one of the great chapters of American history. With growing concern over urban sprawl, which had already begun to have an impact on the surroundings of the old church, the Foundation set out to acquire the view shed around the original site. To date nearly 110 acres have been preserved. The Foundation welcomes you into its enlarging family. We hope you will be captivated by the preservation and interpretation of one of America's most important historic sites. Vision Statement By 2018, the 275th Anniversary of the founding of Polegreen Church, the Foundation will be recognized for its leadership in the historic interpretation of civil and religious freedom in Colonial Virginia through preservation of the site, community outreach and educational programs. Mission Statement To preserve the historic Polegreen Church site and commemorate the struggle for civil and religious freedom in Colonial Virginia by Rev. Samuel Davies and the Hanover Dissenters." For more visit: http://historicpolegreen.org/ or find us on Facebook and Twitter (@Polegreen)
Virginia Gentleman: I know you are a history buff, when I went to Virginia public schools we had to take a class on Virginia History. Are there any requirements on schools to teach Virginia History or is that just up to the county?
Delegate Chris Peace: "Virginia SOLs require Virginia History to be taught in 4th and 5th Grades. Visit this DOE site for more information: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/history_socialscience/index.shtml. Polegreen has SOL-based lesson plans for our schools and teacher free of charge at http://historicpolegreen.org/resources/."
Virginia Gentleman: If someone wants to become a member of the Historic Polegreen Church Foundation how can they do it?
Visit http://historicpolegreen.org/join/ BECOME A MEMBER of the Foundation and become a vital part of preserving the origins of religious freedom in America and receive benefits in return! Membership Levels: $25 Teacher/Student $40 Individual $60 Family/Household $75 Groups Gift Memberships are a great idea at a level of your choice. Member Benefits Newsletter and other special communications Advance notice and email alerts on activities and programs Invitations to receptions and special events Discount on facility use and program fees Membership costs are tax deductible unless taking advantage of financial discount. The Historic Polegreen Church Foundation, Inc. is a not for profit, non-stock corporation that solicits contributions for charitable purposes in Virginia. The Foundation is registered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Affairs.

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