The Reverend Robert Yancey of Louisa Co., Virginia (1743-1774)

The following biography and extracts of a sermon of one Rev. Robert Yancey are taken from a published record of the sermon printed about 1853 in Virginia - probably under the direction of his son Col. Charles Yancey of Buckingham County Virginia (also often referred to as Major Charles Yancey - "Wheelhorse of Democracy"). The original sermon would have been given about 1774. The Rev. Robert Yancey was ordained by the Bishop of London as a priest for the Church of England (Anglican Church / Protestant Episcopal Church). He was one of the first in the area of Virginia to embrace the doctrine of Universal Redemption.

Ancestry: (Rev Robert Yancey, son of Robert, son of Charles, son of Charles Yancey)


Images of Original Document


The author of this Sermon, the Rev. ROBERT YANCEY, was born in the State of Virginia, in Louisa County, on Little River. His youth was characterized by the precociousness of his mental developments and amiability of character. Early on he manifested a great desire for knowledge, which rendered him laborious and persevering in his studies. His collegiate course was marked by much ability in Jersey College, in the state of New Jersey, where he graduated with distinction.

His mind, being of a serious and reflective cast, with a nature ever exquisitely sensitive to the beauties of nature, the goodness of God and the exalted destiny of man, caused him gradually and solely to devote himself to the investigations of the mysteries of religion. Desirous of becoming an Episcopal Priest, after the requisite study and qualification, he made a voyage to England, and was ordained by the Bishop of London, as there was no Bishop in this country under the Colonial Government. The credential of ordination will be novel to the present generation. It is here inserted.

"Be it known unto all men by these presents, That we, Richard, by divine permission Bishop of London, holding, by the assistance of Almighty God, a special ordination, on Monday, the 25th day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty eight, being the Feast of St James the Apostle, in the Chapel of our Palace in Fulham, in Middlesex, did admit our beloved in Christ, Robert Yancey, of New Jersey College, in North America, of whose virtuous and pious life and conversion and competent learning and knowledge in the Holy Scriptures we were well assured, into the holy order of Priests, according to the manner and form prescribed and used by the Church of England; and him the said Robert Yancey did then and there rightly and canonically ordain a Priest, he having first in our presence and in due form of law taken the oaths appointed by law to be taken, for and instead of the oath of supremacy, and he likewise having freely and voluntarily subscribed to the thirty-nine articles of religion and to the three articles contained in the thirty-sixth canon.

"In testimony whereof, We have caused our Episcopal Seal to be hereunto affixed. Dated the day and year above written, and in the fifth year of our Translation.

"Ric London, (with a large seal).

Mark Holeman - Deputy Regr.

On his return from England, he was offered the parsonage of Tillotson and Trinity Parishes, in his native county, which he accepted and commenced his useful labors. Soon after his return he married Miss Ann Crawford, (the aunt of the late Wm. H. Crawford,) daughter of David Crawford and Ann Anderson his wife, of Amherst county.

After his marriage he settled at the glebe in Trinity Parish, and continued the Pastor of the two churches, and was very popular and beloved by all until his death, which was early and untimely. During the six years which he was permitted to labor, his exertions were untiring in the cause of religion. Charity was surely one of his virtues, for often he did deprive himself of that which he himself needed, to give to the poor, and used his salary to release unfortunate debtors from the gloomy abode of prison.

He was the first who preached in this country on the subject of Universal Redemption. He was afterwards followed by the celebrated orator and divine, Whitfield, whom Franklin eulogizes so highly in his autobiography. At the time this sermon was preached, Blue Stockingism had reached its culminating point of fanaticism, and what was not according to prescribed rules was heretical and the work of the Devil. Hence the reader will not be surprised to learn that, when it was known this sermon was to be preached there was a great gathering of people from the surrounding parishes to hear it. Many in their fanaticism had worked themselves up to the lynching point, and went provided with ropes and grape vines to mete out justice to this innovator upon their ancestral religion, little deeming that Luther, Huss and others were innovators upon still older forms of religion. However, the cogency of his reasoning on his expositions of scripture, and the mild persuasive eloquence of his language, convinced many that he was right, and that scripture had often been perverted. Many went away rejoicing that they had not committed violence on a fellow-being, whilst others crowded around and congratulated him on his independence and success in attacking openly established dogmas. He preached this sermon but a short time before his death, which occurred in 1774 or consumption. His remains still lie in the soil of his native county, though the spot may be forgotten , with no monumental pile to mark it; yet it contains the earthly remains of one who was truly pure and virtuous.

He left two children, a son and a daughter -- the son a gentleman of high order of intellect, whose wisdom and patriotism have long been tested in the councils of his native state, and regarded as one of the most faithful, worthy and patriotic of her many great and glorious sons -- the daughter a lady of rare, brilliant imagination and of undoubted learning, and whose presence at the levees of President Madison and Monroe was always hailed with pleasure.

The parishes of Tillotson and Trinity are now changed from what they were of old. The forest, which abounded everywhere is gone -- the Indian dwells no more in the land of his forefathers -- his camp-fires have burnt out, and his household gods have fled. The Parson, who administered spiritual consolation to those of Tillotson and Trinity, has ceased to be heard -- his last prayer has long since been offered, and Louisa county is now but in name what it was an hundred years ago.

Richmond, Va, July 1853


"I said, I will answer also my part -- I also will shew mine opinion" Job chapter xxxii verse 17

Among the many questions which have arisen in the christian church, it hath also been one, since the early ages of Christ, Whether the punishment of wicked and impenitent men will in the next world be truly endless or only temporary?

This question, I am informed, has raised some uneasiness among us of late; wherefore I have thought it my duty to answer my part, and to show my opinion on it . . . .

. . . I suppose the doctrine I shall advance will be new to most of you, and what you have scarcely ever allowed yourselves to think of; and I doubt not but it may surprise and perhaps startle you at first sight, as strange and unheard of things are very apt to do.

. . . Think not, my brethren, that I intend to advance such doctrine as will give encouragement to sin. God forbid I should do this, for that would be to fight against him for whose glory I am contending.

Though I am not able to believe that the duration of hell will be strictly endless, as thinking it contrary to the principles of revelation and reason, this I do believe and maintain, that the punishment of impenitent sinners will every way equal the strong and terrible representations given in the Holy Scriptures. As to the time of their duration, it can be known only to God.

. . . And tell me, which is the proper nature of the Gospel religion to set us upon serving God -- out of love or out of fear? Surely, he that served God only through fear of punishment, is a poor servant, and can hardly be acceptable. But he that serves him through love is the true, the faithful, the acceptable servant. Why, then, do men talk of intimidating or awing the world by the preaching of endless punishment, since if it should succeed, yet it will amount to nothing of true religion? . . .

. . . I now proceed to offer you plain, honest words out of the New testament -- words which show their own meaning and have no need of being explained away to show that Christ is the glorious and Universal Savior; that he shall not finally fail in his undertaking, but hath done his work so effectually that it shall absolutely have the effect intended, which was the salvation of the world -- not a part of the world, but the whole world, as our Lord himself tells us when he says, I came not to judge the world but to save the world. And can we believe that if this was his errand, the very thing he came down from Heaven for and underwent such scenes of misery, he shall nevertheless be disappointed in his views and his undertakings? . . . He will bring . . . salvation and glory in his own way and time; though multitudes, from the miserable sinfulness of their natures, must first pass through great tribulation and infinite scenes of distress, must be sorely tortured and refined in the furnace of anguish and woe, and made meet inhabitants for the fine realms of Heaven. A farther proof of this doctrine of the universality of christian redemption, we have, in as plain words as language can furnish, in the second Epistle to Timothy where St. Paul says to Timothy, We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe."

The following is a letter written by Rev. Robert Yancey to a Parish vestry of Louisa County. This letter is to be found among the Presidential Papers of James Madison - a National Archives collection.


To the vestry of the Parish
Louisa June 23 1772


I have sometime entertained thoughts of offering myself a candidate for your parish, but have been hindered by several objections that lay in my way, such as the good understanding and harmony that subsists between me and my parishioners. The obligation I was laid under to them for choosing me for their minister when several more promising chances offered - of what is as considerable as either of these, the [easings?] of my parish, which considering my weak constitution, is certainly a great instance of the divine goodness toward me - Nor can I without the highest ingratitude to God, and injury to myself and family resign so valuable a benefaction for any trifling consideration. But a conviction that removing to your Glebe may greatly promote my health with that of my wife who is a native of the mountains and hath been much relaxed by coming below - (and myself also to be considered in some measure in the same view, for I lived at the mountains five or six years which gave me almost all the health and strength I ever had). These considerations I say have so far obviated the above difficulties as to determine me to offer you my service. But if it is not likely to be attended with any disadvantage to you I would beg to be excused from coming to trouble you with a discourse till about the first of September when the severity of heat will be over which is most peculiarly disagreeable to my constitution. But I should break through this and wait on you immediately if I had not been lately under a severe illness which has reduced and weakened me, of which I do not expect thoroughly to recover till the hot season is past.

I hope gentleman, you will not look upon it in ill light that I beg leave to let you know my desire so long before coming. I sincerely wish it would consist with prudence to come immediately: for should I be so fortunate to obtain your approbation, it would suit much best to know it soon in order that some kind of garden provision might be made for the ensuing winter [of?] that which might be [sewed?] in proper time.

Should you have an offer to your minds I could not expect you to refuse it upon my account; though you may certainly depend upon me as one that will be happy in serving you if life and health permit. And if you should see reason to insist upon my coming sooner, [you?] will be kind enough to let me know it. I will endeavor to oblige you though I had much rather be excused.

[Robert Yancey]


Citation from "Old Churches, Ministers & Families of Virginia" By Bishop William Meade, 1857.

It is sad to think that ministers of the Gospel should contribute to infidelity by recommending the examination of infidel works. Who they were I am unable to ascertain. I have other reasons for knowing that infidelity, under the specious garb of Universalism, was then finding its way into the pulpit. Governor Page, Colonel Nicholas, and Colonel Bland made complaints against some one preaching in or near Williamsburg about this time, for advocating the doctrine with its usual associates, and prevented his preferment. The Rev. Mr Yancey, of Louisa, also published a sermon on Universal Salvation, which has been recently republished by some of that school. A Rev. Mr Tally, of Gloucester, taught the same, and afterward gave a fit comment on his doctrine by dying the death of the drunkard, as one informed me who closed his eyes.

Transcriptions of Letters found in the Lambeth Palace Library

[images of original letters]

Nassau Hall, June . . . [New Jersey College]

These are to certify all whom it may concern that the Bearer hereof Mr. Robert Yancey has resided here as a member of the Junior Class in this College for about eight months and has prosecuted his studies during this period with diligence and success and has constantly maintained an unspotted moral character but [____?] of his infirm state of health is now obliged to interupt? his studies for some time. We therefore cheerfully recommend him as worthy the notice of Gentleman of a Liberal education where ever divine Providence may cast his lot.

Jer.  Halsey
J L. Periam

I hereby promise to pay to Mr. Robert Yancey, if he shall be found worthy of  [____??]  a yearly stipend of thirty pounds sterling at four quarterly payments by even and equal portions and to continue the said stipend from year to year until he shall be otherwise provided for. On condition that the said Robert Yancey shall assist me as curate within the parish of Trinity in the county of Louisa & colony of Virginia. His claim to the above stipend to commence at the time of his entering upon the said curacy.  Witness our hand & seal this nineteenth day of April in the year of our Lord one Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty Eight.   Signed & sealed in the presence of
Robt Barret               Joseph Tickell
John Gristifield          Rector Trinity Parish
Chs Barret                in County of Louisa, Virginia


Wmsburg, April 30th 1768

My Lord
The Bearer Mr. Robert Yancey is now  with me for my letter to your Lordship [Presid.?] & Commander here since the death of our late worthy governor Mr. Hon Fra. Fauquier Esq.   He has produced such certificates as convince me of his fitness for the ministry, but this is humbly submitted to your Lordship's superior judgment.  I am
My Lord
Your Lordship's
most obedient
humble servant

John Blair

I do hereby certifie that the Rev. Mr. Robert Barrett is minister of St Martins Parish in the Colony of Virginia.  That I have been long acquainted with the said Barret & know that a paper of Mr. Robert Yancey is in possession & signed by Mr. Barrett as the Rector of St Martins Parish in Hanover County, Virginia is the handwriting of the sd. Mr. Barrett.  That the Revd M. [Teekill?] is minister of _______ Parish in Louisa County in the same Colony. I do further certifie that I have been long acquainted with most of Mr. Robert Yanceys family & that they [were possessed?? of] sufficient Estates to live decently upon.  Given under my hand in London this 13th of July 1768.
Sam. Gist

All whom it may concern, are herby certified that Mr. Robert Yancey was born in the parish of which I am minister . . . part of his education has been at a distance, his connections therein have given me frequent opportunities of hearing a very amiable character of him, in regard to his morals & behavior, from those who who had the best  opportunity of knowing him that I never have seen or heard any irregularity in him.  I therefore presume to recommend him as a person whom I think a fit candidate for holy

April [??] 1768
Robert Barrett
Rector of St Martins Parish
Hanover County, Virginia

All whom it may concern are hereby certified that Mr. Robert Yancey hath behaved himself soberly, decently and with [____?] is as far as my short acquaintance with him has afforded me an opportunity of observing his conduct and I believe from the testimony of several worthy gentleman who have for many years been intimately acquainted with him , that he is justly entitled to the amiable character they have been pleased to give him.  I therefore [presume?] to recommend him as a worthy candidate for Holy Orders as far as purity of  life and manner can [render him such?]
April 19th 1768
Joseph Tickells
Rector of Trinity Parish
Louisa County Virginia

May it please your honour
The bearer hereof Mr. Robert Yancey having a great inclination to obtain Holy Orders & having taken much pains and been at expense to [justify?] himself thereof.  This is to  inform your honor that I have been acquainted with him for that four or five years past & [____?] do cheerfully [____?] he is esteemed among us & by all his acquaintances as a youth of morals, integrity of life & of an umblemished reputation that in his studies he hath made (A the ??) more than common progress and that his abilities are such (that if he shall be found qualified upon examination for Holy Orders by the Bishop & admitted to the same ) he will be able to fill the [desk?] with decency to general ?? and edification.
I am [_____?] health & happiness to  . . . .[??]
21 March 1768
Ichabod [?????]

Other sources about the Anglican  / Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia and Rev. Robert Yancey.

Religion in Early Virginia

Universalism in America - By Richard Eddy

A Blessed Company - by John Nelson

Old Churches,Ministers and Families of Virginia by Bishop Meade

St Pauls Parish

A List of Parishes in Virginia in 1755