Jarratt, Devereux (1733-1801)
Devereux Jarratt (1733-1801)
Conversion. Devereux Jarratt reached his widest fame as a leader of the Great Awakening in Virginia during the 1760s and 1770s. Surprisingly he participated in this revivalist movement as an Anglican and later an Episcopalian minister. Jarratt was born near Richmond, Virginia, on 17 January 1733 and raised in the Church of England. Like many Anglican families in colonial Virginia, the Jarratts were not especially religious, and Devereux lacked any strong feelings about God until he reached adulthood. Pursuing a career as a schoolteacher, Jarratt found himself a tutor to the sons of John Cannon, an evangelical Presbyterian. He felt the first stirring of religious belief while listening to Cannon’s wife read pious tracts to her children. After this first step Jarratt learned from local Presbyterian ministers already engaged in the work of religious revival. They taught him about traditional Calvinistic beliefs such as predestination, the depravity of human nature, and the need for personal salvation by God. Jarratt saw himself as called by God to preach a “vital religion” to “unawakened” people such as the religiously complacent Virginians who had raised him. He decided to become a minister.
Ministry. Jarratt traveled to England in 1762 and was ordained in the Church of England even though he had been converted by Presbyterians. He returned to Virginia in 1763 and began preaching at the church in Bath, a town in the southern reaches of the colony. His powerful, musical voice together with his intensely emotional preaching brought large crowds to his church, and his ministry rapidly expanded. He added a traveling, itinerant ministry to his regular parish duties and for more than two decades preached tirelessly across the countryside of southern Virginia and into North Carolina. Jarratt preached at large outdoor gatherings on all days of the week and was extremely popular among Virginia’s lower classes, who were most likely to be drawn into this revivalist religion. He was not such a favorite of the Virginia gentry and the established Anglican ministry, whom he criticized for their licentious lifestyle and lack of attention to piety. Jarratt rarely attended clerical meetings, and the one time he preached to an Anglican convention, he took the opportunity to lecture his colleagues for being “cold and languid, slothful and vicious.”
Conflict with Methodism. If Jarratt found little encouragement for his efforts from within the established Anglican Church, he was supported by a growing evangelical wing of that church, people known as the Methodists. Methodism began as a revival movement within Anglicanism. Methodist leaders such as Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke worked alongside Jarratt, and Jarratt even converted to Christ the father of Jesse Lee, later one of the most famous Methodist preachers on the nineteenth-century frontier. Asbury, the first American Methodist bishop, credited Jarratt in 1781 with saving more souls in Virginia than any other preacher. In the years after the American Revolution the Anglicans, now called Episcopalians, fell into general disfavor for their religious coldness and their failure to support the republican cause during the war. The Methodists formed a separate denomination, and Jarratt never forgave their lack of loyalty even though he was drawn to their religious practices more than most Episcopalians. Jarratt was a proud man, and his outspokenness on Methodist failings alienated many former supporters. Several Methodists also objected to Jarratt’s slaveholding. He continued to preach into the 1800s, but to ever-smaller groups. The decline in his work mirrored the decline of Episcopalianism in the South. Jarratt died in Bath from cancer on 29 January 1801. After his death his work continued with the publication of his Autobiography in 1806, which he had written as a model for leading a Christian life and as a last effort to bring people to the true God.
The Life of the Reverend Devereux Jarratt: An Autobiography, edited by David L. Holmes (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1995).
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