The ministers of the established Anglican church were a mainstay of colonial life in Virginia and one of the most well-known was the Reverend William Kay. The young man’s fame began one Sunday in 1745 when he preached a sermon against the vice of pride. Among his congregants was the powerful and proud Col. Landon Carter, who took offense, swore revenge, and vowed to drive Kay from the parish. Carter’s prolonged crusade against Kay went down in history when high government and church officials supported the minister’s cause in groundbreaking litigation and legislation.
Cynthia Mattson graduated from the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America and served as a trial lawyer for most of her career with the federal government. She is a member of the Virginia and District of Columbia bars and is the author of James Craig, Patriot Parson: An American Story of Religion and Revolution.
While writing my biography of the Reverend James Craig, an eighteenthcentury Anglican minister in Virginia, I became acquainted with a fellow clergyman whose story intersected with Craig’s, the Reverend William Kay. I learned that Reverend Kay is a familiar figure to scholars of colonial Virginia’s established church. An ordained minister of the Church of England, Kay was sent by the Bishop of London to join the ranks of the Anglican clergy in Virginia. Upon Kay’s arrival in the capital of Williamsburg in 1744, Governor William Gooch, who served as the head of the church, arranged for him to become the minister of Lunenburg Parish in Richmond County. Kay enjoyed a warm welcome by the parish vestry and their fellow citizens in the community. But three years later he found himself at the center of a groundbreaking lawsuit that culminated in legislation creating a new legal protection for the clergy.