Thomas Jefferson Testimonial for Reverend Charles Clay


15 August 1779

The reverend Charles Clay has been many years rector of this parish, and has been particularly known to me. During the whole course of that time his deportment has been exemplary as became a divine, and his attention to parochial duties unexceptionable. In the earliest stage of the present contest with Great Britain, while the clergy of the established church in general took the adverse side, or kept aloof from the cause of their country, he took a decided and active part with his countrymen, and has continued to prove his whiggism unequivocal, and his attachment to the American cause to be sincere and zealous. As he has some thought of leaving us, I feel myself obliged, in compliance with the common duty of bearing witness to the truth when called on, to give this testimonial of his merit, that it may not be altogether unknown to those with whom he may propose to take up his residence. Given under my hand this 15th. day of August 1779.


“Testimonial for Charles Clay, [15 August 1779],” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2015-03-20]). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 3, 18 June 1779 – 30 September 1780, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951, p. 67.

Source notes:

MS (Mrs. Nannie E. Steele, Cheyenne, Wyo., 1944); photostat in Vi. Entirely in TJ’s hand, this is apparently the copy given to Clay.

It is not known whether Clay left Albemarle co. at this time; according to available records he remained the incumbent of St. Anne’s Parish until 1785, when he transferred to Manchester Parish, Chesterfield co. (Goodwin, Colonial Church in Va., p. 260). Clay had preached the fast-day sermon in Albemarle in July 1774 and the funeral sermon for Thomas Jefferson’s mother in the spring of 1776; Thomas Jefferson and Fillipo Mazzei as vestrymen organized a subscription (written by Jefferson) for the establishment of a new independent church with Clay as minister after the disestablishment of the Church in 1776, and paid a glowing tribute to Clay’s patriotism (see Thomas Jefferson and John Walker to the Inhabitants of St. Anne’s Parish, under date of 23 July 1774; Thomas Jefferson’s Account Books, 5 Apr. 1777; Subscription to Support a Clergyman in Albemarle County, printed above at end of Feb. 1777). Bishop Meade quotes a fiery passage from one of Clay’s patriotic sermons in 1777 (Old Churches and Families, ii, 49).

Called Unto Liberty is researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional introductory notes and commentary) by Steve Farrell, Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal. Copyright © 2015 Steve Farrell.