Morattico Baptist Church was founded in January of 1778. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, the fledgling experiment that would become the United States of America was at the time of her founding a loosely bound group of English colonies. Each colony had those who believed in independence from England and those who were loyal to the crown.
Interestingly, the religious climate mirrored that sentiment. There were many who were loyal to the church of England and would remain so following the birth of the United States. But there were others in the colonies who wanted complete independence from the English crown and who desperately wanted their own, free of the directives and encumbrances of a “religious” governing body. It was from this desire for freedom of religion that the Baptist denomination grew, and it was in Virginia that religious freedom was vehemently pursued.
In the small, rural communities of Virginia, the Baptist preachers found fertile soil. The harvest among farmers and fishermen was plentiful in communities that had been destroyed by the British army and it was in the Northern Neck of Virginia where this fierce call for independence was loudest. A small band of men, women and children gathered in the great room of Morattico Hall in Richmond County and took the brave step to begin a Baptist church to serve the counties of the “Neck.” Among them was a young preacher from Stafford County and his name was Lewis Lunsford.
Lewis Lunsford began preaching when he was seventeen years old and quickly became known for his powerful messages and eloquence. He was given the nickname, “The Wonderful Boy” by those who heard him. Lunsford is first documented as having spoken in the Northern Neck in 1773. He often found opposition to his preaching and was arrested more than once by local magistrates who were loyal to the church of England. His messages were so powerful, that several messages were interrupted by mobs who sought to end his preaching and ultimately, end his life! In 2010 the Baptist Tribune wrote of Lunsford, “Lunsford, undeterred by his opponents, continued preaching the gospel with great success. He founded the Nomini, Morattico, and Wicomico churches. He became pastor of Morattico where he would remain until his death. His ministry at Morattico was truly amazing. The church was founded in 1778 with 18 members. By 1790, it was the largest Baptist church in Virginia with a membership of 495. When you realize that Baptist churches in the 18th century had between five to ten times as many hearers as members, you can begin to grasp the extent of Lunsford’s ministry. For example, the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia reported they had 82 members and 700 hearers.”
Lunsford continued to teach the Gospel of Jesus around the Northern Neck when he ultimately met Alexander Hunton, a wealthy landowner in Richmond County. From this first introduction, Hunton was convinced that Lunsford was the man whom God called to begin the first Baptist Church in the Northern Neck, Morattico Baptist Church. Lunsford was not seminary educated and actually had very little formal education, but he had a zeal for the Lord and the ability to speak in ways that moved his audience.
Lewis Lunsford, the first pastor of Morattico Baptist Church began his ministry with eighteen congregants and by the end of 1778, there were sixty-six members and no building to worship in. Lunsford was blessed with the addition of Robert Carter of “Nomini Hall” who was among the wealthiest families in Virginia. Lunsford’s relationship with Carter led to the construction of the first church building on the current property and by 1790, a short twelve years after being founded, Morattico Baptist was the largest religious organization in the Northern Neck.
In 1793, the Dover Association of Baptists was meeting only a few miles his home. Lunsford had been ill, but he desired to meet with his brethren. He went and his health appeared so much improved he made extensive preaching appointments. He preached at the Association on Sunday. Before returning home, he fulfilled a preaching engagement on the following Tuesday at the Bruington Meetinghouse. After the service he developed a cold, and even though quite ill, he preached the following day commenting, “It may be improper to attempt to preach at this time; but as long as I have any strength remaining, I wish to preach the gospel of Christ.” He then preached what would be his last sermon from the text, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He started toward home, but his condition continued to deteriorate. Forced to stop at the home of Mr. Gregory, he was immediately put to bed with every remedy applied, but to no avail. He fell asleep in the arms of Jesus on October 26, 1793. He was about 40 years old.
As important as Lewis Lunsford was to the founding and early success of Morattico Baptist Church, Addison Hall will forever be recognized as one of God’s most faithful and dedicated servants of Morattico Baptist and his beloved Northern Neck. Addison Hall’s parents were John and Clarissa Hall, who were among the first members of the newly founded Baptist church. Addison was the oldest of eight children and was born on September 3, 1797, in Heathsville. In 1803, Mr. Hall moved his family to Kilmarnock and began a successful mercantile business. Young Addison was exposed to the business world at an early age, and yet, with the outbreak of the War of 1812, his formal education was halted. The British navy relentlessly bombarded the shoreline of the Northern Neck during the war and starved the area of goods during the blockade. Addison left the area for Baltimore, but returned to Kilmarnock where he married Susan Edmonds in January of 1817 and later professed his faith in Christ in 1819 and became a member of Morattico Baptist Church.
Hall was active in church life and in 1820 was elected clerk of Morattico Baptist. His beautifully crafted minutes remain in the archives of the Baptist Historical Society. Addison Hall was a natural businessman and opened his own mercantile business in Merry Point in 1821. He also began to study the law and in 1824 he passed the Virginia Bar and became licensed to practice law in Virginia, all without stepping into a classroom. In 1823, in the midst of running a business and studying the law, Hall was elected to the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly.
The energy and passion that Addison Hall gave to his professional life was also shared with Morattico Baptist Church. In 1825, Hall attended a Dover Association meeting in Essex County with the purpose of finding a pastor for Morattico. Again, God intervened in the life of Morattico Baptist and placed in front of Hall a young pastor named Jeremiah Bell Jeter. The two gentlemen struck up a friendship and Jeter was installed as pastor in July 1827. The friendship between Hall and Jeter grew over the years and when Hall was ordained and licensed to preach in 1835, the charge was given by Reverend Jeter.
William H. Kirk was ordained at the same meeting as Addison Hall in 1835. These two men were to become a powerful team who would, for the next thirty-five years lead thousands to repentance and baptism. Jeter resigned from Morattico Baptist Church in 1836 to assume the pastorate at the First Baptist Church of Richmond and Hall and Kirk were called to Morattico. Hall accepted the call and left a lucrative law practice for the purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. The minutes of the 1893 Annual Session of the Rappahannock Baptist Association state, “Hall and Kirk differed widely in physical and mental structure and in temperament. Hall was calm, analytical, logical, simple in manner, with indifferent delivery. Kirk was fervid, earnest, with full, rotund voice, masterful in delivery and often, when at his best, held his audience entranced and bathed in tears. Rarely have two preachers been better fitted each to supply what the other lacked.”
It was this relationship that allowed the Baptist denomination to grow during their tenure. When they took leadership of Morattico Baptist in 1836, there were two Baptist churches serving Lancaster and Northumberland, Morattico and Wicomico. From 1841 to 1844 under their leadership, Morattico and Wicomico grew to add Lebanon and Fairfields.
Addison Hall suffered many personal tragedies in his lifetime. But one of the greatest joy’s of his life was the commissioning of his daughter Henrietta as the first missionary to China. In a parting letter to his daughter, Hall wrote, “I part with you with all the feelings of nature, and shall when let down to the feeling point, for I am now above it, weep on account of our separation; but I assure you that I do not regret that you are going.” Hall would not see his beloved daughter again, she died in childbirth in 1845.
The legacies of Lewis Lunsford, Jeremiah Bell Jeter, Addison Hall and William Kirk go far beyond the history of Morattico Church and the Northern Neck. Lunsford was the first pastor of a church that would have a worldwide impact by sending the first missionary to China. Jeremiah Bell Jeter cemented the reputation of Morattico Baptist Church as a church centered on the teaching of Jesus Christ and Addison Hall and William Kirk spent thirty-five years building a church that would become the Mother of Baptist Churches not only in the Northern Neck, but in all of Virginia and the westward expansion of the United States.