American freedoms blossomed in area of Williamsburg

The 14-mile arc in Virginia from Jamestown through Williamsburg to Yorktown is the triad known as the "Cradle of America." The nation was born at the first permanent English settlement in 1607 at Jamestown, nurtured in its continual reach for freedom in the colonial capital at Williamsburg, and reborn in 1781 when the American Revolution ended in victory for the new nation at Yorktown.

Speaking at a recent regional conference at Williamsburg, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Council of the Twelve declared that events in the historic area were important in the restoration of the gospel.He said: "It is a privilege to be in this beautiful city. I feel a special spirit of our revolutionary forefathers who fought so valiantly for the freedom of our wonderful nation. Colonial Williamsburg is a center of freedom because of the sacrifices of our forebears. Without the freedom we enjoy in this nation, the restoration of the Lord's Church and the gospel could not have been established."

Speaking at the same conference, Elder Aldin Porter of the Seventy said: "It is an emotional experience to come to this area so rich in American history. Many great prophecies of Nephi and other Book of Mormon prophets referred to events that occurred in and around this area."

In 1606, the three ships - Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery - set sail from London for America with about 100 men aboard prepared to establish an English settlement in America.

The ships carrying the first colonists reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in April 1607. They continued up the James River to land where they established Jamestown on May 13.

A replica of each of the ships, floating on the James River at Jamestown, reminds the thousands of visitors who board them of how crowded, how difficult, how dangerous the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was.

The religious nature of the settlers was evident. Reverend Robert Hunt had been appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to conduct worship on ship and in the new colony. The first service at Jamestown was under "olde saile" tied between trees. A few years later, Lord Delaware arrived from England with supplies for the sick and starving men of Jamestown. He gathered the colonists together for prayer and asked that thereafter they meet twice each Sunday for prayers.

A new settlement - Williamsburg - was established seven miles north, and when Jamestown burned in 1699, the capital of colonial Virginia was moved there.

Williamsburg has now been restored to its colonial environment, taking visitors along the shaded walkways and little shops, to the Colonial Capitol and the Governor's Mansion, halls where the legislators of the Virginia Assembly gathered. From this place, in 1776, the forceful shout for freedom resounded around the world.

At the colonial capital, leaders of the Virginia Congress asked for organization of the Continental Congress in order to combine strengths of the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia. Among the Virginia leaders for independence were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Patrick Henry.

Visitors to Williamsburg can attend Bruton Parish Church, which has served the area since 1699. In this Anglican Church, some of the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution met on Sundays when the assembly was in session.

The Anglican Church in Virginia alternated oppression; Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers and New Lights met punishments, yet many found Virginia a safe place where lands were granted to them as freely as to the Anglicans. Virginia welcomed ships with religious refugees from Europe, creating the diversity which foreshadowed demands for the Bill of Rights.

While the cry for independence went forth out of Williamsburg, it was won five years later about 10 miles east at Yorktown.

George Washington knew that this nation was raised up by the Lord. On October 17, 1781, at the surrender of England's Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, General Washington paid humble homage to the Lord: "The praise is due to the Grand Architect of the Universe who did not see fit to suffer His superstructures and justice to be subjected to the ambition of the princes of the world, or to the rod of the oppressor in the hands of any power on earth."

At his inauguration, President Washington said: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."

Speaking at the regional conference, Elder Wirthlin concluded: "Religious freedom does not give us the right to condemn others who believe differently than we do. We believe we should allow all men to worship how, when, or what they may.

"We ask all of you who live in Williamsburg and the surrounding area to continue to commit yourselves to building the kingdom of God and His righteousness."

The freedom to do so began to a great extent in this small area of Virginia.

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