Samuel Davies in Colonial Virginia
Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was a New Light Presbyterian minister and president of the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University). Born in Delaware and ordained as a minister in 1747, he traveled to Virginia as an iterant evangelist. In 1748, he accepted a position at a church in Hanover and eventually served fourteen churches in rural Virginia. In 1759, he left Virginia to become the president of the College of New Jersey, serving until his death in 1761.
As a New Light minister in Virginia, he spread the spiritually egalitarian theology of the Great Awakening to Virginia's rural white and slave populations. He also coordinated a campaign to teach slaves to read in order to advance their religious development. Both of these moves challenged the hierarchical foundations of Virginia's social and religious establishment. While Davies never attacked the institution of slavery directly, the Virginia evangelicals who followed in his path did question the compatibility of New Light theology's egalitarian premises with the practice of human slavery.