He was a normal boy, who liked work as little as a colt likes the cart. Unaware of his own latent powers, he did as other boys in Hanover were doing — went barefoot in summer, fished, swam, sang, fought, did "chores," and in fall and winter roamed the forests with his flintlock.1
Young Patrick Henry's powers may have been "latent," but they would be nurtured and encouraged by a father who was intimately involved in his son's education. Patrick Henry would grow up to become the "trumpet of the American Revolution" and his influence on the American republic is felt to this day. Henry's ardent anti-federalist positions, when it came to what he considered to be deficiencies in the United States Constitution, were prophetic. As we've seen power seized from the states and centrally concentrated in Washington, we now realize the Founders would have done well to heed the Virginian's warnings. To study Patrick Henry's life and his accomplishments, one might think he was the beneficiary of a formal education, perhaps attending one of the best schools in colonial Virginia, such as William and Mary, that prepared many of America's early jurists for service. But such was not the case. It was actually his father, John Henry, who directed young Patrick's early learning regimen. And after leaving home, Patrick Henry was primarily a self-educated man.
John Henry was a respected member of the Hanover County, Virginia community serving as the county surveyor, magistrate, and as a colonel in the state militia.2 The elder Henry stood as a worthy example for his son as he also served as a vestryman of the Episcopalian St. Paul's parish. John Henry's brother, the Reverend Patrick Henry, was for forty years rector of the church.
A Father's Contribution
As were many boys in Henry's time, Patrick was first tutored in an English common school with other boys of Hanover. Here he learned the basics of writing, reading, and arithmetic. But when Patrick turned ten, his father began schooling him at home. John Henry also tutored other young men in the area for a fee, but his primary energies were directed toward his son. Patrick Henry's father had benefited from a classical education in England, and he labored in passing on his knowledge as he instructed Patrick in modern and ancient history, Greek, Latin, and mathematics. As one historian has noted, "Patrick also acquired a knowledge of Greek and Latin and of the classics, as well as the Bible through his father's diligent efforts."3 While Patrick's father made sure he laid a strong intellectual foundation for his son, he also allowed the young boy to develop the physical manly qualities that, unfortunately, seem to be missing in many young boys today. Patrick loved the outdoors and spent hours hunting, fishing, and canoeing in Virginia's beautiful woods and streams. Later, after "reading law" and being admitted to the Virginia bar, he was known to come into court, fresh from a hunt, his buckskin breeches still stained with the blood of a recent kill. Mind, body, and soul — it takes a complete education to make a complete man that God can use to his full potential. John Henry made sure his son's home-based education was comprehensive, such that he even enlisted other family members. Patrick's uncle, the Reverend Patrick Henry, was also involved in training the boy, and the good Reverend made the younger Patrick memorize several maxims of Christian conduct:
To be true and just in all my dealings, to bear no malice nor hatred in my heart, to keep my hands from picking and stealing. Not to covet other men's goods; but to learn and labor truly to get my own living, and to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me. 4
For as concerned as Patrick's father was over his son's mastery of intellectual and physical skills, he was just as concerned that his boy receive adequate spiritual instruction. Patrick would do much better than "adequate." When Patrick was just twelve years old, he had the opportunity to begin sitting under the preaching of a man who Martin Lloyd-Jones once called, "the greatest preacher America ever produced." That preacher was Samuel Davies. Henry would later state that Davies was "the greatest orator" he ever heard. No doubt Henry's flair for fiery oratory and moving discourse was enhanced through the influence of Davies. Davies' sound theological teaching further bolstered Henry's deftness in political logic and debate. Davies was known to be "a follower of John Knox" and a "strong advocate of civil rights and liberties."
While Patrick Henry's father was active in the Episcopalian church, it was Henry's mother who joined the church where Davies preached. Patrick's mother would require her son to pay close attention to Davies' messages and "repeat the sermon text and summarize Rev. Davies' sermon on the way home from church meetings."5 It was through this providence of being involved in two different Christian denominations that Henry likely developed his catholic attitude towards those denominations outside the "established" church. He would later defend Quakers, Baptists, and others against persecution as fervently as if they were members of his own church. One writer called Patrick Henry a "faithful ally of the Baptists during their struggle for religious liberty."6 Henry's work in the colonial courts of Virginia set many of the precedents that today allow Americans to enjoy the freedom to worship without fear of persecution from a state established church.
The Fruit of Parental Labor
Patrick Henry loved freedom. He loved the church. And he loved Christ. The education that his father and mother provided him at home laid a firm foundation and one that Henry would endeavor to pass on to others. As he lay dying, surrounded by those close to him, he called his devoted friend and physician to come close. Dr. Cabell, while intimate with Henry, was not convinced of the Christian religion. Cabell rushed to his dying friend's side knowing he could do nothing to delay Henry's death. Patrick Henry looked into Cabell's face and "asked the doctor to observe how great a reality and benefit that religion was to a man about to die."7 Thus, with his dying words, Patrick Henry spoke of his faith in hopes of leading his dear friend to the Savior.
Henry's last will and testament also testified of his faith in Christ: "This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed."
The richness of his Christian faith was accomplished through the Providence of God working in Henry's parents' desire to teach their son. God further used Patrick Henry's faith to bring about true religious liberty in America a freedom we still enjoy today. This inheritance that Patrick Henry wrote of in his will, the religion of Christ, is the legacy of Patrick Henry and his parents. And it should be the same legacy desired by every homeschooling parent today. Fathers (and mothers) should accept this quest for a godly legacy and commit, as Patrick Henry did, to "do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me."
1. David J. Vaughn, Give Me Liberty The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry (Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, 1997), 30.
2. Vaughn, 27. .
3. John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987), 298.
4. Vaughn, 32.
5. Eidsmoe, 308.
6. Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia (J.P. Bell Co., Inc., Lynchburg, VA, 1938), xx.
7. Vaughn, 268.
- Rick Williams
Rick Williams is a businessman, writer, and publisher (VirginiaGentleman.com). He is the author of The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen, published by Pelican Publishing (ISBN 9781589803107) and co-authored Christian Business Legends published by the Business Reform Foundation (BusinessReform.com). He does not advocate secession but he would like to be left alone.