DID YA KNOW…… by Pat Vaughn
“NICHOLAS COX (1742-1826), a native of Philadelphia, a Universal Baptist and pioneer in the establishment of Universalism in New Jersey, was probably the first to have preached in Virginia, in 1809 and 1810.”[i]
A note of record in Universalist history recognizes Nicholas Cox as one of the early itinerate missionaries that followed the wave of migrations down into the Valley of Virginia and the Carolinas. Unitarians among other denominations were slower to send their missions into the frontier and often discovered once they arrived, that the Universalists had preceded them.
These brave dedicated men traveled along the margins of the frontier, often alone: their livelihood depending upon the free-will offerings of food and lodging. Often their radical message of liberal Christianity was rejected, leaving them with no other choice than to move on.
Early in his ministry, Rev. Cox served as a Chaplain with the 1st New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Line (1776-1780). In 1784, he and his family were received into the Kingwood Church in Baptistown, PA by a letter of dismission from his church in Great Valley, PA. His ministry was very successful there until he became an outspoken proponent of Universalism. Forbidden to preach in any of the Kingwood churches (Baptistown, Locktown & Flemington), he was tried for his Universalist views and excluded in 1791. Undiscouraged, Rev Cox continued his ministry, a self-appointed Universalist missionary following a circuit of his own design until his death at age eighty-four. “He is described as a close reasoner, a good neighbor and an honest man.” [ii]
At first the Universalist missionaries went unnoticed by the orthodox leadership until their non-conformist ideas began to surface in small pockets of Richmond society. However, it was the heretical belief that “all souls would eventually be saved from punishment” that spread alarm throughout its Christian establishment.
[i] Miller, Russell E., “The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America 1770-1870”
(Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979) Chapter 24: “Moving With The Frontier: The Midwest”
Virginia and West Virginia, page 727
Eddy, Richard, “Universalism in America: A History” (Boston: Universalist Publishing House. 1891) pages 40-45 of a publication entitled “Century of Universalism” by Rev. Abel C. Thomas