DID YA’ KNOW;
Richmond’s religious leaders agreed that something must be done to refute the Universalist message that was emerging in the fringes of their congregations. The heretical belief that “all souls would eventually be saved from punishment,” was becoming part of the conversation more frequently within the city’s social gatherings.
On October 24, 1823 an assembly of church delegates met at the Presbyterian Church in Petersburg. It was decided that Rev. Henry Ruffner would stand before the Synod of Virginia and deliver a message on the doctrine of perpetual punishment of the damned in opposition to the Universalist belief in the ultimate salvation of all souls. Nathan Pollard, publisher of the Family Visitor, advertised and circulated the sermon in the form of a tract for sale under the title, “A Discourse upon the Duration of Future Punishment.” Baptist minister, Rev. Henry Keeling used the same subject and text to condemn the unorthodox beliefs in a later publication. It seems reasonable to presume that in order to inspire this degree of resistance, there must have been a recognizable population of Unitarian and/or Universalist adherents within the city at the time.
Rev. Ruffner’s tract was still in circulation when a Universalist missionary arrived in Richmond early in 1824. Rev. William Hagadorn believed in the fatherhood of God, the spiritual leadership of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Bible as revealing God’s nature, the just retribution for sin but the final salvation of all souls, and this was the message he brought to his audiences.
Hagadorn was made aware of the Richmond clergy’s condemnation of Universal Salvation; he accepted their challenge and took the podium in the Capitol’s Old House Chamber on a Sunday morning in February 1824 using the same texts referenced by Rev. Ruffner and Rev. Keeling in his rebuttal. His sermon took the form of a twenty-three page tract; “The Nature and Duration of the Punishment of the Wicked” and appears to be well received.
During this period there was no material support from a General Convention. A pre-Civil War missionary depended on free-will offerings and the generosity of his audiences. The fact that Rev. Hagadorn was able to remain in Richmond for six months seems to indicate that his message achieved a measure of positive acceptance, as did Edward Mitchell upon his return to Richmond in 1825, but there is no evidence that neither he nor Hagadorn made any attempt to organize a church.
Ref: “The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Richmond” published in the Virginia Magazine of History & Biography;
July 1966, vol. 76, No. 3.
Ref: “The Larger Hope; The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 170-1870”