From Virginia's founding until the American Revolution 170 years later, the Anglican Church was the only state recognized religion. The government built the churches and the parsonages and paid the clergy with tax money. All other religious groups were discouraged, suppressed and harassed until a powerful religious movement, known as the "Great Awakening," took hold in the middle colonies in 1739 when British evangelist George Whitefield preached in Williamsburg.
Whitefield inspired a Hanover County brick mason, Samuel Morris, and others to absent themselves from Anglican worship. Gathering in his home on Sundays, these dissenters read the Bible and religious tracts on reformation. By 1743 the dissenter movement led to the establishment of four dissenter congregations known as "Morris Reading Houses." The reading house on this site was built on Morris' land and named after George Polegreen, the recipient of the land patent made the prior century.
In July 1743, William "One Eye" Robinson, an itinerant minister, preached the county's first Presbyterian sermon here. Robinson sent the congregation's offering to a young man studying for the ministry in what was then Pennsylvania, named Samuel Davies. In April 1747, Reverend Davies visited Virginia to thank the dissenters for their gift.
He travelled to Williamsburg first where upon petition he successfully became the first non-Anglican minister licensed by the Governor's Council. One year later, Davies became the pastor of the four dissenter congregations. Patrick Henry worshipped here with his mother during Davies tenure. Later in 1759, Davies left to become president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. On December 4, 1755, the Hanover Presbytery, now the Presbytery of the James, held its first meeting at Polegreen.