John Waller, a Virginian, was raised in the Episcopal denomination. It is said that he was a brilliant and well-educated student, but in subsequent the years he became somewhat dissipated, eventually earning the nickname “Swearing Jack Waller.” One day, as a member of the grand jury hearing the case against Baptist Lewis Craig and his disturbance of the peace accusation, Jack came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and was later born again. Soon he too, was preaching Christ’s gospel.
After one evangelistic service, Waller and five others were arrested. On this day in 1768 they appeared before the county judge. They were accused of being “vagrants, strollers and disturbers of the peace,” because they quoted scriptures, condemned sin and preached the gospel of God’s free grace – all of which was contrary to the colonial law and the edicts of the state church. The court offered to release the men if they promised to preach no more in the area for a year and a day, but the promise could not be made. It is said that Baptist-friendly Patrick Henry vigorously defended the brethren, but it was without effect, and they were sent to the local jail.
During their confinement, Waller and the others preached through the grates to whomever would gather outside. Though citizens of the community tried to drive the hearers away, many people – from heads of families to domestics and slaves – heard and were moved by the preaching. Only the Lord knows how many were converted through the suffering of those six brethren.
After weeks of confinement by Waller and his friends, Lewis Craig and a few other Baptists petitioned the county and colonial officials, arguing that the liberty to preach the gospel was a “matter of right” under Britain’s “Act of Toleration.” Eventually the King’s Attorney for Spotsylvania County was ordered by the government not to “molest these conscientious people, so long as they behave themselves in a manner becoming pious Christians, and in obedience to the laws.”