Join the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for the Second Annual Leonard J. Sadosky Memorial Lecture, Friday September 29th at 4pm ET.

Dr. Alyssa Penick will present on "American Reformation," as part of this lecture series that memorializes the late Leonard Sadosky through scholarship.

Held in the Jefferson Library Reading Room this presentation will be followed by a light reception. Attendance is FREE and open to the public, however registration is required. Register Here.

About the Presentation

Americans often think of the “separation of church and state” as an abstract constitutional principle, but it was, in fact, a difficult process of disentangling religion and government. Drawing on her forthcoming book, American Reformation: Church, State, and Property in the Revolutionary Chesapeake (under contract with UVA Press), Dr. Alyssa Penick will offer a new history of religious freedom in this lecture by putting material property and state power at the center of the story. The established Church of England was an essential arm of government and wealthy landowner in the colonial Chesapeake. Both in Virginia and Maryland, Anglican parishes enforced a wide range of laws and carried out essential civic work like collecting taxes, inspecting tobacco, keeping vital statistics, and enforcing property boundaries. Using public funds, the church invested in valuable property, including churches, silver, plantations, and enslaved people, whose labor supported the minister. The American Revolution ignited the tumultuous process of dismantling the traditional union of religion and government. Despite the revolutionary rhetoric of individual liberty, this republican reformation coupled the expansion of religious liberty for White Americans with their rights to claim property in Black persons and erected stark racial boundaries around natural rights in the new United States. Moreover, while both Chesapeake states endorsed the religion clauses of the First Amendment and claimed to have “established religious freedom,” the two states diverged sharply in their actual policies. There was no clear consensus about how to achieve religious freedom in law in the early national United States, and the ongoing process of reformation continues to this day. 

About Alyssa Penick

Dr. Alyssa Penick is the Age of Jefferson Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at the University of Virginia. A historian of law, religion, and slavery in the long eighteenth century, Penick was awarded the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation Dissertation Prize for her dissertation, which offered an innovative retelling of church and state during the era of the American Founding. Her work has been supported by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the Doris G. Quinn Foundation, the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. She is currently working on her first book, American Reformation: Church, State, and Property in the Revolutionary Chesapeake (under contract with UVA Press).