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The John Leland Story
The John Leland Story

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The Baptist Preacher who met with future president James Madison under the old oak tree in Orange VA, 1788
by Don M. Fearheily

THE JOHN LELAND STORY is an appropriate title for a book primarily that --- a story. This book is based on the life of John Leland., but does not attempt to render a fully accurate accounting in strict chronological order of the historical facts for his life.

A basic reason for this is that relatively few facts if his life are known. John Leland wrote a brief autobiographical sketch. Miss L.F. Green, responsible for publishing the book that contains this sketch, declared: "it is much to be regretted that Mr. eand has not left us a more full and minute history of his eventful life. Rich as it was in interesting and instructive incidents, he has compressed the whole in the space of a few pages, remarking, witch characteristic modesty and humility, that 'this was all that was worth preserving.' "

To tell the story of John Leland, the writer had to imagin conversations, feelings, characters, and events which could give a roundness to known facts in filing out a unified and dramatic narrative. This is essentially the same task many other writes have faced who have created novels about historical figures. As an example, specific mention can be made concerning the episode of Leland's being arrested and placed in jail. This is fictional. But Baptist ministers were thrown into jail before the Revolution. The write wished to make Leland their representative. The fact of persecution is worth remembering today.

In some cases the writer has visualized events which may or may not have happened to John Leland. But in no case has the writer tried to do violence to the character to the historical Leland.

It was a consideration of Leland's character, a study of the facts known about him, that caused this story to evolve.

Two sources of information about Leland should be mentioned. The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, etc. by Miss L. F. Greene, published in 1845, has been referred to. In 1953, the American Antiquarian Society published Elder John Leland, Jeffersonian Itinerant by L. H. Butterfield. In eighty-seven pages Mr. Butterfield does an admirable job presenting the known facts of John Leland's life and ministry.

But this is a story. It is meant to be read and enjoyed as a story. It attempts to portray in dramatic terms the life of a remarkable man.

He was a Baptist. He was a preacher. He lived during the stirring times of the Revolution. He fought for religious freedom and saw the triumph of his ideals. Baptists owe a lot to John Leland. So does America.

This book is a reminder...

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