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  • Pastor Paul Davis

ANECDOTE OF MR. JEFFERSON

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Nine months after President Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, “on New Year’s Day, 1802, the Baptist evangelist John Leland delivered a prodigious gift to Jefferson: a 1,235-pound block of cheese. What newspapers rightfully declared to be a ‘mammoth cheese’ came from the preacher’s own farming community in Cheshire, Massachusetts, which seems to have voted unanimously for the deist Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election. The cheese’s red crust was adorned with the motto ‘Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.’” In an address accompanying the cheese, a committee of Cheshire citizens wrote: “The Cheese was produced by the personal labor of Freeborn Farmers, with the voluntary and cheerful aid of their wives and daughters, without the assistance of a single slave.” Two days later on Sunday, Jan. 3, “at the president’s invitation [Leland] preached before both houses of Congress on the text, ‘And behold a greater than Solomon is here.’”

Leland later recalled, “In November, 1801, I journeyed to the south, as far as Washington, in charge of a cheese, sent to President Jefferson … I preached all the way there and on my return. I had large congregations; led in part by curiosity to hear the Mammoth Priest, as I was called.”

“The colossal cheese was made under Leland's direction by the predominantly Baptist and staunchly Republican citizens of Cheshire, a small farming community in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It symbolized political support among New England's religious dissenters for Jeffersonian Republicanism, the new administration in Washington, and the president's celebrated defense of religious liberty … The cheese-makers of Cheshire were both a religious and a political minority subject to legal discrimination in a commonwealth dominated by a Congregationalist-Federalist establishment …

“The president and the eccentric parson had crossed paths before. Leland was an unrefined, self-educated preacher-farmer. He was an ardent individualist and staunch democrat who throughout his adult life admired Jefferson's devotion to democratic principles and the rights of conscience. Although a native New Englander, Leland spent nearly fifteen years as an itinerant preacher in central Virginia, where he emerged a leader among the commonwealth's Baptists. He was instrumental in allying evangelical Baptists with Jefferson and Madison in the bitter Virginia struggle to disestablish the Anglican Church and secure freedom for religious dissenters. In 1791, Leland returned to New England where he fought arduously and successfully for disestablishment and religious liberty in Connecticut and Massachusetts. According to L. H. Butterfield, Leland ‘was as courageous and resourceful a champion of the rights of conscience as America has produced.’”

On July 14, 1826, (10 days after the death of Thomas Jefferson) the following Letter to the Editor appeared in the Christian Watchmen (vol. 7, Iss. 32):

“Mr. Editor. -The following circumstances which occurred in the State of Virginia, relative to Mr. Jefferson, were detailed to me by Elder Andrew Tribble, about six years ago, who since died when ninety-two or three years old. The facts may interest some of your readers-

“Andrew Tribble was the Pastor of a small Baptist Church which held its monthly meetings at a short distance from Mr. Jefferson’s house, eight or ten years before the American Revolution. Mr. Jefferson attended the meetings of the church for several months in succession, and after one of them, asked Elder Tribble to go home and dine with him, with which he complied.

“Mr. Tribble asked Mr. Jefferson how he was pleased with their Church Government! Mr. Jefferson replied, that it had struck him with great force, and had interested him much; that he considered it the only form of pure democracy that then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of Government for the American colonies. This was several years before the declaration of American Independence. To what extent this practical exhibition of Religious Liberty and Equality operated on Mr. Jefferson’s mind, in forming his views and principles of religious and civil freedom, which were afterwards so ably exhibited, I will not say.

“At the time alluded to, Virginia groaned under the Ecclesiastical establishment of Great Britain, by the operations of which the Baptists suffered the most shameful and cruel persecutions for preaching, believing and practicing the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel. This system of outrage and violence seems to have originated, or to have been fully developed, in the egregious error of identifying the Church of Christ with the Jewish theocracy. It commenced at an early period after the age of the Apostles, and has been continued by the civil authorities, for the most part, throughout Christendom. Its first abrogation was in these United States. Many of the Christians sects in them still foster and practice upon the notion of their identity, by which the church and the world are assimilated.


1 God of Liberty, Thomas S. Kid, 2010, p. 4.

2 From the Committee of Cheshire, Dec, 30, 1801, founders.archives.gov

3 The Democratization of America, Nathan Hatch, 1989, p. 96.

4 The Writings of the late Elder John Leland, John Leland, 1845, p. 32.

5 Mr. Jefferson, a mammoth cheese, and a “wall of separation between church and state”: A bicentennial commemoration, Daniel Dreisbach, Journal of Church and State, Sept, 22, 2001

6 Christian Watchman, archive.org






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