John Waller was one of the most powerful preachers in 18th Century Virginia.
He led one of the greatest revivals in the history of that state. However, before his
conversion, his capability in profanity earned him the title of "Swearin' Jack." He could out swear
and outfight any man in his day. He had a deep hatred for the Methodist
circuit riding his preachers and delighted in harassing them. After becoming a
Christian, his abilities, energy and talents focused into preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and
pointing out the errors of the dominant religious system of the time. This
attracted the attention of the religious and civil authorities. In colonial Virginia, only
those who were ordained by the state church (the Anglican Church) were permitted to preach.
All other preaching was prohibited by law and disobedience to this law was punishable by
imprisonment, beatings and stiff fines. God called John to preach His
Word. As a result, he spent a total of one hundred and thirteen days in four different
county jails for preaching. Waller also endured severe physical abuse.
John Waller gave the following account of one such attack that took place in Caroline County, Virginia, during a worship service in a home: While he was singing, the priest of the parish attacked him and would keep shoving the end of his horse whip in John's mouth, laying his whip across the hymn book, etc. After he finished singing, Waller proceeded to pray. Suddenly, he was violently jerked off of the stage by the magistrate and the parish priest. Catching him by the back part of his neck, they violently beat his head against the ground. Afterwards, he was mercilessly beaten with twenty lashes with a horse whip.
The parish priest came up, cursed at him, and then warned him not to preach anymore.
When Brother Waller was released, he went back singing and praising God, and then
mounted the stage and preached with a great deal of liberty. Covered with his own blood, he boldly proclaimed the Word of God.
Another time while he was preaching, a huge fellow pulled him down and dragged him about by his hair. A second, as stout as the first, ran to rescue Waller. One took hold of one hand and the other of the other hand so that between friend and foe, poor Waller was about to lose both arms. The hurt remained with him for many weeks. On November 8, 1793, he moved to the state of South Carolina. John Waller's daughter had married Elder Abraham Marshall, a Baptist evangelist and son of the well-known preacher and church planter, Daniel Marshall. Some speculate that she was Waller's favorite daughter and he desired to be near them. Also, good land could be purchased cheaply there, and he felt that his labors had come to an end in Virginia. Waller's work in his new home was blessed as he helped to establish two churches, but his ministry never had the impact of his ministry in Virginia. He preached thirty-five years, baptized more than two thousand persons, assisted in ordaining twenty-seven ministers and in constituting eighteen churches. The revivals that he led in Virginia had great reforming impact on the very culture of that state. His last sermon, at
the funeral of a young man, was taken from Zechariah 2:4,
"Run, speak to this young man." He addressed the young in feeble, touching strains, saying that it was his last sermon. He spoke until his strength failed and then tottered to a bed from which he was carried to his house. He died July 4, 1802, in his sixty-second year. John Waller represents the men and women who paid a dear price for religious liberty. He carried the scars of his scourging to his grave, which is located in the Waller- Hackett family burial ground in Abbeville County, near Greenwood, South Carolina. My friend B.J. Isaacs and I found this abandoned cemetery in the woods. We walked over to the forgotten grave of this mighty soldier of the Cross and gave thanks to God for the life and ministry of a great hero of the faith.