The Early Years: The Joyce Brothers and the Reading Houses of Central Virginia
Updated: Jan 3, 2020
The origins of Alexander (1719-1778) and Thomas Joyce (1722-1780) of Lunenburg County, Virginia, have a dark and troublesome past. First appearing in court in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1747, Thomas Joyce was living in Fredericksville Parish. A neighbor to Hanover County, Virginia, this was a complicated time for Alexander and Thomas. As dissenters from the Established Church of England, they were part of the counter-culture in central Virginia.
In Hanover County, a bricklayer and well-known dissenter, Samuel Morris, had already influenced the Joyce brothers. Around the time of Alexander and Thomas Joyce's likely arrival in the county in the early 1740's, Samuel, influenced by "his study of Luther's commentary on Galatians," broke off from the Anglican Church. Feeling that his local parish could not fulfill his spiritual needs, he established reading houses. Worshiping in private, Samuel and his fellow nonconformists risked being fined and jailed. By 1747, there was an abundance of reading houses, especially in Louisa County.
As Presbyterians in Virginia, Alexander and Thomas Joyce learned about this social system and probably participated in it. In 1747, Governor William Gooch had also issued a proclamation that forbid everyone from assisting Presbyterians and Methodists. He also proclaimed that officials could stop them "from Teaching Preaching or holding any Meeting in this Colony," if it was legal.
It is not known how Alexander and Thomas lived in Buck Mountain since they weren't recorded as landowners. Nor is it known how they made a living in Louisa County, Virginia. However, it is possible that they were able to survive because of the reading houses by working and living with other dissenters. By December 3, 1755, Alexander Joyce is documented as an elder at the first meeting of the Presbytery of Hanover along with Samuel Morris. This close association with the early Presbyterian Church shows that Alexander and Thomas Joyce understood this culture.
On May 10, 1748, Alexander and Thomas had finally purchased land in Lunenburg County, Virginia. Given special permission to worshiped as they pleased, they had but a few rules to obey. Leaving behind the their past in Louisa County, they had at last found a place of safety and peace.