“Give me liberty or give me death!” was the immortal call of Virginia statesman Patrick Henry as he rallied his peers to defend the liberty of the Virginia colonists. The setting was the Second Virginia Convention, held at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia in March 1775.
Today, visitors to the historic St John’s Church can hear his impassioned speech and the fiery debate of fellow delegates such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Peyton Randolph and Richard Henry Lee during a historical reenactment on the very site of the original discourse. Popular public performances are held each Sunday during the summer from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
The performances are free, but you must line up to get a ticket before entering. First, the audience is treated to a selection of eighteenth century to contemporary organ music played on the century old pipe organ, ending with recognition of military veterans in the audience and a patriotic sing-along. Ten professional actors in 1770s attire portraying the Convention delegates are sprinkled in the pews among the audience. You might be seated right next to Thomas Jefferson or George Washington! The delegates engage in the debates and arguments of the Second Virginia Convention, culminating in Patrick Henry’s enduring “Give me Liberty or give me death!” speech. The performance rousingly brings to life the struggles of the colonists to retain their individual rights and liberties. A free-will donation is accepted as visitors exit the church.
The church itself, located in the area now known as Church Hill, is a National Historic Landmark. It was the first church built in the city of Richmond, completed in 1741. The surrounding graveyard was the first public cemetery in Richmond and inters many people who made significant contributions to the history of Richmond and Virginia. The church continues to offer regular Episcopal religious services and a visitor’s center includes a gift shop, a permanent exhibition and tour operations.
Patrick Henry was known as the “Voice of the Revolution” and his words have inspired generations around the world. St John’s Church symbolizes the birth of American liberty and the foundations of our republic.
I highly recommend this reenactment for families with students or those of any age who are interested in the history of our nation. You will learn first hand about the earliest days of the American Revolution and actually get to rub elbows with true big-wigs.
If you would like to plan a trip to include this and other historic attractions in Virginia, please contact our knowledgeable advisors.