(1741 – 1802)
John Waller was born December 23, 1741 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He was a descendant of the honorable and ancient Waller family of England. At a very young age, he developed a keen talent for wit and satire. Although he was intended for the law, he elected not to complete his classical training and education. Instead, because of the lack of funds, he turned to gambling and the gaming table of the taverns. His ne’er-do-well attitude, recklessness and profanity soon earned him the nickname:
“Swear’n Jack Waller – “The Devil’s Adjutant.”
In the mid-1760’s, Separate Baptist ministers from North Carolina began preaching and proselytizing in Virginia. Because they refused to obtain licenses to preach, as mandated by Virginia law, many were arrested and jailed. Among them was Lewis Craig of Spotsylvania County. Craig was arrested and confined to jail. John Waller sat on the Grand Jury panel that convicted Lewis Craig. According to Waller, Craig’s testimony struck at his own heart. Waller began attending Baptist gatherings. Before long, he was facing a crisis of faith. Despite his lifelong Anglican upbringing, John Waller was baptized into the Baptist faith in 1767. Three years later he was ordained into the ministry by Lewis Craig.
Like many Baptist preachers, Waller suffered innumerable acts of physical violence while preaching. In one incident, Waller was jerked from the stage. His assailants pounded his head against the ground. Another time he was flayed twenty times with a cowhide whip. Before 1776, such violent acts were a normal occurrence for the many Separate Baptist ministers who refused to get a license. In all, John Waller spent 113 days in dank, moldy, flea-infested jails before religious freedom came to Virginia.
Waller’s ministerial career spanned 35 years. He baptized over 2000 persons, ordained 27 ministers and constituted 18 churches. Many of these churches still exist in the 21st Century.
John Waller died July 4, 1802 at the age of 62 in Greenwood County, South Carolina. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth, nine children, (3 sons & 6 daughters) and 29 slaves.