UU Minute #84

George de Benneville, part 1

The first Universalist of note in America was George de Benneville, born in London to parents of French Huguenot nobility who had fled religious persecution in France. At age 12, George went to sea briefly as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. While docked in Algiers, George witnessed natives tending to an injured comrade, cleansing his wound and making supplications to the sun. Tears in his eyes, young George thought, “Are these Heathens? No, I confess before God they are Christians, and I myself am a Heathen!”

He later wrote:
“It had been my first lesson in understanding that the heart of religion is how people treat one another, not always what they say they believe.”
Back home, he had a vision of himself “burning as a firebrand in hell.” For more than a year he felt oppressed by unforgiveable sins. Then, a second vision: Jesus telling him he had been redeemed and was forgiven. If even he could be saved, he felt convinced, “I could not have a doubt but the whole world would be saved by the same power.”

At age 17, he went to France to preach this Universalist gospel. The Catholic religious authorities of France were not receptive. Landing in Calais, de Benneville was soon arrested, briefly imprisoned, then banished from the city.

In Normandy he preached to an underground group of Protestants, the Camisards, for two years, was arrested again and condemned to death. As he knelt on the scaffold awaiting the stroke of the executioner's axe, a reprieve came through from King Louis XV, based on de Benneville’s French noble heritage.

For the further adventures of George de Benneville, be sure to catch our next thrilling episode.

NEXT: George de Benneville, part 2

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