From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
The claim that Thomas Jefferson was influenced by local Baptist congregations in his ideas of democracy has appeared persistently throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The source of these claims may lie in an 1826 newspaper article.
On July 14, 1826 - very shortly after Jefferson's death - the following article entitled "ANECDOTE OF MR. JEFFERSON" appeared in the Christian Watchman:
MR. EDITOR,-- The following circumstances, which occurred in the State of Virginia, relative to Mr. JEFFERSON, were detailed to me by Elder ANDREW TRIBBLE, about six years ago, who since died when ninety-two or three years old. The facts may interest some of your readers --
ANDREW TRIBBLE was the Pastor of a small Baptist Church, which held its monthly meetings at a short distance from Mr. JEFFERSON'S house, eight or ten years before the American Revolution. Mr. JEFFERSON attended the meetings of the church for several months in succession, and after one of them, asked Elder TRIBBLE to go home and dine with him, with which he complied.
Mr. TRIBBLE asked Mr. JEFFERSON how he was pleased with their Church Government? Mr. JEFFERSON replied, that it had struck him with great force, and had interested him much; that he considered it the only form of pure democracy that then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of Government for the American Colonies. This was several years before the declaration of American Independence. To what extent this practical exhibition of Religious Liberty and Equality operated on Mr. JEFFERSON'S mind, in forming his views and principles of religious and civil freedom, which were afterwards so ably exhibited, I will not say.The article continues on to describe the persecution of the Baptists in Virginia at the time of Tribble's encounter with Jefferson, and the article is signed simply, "A FRIEND."
Although there was a clergyman named Andrew Tribble in Albemarle County at the time in question, no record of any meeting or communication with Thomas Jefferson has been found. This does not preclude the possibility that they did meet, but it makes proving the veracity of Tribble's story difficult.
Regardless of whether the story is true or not, it has been remarkably persistent. It appeared in a number of newspapers in the months and years immediately following its first appearance in the Christian Watchman, but it was still appearing in newspapers as late as 1880.
- McLean, Dr. Malcolm D. "Andrew Tribble and Thomas Jefferson." Stripes: Texas State Genealogical Society Quarterly XXVIII no. 3 (1988): 3-5. Available online at http://lonestar.texas.net/~mdmclean/ATribble.htm.