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Orange County.-St. Thomas Parish.
(The Bishop is indebted for the following commuuication to the pen and
labours of its present minister, the Rev. Mr. Earnest.] The county of Orange (embracing St. Mark’s parish) was separated from Spottsylvania in the year 1734. It was “ bounden southerly by the line of Hanover county, northerly by the grant of the Lord Fairfax, and westerly by the utmost limits of Virginia." In 1740, “ for the convenience of the minister and the people,” the parish of St. Mark's was divided. The southerly portion, including a part of what is now Madison county, was called St. Thomas parish, and its western limits were somewhat reduced. St. George's parish, Spottsylvania, of which St. Thomas was a part, had for its western boundary “the river beyond the high mountains :" the summit of the Blue Ridge being made the western limit of St. Thomas parish.
Before the days of the Revolution St. Thomas parish had within its limits three churches,-viz. : The Pine Stake Church, the Middle or Brick Church, and the Orange Church. The two former have disappeared entirely,—although both were standing and in tolerably good keeping within time of memory. The last named, and the oldest of the three, situated near Ruckersville, a small village about eighteen miles from Orange Court-House, in what is now the county of Green, is still standing, though it has long ceased to be used as a place of worship by an Episcopal congregation. It was for a long while in the occupancy of the Methodists. The old church, which is of wood, has undergone so many repairs since the time it was built, that it is thought, like the old frigate Constitution, little if any of the original timber is to be found in it. As I passed it some years since, for the first time, curiosity-rather I may say veneration for the ancient house of God-led me to stop and take a near view; but my heart was saddened to see this relic of former times so far gone into dilapidation as to be wholly unfit for the sacred purposes for which it was set apart. Here old Major Burton, a staunch patriot and as staunch a Churchman, who had served his
a country in the war of the Revolution, continued for a long while in the absence of the regular ministry to serve the church as a lay reader.
This church, though the oldest of these three Colonial churches, was not the first in point of time that was erected within this parish. The first church that was built in the parish was situated about ten miles northwest of Orange Court-House, on a portion of land now owned by Mr. Robert Brooking. The country adjacent was doubtless sacred ground with the aborigines long anterior to the discovery of America; for but a short distance from this church in the wilderness," upon the right bank of the Rapidan River, is yet to be seen an ancient mound, or burial-place of the Indians. Here, as the waters of this rapid stream lave its banks, there are often exposed to view the bones of the mighty dead, -bones whose giant size indicate that a race of men hardy, athletic, and powerful once inhabited this fertile region.
At what period of time this first “ Orange Church” was built, we have it not in our power exactly to verify. We have been told that it was frequented as a place of worship by some of the old settlers as early as 1723. Certain it is, that it was used as such in 1740,the year in which St. Thomas was formed into a separate parish. The winter of this year was noted in this region for its exceedingly great severity. The degree of cold was so intense that several of the early planters determined on seeking a more genial climate farther south, and accordingly purchased lands in North Carolina. At that time an old Scotch minister of the Episcopal Church, whose name I have not been able to ascertain, but who it seems was fond of good cheer and a game of cards, officiated regularly at this church. He resided with Mr. Benjamin Cave, Sen., a first settler, whose residence was but a short distance from where the old church stood. Subsequently, as the settlements advanced westward, the old church was removed about eight miles distant to the place where its remains are still standing.
The Middle or Brick Church was situated about three miles southeast of Orange Court-House, on the old road leading to Fredericksburg, upon land owned originally by Mr. James Taylor, Sen., a first settler, and subsequently in possession of his grandson, Mr. Zachary Taylor, who was the gran lfather of the late General Zachary Taylor, and is now owned by Mr. Erasmus Taylor. We bave not been able to ascertain the year in which the church was built; but from certain private records in our possession we can assign the date of its erection somewhere between 1750 and 1758. This church, like the old Colonial churches generally, was well built and of durable materials. As late as 1806, time had made but little impression upon it. But what time failed to accomplish was
reached by the unsparing hand of man. After the Church in Virginia was divested of her glebes, her houses of worship came to be regarded by the multitude as “common property." While her hand was against no man, every man's hand seemed to be against her. During or shortly before the last war with Great Britain the work on the church's destruction was begun. Delenda est Carthago seemed to be the watchword of the ruthless foe. They first commenced with the roof; this soon yielded to their onset; the rafters next gave way: the naked, massive walls resisted for a time their further onslaught, but, nothing daunted, they redoubled their forces and renewed the attack. The walls fell, and the triumph of the invaders was complete, as they carried away as so many captives the vanquished, unresisting bricks. The altar-pieces, (the gift of Mr. Andrew Shepherd,) executed in gilt letters, and which long adorned the venerated chancel, were torn from their ancient resting-places, rent into fragments, and were af erward, though with no sacrilegious intent, attached as ornamental appendages to some articles of household furniture.
Amidst the general destruction of the property of the church, even the ancient Communion-plate, belonging to the parish, came to be regarded as common property. This plate, consisting of a massive silver cup and paten, with the name of the parish engraved thereupon, was, as we learn, the gift of a few pious communicants about a century since, among whom were Mrs. Frances Madison, grandmother of the President, and Mrs. James Taylor, mother of the late Mr. Robert Taylor, and Mrs. Balmaine. It has been only by the exercise of vigilance that this solitary remnant of the old church's property has been rescued and handed down in a state of perfect preservation, for the present use of St. Thomas's Church.
The time of the erection of the Pine Stake Church is, like that of the other two, involved in obscurity. It is probable that it was built about the same time as the Middle or Brick Church. It was situated near Mountain Run, about fifteen miles northeast of Orange Court-House, on lands originally taken up by Mr. Francis Taliafero, Sen. It continued to be used as a place of worship by an Episcopal congregation in the early part of the present century, and was standing at least as late as the year 1813. During the war of the Revolution a Mr. Leland, a Baptist preacher, who was a man of considerable notoriety in these parts at that period, applied to the vestry for the use of this church. The following letter from the father of President Madison, who was at the time a member of the vestry, written in a clear, bold hand, (the original of which we have in our possession,) answers his application, and at the same time throws no little light upon the rights and privileges of the Church as they stood at that time :
“ August 23, 1781. “Sir:-For want of opportunity and leisure, I have delayed till now answering your letter relative to your preaching in the Pine Stake Church. When the vestry met I forgot to mention your request to them, as I promised you, till it broke up. I then informed the members present what you required of them; who, as the case was new and to them unprece. dented, thought it had better remain as it then stood, lest the members of the church should be alarmed that their rights and privileges were in danger of being unjustitiably disposed of.
" I do not remember ever to have heard of your claiming a right to preach in the church till you mentioned in your letter of such a report. As to any right in Disesnters to the church, you may see by the Act of Assembly made in the October Session in 1776, they are excluded. The Act, próbably to satisfy the members, (as much as the nature of the case would admit of,) reserved to the use of the Church by law established the glebes, churches, books, plate, ornaments, donations, &c. Which, as hath been generally said, tbe Dissenters were well satisfied with, having in lieu thereof by the same authority gained a very important privilege,—the exemption from contributing to the support of an established Church and ministry, which they had long groaned under and complained of. considering the case I make no doubt, sir, but your caudour will readily excuse the vestry in not granting your petition. "I am, sir, your bumble servant,
"JAMES MADISON “Rev. Mr. LELAND.”
At a later period, ministers of other denominations had free access to these old Colonial churches, and used and occupied them not so much by courtesy as of common right. The Old Orange Church was for a long while in the exclusive use of another denomination of Christians, and the Middle Church was for some time, as was also Walker's Church in Albemarle, alternately occupied by the Rev. Matthew Maury and the blind Presbyterian preacher. The latter came to this part of Virginia at a period of great depression in the Episcopal Church, and a house of worship was erected for him near Gordonsville, in this county, to which, however, he did not confine his ministrations. It was here, probably on his way from Albemarle to Orange Court, that Mr. Wirt was furnished with a theme which has given as much notoriety to himself as to the preacher. Before this Mr. Waddell laboured among his people in comparative obscurity. His fame as a preacher was little known, even in his own immediate vicinity, until after the appearance of Mr. Wirt's celebrated letter in the British Spy. His congregations, which previously had been very small, now became large to overflowing - ersons from a distance far beyond the usual limit of attendance upon divine worship in those days—some on foot, some on horseback, some in "every kind of conveyance"-flocked to hear the famous blind preacher. Without meaning to detract aught from his fame as a preacher, we have no doubt, if we may form an opinion from the representation of persons who knew him well and heard him often, that his discourse on the occasion referred to owes not a little of its surpassing beauty and effectiveness to the brilliant imagination and fine descriptive powers of the author of the British Spy.
Turning now from the old Colonial churches to the clergy who ministered in this parish in former times, we find ourselves, in the absence of vestry-books and other ancient records, somewhat at a loss to reproduce in exact chronological order their names and the period of their service. "The memory of man," and some private records in our possession, must furnish all the data upon which we can proceed in this regard. The old Scotch minister to whom we have already referred, who resided near and preached at the first Orange Church as early as 1740, is the first in the order of time of whom we can obtain any information; and even his name is passed into oblivion. In 1753, the name of the Rev. Mungo Marshall appears for the first time in connection with this parish, though it is probable he took charge of the same at an earlier period. He continued to reside here until the time of his death, which took place either in 1757 or 1758. We find it on record in the clerk's office of this county, that letters of administration upon his estate were taken out in the latter year. He was buried in the churchyard attached to the Old Brick Church, but for a long while no stone or other memento distinguished the place of his interment. At length, many years after his death, a connection of his bequeathed a certain sum, upon condition that his legatee was not to receive it until he had first placed a tombstone over the remains of the Rev. Mungo Marshall. In due time thereafter this was done. But it was not long permitted to desig. nate the quiet resting-place of the dead. When the work of destruction commenced upon the church, the despoilers did not overlook the churchyard. The graves of the departed, and the monuments sacred to their memory, were not sacred in their eyes. The tombstones were borne off by their sacrilegious hands and appropriated to common and unhallowed uses. That which covered the remains of this man of God was used first to grind paints