Virginia Church History

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Origins[edit | edit source]

The Church of England (now Protestant Episcopal) was the established church in Virginia from 1624 to 1786. Between the time of the American Revolution and the year 1900, the largest religious groups in Virginia were the Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches.[1]

  • Clark, Jewell T., and Elizabeth T. Long. A Guide to Church Records in the Library of Virginia. Richmond, Va.: 2002. FHL Book 975.5 K23g. Includes the history, location, and record inventory of 11 denominations and congregations. In 2002, an updated edition entitled was published.

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Virginia Baptist Historical Society
Boatwright Memorial Library
28 Westhampton Way
University of Richmond, VA 23173
Telephone: (804)289-8669

Baptist churches in Virginia were divided into regional associations. In 1810, they existed as follows:

Grievance Petitions[edit | edit source]

Baptists faced a great deal of persecution from the established church in Virginia in the 1700s. These grievances have created documents that can help identify ancestors that belonged to the faith.

The 10,000 name petition (dated 16 October 1776) has been digitized at the Library of Congress website. It was signed by people from all over Virginia who wanted an end to persecution of Baptists by the Established Church. Baptists and Baptist sympathizers alike signed the petition. To find your ancestor in this record, first check Hall's transcription in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy (Vols. 36-38, with annotations in Vol. 39), which is available online at Ancestry ($). It is also available in book form at the Family History Library: FHL Book 975.5 B2vs v. 36-39.

Digital versions of many Virginia Baptists histories, such as The History of Virginia Baptists (1848), Correspondence between Early Virginia Baptists and President George Washington in 1789 (1894), Persecution of Baptists in Early Virginia History (1808) are available for free online at the Baptist History Homepage.

Early Virginia Religious Petitions, digitized by the Library of Congress, include many petitions from Virginia congregations that identify inhabitants who belonged to their faiths.

An excellent early history of Virginia Baptists, which identifies the various churches established and their ministers is:

  • Semple, Robert Baylor and George William Beale. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia. 1810; reprint, Richmond, Va.: Pitt and Dickinson, 1894. Digital version at Google Books - free.
  • Howell, Robert Boyte Crawford and American Baptist Historical Society. The Early Baptists of Virginia: An Address, Delivered in New York, Before the American Baptist Historical Society, May 10th, 1856. Press of the Society, 1867. Digital version at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.

Ministers[edit | edit source]

  • Simpson, William S. Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1760-1790, A Biographical Survey. 7 vols. Richmond, Va., 1990-2009. Digital versions of Vols. 6 and 7 are available at Family History Archives, see: FHL Books 975.5 D3si v. 1-7.
  • Taylor, James Barnett. Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers. 2nd ed. Richmond: Yale & Wyatt, 1838. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 3d Series. J.P. Bell Company, Inc., 1912. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 4th Series. J.P. Bell, 1913. Digital book at Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 5th Series, 1902-1914, with Supplement. J.P. Bell, 1915. Digital book at Google Books.

An 1899 directory of Baptist ministers lists biographical details about many ministers born or serving in the state:[2]

  • The Ministerial Directory of the Baptist Churches in the United States of America. Oxford, Ohio: Ministerial Directory Co., 1899. Digital version at Google Books.

Church of England (Anglican, Protestant Episcopal)[edit | edit source]

You may need to study parish boundaries to determine which parish an ancestor attended. There are three excellent sources, which include maps, written by Charles Francis Cocke:

  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Southern Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1996. FHL Book 975.5 K2co 1996.
  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1960. FHL Book 975.5 K2c.
  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1967. 1978 reprint: FHL Book 975.5 K2cf 1978

Freddie Spradlin has analyzed references to the formations and boundary changes of Church of England parishes found in Hening's Statutes at Large. His notes are available online at Parishes of Virginia (part of VAGenWeb Project).

To learn what records survive for specific parishes, click on its page:

Abingdon · Accomac · Accomack · Albemarle · Amherst · Antrim · Appomattox · Argall's Gift · Augusta · Bath · Beckford · Berkeley · Blisland · Blount Point · Botetourt · Boutracy · Bristol · Bromfield · Brunswick · Bruton · Camden · Cameron · Charles City · Charles · Charles River · Chickacoan · Chickahominy · Chippokes · Chiskiack · Chotank · Christ Church (Lancaster Co.) · Christ Church (Middlesex Co.) · Chuckatuck · Cople · Cornwall · Cumberland · Dale · Denbigh · Dettingen · Drysdale · East · Elizabeth City · Elizabeth River · Fairfax · Fairfield · Farnham · Flowerdew Hundred · Fluvanna · Frederick · Fredericksville · Hamilton · Hampton · Hanover · Harrop · Henrico · Hog Island · Hungars · James City · Jordan's Journey · Kecoughtan · Kingston · King William · Lancaster · Lawnes Creek · Lee · Leeds · Lexington · Littleton · Lower (Elizabeth City Co.) · Lower (Isle of Wight Co.)  · Lower (Lancaster Co.)  · Lower (Nansemond Co.) · Lower (Northampton Co.) · Lower (Stafford Co.) · Lower (Upper Norfolk Co.) · Lower Suffolk · Lunenburg · Lynnhaven · Machodick · Manchester · Marston · Martin's Brandon · Martin's Hundred · Meherrin · Middle Plantation · Middletowne · Montgomery · Mulberry Island · New Poquoson · Newport · Nomini · Norborne · Northampton · North Farnham · Nottoway (Prince Edward Co.) · Nottoway (Southampton Co.) · Nutmeg Quarter · Occohannock · Overwharton · Patrick · Petsworth · Piankatank · Piscataway · Poropotank · Portsmouth · Potomac · Raleigh · Richmond · Rockbridge · Rockingham · Russell · St. Andrew's · St. Anne's (Albemarle Co.) · St. Anne's (Essex and Caroline Cos.) · St. Asaph's · St. Brides · St. David's · St. George's (Accomack Co.)  · St. George's (Spotsylvania Co.) · St. James Northam · St. James Southam · St. James's (Goochland Co.) · St. James's (Mecklenburg Co.) · St. John's · St. Luke's · St. Margaret's · St. Mark's · St. Martin's · St. Mary's · St. Mary's Whitechapel · St. Patrick's · St. Paul's (Hanover Co.) · St. Paul's (King George Co.) · St. Peter's · St. Stephen's (King and Queen Co.) · St. Stephen's (Northumberland Co.) · St. Thomas · Shelburne · Sittenburne · Smith's Hundred · South · Southampton · South Farnham · Southwark · Stafford · Stanley Hundred · Stratton Major · Suffolk · Tillotson · Trinity (Lancaster Co.) · Trinity (Louisa Co.) · Truro · Upper (Elizabeth City Co.) · Upper (Isle of Wight Co.) · Upper (Lancaster Co.) · Upper (Nansemond Co.) · Upper (Northampton Co.) · Upper (Stafford Co.) Upper Suffolk · Varina · Wallingford · Ware · Warrosquyoake · Warwick · Washington (Westmoreland Co.) · Washington (Washington Co.) · Waters Creek · West · West and Shirley · Westbury · Westover · Weyanoke · Wicomico · Wilmington · York · Yorkhampton

Histories and Guides[edit | edit source]

During the last half of the eighteenth century, the Church of England in Virginia lost much of its membership to dissenting religions. Many of the grand church buildings fell into disrepair. In the nineteenth century, "Many Virginians had a deep sense of living among the ruins of a more glorious past."[3]

  • Anderson, J.S. The History of the Church of England in the Colonies and Foreign Dependencies of the British Empire. 3 vols. London: Rivington, 1856. Digital versions at Internet Archive: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3. [All three volumes include material on the history of the Church of England in Virginia.
  • Axelson, Edith F. A Guide to Episcopal Church Records in Virginia. Athens, Georgia: Iberian Publishing, 1988. FHL Book 975.5 K27a. Includes parish register and vestry book inventories.
  • Bryden, George MacLaren. Virginia's Mother Church and the Political Conditions Under Which It Grew. 2 vols. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Historical Society Press, 1947-1952. FHL Book 975.5 K2bg v. 1-v. 2
  • Goodwin, Edward L. The Colonial Church in Virginia: With Biographical Sketches of the First Six Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia, and Other Historical Papers, Together with Brief Biographical Sketches of the Colonial Clergy of Virginia. Milwaukee, Wisc.: Morehouse Pub., 1927. FHL Book 975.5 K2g.
  • Goodwin, Wm. A.R. History of The Theological Seminary in Virginia and Its Historical Background. 1923. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 1, FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 2.
  • Hawks, Francis Lister. A Narrative of Events Connected with the Rise and Progress of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia: To Which is Added an Appendix, Containing the Journals of the Conventions in Virginia from the Commencement to the Present Time. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836. Digital version at Google Books.
  • Meade, William. Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. 2 vols. 1857. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1966. Digital versions of volume 1 at FamilySearch Digital Library, Ancestry ($), Internet Archive. Digital version of volume 2 at Internet Archive, FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 2. FHL Book 975.5 K2m 1966. Mostly histories of early parishes but includes 6,900 names of individuals.
  • Upton, Dell. Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Virginia. Yale University Press, 1997.

For images and brief histories of colonial churches where your ancestors worshipped, see:

  • Colonial Churches: A Series of Sketches of Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia: With Pictures of Each Church. Richmond, Va.: Southern Churchman Co., 1907. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books; Internet Archive; 2nd ed. (1908): Google Books; 1990 reprint: FHL Book 975.5 K2cc.
  • Wigmore, Francis Marion. Old Parish Churches of Virginia: A Pictorial-Historic Exhibition of Photographs in Colors Lent to the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1929. Digital version at Internet Archive - free.

Clergy[edit | edit source]

To learn more about the origins of Church of England ministers sent to Virginia from England during the colonial period, start with these books:

  • Fothergill, Gerald. A List of Emigrant Ministers to America, 1690-1811. London: E. Stock, 1904. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books; Internet Archive, 1965 reprint: FHL Book 973 W2f 1965. Addendum published in Caribbeana, Vol. 3 (1914):312-313. Digital version at dLOC - free.
  • Weis, Frederick Lewis. The Colonial Clergy of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Boston, Mass.: Society of the Descendants of Colonial Clergy, 1955. FHL Book 975 D3wc; digital version at World Vital Records ($).

The Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy points researchers to many valuable resources.

Church of England ministers sent to Virginia were often educated at the English universities of Cambridge and Oxford. The website Expert Links: English Family History and Genealogy contains links to many of these university's records available online under the "Occupations" section.

The Clergy of the Church of England website (work in progress) also contains details of many of their ministerial careers before departing for America.

Very few of Virginia's colonial glebe houses (residences of Church of England ministers owned by the parish) survive today.[4]

Society of Friends (Quakers)[edit | edit source]

Several histories of Virginia Quakers have been written, including:

  • Worrall, Jay. The Friendly Virginians: America's First Quakers. Athens, Ga.: Iberian Pub. Co., 1994. FHL Book 975.5 K2wj. Identifies Virginia monthly meetings.
  • Bowden, James. The History of the Society of Friends in America. 2 vols. London: W. & F.G. Cash, 1850-1854. Digital version of Vol. 1 at Google Books; FHL Book 973 F2bj v. 1. [Volume 1 includes Virginia.]

Quakers were carefully observed during the Revolutionary War, see:

  • Gilpin, Thomas. Exiles in Virginia: With Observations on the Conduct of the Society of Friends during the Revolutionary War; Comprising the Official Papers of the Government Relating to that Period. 1777-1778. 1848. Digital book at Google Books.

Additional Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Long, Elizabeth Terry. "Genealogical Research in Virginia Church Records," Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1980):60-69. Digital version at Ancestry ($). Discusses records associated with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Quakers, Lutherans, Reformed, and Baptist churches.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. William Chamberlin Hunt and United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), Vol. 1:365. Digital version at Google Books.
  2. Davis points out that not all ministers participated, see: Robert S. Davis, "Some Baptist Ministers of South Carolina at the Turn of the Century," The South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter 2004):13-22. FHL Book 975.7 B2sc v. 32
  3. Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 417.
  4. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of The Glebe Houses of Colonial Virginia," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2003):313. Digital version at American Ancestors ($); FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 47 (2003).