By Trip Wiggins
Rev. William Meade Clark
(most original sources have Clark; a few have Clarke)
Born: 5 May 1855/Halifax Co., VA son of Rev John T Clark/Mary Wilson
Marr. First Laura M Walker 8 June 1881 in Fairfax Co., VA (she died 1883)
Following her death he married again to Mary Alice Peirce on 7 Dec 1899 in Lancaster Co., VA
Died 29 Apr 1914/Richmond, VA
Buried with his wife in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
18th St. George’s Rector
University of Virginia, graduated 1877
Virginia Theological Seminary: 1877-1880
At St. George’s: Dec. 1890 – Aug. 31, 1896
1880-1881 St. James’ Parish, Boydton, Mecklenburg Co., VA
1881-1886 Lexington Parish, Amherst Co., VA
1886-1890 Chapel Hill and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Raleigh, NC
1890-1896 St. George’s
1896-1914 St. James’ Church, Richmond, VA
With Rev. Mason’s departure in late 1890, the vestry found his replacement in the Rev. William Meade Clark, who, incidentally, would also replace Mason at St. James’s in Richmond in 1896.
William Meade Clark (also noted at Clarke in some documentation) was born on May 5, 1855, in Halifax County, VA, the son of Rev. John T. Clark and Mary Wilson Clark. (Of interest, in 1862, the faculty and student body (4 students) of the Virginia Theological Seminary stayed in the household of Rev. John T. Clark on account of unrest in Alexandria toward Virginians at the time.) While many sources list Clark’s matriculation from the University of Virginia in 1877, Dr. Quenzel’s research of the university’s records shows no degree ever being conferred on Clark. Nevertheless he was admitted to the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1877 and graduated in 1880.
While a student in the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, the junior Clark was an editor of The Seminarian, an eight-page monthly, and he conducted services at Olivet Chapel on the “Bush Hill” estate in Fairfax County. Upon his graduation from the Seminary, Clark was ordained deacon by Bishop Whittle on June 25, 1880. A year later he was ordained priest.
Before his call to St. George’s he was successively rector of: St. James’ Parish, Boydton, Mecklenburg County, 1880-1881; Lexington Parish, Amherst County, 1881-1886 (where he also married his first wife, Laura Walker, and where she died in July, 1883); Chapel Hill and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Raleigh, NC, 1886-1890.
Early in his tenure here, the topic of renovation was again in the top of the vestry news. They urged the rector to appeal to the congregation to raise funds to re-roof the church and he added that he wished to see every parishoner, 14-years-old and above, to contribute. The money was raised and the roof redone.
That same year the parish was pleased to see that their new rector was chosen to preach the annual sermon before the Seminary Alumni Association.
Keenly interested in all aspects of Virginia history, in 1892, he and the Ladies Cemetery Guild, prepared a booklet, “St. George’s Cemetery: An Historical Sketch” to preserve the cemetery tombstone’s inscriptions. It was sold in the community (and copies can still be found today).
The other topic near and dear to the vestry, paying singers in the choir, again raised its head. This time in 1892 – the choir urgently needed a leading soprano.
Going back to a previous rector’s interest, Clark asked the vestry for any unappropriated pews so he could have them upholstered and made available to new members as part of a free church. It was approved. (Again, some of those issues that caused an earlier vestry to part ways with Rev. Murdaugh, were now just part of daily life in the current St. George’s – the rift in the church was healing.)
More renovation of the church – In 1894 Clark reported to the vestry of the deterioration of the gallery ceilings and went to the congregation to raise the money and effect repairs.
A notable event in that same year gave pride to St. George’s parishoners – Rev. Clark had been invited to teach history at the Virginia Theological Seminary for a time while the professor (Dr. Carl E. Grammer) was recovering from an outbreak of typhoid fever. Of course this was in addition to his rector duties – a lot of traveling back and forth to Alexandria. (In 1899, Clark was offered a permanent position from VTS as a professor of Church history – but declined to remain close to his congregation.)
In 1895, our current lectern was donated by Mrs. Annie T. Harrison of Philadelphia.
With his reputation spreading throughout the diocese, it was only a matter of time before other churches started contacting him with calls to their churches. In 1895 he declined a call to St. Paul’s in Petersburg, and in 1896 he declined a call to Monumental Church in Richmond. But he couldn’t turn down the invitation in August, 1896, to St. James’ Church in Richmond, where he again replaced Rev. Mason.
This move would be his last. He remained at St. James’ until his death on April 29, 1914. Throughout his tenure at St. James’ he was more involved in several aspects of the diocese: Examining Chaplain of the diocese, editor of The Southern Churchman, 1899-1914, and a member of the General Board of Missions. He had the distinction of being a clerical deputy to six General Conventions. Washington & Lee University conferred the honor of Doctor of Divinity on Clark in 1910.
He remarried in 1899 to Mary Alice Peirce who survived him.
His funeral was held at St. James’ Church on Friday morning May 2, 1914. The services were conducted by Bishops Robert A. Gibson (Diocese of Virginia) and Alfred M. Randolph (Diocese of Southern Virginia and former St. George’s rector) and four other clergymen. The interment was in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond.
In a Memorium in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography in 1915, he was noted as “the first clergyman of the diocese.”
He was long interested in Virginia history, being a life member of the advisory board of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, member of the Executive Committee of the Virginia Historical Society, and also the editor of “Colonial Churches of Virginia.” He was noted as being one of the best-informed persons in Virginia as to the connection between the Colonial Church and its successor with the political history of the colony and the Commonwealth.
Note on The Southern Churchman: This journal began publication on Jan. 2, 1835, at Richmond, Virginia. It was published weekly, and had the motto: “Catholic For Every Truth of God. Protestant For Every Error of Man.” On July 12, 1947, it absorbed The Chronicle, which was published at Poughkeepsie, New York. On Jan. 2, 1952, it was continued by Episcopal Church News.
Quenzel, Carrol. The History and Background of St George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Virginia (1951)
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
The Kappa Alpha Journal, Vol 17, issue 3 (Jan 1900) [from the Richmond Dispatch; Internet download]
Illustrated Family Newspaper, Vol 64 (1898, issue 24 Feb 1898) [Internet download]
The Churchman, Vol 109 (9 May 1914) [Internet download]
Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol 27 (1899) [Internet download]
The Church Standard, Vol 74 (Feb 19, 1898) [Internet download]
The Daily Press (Newport News, VA) [Internet download]
“William Meade Clark – In Memorium.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1914), pp. I-III
Newspapers.com (Richmond Times-Dispatch, several dates)