By Trip Wiggins
Rev. Edmund C. Murdaugh (aka Edward C Murdaugh, E C Murdaugh)
Son of James and Lucy Dandridge Murdaugh
- 31 Dec 1823/Williamsburg, VA
- 7 Nov 1886/Fredericksburg, VA
15th St. George’s Rector
At St. George’s: Oct. 1871 – April 1877
Married: Roberta Shield 1849 (b. 22 Feb 1825 d. 10 Sep 1900/Alexandria, VA)
Burial: City Cemetery (St. George’s lot for ministers)/Fredericksburg, VA.
College of William & Mary/Williamsburg, VA – grad. 1835
Virginia Theological Seminary – grad. 1845
Honorary D.D. from College of William & Mary (1868)
Union Parish, Woodville, Perry Co., AL 1846-1854
Brandon’s Parish, Graysville, Prince George Co., VA 1855-1860
Southwark Parish, Cabin Point, Surry Co., VA 1860-1868
St. James Parish, Herring Creek, Anne Arundel Co., MD 1869-1871
St. George’s Church, Fredericksburg, VA 1871-1877
Trinity Church, Fredericksburg, VA 1877-1885
There is no proof that he ever served in the Confederate Army but he did provide “service.”
Our fifteenth rector came to St. George’s by a very circuitous route – Williamsburg, Alexandria, Alabama, Prince George and Surry counties in southern Virginia and finally Maryland. He is also credited with forming a new church in Fredericksburg. Even his name is a bit of an unknown.
He was born either Edward Christian Murdaugh or Edmund Christian Murdaugh, in 1823 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Throughout his life he went by three names: Edward C., Edmund C., or, mostly, just E.C. Murdaugh. In this synopsis we’ll use Edmund as that is what is listed most often in primary sources.
Edmund graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1835 and took some time to contemplate whether or not he was destined for the clergy. When he made that decision he enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and graduated in 1845.
His first church was in Woodville, Alabama – a long way from Williamsburg. He stayed there eight years until called back to Virginia serving two nearby churches in southern Virginia in Prince George and Surry counties. He was there for a total of 13 years. In 1864, while at Southwark Parish in Surry County, he gave assistance to the Confederate cause when he, and others, cut telegraph wires connecting the area to parts north. They were arrested in Cabin Point, VA by Union forces. He wrote a letter to Dr. Robert Stone, President Lincoln’s personal physician, asking to be released, not for himself but for his wife and children. Lincoln wrote to General Ulysses Grant to “do as much for the applicant as he can deem consistent with the public interest.” Murdaugh was returned to his family. (There is no record that shows he ever had military service with the Confederate army.)
He was awarded the Honoris Causa Doctor of Divinity in 1868 by his alma mater, The College of William and Mary.
In 1869 he was called to Herring Creek, Maryland where he served for just two years until he received a call from Fredericksburg. He accepted our call and arrived in late 1871 following Rev. Maury’s departure in April of that year.
From the time of his arrival he pushed the church and vestry with his new ideas. He was a big supporter of social issues and enlisted the help from the women of the parish. He supported lay members being more active in the church and its workings. To that end he pushed for a Church Aid Society for the “spiritual and temporal wants of all who need.” That shouldn’t have been a radical idea, as in colonial times we were chartered to do just that for all in the parish – but those days were forgotten memories.
By the fall of 1872, his health was poor and he tendered his resignation. It was rejected by the vestry. (They must have liked what he was doing.) They agreed to help pay for an assistant rector until Murdaugh was totally recovered. Who was the assistant? The Vestry minutes and church records are silent as to his name. By the way, Murdaugh received no extra pay to help in the hiring of an assistant until he was recovered in 1874.
In April, 1874, the St. George’s Benevolent Society of Fredericksburg was incorporated by an act of the legislature to hold property not to exceed $100,000 for the purpose of benefiting the poor of the town of Fredericksburg and assisting needy widows and orphans. The founders of the Society envisioned an ambitious program, as the act of incorporation empowered the board to establish asylums for the aged and the poor, orphanages, reformatories and schools. It remains the foundation for our benevolent efforts today.
Three other notable events during his tenure. In 1874 the ladies of the church raised $3,000 and purchased a new organ. Two years later the choir asked to expand the organ loft (at no expense to the church). Later that same year many present and former members of the congregation desired “to place a handsome window in the church” as a memorial to the Reverend Edward C. McGuire, D.D., the vestry appointed a committee to receive voluntary contributions for this purpose. (It would not be installed until after Murdaugh left.) It would be our first such window in the church.
As to his leaving St. George’s in the spring of 1877, I first turn to Quenzel’s history:
At a meeting on April 6, 1877, Judge Barton read the following letter dated April 3:
The Vestry of St. George’s Church
The Rectorship of the Parish which you represent is in your hands. I herewith lay before you my resignation. For such tolerance and support as you have given me please receive my thanks. The tolerance was more than I deserved and of the support I regret to have made so little use. May the Lord of the Vineyard send you a minister who shall be the bearer of blessings to you and to all the people of St. George’s.
Believe me Gentlemen to be
Your most obedient servant
In Christ Jesus and His Church
Edward C. Murdaugh
By a vote of six to three the vestry voted to accept the resignation. When the vestry met again on April 11, 1877, it was presented with a long list of members who insisted that Dr. Murdaugh be called to the rectorship of St. George’s and with a letter from Judge R.C.L. Moncure expressing the same sentiments. After a lengthy discussion Judge Barton’s motion that Murdaugh be elected rector was defeated seven to four.
The official minutes of the vestry give no reasons for Murdaugh’s resignation or its acceptance by the vestry. The vestry merely adopted the following resolution on April 14:
Resolved, That in accepting the resignation of Revd. Dr. E.C. Murdaugh, the Vestry are sensible of, and fully realize the loss of a faithful, laborious minister, whose labours for a series of years past have been crowned with a full measure of success.
That their late minister will carry with him into the fields of future usefulness, which he may enter, the kindest feeling of this body…
Accompanying this resolution was a gift of money which Murdaugh returned with his thanks.
Apparently by 1877 the rector was on the outs with the vestry and the vestry thought he might submit his resignation as too many of them were against his changes. The final vote on his resignation was:
To accept his resignation: 7 (Thomas F Knox, Horace B Hall, J. J. Young, J. B. Ficklen Jr, Fitzhugh, A. K. Phillips and Dr. James F Thompson)
To reject: 4 (Judge W. A. Barton, Fayette Johnston, Monroe Kelly and C. E. Tackett)
Apparently R.C.L. Moncure was absent or abstained.
So WHY did he leave? Even Dr. Quenzel says there are no definitive records of the whys, so he had to speculate. So did our own Ben Hicks in a posting a couple of years ago. Finally, so did your author after reading more about “pew taxes”, Reformers, Ritualists and the Oxford Movement/Low Church vs High Church effects on the Episcopal Church during the 1870s.
So here goes. First, almost all of Murdaugh’s parish experience was in small rural churches – nothing like coming to the bustling city of Fredericksburg (and the “politics” that comes with it). Second, he believed that the church should be open to all – a Free Church. Well, that’s a good idea (and a Christian idea) but some of the vestry members really liked their “pew tax” where each family who contributed owned their pew and had the strongest voices in the running of the church – we were becoming a church of the Fredericksburg elites. What else makes a church a “Free Church?” First, the weekly offering goes to pay for ALL expenses of the church. No pew tax, no special offering for the minister’s salary, etc. Second, in a free church a vestry is elected by ALL male members of the church; not just the pew owners. That really is a larger election as the pew holders comprised a small percentage of the congregation. As a free church, the vestry would be more aligned with the thoughts and interests of the church membership as a whole and not just the wealthy elite. Third, Murdaugh was mostly in the “ritualist” camp as far as how the church looked and re-invigorating some of the old Anglican and Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic or now “Anglo-Catholic”) practices dealing with the service. (St. George’s didn’t even have a cross in the nave until after the turn of the 20th century.)
A quick look at some of the “ritualist” aspects being promoted at the time in the Episcopal High Church: Laity involved with the service (i.e. lay Eucharistic ministers), more of a liturgical calendar with vestments to match, no pew tax – the weekly offering was used to pay all expenses – outreach and salaries, etc.), cloths on the altar to match the liturgical seasons, candles, flowers, incense, etc. (Much of what we look like today even though we still are noted as a Low Church.)
From an 1877 article in the Fredericksburg Star concerning the low vs high church discussion in the Diocese of Virginia (it’s Council being held in Staunton): “I hear that the council in Staunton next month there will be lively times. The Low Church party in the diocese propose to make a vigorous fight in opposition to operate music, white altar cloths and floral decorations at Easter.” The times they were a changing!
This discussion of “ritual” (more high church) and “reform” (back to Protestant/Evangelical ultra low church roots) was the topic of discussion especially in the south. Eventually a happy medium would be incorporated church-wide but St. George’s would be one of the last truly low churches in Virginia.
So it appears that as his tenure went on, fewer and fewer of the vestry were aligned with his thoughts on what the church should be doing.
A look at the establishment of Trinity Church in the summer of 1877 shows among its committee to establish the new church were: Judge W. S. Barton*, Judge J. B. Jett, George B. Scott**, John L. Stansbury, George B. Pearson, R.B. Shepherd, John F. Tackett, John S. Berry**, Dr. John R. Taylor*, William K. Howard**, Monroe Kelly*, F. W. Johnston*, and W. R. Mason**. (* indicates former St. George’s vestry member; ** indicates former St. George’s member. There’s a good chance that some of the others were also from St. George’s but we have NO parish records from 1871 to1877.)
They asked Dr. Murdaugh to become their first rector. He accepted.
In fact Trinity’s first vestry had four former St. George’s vestrymen and many other former St. Georgians: Dr. Fayette W. Johnston*, Judge William S. Barton*, Dr. George B. Pearson, William K. Howard, Judge J. Baily Jett, Monroe Kelly*, W. Roy Mason, George B. Scott, John L. Stansbury, Dr. John R. Taylor*, John S. Berry, and R.B. Shepherd.
Of interest, George B. Scott and John S. Berry were later buried in St. George’s churchyard. It appears that other than the initial “split” the two congregations have got along quite well ever since – as they do today. (Most today have no idea why there was a split or even that there was one.)
In the 1970s, Rev. Tom Faulkner of St. George’s talked with the former pastor of New Site Baptist Church, as that was the church of our old sexton, Joseph Walker. Faulkner wrote:
“In talking one day with the Rev. Mr. Murchison, a former pastor of New Site Baptist Church, he asked me whether I had ever heard Joseph Walker’s version of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the Rev. Mr. Murdaugh from St. George’s.
“Joseph Walker was the butler of Judge W. A. Barton at the time. According to Joseph Walker in 1872 Dr. Murdaugh had resigned because of ill health. However, the Vestry in refusing to accept his resignation complimented him and gave him a leave of absence. (This is authenticated in the Vestry Minutes.) Remembering this action of the Vestry, sometime later when certain discords arose in the congregation, according to Joseph Walker, Judge Barton advised Dr. Murdaugh to resign, no doubt expecting the Vestry to react in the same manner as it had before, thus hopefully settling some of the discord. As the vestry minutes show, Judge Barton misjudged the Vestry and the Vestry accepted the resignation 6 to 3. The Vestry minutes also show that a second meeting was called (probably at Judge Barton’s request, since he made the motion to rescind at the second meeting) to reconsider their former action. This meeting ended with the Vestry upholding its former action by a vote of 7 to 4. (This approximately two-thirds to one-third vote is quite interesting in that it approximated the manner in which the congregation also divided, two-thirds remaining at St. George’s and the other third rallying around Murdaugh. Judge Barton quite naturally was among those who supported Murdaugh and left St. George’s.) Signed by Thomas G. Faulkner, Jr./October 31, 1975”
One of the few surviving recollections of the “split” was contained in an 1877 letter from Mrs. Murray Forbes of Falmouth to her niece Butler-Brayne Thornton Taylor, who lived in Greene County, Alabama:
“You can little imagine Dear Butler the change that has come over to us from this separation in our church, here is your father [Dr. John R. Taylor of Fall Hill] and myself who for many years ‘walked to the House of God in company”, will worship in the church which is now called “Trinity” nearly opposite Dr. Carmichaels and Mrs. Bucks, the repairs on the old Cobler church is nearly completed and Dr. Murdaugh will preach to an old part of his congregation in his new house of worship. I do not blame Dr. M[urdaugh] for resigning if he could not control his vestry nor his congregation but not to get in a pet & leave the rest of his people because Mr. T[homas] Knox and many others who did not approve of his singing on their knees the “nunc Dimittis” which is in the old English Prayer book & not in the American Book of Common Prayer. My belief & fear is we are going back to the customs and forms of the Jewish Church & less of the heart that Christians ought to have. Many of the young people are declaring they will go to Trinity Church while their parents will continue members of St George’s Church. Dr. M[urdaugh] I believe is a good man but many think with me he left us too precipitately & ought to have borne a little longer with those who did not agree with his church worship.
“The vestry of St George’s have chosen their minister Mr. MacBryde a young married man with 2 children. He has preached for us three sermons, has a loud distinct voice, but in bad health. I fear he will not be as social & active a pastor who has endeared himself in the hearts of most of his people as Dr. M[urdaugh], for years past there has been a party anxious to establish a high church minister here & are in favor of a division, but I cannot give up my worship of the old style to adopt anymore forms; because I love the preacher.”
As the Trinity historian put it, “Dr. Murdaugh was a charismatic leader who appeared to create an equal partnership with his congregation to form a new church.” That “equal partnership” seemed to be missing with the St. George’s vestry.
To ensure that the congregation did not get to the point of demanding Murdaugh’s reinstatement, the vestry quickly called/hired Rev. Robert J. McBryde that same summer. (Normally the search for a new minister took months to years in those days.)
The split occurred. Trinity was formed as a Free and High Church parish with Dr. Murdaugh as its rector. St. George’s got Rev. McBryde (our only “two time” rector – more on him next). Both churches thrived and today are more alike than different.
Rev. Dr. Murdaugh died on 7 Nov 1886 in Fredericksburg following a year in decline following a stroke in the fall of 1885. His funeral was attended by many from both congregations.
The Rev. Churchill J. Gibson, D.D., of Grace Church, Petersburg, the Rev. Mr. Shield of Kentucky (Murdaugh’s brother-in-law) and the Rev. John K. Mason of St. George’s officiated at Dr. Murdaugh’s funeral. Trinity Church was “densely packed” during the services, and an “immense concourse” followed the remains to the city cemetery where they were interred with full Masonic rites in a plot reserved for use by St. George’s ministers. I guess we were united with his death.
Cooke, Pattie P. “A History of Trinity Episcopal Church, 1877-2001.” (2001)
Hicks, Ben. The Saints Split – Trinity Episcopal is created from St. George’s, 1877 (no date)
McAllister, James. “Architecture and Change in the Diocese of Va.” in “Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church” Vol 45, No 3 (Sept 1976) pp 297-323 (JSTOR)
Quenzel, Carrol. The History and Background of St George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Virginia (1951)
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
St. George’s Parish Records
St. James Parish, Lothian, MD (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._James%27_Parish_(Lothian,_Maryland))
23 Aug 1871/Daily State Journal (Alexandria, VA)/accepted call
7 Apr 1877/Virginia Star/Resignation:
10 Nov 1886/Fredericksburg Star/Obit:
12 Sep 1900/Richmond (VA) Times. Wife’s obit.
12 Sep 1900/District of Columbia “Evening Star”
Episcopal Diocese of Virginia HISTORY (http://www.thediocese.net/who-we-are/history/)
Journal of the Proceedings of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia (various years)
Central Rappahannock Regional Library; local newspaper files on microfilm
Ancestry.com (various Family Trees and documents)
Virginia Theological Seminary, Class Year Books 1848-1869 listing his current location and graduating class “1845” (Ancestry.com)
U.S. Census Records (Ancestry.com)
College of William & Mary Student listings (Ancestry.com)