Rev. John Kercheval Mason, 17th Rector at St. George’s 1883-1890

By Trip Wiggins

Born: 3 Dec 1847/”Westview” in Brunswick Co., VA
Married: 19 Nov 1879/Alexandria, VA to Claudia Hamilton Norton (5 kids)
Died: 18 Dec 1910/Louisville, KY; Burial: Alexandria, VA/St. Paul’s Church
17th St. George’s Rector
At St. George’s May 15, 1883 – Dec. 1, 1890
College: VMI (1864) & Hampton Sydney College (grad 1870)
Seminary: Virginia Theological Seminary (grad 1876)
Ordained: 1876
Parish History:
Mount Jackson & Middletown, (Shenandoah & Frederick Co, VA) 1876-1879
St. Peter’s Church, Charlotte, NC 1880
St. John’s Church/Liberty (Bedford City), Bedford, VA 1881-1883
St. George’s Church/Fredericksburg, VA 1883-1890
St. James Church/Richmond, VA 1890-1896
St. Andrews’ Church/Louisville, KY 1891-1910

   Following Rev. McBryde’s April, 1883, departure from the parish, the vestry wasted little time in searching for a replacement. They found it in Rev. John K. Mason, who arrived in May of that year. Interestingly, Mason’s former parish, St. John’s in Bedford, VA, requested that St. George’s release Mason back to them. (Apparently the congregation did not really want him to leave.) St. George’s politely refused the request, and Mason stayed.

   John Kercheval Mason was born on December 3, 1847, at “Westview” in Brunswick County, VA to Dr. George Mason, a doctor, and Lucy Binns Jones Mason. The family moved to the Mason old plantation in Greenville, County in southern Virginia where he received his education.

   He attended college at VMI where on August 27, 1864, the cadets were mustered into service in the Confederate Army to defend Richmond from a Union push into the region. Apparently his service was brief and bloodless.

   Following the war he transferred to Hampden-Sydney College on a scholarship where he received his B.A. in 1870. For the next four years he worked his father’s plantation and taught school to make enough money to attend seminary. His work in the free schools landed him a position as Greenville County’s first superintendent of schools.

   He graduated from the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1876 as a deacon and was ordained a priest a year later. His first positions were at Mt. Jackson Parish in Shenandoah County, VA and Middletown Parish in Frederick County, VA. In 1879 he moved from rural parishes to the urban setting of St. Peter’s Church in Charlotte, NC. There he also married Claudia Hamilton Norton, daughter of Rev. George H. Norton and a descendant of John Marshall. Following a brief two-year stint in Charlotte, he moved to St. John’s Church in Bedford City, VA. It was while there he received his call to St. George’s in the spring of 1883.

   While here he was active in a few main areas – preaching/spirituality (of course), maintaining the church building, music, and fund raising.

   In his efforts to keep the “House and Service of the Lord beautiful,” the ladies of the church raised nearly $2,000 in his first year for building renovation.

   A musician himself, Mason’s “enthusiasm and informed effort brought about the acceptance of paid singer’s in the choir.” The vestry authorized two singers to be paid not more than $100 per year. This will be challenged in years to come by other vestries – but after Mason’s departure.

   A big issue for him in 1886 – income was outpaced by spending. While the church had 193 communicants and many non-communicants, there were only 60 regular subscribers giving to the running of the church. From March 1885-March 1886, exclusive of the 60, a mere $350 was raised, or not more than 4 cents a Sunday from all the other members and attendees. The vestry asked Rev. Mason to talk to the congregation about the giving problem which he did and, presumably, many more stepped up to the task.

   Church records are almost void as to the position of the sexton at St. George’s. Other than Mrs. Susannah Livingstone, who was sexton in the mid-1700s, many are today unknown. The position was an important one – doing the daily work to maintain the building and grounds – a custodian for any need that popped up. We do have quite a bit of information on a sexton that was “elected” by the vestry in 1886 and served for several decades. His name, Joseph Walker. He was elected to replace the ailing Washington Wright, who was the sexton at the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, and who was hired probably much earlier.

   Joseph was born a slave on December 17, 1854, on the plantation of Col. William Goodwin of Spotsylvania. This property adjoined the famous “Bloody Angel” in the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.

   Joseph came to Fredericksburg in 1871, where he worked a short time at the paper mill before becoming the butler in the home of Judge William S. Barton. In addition to his butler duties, he was hired as the janitor of the National Bank of Fredericksburg where he was still employed as late as 1938. (The bank was directly across the street from St. George’s – the building now occupied by Foode.)

   Outside of work, Mr. Walker was also a deacon at Shiloh (Old Site) Baptist Church from 1874 until the eve of WWII. Since his appointment as sexton Walker became a property owner, voter, juror, and the contractor for hauling the mail between the post office and the railway stations – quite a remarkable life.

   In 1889, the vestry was looking at a somewhat high-tech question: deciding whether to continue lighting the church with electricity or change to gas. Electricity lost out.

   In 1890 Mason became convinced that the special work for which he had been called to St. George’s was complete. On March 18, 1890, he resigned because he had accepted a call to St. James’ Church in Marietta, GA. The vestry accepted the resignation, but ten days later it unanimously delegated two of its members to request the St. James’ vestry to permit Mason to withdraw his letter of acceptance. (Funny, the same thing that Mason’s previous church tried on St. George’s in 1883.)  He did not move to Georgia. However, in October of that year, he was called to be associate rector with the Rev. Joshua Peterkin at St. James’ Church in Richmond – a BIG downtown church – he felt that the larger duty lay there.

   In 1891 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from his alma mater, Hampton-Sydney College. Following Rev. Peterkin’s 1892 death, Dr. Mason served St. James’ as rector until 1896. His final call was to St. Andrews Church in Louisville, KY, where he was rector of the church and delegate to four General Conventions in “an ever growing usefulness to the Episcopal Church until his death” on December 18, 1910, in Louisville. He was buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery, Alexandria, VA.

Footnote: Mason was the nephew of the Hon. John Y. Mason, Confederate States Secretary of the Navy and Minister to France.

Sources:

Quenzel, Carrol. The History and Background of St George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Virginia (1951)
Paxton, William McClung. The Marshall Family: Or A Genealogical Chart of the Descendants of John Marshall (1885) [Google books]
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
Ancestry.com
Familysearch.org
Findagrave.com
Newspapers.com

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