Once A Village – remarks about high/low church at St. George’s

Editor’s note – Once a Village was written by Kate Doggett Boggs and published in 1944. This selection reflects the high/low church controversy of the late 19th century that infected many congregations

Boggs lived for many years at the Stevenson-Doggett House which includes the brick structures at 301-305 Amelia St. All three buildings face Princess Anne Street. The Doggett House at 303 Amelia Street on the corner of Princess Anne Street was built as a Federal style home. Carter Littlepage Stevenson was the Commonwealth Attorney for Fredericksburg. He built the Stevenson-Doggett house in 1817 and remained there until 1833.

Subsequent owners included Dr. Andrew Doggett, and his daughter, Kate Doggett Boggs. She owned an antique shop called ‘The Quarters’ which is the building on the left of the main house. Katie Doggett Boggs lived at the Stevenson-Doggett House from 1916 until her death in 1950. She was a direct descendant of Major Pierre L’Enfant designer of Washington DC

The Stevenson-Doggett House is interesting for several reasons. Including the distant family relationships to the Doggett Family. The family tree includes:

  • Hugh Doggett Scott Jr. (1900-1994) Pennsylvania Senator
  • Hugh Stevens Doggett Scott Sr. (1873-1952) President of the National Bank of Fredericksburg. Married Lola (Jane Lee) Haynie Scott
  • William T. Scott (Confederate Army) married Fannie Adaline Doggett (1848-1904).
  • The distant family members of the Doggett-Scott-Haynie Family include President Zachary Taylor (1707-1768), President Thomas Jefferson, President James Madison, William Fitzhugh, and President George Washington

    "My grandmother was a pious woman but, above all, an Episcopalian, who was rather on the high side, while St. Georges, the Old Parish of Fredericksburg, was decidedly “ low Church.” St. George’s had a communion table with four turned legs, very massive and heavy. There was no cross on it, nor vases for flowers and, when not communion Sunday, it bore only the brass plate for collection. One Christmas, my grandmother was decorating the Church and placed on the table a long piece of white canton flannel made to conceal the legs. She decorated this with a cross of holly. Bishop Whittle was against anything that even resembled an altar. He came into the Church at this particular time and said very sternly—“ Madam, I believe that you worship the cross and, besides, you have concealed the support of the table.” My grandmother hastily replied, “ Bishop, I worship the cross no more than you worship the table legs.”

    "St. George’s congregation owned their own pews and most people went to church. In the front pew sat a brilliant lawyer, who, although offered many political positions, firmly refused them all. He sat at the end of the pew, with crossed legs and turned a cold shoulder to the minister. A short sermon he stood fairly well and only wagged his foot but, if the sermon was too long or the minister’s remarks displeased him, he became annoyed and one saw his foot rise above the level of the pew.

    Our congregation sang the hymns lustily and one of the vestrymen had a powerful bass voice. He was also very deaf. The choir generally sang the same tune to the same hymn but, one day, they determined on a more lively tune for “ Nearer my God to Thee.” This vestryman started out with the old familiar tune at the top of his voice. The choir and the congregation did their best, but only Mr. H., the choir and Dr. T. held their own until the bitter end

    "My mother’s friends were a gay, happy and very hand-some group. There were many balls, regattas on the Rappahannock, much driving about and visiting, Whist and Eucre parties, and there was great musical talent among them. They always seemed to be practicing for light operas and plays and in these the children often took part in solo dances and songs. These entertainments seemed generally staged for the Confederate veterans or the Episcopal Church and usually took place at the old Opera House or in the Court House.

    "On Summer evenings, the gentlemen and some of the ladies sat on the porches and drank juleps, although this was considered improper for young girls

    "There was much malaria in Fredericksburg at this period and it was the custom in some families to hand a julep in a silver cup around the breakfast table. The lady of the house drank first and then the whole family, as whiskey was supposed to keep off chills.

    "Enormous quantities of food seemed the criterion of a proper hospitality. 1 remember with amazement, as I munch my toast, the breakfasts served in my father’s home—corn bread, light bread and salt’ herring roe were always on the table. Added to these, huge dishes of quail, robins, fried oysters, broiled chicken, chops, beefsteak or crabs, etc. Oatmeal had come first and, usually, we served corn, flannel, buckwheat cakes or popovers, as well. The other meals can easily be imagined and as our food was never warmed over, my “mammy” dispensed lavish hospi-tality from the basement kitchen. Mammy, “Aunt Ella” to the town, was possessed of all the virtues. Jolly, good- natured and contented, she was raised on my grandmother’s plantation and followed my mother here when she was married in 1880. To me, she was a faithful, although auto¬cratic nurse and, afterwards, cooked for the family until my father’s death. Her wants were few and these it was cur pleasure to gratify. A very stiff silk dress and basque, heavily trimmed with jet to wear to church and be buried in. Calico of certain design for work, a purple serge, often hard to procure, for second best were replaced as needed from year to year. These and a liberal drink of my father’s best whiskey before she went to bed fulfilled her heart’s desire. Her leisure hours she spent at the back gate which led to the quarters. Here she conversed with passersby and gathered all the gossip.

    "Mammy was devoted to pets and flowers. Our kitchen was filled all Winter with oleanders, lemon verbena, geran-iums and crown of thorn which were usually watered with soapsuds poured in the pots from wash tubs. These plants will die for me with the best of care and attention, but mammy’s flowers lived and grew smartly in spite of the fact that she took no nonsense from them except to change the pots from time to time as needed. Two hunting dogs belonged to father, but mammy’s menagerie consisted of a disreputable cat, a very unappreciative possum, whose home was a barrel, a squirrel, white mice, a guinea pig, bantam chickens and, most beloved of all, a crow. “Jim” could say “ goodbye,” but his vocabulary never increased."

    For a larger view of this controversy in Virginia, see High and Low Church in Virginia