By Trip Wiggins
Rev. Patrick Henry
Abt 1705/Aberdeen, Scotland – March/Apr 1777/Hanover Co., Va
Third St. George’s Rector
At St George’s: Jan 1733-April 1734
In the intervening time between Rev. Kenner’s departure and the arrival of our next rector the vestry voted to have a church built in Fredericksburg and another where the “Church at Mattapony now is.” Each shall be 60 feet by 24 feet, well built with wood, well shingled, and to be underpinned with brick and both ends of the roof to be hipped. Warden of the Vestry, Justice and contractor Henry Willis was contracted to build the churches and would receive three payments of 50,000 lbs. each year – 1732, 1733 and 1734 when the churches should be finished. (If not done by Christmas 1734, Mr, Willis will forfeit the last payment of 50,000 lbs of tobacco!)
In January 1733, the Rev. Patrick Henry came to St George’s. Rev. Kenner was notified that his supply services were no longer needed.
Rev. Patrick Henry was born about 1705 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He graduated from Marishal College in Aberdeen with a Masters of Arts. He received his orders as a priest in 1732. He was encouraged to come to Virginia by his brother, John Henry (father of the orator Patrick Henry) who was residing in Virginia and received the King’s Bounty on July 31, 1732 to come to Virginia.
It’s also believed that his brother, John, also had influence in his getting the rector position at St. George’s.
Two significant events occurred during his short tenure – the building of the Fredericksburg church (a replacement for the Rappahannock church) and the governor’s issue with the location of the Mattapony church.
Before the Fredericksburg church could be built, the church site had to be “set” “East and West” – that is surveyed which was accomplished by Spotsylvania surveyor George Home in June 1733.
As to the church at Mattapony. Parishoners had petitioned the Governor to intercede for them as to the location of the church in the southern part of the county. They noted that it was too expensive and “inconvenient” for most of them to travel to either Fredericksburg or the Mattapony location. So Lt Gov. Gooch informed the vestry of their grievances. He invited vestry members to come to the October Council meeting in Williamsburg to discuss and come to an agreement.
Zachary Lewis, the vestry attorney, was deputized and sent to Williamsburg to plead their case. He noted:
- The Mattapony Church was the most convenient “for the greatest number of parishoners that are not convenient to the church at Rappahannock”;
- That the Mattapony site was convenient to the glebe (home of the rector);
- That “a great part of the said church is already done”;
- And that “the great part of the charges for building the said church is already levied.”
Not entirely accurate as they still had two installments of the levy (annual tax) to go and the church was nowhere near done. But it worked. The governor agreed with Lewis mainly because it would cost even more if they had to start over someplace else. He did caution the vestry to be more responsive in the future to the parishoners’ needs and to build a chapel for their use [in the SW corner of the county]. The East North East Chapel would be built there, but not until 1750. Note: Some vestries were actually dissolved by the House of Burgesses due to parishoners grievances over the years – but not at St. George’s.
At the same October 1733 meeting of the Vestry, Col. John Waller was desired to send to England for pulpit cloths and cushions for each church in the parish, to be crimson velvet with gold tassels, each cloth having a cypher with the initials St. G. P. He also directed to send for two silver 1-quart chalices. Waller paid for it with his own money.
The other addition to the parish under Henry’s tenure was the building of a barn on the glebe.
Rev. Henry resigned in April 1734. He probably never held a service in the Fredericksburg church during his tenure as it was still under construction. We have no information as to his time between his resignation and his appointment as rector of St. Paul’s parish in Hanover County, Va. in June 1736. We do know that his church in St. Paul’s was known as the “Upper Church” or “Slash Church” (still standing in 2019 but as a Disciples of Christ church). He became the focus of the dissenters and New Lights of the Great Awakening movement in the early 1740s when they came to Hanover county and challenged the Established Church (Church of England). (While his brother, John, was a strong Church of England supporter, his sister-in-law was a Presbyterian.)
Slash Church claims to be the “oldest frame colonial church in Virginia in continuous use.” They still have two original pews from 1729.
“This site was selected for a new church, because the land occupied a nice hill with a number of trees and included a spring with a bountiful supply of water.” The name was for the “slashes” or ravines in the landscape in the area. The church was sixty feet in length and twenty six foot in width and sixteen foot in height. Among those who worshipped here were his nephew Patrick Henry, Dolley Payne Madison, and Henry Clay. After 1780, it became a “free use church” with various denominations.
Rev. Patrick may have taught his more famous nephew and namesake Latin, Greek and Mathematics since he was regarded for his classical education.
He must have overcome the 1740s Great Awakening challenge as he served St. Paul’s parish until his death, at his home “Mount Pleasant,” in the spring of 1777. His obituary was in the Virginia Gazette on 11 April 1777. He is presumably buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife at the “New Church” – built during his tenure – which is believed to be located where the town of Old Church now resides in Hanover County but no trace has been found.
Felder, Paula. Forgotten Companions (1999)
Fothergill, Gerald. A List of Emigrant Ministers to America, 1690-1811 London (Archive.org)
Grady, John. Journal of the American Revolution; ‘THE “PARSON’S CAUSE:” THOMAS JEFFERSON’S TEACHER, PATRICK HENRY, AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM’ (https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/04/the-parsons-cause-thomas-jeffersons-teacher-patrick-henry-and-religious-freedom/) April 2018
Quenzel, Carrol. The History and Background of St George’s Episcopal Church Fredericksburg, Virginia (1951)
Slaughter, Rev. Philip. A History of St George’s Parish (1847)
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
Virginia Colonial Records Project (King’s Bounty records) Library of Virginia
“The Episcopal Church in Virginia 1607-2007” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 115 No 2 (2007)
“Slash Church” Wikipedia website (March 2019)
“Letters of Patrick Henry, Sr., Samuel Davies, James Maury, Edwin Conway and George Trask.” The William & Mary Quarterly, Series 2, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1921)
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