Rev. Edward McGuire and the Annual Conventions, 1814-1858

McGuire attended the Virginia Diocese Conventions from 1814 until his death. The first convention of the Episcopal church in Virginia was held in Richmond in 1785. However, from 1799 to 1812 the convention did not meet more than twice.  In 1814, a special convention was held which began the annual conventions.

Each year the Diocese met in convention generally on the fourth Tuesday in May and later published a lengthy convention report of their meeting.  Over the years, the reports became larger and more standardized. 

The part of the convention report considered here are the Parochial Reports which we still create today that has numerical statistical and financial information. What is different is that there was an optional narrative section in the 19th century, perhaps the most interesting section.  The reports refer to the previous year’s activity.

Considering St. George’s Vestry minutes were lost from 1818 to 1865 and there are few other records such as a newsletter, this is a major resource.  However, it is limited with some years getting a little or no narrative.  The numerical information, particularly when communicants are considered is consistent.

The posts that McGuire made can be divided into several categories.

  1. McGuire’s major interest in his reports were the work done toward education and mission during the 1820’s and 1830’s. Attention to these areas diminished in later reports

He called them in 1829 associations for “religious and charitable purposes”. These included Education Society, The Prayer-Book and Tract Society, the Bible Class, a Female Domestic Missionary Society, the Sunday Schools as well as the two charity schools, the Male and Female Charity schools.  “He was pleased to report they were well supported in the congregations.  He remarked in a later year that they were “well sustained and eminently useful.”

“The various associations among us for religious and charitable purposes have been actively engaged in furthering their several designs of benevolence toward the souls and bodies of men.”

Of note was the Female Domestic Missionary Society which helped struggling churches in the Diocese

As time went on these occupied less space in the reports. He did report in 1851 that the “Bible Class and Sunday Schools were in a prosperous condition. He said in 1826 that “the Sunday Schools are especially cherished by them with warm and affectionate concern”

1825 – “An auxiliary Education society exists and a Female Missionary Society which promises essential benefit to a destitute section of the diocese”… They cherish with much zeal and affection a large and flourishing Sunday School, from which much previous fruit has been realized.”

1826  – “The Female Education Society, auxiliary to the Education Society of Virginia and Maryland is still zealous for the object of its formation.  A Female Domestic Missionary Society has existed among us for several years. Several missionaries have in that time been employed and the gratifying assurance enjoyed of much important good done by them in some of our adjoining parishes”

1827 –“The Charity Schools connected with the church are of a highly interesting character; there two in number, one of males, the other of females. About forty-five children are educated in them, some of whom are clothed and boarded.””

1828  –  “Female Domestic Missionary Society. “During the few years of its existence it has engaged in its cause five missionaries, whose labours have been instrumental in many places… But especially in the settlement of three useful ministers in as many destitute places.”

By 1835,  “The Female Missionary Society have had a useful missionary in their employ for five months” though a year earlier had lamented the difficulty of procuring missionaries.

McGuire was also proud of the endowed scholarships at the new seminary in Alexandri

1833  – “One scholarship in the Theological Seminary of Virginia has been endowed for five years and a second is in a fair way of being soon completed. A promising youth, taken from the Sunday School, has been send to college. “

These efforts were not just limited to Domestic mission

1837- “Our communion has supplied the Mission to Cape Palmas, Western Africa with a devout Missionary and given aid to the same in their sympathy with the enterprise and its agent”

There were other social causes such as the African Colonization Movement and in these reports temperance though the latter may have been short lived. (As late as 1846, they were contributing to the American Colonization Society).

By 1833, the church had send off a Sunday School student to college and thein 1839 a seminarian, perhaps its first and a missionary.

1835 – “The temperance reformation has many friends with us. Monthly meetings are held by its members for the public discussion of subjects connected with this important cause

In the next year, he wrote “The temperance cause, impeded for season by the ultraism of some of its friends in other sections of our land, has not been influential as formerly.”

1839 – “Our Sunday schools are generally conducted with a proper sense of their useful tendency and influence.”

1841  “Sunday schools and Bible Class institutions are especially exerting a happy influence in promotion of youthful piety among us.”

  1. Growing ministry for the “colored”

It rose in mid-1830’s with schools a decade later. The numbers of “colored” increased to 150 by 1860 with 2 of the Sunday schools for them. Instruction would have been oral and they were segregated

1834– “Something has been done of late for the spiritual improvement of our colored population.  The time seems to have arrived with us for successful efforts in their behalf. Recent endeavors to instruct them by preaching have been attended by the most encouraging indications of usefulness.”

1836 – “Our labors on behalf of the colored people have been sadly interrupted through the past year. This has been effected by causes, so well-known and understood, and so generally deplored by the real friends of the African race, that we need not recount them here. We do not, however, lose sight of their spiritual interests and intend to do all in our power for their real good. “ 

1846 – “Sunday Schools 5” “two of the above classes are composed of colored children. The domestic servants of the congregation number about eighty… Being often taught by the rector himself, he can say that the service has proved pleasant and profitable. Whoever shall understand so excellent a work will no doubt find himself agreeably disappointed in the fruit of his labor”  

1847  “Two of the schools are for oral instruction of colored children.”

By 1848, communicants and others were designated “white” or “colored”

By 1856 – they had a colored communicant.  Communicants – Present number, white 140, colored 1. “

And by the civil war the Sunday schools had a sizeable colored population.  It assumes they were not integrated since there were two Sunday schools listed in 1850

1860 – “Confirmed white 23, colored scholars, white 250, colored 150 total 400”

1861 – Communicants- “present number, white 300, colored 1, total 301.””Sunday schools-teachers 66; scholars, white 170; mission school 60; colored 166, infant school 40; total 480”

The number of Sunday school students was reported inconsistently in the reports. In 1823 it was 126 but by 1827 had doubled to 250. The numbers declined to 150 in the 1842-1844 and then rose to 250 in 1845 and then to 300 in 1847. It fell again back to 150 in the 1853-1857 before reaching 250 again 1861 and then spiking to 480 in 1862. The church closed in November, 1862 until the end of 1864.

  1. Building remarks

The second church would have occupied most of the McGuire years from 1815-1849

1831 -“So much has the number increased of those who go up to the house of God that the vestry have the enlargement of the Church edifice now under construction.” Unfortunately, it is not clear what the enlargement without the Vestry minutes or other reports.

1833 – “The congregation has erected since the last convention a commodious vestry-room

Remarks of “large” congregation or a church too small for our needs assumed his attention in the late 1830’s.

1839 –“ There is much, however, to encourage in the large congregation, filling a church, now too small.”

1840-  “The congregation is large – too large for our space – and the appointed services have been attended with little interruption and have not been without some encouraging marks of fruitfulness.”

1841- “A new organ has been purchased at an expense exceeding $1,100.

Comments about the third church

1849- “The undertaking reported in the last convention has issued in the completion of a new church, large and commodious, gratifying the taste in its architectural beauty and promising much advantage to us in prosperity and growth. The builders have been paid, leaving us without debt.”

1855 – The fire and adding of the side galleries – “”Thought the bread of adversity has given us the past year, yet the Lord dispensed amongst us also the bread of life. Our church as partially consumed by fire, July last.  It has, however, been repaired with renovated beauty and convenience. Spacious side galleries have been erected, furnishing, with the ground floor, sittings for about 800 persons.”

1856- “. “We had scarcely gotton through with the repairs of the church burned as it had by fire about eighteen months before, when the loss of our fine bell and serious damage done our roof by violent winds, called for new and heavy expenditures, to replace the one and make the other secured.”

  1. Growth of the church

The measure that was used consistently was communicant, those who took communion three times a year and was a statistic of adult membership

Growth accelerated during the decade from 1823 to 1832 which corresponded to the 2nd Great Awakening. It changed the composition of denominations with the shift away from Congregationalists and Anglicans toward the Methodists and Baptists.  McGuire tapped into this movement with his low church evangelical style .

Communicants rose from 106 in 1823 to 188 in 1832.  The growth was more of a spike from 125 to 188 during 1831- 1832. 

Revivals characterized the Awakening and in the Methodist church, the camp meeting. St. George’s must have had its own revivals. McGuire wrote in the Convention Journal in 1823 -“Though the subjects of revivals in other parts of the Lord’s vineyard may have been more numerous, there are few instances in which a revival has been characterized by more genuine or decided cases of conversion.”

McGuire noted the early years of the increases. He wrote in 1826 “The church is in a prosperous and flourishing state. The numerical increase of the congregation has been considerable in the past year. The services in the sanctuary have been more fully attended, especially in the afternoon, than at any previous period of the rector’s ministry among these people.”

In 1832, he reported “Bishop Meade confirmed seventy-five in September last – most than fifty of whom united for the first time in commemorating the death of our savior. Since that time about thirty more have been admitted to the holy communion, making the whole amount of increase since the last Convention about eighty-five members.”  This is an amazing number which is exceed any other month in our history. 

See chart below


The growth faded for the next decade from 1832 to 1841. In particular, the growth of the Presbyterian church took members away.  In 1839, he blamed death and removals which may mean that people transferred to other denominations or simply left the church. “The loss of members has been considerable by deaths and removals – additions few, and those, in part, from other parishes.

However, even in 1837 he said that while the church wasn’t growing attendance at services was.  “During the past year, no very marked indications of religious sensibility have appeared in this congregation. There is ever thing however to encourage, in a full and punctual attendance on the services of the sanctuary.  We are unable to accommodate many in their applications for pews.”

Growth double again from the time of McGuire’s death in 1858 to the beginning of the Civil War. Communicants rose in 1858 from 158 to 301 by 1861.  He noted the changes in his last year.

“A remarkable religious interest made its appearance amongst us in the month of March and occasions of divine worship and preaching the word being multiplied in answer to the growing demand on the part of awakened souls. These services were continued with still increasing interest, kept up and kindly applied by the labors of brethren in the ministry from various parishes, during the sickness of the Rector, lasting several weeks. The word was quick and powerful as dispensed by earnest and zealous preachers, and the hardest hearts did melt and many cries were heard, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” About 80 persons have been the subjects of the blessed work, and whilst that number, or thereabouts were confirmed by the Bishop on the 12th, many more remain to be gathered in pastoral care and diligence in the fold of Christ.”

In 1858, there were 93 confirmations!

 Did the rising tensions in the country lead people back to church?

Were the increases after McGuire’s death the results of Rev. Randolph or the results of McGuire’s last work?

  1. Miscellaneous

New organ. This organ has not been covered in earlier histories. The Vestry minutes stated that on June 30, 1796, Dr. Charles Mortimer had offered the gift of an organ. This may have replaced that one.

1841 – “A new organ has been purchased at an expense exceeding $1,100″.

Afternoon services.  It does not say if they were only on Sundays!

1826 –  “The services in the sanctuary have been more fully attended, especially in the afternoon, than at any previous period of the rector’s ministry among these people.”

Comments are closed.