By Trip Wiggins
Rev. James Stevenson
Abt. 1745/Va? – 9 Jun 1809/Culpeper County., Va.
Rector: April 1794 – July 1805
A somewhat odd occurrence happened in late 1793/early 1794 – two priests (one the father-in-law of the other) “swapped” their positions as rectors of St. George’s Parish and St. Mark’s Parish! Out of that swap, St. Mark’s got a rector who would remain there for the next forty years, and St. George’s got an experienced rector (almost 30 years) who would lead us for the next eleven years into the new century.
And who did we get in the swap? The Rev. Mr. James Stevenson.
Stevenson was born about 1745, probably in either Virginia or Maryland – but neither date nor location has yet to be confirmed.
We do know that he was ordained a priest in England in September, 1768, took the King’s Bounty, and took a ship to the colonies.
His first parish was Camden Parish in Pittsylvania County, Va. where he stayed but a year. Then in 1769, with the creation of Berkeley Parish from part of St. George’s Parish, he was chosen as the new parish’s first rector and came to Spotsylvania County. While at Berkeley he met his wife, Frances “Fanny” Arnet Littlepage. They were married in 1772 in Spotsylvania County – perhaps by Rev. James Marye, Jr. but there is no record of the officiant. Fanny was the half-sister of Fredericksburg’s Lewis Littlepage who, in his career, became a general and personal secretary to the King of Poland – but that’s another story. James and Frances’ daughter Sarah would marry Rev. John Woodville.
Stevenson remained in Berkeley Parish until 1780 when he was called to St. Mark’s Parish just over the county line in Orange County where he remained for fourteen years.
In 1785, while still with St. Mark’s, he was made a “visiter” by the newly-created Diocese of Virginia. As a visiter he would make annual visits to each parish in his district (Culpeper, Orange and Spotsylvania counties) on behalf of the bishop. Remember, in those days the bishop couldn’t just pop into a car and drive from Richmond to Fredericksburg in an hour. It was a 2-day trip by horse to get here so he needed help to reach out and “touch” each parish in the diocese annually and selected several senior priests throughout the diocese to assist him in that endeavor.
In 1794 Stevenson accepted a call from St. George’s where he replaced his son-in-law, Rev. Woodville. He would be the second (and last) rector to be elected by the entire congregation. By the end of his first year, the annual “re-hiring” process was now done totally by the Trustees (vestry).
Shortly after arriving the vestry informed him that he was requested to keep a “Register of the Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals, within his cure, as directed by the XV Canon of the General Convention.” We don’t know if any before him kept a register.
Under his leadership, St. George’s established both the Fredericksburg Male Charity School (1795) and the Fredericksburg Female Charity School (1802) in an age well before the thought of public education for the masses.
The church also had to find a place to put in a new organ donated by Dr. Charles Mortimer.
In 1803 the church was approached by Rev. James McConochie to hold services on Sunday afternoons at the church on a not-to-interfere with St. George’s services – which was approved. The Presbyterians are getting organized and we allowed them the use of the church to get them started. They will eventually build their own church in town and take a good number of our parishoners with it.
In his later years, Rev. Stevenson suffered greatly physically and from 1802 to his resignation in 1805 he spent most of that time at the glebe in St. Mark’s Parish under the care of his wife and daughter, Sarah.
The vestry was concerned for his health (and the wellbeing of the parish) so sent him a letter in 1805 in which he responded through his wife that it was time for them to search for a new rector and time for him to retire.
He remained in the St. Mark’s glebe until his death on 9 June 1809, a year and a half after the death of his wife. His burial location is unknown. James and Fanny had at least 9 children. Of note, their son, the Hon. Andrew Stevenson, would become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Minister of England. (Congressman 1821-1834 from Virginia, Speaker of the House 1827-1834, Minister to England 1836-1841)
Green, Raleigh Travers. Genealogical and Historical Notes on Culpeper Co., Va. (1900)
Meade, Bishop William. Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. (1857)
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)
A History of St. Mark’s Parish, Culpeper County, Va. (1877)
St. George’s Vestry Minutes
Virginia Herald, Wed. June 14, 1809 pg 1/col 1
Wikipedia entry for Andrew Stevenson
Wikipedia entry for Lewis Littlepage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Littlepage)
Survey Report 4803, Virginia Colonial Records Project/Public Records Office
Treasury, Departmental accounts – Civil List, Yearly account, 1767-1772 (Library of Virginia on-line access)
Fredericksburg Research Resources (http://resources.umwhisp.org/fredburg.htm) including Court Records, Guardianship Records, Newspaper Indexes