By Trip Wiggins
Rev. John Woodville
11 Mar 1763/White Haven, Cumberland Co., ENGL – 11 Jan 1834/Culpeper Co., Va.
Seventh St. George’s Rector
Rector: Jan. 1792 – Dec. 1793
When Rev. Thomas Thornton left in 1791, we didn’t have to look too far for a possible replacement. After all, the Rev. John Woodville was a professor at the Fredericksburg Academy and the vestry had asked him to represent St. George’s Parish in 1791 at the annual Convention in Richmond, probably to fill in for an ailing Rev. Thornton.
John Woodville was born in Whitehaven, England in 1763. As such, he will be our last rector to come from England – the future rectors will be Americans. His early education appears to have been in the Chester, England area for when he immigrated to the United States in 1788 he had a letter from the Bishop of Chester recommending him to the priesthood. His ordination occurred at Christ’s Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 25 May 1788.
He didn’t immediately get a position as a rector for we find him working as a tutor for Rev. James Stevenson in Culpeper County, Virginia, where he met his future wife – Sarah, the daughter of the Rev. Stevenson. He also obtained a position as a professor of humanities at the Fredericksburg Academy – where he was still teaching at the time of Thornton’s leaving.
As noted in St. George’s two previous histories, the Rev. Mr. Woodville was our first rector elected by the entire parish (those donating or “subscribing” at least 6 shillings) not just the vestry. He garnered 91 votes and his “opponent,” Rev. Thomas Davis garnered 34.
Rev. Davis did OK – if not at St. George’s. He was chosen in 1792 by Christ’s Church in Alexandria and he preached at George Washington’s funeral in 1799.
In Woodville’s time here, the vestry minutes are concerned mainly with raising (and COLLECTING) subscriptions from its parishoners to pay the bills of the church – stewardship is becoming harder now that we are no longer state-supported – and for making repairs to the Burbridge Church. Interestingly, one year after coming to St. George’s, Rev. Woodville stood yet another parish election for the year 1793! We’re we electing our rector to one-year terms? That’s what the vestry added to the minutes and placed an ad in the Virginia Herald every fall. The good reverend was re-elected.
Some rectors and their parishes click immediately – some don’t. It appears Woodville was in the latter category for his tenure was a scant twenty-four months. When he left, he took the rector position at neighboring St. Mark’s Parish in Culpeper County. In fact, he replaced his father-in-law, Rev. James Stevenson, who, himself, replaced Woodville at St. Georges. It appears that it worked out satisfactory, for Woodville would remain at St. Mark’s until his death some 40 years later.
Rev. Woodville died at the glebe on 11 Jan 1834 and, per his request, he is buried in the Fredericksburg Masonic Cemetery “close to Lewis Littlepage” – his wife’s uncle and dear friend. He and Sarah had four children, one of who also entered the clergy.
Green, Raleigh Travers. Genealogical and Historical Notes on Culpeper Co., Va. (1900)
Meade, Bishop William. Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. (1857)