St. George’s Civil War – Part 3 – The Church in 1860 at the Eve of the Civil War

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Mayor Montgomery Slaughter

Mayor Montgomery Slaughter

Both St. George’s and Fredericksburg were on a growth spurt just prior to the Civil War when the disaster of war struck.

The Church experienced rapid growth in membership in the 1820’s, early 1830’s and then in the year prior to Edward McGuire’s death in 1858.  However, there had been some lean years in the 1830’s as the revival tapered off and so did contributions.   The Presbyterian Church beginning in 1833 attracted members from St. George’s. One writer said we had grown too “intellectual. “ However, in the 1850’s, with a new Church building and commitment toward evangelism, membership was again moving upward. From 158 members in 1858 it had attracted 283 white communicants and two colored by 1860.  The Civil War early was a boom for membership as it increased to 290, including two African Americans as reported to the Diocese reflecting November, 1862.  There were no services from November, 1862 until December, 1864 other than Civil War revivals among soldiers, a topic we will consider later in this series.

There were two Civil War rectors – Alfred M. Randolph served October 1858 to November 1862, Magruder Maury December 1864 to April 24, 1871. Randolph had originally been hired as McGuire’s assistant as his health was failing.  He was noted as having a gift as a speaker in college and graduated from Virginia Theological where he was a friend of Philips Brooks. After leaving Fredericksburg in 1862 he did not return and had a varied career as a chaplain in the war, later rector of Emmanuel Church in Baltimore and finally the first Bishop in the new Diocese of Southern Virginia (1892-1918).

Our records were presumably destroyed in this period by the destruction of Richmond in April, 1865. Even so, another historian Philip Slaughter mentioned a loss of the Vestry book during that time. Slaughter did produce 37 names that served in the Church Vestry between 1847 and 1865. 

In the absence of records, one way to understand the Church is through its members and in this case the Vestry.

22 names were selected out of 37.  (The others actually resided in Stafford or Falmouth). The record demonstrates these people were not only leaders in the Church but leaders in the town both politically and economically.  Through selected Vestrymen we should gain a better view of both the Church and town.  But first we must understand the environment in which they labored.

On the eve of the Civil War, Fredericksburg had a population of 5,023 people – 1/3 either slaves or free persons of color and 2/3 white.  Fredericksburg was experiencing a come-back. The town except for the Woolen Mills stretched from Pitt Street in the north to the end of Caroline south and Hazel Hill, east to the river and west to junction of Hanover and George. There was a newly developed “subdivisionof 14 homes just west of the Maury school property.   

Fredericksburg was an agriculturally community with some manufactures and was dependent on the rivers of Virginia.  Formerly based on tobacco at the time of the Revolution, the fortunes of the town shifted around the War of 1812.due to trade and maritime restrictions. Economy shifted toward grinding grain and flour manufactures with the Rappahannock providing good water power.  For the next 30 years there were disappointments in the development of a plank road and railroads that hindered economic growth. However, by the 1850’s Fredericksburg was experiencing a comeback based on mill construction and a re-vitalized canal led to the creation of six new enterprises by the late 1850’s. 

The major professions in 1860 were in support of this economy – 1/3 of the citizens were laborers (10%), clerk (8%), carpenters (5%) and seamstresses (4%) with 7% being the actual merchants.   

The St. George’s Vestrymen functioned as some of the directors of this economy. The  largest profession among St. George’s Vestry was merchants  – merchants (24%), druggists (14%), lawyer (14%) based on a survey of 22 of 37 Vestry men from 1847-1865.   Merchants could be both wholesalers as well as retailers.  The percentage of druggists was out of proportion to Fredericksburg as a whole. Like modern drug stores were general retailers.

Name

Age

Profession

Coakley, John

54

Merchant

Thom, Reuben T.

78

Postmaster

Knox, Thos. F.

52

Miller

Cooke, James H.

64

Druggist

Young, John J.

46

Merchant

Gordon, Douglas H.

42

Investment

Herndon, B. S.

50

Doctor

Barton, Thomas B.

67

Lawyer

Slaughter, Montgomery

42

Merchant Miller

Hayes, John S.

25

Merchant

Fitzhugh, W. H.

40

Lawyer

Johnston, F. W.

31

Druggist

Phillips, A. K.

54

Merchant

Braxton, Elliott M.

36

Lawyer

Hart, Wm T.

37

Merchant

Scott, Wm L.

21

Investment

Hall, Horace B.

36

Druggist

Doswell, J. T.

42

Unknown

Doggett, Hugh S.

44

Grocer

Burr, Peter P.

45

Confectioner

Knox, Robert F.

22

Clerk

Taylor, James A.

48

Police Officer

These men were substantially wealthier than the average indicators of wealth in the population.  The 22 men on the left owned 55 slaves or 2.2 each.  In the population as a whole there was less than 1 slave per person. Aggregate wealth per person was $738 per person based on City list.  Of the 22 St. Georgians the average aggregate wealth was more than 10 times greater $8,177. 

A few examples can illustrate their roles:

Montgomery Slaughter was a large wheat speculator.  His family background was in milling. In an 1855 advertisement, he describes his work – “I am  prepared to purchase wheat at the highest cash prices, deliverable at the wharf on board vessels, railroad depot, at the Eagle Mills or the warehouses of Garnett and Hill (who are my agents) in Fredericksburg. Farmers are invited to call at my offices before they dispose of their crops.” An 1851, ad  shows he was a merchant for diverse produce selling Java coffee, rice, sugar, molasses, soap, candles, ground alum, wine, brushes, and hats. His home was just across from the Baptist Church on the northeast corner of Princess Anne and Amelia.  Slaughter was elected Mayor in 1860 and as we will see in a later article was forced to move due to the destruction in this home.

John Scott’s work in the foundries of the time would have complemented Slaughter’s wheat speculation. A newspaper said of him at the time – “One of our most enterprising mechanics and his foundry is one of the most extensive in the state. The work turned out of this establishment is equal to be found, from a screw to a steam engine.” By 1860, he was the manufacturer of the Excelsior Wheat Machine or Improved thresher providing a “complete and perfect separation” of the wheat from the chaff.

John Coakley is listed as a merchant above but also was a member of an insurance company and was a superintendent of the Fredericksburg Aqueduct Company at the time of the Civil War which provided an early water supply for portions of the town. He had married a daughter of St. Georgian, Reuben Thom, the senior warden of St. George’s during the war.

As with today, these men served on many of the same Boards in town.  For example, Thomas Knox was elected as a director of Bank of Commerce in 1853. Four of the seven elected were St. Georgians with J. B. Ficklen (resident of Belmont and not in the list above), Montgomery Slaughter and William Fitzhugh. Knox owned the home currently used as the Kenmore Inn and like Slaughter was a large wheat speculator and flour manufacturer. We know he was secretary of the Vestry and had written a letter thanking the local fire company for helping to save the church after the potentially disastrous fire of 1854.

Horace B. Hall was the proprietor of Hall’s Drug Store which was started in the 1790’s and continued in the family until 1915. Horace succeeded father as head of drug store and both brothers Robert Rush and Marshall Carter worked with him and were parishioners of St. George’s. His daughter and granddaughter married St. Georgians.   He died in his 90th year and his obituary stated he was a “man of the highest character”.  “His mind was an encyclopedia of events of the last century.” 

An advertisement in 1850 for Hall showed that besides medicines he sold seeds, dyes, and spices among other items.   

The largest drug store in Fredericksburg was owned by Dr. James Cooke and was the largest. An advertisement in 1850 listed the variety of goods – “a general supply of selected Drugs, Chemicals, Pharmaceutical Preparations, English, French, and American Surgical Instruments, Druggist’s Glassware, English, French, German and American Perfumery , Fancy articles, Dyes and Dye-stuffs, Paints and Varnishes, Pine Oil and Burning Fluid Lamps.”   Cooke later supplied the Confederate forces between 1861-1863 with morphine and chloroform.

Some would answer the call to service in the war. Thomas Barton the oldest lawyer here and Commonwealth’s Attorney for Spotsylvania and as well as the owner of the fine Georgian home directly across the street where the Law Building stands  today, became the Commander of the Home Guard for protection of the Citizens.  He served with Captains, Dr. W. S. Scott and John Young, also St. Georgians.

Barton’s son William S. Barton, would become captain in the Fredericksburg Grays organized in 1859 due to the “excited condition of the country” and determination to be ready for an emergency. With the Washington Guards, they were formed into a battalion with the younger Barton as a Major.  He survived the war and became a circuit court judge in 1885.

At least one St. Georgian on the Vestry list actually worked for the Union side. Joseph B. Ficklen’s flour mills supplied enough flour to Union troops during their occupation to provide 2,000 loaves of bread a day. Later another St. Georgian Duff Green fought Ficklen’s request for federal remuneration for wartime damages amounting to $22,000.

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