By Trip Wiggins
Rev. Theodosius Staige
1696/London, England – 26 Dec 1747/Charles Parish, York Co., Va
First St. George’s Rector
At St George’s: late 1725 – about Nov. 1728
As the Reverend Mr. Staige was St. George’s first rector, his career is well documented in Quenzel’s book on the parish history. Alas, Dr. Quenzel didn’t have access to much about the rector’s family which has since come to life.
Rev. Theodosius Staige was born about 1696 in London (probably East End), England to the Rev. William Staige.
Cambridge University records show he was admitted to St. John’s College at Cambridge on 15 Dec 1715 as a sizar (he worked for Cambridge University to in lieu of tuition). He is listed as 19 years old and the son of William Staige, a clerk (i.e. rector) of a Middlesex County parish. Following graduation from St. John’s he went to St. Paul’s College, also at Cambridge, for seminary and took his deacon orders on 21 Feb 1725 in London. He was ordained a priest three months later in London on 23 May 1725.
On 3 June 1725 he married Ann Heath at the St. Lawrence Jewry Church in London. The following day he received the King’s Bounty of £20 (to pay for his passage to Virginia as a minister in the colony). He sailed for Virginia in late 1725 but without his wife as she was now pregnant and decided to stay with her family until the child was born in the spring and she could travel to Virginia. Their daughter, Gulielma Theodora Staige, was born and baptized on 18 Apr 1726 at St. Dunstan, Stepney, London, England. She died shortly thereafter and was buried on 24 May 1726 at St. Mary Whitechapel in Middlesex County England.
Rev. Staige arrived in Virginia in late 1725. (St. George’s had no priest from its establishment in 1720 to the arrival of Rev. Staige. They functioned with readers at each of the chapels who conducted Morning Prayer on Sundays. It is not known if they ever had communion before Staige’s arrival.) He first appears at an undated (page was torn) 1726 vestry meeting for St. George’s where he was awarded 21,000 lbs. of tobacco – presumably January 1726. He is at the next meeting, dated 16 Jan 1727 at the Mattapony church. (The vestry minutes are missing prior to the undated meeting.) At this time St. George’s vestry was only meeting once or twice per year. His wife would follow him to Virginia in 1727 or early 1728.
At this point in time St. George’s parish encompassed all of Spotsylvania County and had three church buildings: Mattapony (for the south end of the parish), Rappahannock (for the north end) and Germanna (the original meeting place at former Gov. Alexander Spotswood’s home), and two small chapels in what is now Culpeper county. The one set of communion pewter had to be taken to each church for its services. The Rappahannock church would not have glass windows until 1728 – we were at the edge of the frontier. There is no town of Fredericksburg yet.
For a young rector used to the conveniences of London this must have been quite a shock.
As a rector for St. George’s his annual salary was 16,000 pounds of tobacco – the legally established stipend for Anglican clerics in Virginia from 1696 to the end of the colonial period. In lieu of a glebe, he also received board and expenses. (His 1726 allotment of 21,000 lbs. may be due to the fact that he arrived in late 1725 or it just included his board and expenses for 1726.) As a Virginia rector he also received a Land Grant of 1000 acres in Spotsylvania County from the President of the Council, Robert Carter, on 16 Jun 1727.
His time at St. George’s was short and marked by one notable event – a request for a year’s absence to return to England – which was subsequently denied by the vestry at the Jan 1727 meeting. Looking back on it, he probably requested it in light of his daughter’s birth and death, so he could console his wife and bring her to Virginia – but the vestry records do not go into any detail as to why Rev. Staige made his request and no private correspondence has been found.
To modern readers it might be of interest to discuss briefly three of the required actions of the vestry. The first was the processioning of lands of all parishoners (really all residents of the county) every four years. It was assumed that if neutral parties walked the boundaries of all properties in the presence of the neighboring owners, there would be fewer land disputes. Two members of the vestry did this for their precinct in the parish. It continued throughout the 18th century, but often the owners either refused to walk or were not available.
The second duty involved counting the number of tobacco plants on each plantation in the parish. In the late 1720s the Governor and his Council were getting concerned with the quality of tobacco being grown and wanted to ensure that all planters were doing their due diligence in this regard – so once a year the census was conducted.
Finally, the church, as a part of the colonial government – as it was in England – was charged with handling all welfare cases (widows, orphans, indigents, etc.) within the county. It’s interesting that in 18th-century Virginia only two groups end up in official correspondence/ledger books – the wealthy landowning men and the destitute. For Rev. Staige, his first destitute family was Mary Day and her daughter Mary “for maintenance the ensuing year.” Mary Denby was another, but her term ended in 1728 as noted – “To George Purvis for Burying Mary Denby – 150 lbs” (of tobacco).
Additionally, the vestry had the power to tax the people to raise to funds needed to run the church (rector’s salary, building/equipping and maintaining each of the churches and chapels in the parish, and to care for the helpless. It was not a voluntary pledge as we know today. The vestry simply added the total costs of running the church for the year and divided it by the number of “tithables” – that is all males aged 16 or over and all slaves and indentured servants aged 16 and over. The normal payment was in pounds of tobacco there being little English money in the colony.
In all of these duties Rev. Staige received reports at the vestry meetings of the status of each.
In mid-1728 a St. Georgian parishoner, George Home, Spotsylvania County Surveyor, laid out the newly-created town of Fredericksburg. He will lay out St. George’s Fredericksburg church in 1733.
The last act in Staige’s career was an approval by the vestry to purchase “Two Lotts in Fredericksburgh for the use of the parish No. 42 & 44 to be paid to the Directors and Trustees.” Cost – 1,100 lbs. tobacco. They were preparing for the future and a possible new church at Fredericksburg but nothing will happen for about four years. Lots 42 & 44 cover the east side of Princess Anne Street between George and Hanover Streets where the old Courthouse sits – so St. George’s plans apparently fell through.
By October 1728 it appears that Staige and the vestry were not close as the vestry minutes note his salary of 16,000 lbs. of tobacco for the coming year and for his board and expenses at Germanna 8,400 lbs. “if he continues in the parish, otherwise the same to remain.”
We do know that Rev. Staige left St. George’s about November 1728 and soon was the rector for Charles Parish in York County, Virginia.
Shortly after arriving at Charles Parish, he and Ann had their second child, Letitia Theodora in Feb. 1729. In all the Staiges would have six daughters (Gulielma born/died 1726, Letitia born 1729, Ann 1731, Margareta 1732, Lucia 1735, and Gulielma 1739) and one son, William 1733 died 1736.
Additionally, in 1729 he purchased 1000 acres adjoining his Spotsylvania grant land for £5 sterling. He now had 2000 acres – not bad for a rector.
His time at Charles Parish also had controversy. As Quenzel points out, “He seems to be somewhat old-fashioned and strict, as the vestry and some of the inhabitants of Charles Parish petitioned the Governor in 1743 to remove him for opposing the singing of the new version of the Psalms and for refusing to baptize a child which he had incorrectly suspected of being illegitimate. After a full hearing the Governor and Council ordered the minister to comply with the vestry’s demands or to find another parish within six months. He apparently became reconciled, as he remained in charge of Charles Parish until 1747.”
Aside from his clerical duties, he, like many rectors in early Virginia, operated a private school while in Charles Parish.
Rev. Theodosius Staige died while still rector of Charles Parish on 26 Dec 1747, age 51, following a 19-year career with that church. He most likely is buried near his home in Charles Parish in an unmarked grave. There is no information concerning the fate of his wife nor the fate of his 2,000 acres of land in Spotsylvania.
The other notable “event” of Rev. Staige in St. George’s history is that his sister, Letitia Staige married our 4th rector, Rev. James Marye, Sr. They met while Marye was undergoing his Anglican training in London and were married at Stepney, England in 1728 and had their first child in England in Oct 1729 before coming to Virginia. For more on this couple, see the article on James Marye Sr.
One amusing anecdote about the minister but one in which he was not actually a participant. In 1740, Henry Willis was going about Fredericksburg trying to buy up many of the town lots that had not yet been sold – but there was a catch. No one individual could purchase more than two lots from the town or any one individual. That didn’t deter Willis. He just adapted his style to fit the times and within days he had purchased sixteen additional lots from the original “owners” of those lots. Two came from Rev. Staige – even though Staige left St. George’s in 1728 and there is no record that he ever visited, purchased any lots, or resided in the town that was created that year. (St. George’s church in Fredericksburg would not be erected until 1733-1735 – YEARS after he was rector.) But Staige was not the most unusual “seller” on Willis’ list. Even Gov. Gooch “sold” Henry two lots he had “purchased.” Before passing judgement on Willis as a wheelin’ dealin’ shyster, please remember he was St. George’s Senior Warden and the contractor who built the first church in Fredericksburg; he just got a little taken away with his land acquisitions! Paula Felder surmised in her book “Forgotten Companions” that perhaps Henry and his cronies had been imbibing a bit too much when they started coming up with names as possible “sellers.”
Bell, Landon C. Charles Parish: York Co., VA, History and Registers of Births 1648-1789 and Deaths 1665-1787 (1932)
Crozier, William A. Virginia County Records, Vol 1: Spotsylvania 1721-1800 (1905)
Eberhart, Edith W & Adaline Marye Robertson. The Maryes of Virginia 1730-1985 (1985)
Felder, Paula. Forgotten Companions (1999)
Fothergill, Gerald. A List of Emigrant Ministers to America, 1690-1811 London (Ancestry.com)
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
“Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900” (Ancestry.com)
“England Select Marriages, 1538-1973” (Ancestry.com)
St. Mary’s, Whitechapel [Middlesex Co., Engl.] Baptisms, Marriages, Burials 1717-1743 (Ancestry.com/images of original parish record book)
“Abstract of Christenings of St. Dunstan, Stepney, London, England” (Ancestry.com)
Virginia Colonial Records Project (King’s Bounty records) Library of Virginia
“Education in Colonial Virginia: Part II, Private Schools and Tutors” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jul., 1897)