Rev. Chiswell Dabney
REV. CHISWELL DABNEY. In the life of Rev. Chiswell Dabney is exemplified the fighting spirit of the church and state, as well as the sturdy character and virtues of the old Huguenot strain which brought into Virginia one of its best elements. His forbears, fighting against persecution, left France for England, where in the course of time they conformed to the tenets of the established church, and then, in the early part of the eighteenth century, came to Virginia with others of the same stock, and here were given a parish of their own, which they named William and Mary Parish in honor of the rulers then on the throne of England from whom they had secured permission to seek in the colony of Virginia and the county of Powhatan the religious freedom they craved. The immediate ancestors of Reverend Dabney arrived here in 1717, and from then on those bearing the name have taken a constructive part in the history of the Old Dominion, and have associated with them by ties of marriage some of the finest families of the state.
Chiswell Dabney was born near Marysville, Campbell County, July 25, 1844, a son of Rev. John B. and Elizabeth (Towles) Dabney. Both John B. Dabney and his father before him achieved distinction in the profession of the law, and both were very active in the Episcopal Church. For many years John B. Dabney was a lay reader of the church, later he was ordained a deacon, and finally, a priest, leaving the law for the church.
In the fall of 1861 Chiswell Dabney entered the University of Virginia, but found that the college was mainly given over to military matters, and, embued with the spirit of the times, he enlisted in a company which Thomas Dudley, afterwards bishop of Kentucky, was instrumental in organizing, and of which he was second in command. Within a month Mr. Dabney was taken on General Stuart’s personal escort as a courier, and after his first battle, Dranerville, in 1861, he was promoted to the rank of a first lieutenant of cavalry and aide-de-camp to General Stuart. In the fall of 1863 he was made captain of a company of cavalry, and served under the command of General Gordon. After Gordon was killed, he served as captain and inspector-general on Barringer’s staff cavalry until the close of the war.
With the cause for which he had fought so long and bravely a lost one, Mr. Dabney returned home literally without a shirt to his back, to face the most discouraging of conditions. With his old cavalry mare and a decrepit mule he put in a crop and harvested it, and while thus laboring to secure sufficient food for himself and other members of the family he studied law under his father’s preceptorship, was admitted to the bar, and began the practice of law at Chatham, in 1870, with his brother, under the firm name of Dabney & Dabney, and this association continued until 1896.
After locating at Chatham Mr. Dabney came under the influence of a most remarkable man and devout clergyman, Rev. C. O. Pruden, rector of the Chatham Episcopal Church, and a close friendship ensued, which resulted in Mr. Dabney’s leaving the law for the church, as had his father before him. It was in 1886 that Mr. Dabney began assisting his friend as a lay reader, and for the succeeding ten years he continued in this work, at the same time studying theology. In July, 1896, he was ordained a deacon, and four years later, May 31, 1900, was ordained a priest by Bishop Randolph of Lynchburg, and two other bishops. About that time Reverend Pruden established six or seven missions, and Reverend Dabney was made his assistant. Reverend Dabney has continued in the work, and today, although over seventy-nine, personally conducts services at the following churches in Pruden Parish: Saint Paul’s, Saint John’s, Meadow Mission, Grace Church, Saint James and Dame Memorial.
In 1873 Reverend Dabney married a scion of the Huguenot stock, Miss Lucy Fontaine, who died March 2, 1917, having borne her husband the following children: John C. and Chiswell, Junior, both of whom are deceased; Louisa S., who married E. E. Heald of Lynchburg, and has the following children, Elizabeth, Lucy, Chiswell, John M. and Louise Dabney; Lucy F., who married a Mr. Hieronimous, of New York City; Elizabeth T., who married A. B. Coleman, of Roanoke, and has the following children, Elizabeth and Maury Chiswell; Edmund Fontaine, who lives with his father, married Nell Hamilton of Rock Bridge, Virginia, but has no children.
Reverend Dabney is a Mason. In addition to all of his ministerial work he and Reverend Pruden established the Episcopal School for Girls at Chatham and has always given it his personal supervision. Age has only mellowed this scholarly divine, and he is carrying on his many duties with the efficiency which comes of deep knowledge and wide experience. Few men stand as high as he in the confidence and affection of his fellow citizens, and lie has every reason to be proud of all he has accomplished during his long and honorable life.