The earliest religious services within the present limits of Albemarle were conducted by ministers from other communities, who forded swollen streams and traversed rough trails in true missionary style. Of these, the Episcopal clergy were drawn from lower Virginia, and as members of the established church were entitled to the sum of 320 lbs of tobacco for each sermon. Bishop Meade mentions the Rev. Anthony Gavin, rector of Saint Anne's parish from 1736 to 1749, as zealous in this work, with seven missions "up in the mountains." As the Scotch Presbyterians had entered Virginia from the Valley, it was natural that the majority of their early missionaries should have come from Pennsylvania. Later, however, ministers came at intervals from Hanover-among them being the great Dr. Samuel Davies, afterwards President of Princeton, and whom Patrick Henry pronounced "the greatest orator he had ever heard." The Methodists and Baptists were somewhat later in entering the County, their founders coming from the North-Maryland being a centre of Methodism, and New York of the Baptists.
These early religious gatherings were held in private homes, until the increase in population made possible the erection of small and plain church buildings, usually of wood. The dates of these first edifices are now not known.
Two Episcopal churches were early built in St. Anne's parish-the Ballenger Creek, situated on that stream, and The Forge, a mile or two below Carter's Bridge. The early rector in this parish was the Rev. Robert Rose, a man of strong capacity. In Fredericksville parish two churches were erected, "between 1745 and '50," on either side of the South West Mountain, that on the west being known as the Buck Mountain Church. On the east, and at the gate of the old Walker mansion, Belvoir, (burned 1836), was built, at about the same time, the church first known as Middle Church, then, from its location, as Belvoir or Wa1ker's, and now for many years as Grace. This church had for its rector (1754-'68), the Rev. James Fontaine Maury, whose attainments and strength of character gave him wide influence in his day. During the French and Indian War lie served, upon the request of the men, as chaplain to the Albemarle troops, and bears testimony in his letters to tileir alacrity and spirit. But it was a few years later (1763), in legal conflict, that he attained State-wide notoriety. This was in what was commonly called "The Cause of the Parsons," a suit brought to defend against sweeping reduction the tax levied for the clergy of the established church. Mr. Maury was chosen to bring a test case; he testified sturdily and well in the Hanover Court against an obscure young lawyer named Patrick Henry, and apparently was the only person present unimpressed by his opponent's eloquence. "Mr. Henry," he wrote later, "rose and harangued the jury for near an hour. This harangue turned upon points as much out of his own depth, and that of the jury, as they were foreign from the purpose." Needless to say, the suit was decided against the rector.
In 1820 the Rev. Frederick W. Hatch came to Charlottesville, and for ten years was an active minister, both in town and County. It was during his incumbency that the original Christ Church was erected (1824-'25), this being the first denominational building in the village. The plan for the edifice was furnished, though not designed, by Mr. Jefferson, and was proof of his fine feeling for ecclesiastical architecture. Being outgrown by its congregation, this building, which stood on the present site, was demolished in 1895.
The first authentic list of Christ Church Vestrymen, from Court records, is as follows: Robert Sangster, Dabney Carr, Howell Lewis, Rice Morris, Dr. Charles H. Meriwether, George W. Kinsolving, Dr. John W. Garrett, Thomas F. Lewis and John L. Thomas. 1835.
The beautiful silver communion service in this church, consisting of Flagon, Paten and Chalice, was presented by Francis W. Gilmer in 1826, and in 1837 a second chalice was given by Miss Juliet M. Gilmer. The church also owns the Prayer Book used and autographed by Mr. Jefferson, and containing the whole of a hymn which he copied; this having been presented l)y Miss Cornelia Taylor, Mrs. Wm. Randolph and Miss Eliza Ruffin.
The Scotch settlers who followed Michael Woods and William Wallace across the Blue Ridge in 1734, soon built a Presbyterian church known, from its location upon Michael Woods' plantation, as the Mountain Plains. (This building, situated near Mechum's River, afterwards passed into the possession of the Baptists, and is still in use by them.) This same Scotch strain in 1746 erected the Rockfish Church and a school, and in 1747 a call was sent to the Rev. Samuel Black, V. D. M., of Pennsylvania, by the church of Mountain Plains and the inhabitants of Ivy Creek. Dr. Woods gives a copy of this paper, with 57 names attached, and the yearly sum subscribed by each. Among these the eight who contributed as much as a pound each were Michael Woods, William Woods, Archibald Woods, William Wallace, Davis Stockton, Samuel Jameson, Joseph Kincaid and John McCord. Dr. Black was the first Presbyterian minister to settle in Albemarle, having purchased in 1775 from Richard Stockton 400 acres on Stockton's creek. This property is still in the possession of his descendants.
Presbyterianism in Charlottesville was organized In 1819, and this early church, with three preaching South places and one session which met in rotation at Plains these points, was known for twenty years as the South Plains Church. In Sept. 1839 the Keswick members, numbering 22, petitioned to become a separate organization, but retaining the name of South Plains. This was granted, and the remainder of the church was re-named the Charlottesville Church. An early Session record, dated April 8, 1820, gives this information: "This day the Session of the Presbyterian Church was lield at Mr. John Kelly's in Charlottesville for the purpose of examination and admittance of members,--Present: Rev. James C. Wilson, Rev. Wm. J. Armstrong, ministers; John Rogers, Thornton Rogers and John Kelly, elders. Mem- bers admitted: Mr. Richard Price, Mr. Thomas T. Schoefield, Mrs. Rice Garland, Mrs. Jacob Wimer, Mrs. Wm. Timberlake, Mrs. G. M. Woods, Mrs. E. Callard, Mrs. Win. Watson, Mrs. Jos. Goodman, Mrs. M. Jones, Miss Lucy Fretwell."
The original Presbyterian church in Charlottesville was built, upon the lot now occupied by the Y. M. C. A., in 1827, the trustees being John Kelly, James O. Carr, Francis Bowman, Thornton Rogers, William Woods, Surveyor, Thomas Menwether and Dr. John Holt Rice.
In 1809 Semple states that there were only five Baptist churches in Albemarle, these being Albemarle (also known as Buck Mountain or Chestnut Grove) 1767; Totier, 1775; Prethis (or Priddy's) Creek, 1784; Hephzibah, 1802; and Whitesides (or Mount Ed,) 1788.
One of Albemarle's earliest ministers was Andrew Tribble, who was succeeded by William Woods, better known as "Baptist Billy." This striking character was a grandson of the first Michael Woods. Tall, handsome, well-mounted and attended by his personal servant, he must have presented a somewhat worldly appearance to his country congregations, and that there was some unworthy suspicion of his piety is shown by the fact that he was several times "brought up" on various charges-once for permitting too great freedom in the use of spirits. Being invariably acquitted, he continued to preach until the influence of his friend, Mr. Jefferson, persuaded him to leave the ministry for political life. In this new field he refused all remuneration, holding that a man owed his services to his country. (We are told that after the excitement of Tarleton's Raid had begun to subside, Mr. Woods was called before his church on a charge of having worked his slaves at that time on the Sabbath. His defense was that he was collecting provisions for the Virginia troops, and that in such a crisis he "knew no difference between his patriotism and his religion.") Being defeated in 1809 by an opponent of whose character lie held a poor opinion, he became disgusted with the ingratitude of the populace and emigrated to Kentucky. His descendants, however, have played an honorable part in the life of the County.
The Rev. Martin Dawson was a prominent early minister in this denomination, and was usually Moderator of the Albemarle Association. Mr. Burgher, pastor of Whiteside's, had some poetical talent, and composed "songs and otlier small pieces of poetry." In his later years his corpulence made travel and preaching "not practicable." He was esteemed a sound and able preacher.
Pre this (or Priddy's) Creek was in 1809 the largest church in Albemarle Association, having 190 members. Its pastors had been Geo. Eaves, H. Goss and Martin Dawson. In the early years of the last century there "'as a large exodus of Baptists to the West, legal persecutions and restrictions being the chief cause. Geo. Eaves at this time emigrated with a part of his flock to Kentucky.
The Charlottesville Baptist Church was built in 1833, though Dr. Woods states that an organization had existed in tlie town prior to 1820. He tells us that:
"In 1853 the Circuit Court granted permission to sell the old church property, and appointed as trustees for the new church, William P. Farish, Lewis Sowell, James Lobban, John T. Randolph, John Simpson, James Alexander and B. C. Flannagan."
The oldest Methodist church in the County was built at Whitehall, and was the predecessor of Mount Moriah, having been erected prior to 1788. The first Methodist preacher was Athanasius Thomas, who was licensed to celebrate marriages in 1793. Following him were Bernis Brown in 1794, John Gibson in '97, John Goodman in 1802, and Jacob Watts in 1806. The Charlottesville Church was established in 1834, its trustees being Gessner Harrison, Nathan C. Goodman, Stapleton Sneed, Matthew and Thomas F. Wingfield, Ebenezer Watts and Thos. Pace.
One of the earlier workers among the mountain whites was Mrs. Joshua Wheeler (later, Mrs. Kirby), whose substantial old brick home long stood on the site now occupied by the poor farm. Settling there ahout 1840, as a bride of fifteen, she soon opened a school in a log house in her yard. To this the mountain children came for many years, their tuition being partly provided by the Indigent Fund for Poor Whites. As the only woman of education within their radius, Mrs. Wheeler attained great influence among tile mountain people at times of marriage, birth and death, she was invariably sent for, it being her kindly habit to provide the wedding cake.
Through her exertions, a Baptist Church called hickory hill was built on her land, and an early form of University extension work was the Sun day afternoon service which was conducted here by students under her supervision. Upon the construction of the Southern Railroad, Ifickory Hill was demolished by blasting, and the congregation sought a near-by site, naming the new edifice Cedar Grove.
A few early missionaries are known to have gone from this County. Though horn in Spotsylvania, the Rev. Albert Lewis Holladay was closely associated with Albemarle. He was one of the first graduates of the University, arid for several years taught with Mr. Tutwiler in the excellent High School for boys which was then conducted in the old Mud Wall-now the Delavan colored church. He afterwards was for four years professor of Languages at Hampden-Sidney College, and in 1836, having become a Presbyterian minister, he was married to Ann Yancy Minor of Brookhill, on the south fork of the Rivanna, and they shortly afterwards sailed for Persia. This voyage was of Six months' duration. For ten years he worked among the Nestorians, being stationed at Urumia. Upon the failure of Mrs. Holladay's health, they returned to Charlottesville, where their foreign-born and-clad children at first created much comment. In 1856 Mr. Holladay was elected President of Hampden-Sidney, brit died before taking office.
From a family long prominent on the South-side a little group of missionaries went out to the Holy Land. This consisted of Dr. James T. Barclay, with his wife and children; his niece, Dr. Oriarina Moon of Viewmont, afterwards married to Dr. John S. Andrews, joining them a few years later.
Dr. Barclay was a grandson of the Thomas Barclay who was a personal friend of Washington and Jefferson, and who served as First Consul-General to France in 1785, as Commissioner to tile Emperor of Morocco, and as Consul-General to Morocco in 1791. Having married an aunt of Mary Julia Baldwin of Staunton, Dr. Barclay the next year (1831) purchased Monticello, and successfully restored the original terraces and plantings. His seventeen-year-old wife maintained the establishment in a manner which won for her the affectionate admiration of the dispossessed Randolphs. However, after four years, they were forced to sell, the stream of visitors having become an unbearable burden.
Soon after this, Dr. and Mrs. Barclay decided to go as missionaries to China, and Mrs. Barclay sold her jewelry, including her wedding ring, as a missionary offering. The grief of Dr. Barclay's mother, however, was so great, that the plan was abandoned. After her death they freed their slaves and started, in October, 1850, for Jerusalem, as the first missionaries of the Disciples Church. During Dr. Barclay's first stay in Jerusalem he assembled the material for a book-once widely popular-"The City of the Great King." This was illustrated by his daughter, who at the risk of her life entered the Tomb of David, and sketched the first picture of it that was ever given to the public. Dr. Barclay, by crawling through sewers underneath the Mosque of Omar (built on the site of Solomon's Temple), made accurate measurements of this edifice. He also did the first printing ever attempted in the Holy City.
Returning in 1854 for a vacation, he published his book, and the next year was appointed by the President to a special position at the Philadelphia Mint, where he made experiments for the prevention of counterfeiting and the deterioration of our metallic currency. In this, lie was so successful that the lower house of Congress passed a bill awarding him a gift of one hundred thousand dollars. This bill the Senate failed to endorse by one vote. Hav-returned [sic] to Jerusalem, Dr. Barclay's missionary labors were ended by the outbreak of the Civil War. He died in the home of his son in Alabama.
Dr. Orianna Moon graduated in 1857 from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, afterwards known as The Woman's Medical College. Only five classes, consisting of thirty-one women, had preceded hers, so she may well be considered a pioneer among professional women. Dr. Moon was baptized by her uncle in the pool of Siloam, and for some years practiced medicine among the poor Arabs upon Mt. Olivet.
As to the religious life of the community, it is Interesting to note the difference of opinion expressed by two of the County's citizens. Writing in 1822 Mr. Jefferson says:
"In our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly among the women. In our village of Charlottesville there is a good degree of religion, with a small spice only of fatalisms. We have four sects, but without either church or meeting house. The court house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others preachers and all mix in society in perfect harmony."
This was so to the Old Unitarian's taste that he was a frequent worshipper, being accustomed to ride in on horseback, and carrying under his arm a liglit sort of cane, which opened into a chair-his own invention.
Of this same period Dr. Wm. S. White, pastor of the Charlottesville Church about 1838-'48, writes:
'The village of Charlottesville had, almost from time immemorial, been, not only as irreligious, but as anti-religious, as any community in the State. As late as 1824, or near that time, there was not a house of worship in the village. The number of professing Christians was very small. Dr. Conrad Speece, in passing through the town about the year 1818, attempted to preach one night in the courthouse, but well-nigh failed because of the insufficient light and the rudeness of the boys. He spent the night at the hotel, and such were the sentiments uttered in his hearing by prominent gentlemen, and such the ill-conduct of the young men frequenting the tavern, that he said the next day 'When Satan promised all the kingdoms of the world to Christ, he laid his thumb on Charlottesville, and whispered, "except this place, which I reserve for my own especial use."
However, Dr. White's opinion of a later decade is more hopeful.
"About 1836 Rev. Richard K. Meade took charge of the Episcopal church; Mr. Poindexter, a man of decided talent, became pastor of the Baptist; and tlie Methodists erected a neat and commodious house of worship, and had for their first stationed minister the Rev. Mr. Riddick, an able and excellent man. By 1848 Charlottesville was as religious as any community in tlie State."
A fearless reformer who, as a member of the County bench had a share in tlie promotion of decency and order, was Benjamin Ficklin. Of this retired Baptist preacher, who in 1832 settled in Charlottesville as a manufacturer of tobacco, Dr. Woods writes:
"He was noted for his uprightness and decision of character. At the time of his removal to Charlottesville, the state of things in tile town, morally and religiously. was far from being unexceptionable. In a clandestine manner, most of the stores did more business on Sunday than on other days. The negroes came in in large numbers for purposes of traffic. Great quantities of liquors were sold. In the later hours of that clay, the roads leading from town were lined with men and women in all stages of drunkenness, some staggering with difficulty, others lying helplessly by the wayside. Mr. Ficklin set himself vigorously to remedy these evils. He warned the merchants that every violation of the Sunday law should be visited with the highest penalty. A similar warning was given to the negroes; and by the lively application of the last to those who neglected it, the town and roads were soon cleared of transgressors. So impartial was the old man in the execution of his duty, that when one of his own wagons, sent out to sell tobacco, trespassed on the sacred hours in returning home, he imposed a fine upon himself. It is said that a member of the bar remonstrated with him for what he considered his excessive zeal, and stated by way of illustration, that in the preparation of his cases he had often been obliged to work on Sunday; where upon Mr. Ficklin at once fined him on his own confession. Altogether the whole County was laid under many obligations to his courage, efficiency, and public spirit."
Other churches built in these early years were:
"A Methodist church near Hammock's Gap, 1825 ; Mount Zion Methodist Church, and Mount Pleasant near Hillsboro, 1828; The Scottsville Presbyterian, 1830; the Buck Island Methodist, 1831; Scottsville arid Shiloh Methodist Churches, 1832: Wesley Chapel, Earlysville Free Church, the Milton Baptist Church, 1833 ; Bethel Presbyterian, Mount Moriah Methodist and Hardware Baptist Churches, l834; Cross Roads Episcopal Church, 1835; Charlottesville Disciples' Church, 1836; and in 1837 Free Union Free and Piney Grove Baptist Churches."
Authorities Bishop Meade, Old Families and Churches in Virginia. Woods' History of Albemarle; H. M. White, Wm. S. White, D.D., His Life and Times; Jefferson's Correspondence; Semple, History of the Virginia Baptists; A Hugenot Family.