THE HISTORY OF
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
820 COLONIAL AVENUE, NORFOLK, VA
In Miscellaneous Reports:
Constitution of the Presbyterian Congregation - 1837
Historical Notices - 1867
Historical Sketch - 1889
The Rise of Presbyterianism in Tidewater Virginia
History of Ghent Church- February 19, 1911
Presbyterian Origins in Norfolk - December 3, 1916
Religious Toleration in Virginia - December 11, 1916
Historical Sketch of First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA, 1935.
The History of the First Presbyterian Church (1960)
The Case of the Missing Presbyterians
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Constitution of the Presbyterian Congregation
Attached to the House of Worship
Situated on the East side of Church Street, second door South of Holt Street,
Adopted on the 27th April 1837.
Transcribed from a printed copy in possession of Mr. Robert W. Santos;
October 6th, 1891.
Marked "Norfolk: T. G. Broughton & Son, Printers, 1837."
Article 1st. This House shall be called the SECOND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND SHALL FOREVER BE APPROPRIATED TO THE SERVICE OF THE TRIUNE GOD, by a Presbyterian Congregation.
Article 2nd. The ecclesiastical or spiritual concerns of this Church shall be controlled by a Session composed of a Bench of Ruling Elders and Presiding Pastor, according to the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of the United States; but its secular concerns shall be managed by a Board of Seven Trustees, who shall be Pew Owners.
Article 3rd. The Pastor shall be elected by the Congregation, which shall be composed of the Communicants and Pew-Holders, their wives and their children, 13 years of age, and all others of like age, who pay any pew rent. The Elders by the Communicants - and the Trustees by the Pew-Holders - all by ballot.
Article 4th. Whenever it may be deemed proper to increase the Bench of Elders, the Session shall determine the number to be added; and any persons whom any of the members of the Church may nominate as suitable for that office, shall be proposed from the pulpit to the People, assembled for public worship, at least two successive Sabbaths previous to the day of election, when two thirds of those present with the proxies of any absentees, shall be necessary to a choice.
Article 5th. The Trustees shall [after the first election] be chosen annually at a meeting to be held in the House of worship, on the first Monday in May; the old Trustees, however, continuing in office until new ones are appointed. A majority of the Board shall form a quorum for business. They are to fill vacancies occurring in their own Body, make their own Bye-Laws, choose their own Officers, assess taxes and rents of Pews, cause the same to be collected, and make such other collections as they may deem necessary, to provide fro all regular and incidental expenses; as well as a create a sinking fund, for the extinguishment of any debt arising from the erection, alteration or repairs of the House of Worship. They shall keep a fair record of their proceedings, exhibit at any stated annual meeting a regular account of all their receipts and expenditures, together with an exact list of the names of all Pew-Holders who may be in arrears for any portion of the past year's assessments or rents; call such special meetings of the Congregation as they may deem proper, and attend to all its other interests not otherwise provided for in this Constitution.
Article 6th. The Trustees shall require proper security of the Treasurer for the faithful discharge of his trust.
Article 7th. All assessments and rents shall be paid quarterly, and if a Pew-Owner refuse or fail, for the space of two months after it become due, to pay any assessment, the Trustees are empowered, on giving one month's notice, to sell said pew - and the net proceeds of the sale, over and above the assessment, shall be paid to the late owner. Should any person renting a pew fail or refuse, for one month to pay the rent, the Trustees shall have power to re-rent the same after giving notice to the delinquent. Pews forfeited by non-compliance with the conditions of purchase and tenure, to revert to the Trustees.
Article 8th. The Session shall have power to make and dispose of collections for charitable and other pious purposes, as they may deem expedient.
Article 9th. The Salary of the Minister shall be fixed by the Pew-Holders, to be paid to him quarterly; and shall not be altered but on the recommendation of the Trustees, and by a majority of the Pew-Holders.
Article 10th. Every person owning or renting a pew shall be considered a Pew-Holder, and no pew shall be entitled to more than one vote in any meeting of the Pew-Holders.
Article 11th. Any member of the Congregation feeling aggrieved by the decision of the Trustees, may appeal to the Pew-Holders.
Article 12th. This Constitution shall not be altered or amended, but at a special meeting, ad by the concurrence of a majority of the whole number of Pew-Holders, due notice of the intended alterations having been given; but no meeting shall be competent to change the use to which this House is appropriated, as set forth in the first and second articles.
The Presbyterian Church in Norfolk was regularly organized as a church under the care of Hanover Presbytery, on the 14th of April 1814 by Rev. Jno. H. Rice, D. D., acting on behalf of the Presbytery, and 43 persons were then enrolled as members of the church. From 1802 - 3 (the time at which the church edifice on Catherine was completed) an independent church of Presbyterian character had existed - organized under the ministry of Rev. Benjamin Grigsby with 2 ruling elders, viz: John McPhail and Wm. K. MacKinder. Mr. Grigsby continued his ministry in this church until his death on October 6th, 1810. Subsequently Rev. Jno. C. Wilson had charge of the church for a short time and was succeeded by Rev. John D. Paxton, during the early part of whose ministry voz on the 14th of April 1814 the church was regularly organized, under the care of Hanover Presbytery, at which time an addition was made to the Bench of Elders by the election and ordination of Wm. Maxwell, Rob. Soutter and Rob. Robertson.
Rev. Jon. D. Paxton resigned his charge August 25, 1819, the church having received from April 14, 1814, to Aug. 25, 1819. Fifty-seven members, 44 on examination and 13 on certificate. On the 11th of May 1817 the session having recommended to the church the election of an additional Ruling Elder. Mr. Geo. W. Camp was elected and ordained to that office.
Rev. Joshua T. Russell succeeded Wm. Paxton and commenced his labors in Norfolk August 18, 1820, and resigned his charge of the church January 8, 1824, during which time 78 persons were added to the church, 74 on examination and 4 on certificate - in December 1823 Elder Geo. W. Camp died.
Rev. Shepard K. Kollock succeeded Mr. Russell and commenced his labors in Norfolk May 15, 1825, and resigned his charge of the church September 18, 1834, during which time 115 persons were added to the church, 84 on examination and 31 on certificate, and on the 23rd Dec. 1827, Messrs. Joshua Moore and Elijah Brown were duly elected to the office of Ruling Elder to fill the vacancy occasioned and set apart to that office on Sunday following.
On the 18th of July 1831 Elder Robert Robertson died.
On the 1st October 1832 Humphry B. Gwathmey was chosen Ruling Elder and publicly set apart and ordained on Sunday 7th October 1832.
Rev. John D. Matthews succeeded Mr. Kollock and commenced his labors in Norfolk June 14, 1835. In 1836 a new and commodious House of worship was erected on Church Street, and on the 19th November 1836 the present church was organized under a committee of East Hanover Presbytery consisting of Rev. W. S. Plummer, J. D. Matthews and Wm. Neil, at which time 84 members were received by certificate from the church on Catherine Street, who proceeded to the election of Ruling Elders and unanimously chose to that office the following members, viz: Messrs. Robert Soutter, Sr., Joshua Moore, Benjamin Emerson, Wm. S. Bagnall and Robert Soutter, Jr., and on Sunday the 20 November 1836. The three last named brethren were set apart and ordained to that office, at which time also Mr. Matthews received and accepted the call of the church to become their pastor. He resigned his charge December 8, 1840, during which time 56 persons were added to the church, 46 on examination and 10 on certificate.
Rev. Samuel J. Cassells succeeded Mr. Matthews and commenced his labors in Norfolk Nov. 14, 1841, and resigned his charge of the church April 23, 1846, during which time 192 persons were added to the church 149 on examination and 43 on certificate.
On the 25 April 1841 Elder Robert Soutter, Jr., took a letter of dismission and removed to Philadelphia.
On the 24th July 1842 Elder Robert Soutter, Sr., died.
On the 19th September 1842, James T. Soutter and R. C. Galbraith were elected to the Office of Ruling Elder and were set apart and ordained to that office on Sunday 30, October 1842.
And at the same time Mr. F. F. Ferguson and John Gormley having been elected Deacons of the church, were set apart and ordained to that office. On Sunday Nov. 2, 1845, Mr. Joseph M. Freeman having been elected to the Office of Deacon, was ordained and set apart to that office. In April 1844 Elder R. C. Galbraith was ordained by East Hanover Presbytery to the full work of the ministry.
Sept. 30, 1844, Elder James T. Soutter removed to New York.
On Sunday Nov. 3, 1844, Dr. N. C. Whitehead and Mr. Richard D. Burruss having been elected Ruling Elder were ordained and set apart to that office.
In December the year 1845 Elder R. D. Burruss died.
Rev. Samuel J. P. Anderson succeeded Mr. Cassells who commenced his labors in Norfolk November 21, 1846, and resigned his charge of the church March 3, 1851, during which time 96 persons were added to the church 56 on examination and 40 on certificate. In November 1847 Elder Benjamin Emerson died.
On the 30th of June 1848 Messrs. G. F. Anderson and Wm. H. Broughton having been elected by the Church to the office of Ruling Elder, they were ordained and set apart to that office.
Rev. George D. Armstrong, D. D., the present pastor of the church succeeded Mr. Anderson and commenced his labors in Norfolk July 6, 1851.
On the 16th of July 1854 Elder Joshua Moore died.
Mr. James G. Pollard having been elected by the church to the office of Ruling Elder was ordained and set apart to that office on Sunday August 28, 1854.
On the 21st July 1856 Elder N. C. Whitehead died.
May 28, 1865, Elder G. F. Anderson removed to Baltimore. On the 28th May 1866, Mr. William D. Reynolds was elected to the Office of Ruling Elder and ordained and set apart to that office on Sunday following.
On the 25th January 1867 Elder Wm. D. Bagnall died.
Mr. David Humphreys hainvg been elected by the church to the Office of Ruling Elder and ordained and set apart to that office on Sabbath January 23, 187_.
On Sabbath ___ 1870 Messrs. Robert Reid, George L. Crow and George K. Goodridge, having been duly elected by the church, were solemnly ordained and set apart to the Office of Deacon.
On Friday March 24, 1871, Deacon Robert Reid died.
The origins and early history of the Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, on Elizabeth River, is involved in some obscurity. Dr. Charles Hodge, in his "History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States," Vol. I, p. 76, speaking of the early churches, says: It might be inferred from the statements in the preceding chapter that Presbyterian churches would be formed nearly cotemporaneously in various parts of the country. And such in fact was the case. In a letter written by the Presbytery of Philadelphia to that of Dublin, and dated 1710, it is said, 'In all Virginia we have one small congregation on Elizabeth River, and some few families favoring our way in Rappahannock and York; in Maryland four, Pennsylvania five, in the Jersey two, which bounds with some places in New York make up all the bounds which we have any members from; and at present some of these are vacant.'"
"Of the Church on Elizabeth River little is known. It seems from Commissary Blair's report on the State of the Church in Virginia, that it existed before the commencement of the last century. From the fact of Mr. Makemie's directing in his will, that his dwelling-house and lot on Elizabeth River should be sold, it has been inferred that he resided there before he moved to the opposite shore of the Chesapeake, and that the church in question was gathered by him. If so, it must have been formed before 1690: for at that time Mr. Makemie was residing on the Eastern Shore. Others have supposed that the congregation was composed of a small company of Scotch emigrants, whose descendants are still to be found in the neighborhood of Norfolk. Though reported by the Presbytery, they seem to have had little connection with that body. The very names of their pastor, Rev. Mr. Makie, never appears on the minutes as a member."
Respecting the Rev. Francis Makemie, mentioned by Dr. Hodge, Dr. Sprague writes: "What gives Makemie his grand distinction is, that he was undoubtedly the first regular and thorough Presbyterian minister in this country; and he may be justly regarded as the father of the Presbyterian Church in the United States." He was a native of Donegal County, Ireland, and was licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of Loggan in 1683. "In a letter of his, addressed to Cotton Mather, and preserved in the Historical Collection of Massachusetts, written in 1684, he says, 'In my visit to Elizabeth River in May, I found a few desolate people, mourning the loss of their dissenting minister from Ireland, whom the Lord had been pleased to remove by death the summer before." (Spragues's Annals, Vol. III, p. 6) To this people Makemie seems to have ministered for a season before removing to the Eastern Shore. Who the dissenting Irish minister, mentioned by Makemie, was, we have no means of knowing. The most diligent search has failed to disclose even his name.
Respecting the Rev. Josias Makie, also mentioned by Dr. Hodge, we learn from the records of Norfolk County, that he received a license from the Court to preach at certain points on Elizabeth River in 1692. He probably succeeded Mr. Makemie in charge of the Church on Elizabeth River at that date, the latter thence forward confirming his labors to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. The points at which Mr. Makie was licensed to preach were "A house at Mr. Thomas Ivy's on the Eastern Branch; a house belonging to Mr. Richard Phillpot, in Tanner's Creek precinct, a house belonging to Mr. John Roberts on the Western Branch; and a house of Mr. John Dickson, on the Southern Branch. From Mr. Makie's will, which is dated Nov. 7, 1716, and was proved on the 16th of that months, it will be seen that he must have died between those two dates. From this date, and the date of his first oath, June 22d, 1692, it is certain that he had been living on Elizabeth River not far from a quarter of a century." (Sprague's Annals, pp. 7-9.)
From the death of Mr. Makie in 1716 for a period of eighty-five years, we can learn nothing authentic respecting the history of this church, but have reason to believe that it maintained a continued thought struggling existence in the midst of many difficulties. To appreciate these difficulties we must remember, (1) That throughout most of these eighty-five years the Episcopal Church was established by law in Virginia; strict conformity was demanded, and every one was required to contribute to its support. For a part of the time, "attendance at the meetings of non-conformists was punished by severe fines, and the rich were obliged to pay the forfeitures of their poorer brethren; (Hodge's History, p. 46.) and (2) That these years cover the period of our Revolutionary War, during which the region around Norfolk suffered more severely than any other portion of the state. In January 1776, Norfolk was bombarded by the British fleet under Lord Dunmore, and the whole town burned, but one house escaping the general conflagration.
At its session in Philadelphia in May, 1801, the General Assembly appointed "Rev. Messrs. Logan and Grigsby missionaries for two months, to itinerate through the lower parts of Virginia" (Minutes of 1801, p. 231.) Under this appointment Rev. Benjamin Grigsby, then a member of Lexington Presbytery, visited the Borough of Norfolk, and after preaching a few months, accepted an invitation to settle there as pastor of a church of which John McPhail and William McKinder were Ruling Elders. In 1802-3, he succeeded in having a church building erected, costing about $12,000, all of which was subscribed and paid by persons residing in Norfolk and its vicinity. The book containing the Subscription list for this building, together with an account of the cost of the building itself, is now in possession of the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk. Rev. Mr. Grigsby continued in charge of the Church until the Autumn of 1810, when he died of yellow fever, which prevailed as an epidemic in Norfolk that year.
On the 14th of April, 1814, the church was reorganized and placed itself under the care of Hanover Presbytery, the Rev. John H. Rice, D. D., preaching the sermon and presiding on the occasion. Before this, if any regular records were kept, they have been lost, possibly the earlier records may have been destroyed in the burning of the City. From this date the records are full and complete. As reorganized, the church consisted of forty-three members, with Rev. John D. Paxton as Pastor, and Messrs. John McPhail, William McKinder, Robert Souter, Jr., Robert Robertson and William Maxwell (afterwards President of Hampden Sydney College) as Ruling Elders.
Such is a brief statement of all the recorded facts in the early history of the First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk. From this it appears (1), That when the Rev. Francis Makemie came to Virginia in 1683, he found a small Presbyterian Church existing on Elizabeth River, to which he ministered for a season before removing to the Eastern Shore. (2) That the existence of this church was recognized by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in a letter addressed to the Presbytery of Dublin in 1710. (3) That the Rev. Josias Makie ministered to this church from 1692 to his death in 1716, having four preaching places, all at private houses as was customary with dissenting ministers, Norfolk being central to the four. (4) When Rev. Benjamin Grigsby, by appointment of the General Assembly in 1801, visited Norfolk, he found an organized Presbyterian Church existing, over which he settled as pastor, strong enough to build a house of worship costing $12,000, and this without seeking aid fro their brethren in other parts of the country. From these facts it seems fair to infer that the church over which Mr. Grigsby settled was the same with that to which Mr. Makie had ministered eighty-five years before; that church having maintained a continuous though struggling existence throughout the trying period which intervened. If so, then the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk is, beyond all question, the oldest Presbyterian Church in Virginia, and one of the oldest in our country. The Scotch-Irish immigration into Virginia, to which the oldest churches in the Valley owe their origin, did not begin until about 1720, and Rev. Samuel Davies by whom the old Hanover church was founded, came to the State in 1747.
In 1872, the number of communicants having increased to 325, it was deemed expedient to organize a Second Presbyterian Church, in the western part of the City; and on July 2 this church was organized, Rev. Moses Hoge, D. D., of Richmond, presiding on the occasion. For several years a mission had been maintained in Atlantic City; and, as this mission was contiguous to the territory of the newly organized Second Church it was transferred to its care; the First Church establishing a new mission in Brambleton, on the eastern border of the City. Both of these missions have been greatly blessed of God. That in Atlantic City was organized as a separate church in 1882, under the name of "The Colley Memorial Church," and that in Brambleton was similarly organized in 1884, under the name of "The Park Avenue Church;" so that now, in place of the one church of 1872, we have four Presbyterian churches in Norfolk.
In 1887 these churches report as follows, viz:
First Church 340 communicants
Second Church 103 communicants
Colley Memorial Church 111 communicants
Park Avenue Church 72 communicants
The Tidewater section of Virginia is an intricate tangle of land and water. The channels of the broad, shining rivers pulse to the tides of ocean, and insinuate their saline floods into every depression. Rivers and inlets, creeks, bays and marshes divide the land into innumerable peninsulas. Some of them are hundreds of miles in length, and some are too narrow for the foundation of a humble cabin home. Much of the land is under water, or besoaked, or partially covered with oozing seepage and sedge. These pocosons are the undisputed habitation of crustaceous and reptile life.
Over the mild waters of Chesapeake Bay are two wealthy and populous counties separated completely from the rest of the State.
Between the lordly Potomac and the historic James two other rivers, only less deep and wide than they, cut this part of Tidewater into three well defined peninsulas. The Northern Neck lies between the Potomac and the Rappahannock. The Middle Peninsula lies between the Rappahannock and the York. And the Peninsula lies between the York and James. Among the innumerable peninsulas of Virginia the Peninsula holds a place unrivalled whether considered historically, economically, industrially or politically.
Lying snugly between the James and Chesapeake to the north and the Carolina line to the south are six large counties which our great-grandfathers used to call "Lower Virginia," but one never hears that term now.
This is the land; abounding in population, throbbing with energy, fertile as the garden of the Lord, with crowding and ever-increasing urban centres and wealthy beyond the dreamsof avarice. The Church that takes this land will take an empire for Jesus Christ.
The origins of the great majority of Presbyterian congregations in the Virginias and Carolinas may be traced to a pioneer settlement of Scotch or of Ulster blood. When the Scotch-Irish came over in such great numbers just two hundred years ago they found the alluvial lowlands of Virginia already occupied, though far from filled, with their ancient rivals of the Church of England. The red banner and the triple cross held undisputed sway. Tidewater Virginia is Saxon to a degree. There are many sections more thoroughly English than London or Oxford. Not a single Presbyterian church in Tidewater can be traced to Scotch antecedents, although, of course, there have always been some Scotch families and a great many Scotch and Ulsters pastors. Presbyterianism in Tidewater Virginia is essentially English.
It is an interesting historic phenomenon that Tidewater Presbyterianism in its rise and development follows exactly the geographical divisions referred to above. The Church is one today, but it comes of three roots. It suggests a single, stately elm which thrusts three great roots into the life-giving soil below and throws many graceful, gothic branches toward the heavens above.
The oldest, largest and most influential group of churches is clustered in and about the metropolitan district of Norfolk. Before Francis Makemie, we were here. He found a desolate band of Presbyterians mourning the loss of their late pastor. His name was Porter and he died in the summer of 1683. All facts as to his identity, as to the place of his labors, and as to his congregations, are hopelessly lost in the mist of an age-long obscurity. He may have been a contemporary of the fathers who formulated the constitution of our Church in the Jerusalem Chamber. It was probably the hand of Makemie that settled Rev. Josias Mackie on the Elizabeth River where he labored for 24 years and died, as he had lived, a rich old bachelor (1692-1716). After Mackie the pall of silence falls. For 76 years not a Presbyterian voice is raised in this spiritual wilderness.
The spiritual desolation of Tidewater Virginia during the eighteenth century was appalling. In England conditions were serious, but England had her Wesleys, her Whitefield, and others. In Virginia no such leaders appeared. George Whitefield preached in Williamsburg shortly before his death, but he left no permanent organization.
Samuel Davies brought vital, evangelical religion to a group of counties above Richmond. There were preachers and missionaries who followed the migrations of the Ulstermen down the Valley of Virginia; and a strong group of Presbyterian churches arose in Charlotte and neighboring counties of the tobacco belt. None of these movements, unfortunately, affected the spiritual torpor of the Tidewater section.
During the last years of the century religion sank to its lowest ebb. The Presbytery of Hanover made one feeble effort to enter Tidewater. In 1792, at Lexington, presbytery ordained two young men, Archibald Alexander and Benjamin Porter Grigsby, and sent them to itinerate in Eastern Virginia. They came together to Petersburg, and Grigsby rode to Norfolk, then a growing seaport town of 3,000 people (half of whom were colored). He preached here one summer.
With the turn of the century the Great Revival swept over the entire country and came powerfully to this section. Evangelical preachers, often ignorant but always earnest men, pushed into every neighborhood. The Holy Spirit was poured forth as never before in our history, nor since. In this evangelism the Baptists took the lead and their reward has been commensurately great. The Methodists followed and the number of their followers has been only less great. Thousands of Virginians who had nominally been adherents of the Established Church in colonial days, and whose ancestors had been active in the state church turned to the new movement. Many of the oldest and most influential Virginia families have, from that time to this, been members of these communions.
The Presbyterian Church took part in this spiritual awakening in only one place—Norfolk. They sent but one minister to Tidewater—Benjamin Porter Grigsby. He returned to the little town which he had visited some nine years before, leaving his pastorate in Lewisburg (1801). During his pastorate the Bell Church was built. It was by far the handsomest edifice in Norfolk, and is the mother church of Norfolk Presbyterianism. It was located in the fashionable residential district of the day more than a mile from the harbor. The Bell Church was independent of Hanover Presbytery until brought into proper ecclesiastical relations to that body by the tactful hand of John Holt Rice (1814).
The eldest daughter of Bell Church is the Portsmouth Church, organized (1822) with five members by Dr. Benjamin Holt Rice, of Petersburg, who the same day dedicated the new church built in Middle Street.
The great schism of 1836-40 rent the Bell Church asunder and ultimately proved fatal. The pastor, Rev. John D. Matthews, and the majority of his flock migrated to a new church built so near the harbor on Church Street that vessels arriving and departing were in plain sight of the front stoop. They called the new church "Second," for a while, but it was later known as "First." The fine old building of Bell Church passed into the hands of a negro congregation by whom it is still used.
Church history reflects the economic, financial, industrial and cultural history of a people more accurately than the history of any other institution. True everywhere, it is peculiarly true of the case before us. Through the heart of the nineteenth century (1822-1872) not another church was organized. It was a period of lethargy. There was the intense political and social unrest of the thirties; the hard drinking and fast living of the forties; the frivolous life of the careless fifties, cut short in the midst by a terrifying epidemic of yellow fever; the holocaust of the sixties, followed by the slow and painful recuperation of the seventies. In their deep affliction, so long continued and so acute, the people of Norfolk turned to God for refuge and strength. There was a heaven-sent revival of religion in the church under the ministry of George D. Armstrong. The Presbyterian Church in Tidewater Virginia has never been the same since. The results of that Pentecost abide to this day. This fact is patent to the most superficial reader of these lines. This revival came not with observation. There were no special meetings, and it was not arranged, or planned.
In 1872 the Second Church was organized. In 1876 the Suffolk Church was organized. In 1883 the Colley Memorial Church was organized in a western suburb. In 1884 the Park Avenue Church was organized in an eastern suburb. In 1889 the Armstrong Memorial Church was organized in a southern suburb. In 1898 the Lambert's Point Church was organized on the far northwestern edge of the city. In 1899 two churches were organized; Knox on the northern edge of Norfolk, and Port Norfolk on the northern edge of Portsmouth. Ghent Church was organized in a fashionable residential district in 1901, and ultimately reunited with the old First Church. It is the First Church of today. The building of the old First Church was demolished. In 1911 the La Fayette Church was organized in a northeastern suburb. In 1916 New Jamestown Church was organized at the old exposition grounds. When the government bought the grounds and established the Naval Base the membership of Jamestown Church was scattered to other churches (1917). In 1917 a church was organized at Lynnhaven. The youngest of the daughters of Bell Church has just been organized at Craddock (1919), a suburb of Portsmouth. Fourteen churches have grown from the original parent stock—one before, and thirteen since the revival of 1871.
The second group of churches is found in the populous and wealthy Eastern Shore counties of Accomac and Northampton. Francis Makemie secured permission from the colonial authorities to preach at Onancock and on Holden's Creek, near the spot where he now lies buried. After his death (1708) the same pall of silence that fell over Norfolk County falls over Accomac. For 129 years the blue banner with the white cross of St. Andrew lay prostrate. In 1837 a small congregation was gathered at Drummondtown —now known as Accomac CourtHouse. From this scion four churches have sprung. Onancock in 1882 and Powellton two years later were organized through the efforts of one sainted woman who still abides. The Powellton Church at Wachapreague has just organized another smaller church, Greenview, not far from the village (1919).
Holmes is the most influential church on the Eastern Shore. Its origin is altogether unique. The planters of that rich section were dissatisfied with the ignorant men who ministered to the people and they resolved to build a church and employ an educated clergyman. Not from any vital godliness in them, but rather as a benefit to their families and to the community generally. The church took the name of one of the prime organizers and is Holmes to this good day.
In 1879 a church of twenty members was gathered in the pleasant little village of Belle Haven as the result of a genuine revival of religion under the ministry of the late Rev. R. D. Stimson, then pastor of Holmes Church.
A second daughter of Holmes Church was organized at Cape Charles (1890). A railway had been built down the long peninsula from the teeming cities of the North. At the terminus the new town of Cape Charles was built. In 1904 a third mission of Holmes was organized as a church at Eastville, the county seat. But this church has not survived.
The third and youngest group of churches has grown from the Home Mission activity of the undivided Presbytery of East Hanover. This group is largely a monument to the labors of the late William A. Campbell, whose name one of the churches bears. Before the war there was a small church in York County, organized in 1860. It has had a checkered career. One mission of this church is at Williamsburg. And Williamsburg has just established a new church at Five Forks near the ancient site of Jamestown (1920).
A feeble band was gather at Hampton (1879), which has since become a strong church and sent forth one mission, Phoebus (1914). A fruitful work was begun among the fisher folk of Gloucester County in 1880. This small and feeble nucleus has sent forth two churches, each stronger than the parent church, Severn (1885) and Groves' Memorial (1917).
An organization was effected in the village of Newport News as early as 1883. For years the church boasted as many as three members! It is today one of the largest and strongest congregations in Virginia. It has sent forth two branches; Second (1899), and Hilton (1919).
On the banks of the beautiful Rappahannock in the Northern Neck two small churches were organized, Milden (1888), and Campbell Memorial (1889). We once had a moribund church at Smithfield.
When the new Presbytery of Norfolk was organized (1893) many were frankly skeptical. The strong churches were very few and the weak and struggling congregations were many. But time has justified the fathers.
Every church in Tidewater Virginia was begun in utter weakness and feebleness. If weak and struggling churches had not been organized there would not be a Presbyterian Church in all Tidewater Virginia today! There is a tenacity, a grip upon life that marks a Presbyterian congregation. We suppose it comes of martyr blood, and brings something of the martyr spirit. Only in rare instances does a Presbyterian church die —even if located in an unlikely place. Those who think lightly of small, struggling and weak Presbyterian congregations have not read history aright. We have not too many struggling churches, but too few. Our Home Mission efforts have never been too aggressive, but not aggressive enough. The Presbyterian Church in Tidewater Virginia is a mighty and influential host today, influential out of all proportion to its numbers, but it represents a victory over weakness. The very struggle begets strength. Who then will despise the day of the small things?
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Ghent Presbyterian Church was organized in the year 1901. The movement to establish a church in Ghent had been started several years before by the Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Presbyterian Church, then under the energetic leadership of Mr. Joseph Brown, Ruling Elder. This class selected the site on which the present church building stands, and though many of the members of the class were dependent upon their daily wages for the support of themselves and their families, they contributed a thousand dollars toward the payment of the purchase price of the lots now owned by the church.
The design of the originators of this movement was to occupy the rapidly growing section of the city that extends westward from Paradise Creek towards Lambert's point, a field that was not covered by the Colley Memorial Church in Atlantic City nor by the Second Presbyterian Church; for, with the exception of the Baptists who moved their church from Atlantic City to the western part of Ghent, no movement had been made toward the occupation of this field by other denominations. The site for the new Church was, therefore, selected at the intersection of two main thoroughfares of this part of the city, Colonial and Redgate Avenues. The Session of the First Church was requested to "foster the movement," but decided to take no action as a body but to leave it in the hands of those who expected to go into the new organization or were otherwise especially interested in it.
The movement was then taken up by a few of the Presbyterians residing in Ghent, and the fund raised by the Brotherhood Bible Class was greatly increased by the generous gifts of Mr. F. S. Royster and others. As soon as the sum of two thousand, four hundred dollars had been raised, the site previously selected (at the intersection of Colonial and Redgate Avenues) was purchased from the Ghent Company, the deed being made to F. S. Royster, George C. Reid, J. Kraemer, F. D. Pinkerton and D. S. Phlegar, Trustees, at the price of eight thousand, four hundred dollars; a mortgage being placed on the lots to secure the unpaid balance of six thousand dollars. Of this sum the Ghent Company agreed to contribute two thousand dollars, provided a church building should be erected or in course of erection upon the lots by the first day of July, 1902; and as this condition was complied with the note for two thousand dollars given by the trustees was subsequently surrendered by the Ghent Company.
On June 6th, 1901, a meeting was held at the residence of Mr. F. S. Royster in Ghent, to consider the advisability of proceeding to organize a new church and erect a building. There were present at the meeting, Dr. E. B. McCleur, F. S. Royster, Joseph Brown, Charles F. Burroughs, D. S. Phlegar, F. D. Pinkerton, J. T. Moreland, R. E. DeJarnette, James C. Tait, S. Milnor Price and Jacob Kraemer. Dr. McCleur was chosen to act as Chairman and Mr. Kraemer as Secretary. After full consideration, it was deemed highly important to proceed at once with the undertaking, and Messrs. Royster, Pinkerton and Kraemer were appointed a committee for the purpose of raising funds to pay off the debt on the lots and were directed to make their report at another meeting, to be held at the residence of Mr. DeJarnette.
This meeting took place on June 21, 1901. A resolution was then adopted requesting the Session of the First Church to express their approval of the movement to establish a Church in Ghent and to consent to a canvass of the congregation for the purpose of raising funds with which to pay the debt of the lots. This request was granted by the Session of the First Church, and an announcement was made from the pulpit of that church on June 23, 1901, expressing the Session's approval of the movement and consenting to a canvass of the congregation for the purpose of raising funds.
As the result of this canvass, two thousand dollars was contributed, aid being given by many who were not immediately interested in the new church. This left a balance of two thousand dollars still unpaid, after deducting the two thousand which The Ghent Company had conditionally agreed to contribute. This balance was assumed by Messrs. D. S> Phlegar, C. F. Burroughs, F. E. Nottingham, S. M. Price, F. D. Pinkerton, and J. Kraemer; and the title to the lots was thus rendered clear.
The formal organization of the church was then effected. Upon the petition of some forty-three persons, most of whom were members of the First Church, the Norfolk Presbytery, on October 1, 1901, being then in Session at Gloucester Church, appointed a commission consisting of Dr. Edward Mack, Rev. C. W. Maxwell, Dr. E. B. McCleur, with Rev. G. W. Lawson as alternate, and Ruling Elder Frank T. Clark, to organize the church, if the way should be clear.
In obedience to a call issued by this Commission, a meeting was held on October 13, 1901, at the residence of Mrs. George D. Armstrong in Ghent, for the purpose of organizing the church. The Commissioners present were: Rev. Edward Mack, D. D., Rev. E. B. McCleur, D. D., Rev. C. W. Maxwell and Ruling Elder Frank T. Clark. Nearly all of the signers of the petition above-mentioned were also present. Dr. Mack was elected Moderator and Mr. Clark Secretary of the meeting. The Commission was constituted with prayer. Certificates for the admission of applicants for membership were read, and on motion these persons were admitted to membership in the new church. The church was organized by the Commission in accordance with the rules prescribed in the Book of Church Order, and was then declared by the Moderator to be duly constituted according to the Word of God and the Faith and Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
The following Ruling Elders were elected: F. S. Royster, George C. Reid, and F. E. Nottingham. Mr. Reid was ordained, and the Elders were then installed.
The following Deacons were elected: S. M. Price, Jacob Kraemer, C. F. Burroughs and D. S. Phlegar. Messrs. Burroughs and Phlegar were ordained, and together with Messrs. Price and Kraemer, duly installed.
A committee consisting of Messrs. F. S. Royster, Jacob Kraemer and Gordon Paxton was appointed for the purpose of recommending to the congregation a suitable man for pastor. It was decided to hold services and conduct a Sunday School in the hall situated in the rear of Quattlebaum's Drug Store on Botetourt Street until a church building could be erected. The meeting was closed with the benediction by the Moderator.
It is deemed proper to insert here, as a permanent memorial, and accurate and complete list of the original members of Ghent Church, which shall include only those who actually united with the new church when it was organized. This list is as follows:
F. S. Royster George C. Reid Lillian A. Kraemer Mrs. Mary S. Royster W. S. Royster J. Kraemer S. Milnor Price A. L. Holton Frank T. Clark Elizabeth L. Price F. E. Nottingham C. F. Burroughs J. D. Rush George Fiveash E. A. Hitchings Lucretia N. Armstrong Elizabeth S. Clark L. C. Hitchings Lucretia DeJarnette Abbie G. Clark Vernon D. Hitchings R. E. DeJarnette Ida B. Clark Fannie W. Royster Joseph G. Fiveash, Jr. Gordon Paxton Alice G. Reid Mrs. F. A. Bryan Mrs. Virginia Fiveash Annie B. Vail Mrs. F. E. Nottingham W. F. Hoffman Mrs. L. N. Curdts Hattie L. Nottingham Adah H. Hoffman Mary Frazier D. S. Phlegar C. G. Rush Cora L. Hendry Mrs. D. S. Phlegar Mary Royster
The customary services were at once begun in the hall on Botetourt Street, the pulpit being at first supplied for a short period by students from the Union Theological Seminary at Richmond. Afterward, for several months during the winters of 1901 and 1902, the Rev. David Hutchinson of Canada preached very acceptably to the new congregation. A flourishing Sunday School was also conducted at the same place on Sunday afternoons.
Early in the Spring of 1902 work was begun upon the new building. The first brick was laid in the presence of many of the congregation by Grace DeJarnette, the little granddaughter of Mrs. George D. Armstrong, in whose house the church was organized. Dr. J. N. H. Summerell, who afterward became the first pastor of the church, was present and offered prayer.
The building committee was composed of Messrs. F. E. Nottingham, D. S. Phlegar and J. Kraemer. The building was erected by Mr. Elbert Tatterson as general contractor and Mr. John Kevan Peebles as architect.
The contract price was nine thousand, five hundred dollars. Five thousand dollars of this amount was contributed by Mr. F. S. Royster. In order to obtain the remainder of the contract price, a mortgage was placed upon the property; and the amount required to furnish the church was raised by the efforts of the ladies of the congregation. The building was located on the south side of the four lots owned by the church, leaving space enough on the corner of Colonial and Redgate Avenues for the erection of a larger building at some future time.
On March 10, 1902, the trustees to whom the lots had been conveyed before the organization of the church, viz: F. S. Royster, F. D. Pinkerton, George C. Reid, Jacob Kraemer, and D. S. Phlegar, were regularly appointed by the corpora-Court of the City of Norfolk, upon the request of the congregation, Trustees of the Ghent Presbyterian Church, by whom the property of the church should be held.
Meanwhile, the committee appointed at the organization of the church for the purpose of securing a pastor had held numerous meetings and an extensive correspondence had been conducted by the chairman, Mr. Royster, with friends in various parts of the country in the effort to find a suitable man. Mr. S. M. Price became a member of this committee in place of Mr. Kraemer, who resigned. Toward the close of the winter the congregation had an opportunity of hearing Dr. J. N. H. Summerell of Washing, N. C., and it was at once decided that an effort should be made to secure his services as pastor of the church.
At a congregational meeting held in the hall above mentioned on March 16, 1902, a call was extended to Dr. Summerell to become the first pastor of Ghent Presbyterian Church; and Messrs. Royster and Phlegar were appointed to communicate the action of the congregation to Dr. Summerell. The call was accepted, and Dr. Summerell agreed to enter upon the duties of the pastorate the first of May, 1902. In the interval before the arrival of Dr. Summerell the pulpit was ably supplied by Dr. C. H. Bishop of William and Mary College.
Dr. Summerell arrived with his family on May 3rd, and at once entered upon his duties as pastor. The congregation continued to occupy the hall near Botetourt Street until the church building was completed. Early in the month of August, 1902, after the new building was finished, Dr. Summerell was regularly installed as pastor, Dr. E. B. McCleur and Rev. A. L. Shaw officiating.
Dr. Summerell remained as pastor of the church until August, 1908, when he resigned to take the pastorate of the Presbyterian Church at New Bern, North Carolina. During his pastorate, there were elected as Ruling Elders in the church, in addition to those previously mentioned, Messrs. C. E. McClure, John Nichol and F. D. Pinkerton.
In February, 1910, after the pulpit had remained vacant for nearly two years, Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchinson was called from the First Reformed Church of Newark, New Jersey. The call was accepted, and Mr. Hutchinson took charge of the work on March 1st. He was installed on Sunday morning, April 10, 1910. At this installation service the sermon was preached by Rev. Joseph Rennie, D. D., of the First Church, Norfolk, and the charge to the pastor was delivered by Rev. Thornton Whaling of the Second Church; the charge to the people being delivered by Rev. Dr. Howerton of Washington and Lee University who had been the staunch friend and counselor of the church during the period that it had been without a regular pastor.
In April, 1910, Mr. Otto D. Heissenbuttel was elected a ruling elder, and Messrs. James G. Gill, Adolph Volk, Charles R. Vance, M. D., and C. Fred Bonney were elected and installed as Deacons as the same time.
On Wednesday evening, December 14, 1910, Messrs. James C. Tait and James G. Gill were added to the Board as Ruling Elders in place of Mr. George C. Reid, deceased, and Mr. John Nichol, who had moved his residence from the City of Norfolk.
In April, 1910, Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Royster presented to the church an additional twenty-five feet of land fronting on Redgate Avenue.
In the late Spring of 19190 it became apparent that the church building would soon be too small to meet the growing needs of the congregation. Therefore, steps were taken to raise money for a new structure. The pastor preached a special sermon in which he laid the matter before the congregation, Sunday morning, April 24, 1910, at the conclusion of which sermon subscriptions were called for. Before the meeting adjourned over fifty thousand dollars had been pledged. $35,000 of this amount was pledged by Messrs. F. S. Royster and C. F. Burroughs, on condition that $20,000 more be raised by the congregation.
It was decided to go to work at once. At a subsequent meeting a Building Committee was chosen, composed of the following: C. F. Burroughs, Chairman; F. S. Royster, Vice-Chairman; J. Kraemer, Secretary; J. C. Tait, Treasurer; S. M. Price, O. D. Heissenbuttel and H. M. Dickson.
Mr. Burroughs afterward resigned the chairmanship in favor of Mr. Royster.
Messrs. Ferguson, Calrow and Taylor of Norfolk were selected as architects for the new building. Early in the fall of 1910 the plans were adopted; in December ground was broken for the building, which was to be completed in one year from that time. The corner stone was laid on Wednesday, March 15, 1911, at 4:30 P. M., by Mrs. Lucretia Armstrong, widow of Rev. George D. Armstrong, who was for forty years the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk; the laying of the stone was followed with a prayer by Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison, pastor of Ghent Church.
The following are the Trustees of Ghent Presbyterian Church at present, (March 15, 1911): F. S. Royster, D. S. Phlegar, C. F. Burroughs, J. Kraemer, Richard Baylor, J. C. Tait.
--History compiled by Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison, D. D., and Mr. O. D. Heissenbuttel, Committee appointed by Session of Ghent Church February 19, 1911.
The origin of the Presbyterian church in Tidewater Virginia is lost in the mists of obscurity. Only here and there gleams of light and interesting items of information come flown to us incidentally from the far away, twilight land of long ago. Francis Makemie was the apostle of American Presbyterianism and the moderator of the first Presbytery that held session in the New World. Yet before the coming of Makemie we were here. He visited the people on the Elizabeth river in 1634 and found them mourning the death of their late pastor, a dissenting clergyman from Ireland, Rev. Mr. Porter. Of this early servant of God we know nothing. Whence came he? To whom and where did he preach? How long did he preach here before his death? All these questions arise unbidden and no doubt some of them will be answered some day for the processes of history are long. It is to remember that Mr. Porter belonged to the generation that wrote the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith, that he was a contemporary of Lord Thomas Fairfax, greatest of English Presbyterians. It is also of interest to note that Mr. Porter died three years after the Burgesses passed the act under which fifty acres of land were purchased of Nicholas Wise for the new town of Norfolk, and twenty-four years passed before Norfolk became a town. There were Presbyterians in Norfolk before there was any Norfolk!
There was one Church of England clergyman when there was one, and one church in all the region between Smithfield, Virginia, to the west, and the Atlantic ocean to the east, from Hampton Roads to the Carolina line. Surely the religious needs of this section, already great and steadily growing, were but poorly supplied with the ordinances of religion.
A chapel of ease had been erected (1641). It was a small frame church at best and its very location is lost to the memory of man. But from that chapel the Borough church developed (as St. Paul's was originally called). But though so old, Old St. Paul's was not built until Mr. Porter had been in his grave fifty-six years.
Francis Makemie made occasional visits to the church on the Elizabeth river. But as he lived in the north and of Accomac county and he preached regularly in Maryland, it is easily understood that he was never a pastor to our people in any proper sense. That would be a geographical impossibility today; how much more so two centuries since.
A real pastor did come to the flock ere long, however, in Jonas Mackie. He secured from the county court of Norfolk the coveted privilege of preaching the gospel. It was exceedingly difficult for may man, it mattered not how noble and good, how devoted, learned or pious he might be, to secure permission to preach anywhere unless he had taken orders in the Church of England. In that day Norfolk, Virginia, was more devoted to the English church than London or Canterbury. In 1692 the court permitted Rev. Mr. Mackie to preach at the house of Thomas Ivey on the Eastern Branch, at the home of Richard Philpotts on Tanner's Creek, at the home of John Roberts on Western Branch. For twenty-four years this good man continued his ministrations to the Presbyterian flock.
There was no church building erected. One naturally inquires the reason. It was against the law to erect any church in Virginia except only a church of England. A Presbyterian church might have been erected in any town in England, for a Dutch Presbyterian was king, but not in Virginia. Had the spiritual needs of the people been reasonably supplied the bigotry of such laws might be forgiven, but when they did not supply that need, their arrogance is unpardonable. A colony of Baptists had the presumption to settle in Nansemond county, but were forced to migrate to North Carolina, lock, stock and barrel. Quakers were not even permitted to land, but if they came, and come they did, they were driven to Maryland and Massachusetts.
Not only might there be no house of worship erected, but it was not permitted that any record of any religious meeting be kept. Rev. Jonas Mackie and his followers might preach at private houses, not no record of any meeting of session or congregation should in anywise be recorded. And that is why we cannot trace our history with more precision and more satisfaction. To the eternal honor of these early Presbyterians, be it said, that though the laws were so arrogant and so tyrannical, yet they were strictly kept. Not a single Presbyterian minister or layman, so far as the record goes, ever broke those unjust laws.
With the Revolution came at last to these patient people religious and civil liberty. In 1792, just one hundred years after the coming of Mr. Mackie, while Washington was still serving his first term as President of the United States, the Presbytery of Hanover, which had care of all the Presbyterians in this State, ordained two young men to the gospel ministry--and what fine young men they were! One was Archibald Alexander, educator, author, preacher and one of the most brilliant men Virginia has produced. He was the founder of Princeton Theological Seminary. The other young man was Benjamin Porter Grigsby Young Grigsby was born in Orange county twenty-two years before. While yet a lad his father moved to Lexington and the little fellow was put to Liberty Hall Academy, now Washington and Lee University. He was one of the first graduates of that famous school. Presbytery ordered the two young ministers to itinerate in the lower parts of Virginia. They traveled together as far as Petersburg, when they separated, Alexander traveling south toward Carolina. So he leaves our story. Young Grigsby took boat and came to Norfolk, where he gathered the Presbyterians together, comforted and encouraged them. They asked him to remain as pastor, but he was called to the churches at Lewisburg and Union in the present State of West Virginia. This was a great discouragement to the little flock, and they do not seem to have been able to secure a pastor. In 1801 the General Assembly met in Philadelphia—the General Assembly never met anywhere else in those days. They took order that Benjamin P. Grigsby should return to Norfolk and organize the Presbyterians of Lower Virginia. It is a clear case (and one of the most important on record) of what Presbyterians of this day would call General Assembly's Home Missions. It seems strange that they hit at once on Grigsby. Had he never forgotten the poor little flock by the sea? Had they communicated their anxiety and discouragement to him? Was there a tinge of regret that he had left them nine years before?
He came. For nine years, all too short, he labored as our first pastor in the new order of things. His ministry was remarkably blessed. What a fine man he bust have been to be sure. He built the first Presbyterian church in lower Virginia. It cost the congregation $12,000 and could not be duplicated today for thrice that sum. It was far and away the finest edifice in the city, and it still stands with more than a century of service behind it, one of the most substantial buildings in the city. It is now owned by a colored congregation. It is on the corner of Bank and Charlotte streets, diagonally opposite the Norfolk Academy, which was organized at practically the same time. The old folks knew it as the Bell church, for it was the only church in the city that had a bell.
Grigsby was called upon to bury a sailor lad. He had died Saturday of yellow fever. Mr. Grigsby, on Sunday afternoon, laid him away. He caught the terrible disease from the dead man, died the following Saturday, and was buried Sunday afternoon at the same hour that he had laid the sailor to rest.
The physicians tell us that it was impossible for Mr. Grigsby to have taken the yellow fever in any such manner. No doubt they are right. But it must be remembered that Grigsby did not know these modern scientific discoveries, so he caught the yellow fever in the old-fashioned way and died an old-fashioned death. He sleeps in the Trinity church yard, Portsmouth. A modest obelisk of marble marks the place just at the entrance to the little cemetery, and so near to the Presbyterian church of Portsmouth that the congregation never sing the Long Meter Doxology without which Presbyterians can never get comfortably started in the worship of the Lord, but that the sweet strains are wafted over the grave of Benjamin Porter Grigsby, a fitting requiem. He has never received his due meed of honor. I delight, therefore, to lay this wreath of rosemary upon his all but forgotten grave.
When he died he left a 4-year-old son destined to become more famous and more useful even than his honored father—Hugh Blair Grigsby, one of Norfolk's most distinguished citizens and one of Virginia's foremost authors and educators. The short street that skirts the Academy campus is called Grigsby Place, commemorating this famous man.
After Grigsby many pastors came and labored and left. In 1822 five members were set off as a church in Portsmouth. In 1823-24 Rev. R. F. Cleveland served this church. His famous son was born in 1837. Only by the narrow margin of three years did Grover Cleveland miss being a Virginian and the son of the Portsmouth manse.
In 1840 a new church, the second First church, was erected on Church street. The second First church is gone. It is a hollowed memory. The first First church still remains, and the First church that now is, is the third First church. Norfolk Presbyterians are partial to First churches.
In the early seventies, during the ministry of Dr. George D. Armstrong, of blessed memory, a revival of unusual power broke forth. It was remarkable in that there was no special preaching. Sabbath by Sabbath multitudes came voluntarily seeking the way of life. First and last more than a hundred were thus received.
One result of this blessing was the spontaneous desire for the organization of a Second church in the newer, western part of the now growing city. There were two Episcopal, two Methodist and two Baptist churches, and there was need of another Presbyterian church, as the event clearly indicated. The Second church became a reality, and in it the fires of missionary zeal have burned brightly. No less than three of its members are today missionaries to Korea and among the most devoted on our rolls.
When the missionary spirit once grips a people they are never satisfied with lesser things for the Lord Jesus. The spirit of missions, like every true and noble quality of heart, grows from more to more. So we are not surprised to learn that the second church, as soon as established, placed a mission Sabbath school and weekly prayer meeting service on the peninsula to the west of town in Atlantic City. That little Sabbath school is now the Colley Memorial church with 150 members and an immensely valuable property.
The First church almost immediately moved east and planted a mission Sabbath school on the peninsula to the east of town in Brambleton. That mission is now the Park Avenue church with 250 members, whose noble work for the Master is so well known.
It was the Portsmouth church that made the first effort in Berkley. But the work was soon turned over to the First church. The work here had a very modest beginning, but it is now the Armstrong Memorial church, that bears the honored name of Dr. G. D. Armstrong, for so many years the only pastor of Norfolk Presbyterians. The church in Berkely has a membership of 150, and is now in better shape to do a large work than ever before.
The First church was now thoroughly alive to city missions. At the request of a member of the church who lived at that time in Huntersville, and who is now an elder in Knox church, a prayer meeting was begun in his parlor by the session of First church. A Sabbath school was soon established. When Park Place began to develop and Huntersville declined, the work was moved to the newer suburb, and is now the Knox church with a membership of 100. We are only 17 years old, but though young in years we think ourselves very old in wisdom. It is to recall that Knox church, in the embrace of Tanner's Creek, has taken possession again and become the heir of the meeting that gathered more than 200 years before on Tanners' Creek at the home of Richard Philpotts. All honor to Richard Philpotts, whoever he may have been and wheresoever he may have lived, for we look to him after the lapse of all the friendly years as a kind of spiritual father.
The First church moved again, and this time established in Ghent the wealthiest and stateliest of all her daughters, with whom in later years she decided to cast her lot, bequeath her property and give her name.
Five candlesticks are now set in complete circle about the two original churches. These be the seven candlesticks, not of Asia, gentle reader, but of Norfolk, Presbyterian Norfolk.
Meantime the further suburbs were offering fine opportunities for the Master's work. Colley Memorial took possession of a peninsula to the north, established a mission Sabbath school which is today the Lambert's Point church, a very strong organization with the comparatively small membership of fifty. This is the only church in the fourth generation from the mother church.
Knox church established a mission at Sewall's Point. Two years after the captains and the kings departed and the tumult and the shouting died, the once beautiful exposition presented the most forsaken and deserted place of human habitation that we have ever looked upon. The Sabbath school was less than modest and worse than disappointing. The first Sunday after an active canvass of the neighborhood two little boys came. The following Sunday the two little boys had evidently had their fill of religion, for not a soul came! Yet that mission today is the New Jamestown church with a membership of forty and a good prospect for future usefulness.
The Second church has been at work for some time in the strawberry fields that border Tanner's Creek on the far side. The La Fayette church, with an aggressive membership of fifty and growing daily, represents that work.
These are the three candlesticks set in the outer circle, about the five parent candlesticks of the old town.
Two mission schools have not as yet matured. One in Highland Park and the other on the edge of Princess Anne county, beyond Berkley.
Such in brief is the story of the Presbyterian church in greater Norfolk. It is to doubt, whether any city in the South can show such fine results from suburban mission Sabbath schools. We have missed many an excellent opportunity, no doubt. We have not measured __ is the full measure of our strength. Too often have we been content with work done rather than eager to conquer greater horizons.
The years that lie behind have held many an opportunity for good work, but the years that lie before offer still greater rewards for consecrated labor. Lower Virginia is as yet in its infancy. The church that wisely established its missions today will hold the greater city of tomorrow.
In an article on the origin and development of the Presbyterian church of Norfolk, in the Virginian-Pilot of December 3, 1916, by Dr. Squires, the following statements are made:
A real pastor did come to the flock ere long, however, in Jonas Mackie. He secured from the County Court of Norfolk, the coveted privilege of preaching the gospel. It was exceedingly difficult for any man, it mattered not how noble and good, how devoted, learned or pious he might be, to secure permission to preach anywhere unless he had taken orders in the Church of England. In that day Norfolk, Va., was more devoted to the English church than London or Canterbury. In 1692 the court permitted Rev. Mr. Mackie to preach at the house of Thomas Ivey on the Eastern Branch, at the home of Richard Philpotts on Tanner's Creek, at the home of John Roberts on Western Branch, and four years later at the home of John Dickson on the Southern Branch. For 24 years this good man continued his ministrations to the Presbyterian flock.
There was no church building erected. One naturally inquires the reason. It was against the law to erect any church in Virginia except only a church of England. A Presbyterian church might have been erected in any town in England, for a Dutch Presbyterian was king, but not in Virginia. Had the spiritual needs of the people been reasonably supplied, the bigotry of such laws might be forgiven, but when they did not supply that need, or even pretend to supply the need, their arrogance is unpardonable. A colony of Baptists had the presumption to settle in Nansemond county, but were forced to migrate to North Carolina, lock, stock and barrel. Quakers were not even permitted to land, but if they came, and come they did, they were driven to Maryland and Massachusetts.
Not only might there be no house or worship erected, but it was not permitted that any record of any religious meeting be kept. Rev. Jonas Mackie and his followers might preach at private houses, but no record of any meeting of session or congregation should in any wise be recorded. And that is why we can not trace our history with more precision and more satisfaction. To the eternal honor of these early Presbyterians, be it said, that though the laws were so arrogant and so tyrannical, yet they were strictly kept. Not a single Presbyterian minister or layman, so far as the record goes, ever broke those unjust laws.
"With the Revolution came at last to these patient people religious and civil liberty."
In considering religious intolerance, it must be remembered that we of the present have the advantage of two centuries over the people of that period. To us freedom of speech and of public worship is so much a matter of course that we find it difficult to make due allowance for the spirit of a past age. Yet nothing can be more unjust than to measure the men of that period by our standards. The average human heart is about the same, whether it beats under an Episcopal or Presbyterian coat; and Cavalier Virginia need not fear comparison either with Puritan Massachusetts or Presbyterian Scotland. In fact Macaulay—whom no one would charge with unfairness to the Presbyterians—shows in the 13th chapter of his history of England that the Revolution of 1689 was more violent in Scotland than in England. The rabbling of Episcopal clergymen therein described was never imitated towards dissenters in Virginia.
When the Scotch commissioners tendered the throne of Scotland to William or Orange, the following scene occurred, as described by Macaulay:
"The oath of office was administered after the Scotch fashion. Argyle recited the words slowly, the royal pair, holding up their hands towards heaven, repeated after him till they came to the last clause. There William paused. That clause contained a promise that he would root out all heretics and all enemies of the true worship of God; and it was notorious that, in the opinion of many Scotchmen, not only all Roman Catholics, but all Protestant Episcopalians, all Independents, Baptists and Quakers, all Lutherans, nay all British Presbyterians who did not hold themselves bound by the Solemn League and Covenant, were enemies of the true worship of God. The King had apprised the commissioners that he could not take this part of the oath without a distinct and public explanation; and they had been authorized by the convention to give such an explanation as would satisfy him. 'I will not,' he now said, 'lay myself under any obligation to be a persecutor.' 'Neither the words of this oath,' and one of the commissioners, not the laws of Scotland, lay any such obligation on your majesty.' 'In that sense then, I swear,' said William; and I desire you all, my lords and gentlemen, to witness that I do so."
No Christian organization of that time is free from reproach. The demeanor of the one in power was very much a question of provocation and opportunity. It is a pity that we can not forget it all, and deprive our common foe of his favorite argument based on our differences with each other. But since that seems to be impossible, it is all the more incumbent on us, in discussing those old occurrences, at least not to make matters worse than they really were. I hope to show that the article above quoted does this in some particulars.
At the outset the article states that it was exceedingly difficult to secure permission to preach unless the applicant had taken Episcopal orders.
Bruce in his Institutional History of Virginia (Vol. 1 p. 263) states that in 1702 there were only four Presbyterian congregations in Virginia, two on the Eastern Shore and two in Norfolk county. Rev. Frances Mackemie had charge of those on the Eastern Shore, and Rev. Josias (not Jonas) Mackie had charge of Norfolk county. They secured licenses without difficulty.
Dr. Foote's Sketches of Virginia give numerous instances of licenses granted in connection with his accounts of different Presbyterian congregations, both in Eastern Virginia and the Valley. The fact is that the granting of licenses was the rule and their refusal the exception.
The article under comment states that no church building was erected, and alleges as the reason that it was against the law to erect any dissenting church building in Virginia. It states that the law of Virginia in this respect was different from that of England, and characterizes the Virginia law as bigoted and arrogant.
The answer is that the law of Virginia on the subject was the same as that of England, and did not forbid the erection of church buildings by dissenters. On the accession of William of Orange to the throne in 1689 the famous Act of Toleration was passed. Though far short of our modern ideas, it was hailed as a great triumph for the advocates of religious freedom. Macaulay says of it in his 11th chapter:
This law, abounding with contradictions which every smatterer in political philosophy can detect, did what a law framed by the utmost skill of the greatest masters of political philosophy might have failed to do. That the provisions which have been recapitulated are cumbrous, puerile, inconsistent with each other, inconsistent with the true theory of religious liberty, must be acknowledged. But they removed a vast mass of evil without shocking a cast mass of prejudice; they put an end at once and forever, without one division in either House of Parliament, without one riot in the streets, with scarcely one audible murmur even from the classes most deeply tainted with bigotry, to a persecution which had raged during four generations, which had broken innumerable hearts, which had made innumerable firesides desolate, which had filled the prisons with men of whom the world was not worthy, which had driven thousands of those honest, diligent and God-fearing yeomen and artisans, who are the true strength of a nation, to seek a refuge beyond the ocean. Such a defence, however weak it may appear to some shallow speculators, will probably be thought complete by statesmen.
The Act authorized the licensing of dissenting ministers on their taking an oath of allegiance, making a declaration against transubstantiation, and subscribing to those of the articles of religion to which they did not object. William of Orange, himself a Presbyterian, gave it his assent with hearty satisfaction, and the Puritan divines readily took the oaths.
The Act gave dissenters full authority to have their own meeting houses, only requiring them to be registered, and to have their doors unbolted--a mere precaution against their misuse. It protected them from disturbance by making it a penal offense to disturb their congregations or to misuse their ministers.
This Act was acknowledged as in force in Virginia by the House of Burgesses at its session of 1699. (See 3 Hen. Sts. p. 171).
The best evidence that there was no prohibition against erecting such churches is the large number that were actually constructed before the Revolution. Waddell's Annals of Augusta county give a number that were erected in the valley, some probably as early as 1740. The Stone church, about eight miles from Staunton, and the churches at Tinkling Spring, and Timber Ridge are well known examples. Foote in his sketches gives their history, and also relates the activities of Hanover Presbytery under the guidance of Samuel Davies, one of the best and greatest names of Virginia.
The same work (First Series, p. 361 and Seq.) contains the diary of Col. James Gordon, from which it appears that there were some such "meeting houses B" on the Northern Neck.
The real explanation for the absences of such churches in this vicinity was probably the weakness, numerical and financial, of the Presbyterians.
In the Northern Neck this financial weakness drove them to methods of raising money which their brethren of the present would hardly approve. Colonel Gordon in his diary tells us that on June 30, 1702, a lottery was drawn for the advantage of the congregation--and in a satisfactory manner, for which he says, "Blessed by God."
The statement that dissenters were not allowed to keep church records must also be an error. I am reliably informed that the records of the old Stone Church in Augusta county go back as far as 1740. Foots's Sketches contain copious extracts from church records long antedating the Revolution.
The administration of the laws was not severe. When Francis Mackemie applied to Governor Nicholson in 1699 for a license to preach, the governor called him into the Council chamber and informed him that "The dissenters should enjoy every liberty conferred by law, provided that they refrained from disturbing the peace of the government; this was all the encouragement they could or should expect, and if any one undertook to interfere with that liberty, then he was to be prosecuted for such illegal molestation."
On May 21, 1739, Governor Gooch, in answer to an address from the Synod of Philadelphia, as to some of their members who were contemplating a settlement in the valley, said: "You may rest assured that no interruption shall ge given to any minister of your profession, who shall come among them, so as they conform themselves to the rules prescribed by the Act of Toleration in England, by taking the oaths enjoined thereby, and registering the place of their meeting, and behave themselves peaceably towards the government."
The article under discussion characterizes the laws as arrogant and tyrannical (though they had been approved by a Presbyterian king and acquiesced in by the English Presbyterian church), and lands the Presbyterian ministers and laymen for obeying them/
It might be rejoined that the absence of records showing convictions testifies as strongly in favor of the moderation of the state officials as the saintliness of the ministers and laymen. But unfortunately for both view-points, there were prosecutions and convictions. They were usually provoked by intemperate language, when religious zeal caused the speaker to cross the boundary line, and attack the Established Church. No one ever suffered as long as he kept within the bounds prescribed for himself by the noble Davies. In his letter to the Bishop of London, written from Hanover on January 19, 1752, he says:
"For my further vindication, my lord, I beg leave to declare, and I defy the world to confute me, that in all the sermons I have preached in Virginia, I have not wasted one minute in exclaiming or reasoning against the peculiarities of the established church, nor so much as assigned the reasons of my own non-conformity. I have not exhausted my zeal in railing against the established clergy, in exposing their imperfections, some of which lie naked to my view, or in depreciating their characters. No, my lord, I have matters of infinitely greater importance to exert my zeal and spend my time and strength upon—to preach repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ—to alarm secure impenitents; to reform the profligate to undeceive the hypocrite; to raise up the hands that hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees--these are the doctrines I preach, these are the ends I pursue; and these my artifices to gain proselytes; and if I ever divert from these to ceremonial trifles, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
I can find no better climax to this contribution than those beautiful sentiments.
Robert M. Hughes, Dec. 11, 1916.
* * * * * *
By Helen Grant Warren (Mrs. J. C.)
Women's Auxiliary Historian
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NORFOLK, VIRGINIA
Formerly "The Church of the Elizabeth River"
"The busy Presbyterian has been too indifferent to the history of his Church, he has not busied himself enough about the gathering of facts for present vindication and future information. For this reason, we have failed to see much Presbyterians have done." (Dr. Edward Mack)
For definite consideration, we will speak of the first Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia, formerly called "Church of the Elizabeth River," which dates its origin to some years previous to 1678.
According to Norfolk County Court records, "James Porter, minister of Lynnhaven, and Mrs. Mary Ivy, daughter of Capt. Thomas Ivy, were married August 14, 1678." This is the first record found of the name of this first minister. How long he served this congregation before his marriage is not known. To confirm his ministry for the following five years, however, there is a letter in the Massachusetts Historical Society written in 1684 by Francis Makemie in which he says: "On my visit to Elizabeth River in May, I found a poor desolate people mourning the loss of their dissenting pastor from Ireland, whom the Lord had been pleased to remove by death the summer before." This was 1683, also the year the Rev. Mr. Porter's will was probated, and five years after his marriage.
At least five years of service may be counted to his credit, very probably more.
While Presbyterians had made numerous attempts to gain a foothold in Virginia, little progress had been made. A letter from the Presbytery of Philadelphia, to the Presbytery of Dublin in 1710, has the following extract: "In all Virginia we have one small congregation on the Elizabeth River and some ten families favoring our way on the Rappahannock and York." Struggling families of this faith and small congregations were found here and there, but no real guiding hand strong enough to organize and develop them appeared until Francis Makemie came. Definite and fruitful were the years he spent in this service.
To this struggling, pastorless congregation on the Elizabeth River, we are told he ministered "as he was able" until 1692. He was also busy organizing other bodies of worshipers on Eastern Shore, Maryland, and Eastern Shore, Virginia, traveling from one to another. While on a trip to Charleston in 1685, he was forced to turn back to this section on account of the weather, where he remained for almost a year, having accepted the invitation of Col. Anthony Lawson and other families of Lynnhaven. Records show that he owned a house in this locality. In addition to being a preacher, Makemie was a business man of no small ability. His success in this line enabled him to carry on his plans for organization. He was truly called "the Father of Organized Presbyterianism in America."
Rev. Josias Mackie took charge of the congregation on Elizabeth River from 1692 to 1716, about twenty-five years while Makemie was giving more of his time to his other charges. These were hard years for Presbyterians: no church building, and only by special permission from the Court was preaching allowed even in one's home. Mr. Mackie obtained permission to preach at the following places: a house of Mr. Thomas Ivy's on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River; a house belonging to Mr. Richard Philpotts in Tanner's Creek District; a house belonging to Mr. John Roberts on the Western Branch. To these four points, the present day city of Norfolk is about central.
From the time of Mr. Mackie's death in 1716 for about seventy-five years, little in the line of Church data can be found, though it is believed the Church functioned even though unheard.
Norfolk was passing through trying times, which in some measure explains this silence. Persecution of both a civil and religious nature had much oppressed the puritans. War clouds, which had been gathering for several years, broke. In a double measure, it seemed, the affliction narrowed down to our very shores when the frigate Liverpool and other vessels under Lord Dunmore fired upon Norfolk on the afternoon of January 1, 1776, burning it to the ground. Material that might have proved valuable history went up in flames.
When the war ended a new era was at hand. In 1784, the Act for establishment of religious freedom under Thomas Jefferson was passed and persecution for religion's sake was at an end. A year previous to this, Presbyterians had taken the lead in this important matter when the Presbytery of Hanover presented an appeal to the General Assembly of Virginia which may still be found in Virginia's Archives.
April 25, 1800, a meeting was held in the Court House and plans made for building a Presbyterian Church. Twenty members were present. It was decided that a brick building be erected on the corner of Catharine (now Bank) and Charlotte Sts. Shares were sold at $100.00 per share, and contributions anywhere from $25.00 to $300.00 were received, making a total of over $12,000 in subscriptions by 87 people. Pastor's salary was to be derived from pew rentals. At this time, services were held in the Court House on Sunday; prayer meeting during the week in homes of members. When the Church was completed it was considered the handsomest in the Borough. It was the only one which attained the distinction of having a bell, hence the reason for its being called Bell Church.
Some years previous to this in 1792 Benjamin Porter Grigsby and Archibald Alexander having just finished their theological training under that outstanding teacher, Rev. Wm. Graham, were licensed by the Presbytery of Hanover and sent as missionaries to eastern Virginia. They started this journey together, but soon separated.
With his possessions in two saddle bags and riding a mule, Rev. Benj. Porter Grigsby made his first visit to Norfolk. From the pen of his son Hugh Blair Grigsby, we also learn he visited the borough at this time. Very naturally a friendship was formed between the young preacher and the Norfolk Presbyterians which proved to be lasting and culminated in his returning to be their pastor some years later.
Mr. Grigsby's first charge was the Churches of Lewisburg, Greenbrier Co. and Union, Monroe Co.
We have good reason to believe that Mr. Grigsby visited the congregation here often before assuming regular charge. From family records, we know he owned a farm in Greenbrier Co. where he spent the summers and served the Churches there. In the fall he returned to Norfolk to guide the Church here.
By order of the General Assembly he again came to this part of Virginia, which included Norfolk, in 1801. He found the new Church under construction with two Ruling Elders, William McKinder and John McPhail in charge. He became identified with the work we are told and under his guidance the Church was completed in 1802. From a record book in the Church is found minutes of a congregational meeting held the 17th of March 1804 in which it says Rev. Benjamin Porter Grigsby was "unanimously invited to remain as pastor." In 1806 he married Elizabeth McPherson, the daughter of Hugh and Lilias Blair McPherson, two of the older members of the Norfolk colony of Presbyterians.
The home of this young couple was on Catharine (Bank) Street next to the Academy, a school for boys, at the corner of what in recent years became Grigsby Place. A filling station now stands on this site.
Wednesday evening services were at one time held in the living room of Mr. Grigsby's home. Later these meetings were held in the Whitehead house, located on the corner of Catharine (Bank) Street facing Freemason. The Bible used in these services is now owned by a descendent of the family, a resident of Norfolk. This Bible is in four volumes and is in a good state of preservation.
Surely a church functioning as this one did with a membership large enough and influential enough to undertake what was to be the handsomest building in the Borough at that time was no new Church - only a new building.
We sincerely believe that time will unfold some tangible evidence which will reveal the unbroken line from the Church of the Elizabeth River to the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Virginia.
Mr. Grigsby's scholarly attainments and attractive social qualities, combined with his executive ability and devotion to his calling, bore testimony to his future success. He died in 1810 at the age of forty, a martyr to his duty, having contracted Yellow Fever from a victim, whose funeral he conducted just one week previous. His death seemed untimely, having served this congregation only about nine years. He is buried in Trinity Church Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, where his grave, marked by a monument, can be easily found. He left a widow and three children, the eldest four years of age, who later became Virginia's famous historian and scholar, Hugh Blair Grigsby.
The name of Grigsby touched a responsive chord in the hearts of many people of Norfolk, where live a number of his descendents, well-known to some of the members of this Church.
It is interesting to know that the Communion Service used before Grigsby's pastorate was brought from Scotland by Hugh and Lilias Blair McPherson, the parents of Grigsby's wife, Elizabeth McPherson. She later married Dr. N. C. Whitehead, a prominent member of this Church.
This service then consisted of four goblets and two baskets which were set aside by the McPhersons for sacramental use - kept in their home. Later when the baskets were not sufficient for the growing congregation, they were replaced by four others. The original goblets continued in use until individual cups were adopted by the merged Churches. (First & Ghent)
This family also furnished and prepared the elements for the Communion. On through the generations, a period of 112 years, this sacred mission was continued on behalf of the descendants of the Whitehead and Grigsby families, this service was presented to the Church on the occasion of the merging of the Ghent and First Church. The last member of this family to perform this sacred mission was Mrs. Emily Whitehead Taylor; though not a member of this Church, she kept the trust committed to her by her parents. Now others perform this act of love.
Another gift of historical significance, presented by other members of this family, is the Baptismal Bowl. It bears the following inscription, which speaks for itself, "1st May 1818—Presented to the Presbyterian Church by Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Lamb, daughters of Samuel Kerr, Esq., one of the founders of this Church in the Borough of Norfolk in 1798. Rev. Benj. Grigsby, First Pastor. W. B. Lamb, Chairman of the Trustees."
Four years after Mr. Grigsby's death, the Church was put under the care of East Hanover Presbytery (1814). Three additional Ruling Elders were elected: Wm. Maxwell, afterwards President of Hampden-Sydney College, Robert Souter, and Robert Robertson.
Though living in Richmond, it is believed the Rev. John Holt Rice served the Church for the next four years. He was a man of national reputation as a scholar and a writer whose "whole soul glowed through his speaking eye." This church might well be proud of any heritage given her by this distinguished man. Some years later, he became a professor in Union Theological Seminary, of which institution as an institution he was founder."
Rev. John D. Paxton, D. D., a man of great consecration, gave five years of his time from 1815 to 1819 to this Church. Little has come down to us regarding Mr. Paxton. Resolutions by the Session, approved by the congregation "attest his worth as a man, his high character and faithful service as a minister."
Rev. Joshua T. Russels was called in 1820, remaining until 1824. Of the brief data found in regard to Mr. Russel's incumbency, his years of service must have been fruitful as evidenced by the number of additions to the Church while he was minister. Eight of his members left to help form a Church in Portsmouth in 1822.
The next to guide this flock from 1825 to 1834 was the Rev. Shepherd D. Kollock, D. D., a native of Elizabethtown, N. J. He graduated from the College of New Jersey with high honors; studied theology under his brother, the Rev. Henry Kollock, D. D., and Rev. John McDowell, D. D. At one time he was Professor of Logic and Rhetoric in the University of North Carolina.
Rev. John D. Matthews next served as pastor from 1835 to 1840. As a preacher, he was eloquent and impressive. He resigned to accept a call from Lexington, Kentucky. During his pastorate in 1836, a new Church was erected on the site formerly occupied by Christ Church, prior to its destructive by fire. This was across from St. Paul's Church on Church St. One hundred and twenty-two of its members left to go to this new building called Second Church. By an order of Presbytery, Bell Church after nearly thirty-five years of service closed its doors. The two congregations became one again, retaining the original name, First Church.
The bell from the old Church was never hung. When steeple and ornamental front were added by the new Church years later, this bell proved to be cracked and unsuitable for use. A new one was purchased in 1854. This was in use until the Church moved to Colonial Ave.
Bell Church, altered and smaller, has been used by a colored Baptist congregation for many years.
Little data can be found regarding Rev. Samuel Cassells, who was next pastor from 1841 to 1846. An important legislation, however, was inaugurated. During his time the first deacons were elected. This was in 1842, when F. F. Ferguson and John D. Gorsley were elected to this office. In 1845 the name of John W. Freeman was added.
Mr. Cassells was succeeded by Rev. Samuel J. P. Anderson, D. D., who served from 1846 to 1851. He was a preacher of much ability.
Succeeding Doctor Anderson, came Rev. Geo. D. Armstrong, D. D., LL. D., who still lives in the hearts and minds of many members of this Church.
For forty years, 1851 to 1891, Doctor Armstrong gave continuous and faithful service to this Church. A few years after beginning his pastorate, Norfolk, was visited by that most terrible plague, the Yellow Fever pestilence of 1855.
Doctor Armstrong was a young man then—faithful and unselfish in his work, as one ripened by years of experience. At a time when there were 1200 to 1500 cases of this fever, when deaths registered as high as eighty in one day, when eleven out of eighteen physicians had died, there was much to be done. Not only to his own congregation, but to the community at large, he was truly a ministering angel, hiding his own sorrows that he might lighten the sorrows of others. Death came several times to his own home, taking his wife and three of his children.
At the solicitation of Mr. Wm. Maxwell, secretary of Virginia Historical Society, Doctor Armstrong wrote a series of letters on "The Summer of the Pestilence," that the record might enter into the history of the state, not only as a narrative, but to serve as a guide. These letters were printed in book form the following year. Though small in size, this volume was mammoth in importance and inestimable in value to all, particularly to medical profession.
At the close of this epidemic, when services at the Church were resumed, a much depleted and sorrow-stricken congregation, ranging from 60 to 80 in number was in attendance.
Five years after this terrible siege, the next shadow to cast gloom over the Church and the community was the "War Between the States." Doctor Armstrong was still here. Calamity awaited. The town was overrun by enemies. Through some personal grudge borne by the officer in charge of the Federal forces, Doctor Armstrong was forbidden his own pulpit, which part of the time was filled by the order of this officer. Resenting this unjust treatment, none of Dr. Armstrong's congregation attended these services through loyalty to their pastor. It was fifteen months before he was allowed to return to his home and Church. During this time he suffered long imprisonment at both Old Point and Hatteras.
In the meantime Mr. W. D. Bagnall, a ruling Elder well fitted to carry on the work, proved a great dependence to the congregation. He visited the sick, conducted services when allowed, and helped in many other ways.
At the close of the War, the Communicants numbered about 200. "Though cast down, we are not destroyed," said Doctor Armstrong.
The Church experienced an unusual outpouring of God's Spirit the latter part of 1870 and 1871 in a wonderful revival of religion, which came not from any special series of services or preaching on the part of any other minister. The membership increased to 325. Pastor and people both felt much encouraged.
The next period in the history of the Church might be spoken of as the Colonization Period.
Beginning with the organization of Second Church in 1872 numerous successful ventures to form new churches were made and Doctor Armstrong's vision for enlargement of the bounds of the church was being realized. (See Branch Churches)
A Sabbath School had functioned in connection with the Church ever since the early years of Bell Church's existence. Here and there in the Church records mention is made of this school. Mrs. Holmes was the first superintendent. "So far as can be learned, it was the first organized in the old Borough and was for many years the only Sabbath School in the town." Mr. Charles Reid once said he taught in this school as early as 1819 or 1820.
In 18176, Ruling Elder George Tait, a man of high ideals and consecration, was elected Superintendent of the Sunday School. For twenty-two consecutive years until the time of his death in 1989, his church was ever first and the children of the Church were his special care. During Colonel Tait's years in the Sunday School, Mrs. Armstrong was leading the little children of the Infant Class. Throughout all the varied work of the Church, Doctor Armstrong's faithful wife labored by his side, leading in all branches of the women's work.
Dr. Armstrong resigned from active pastorate of the Church in 1891. At this time he became Pastor Emeritus, an office of honor. This brought to a close one of the most successful and eventful pastorates in the history of the Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Armstrong served First Presbyterian Church through many hard years. His faith in God and his consecrated life enabled him to surmount difficulties. He made adversity his opportunity and ever persevered. These valuable traits of character coupled with his trained and cultured mind gave him power, particularly in the early years of his manhood. It is true those were the days of opportunity, but how few knew how to grasp opportunity. His wise leadership resulted in the spread of the gospel throughout Norfolk and its vicinity. Five churches owe their existence to the faithful work of Doctor Armstrong, his officers and members. Doctor Armstrong passed to his reward in 1899—aged 86 years.
Rev. James I. Vance, D. D., succeeded Doctor Armstrong in the active duties of preacher and pastor in October 1891. He remained with this organization until 1895. This was a period of marked growth and development. The enrollment grew to 425. Doctor Vance was a young man of dynamic personality, filled with zeal and love for his work. He appealed to people in all walks of life, particularly to the young. His unusual ability as an organizer, a teacher of the Bible, and preacher was soon recognized. Under his pastorate, rented pews were abolished. Rev. Wm. Junkins was sent as a missionary to Korea in 1892. His entire support was undertaken by this Church.
Dr. J. N. Howerton next followed as minister, serving from January 19, 1895 to December 22, 1896. He resigned to become pastor of a Church in Charlotte, N. C. Doctor Howerton was a preacher of much ability.
From 1897 to 1901 Rev. Edward Mack, D. D., Ph.D., LL. D., now Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament in Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, was pastor. He is still remembered for his scholarly sermons. While here Doctor Mack gave ample evidence of those qualities which have so highly distinguished him in later years. He has done much to preserve the history of this Church.
One of the last acts Doctor Mack was called upon to perform before leaving Norfolk was to reside over the meeting held in the home of Mrs. George D. Armstrong, 420 Fairfax ave., October 13, 1901, for the organization of Ghent Church.
1899 marked the beginning of a Bible Class for men under the capable leadership of Mr. Joseph Brown, who had recently moved to the city and had joined this Church. The class, known as the Joseph Brown Bible Class—later Brotherhood Bible Class, has proved a most important factor in the life of the Church. As a big brother, it stands ready and willing to help the younger and weaker churches. With the idea of future colonization, this class bought while Doctor Mark was here several lots on the corner of Colonial and Redgate Avenues, which later became part of the present site of this Church building.
Doctor Joseph Rennie accepted a call to First Church in 1902. He labored faithfully and well until 1912—the time of his resignation. He is still remembered for his strong sermons, his prompt response to the call of the sick and needy and his watchful care of the poor in his midst.
The growth of Norfolk was now westward. Many members of the Church had moved their homes to this new section called Ghent. The officers and members, realizing the inconvenience caused by this distance, as well as the depleted condition through the loss of members, thought it best to accept the invitation made by Ghent Church at this time to unite with them. After 76 years in their home on Church Street, Norfolk First now moved to the new home of its youngest child on the corner of Redgate and Colonial Avenues. The first service of this united congregation was held April 7, 1912, in its present location with the name of First Presbyterian Church continuing.
Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison, D. D., minister of Ghent Church, was chosen to be pastor of this united congregation, remaining until 1921. He was prominent as an organizer, and as an exponent of Presbyterianism. Under his efficient leadership and effective preaching, the Church grew. Doctor Hutchison was alive to every movement which might prove a benefit to his Church and community. His Bible Class for the Business Men of the City was outstanding. A radical change in Women's Work was brought about under his guidance. The Women's Auxiliary was formed and Circle Plan adopted. Mrs. R. E. DeJarnette, daughter of Doctor Armstrong, became its first president, a most fitting choice. Under Doctor Hutchison's ministry, Highland Park and Ocean View became successful missions.
During Doctor Hutchison's years of service in Norfolk, there was first heard the rumble of war by this generation. When the call came to this country for help, thirty-six young men from this Church volunteered for service.
Rev. Joseph G. Venable, D. D., succeeded Doctor Hutchison from 1921 to 1925. Doctor Venable, a man of strong personality, through his magnetic sermons, brought many to the sanctuary. He was outstanding in his zeal for implanting the seeds of religion in the youth of the Church, ever keeping in touch with the Sunday School work in all its branches. While he was here, a house was bought next to the Church on Redgate Avenue to accommodate the overflow of the Sunday School.
Dr. J. L. MacMillan, present pastor of this Church, succeeded Doctor Venable in 1925. By his sound and fearless sermons and his unfailing interest in every movement for good in the city, as well as the Church, he has strongly endeared himself to his congregation and the community. During one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Church, Doctor MacMillan has ever upheld to his people the high ideals of Christian living. The very complete and up to date Sunday School and Church House plant has been added to the Church during his pastorate. Rotation in office of Elders and Deacons was adopted in 1934 under his leadership.
From the days of its early history to the present time, a period of over 250 years, many Godly men and women have through their loyalty, generosity and consecrated service done much for the development of this Church. In turn, many have received blessings beyond number.
The writer of this paper, which is only a sketch, regrets that time nor space will permit of even mentioning many faithful ones who have contributed so unsparingly of their time, their means and their love to the work of their Savior through the agencies of this Church. Many names of those who labored for its growth and permanence have been lost. No records of them are here. Their names are written in heaven.
A prominent figure in the work recalled by many of the present day is Mr. Charles Reid, whose entire life of 99 years was spent under the ministration and in the service of the Church. Dating back to Bell Church days his name is listed among the trustees as early as 1830; later as treasurer. He refused to serve as Elder that he might continue in this most important office of trustee. His wise counsels proved of great value in the affairs of business.
No one loved the Church more dearly or labored more diligently to preserve its standards through its young members than Mr. H. Boswell Bagnall, a trustee, a teacher, and a consistent member of this Church for a long number of years.
Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Royster, through their spiritual devotion and love for the Church and their generous gifts, are largely responsible for this beautiful and commodious Church building. Through permanent endowments also have Mr. and Mrs. Royster, by their breadth of vision and unselfish attitude, promoted the cause of Presbyterianism through the South.
Mr. Robert W. Santos, a consecrated member of this Church for seventy-seven years and a Ruling Elder for fifty-three years—ordained in 1872— gave many years of valuable service to this Church. Through his zeal much of historical interest has been preserved for future generations.
In conclusion, the words of Dr. James I. Vance, written on occasion of the Church's anniversary in 1892, are striking. "There is a mighty inspiration that comes down to us from a noble past, but the history of past achievements is a snare if it does not become an inspiration."
Helen Grant Warren (Mrs. J. C.) Historian
Woman's Auxiliary, First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Va.
Missionaries under support of the Church during some part of its history:
Rev. Wm. Junkin, to Korea
Rev. J. Woodrow Hassell, to Maragune, Japan
Rev. H. Kerr Taylor, to Tsing Kiang Pu, China
Mrs. H. Kerr Taylor, to Tsing Kiang Pu, China
Rev. G. W. Taylor, to Pernambuco, Brazil
Felix Welton, M. D., to Yenchen Ku, China
Miss Pattye Sutherland, to Morelia, Mexico
Members of the Church engaged in mission work—foreign and home
Rev. Frank Brown, to Su chowfu, China
Miss Elizabeth Corriher (nurse), to China
Miss Ruby Diehl (nurse), to China
Rev. Jno. Raymond Smith, to Ga.
Miss Alison Sterling, to Banner Elk, N. C.
James M. MacMillan, Student for Medical Missions
Miss Ruth Paul, Graduate of Assembly's Training School
Miss Margaret Smith, Graduate of Assembly's Training School
Mountain Mission Work:
Grundy School, Grundy, Va., under the capable supervision of Dr. and Mrs. Frank Clark has ever been an object of much interest of our members. At various times contributions (individual) have been made towards enlargement and modernization of the school, salaries of the teachers and tuition of pupils. The Auxiliary has also shared largely in different phases of the work at this school.
At the first meeting of the subscribers for building a Presbyterian Church in the Borough of Norfolk at the Court House this 25th day of April 1800 agreeable to an advertisement in the Herald. The following members appeared and answered to their names:
Samuel Kerr Danl. McPherson Alex Cowan Finley Ferguson Phin Dana Thos. Allen Benj. Payne Wm. Deak Jas. Christian Jas. Thompson Wm. Rogers Geo. Finch Jno Randall Andrew Martin Dudley Woodworth J. McPhail Chas. P. Young Martin Fisk Hugh McPherson Robert Gibson
Other names mentioned at this meeting, but not in this list are:
Other names appearing in the early life of the Church between 1800-1815 are:
Robt. Maitland Jesse Newcomb Dr. N. C. Whitehead Geo. McIntosh J. W. Maxwell Richard Taylor Robt. Robertson Warren Ashley Robt. Souther D. Patterson Hugh Scott Robt. Keeling Wm. B. Lamb Thos Jennings Geo. W. Camp Jno. Warren Jos. Newcomb Jno. Southgate Edw. Waddey
(This was taken from the original record book.)
Known at that time as Middle Street Church was organized in 1822 with five members. The following year thirteen from Norfolk First joined. Previous to this, services were held frequently in Trinity Episcopal Church by Norfolk First pastors, Paxton and Russell. Quoting from paper by Rev. S. B. McClure, "Rev. J. J. Pierce was supply until January, 1823, supported by the congregation and a missionary society of Norfolk First." In 1851 the church divided. High Street Church (Old School) was formed, Norfolk First assisted in Sunday School. Dr. Armstrong often preached for this new congregation. At the close of the War Between the States, the two congregation united again.
Organized July 2, 1872, with fifty-five from First Church as Charter members. The Mission Sunday School conducted by First Church on James Street (Monticello Ave.) in 1871 under the leadership of Ruling Elders W. D. Reynolds and David Humphreys "might be considered the genesis of the present Second Presbyterian Church," said Colonel George Tait. (Dr. Armstrong's ministry)
In the same year 1872, but prior to the organization of Second Church, a number of interested workers from First Church, with Ruling Elder W. H. Broughton in charge conducted a prayer meeting and Sunday School in Atlantic City. This mission was turned over to the new Second Church. The Church was organized December 30, 1883, when Colley Memorial began its existence. (Dr. Armstrong's ministry)
In September 1874 a mission school was opened on Mosely Street with Ruling Elder Robert W. Santos, Superintendent. In 1879 the school was moved to Park Ave. Brambleton, Ruling Elder W. H. Burroughs, Superintendent. A chapel was built by First Church. In 1884 the Church was organized with 40 members from First Church when present building was erected. (Dr. Armstrong's ministry)
In 1872 a Sunday School was started in Berkley by Rev. Mr. Irwin and Colonel George Tait of the Portsmouth Church. The following year this school was put under the care of First Church, Norfolk. It was organized June 1889 with fourteen members from First Church as a beginning. Present building was erected in 1891; dedicated by Doctor Armstrong, June same year. This was one of the last public acts of Doctor Armstrong's active ministry.
KNOX (PARK PLACE)
A mission school was opened February 1885 in a house belonging to J. C. Snyder in Huntersville. Ruling Elder R. Frank Vaughn was first Superintendent. This school closed in July 1886 due to fast changing neighborhood. Early in 1892 the work was resumed under the care of Ruling Elder R. S. Cohn and school was moved to Park Place.
Sessional records show that on Dec. 1, 1897, four lots and buildings thereon at the corner of 28th and Llewellyn Aves. were purchased by trustees of First Church and conveyed as gift to W. E. Face, E. Black and J. C. Snyder, trustees for the purpose of establishing a church in Park Place. Thus Park Place Presbyterian, later know as Knox Church had its beginning, its organization taking place in 1898. (Dr. Armstrong)
Ghent Church was organized in 1901 with a membership of 43. This number was almost entirely from First Church. Sunday School and Church services were held in the rear of a drug store on Botetourt St. at the foot of Ghent Bridge. Students from the Seminary and supply ministers filled the pulpit until Dr. J. N. H. Summerell came to be pastor. This same year (1902) a small Church building was erected on the corner of Colonial and Redgate Avenues. This location had been selected and a substantial payment made by the Joseph Brown Bible Class several years previous. Dr. Summerell resigned August 1908.
Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison, D. D., was called to supply the Church Feb. 1910, after the pulpit had been vacant nearly two years. He was installed April 10, 1910. The building soon proved to be inadequate for growing congregation. March 5, 1911, cornerstone for new building was laid by Mrs. George D. Armstrong. Building was completed and first service of the reunited Church was celebrated April 7, 1912. Dr. Hutchison was called to be pastor of the joint congregation. (Dr. Rennie's ministry)
Highland Park Sunday School was opened by Knox Church Jan. 2, 1910, Mr. Tom Moore, Superintendent. Lambert's Point Church took part in this work in 1911—was transferred to care of First Church October, 1912, with Mr. George B. Crow, Superintendent and Ruling Elder George H. Brown, leader of prayer meeting. In 1914, a committee from First Church, consisting of George B. Crow, Walter H. Robertson, Wm. S. Royster, Finlay F. Ferguson and Jacob Kreamer was appointed to buy a site and erect a building for the growing school. New building, Kellam Ave. and 43rd St. dedicated Jan. 27, 1915. Addition to building built by this church in 1917.
Feb. 3, 1924, First Church dismissed this mission to care of Lambert's Point Church. Through the ministry of Rev. W. W. Grover, a union of Lambert's Point and Highland Park was consummated. Name was changed to Westminister. Location moved to 39th and Hampton Blvd.
A deep interest has always been shown by the women of First Church in this work. They sponsored for a number of years a sewing school which met one afternoon each week and the Sunday School which met each Sunday afternoon.
In December 1920 First Presbyterian Church opened a mission school at Ocean View. February 1921 the mission moved to larger quarters. Spring of 1921 a committee from First Church, acting with a committee from the mission made plans for building a Church. Members from First Church on this committee were Messrs. W. S. Royster, Jacob Kraemer, and J. T. Moreland. Cornerstone laid July 22, 1922. Aiding in this work was the Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Church. (Dr. Hutchison)
1918 a Sunday School was started. Meetings were held in homes. The two lots on which Church was built in 1921 were a gift of the Brotherhood Bible Class. Church was organized 1928. Addition to building made in 1932, which was a gift of the Brotherhood Bible Class.
HAMPTON COURT SCHOOL (COLORED)
This school was active for about a year at 919 Cleveland St. with Mr. Geo. H. Brown as superintendent. (Dr. Hutchison)
To the Glory of God
And in loving memory of the
Rev. George Dodd Armstrong, D. D., LL. D.
"A Preacher of Righteousness"
Born at Mendham, N. J., Sept. 15, 1899
Pastor of this Church
July 1851—July 1891
"For I determine not to know anything among you
Save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." I Cor. 11:2.
In loving remembrance
An Elder in this Church for
COMMUNION TABLE FROM OLD CHURCH
In memory of George Tait, Superintendent
From the Sunday School
THE TOWER WINDOW
The Tower Window
To the Glory of God
And in loving memory of
Fanny Webb Royster
Born June 29, 1818
Died July 12m 1863
To the Glory of God
And in loving memory of
Annie Dornin Tunstall
Born March 7, 1855
Died January 7, 1895
First Presbyterian Church
Presented in honor of
Frank W. Blake
Who is an Elder in this Church
TABLET UNDER MEMORIAL WINDOW
The above window was erected
To the Glory of God
And in loving memory of
Frank Sheppard Royster
To the Glory of God
And in loving memory of
Frank Sheppard Royster
From his wife, Mary S. Royster
And his four children
Fannie Royster Cooke
Mary Royster White
William S. Royster
Frank Sheppard Royster, Jr.
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Dr. Edward H. Jones, D. D., 1960
"The Church of the Elizabeth River" was the name by which our church was known in the earliest annals dating back somewhere around 1678. A number of Scotch Presbyterians migrated to this area of Virginia and settled on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River as early as 1670. True to their Presbyterian heritage they gathered in different homes for the worship of God: "the house of Mr. Thomas Ivy on the Eastern Branch; Mr, John Roberts on the Western Branch and Mr. John Dickson on the Southern Branch."
Early records reveal that the Rev. James Porter was married to Mary Ivy, daughter of Captain Thomas Ivy, on August 14, 1678. He continued his ministry until his death in August 1683,
Rev. Francis Makemie visited this area in May 1684 and wrote: "In my visit to Elizabeth River in May, I found a poor desolate people, mourning the loss of their dissenting minister from Ireland, whom the Lord had been pleased to remove by death the summer before."
Rev. Josias Makie assumed charge of this worshipping congregation in June of 1692 and ministered to them until his death in 1716. There followed a period of eighty-five years when no records are available.
In 1801 Rev. Benjamin Grigsby was appointed by the General Assembly at Philadelphia to itinerate through the lower parts of Virginia. He found an organized church in the Borough of Norfolk and was invited to take charge of the congregation. A church building was erected in 1802 on the corner of Bank and Charlotte Streets which was known as the "Bell Church." It still stands there. Rev. Benjamin Grigsby died in the yellow fever epidemic in the autumn of 1816.
The names of the ministers and the years of their ministry are as follows:
Rev. James Porter 1678-1683
Rev. Francis Makemie 1683-1692
Rev. Josias Makie 1692-1716
Rev. Benjamin Grigsby 1801-1810
Rev. John H. Rice 1811-1814
Rev. John D. Paxton 1814-1819
Rev. Joshua T. Russell 1820-1824
Rev. Shephard K. Kollock 1825-1834
Rev. John D. Matthew 1835-1840
Rev. Samuel J. Casselle 1841-1846
Rev. S. J. P. Anderson 1846-1851
Rev. George D. Armstrong 1851-1891
Rev. James I. Vance 1891-1895
Rev. J. R. Howerton 1895-1896
Rev. Edward Mack 1897-1901
Rev. Joseph Rennie 1902-1912
Rev. J. N. H. Summerell 1902-1908
Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison 1910-1921
Rev. Joseph G. Venable 1922-1925
Rev. Jason Leon MacMillan 1925-1950
Rev. Edward H. Jones1950-
Dr. George Dodd Armstrong's ministry was the longest in the history of the church (1851-1891). The pestilence of the Yellow Fever in 1855 and the War between the States (1861-1865) occurred during his pastorate. Mrs, Robert E. DeJarnette, his daughter, is still a member of the church at the age of one hundred years.
Our present beautiful church edifice was erected during the ministry of Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison and the mother church and the Ghent Church were consolidated on Sunday, April 7, 1912, to carry on the name and history of the First Presbyterian Church.
Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan served as beloved pastor of this church for a quarter of a century and the spacious, well-appointed educational building was erected during his ministry.
Many fine young men have entered the Christian ministry from this church among which we mention the names of Dr. Frank A. Brown, John R. Smith, L. Randolph Harrison, Richard S. Ruggles, George D. Heath, Robert G. Jones.
Our church has been a missionary church in the establishment and the organization of daughter churches in Norfolk Presbytery. We take great joy and pride in these churches founded and established by our church:
First Presbyterian, Portsmouth, 1822
Second Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1872
Third Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1884
Armstrong Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1890
Knox Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1898
Ghent Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1901
Westminister Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1914
First Presbyterian, Virginia Beach, 1920
Ocean View Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1921
Coleman Place Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1929
Royster Memorial Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1941
Oakdale Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1949
Calvin Presbyterian, Norfolk, 1955.
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For over 100 years the Presbyterians of Norfolk have struggled with a curious gap in their history. The beginnings of the Presbyterian "church on the Elizabeth River" in the late 1600's are well documented, and the accounts extend up to about 1716. After the Revolution, and particularly after 1800, when the Presbyterians began a new church building, records are clear. But for a period of 70 years, from 1717 to 1788, the Presbyterians seem to have disappeared.
The Norfolk Presbyterians' great 19th century leader, George D. Armstrong, insisted that the local church's roots went back to the late 17th century. Academic historians, on the other hand, have debunked that notion and concluded that the church died out in the 1700's.
The solution to the case of the missing Presbyterians is more dramatic than either Armstrong or the academics imagined.
Rather than accept the disabilities on dissenters imposed by the British, the local Presbyterians appear to have co-opted old St. Paul's, the established borough church. Presbyterians in Church of England clothing, they carried on routinely until the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) made it expedient for them to resume overtly their Presbyterian identity.
St. Paul's was in effect the Norfolk Presbyterian Church for much of the 18th century.
The notion that the Presbyterians disappeared for 70 years was always implausible. Norfolk was a commercial and trading center with a large, perhaps predominant, Scots population. The Scots, famously and intransigently Presbyterian, did not abandon their faith when they set up shop in Norfolk. In fact, what little evidence there is emphasizes their religious identity. Alan Flanders recently published extracts from the 1765 journal of a French traveller to Norfolk and Portsmouth. "Both places are inhabited by scotch, all presbiterians [emphasis added] altho they have no house of worship of their own. There is a Church in each place of the English Establishment."
Ellis O'Neal, a retired theological librarian and expert on 19th century protestant periodical literature, recently brought to light surprising evidence of the Presbyterian ascendancy at St. Paul's. He found an 1823 obituary in The Virginia Evangelical and Literary Messenger which showed that St. Paul's had, at least briefly, a Presbyterian leader: Alexander Whitehead. Thereby hangs a tale.
Beginning in 1789 (the year the Presbyterian church in Norfolk started meeting openly at the courthouse), St. Paul's, with a vacancy in the pulpit, was bitterly divided between two contingents -- the William Bland faction and the James and Alexander Whitehead faction -- led by opposing ministers. Each faction held its own services and called its own pastor, but the Whitehead faction was by far the largest, comprising perhaps 200 of the approximately 220 communicants. After a contest, the 1789 Episcopal convention recognized "the Rev. Alexander Whitehead" as a proper representative of St. Paul's.
A curious thing about this schism is that its cause has remained obscure. Edward Ferebee's excellent history of the conflict concludes "No record of any kind has been found to explain why the congregation of the Borough Church in 1789 split into two irreconcilable factions, each with its own vestry and rector." Perhaps the schism at St. Paul's, besides reflecting personalities as all church conflicts do, had its origins in the insistence of the Presbyterian majority on selecting the minister, a fundamental feature of Presbyterian governance.
Ultimately, the Whitehead faction withdrew (1798) and some of its members in 1800 formed what is now Christ and St. Luke's. The Bland faction was so small that St. Paul's was abandoned by the time the Presbyterian church opened. In the meantime, a would-be poet visiting Norfolk wrote "No church, no meeting house was there/ The courthouse was the place of prayer."
The Presbyterians began building their own church in 1800, immediately after the exodus from St. Paul's. One of the first people to preach to them in their new church was Dr. (Alexander) Whitehead, and he became associated with the new church. The earliest surviving Norfolk Presbyterian records document baptisms of members' children by Rev. James Whitehead in 1802.
James and Alexander Whitehead were brothers, raised as Presbyterians in Scotland. James Whitehead retained his nominal Episcopal affiliation until his death in 1808. After the secession from St. Paul's, Alexander became a noted Norfolk doctor and educator. The 1823 obituary discovered by Ellis O'Neal says that Alexander Whitehead came to Norfolk to assist his brother the Rev. James Whitehead "and taught the higher classes in the [Norfolk] Academy then under the care of that gentleman." Later, it spells out, "Dr. Whitehead was a professor of religion, in communion with the Presbyterian church in this place [Norfolk]. From his earliest years indeed, he had been trained up in the doctrines and principles of that church, in which he was born, and which his riper reason had examined and approved."
The conclusion that St. Paul's was the de facto Presbyterian Church in Norfolk is not as radical as it sounds. The line between Presbyterianism and the Church of England was sometimes blurred. At times in the 17th century, Presbyterians occupied establishment benefices. Virginians dealt pragmatically with the Established Church. In Fincastle, Virginia, the entire vestry of the Church of England declared themselves Presbyterians as soon as it was legal. In Richmond in the 1790's, an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian alternated Sundays preaching from the same pulpit to largely the same congregation. The Presbyterians in St. Paul's were not organizationally affiliated with the Presbyterian church (either then or for the first 14 years after they built their own building). It sufficed for them that their theology and leadership were, in substance, Presbyterian. It sufficed for England that St. Paul's was, in form, established.
Norfolk's Presbyterians were like Sherlock Holmes' purloined letter. They did not disappear. They did not go underground. They moved into St. Paul's, in plain sight. Because they were in plain sight, they went unnoticed until now.
Sources: Traditional view: (George D. Armstrong), The Church on the Elizabeth River (Richmond 1892). Academic view: Howard McKnight Wilson, Presbyterian Beginnings in Lower Tidewater Virginia (1973), p. 25 ("Presbyterianism. . . vanished from the scene"). Schism: Edward S. Ferebee, Norfolk's Borough Church (now St. Paul's) (Norfolk 1977). Whitehead a Presbyterian: "Obituary Notice," The Virginia Evangelical and Literary Messenger, vol. 6, no. 6 (June 1823) pp. 614-16.
Copyright 2000 by William C. Wooldridge
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