Bruton Parish Church History

See Also: Bruton Parish Church

History of Bruton Parish Church

The roots of Bruton Parish Church trace back to both the Church of England and the new settlement of the Colony of Virginia at Jamestown in the early 17th century. The role of the church and its relationship to the government had been established by King Henry VIII some years earlier. The same relationship was established in the new colony.

1607: the Church of England in the new Virginia Colony

When the British colony was established at Jamestown on May 14, 1607, worship services and a primitive chapel were early priorities even as the first fort was built, with Robert Hunt]] as chaplain. He had been the spiritual leader of the three ship expedition headed by [[Christopher Newport]], and he lit the candle for the Anglican Church in Virginia a few weeks earlier when he first lifted his voice in public thanksgiving and prayer on [[April 29]], when the settlers made what has come to be known as their "First Landing" near the entrance to the [[Chesapeake Bay]]. He also was the the one to plant the cross at [[Cape Henry]] (which they named after Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of [[James I of England|King James I]]). Captain John Smith]] described Reverend Hunt as "our honest, religious and courageous divine." In his role as religious leader, he was a peacemaker, often bringing harmony to a quarreling group of men. Reverend Hunt was among those who did not survive that first year. After 5 very difficult years, during which the majority of the continually arriving colonists also did not survive, the colony began to grow more successfully. As in England, the parish became a unit of local importance equal in power and practical aspects to other entities such as the courts and even the [[House of Burgesses]].

The earlier settlements were along the major waterways, such as the [[James River (Virginia)|James River]] and the [[York River (Virginia)|York River]], and expansion and subdivision of the church parishes and [[shires of Virginia]] after 1634 each followed the growth. Parishes needed to be close enough for travel to worship, which was basically expected of everyone. (A ''parish'' was normally led spiritually by a ''rector'' and governed by a committee of members gnerally respected in the community which was known as the ''vestry'').

Growth of the Colony: 1632 Middle Plantation

The interior area of the [[Virginia Peninsula]] wasn't settled until a period beginning in the 1630s when a stockade was completed across the Peninsula between [[Archer's Hope Creek]] (later College Creek) and [[Queen's Creek]], each navigable to an opposing river.

Dr. [[John Pott]] figured prominently in the early development. In 1625, he was commissioned a member of the Governor's Council, in which office he continued a number of years. In 1628 he was chosen Governor, and held the position from 1629 until the early part of 1630, when he was superseded by Sir [[John Harvey (Virginia)|John Harvey]].

Dr. Potts had a [[plantation]] which he called "Harrop," and which he may have so named in honor of his ancestral home. Harrop in [[Cheshire, England]] was the place of residence of some of the Potts at that period. (This plantation, patented in 1631, may be related to the Harrop Parish established in 1644, which years later became part of Bruton Parish).

On July 12, 1632, Dr. Potts obtained a patent for convert|1200|acre|sqkm at the head of Archer's Hope Creek. Part of this land was to become the fortified palisade across the peninsula. Palisades, six miles (10 km) in length, were run from creek to creek, and, on the ridge between, a settlement to be called [[Middle Plantation]] was made. The doctor would have certainly recognized the sanitary advantages of the country around Middle Plantation. As the ridge between the creeks was remarkably well drained, there were few [[mosquitoes]]. The deep ravines penetrating from the north and south made the place of much strategic value. Also, the only practical road down the Peninsula was over this ridge, and this road was easily defended. At Middle Plantation, some years later, this road was later to be called [[Duke of Gloucester Street]], and it would later form the dividing boundary line between portions of James City and York County for many years. <ref>POTTS FAMILY IN GREAT BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 1901<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

Middle Plantation becomes a town

Despite the favorable location, development of Middle Plantation as a residential and trade community did not immediately take place. The area was still on the edge of the frontier and subject to attacks by the [[Native Americans of the United States|Native Americans]], who were being crowded out of their homeland by the ever-expanding colony. This was especially true prior to the second major conflict with the [[Powhatan Confederacy]] in 1644, after which a peace was established. Although the local Natives had basically been overwhelmed and subdued, conflicts continued further west with tribal groups other than the Powhatan.

Beginning after 1644, the interior areas of the Peninsula such as that of Middle Plantation became more attractive for settlement. By the 1650s, Middle Plantation began to look both populated and wealthy, straddling the boundary between [[James City County, Virginia|James City County]] and [[York County, Virginia|York County]]. [[John Page (Middle Plantation)|Colonel John Page]], a merchant who had emigrated from [[Middlesex, England]] with his wife Alice Lucken Page in 1650, was largely responsible for building Middle Plantation into a substantial town. In an era of wooden buildings, brick was a sign of both wealth and permanence. Page built a large, brick house in Middle Plantation and began encouraging the growth of the area. The Ludwell brothers (Thomas and Phillip) also built a substantial brick home, even larger than that of Page. [] The houses that Page and the Ludwells built were among the finest in the colony. Another brick house was built nearby by the Pages' eldest son, Francis. By the third quarter of the seventeenth century, Middle Plantation must have looked like a place of importance.

Worship in Middle Plantation

In 1633, according to records, Middle Plantation Parish had been was established. It is known there was a wooden church by around 1660, but little else is known. In 1658, Middle Plantation Parish was united with Harrop Parish in James City County in 1658 to form Middletown Parish.

Bruton Parish was formed in 1674 when Marston Parish (formed in 1654) in York County merged with Middletown Parish. The name of the parish comes from the English town of [[Bruton]], [[Somerset|County Somerset]], which was the ancestral home to several leading colonial figures, notably Virginia's colonial secretary [[Thomas Ludwell]] and the Ludwell family, as well as that of the Royal Governor, Sir [[William Berkeley]]. <ref></ref> By this time, the Ludwells were living in Middle Plantation, and the idea of moving the capital there had been put forth unsuccessfully at least once. Bruton Parish was about convert|10|mi|km square. <ref>Bruton Parish Church<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

Colonel Page donated a plot of land about convert|144|ft|m by convert|180|ft|m and funds for building a brick church and for the surrounding churchyard in 1678. Other subscribers pledged additional funds. The construction contract was awarded in June 1681 and the building was complete by November 29, 1683. The first rector, the Reverend [[Rowland Jones]], dedicated the structure on [[January 6]], [[1684]] at the [[Epiphany (holiday)|Epiphany]]. <ref></ref>

Completed in 1683, the brick church, about convert|60|ft|m by convert|24|ft|m, rose to the north and west of the present church building and only a few steps northwest. The buried foundations remain.

Country parish changes its role

Condition at Jamestown had been problematic to serve as the capital of the colony, and during the second half of the 17th century, sessions of the House of Burgesses and Governor's Council had periodically been relocated to Middle Plantation, or longtime Governor Sir William Berkeley's [[Green Spring Plantation]], both relatively nearby, and considered both safer and healthier locations than [[Jamestown Island]]. This and another situation combined to bring tiny Middle Plantation and Bruton Parish to prominence in the colony.

In 1691, the [[House of Burgesses]] sent [[James Blair (Virginia)|James Blair]], the colony's top religious leader and rector of Henrico Parish at [[Varina]], to [[England]] to secure a [[charter]] to establish "''a certain Place of Universal Study, a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and the good arts and sciences…to be supported and maintained, in all time coming.''" Blair journeyed to [[London]] and began a vigorous campaign. With support from his friends, [[Henry Compton]], the [[Bishop of London]], and [[John Tillotson]] ([[Archbishop of Canterbury]]), Blair was ultimately successful.<ref>W&M Founders Include Blair and 17 Others | University Relations<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

The College was founded on [[February 8]], [[1693]], under a [[Royal Charter]] secured by Blair. Named in honor of the reigning monarchs [[William III of England|King William III]] and [[Mary II of England|Queen Mary II]], the College was one of the original [[Colonial colleges]]. <ref>1618 - 1699 | Historical Facts<!-- Bot generated title --></ref> William & Mary was founded as an [[Anglican]] institution; governors were required to be members of the [[Church of England]], and professors were required to declare adherence to the [[Thirty-Nine Articles]].<ref>Webster, Homer J. (1902) "Schools and Colleges in Colonial Times," ''The New England Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly'', v. XXVII, p. 374, Google Books entry</ref>

Reverend Blair, who had been serving as Rector of [[Henrico Parish]] (then along the western frontier) was very aware of the fate of Henricus and the first attempt at a college there, both of which had been annihilated in the [[Indian Massacre of 1622]]. The peaceful situation with the Native Americans and the high ground and central location in the developed portion of the colony at Middle Plantation must have appealed to him, for he is credited with selecting a site for the new college on the outskirt of the tiny community. Blair and the trustees of the College of William and Mary bought a parcel of convert|330|acre|sqkm from Thomas Ballard for the new school. The new school opened in temporary buildings in 1694. Properly called the "College Building," the first version of the [[Wren Building]] was built at Middle Plantation beginning on [[August 8]], [[1695]] and occupied by 1700. (Today, the Wren Building is the oldest academic structure in continuous use in America).

The State House at [[Jamestown, Virginia|Jamestown]] burned again (for the third time) in 1698, and as it had in the past, the legislature again took up temporary quarters at Middle Plantation. On [[May 1]], [[1699]], Blair and five students of the College of William and Mary appeared before the House of Burgesses (which was meeting nearby in temporary quarters) to suggest that they designate Middle Plantation (soon to renamed [[Williamsburg, Virginia|Williamsburg]] in honor of King William III), as the new capital of Virginia, and a month later, the legislators agreed.

Following its designation as the Capital of the Colony, immediate provision was made for construction of a capitol building and for platting the new city according to the survey of [[Theodoric Bland]]. Bruton Parish Church held a prominent location in the new plan.

Thus, by 1699, Bruton Parish Church found itself located adjacent to both the new college and the new capital of the colony. During the colonial period, all those in public office were required to attend church. Government and College officials in the capital city of Williamsburg therefore would have attended Bruton Parish Church. The influx of students, the governor and his entourage, and the legislature, as well as townspeople overwhelmed the small church.

The church and Williamsburg were each central to the life and government of the colony, As the court church of colonial Virginia, Bruton Parish Church soon took on appropriate trappings such as an altar cloth and cushion. <ref></ref>

1715: a new church building

Historians from [[Colonial Williamsburg Foundation]] have noted that the brick church stood near the center of Williamsburg's original survey map drawn 15 years after it was built. The layout may have been designed at least partially around the extant church, suggesting the church's importance to the colonial community's life. However, the brick church was in poor condition and deemed inadequate for its prominent role. <ref>Bruton Parish Church<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

In 1706, the vestry began considering building a larger church. However, with only 110 families as 1724, the parish vestry could only afford to plan a small church, and invited the colony's government to finance an enlargement to accommodate the needs not arising from the local residents. <ref>Bruton Parish Church<!-- Bot generated title --></ref> Four years later the [[Virginia General Assembly|General Assembly]] agreed to fund pews for the governor, council, and burgesses. Royal Governor [[Alexander Spotswood]] drafted plans for the structure: a cruciform-shaped church (the first in Virginia) 75 feet long, convert|28|ft|m wide, with convert|19|ft|m|sing=on long transepts (wings.)

Under the watchful eye of Dr. James Blair, who was rector from 1710 to 1743 (and also president of William and Mary from 1693 until his death), the construction of the new church got underway, with the first construction contract awarded in 1711. Finished in 1715, the church soon had all the required furnishings: Bible, prayer books, altar, font, cushions, surplice, bell, and reredos tablets. <ref>Bruton Parish Church<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

American Revolution, decline

As the [[American Revolutionary War]] began in 1776, the power of both the monarchy and the church as an institution controlled by the government came into question in the colony. Among the Virginia leaders of the time who attended Bruton Parish Church were [[Thomas Jefferson]], [[George Washington]], [[Richard Henry Lee]], [[George Wythe]], [[Patrick Henry]], and [[George Mason]]. <ref>Bruton Parish Church<!-- Bot generated title --></ref>

The capital was relocated to [[Richmond, Virginia|Richmond]] in 1781 for greater security in the conflict with Great Britain, and when the new [[Constitution of the United States]] and the accompanying [[Bill of Rights]] were adopted, the concepts of [[Separation of Church and State]] and [[Freedom of Religion]] changed the role of Bruton Parish Church in its community. With the end of colonial rule, Bruton Parish Church declined just as the city did.

However, the church grew anew as part of the [[Episcopal Church in the United States of America]], which became the first autonomous Anglican province outside the [[British Isles]]. In the new [[Commonwealth of Virginia]], those attending Bruton Parish Church did so by choice, and the parish survived to modern times, where it is still active. However, a variety of changes to the church were made, including reversing the interior to place the altar at the west, instead of the east, end. And, in the early 20th century, an important restoration took place.
===Revitalization of Colonial Williamsburg===

Largely through the efforts of its rector, the Reverend Dr. [[W.A.R. Goodwin]] (1869-1939), who came to the parish in 1903. He was inspired by his historic parish with its many still-standing 18th-century buildings. Dr. Goodwin oversaw fund-raising, preservation and restoration of the aged and historic church building, using information gathered from town and church records. He completed the church's restoration in 1907, the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the [[Episcopal Church in the United States of America|Episcopal Church]] in America. The work turned out to be only the first of a much larger restoration.

Dr. Goodwin was called to [[Rochester, New York]], where he stayed until 1923, when he returned to Virginia, to teach at the [[College of William and Mary]], and serve again at Bruton Parish. He was shocked at the continued deterioration of many other historic buildings in the immediate vicinity of the church and the College. He feared they would be completely destroyed as time went on. In 1924, Dr. Goodwin started a movement to preserve the buildings in the district. As his primary source of funding, Dr. Goodwin was fortunate in this effort to sign on [[John D. Rockefeller Jr.]], the wealthy son of the founder of [[Standard Oil]], and his wife [[Abby Aldrich Rockefeller]]. He stimulated their interest in the old city and helped that bloom into the incredible generosity that financed the restoration. Together, through their personal efforts and diligence and funding of the [[Rockefeller Foundation]], Abby and John Rockefeller worked with Dr. Goodwin and others to make the remarkable dream of restoring the old colonial capital come true. <ref>cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, Virginia Rector,70; "Father of the Williamsburg Restoration" Dies. Gained Rockefeller's Support. Widely Praised for Work. Head of Religious Education Department at William and Mary Since 1923 |url= |quote=[[Williamsburg, Virginia]], [[September 7]], [[1939]] ([[Associated Press]]) The Rev. Dr. William Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, former rector of Bruton Parish Church and the "father of the Williamsburg restoration," died at his home here tonight. He was 70 years old. |publisher=[[New York Times]] |date= |accessdate=2007-07-21 </ref>

The Church Today

Today Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area occupies 173 acres (700,000 m²) and includes 88 original buildings and more than 50 major reconstructions. It is joined by the [[Colonial Parkway]] to the two other sides of the Historic Triangle, Jamestown and YorktYorktown]]. At Jamestown, England established its first permanent colony in the Americas, and at Yorktown the Continental Army under [[George Washington]] won a decisive victory to end British rule.

Bruton Parish Church today is the most active parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. It has nearly two thousand members, five regular Sunday services, and active youth and college organizations. The Church has been restored to the colonial era, and name plates on its box pews commemorate famous worshipers from the time, including George Washington, James Madison, John Tyler, Benjamin Harrison, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. The church still uses a bell cast in 1761, which rang to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, marking the end of the [[American Revolutionary War]].

And, much as the former country parish found a new role with the influx of persons visiting the new College and colonial capital in the 18th century, visitors to Colonial Williamsburg are welcomed to join local folks, including students, college staff and community leaders in worshiping there.



Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License