When Frederick County was first divided from Augusta, the latter was left with all of Western Virginia beyond the Alleghany Mountains, then extending to the Pacific Ocean, or, as it was sometimes said, to the “waters of the Mississippi."
In the year 1769, Botetourt was taken from Augusta, and also extended westward indefinitely. At a subsequent period Montgomery was taken from Botetourt. But in the year 1777, Rockingham, till then part of Augusta, and Rockbridge and Greenbrier, were cut off from Augusta, Botetourt, and Montgomery. In all of these, parishes were also established by Act of Assembly. What was done in them after this is unknown. In Rockingham, probably before its separation from Augusta, there were, as may be seen in our article on Augusta, two churches. In Rockbridge, when composed of parts of Augusta and Botetourt, there may have been a church or churches, but I have obtained no information of such. Before this period the Presbyterians had made settlements in this region, especially about Lexington. On none of our lists of clergy or records do we find any minister belonging to Rockbridge after its separation from Augusta and Botetourt. In Montgomery and
Greenbrier parishes and counties, we presume there were none. In Botetourt parish, (for all the new parishes were called by the same name with the counties,) we find that the Rev. Adam Smith was the minister in the years 1774 and 1776. He was the father of Mr. Alexander Smith, sometimes written Smythe, of Wythe county, member of Congress, and General in the last war with England.
We know of no other but the Rev. Samuel Gray, who appears on the journal of 1796, and who died in the parish poor-house, the miserable victim of drink. In Fineastle there was an Episcopal church on the spot where the Presbyterian church now stands. A new church being built there, the Presbyterians worshipped in it, and were perhaps most active in its erection. By an Act of the Legislature, the lot of ground on which it stood was given to that denomination. It was not until the Rev. Mr. Cobbs commenced his labours in Bedford and extended his visits to Botetourt, that any hopes were raised, in the breasts of the Episcopalians in that county, of the establishment of the Church of their fathers and of their afl'ection.
During the ministry of Mr. Gray, some of the descendants of Major Burwell, an old vestryman of the church in King William, had removed to the neighbourhood of Fincastle. General Breckenridge, and Watts, who had not forgotten the Church of their forefathers, were also there. Woodville, son of the old minister of Culpepper, one of the Taylors from Old Mount Airy, in the Northern Neck, Madison, son of Bishop Madison, and others who might be mentioned, were there to encourage the effort at establishing a church. And yet, on my first visit to that county after my consecration, only one solitary voice was heard in the responses of ‘ our service.
After some years the Rev. Dabney Wharton, from the neighbouring county, took Orders and entered on the work of resuscitating or rather establishing the Church there, and during his residence in the parish did much to efl'ect it. The Rev. W. H. Pendleton succeeded him for some years, and, though removing for a time to another, has returned to a portion of his former field. He was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. McElroy, in 1847. The Rev. George Wilmer also spent some years there, first as minister to the whole parish, and then to a portion of it, which was formed into a distinct parish, now in the county of Roanoke. New churches have been erected in each portion,—one at Big Lick, in Roanoke, another at Fincastle, a third at Buchanon. The Rev. Mr. Baker has for some years been the minister of the two congregations in Fincastle and Buchanon. The new church at Buchanon deserves a word of special notice. It is chiefly the result of female enterprise. A lady well known in Virginia, who occasionally visited it in the summer season, fleeing from the sultry heat of Richmond, determined toeffect it by collections, far and near, of only twelve and a half cents from each contributor, and‘ by dint of perseverance, Vo. II.—5 succeeded in the course of a few years,—at least, so far as to secure the object. A neat, well-filled brick church is now to be seen at Buchanon.
Although there was no church in Rockbridge County in former times, so far as I am informed, I must not omit to mention a most successful effort of later years. About the year 1839 or 1840, the Rev. William Bryant, a native of Virginia, and a graduate of West Point, who had left the army of his country to enter the army of the Lord and become one of the great company of preachers, was induced by his friend, and almost brother, as well as fellow-student at West Point, Colonel Smith, of the Military Institute at Lexing-' ton, to come and seek to establish an Episcopal church at that place. Diflicult as the work seemed to be, and most doubtful the success of it, especially to one of so meek and qu,iet a spirit, and destitute of those popular talents in the pulpit so much called for in such positions, he nevertheless, in humble dependence on divine assistance, undertook the task and succeeded far beyond general expectation. With generous aids from other parts of the State, and active exertions on the part of the few friends in Lexington, a handsome brick church has been built and a respectable though still a small congregation been collected. The Rev. Mr. Bryant was succeeded by one of our present missionaries to China,—the Rev. Robert Nelson,—who, pursuing the same audacious course and putting forth the same efforts with his predecessor, carried on the work with the same success, until in the providence of God he was called to a distant field in which he had long desired to labor. The Rev. William N. Pendleton has now for some years been laboring as his successor.
Higher up the valley, in what was once Montgomery county and parish, but is now not only Montgomery, but Wythe, and Washington, and- others, we cannot read or hear of any effort being made in behalf of establishing the Episcopal Church until within the last twenty years, when the Rev. Mr. Cofer was sent as missionary to Abingdon, in Washington county. Some years after his relinquishment of the station the Rev. James McCabe occupied it, and during his stay, I believe, a neat but very small brick church was put up. He was succeeded for two years by the Rev. Mr. Lee. It has now for some time been without a minister, though we hope for better times.
As emigration and natural increase of population shall follow the railroad up this narrow though fertile valley, and whenever the mountains on either side shall be cleared of their forests, we may surely hope better things for our Church. Already are there many interesting families inheriting an attachment to the Church of their fathers to be found along the great highway leading through this part of Virginia and the West. At Wytheville the indefatigable efforts of a mother and daughter have raised a considerable sum of money for the erection of a. church. The tongue hath spoken, the pen hath written, and hands have labored, in the cause, and none of them in vain. A most eligible sight, at great cost, has been obtained, and perhaps great progress made in the erection of a church. Other openings, I am told by those who have made recent missionary visits to this upper valley of Virginia, are likely to present themselves. The Rev. Frederick Goodwin has just settled at Wytheville.
[Source: Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, Volume 2 By William Meade Transcribed By Sandy Denney]
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