Friday, December 14, 2012

Trinity Church

Trinity Church marker QC-1 in Staunton, VA - Augusta County.City of Staunton, VA
Marker No. QC-1

Marker Text: Known originally as Augusta Parish Church, it was founded in 1746 as the County Parish. The Virginia General Assembly met here in June 1781 to avoid capture by British Raiders. The present church was erected in 1855 and was used by the Virginia Theological Seminary during the War Between the States. The first Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, was a member of this church.

Location: On 214 West Beverley Street in the City of Staunton in front of the church. Erected by the Virginia State Library in 1962.

  After the legislators quick escape from Charlottesville after the timely warning by Jack Jouett, they traveled over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the city of Staunton about 40 miles further west.  The Virginia legislature reconvened a few days later and met here between June 7-23, 1781 at Trinity Church in Staunton, making the first Augusta Parish Church (which was its name then) serve as the Virginia state capitol for sixteen days. A Windsor chair, used in that meeting is on display in the corner of St. Columba's Chapel within the current church building.

Trinity Church marker QC-1 in front of Trinity Church in Staunton, VA (Click any photo to enlarge)  The General Assembly of Virginia was deeply appreciative of the debt they owed as a legislature and personally to Jack Jouett, so on June 15, while meeting here at Trinity Church it adopted the following resolution:

  Resolved: That the executive be desired to present to Captain John Jouett an elegant sword and pair of pistols as a memorial of the high sense which the General Assembly entertain of his activity and enterprise in watching the motions of the enemy’s cavalry on their late incursion to Charlottesville and conveying to the assembly timely information of their approach, whereby the designs of the enemy were frustrated and many valuable stores preserved.

  Jouett was given the pistols in 1783, but it was twenty years before he received the “elegant sword.” By that time he had made quite a name for himself beyond the Alleghenies, in present-day Kentucky.

  Trinity Church, the oldest church in Staunton and known for its first eighty years as “Augusta Parish,” was founded in 1746, one year after Augusta County became an independent entity, and one year before the City of Staunton was established.

Trinity Church marker QC-1 in front of Trinity Church from within church property.

Photo taken within church property looking toward West Beverley Street.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  Land at the western edge of the city was purchased by the parish in 1750 from William Beverley. Three churches have been built on this site. The first brick building was completed in 1763, probably where the church tower is now located, which would have been the building where the Virginia Legislature meet in 1781. This early church no longer exists replaced by subsequent buildings. The cornerstone of the second building was laid in 1830, using some of the brick from the first church. By this time, Augusta Parish had become known as "Trinity Church," although the two names remained interchangeable for a long time. The present building was constructed in 1855 and enlarged in 1870 when wings were added to the sides and the chancel was enlarged.

  The Virginia Theological Seminary was established at a Diocesan Council meeting at Trinity in 1824. During the Civil War the Seminary moved to Trinity from the Union-occupied city of Alexandria, VA and professors and students held classes, though no more than five students at a time ever studied here. Trinity’s willingness to provide space for classes kept the school alive until the war’s end.

Trinity Church Tower in Staunton, VA

Reportedly the original building where the legislature met was located where the tower in photo is now.

  The history of Trinity Episcopal Church (church web site link) in Staunton begins in the days when settlers were coming to the Shenandoah Valley when there was no separation of church and state in Virginia before the American Revolution. Most of the settlers were Scots-Irish Presbyterians who moved into the valley following the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania.

  Colonial Virginia had an established church, which was England’s Anglican Church, and when county governments were formed, a parish church covering the same region was normally formed at almost the same time. Thus Trinity was called Augusta Parish Church until the 19th century. Today, the Trinity Church vestry acts as the governing body of only its own congregation, but in the colonial era, the vestry was the moral watchdog and welfare department for the citizens of Augusta County. The vestry had the power to tax. In addition, the vestry took care of the poor and orphaned, buried the destitute, and fined people for moral misbehavior, including not attending church, public drunkenness, and bearing illegitimate children.

Part of the Trinity Church Cemetery in Staunton, VA

A part of the cemetery located on the Trinity Church property.

  Ironically, in an area which required individuals to be Anglican, the majority of Augusta Parish’s first vestry were Presbyterian, who had some to the Shenandoah Valley to gain more religious freedom. The first elected vestry who served the leadership of both the parish and the county, among its twelve members, at least nine were Presbyterians. One vestryman who was a true Anglican was John Madison, the first Augusta County clerk. John Madison was also the father of James Madison the first Bishop of Virginia.

  Next to the Trinity Churchyard is an old cemetery which served was the public burying ground. The oldest stone is that of one Roger North who died on October 17, 1776, although the earliest known burial took place at least ten years before the first church was built.

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