Over 350 Years of Ministry Impact
BEGINNING IN 1667
Our parish traces its origins to 1667. The current church building was completed in 1766, with a Greek Cross layout. After Post-Revolutionary periods of difficulty, confiscation and vandalism, St. Paul’s church was reorganized, returned to the vestry and by 1831 remodeled to its present form, including a handcrafted wine-goblet raised pulpit. First known as Choatank Parish, St. Paul’s has been served by 46 clergy and is still attended by descendants of early congregations. St. Paul’s was yoked to Hanover-with-Brunswick parish for many years, sharing a rector. The parishes un-yoked and each called their own rectors in 1998. The two parishes remain close and share activities and celebrations regularly.
PARISHES IN KING GEORGE COUNTY
St. Paul’s Parish was formed along the Potomac River in the mid 1600’s as the lower parish of Stafford County, which had been newly formed from the upper reaches of Westmoreland County. The Stafford County court ordered the earliest known parish church services in 1667 at the home of Robert Townsend of Chotank. Chotank Creek joins the Potomac River about three miles northeast of the present St. Paul’s Church and the point of land here was also known as Chotank after an ancient Indian Village located there. The lower Stafford Parish became informally known as Chotank Parish because of this association. However by 1702, the parish was officially known as St. Paul’s Parish, so named after the Bedfordshire England home parish of a leading parishioner, Colonel William Fitzhugh.
Hanover Parish was formed along the Rappahannock River in the 1710-1720 time frame. Brunswick Parish was established between the western edges of Hanover and St. Paul’s Parishes and the colonial towns of Fredericksburg and Falmouth in the early 1700s. The current boundaries of King George County were established in 1777.
ST. PAUL'S CHURCH CONSTRUCTED IN 1690
Two wood-frame churches constructed about 1690 and 1725 preceded the present brick building, constructed in the late 1760s. The first church, probably of log and frame construction, was located in or near the present village of Owens, Virginia. “Bedford,” the plantation home of Colonel William Fitzhugh, was located a few miles to the south. The second and present churches were built on 450 acres of land donated by a local parishioner, John Allen, for the church Glebe.
The present St. Paul’s Church is of the cruciform architectural style, but having a Greek cross plan instead of the more classical Latin cross plan.
With a high interior ceiling, the exterior facade contains two stories of windows, an architectural feature shared uniquely with contemporary colonial Virginia churches along the upper Potomac River.
While the parish has retained a Register covering the period 1715 through 1798, no details of church construction and completion dates were included and all vestry books/records for the colonial period have been lost. Virginia Gazette records show that churchwardens advertised for Undertakers (Contractors) in 1762 and 1766. Assuming a construction start in 1766, a completion date of 1768-69 appears reasonable.
After the death of Rector William Stuart, the parish declined and the church fell into disuse and was ruined by neglect and anti-British vandalism. The Glebe lands were sold about 1808 to finance conversion of the church to a religious academy. This venture failed but the conversion drastically altered the church’s original architecture; the interior was reconfigured for two floors of classrooms by walling off the wings and closing up the original entrances in the west and north facades.
The parish was reorganized in 1816 and petitioned for return of the church property, which occurred about 1820 (shown as 1828 on the historical marker in Arnold). By 1830, the church had been converted to essentially its current form; the north wing partition was retained, balconies were placed in the east, south and west wings, the main entry was through the south wing, facing a raised pulpit placed on the north wall with the altar below. This essentially converted the original cruciform architecture to a modified “T” form architecture except the altar is not in the traditional east wing location. It should be noted that this arrangement of altar and pulpit is uniquely shared with only Christ Church, Alexandria (at least in the Diocese of Virginia).
On May 15, 1831 Bishop Channing Moore consecrated the reconfigured church as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The north wing of the altered church was intended as an interim rectory but was purportedly little used because of steep stairs and cramped space. A nearby vestry house, apparently built concurrently with the present church construction, was modified to serve as a separate rectory in the early 1840s. This structure was converted to a parish house following parish yoking in the mid 1800’s and expanded to meet growing needs in the 1960’s and again in the 1980’s.
St. Paul’s retains a 1769 Bible given by Rector William Stuart when the colonial church was completed.
On special occasions St. Paul’s uses an antique silver communion service made in 1720 in London and given to the parish by Colonel Henry Fitzhugh in memory of his father, William. St. Paul’s Church is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Sites.
Brunswick Parish’s Lambs Creek Church, a fine example of Colonial Church of England hall-type architecture, dates from the late 1760s, about the same time as St. Paul’s current church.
Note: A pamphlet available from St. Paul’s provides additional information about the history of the church. A copy of this pamphlet is accessible by clicking here.
RECTORS OF ST. PAUL'S
Parish records indicate that Lambs Creek and St. Paul’s shared Rectors during the pre-revolutionary period. The first full time rector of St. Paul’s was the Rev. David Stuart who served from 1722 until his death in 1749. His son, Rev. William Stuart, became St. Paul’s rector following his father’s death and remained with the church and parish through the Revolutionary War, resigning because of poor health in 1796.
From the mid 1800s St. Paul’s and Hanover-with-Brunswick Parishes were joined under the service of a single rector. In 1998 the parish vestries with Diocesan advice and approval decided to once again become independent parishes. Click here to view a complete list of all former rectors of St. Paul’s, including those of Hanover-with-Brunswick Parish during the yoked period.
The current rector of St. Paul’s is the Rev. Lee Gandiya who was called to the church in 2016.
ADDITIONAL HISTORICAL INFORMATION
For more information about colonial churches in Virginia, please follow this link.