The Golden Age of Lynnhaven Parish Church

The eighteenth century was referred to as the “Golden Age” and marked a pronounced advancement for Lynnhaven English settlers who had labored hard during the seventeenth century to transform a wilderness land occupied by unfriendly Indians into a rich and prosperous one with large estates. Fields of tobacco cultivated on the backs of black slaves brought prosperity enabling sports like horseback riding and fox hunting.  This transformation can be marked in the difference between several existing sixteenth and seventeenth century homes. With little time and money to build, seventeenth homes were simple two-room cottages. Large chimneys were built for cooking inside and not moved to freestanding kitchen buildings until the eighteenth century.  The seventeenth century homes called “hall-and-parlor cottages” still in existence include the 1634 John B. Dey House, the 1636 Adam Keeling House, the 1637 John Lovett House, the 1649 Weblin House, the 1641 Adam Thoroughgood House, and the 1690 Lynnhaven House

The 1690 Lynnhaven House is the last of these seventeenth century two room houses before much larger Georgian/Federal style homes were constructed in the prosperous eighteenth century of the Golden Age. 
Compare the last of the 17th century hall-and parlor cottages 
with the much larger first of the 18th century houses.

Those eighteenth century homes still standing include the 1730 Green Hill Plantation House, the 1732 Francis Land House, the 1752 John Biddle House, the 1759 Upper Wolfsnare House, the 1764 Pembroke Manor House, and the 1764 Poplar Hall House.


Starting in the 1990’s the city of Virginia Beach contracted a firm to take wood samples of old homes. Using results, they began re-dating homes as much as 100 years forward from the seventeenth century to the eighteenth century without regard to historical style, maps, deeds, wills, and other proofs. Instead, the city relied solely on a flawed wood dating report which has been widely debunked by expert dendrochronologists (wood dating specialists). Chief among this assassination of local historical landmarks is the Adam Thoroughgood House re-dated by the city from 1641 to the 1720’s. In effect Virginia Beach downgraded their famous seventeenth century house to a nondescript eighteenth century one, primitive by eighteenth century designs. 
The Adam Thoroughgood House was started by Adam Thoroughgood in 1639. After his 1640 death, his widowed wife Sara completed construction in 1641 when her 2nd husband, Colonel John Gookin, moved in with Sara.
The eighteenth century started off at Lynnhaven Parish with a suspicious death, possibly a murder. There was motive. In March 1697 Richard Capps accused James Sherwood’s wife, "our witch," Grace Sherwood of casting a spell on his bull, causing it to die. James brought suit against the Capps and later others for accusing his wife of witchery, but lost or settled out of court.  Four years later on Monday Aug 15th, 1701 James mysteriously died at Lynnhaven Parish, a healthy 41 year old hard working famer in his prime. Rather than be moved to his farm in Pungo, in the traditional manner, he was quickly buried in the church graveyard. After his death, because of the bad blood over the petty lawsuits her husband had filed, his widow Grace continued to be harassed, especially by Luke and Elizabeth Hill.  Did Grace know who murdered her husband? What better way to cover any allegations she might have made by continuing to accuse her of witchcraft. 


Grace Sherwood - the Witch of Pungo (1660 – 1740)

In 1916, 215 years later, Old Donation’s Senior Warden, Judge White revisited this cold case with Charles Sherwood, the man who rebuilt the church from its ruins.  During the time he spent with Charles, Judge White made an exhaustive study of James and Grace Sherwood which he published in 1924 under the title “Gleanings in the History of Princess Anne County.” Did Judge White sow in Charles’ mind a way to get payback for the church’s transgressions against his two descendants, James and Grace? As a builder he should have known the roof of Old Donation Church needed bracing to keep it from pushing outwardly against the walls. The insertion of five metal rods satisfied all concerned until April 17th, 1960 during an Easter service when the walls began to separate. Inspection found Charles Sherwood had tied the five rods into nothing, a time bomb just waiting for the roof to cave in. Luckily it didn’t.
This 1920 photo shows the metal rods installed but later found to be just stuck in the wall and not tied to the wall
Until 1731 slave owners were allowed to bring their slaves to Lynnhaven Parish Church where they sat in the balcony and took communion outside. For whatever reason the vestry made the unwise decision to no longer allow slaves in the church at all. Not content to stand outside during the long services, the slaves began to talk of insurrection. When this was discovered nervous church members began carrying their rifles to church on Sunday less they be stolen by slaves. 
Soon the second Lynnhaven Parish Church, known as the Brick Church or Mother Church, built in 1692, became unsuited for a congregation that had progressed in wealth and social status. In the place of the court house and jail where Sarah Sherwood was incarcerated for over seven years, a new and larger church was completed in 1736. 
Church 3 (current church) is depicted here after 1767 when the side door was moved about eight feet from the end of the long south wall to its present location. The entrance narthex and side sacristy were added during reconstruction in 1916.
The church continued to prosper under the Reverend Henry Barlow (serving for 18 years) and then Reverend Robert Dickson (serving more than for 27 years). When Reverend Robert Dickson became Rector in 1748 he took over running a public school for orphaned children, and in order to continue the school Anthony Walke proposed the old Brick church be used for the school rather than be torn down. For 28 years Reverend Dickson invested his energies in seeing that the orphan children became prosperous respected citizens. This was not the case for Bruton Parish, less than fifty miles to the north. There the church ran a workhouse, a complex of buildings near Capitol Landing on a hilltop overlooking Queens Creek. Under Reverend Thomas Dawson the 1755 vestry record states that the workhouse was a place “where the Poor might be more cheaply maintained and usefully employed," because "providing for the Poor of the said Parish hath always been burdensome” and the church should "compel the Poor of their Parish to dwell and work in the said House under whatever restrictions the House might impose.” The plight of children who lived in workhouses in Virginia was far from happy, and mortality rates were high. 
On Nov 21, 2012 a plaque recording Rev. Robert Dickson’s service to the church, orphan boys’ school, and his donation (for which the church is now named) was installed on the back wall of the church opposite the Adam Thorowgood plaque.
During the heyday of the Golden Gage Lynnhaven Parish Church became more of a social institution than a religious one, and Sundays provided the occasion to socialize and transact business. Services were long and held only every other week as some had quite a distance to travel, the fastest way being by water. Being part of the Church of England, Lynnhaven Parish Church was supported by taxation, and the church vestry set tax rates and collected the money, usually in the form of tobacco. Beginning in the 1730’s Presbyterians and Baptists began to protest the tax and steal away poorer church members into their primitive churches while railing against the easy life of the Lynnhaven Parish Church gentry. By the 1760’s a number of Lynnhaven Parish Church members found themselves in debt due to their luxurious and extravagant way of living. Exemplifying this downward spiral was David M. Walke (1800 – 1854), son of the famous Lynnhaven Parish Church Reverend Anthony Walke (1755 - 1814). After his father died David used the Walke Manor House, site of today’s Ferry Plantation House, for gambling parties. At one of them, in 1828, a drunken guest tipped over an oil lamp and burned the plantation to the ground.  Sometime in the early 1850’s Author Bishop William Meade (1789-1862) wrote about a conversation he had long ago with David Walke. “Formerly this was one of the most flourishing parishes in Virginia. The social class, the rich feast, the card-table, the dance, and the horse-race, were all freely indulged in through the county. And what has been the result? The causes of bankruptcy and ruin [were] cards, the bottle, the horse-race, the continual feasts, - these were the destroyers.” On the side of the most formidable and tallest tombstone in the church graveyard is David’s inscription that, “acknowledges with shame, having fallen far short of living in strict obedience to its holy precepts and commandments.”

The tallest gravestone in Old Donation cemetery is David Walke (1800 - 1854), 6th child of Rev. Anthony Walke, III (1755 – 1814). The gravestone, along with other Walke stones, were moved from the Kempsville Fairfields Walke Cemetery in the 1930’s after being found enclosure in a hog pen.

Leading up to the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), family feuds started. Primarily the old, the English Loyalists, wanted to keep the status quo. They worried about what would replace a British government dictating Anglican authority. The young, American Patriots, wanted independence and freedom from the King. Here is the story of two families who split their allegiance.

Edward Hack Moseley, Sr. (1717-1783) was loyal to King George III, and enjoyed the social life of Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore right up until 1775 when the unpopular Lord Dunmore was forced out of Virginia in skirmishes leading up to the Revolutionary War. His son, Col. Edward Hack, Jr. Moseley (1743 - 1814) was a loyal patriot during the war, father and son standing on opposite sides, but this evidently did not affect their relationship.

May 17th, 2014, a wreath-laying ceremony to mark a new gravestone for Patriot Col Edward Hack Moseley, Jr. 
The stub of his original gravestone can be seen just above the rose, the oldest grave in the cemetery with remains.
Another family that stood on opposite sides was Captain Jonathan Saunders I (1726 – 1765) and his son Captain John Saunders II (1754 - 1834). Saunders II chose to side with the British and his home, Pembroke Manor, fell into the ownership of Princess Anne County in 1779. 
Pembroke Manor House on Constitution Drive, just off Independence Blvd (as pictured above) was built by slave labor in 1764 by Captain Jonathan Saunders I

The grave of Captain John Saunders I (1726-1765) was moved from Pembroke Manor without remains to the Old Donation Cemetery, the oldest marker in the cemetery.

Capt. Jonathan Saunders (1726 – 1765), “a person of great piety and a most humane Disposition
From the November 1775 battle of Kemp's Landing to the December 1780 burning and looting along the James River, Lynnhaven Parish grew increasingly anxious about the war coming to Princess Anne County. In early September 1781 word began circulating that Admiral deGrasse’s French fleet was lying in wait at the Lynnhaven Inlet to intercept a British fleet sailing to Yorktown. On the morning of September 5, 1781, when the British fleet reached the mouth of the Chesapeake, crowds began to form along the Cape Henry shoreline. Starting late in the afternoon French and British naval forces exchanged cannon fire for about 2-1/2 hours in an epic sea battle that resulted in preventing the British fleet from resupplying General Cornwallis at Yorktown and blocking any escape by sea, crucial in General Washington’s defeat of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Standing on the shoreline that September day were the Lynnhaven Parish Church families of one year old John Brownley, three year old Anthony Walke, and twelve year old John Henderson.  Thirty-two  years later those three patriots would serve as members of the Princess Ann County Militia in capturing the first English ship off Cape Henry less than a month after the War of 1812 began. They are buried in the Old Donation Church cemetery.

September 5, 1781 Battle of the Capes - French (left) and British (right) ships
After the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), in addition to James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, our church had an important hand in voting for a central government and a Civil War to keep it together.  The Articles of Confederation (1781) helped keep some local control over a church weakened by the political power, wealth, and social prestige lost by English rule.  With this in mind, church members Thomas Walke IV (1760 – 1797) and Reverend Anthony Walke (1755 - 1814) became anti-federalists.  Because of their family status, they were chosen to represent Princess Anne County at the 1788 Virginia Constitutional Convention.

In order for the Constitution to become law two-thirds or 9 of the 13 states had to ratify it.  After New Hampshire became the 9th state, even though Virginia had yet to vote, they along with New York were locked in bitter debates. Their failure to ratify would reduce the new union by 2 large, populated, wealthy states, geographically splintering the new nation.  Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799) argued for hours at the Virginia convention against the Constitution, but James Madison’s (1751 – 1836) persuasive and subtle logic persuaded the Walkes, who held sway over a few other anti-federalists, to change their votes; and on June 25, 1788, by a narrow margin, Virginia voted yes to the new Constitution.  With Virginia voting yes, New York caved and also by a narrowly vote approved the Constitution. 


Rev. Anthony Walke's (1755-1814) stone was moved from the
Fairfields cemetery in Kempsville to the Old Donation Cemetery in the 1930's. 
Up until 2015, the stone was not understood to be that of the famous Rev. Walke.
Along with the new government and freedom from Britain,the fears of the older gentry became true.  With the British government no longer welding its Anglican authority over Americans, the church lost its tithing tax and the practice of younger sons entering the ministry or purchasing a commission in the army or navy. Without the protection of English church laws, new denominations drew people away from the Episcopal Church, and since there were no longer any bishops in the colonies to fight for the church, Princess Anne County began confiscating some of the county's oldest historical Episcopal Church properties after the church membership had faded away.

At the turn of the century Rev. Walke held our church together by conducting captivating sermons.  He was famous for rushing off in the middle of sermons to join the hunt on his horse Silverheels tethered near the door.  When he returned late in the day he’d finish preaching to church members who spent all day socializing and picnicking.

Rushing off in the middle of a sermon, Reverend Walke joins the Fox Hunt
Marking the close of the eighteenth century, Lynnhaven Parish hosted the wedding of the century. Rev. Walke’s niece, Elizabeth Walke (1784-1855) lived with him in the Walke Manor House, the largest and grandest home in Lynnhaven Parish (location of today's Ferry Plantation House). Just across the West Lynnhaven River was the estate of George F. McIntosh's (1768-1863) Thalia Summerville (location of today's Steinhilber's Restaurant). 

Walke Manor House (1st Ferry Plantation House) built in 1782, destroyed by fire in 1828.


George McIntosh's Summerville, built in 1751 (site of today's Steinhilber Restaurant)

George first caught sight of Elizabeth standing on her porch gazing across the moonlit river. Even though George, a wealthy Scottish merchant, was twice her age, the couple were soon mingling at eloquent soirees and taking week-long excursions to the Cape Henry bay-shore; having sent servants ahead with tents, furniture and refreshments; all hosted by their respective plantations. Their wedding in 1800 at Lynnhaven Parish Church was a most grand affair and a way for the people of Lynnhaven Parish Church to take their minds off congregants abandoning Lynnhaven in favor of a more prosperous Kempsville.

Even though there were dark clouds on the horizon for Old Donation and its surrounding Princess Anne County, America was growing by freely granting citizenship to immigrants with the U.S. population almost doubling between 1790 and 1810 to more than seven million. American merchants were growing rich from the European wars. While the French and English sank each other’s ships, neutral Americans traded with both sides. Thurmer Hoggard III’s (1784 - 1835) shipbuilding business on Broad Creek flourished with America’s merchant fleet more than doubling between 1793 and 1805 and tripling by 1810. His son Thurmer Hoggard IV (1819-1902) was famous for saving Old Donation Church. In 1882 he came to rescue it by holding annual pilgrimages to the open shell of the abandoned and burned out church so the county could not take possession of the land.


Not until the dawn of the twenty-first century did Old Donation see a second Golden Age and a bright forecast for the future.