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Parish History Notes 32: The Airwell Fires

Through most of its existence, Fork Church has benefited from the leadership and dedicated support provided by many generations of the Berkeleys and Nolands of Airwell.  In one 1802 incident, Elizabeth Wormeley Carter Berkeley refused to surrender the church’s communion service to representatives of the Overseers of the Poor.  A Virginia law had called for confiscation of church property after the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but Mrs. Berkeley stubbornly held the silver at Airwell.

Sadly, because of these close connections Airwell is associated with two losses in the timeline of church history.  According to mid-twentieth century historian Leon Bazille, parish records were being stored at Airwell in 1838, when the house was destroyed by fire.  These records would have included birth, confirmation, marriage and death records, vestry minutes and all official historical information about the parish and the church.  The vestry register that was currently active at the time must have been at another location, since we have these records starting in 1824.

One century later, Airwell’s tragic fire of 1938, which took the lives of two men, destroyed the colonial communion service that Mrs. Berkeley had saved in 1802.  The silver was inscribed “For the use of the churches in St. Martin’s Parish, in Hanover and Louisa counties, Virginia, 1759.”  The origin of the sacramental silver is lost.  By one tradition it was presented by William Nelson, president of the Virginia Council.  Another tradition is that it was a gift from St. Martin’s Church, London.