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Parish History Notes 13: The Lean Years

The colonial years at Fork Church concluded under the leadership of Rev. Robert Barret, who had previously been head of the Indian School at the College of William and Mary. He had served as rector for a very long time by 1786, the date of disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia, and, being at least 73 years of age, he retired soon after.

Rev. Peter Nelson succeeded Rev. Barret and served until about 1808 when he left to become a member of the Baptist church. Rev. Mr. Talley of St. Paul’s became a Universalist. For several years Fork Church had no rector, and Rev. Mr. Boggs of Spotsylvania visited both St. Martin’s and St. Paul’s Parishes to conduct services occasionally. Bishop Meade refers to Boggs’ efforts by explaining “so low was the condition of the church, and so few disposed to respond, that he used to read only such parts as needed no response, and not all of them.”

The Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia suffered another attack after disestablishment, when the General Assembly passed legislation to seize property formerly held by the Anglican Church. The logic of this law was that these properties were purchased with money levied by taxes (tithes) on citizens. Church lands and other properties were placed in the hands of county overseers of the poor, and these individuals occasionally were the principal beneficiaries of the revenues earned. Vacant church buildings were appropriated for use by other denominations.

The year 1812 is often considered the beginning of the resuscitation of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. Still, in 1824 it was reported that there were only seven male communicants among all three churches in the St. Martin’s Parish.