Culpeper Currents: Parish responsibilities

Prior to the American Revolution, the area of Culpeper County fell under the jurisdiction of St. Mark’s Parish. The Church of England used a parish system to administer the colony of Virginia. The designation of “St. Mark’s” came into being in 1730 to cover the area of Spotsylvania County. Of course, Orange County would be created from Spotsylvania in 1734, and Culpeper would come out of Orange in 1749.

The parish was run by a committee of 12 vestrymen. They were always men of standing who were elected by the land owners of the parish. By 1736, the qualification for voting was that a man had to own 100 acres of unimproved land, or 25 acres with a home and plantation. Once elected, the vestrymen were required to take an oath of allegiance to the King of England, and to sign “the test,” a document which stated that they would be “conformable to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England.”

The vestry imposed a levy to pay for the expenses of the parish. The levy was paid in tobacco. In 1751 there were 1,663 tithables who provided 22 pounds of tobacco each. The vestry accounts mentioned those “discharged from the payment of levies” for being “old and infirm.”

The vestrymen had responsibility for the community as well as for the churches. Many funds were paid out in care for the poor who were given notice to attend the vestry meetings and “let their situation be known.” In 1750 Will Clark was paid 1,000 pounds of tobacco for “his charge and trouble with a traveling man and burying him,” and in 1770 James Fletcher was paid 70 pounds of tobacco for “keeping a poor child of James Lee’s.”
The vestry had to pay the salary of their ministers, as well as for sextons, lay readers, and clerks who provided services in place of absent clergy. The sheriff’s fee for the tobacco collection came from the vestry as well. The vestry also had to investigate moral charges. Results of the latter were the payments they made for “nursing a bastard child” or “maintaining a bastard child one year.”

Of course, upkeep of the churches was a never ending obligation. There were many payments for maintenance and improvements to the Church at Little Fork for example.

In 1770 the vestry purchased land from Francis Slaughter for use as a Glebe. In 1772 the vestry planned for the glebe house with an elaborate description for its construction. It was to have a passage hall, a dining room, a lodging room, and a study downstairs, and four rooms and passage upstairs:

The Hall dining room and Passage to be wainscutted below the Chair Boards and corneshed round the Ceiling, the upper floor to be tongued and groved, to be underpinned with good brick two feet from the surface, with a Cellar 20 feet square 7 feet deep and as near the Center as is convenient with a door and door way into it to be done with brick, the Summers and Girders to be supported with Wooden Pillars. Two brick Chimneys with 4 fire places in each two below and two above, the Hall and dining room fire places to be four feet wide and all the rest to be three feet with flews in the funnel; folding planell’d shutters to the lower windows with hooks and staples, weatherboarded with feather-edge plank, shingled with good heart shingles-pine or cypress with a block Cornish, the Doors window shutters, Cornish, barge boards & corner boards to be painted white the rest of the outside roof and all to be painted with turkey paint or Spanish Brown, the inside work to be painted sky blue, to be plastered and White washed with spring locks to each of the inside doors with good Substantial hinges to the doors and window shutters, one of the Passage doors to have a strong spring lock, the other to be fixed with Staple hook and barr, washboards and Chair boards in each room, the sized of the frame timbers to be agreeable to a bill of scantling filed a copy of which to be delivered to the undertaker, the whole to be done in a Workman like manner to be completely finished by the last day of October 1774 – 1000 lbs Tobacco to be paid the undertaker.

After all these plans, they could find no “convenient place” for water on the Slaughter tract where they had planned to build. But they had another building project pending. In 1773 the Little Fork Church burned and the vestry was planning for a brick church to replace it.

The end of the American Revolution meant the disestablishment of the Church of England in Virginia. The St. Mark’s Parish vestry records ended in 1785, one of the last orders of business was a levy of 7 pounds of tobacco from 2018 tithables.
Julie Bushong
Culpeper County Library