Ruins at Yorktown, 1815-1860

        "I had the pleasure some years ago of visiting the remains of the Old Church at Yorktown. Nothing was left but the walls. These are composed of stone marl, which it is said, is soft when taken out of its native bed, becomes hardened by time and exposure, until it acquires the firmness and durability of solid stone. The roof was open to the eye of day and foxes might peep, by moonlight, out at the dismantled windows. Adjacent lies the old grave-yard, enclosed by an antiquated brick wall...The site of the church is superb, immediately on the lofty bank of the sparkling cerulean waters of the majestic York. The spot is consecrated by the ashes of the illustrious dead, the charms of nature, its antique recollections and the classic associations of the siege and surrender." [From Southern Literary Messenger, January, 1844]

        From 1814 until 1848, York-Hampton Parish church remained a ruined shell. If the congregation remained active, services must have been held in public buildings or in private homes. There is no record of regular services held in the parish; some marriages from the period are noted in the county records. Bishop Richard Channing Moore visited Yorktown three times, in 1818, 1824, and 1826. During those visits, he "officiated in the courthouse" and "at the house of Mr. Nelson." [Journals of Diocesan Conventions, cited in Grace Church General Study, Charles E. Hatch, 1970.]

        In 1841, it appears that a group of citizens undertook a subscription drive to restore the building for use as a community church. It was stated the "the doors of the church shall be thrown open to all Ministers of the gospel...without any distinction whatever...in favour of any particular sect or denomination." [Richmond Enquirer, cited by Hatch]. The drive was not successful.

        The fire that burned the church in 1814 also burned out the last vestiges of the old established church. Anglicanism in Virginia underwent a radical change at about the same time York-Hampton church burned. Bishop Moore came to settle in Richmond in October 1814, with little experience of the political enganglements of the past, his eyes firmly fixed on an evangelical vision of the future. Anglican Evangelicals in Virginia held "low" views of the sacraments and ritual, concentrating instead on fiery preaching, piety practiced daily in the home, and cooperation with other denominations. [Up From Independence: The Episcopal Church in Virginia, by George J. Cleaveland and others, 1976] This change in emphasis came at an opportune time to Yorktown: circuit-riding clergy and bishops nurtured the lay leadershop of York-Hampton parish, baptizing, confirming, marrying, and preaching during periodic visits, and encouraging the congregation to continue in the corporate and personal practice of their religion in their homes in the meanwhile. When the church was rebuilt in 1848, it was with the new spirit of Gospel preaching and with a new name: Grace.

        In 1842, Charles Minnigerode, a German immigrant, came to Virginia, obtaining a post as a professor of Latin and Greek at the College of William and Mary. Turning his thoughts to the ministry, he became a communicant at Bruton Parish Church in 1844, and two years later was ordained an Episcopal priest. He typified the evangelical spirit of the newly-revived Diocese of Virginia. His first parish was York-Hampton, where he served until 1848. The Rev. Dr. Minnigerode eventually moved on to St. Paul's, Richmond, where he was rector for 33 years.

        Born the same year as the Yorktown fire, Minnigerode was a vigorous 33-year-old in his first mission when he began to encourage his parishioners at York-Hampton to work seriously toward rebuilding their church. The small congregation had already succeeded in raising several hundred dollars: Minnigerode noted, in his 1847 report to the Diocesan Convention, that "the Church had been given up entirely for many years...but efforts have been made to raise sufficient funds for the rebuilding of the ancient church at York." The following year, Minnigerode reported that, although still lacking approximately two-thirds of the anticipated cost, the parish made a contract "according to which the church is to be rebuilt on its former site and partly on its old walls and to be completed within a short time." Finally, Bishop Meade reported to the Diocesan Convention of 1849 that, during his fall visitation of 1848, he "consecrated the new church at York." At its consecration, the church was named Grace, and is referred to as such in the report of its rector, the Rev. Edmund Withers, to the Convention of 1849. [Journals of Diocesan Conventions, 1847-1849]

        While still a professor at William and Mary, Minnigerode initiated his new friends into the customs of a German Christmas. The most important was the bringing into the house and decorating of an evergreen tree. The custom is an ancient one in central Europe, and by the mid-19th Century there had grown up in Germany a seasonal industry of manufacturing ornaments for the trees. But without access to those fancier products, Minnigerode resorted to handmade items of paper, gilded nuts, candy cornucopias, and popcorn and cranberry chains.

TimeLine of Significant Events

  • 1820's - York-Hampton church under lay leadership
  • 1822 - York-Hampton Parish was supposed to have sold its silver plate
  • 1824 - The Marquis de Lafayette returns to Yorktown
  • 1831 - Nat Turner's revolt results in harsher laws for slaves and free blacks
  • 1846 - Charles Minnigerode is ordained an Episcopal priest; first charge is York-Hampton Parish
  • 1848 - York-Hampton Parish Church conscrated and renamed Grace Church
  • 1857 - Dred Scott decision
Last Published: March 5, 2010 10:12 AM
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