Interspersed with the text are pictures of our communion
rail kneelers. Designed by the late Bobby Ball, a long time coummunicant, and executed by our members, the needlepoint
pillows picture the three demolished earlier churches and the heritage of our area.
The First Church, Wickocomicoe
Parish c. 1647-1685:
Our Colonial Foundation
|Kneeler of the 1656 Church
The first Wicomico Parish Church was in reality a parish
of the Church of England in Virginia as were the next two Wicomico Parish churches.
In the earliest days of the Virginia
Colony, when it was organized into eight Shires, each shire was required by law to have a court and a parish church. With
formation of the Counties, each county required the same, with the records to be kept and copies sent on to Jamestown. Two
parishes in what became Northumberland County, Chicawane and Wiccocomoco, were created in or before 1645. [Overholt] The boundary
between them was generally the line of the Great Wicomico River. Chicawane (later Chicacoan) Parish disappeared from history
and was succeeded by the present day Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church. Wicomico Parish Church continued, nourished by faithful
men and women except for a mid 19th Century interlude.
In 1646 during the government of Sir William Berkeley, an Act
of the Assembly: . . "Whereas, the inhabitants of Chicawane, alias Northumberland, being members of this Colony," etc. The
following year an Act . . ."That the ninth Act of Assembly of 1647, for reducing the inhabitants of Chickoun and other parts
of the neck of land Rappahannock and Potomacke Rivers, be repealed, and that the said tract of land be hereafter called and
known by the name of the county of Northumberland."
A combination of sources tell us that the Wicomico church building
was constructed in 1647/8; the builder and exact location are uncertain. Tradition has it that this wooden building was on
the site of the present church and was rendered unusable by termites.. It follows that in order to agree to have a church
built, how much to spend, and where to locate would have taken a congregation two or three years. The medium of exchange being
tobacco, those crops to pay for the work would have to have been raised over at least two growing seasons.
a well-appointed church with red silk plush hangings on pulpit and altar. Three prominent families donated the church silver,
including the large silver chalice donated by the early Lees of Virginia.
The Second Church, Wiccocomoco Parish,
|Kneeler of the 1680 church
Thirty-one years after the first church, a second, larger
church was contracted to be built. However, seven more years passed with the church not completed. A court order of 15th July,
1685, commanded that William Hartland finish "the said church by Christmas next or repay the vestry the sum of twenty five
thousand pounds of tobacco and cask." A note in the margin says that Hartland was arrested May 6, 1686, for non-compliance.
It did not say who finished the church. Or whether the vestry was repaid.
The Third Church, Wiccocomico Parish,
1771 - c. 1812 (no activity 1813-1854)
|Kneeler of the 1760 church
Over sixty years had passed when the vestry agreed, on
May 9, 1753, to replace the second church. Work was to be completed in five years. It was to be an explicit copy of Christ
Church, Irvington/Weems, only five feet bigger. (A little society thing, what with the LEE family at Wicomico and the CARTERS
at Christ Church.) Serious delays and modifications set back the start of the third church until 1766, ten years before the
American Revolution began.
Put into service in 1771, just five years before the American Revolution, it was the largest
brick church in Virginia.
Wicomico Parish Church continued functioning throughout the Revolution, and even ten years
more after the Disestablishment. The Vestry minutes of 1703-1795 mention little if anything of the turmoil swirling around
them. The Continental Congress passes an Act in 1785 creating the separation of church and state. Just after that Act of 1785,
the first Diocese of Virginia was established in convention at Philadelphia. Even then, we were gutsy people. Our vestry continued
to meet until 1795. Then the Minutes cease.
All Church of England in Virginia, the Established Church of the State,
had been sanctioned as an adjunct. Many had been built on public lands given by the State. In 1802 the General Assembly declared
that all the land and churches, with all their possessions, no longer belonged to the Episcopal Church, but were public property.
Wicomico parish lands were seized by the Overseers of the Poor, who auctioned them off.
This would appear to have
been a mortal blow. Dispersed by the effects of wars, failing tobacco crops, and the disestablishment of the church, many
left. Bishop Meade declared that there were no Episcopalians left in Wicomico Parish. He was mistaken, but barely. The Parish
was represented at the Diocesan Council in 1812 and 1813. Then the records are silent.
As the third building was decaying
and collapsing from lack of use, a last Vestryman gave Bishop Meade the cherished church silver in 1840, for safe keeping.
It was subsequently sent to the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia, the new seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
The bricks of the church were sold and the proceeds sent to the seminary to build Key Chapel, named after Francis Scott Key,
author of "The Star Spangled Banner" and a prominent Episcopal layman who was instrumental in the founding of the Seminary.
Other reports of Wicomico Episcopalians attending services at Grace, St. Stephen's, Trinity, and St. Mary's Whitechapel
continued to appear during the next two generations.
Only recently was the exact location of this church determined;
to read more click on the marker 1771.
Rebirth - Interim Church, 1855-1902
|Ships brought our earliest English settlers
A real revival began after the mid 1800's when "Aunt Bettie"
would read the lessons to a few faithful gathered at "Snowden Park," her home. In 1877 she created the "Ladies Aid Society,"
a direct ancestor to the ECW. The parish has always thrived under the care and ministration of its faithful women. The group
of worshipers grew quickly and moved into larger quarters. This fifth meeting place, which they bought, was an abandoned school
house, situated just one hundred fifty yards south of the present church. It was enlarged into a chapel of ease.
this strong lay leadership, present in today's church over one hundred years later, the parish was reborn, revived, survived,
and moved into the 20th Century. By 1880, the Revd Henry Derby, Rector of Trinity, reported that he had officiated at Wicomico.
Also, the congregation saw Bishop F. M. Whittle preach and confirm three in "Wycomico Church, in Northumberland." The silver
was returned that year and is in use in the present day.
The Fourth Church, Wicomico Parish
|The Chesapeake Bay and the Great Wicomico River are important in our history
Construction began in 1898/9 by Master Carpenter Henry
Stegeman. Bishop Gibson consecrated the church on December 14, 1902, the third Sunday in Advent. A plain-looking building,
it stood off the ground on brick pillars. The front door opened onto the aisle; the back door was in the southeast corner,
exiting from the sacristy. The choir vested in there, went out the back door and around the church to the front. The building
had four colored glass paneled windows on each side. Inside was a wood stove; no pews, only chairs and benches. The belfry
and vesting rooms were proposed by the Vestry in 1908. Not until the year 1950 did it get done. The Parish hall was completed
In 1992 a long overdue period of major renovation and modernization was begun. The parish hall kitchen was
renovated and brought up to date with new cabinetry and major appliances. In 1994 the sacristy addition was completed, providing
a handicap access bathroom, adequate working space for the altar guild and a vesting sacristy for the rector. In 1996 the
parish hall basement renovations were completed to provide a library, an attractive room for the Sunday School which had been
reestablished the year before, and a choir practice room. Bishop Lee dedicated these renovations in his visitation in 1996.
By 2000 the interior renovations to the church and parish house had been completed when the parish hall proper had
been modernized, redecorated, and equipped with a gas log fireplace and new overhead lighting fixtures which replaced the
bare bulb cart wheels in use for almost half a century. In 2001, the exquisite columbarium wall and landscaping for the cemetery
were completed. It was during this period that a new electronic organ was purchased and voiced and new improved speakers placed
in the walls of the sanctuary. Bishop Lee dedicated the renovated Parish Hall, the new organ, and the columbarium during his
visitation that summer.
In 2002 the half century of neglected maintenance was caught up when a matching grant from
the Jessie Ball duPont Fund allowed the leaking roof of church, steeple, breezeway, and parish house to be replaced with copper.
During the same decade ending in 2003, this small parish also underwent other major changes. Membership doubled. The
Episcopal Church Women turned the adjacent unoccupied Rectory into a thriving Thrift Shop to serve the lower Northern Neck.
The Men's Breakfast became an established and popular monthly fixture in the community on the first Saturday of each month.
The early 8 AM service of Holy Communion, begun on a trial basis in 1994, became a permanent part of parish life, on occasion
being as well attended as the traditional 10 AM service.
We face the 21st Century with the same confidence in God's
power and grace that led our forbears to establish God's church on this small plot of land over 350 years ago. We will continue
to be a witness for Christ's love for all the world and to proclaim the good news of the Gospel to all who would listen and
to those who would not.
Arthur C. Johnson, Jr. April 5, 1996; revised 1 September 2003 by the Rector.
|Rectors of Wicomico Parish Church, 1970s-present
|Steilberg, Dillard (present rector and only surviving), Thomte, Baker, Bunting
Discovery of the 1760 Ruins
In the 1990s Arthur C. (Bill) Johnson, a history buff and
member of the church, used radar to probe the ground around the current (fourth) church building and located the ruins of
the third church. He based his probes on earlier work done by parishioners John and Peg Overholt and on the vestry records
for Wiccocomoco Parish, May 9th, 1753, which read, The vestry hath agreed to have a new church built near the Old one of seventy-five
feet in length - as near as possible to the old church.
Several years ago, Rocco Tricarico, an architect in Heathsville,
became interested in this third church. Based on the minutes of the vestry above, he computer-generated a plan view, which
today hangs in the Parish House. The recent find matched his projections.
The third church was more glorious and grand
than either of the previous two or the current one. It was a cruciform brick church and was not only five feet larger than
Christ Church (1732, Lancaster County) but was the largest in Virginia. Unlike Christ Church, Lancaster which today is one
of the countrys architectural treasures, the Wicomico building fell into ruins. The legacy of that building is the small Key
Chapel at the Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria built with the proceeds from the sale of the Wicomico bricks.
Revd Dr. W. Scott Dillard, rector of Wicomico Parish Church, holds in addition to his divinity degree a doctorate in American
history. Commenting on the value of the recent find, he said, Recovering the outline of the foundation and designating the
corners with granite markers donated by Currie Funeral Home will help preserve the memory of this significant landmark in
the history of Northumberland County and Virginia.
The 350th anniversary of Wicomico Parish Church slightly precedes
that of Northumberland Countys celebration of its 350th in 1998; hopefully, the discovery of these ruins anticipates other
such riches lurking in the grounds, attics, and libraries of its people. The Church will end its 350th Anniversary Celebration
in 2002, the centennial of the construction of the current (fourth) building.
Dedication of Needlepoint Kneeling Cushions
Wicomico Parish Church (Episcopal) dedicated five kneeling
cushions to the memory of Bessie Day Townsend Ball (1898 -1988) at the Eucharist, Sunday, November 16, 1997 Surrounding the
communion rail, the cushions trace the history of the church buildings which have stood on the plot of ground given by the
Church of England to worshippers in Northumberland County by 1646.
The late Robert (Bobby) Carter Ball, one of Bessie's
sons and the then administrator of Ditchley for the Jessie Ball duPont Trust, designed the cushions. Together, they illuminate
the three prior church buildings; the flora and fauna of the land; and the creatures and vessels of the waters nearby.
Hagedorn of St. Annes, Annapolis, painted the canvases; then five women of Wicomico executed the drawings in needlepoint:
Joan Busch, Marian Johnson, Peg Overholt, Emily Pomerleau, and Amy Wilson. Nancy Lukoskie of Fancywork Finishing made the
pillows to follow the irregular lines of the communion rail so the panorama flows in an uninterrupted path. She specializes
in creating and restoring fine ecclesiastical needlepoint; her work graces the National Cathedral.
of the cushions continued the exciting celebration of the 350th anniversary of the only church in Wicomico Parish. Beginning
with the Festival Matins and Choral Eucharist on April 21, 1996, the church has flown flags designed and sewed by Amy Wilson
and Dorothy Pagano; they currently hang in the Parish House and continue to remind members of the 350 Years of Christian Witness.
These banners are currently preserved on the Parish Hall wall.