Monday, May 28, 2007

Stories of Vauter’s Church

According to Bishop Mason’s book that I just recently received, there are several interesting anecdotes about this edifice.

First Mr. Richard Baylor of Essex County relates that his father had the Bible carried home each week and that it bore notations in his father’s handwriting in the nineteenth century. At that time the doors to the church were left open and Baylor records that he and his horse took refuge inside during a thunderstorm. This corroborates accounts that the churches were often entered by dogs or pigs (Yeocomico I think) and that chancel rails were ordered to be erected to keep them out of the chancel. This incident, too, generally coincides with Upton’s assertion that the Virginia gentry were not too reverent as evidenced by what seems sacrilegious treatment of the churches. Remember that vestry meetings because of the secular nature of the discussion were often held in small outlying building instead of in the church itself.

Baylor also reports a dual fought in the churchyard by General Bankhead and a Mr. Buckner on the south side of the church. One or two shots were fired before the parties dispersed.

The most common story is that of local farmers in the early nineteenth century who entered to remove the aisle stones and bricks who were confronted by a Mrs. Moscoe Garnett who threatened to prosecute them for trespass and theft on the legal basis that her family had permitted the church to be built on their land, and, therefore, it reverted to their ownership after the Disestablishment. The farmers, according to the present Rector, Dr. Agnew, were Baptists and fled upon the woman’s assertions, leaving the church preserved (Mason 408-409).

The church silver also has a fascinating tale. With the exception of the chalice, it disappeared during the Civil War, but the platen and the other chalice were found them displayed in an antique shop (?) in the North and raised money to purchase them and return them to the parish where they are still in use. The flagon that was stolen has never been found.

Dr. Agnew is also related to the Rev. John Agnew who in 1776 gave a sermon with the topic “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and was driven from the church by a patriotic vestryman, William Cowper. Cowper is reputed to have replied, to the assertion that Agnew was serving his master, “Which master? Your master in heaven, or your master over the seas? You must leave this church or I will use force!” Agnew, who has served as rector for over twenty years, left and never returned. He became the chaplain of the Queens’ Rangers along with his son, Stair Agnew, who was its captain. The pair were captured and sent to France as prisoners of war (Mason 178), and he finished his life after the Revolution as a pastor in New Brunswick. Cowper served as a delegate for Nansemond County in the Constitutional Convention of 1776.

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