Jamestown was the capital of Virginia until 1699. Then Williamsburg became the seat of government. Six years earlier the latter town had taken on some importance because of the founding there of William and Mary College, and for more than sixty years efforts had been made to persuade the people to make their homes in the place. The records of the Colony show that in 1632 rewards were offered to those who would locate in what seemed a promising situation for a town.
The date of the building of the first church in Williamsburg is not known. The first entry in the vestry book of Bruton parish was made in April, 1674, but the parish dates from 1658. In that year Harrop and Middle Plantation parishes were united, though the new parish was not called Bruton for some time. The name was given because Sir James Ludwell, who afterward left a legacy of twenty pounds to the parish, was born in Bruton, England.
A building (that it was not the first is shown by the mention in the records of the Old Church) was completed in 1683, and the first service was held on January 6, 1684. The cost was ” £150 sterling and sixty thou-sand pounds of good sound, marketable sweet, scented Tobacco.” The minister, ” Mr. Rowland Jones,” was ” paid annually ye sum of sixteen thousand, six hundred and sixty pounds of Tobacco and Caske.”
The removal of the capital to Williamsburg brought so many new people to town that the church became too small for the congregation. In 1701 the parish records show that there was talk of a new building.
On October 1, 1706, the vestry decided to levy a tax of twenty thousand pounds of Tobacco as a beginning of the building fund. Four years later the members of the vestry made known their hope that the House of Burgesses would assist in the expense, which, they thought, would be about five hundred pounds. To the – Burgesses a message was sent indicating that the vestry ” do not doubt in the least but the House of Burgesses would show their Pious and Generous Spirits by their Liberall Donation towards soe Necessary and good a worke and that they would assure them to the best of their Judgment they would appropriate the same according to the true Intent thereof.”
The Burgesses offered ” to take Care of the wings and intervening parts,” if the vestry would build the ends of the church. They also agreed to build the pews for the Governor, the Council, and themselves. With their help, the building was completed and occupied in 1715. The tower was added in 1769.
Rev. James Blair, who was minister of Bruton parish at the time of the erection of the new building, had been instrumental in organizing William and Mary College. The early history of that institution is bound up with that of the church. Some of the most notable conflicts between Church and State in the old Colony took place during the years of Mr. Blair’s activity. He died in 1743, after serving the church as minister for thirtythree years, William and Mary College as President for fifty years, and the Colony as Commissioner for fiftythree years.
Among the famous names on the vestry rolls are those of Henry Tyler, great-great-grandfather of President Tyler, who was first mentioned on ” The Seaventh day of April, 1694,” and George Wythe, one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Patrick Henry, and George Washington later worshipped with the congregation.
When Virginia was about to go to war with Great Britain, the House of Burgesses, on May 24, 1774, ordered that ” the members of the House do attend in their places, at the hour of ten in the morning, on the first day of June next, in order to proceed with the Speaker and the mace, to the church,” for fasting, humiliation, and prayer. During the Revolution the members of the church were noted for their loyalty to the Colonies.
Today the building is about as it was during the troubled days of the war. No change has been made in the exterior, but in 1839 the interior was changed in many important particulars. In 1905, however, it was restored as before. The pulpit was put in the old place. The canopy and curtain which had long stood above the pew of Governor Spotswood, were found and again put in position. King Edward VII gave the new pulpit Bible, and President Roosevelt provided the lectern.
( Originally Published Early 1900’s )