THE HOME CHURCH OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
Both Truro parish and George Washington were born in 1732, and Washington’s connection with Truro Church began in 1735, when his father, Augustine Washington, became a vestryman, and it continued throughout his life, though during his later years, when services were seldom held there, he went to Christ Church at Alexandria.
When Washington was a boy he had to make a round trip of eighteen miles, frequently over extremely rough roads, when he wished to attend services. Yet he was a faithful attendant, at all seasons.
A number of the early rectors of Truro were welcome guests at Mt. Vernon. One of these, Charles Green, was a physician as well as a minister, as appears from the record that he was called to prescribe for Washington in 1757, when the young campaigner was so seriously ill, in consequence of hardships suffered on his western trip, that he said he had ” too much reason to apprehend an approaching decay.”
Five years after this illness Washington was elected a member of the vestry of the parish, and he was reelected many times. His record for attendance was unusual, in spite of his many outside engagements. During the years from 1763 to 1774 thirty-one vestry meetings were held. He was absent from eight of these, once on account of sickness, twice because he was attending the House of Burgesses, and at Ieast three times because he was out of the county. For a few months, in 1765, he did not serve, because, on the division of Truro parish, Mt. Vernon was thrown over the line into the new Fairfax parish. At once the new parish made him a member of its vestry, but when, in response to a petition which Washington helped to present, the House of Burgesses changed the parish line so that Mt. Vernon was once more in Truro parish, he resumed his service in the old church. There he maintained his connection with an official body noted for the fact that, at one time or another, it had eleven members in the House of Burgesses, two members in His Majesty’s Council for Virginia, as well as the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the State of Virginia, George Mason.
When it was decided that a new church building was needed, Washington was instrumental in settling the inevitable discussion as to site that followed. He made a map of the parish, showing where each communicant lived, and recommended that the building be placed at the centre of the parish, as shown by the map. His suggestion was adopted, and a site two miles nearer Mt. Vernon was chosen.
For the new church Washington himself drew the plan. He was also active in letting the plan and over-seeing the building operation. At an auction of pews, held in 1772, when the church was ready for use, he bought Number 28, next the communion table, for £10, while he paid £13 10s. for pew 30. Evidently he was thoughtful for the guests who frequently rode with him to service, either in the coach, or in the chaise that followed, or on horseback. When the Mt. Vernon concession.
Under date October 2, 1785, the diary of Washington tells of one of these processions, as well as of an interesting event that followed :
” Went with Fanny Bassett, Burwell, Bassett, Doct Stuart, G. A. Washington, Mr. Shaw and Nellie Custis to Pohick Church to hear a Mr. Thompson preach, who returned with me to Dinner. . . . After we were in Bed (about Eleven o’clock in the Evening) W Houdon, sent from Paris by Doct Franklin and W Jefferson to take my Bust, in behalf of the State of Virginia … . arrived.”
For many years Pohick Church was practically deserted, but there is evidence that services were held here in 1802. Davies, an Englishman, in his ” Four Years in America,” wrote :
” About four miles from Occoquon is Pohick. Thither I rode on Sunday and joined the Congregation of Parson Weims, who was cheerful in his mien that he might win me to religion. A Virginia churchyard on Sunday is more like a race-course than a cemetery; the women come in carriages and the men on horses which they tie to the trees. The church bell was suspended from a tree. I was confounded to hear ` steed threaten steed with dreadful neigh,’ nor was I less astounded at the rattling of carriage-wheels, the cracking of whips, and the vociferation of the gentlemen to the negroes who attended them; but the discourse of Parson Weims calmed every perturbation, for he preached the great doctrines of Salvation as one who has experienced their power; about half the congregation were negroes.”
This Parson Weems was no other than the author of Weems”‘ Life of Washington,” a readable but inaccurate biography that had a great vogue seventy-five years ago.
For many years Truro Church was desolate, and relic hunters made spoil of the furnishings. But since 1876 it has been open for services once more.