St. James Church was the first church in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. The deed for St. James church was recorded in deed book 1, page 259. The deed records that the church wardens paid David Christopher one shilling sterling for two acres, which were a part of David’s original land patent. The location of the two acre plot was on a road on the east side of Little Bluestone Creek, which is on the far western side of the county. This church would have been part of the Church of England, which was the established church of the colonies at the time of this deed, dated 11 August 1766.
A large part of Mecklenburg County, possibly the entire county, belonged to the church’s congregational area known as St. James Parish. At the time this church was established, farms in Virginia were required to grow specific amounts of tobacco each year. This changed the way some people lived, causing many Virginians to live in more rural areas, as opposed to living in or near towns in England. Instead of building churches in towns, and having their towns centered around churches, the churches were built along major roads, with parishes being so large that some people couldn’t travel to church weekly. (For more information, see Encyclopedia Virginia.) Deeds and wills during the Virginia colonial time period included the parish name as part of the location.
I searched Bluestone Creek on Google maps. On the map above I tagged as number 2 the creek that Google maps labeled as “Little Bluestone Creek.” Numbers 1, 3, and 4 are “Bluestone creek”, according to Google maps. Number 3 is the area on Google maps marked “Bluestone.” Item number 4 is Bluestone middle school and number 5 is Bluestone High school. I looked at Google maps to see the distance between Bluestone High School and South Hill. Present day roads show a distance of 24 miles. In Essex County court order books during the 1760’s, I saw records of people being fined for not attending church. I wonder if that fine didn’t apply to people that lived 20 miles away from the church? Or did people try to make the effort to attend once a month, and spend a night at a tavern or friend’s house because that probably took a full day of travel?
Two colonial Virginia churches that I have visited recently were built in the shape of a cross. The parishes were established and the church buildings were first built as wooden structures, then later rebuilt with brick. North Farnham’s church is one of the older Virginia churches, established and first built in 1683, and subsequently rebuilt with brick in the 1730’s. It is located in Richmond County, Virginia, and was the church for Lunenburg Parish. I find it interesting that Lunenburg Parish was in Richmond County, near the Rappahannock River, but St. James Parish began in 1761 in Lunenburg County, then in Mecklenburg County when it split from Lunenburg. Wikipedia page for the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneburg states, “In 1714, the Hanoverian branch of the family succeeded to the throne of Great Britain, which they ruled in personal union with Hanover until 1837. For this reason, many cities and provinces in former British colonies are named after Brunswick or Lüneburg.”
Vaughter’s church in Essex County, Virginia was established in 1704, and the church built in 1731. It is located beside Route 17. This was the church for St. Anne’s parish. (For more information see the church’s website.)
I do not know any more history about the St. James church that was established in 1766 other than this deed. There is a St. James church in Boydton, but the sign in front of the church said that building was consecrated in 1842. I don’t think this church could be the same, because it is not by Little Bluestone Creek. Mecklenburg would have been on the Virginia frontier in 1766, and this church would have been on the edge of that frontier. Mecklenburg County split from Lunenburg County on 26 May 1764, about two years before this church was established. Several other colonial Virginia churches I’ve seen pictures of are similar in style and shape to the two pictures above, which leads me to think that St. James church would have been similar in appearance; ie: a simple wooden building at first, then later bricked. Christ Church in Lancaster County, Virginia has a virtual tour that I enjoyed looking at. You can see the inside of the church. There are a number of churches in Virginia that are still standing, which are even older than St. James Parish. I wonder if the church of 1766 is not still standing because it was not rebuilt with brick, or perhaps the location moved, or was damaged during a military conflict?
The deed to St. James Parish