2017-2018 State Theme: “History Awakens”
2017-2018 State Project: Pohick Church, Colonial Parish of George Washington and George Mason
Virginia C.A.R. Members will be using the Force to learn about colonial churches and the impact they had on the early days of the Revolution. It was in those colonial churches that the men and women who fought for independence first developed the skills and abilities that made the Revolution a success. Colonial vestries gave colonists the opportunity to find their voice, as they debated and made decisions on the future of their local community. They began to see they could run things on their own, and they began to imagine a future as an independent nation. Thus, just as the Force Awakened at the first Jedi Temple, it can truly be said that our history awakened in the colonial churches of Virginia.
One of those colonial parishes was Pohick Church. Long known as “the Mother Church of Northern Virginia,” Pohick was the first permanent church in the colony of Virginia to be established north of the Occoquan River, sometime prior to 1724. Originally called “the Occoquan Church,” it was soon referred to as “Pohick Church” because of its proximity to Pohick Creek.
In 1767, the Vestry decided to replace their small, wooden church with a sturdy brick structure. The present Pohick Church represents the fruit of their labors. Vestrymen George Washington, George Mason and George William Fairfax supervised the construction, which was completed in 1774, just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
Both before and after the war, Washington was a faithful attendant at Pohick. Washington’s steadfast faith undoubtedly sustained him during the long fight for independence from England.
Pohick’s first major restoration began in the late 1830s after several periods during which the church was abandoned. Among the contributors to that effort were President Martin Van Buren, former President John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and Francis Scott Key, whose signatures can be found in a pledge book circulated by the new rector for the reconstruction of “General Washington’s Church.” The pledge book remains in the church’s possession to this day.
Tragically, the Civil War brought devastation to Pohick when occupying Union forces stripped the building’s interior for souvenirs of “Washington’s Church” and used its worship space as a stable. Soldiers scrawled their names on the inside walls, carved graffiti onto the doorposts, and pockmarked the exterior with bullet holes. The interior damage can be seen from an 1862 Mathew Brady photo, while the outside markings can still be viewed today.
Following the Civil War, services resumed in 1874, and a major restoration of its colonial interior began in 1890, thanks to the generous contributions of its congregation, the Mt. Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, among others. While the renovation was largely completed in 1917, smaller restoration and conservation projects continue to this day with funding from the Historic Pohick Church Foundation.
This year, the members and seniors of the Virginia C.A.R. will be raising funds to replace the late 1800s steps on the south west side of Pohick Church. Those steps lead to one of the main entrances used in colonial times, and that entrance is the one through which George Mason and his family would likely have entered the church. Replacing the steps will not only provide safer access to the sanctuary for tourists and parishioners, but it will restore some of the colonial character to the south side of the historic building.
The second part of the project will be the installation of a plaque on Pohick’s Vestry House. The Vestry House was a part of the original plan for Pohick, but it was not built in the aftermath of the Revolution due to a lack of funds and the disestablishment of the Anglican Church. It was finally built in 1932 (with the help of the Daughters of the American Revolution) using the original plans. The building commemorates the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth and the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Truro Parish. The plaque will recognize the DAR’s significant role in raising funds for the completion of the Vestry House.
Primary Project Estimated cost: $25,000
Secondary Project Estimated cost: $900 – $1800
Total Cost: $25,900 – $26,800*
* A match has been arranged through the Historic Pohick Church Foundation, so every dollar donated will be matched, and thus only half the above amounts needs to be raised by the Virginia C.A.R.