County celebrates 400th Anniversary of Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Email: Click Here
Posted: Mar. 11, 2018 | 4:50 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – The United States of America is 242 years old. Unbelievably, Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church, right here in central-Virginia, in Prince George County, is observing its 400th anniversary! This is a major historical event and milestone for Virginia and our country. The importance of this anniversary will be highlighted by a series of Events Planned during a Four-Month long Commemoration of this awe-inspiring 400th anniversary that preceded the very foundation of our country.

The first event in the four-month-long observance was held on Saturday, March 3, at 4:00 p.m., and commemorated the church’s beginning in the early 17th century.

“Martin’s Brandon Church has been a presence on the south side of the James River for centuries,” said Reverend Eve Butler-Gee, Priest in Charge. “Some families who worship at Brandon Church have done so for seven generations, so it seems only right and fitting to honor those generations as we mark our beginning as a worship community.”

The silver communion chalice cup still in use by the church, has been in use since the early 17th century. Several of the stained glass windows in the church are creations by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

There are a few old gravesites in a field on Brandon Plantation, referred to as “Church Pastures,” and are believed to be the only things remaining of the first two colonial churches. A few of these tablets have death dates as far back as 1700 and 1708. The words on one of the tablets are written in Latin. The Reverend Eve Butler-Gee is a direct descendant of one of the church’s earlier ministers, The Reverend Charles Minnegerode (1814-1894).

The March 3 event opened with a new, original, video presentation about Brandon Plantation and Brandon Church, by Director of Photography and filmmaker Jorin G. Hood, a three-time regional Emmy Award winner for Nationally Broadcast Educational Television Series. Following the video, visitors heard the stories of two individuals who played important roles in the history of Brandon Church, John Martin, founder of Martin’s Brandon Plantation and Martin’s Brandon Church, and Dorothy Tirrey Tooker, whose gravesite is on the grounds of the original church.

Portraying John Martin was Richmond actor Richard Halenda. “I was in the American Revolution drama, Turn, that filmed locally, but as John Martin, I’m stepping back about as far back in Virginia’s recorded history as you can go,” said Halenda. “Martin arrived in Jamestown in 1607, made his way to what is now Prince George County, and created Brandon plantation, which survives to this day,” added Halenda! Halenda’s acting career was born out of a desire to not only entertain, but to “create my interpretation of a character, or in this case, a historical figure. John Martin’s language, dress, customs, and experiences are very different than mine, but we’re both human beings and exploring the humanity beyond the historical facts to make his story come alive. This is an exciting challenge for me,” said Halenda.

Caroline Mincks portrayed Dorothy Tirrey Tooker, who lived later in the 17th century than John Martin. Her tombstone offers her death date, but little more is known about Dorothy Tooker.

“That’s what makes Dorothy so interesting to play,” said Mincks. “Acting allows you to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while, challenges you to imagine yourself in their situation, and opens your eyes to all sorts of experiences you might not otherwise have had.”

The daughter of a World War II reenactor, Mincks grew up in a household where watching the History Channel and historical documentaries, “was just part of the average weekend. In the past several months, I’ve played a Czech-Slovak farm wife at the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center, a French salvage worker during World War I at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum on Fort Lee, and now may be the first actor ever to portray Dorothy Tooker,” said Mincks.

Following the program, refreshments were available in the fellowship hall. Visitors enjoyed a collection of historical documents, photographs, and memorabilia from the church’s archives and from members of the congregation. “Each picture, article, cookbook, and program tells part of the church’s story. It’s a fascinating look at Brandon Church’s history,” said Barry Royer, a lifelong member, and unofficial church historian.

Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church is located at 18706 James River Drive (Route 10, between Hopewell & Surry), Disputanta, Virginia 23842 (Burrowsville). Look for more fascinating and exciting upcoming events in the four-month-long Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of an American historical landmark, Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church!

Also, look for a two-part presentation on the fascinating history that will be featured in this newspaper’s next two editions (March 14 and 21).

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