Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church: 400 Years of History in the Heart of Central Virginia

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Email: Click Here
Posted: Mar. 21, 2018 | 2:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church is in the midst of a four-month commemoration of their 400th anniversary. This historical milestone is staggering when one considers that the United States of America is a mere 242-years-old. The historical significance of this Church is of great importance to all Virginians and Americans. Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church has been located on the south of the mighty James River, on Brandon Plantation, for centuries. The address is 18706 James River Drive (Route 10, between Hopewell & Surry), Disputanta, Virginia 23842 (Burrowsville).

Much of the research for this article, and the subsequent two articles that will be published in this paper’s next two editions, was conducted by Barry Royer, a proud Church member and Historian, with the assistance of the Prince George Regional Museum. His research was done at the Libraries of Congress, Virginia, and Appomattox, and throughout much of the area on the south of the James River.

”My granddaughter, Caroline Redfearn, is the 7th generation of our family to be baptized in the church,” Royer said.

The history of the church begins with John Martin arriving in America on the original British fleet in 1607. Martin was a leader and an accomplished mariner, who had sailed with Sir Francis Drake, and was also one of the seven men, including Captain John Smith and Captain Christopher Newport, named to the Council of the Virginia Company at Jamestown, in early-1607. Martin was given the responsibility of building the original Jamestown Fort. He managed to complete this task quickly, in spite of at least two Indian attacks.

Members of the congregation of Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church, on the Day of Pentecost.

In July of 1607, the “summer sickness” devastated the little settlement. The sickness left Martin weak in body and also in spirit, because his 14-year-old son did not survive the sickness. The hardships experienced by the Jamestown Colony came very close to destroying the entire Colony. Only 37 of those who arrived in 1607 survived the winter. The winter of 1609-1610 was even more devastating. Of the 490 people in the Colony in October of 1609, including newcomers, only approximately 60 were still alive six-months later.

Yet it was here that the courage of the man, that would go on and establish Brandon Plantation and Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church, was truly tested. In his own words from that time, Martin wrote, “All save John Martin voted to abandon the Colony.”

During these early years, John Martin set his sights on the territory across the James River, and it is believed that he began cultivation of this land as early as 1611. By the time he received his patent for 5,000 acres, in 1616, Martin had already cultivated silk, tobacco, fruit, and vegetables on the south-side of the James River. It was at this time that Martin’s land acquired the name, Brandon; which was the family name of his wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Richard Brandon. The patent that Martin received in London, was an award or grant, which was frequently a gift of land, given by the King, in return for services rendered.

The date of the formation of Martin’s Brandon Church is circa 1618. What is known is that by 1611, John Martin had started cultivating the land now known as the plantation parish of Brandon Plantation, and that there is evidence of a church that was founded for the purpose of worshipping, serving the Lord, and meeting the needs of the people of Brandon Plantation and the surrounding area. The presence of the church at Martin’s Brandon is indicated by an early grant, which reserved 200-acres, “formerly given as a glebe (a piece of land serving as part of a clergyman’s benefits and providing income), by Captain John Martin to the Parish of Martin’s Brandon.”

There are several historical articles that suggest 1618 as the year that Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church was formed. It is known that during this timeframe, there were a number of small churches formed, even though there were few people and little money. Because the Church was still governed from England, and the Bishop of London deployed Anglican ministers to America, there were few ministers available. Therefore, churches depended on laymen, usually the plantation owners, to officiate and read sermons. Occasionally, there would be a traveling minister, who would conduct a service; however, sources reveal that perhaps as early as 1618, John Martin erected a church; probably constructed of logs, and that a Mr. Robert Paulette was its minister. Paulette had just come to Virginia, and is also reputed to have been a physician and a surgeon.

If you have found this important historical information interesting, you will be equally-intrigued by Parts II and III. Part II will be published on Wednesday, March 21, and will continue the fascinating history, and Part III will be published on March 28, and complete the 400-year journey of Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church–a historical treasure in the Commonwealth of Virginia and our Nation.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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