Original Information from Volume 5 of the Gravestone Books
Pohick Church and Cemetery are located at 9301 Richmond Highway (Route 1) at the highway’s intersection with Old Colchester Road in the Pohick area of the county. The church, including the courtyard and cemetery, is one of the most beautiful and historic sites in the county.
Pohick Church was a part of Truro Parish which was established in 1732 by an act of the General Assembly of the Colony of Virginia, according to Chester A. Liddle, Jr. in Families of Pohick Church. The first church to bear the name “Pohick,” which Liddle says is an Algonquin word interpreted as an area of hickory trees or a meeting place, was built near present-day Cranford United Methodist Church (q.v.), about two miles south on Old Colchester Road. When the frame building at that site needed extensive repair in 1767, the Vestry decided to rebuild at another location.
According to tradition as recounted by Charles H. Stetson in Washington and His Neighbors, George Mason urged the Vestry to rebuild on the same site recalling that it was the place where “their fathers worshipped and . . . the graves of many were around it.” George Washington and others preferred a more central and convenient location. Stetson points out that when the original site of the church was selected in the late seventeenth century, the area was sparsely populated and “centered mainly around the Occoquan. In 1769, the old site was convenient to Mason and a few other families, but distant from most of the parish members.”
Construction of the new brick church was begun in 1769, according to Handbook of Pohick Church, with Daniel French as building contractor, an occupation called “undertaker” at that time. Stetson states that George William Fairfax, George Washington, George Mason, Daniel McCarty and Edward Payne were members of the building committee which oversaw the construction which was finished in 1774.
Almost from the minute of its completion, Pohick Church fell into a decline, with the difficulties of the Revolutionary War followed by Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) which separated church and state, according to an article about Truro Parish in Volume XIV of Fairfax Chronicles (1991). In 1777 Pohick’s Rector Lee Massey (1732-1814) retired due to ill health. At any rate, Colonial levies had been suspended and there were no funds to pay his salary, according to Stetson.
The Handbook states that little is known about services at the church from 1777 to 1836. Stetson says that Washington, who attended church in Alexandria after the Revolution, mentioned in his diary that he attended services at Pohick on Sunday, 5 October 1786, and on another Sunday in 1788. Parson Mason Locke Weems, famous for his biography of George Washington which popularized the myth of Washington and the cherry tree, preached here for a period beginning in 1798, but historians do not know how long he stayed. The last recorded Vestry meeting was held at Colchester in 1785.
Bishop William Meade visited Pohick Church in 1837, and was very distressed by what he found. He issued a stirring report about the near decay of the church in which he asked, “Surely patriotism, or reverence for the greatest of patriots, if not religion, might be effectively appealed to in behalf of this temple of God.” His words moved people to action. A petition was circulated to raise money and repairs were undertaken, according to the Chronicle. But by 1850, the parish was again unable to support a permanent clergy and as the Civil War loomed, the church again fell into disrepair.
The church building was all but destroyed during the Civil War. The Handbook reports that the sanctuary was used as a horse stable by Union soldiers during the winter of 1862-63. Everything which could be was carried away or burned, according to the Chronicle, and the Handbook states that “everything which interfered with convenient use” was stripped away. Even the walls were used for target practice and graffiti covered everything. The only architectural details which are original today are the exterior walls, the interior crown molding, and one chancel baluster, according to Liddle.
The church began to revive in the 1870s, but restoration did not begin in earnest until the arrival of the Reverend Everard Meade in 1897, the Chronicle reports. The reconstruction was supported by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Regents of Gunston Hall, and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. By 1924, box pews in colonial configuration, the pulpit and the alterpiece had been installed in the sanctuary, according to a 1969 Historic American Buildings Survey Inventory of Pohick Church.
Liddle says that the cemetery was established “formally” in 1886, but it was in use before that time. The Handbook indicates that the churchyard was used for burials after 1840. Many gravestones bearing eighteenth and early nineteenth century dates have been moved to Pohick from other, older graveyards.
The extant records at Pohick Church are filled with information of value to the genealogical researcher, Liddle writes. He notes that the researcher may find sponsors and witnesses to baptism, witnesses to marriage, places of baptism and marriage, cemetery of burial, last residence, cause of death, and celebrant signatures. Official burial documents and correspondence concerning family members may also be available, he reports. Liddle suggests inquiries may be addressed to Pohick Episcopal Church, 9301 Richmond Highway, Lorton, Virginia 22079. Researchers should enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope with their inquiry. Contributions for research would be gratefully received.
According to the Handbook, when the churchyard was cleared and graded during the restoration, the Vice-Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union for Connecticut sponsored a stone plaque which was mounted in the wall of the courtyard:
To the Unknown Dead of Pohick Church
this Tribute of Respect is paid the
Many Parishioners Buried in this Hallowed Churchyard
The Records are Lost & the Graves
cannot now be identified
The cemetery was surveyed by Carrie White Avery in 1923. Volunteers from the Annandale Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surveyed the cemetery in July 1997 as a service to the Fairfax Genealogical Society. Their surveys were merged, input and checked against Mrs. Avery’s work. The survey was then checked with the information from Chester A. Liddle, Jr.’s book Families of Pohick Church. Society members checked the entire survey in the spring of 1998, with attention to discrepancies between the various readings. The entire survey was then rechecked in the late spring and early summer by different researchers who proofed the survey against the gravestones.
Pohick Cemetery was also surveyed in 1967 and published as Tombstone Records of Pohick Church, Fairfax County, Virginia by Edna May Stevens and Lesba Lewis Thompson, available in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax City Regional Library (see Bib-liography).
The survey begins in the courtyard in front of the parish house (church office).
No Updates from Volume 6 of the Gravestone Books