Leesburg Presbyterian Church

207 W. Market Street
Leesburg, VA  20175
(703) 777-2016
   
  ... hear the Good News for our modern world in our historic sanctuary  

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In the beginning ...

 

The real founder of the Presbyterian Church in Loudoun County was the Reverend Amos Thompson, who came to this county around 1764 as a missionary.  Thompson had been licensed in 1761 by New Brunswick Presbytery, the licensing agency for the College of New Jersey (Princeton), and ordained in 1762 or 1763.  His work in this county seems to have centered around two areas, Catoctin and Gum Spring (Arcola), and in a short time his efforts here showed results.  His congregation at Catoctin purchased a plot of ground "with the house thereon for a place of public worship for the Neighboring Presbyterian Congregation" in 1769.  The church he established at Gum Spring applied to Presbytery for a minister in 1776.

However, many of the facts of the Presbyterians' early history in Loudoun County have been lost in time.  They were dissenters in a colony where the established church was Anglican.  Virginia at that time had numerous statutes applying to dissenting churches.  One of these required that ministers be licensed by the local courts in order that they might perform the rite of matrimony.  Apparently great importance was attached to this responsibility for the license required a bond of 400 pounds, a very large sum in those days.  County records show that among the first Presbyterian ministers issued a license were:  David Bard, 1781; James Thompson, 1785; Amos Thompson, 1789; and William Allen, 1800.  So far no record has come to light on where James Thompson or William Allen preached.

Nor are any facts available of exactly where members from the Catoctin and Gum Spring churches banded together to form the Presbyterian Society in Leesburg.  It seems entirely possible that as the area became more heavily populated, Presbyterians around Leesburg wanted a church of their own, since it was a considerable distance to go to either of the existing churches.  The Presbyterian Society probably held services in a private home, the courthouse, or perhaps at Catoctin.  In 1782 we find them with a regular minister, for that year the Reverend David Bard was ordered from Catoctin "to supply Leesburg until the next meeting of the Presbytery."  It is an interesting commentary on the times that David Bar's annual remuneration while he was at Catoctin was 200 bushels of wheat, 50 bushels of ry3, and 250 bushels of Indian corn.

It is also know that the church had its start during those strenuous years immediately preceding and during the Revolution and that the Presbyterians in Loudoun County like those throughout the Eastern Seaboard were ardent supporters of the revolutionary cause.  Commenting on the sentiment in the American Colonies, Horace Walpole, the British Prime Minister, remarked "American has run off with a Presbyterian Parson, and that's the end of it."  The Presbyterian parson was John Witherspoon, a great Scotsman who was a descendant of John Knox, and president of the College of New Jersey.  He was the only minister who was a member of the Continental Congress and the only minister who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

---  Establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Leesburg  ---

The years during and following the Revolution saw great poverty among the people in this area.  So it is a tribute to their faith and consecration and determination that by 1802 the members of the Presbyterian Society could plan to build a church.  It seems to indicate that they were people of substance, probably aided by a certain amount of Scotch thrift.  The Society bought at public auction on November 9, 1802, the lot where the church now stands, one half acre for $80.  The deed conveyed the property from Patrick Caven to Robert Wade, Edward Dorsey, John McCormick and Alexander Laurence, representing the Presbyterian Church of Leesburg "for the sole use and purpose of a burying ground and place of worship to be conducted agreeably to the manner prescribed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of these United States, forever."  It is an interesting coincidence that the property on which the Catoctin Church stood when the congregation bought it in 1769 was purchased from John Caven, whom we have reason to believe was the father of Patrick Caven.  After the lot was bought, two members of the Society were appointed to enter into agreement with W. Wright to build a church "of brick 40 feet by 30 feet, in the clear."

---  Leesburg at this Time  ---

Leesburg at this time was hardly more than a remote village which had grown up around a crossroads.  Through it - north and south - ran the old Carolina Road, the main thoroughfare between the northern and southern colonies.  East and west, the old "Ridge Road" connected Alexandria with Snickers' Gap (Bluemont) and Winchester.  At the time the church was being build, Leesburg had a courthouse, the Old Stone Church (Methodist), a considerable number of log houses, and a few of stone and of brick.  There was an extraordinary number of taverns and ordinaries.  Forty-five years previous to this, in 1757, Nicholas Minor had laid off 60 acres in streets and lots and the Assembly had issued a charter, which used the quaint phrase of "erecting" the town of Leesburg.  Among the original trustees was Francis Lightfoot Lee, who some years later was to be one of Virginia's signers of the Declaration.  It was for this outstanding member of the famous family that the town was named.

---  The Organization and Dedication of the Church  ---

The church's organization was the event of the greatest significance in its early years.  The Reverend James Hall had charge of these ceremonies, undoubtedly by the order of Presbytery.  At this time, Dr. Hall was Moderator of the General Assembly and he was on his way from his home in Bethany, NC to Philadelphia to its meeting where he was to preach the opening sermon as well as preside. James Hall was one of those great pioneers working to establish the Presbyterian Church in the South, having already been as far as ?Natchez organizing missions.  During the Revolution, Hall organized a troop of cavalry and served as chaplain.

At the organization service held on Saturday, May 4, 1804, John McCormick, Obadiah Clifford, and Peter Carr were elected Elders.  Peter Carr, whose several descendants are still active members of the church among them John William Carr, was the layman who made the largest contribution to the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Loudoun County.  Previous to this time he had lived in the Waterford neighborhood, where he had been a leader in forming the Catoctin Church, also serving as Elder.  When he moved to his plantation below Leesburg and build his stone mansion about 1790, he became a part of the Leesburg congregation.  In addition to the Carr family, the church still has many active members and officers whose families participated in the church's beginnings.

The following is taken from the Sessional Records of the Presbyterian Church of Leesburg, Virginia on May 5, 1804, pages 1-3:

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was this day administered in the Presbyterian Church and the following persons were admitted as members in full communion:

Peter CarrSarah MyersNelly Hanson
Obadiah CliffordJane DouglasMarr Carr, Sr.
John McCormickMrs. HicksonMargaret Wade
Joseph KnoxMrs. DowElizabeth Kitzmiller
George RowanHelen CurtisSally Taylor
Robert WadeAgnes McCowatFanny Ewel
Joseph DouglasMary McCormickBetsey Powell
William KnoxSara ChiltonMrs. Fulton
James EwelMary Ann KnoxMrs. Ewel

On Sunday, May 5, 1804, Dr. Hall dedicated the church building, received into the membership of the church 27 members of the Society, installed the elders, administered communion, and baptized two infant daughters of John McCormick.  At this first service, a collection for missions in Virginia was taken and amounted to 40 shillings.  This was, indeed, a generous sum for those times and this group.

We can imagine the great joy that came to Leesburg Presbyterians with this service.  Their goal to build and organize a church had been fulfilled.  Bust just as our lives are a blend of joy and sorrow, so was theirs.  In a few months, the death of the Reverend Amos Thompson on September 8, 1804, brought them great sorrow.  Amos Thompson was the first person buried in the new church yard, his tomb being near the west wall of the church.  Mr. Thompson's career had started in Loudoun 42 years before.  He had been absent during the revolutionary years, while servicing as chaplain in the continental army.  His death was a severe loss to the church and the community where he was counselor, neighbor, pastor, and friend tot he people.  We may huge the great affection given him, and the eminence he had attainted, by the fact that Dr. Moses Hoge came to Leesburg to conduct Mr. Thompson's funeral.  Dr. Hoge wad the outstanding Presbyterian minister of his generation and a few year following this was to become the president of the Hampden-Sydney College.  Here he established what was later our Union Theological Seminary.

Mr. Thompson's will, recorded by the Loudoun Court, reveals other expressions of his selfless life.  After a period of three years, he ordered his slaves set free.  Both the will and the inventory show that Mr. Thompson was a man of means and large land owner.  One tract he ordered sold and the proceeds were bequeathed to the College of New Jersey, the interest "thereof" to be used to educate "apparently pious men for the gospel ministry."

In April 1805, the first presbytery meeting was held in the Leesburg church.  It was a meeting of the Winchester Presbytery, the one into whose jurisdiction Loudoun County had been placed in 1797.  Other presbyteries to which the county had belonged during its history include Lexington, Chesapeake, Potomac, and now National Capitol Union.

---  The Ministers and Their Work  ---

The church had no regular minister until 1807 when John Mines became the pastor.  According to the minutes, Mines appeared before the Winchester Presbytery as a licentiate in 1798, 1799, and 1802.  So he apparently had amply opportunity to try out his gifts as preacher before being called to Leesburg and Waterford, these two churches being one pastorate until 1872.

 

 

---  INTERESTING FACTS  ---

 

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The sanctuary is the oldest in continuous use by a Presbyterian congregation in the Washington area

 

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The church was dedicated on May 4, 1804

 

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It has been enrolled in the American/Reformed Historical Sites Registry

 

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Originally, the entrance was on the east side and a high pulpit with its sounding board was at the west side. Possibly the frontage was changed when a stable was built in 1827 where the manse stood, in what is now the front lawn area on the east side of the church.

 

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In 1878, there were extensive changes: the alcove was added, and four small windows on each side closed and changed to two large ones

 

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It is not known when the galleries were added but we do know that the left gallery was usually occupied by young men while the black members sat on the right

 

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The pews downstairs are the original ones used since the church was built in 1804

 

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Originally the church was lighted by candles or whale-oil lamps

 

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The walnut pulpit and three chairs presently in use were purchased for $110 around 1877

 

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Around 1900, the bell and belfry were installed and are still in use

 

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The first person to be buried in the church grave yard was the Rev. Amos Thompson, the real founder of Presbyterianism in Loudoun County, and chaplain of the Revolutionary forces in the Continental Army

 

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Beside Mr. Thompson's grave is that of Ebenezer Potter, one of the first elders of the church

 

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Many of the ancestors of Leesburg families are buried in the church grave yard including Dr. Charles B. Ball and Thomas P. Knox both of whom were mayors; and Samuel B. T. Caldwell, historian, author and publisher of one of the first newspapers in Loudoun County

 

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In 1936, when the Garden Club of Virginia was planting cedars of Lebanon at historical locations, one was planted on the east side of the church

 

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The sanctuary was completely restored in 1974 - 1975

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Seal was adopted after the reunion
of the Southern and Northern churches in 1983. Each part of the seal has a special meaning.

For an explanation of the seal, click here

 

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August 2017

 

  

  

Sunday (8/20)

      Worship      10:00 am

 

Tuesday (8/22)

      Session 7:00 pm

 

Sunday (8/27)

     Worship       10:00 am

       Church Picnic after

            Worship     

 

    

     

   

 

     

    

    

 

 

  

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