Mid-19th Century

Mid-19th Century

Pre-Civil War

After Parson Weems’ departure, Pohick was periodically abandoned in the early 19th century. Students from Virginia Theological Seminary led services there sporadically, while Methodists used it for worship on alternating Sundays. During this period, the famous American artist John Gadsby Chapman painted the earliest known picture of Pohick Church. It depicts a dilapidated building surrounded by overgrown vegetation and overturned tombstones. The painting is currently on loan to Mt. Vernon.

In the summer of 1837, Bishop William Meade visited Pohick Church and was clearly shocked at its condition. At the church convention the next year, he issued the following plea to the gathered clergy: “My next visit was to Pohick Church, in the vicinity of Mt. Vernon, the seat of General Washington. It was still raining when I approached the house, and found no one there. The wide open doors invited me to enter, as they do invite, day and night through the year, not only the passing traveller, but every beast of the field and fowl of the air . . . How could I, while for at least an hour traversing those long aisles, ascending the lofty pulpit, entering the sacred chancel, forbear to ask, ‘And is this the House of God which was built by the Washingtons, the Mc.Cartys, the Lewises, the Fairfaxes?—the house in which they used to worship the God of our fathers according to the venerable forms of the Episcopal Church, and some of whose names are still to be seen on the doors of those now deserted pews? Is this also destined to moulder piecemeal away, or, when some signal is given, to become the prey of spoilers, and to be carried hither and thither and applied to every purpose under heaven?’ Surely patriotism, or reverence for the greatest of patriots, if not religion, might be effectually appealed to in behalf of this one temple of God.”

Bishop Meade’s call was answered by the Reverend W. P. C. Johnson, who became Pohick’s first post-colonial Rector and undertook the ambitious task of raising money for the church’s repair. Within two years, he had collected over $1,500—a significant sum for that era. Among the contributors to this renovation were President Martin Van Buren, former President John Quincy AdamsDaniel WebsterHenry Clay and Francis Scott Key, whose signatures can be found in a pledge book circulated by the Rev. Mr. Johnson for the reconstruction of “General Washington’s Church.” The pledge book remains in the church’s possession to this day.

Unfortunately, the Rev. Johnson left Pohick shortly after the project was completed in 1840. Without a resident clergyman, the Episcopal congregation gathered for worship in the church only sporadically, again led by students from the Virginia Theological Seminary. They continued to welcome neighboring Methodists to use the building on a regular basis.

The famous illustrator and historian Benson J. Lossing worshiped at one such service on December 10, 1848, as he recorded in his widely read Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution: “at early twilight [I] reached the venerated Pohick or Powheek Church where Washington worshiped, and Weems, his first biographer, preached. It is about seven miles southwest of Mount Vernon, upon an elevation on the borders of a forest, and surrounded by ancient oaks, chestnuts, and pines. The twilight lingered long enough with sufficient intensity to allow me to make the annexed sketch from my wagon in the road . . . [the next morning I returned] to Pohick Churchon the road to Alexandria, where I understood a Methodist meeting was to be held that day . . . When they were all assembled, men and women, white and black, the whole congregation, including the writer, amounted to only twenty-one persons. What a contrast with former days, when some of the noblest of the Virginia aristocracy filled those now deserted and dilapidated pews, while Massey or Weems performed the solemn and impressive ritual of the Church of England! . . . Yet the glorious hymn, beginning ‘Come, holy Spirit, heavenly Dove!’ was sung with fervor; and, standing behind the ancient communion-table, a young preacher in homely garb, with the eloquence of true piety, proclaimed the pure Gospel of love, and warmed the hearts of all present with emotions of Christian charity, the burden of his discourse. I sat in the pew, near the pulpit, wherein Washington and his family were seated, Sabbath after Sabbath, for many years.”

Free admission, self-guided tours, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm daily.
Docents are available for groups after Sunday services, on the first Saturday of the month at 1:00 pm, or by appointment through the Church Office.