Early Nineteenth Century
After the Revolutionary War, with the Religious Freedom Act of 1785, Virginia formally disestablished the Church of England as the official church of the Commonwealth. Episcopal churches (as they came to be called) underwent difficult times. Deprived of their clergy, their church lands often seized, many congregations totally disbanded. Still, services continued at Pohick with Parson Mason Locke Weems, Washington’s first biographer (and first raconteur of the famous Cherry Tree story), taking services on occasion from the turn of the nineteenth century until as late as 1817.
One worshiper at the time, John Davis, describes the persevering vitality of parish life at Pohick in 1801: “About eight miles from Occoquan Mills is a place of worship called Powhick Church. Thither I rode on Sunday and joined the congregation of Parson Weems, a Minister of the Episcopal persuasion, who was cheerful in his mein that he might win men to religion. A Virginia Churchyard on Sunday resembles rather a race-course than a sepulchral ground . . . . [thus] I was confounded on first entering the Churchyard to hear ‘Steed threaten Steed with high and boastful neigh.’ Nor was I less stunned with the rattling of carriage-wheels, the cracking of whips and the vociferations of the gentlemen . . . . But the discourse of Parson Weems calmed every perturbation, for he preached the great doctrines of Salvation as one who had experienced their power.” Of the congregation, Davis records that “one half was composed of white people, and the other of negroes.” Undoubtedly those in the second group included many former slaves freed by Martha Washington on January 1st of that same year.
During the War of 1812, oral tradition recounts that the British raided Pohick Church because of its association with George Washington. A patriotic parishioner named Mr. Bowie had carved a wooden dove, painted it with gold leaf, and placed the figure as a memorial on Washington’s pew. One of the soldiers decapitated the dove, cut off its wings, and threw it into the courtyard where it was later recovered and returned to its creator. Alternately, the dove may originally have been crafted to crown the canopy over the pulpit. Whatever the case, it was passed down through the family for several generations before being donated to Pohick by Mrs. Peter J. Troy in 1988. It has since been on display in the Parish House foyer.
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.