Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Reverend Lee Massey

By Rev. Tom Costa
Historic Pohick Church Docent Guild
and Gunston Hall Historic Interpreter Society

Lee Massey was born in 1732 in King George County in the Northern Neck area of Virginia. His mother was a member of the prominent Alexander family, after which the city of Alexandria was named.  He began his professional life as a lawyer, reading law with George Johnston, a distinguished lawyer residing at Alexandria, and eventually married his daughter, Mary Johnston, in 1756. They had two children: Margaret (also known as Peggy) and a son who became an officer in the Continental Navy and died at Norfolk, VA, around 1777.
Massey handled legal work in the courts for criminal trials and offenses, as well as legal papers, contracts, and wills. In that capacity he often handled legal affairs for the Mason, Washington, and Fairfax families.  But his legal practice began to weigh heavily on his mind and soul. Lawyer Massey found it a bitter moral issue to have to defend those truly guilty of crimes in the courts, and to perform his duty to see them proved innocent and released, even when he knew they were guilty and deserving of punishment.

The pulpit at Pohick Church.
The death of the Rev. Charles Green of Truro Parish at the close of 1765 created the need for the selection of a new minister, and Massey submitted his case to pursue ordination to take the late Rev. Green’s place.  Washington, Mason, Fairfax, McCarty, and the other vestrymen of Truro Parish signed letters to the Governor of Virginia and the Bishop of London to recommend Lee Massey entering holy orders in order to become the rector for Truro Parish.
Massey sailed off to London to read for ordination with the Bishop of London in 1766. On returning to Virginia about 10 months later, his letters of ordination being accepted by the governor and the vestry, the Rev. Lee Massey was made rector of the two churches of Truro Parish.  He began divine services and preaching twice a month at the old Pohick Church near Colchester and twice again at Payne’s Church (destroyed during the Civil War) about 10 miles to the west in what is now Fairfax Station.  Sunday services often had to be cancelled in the winter and early spring because they could only be held when the weather and the state of the country roads through marsh and forest permitted a congregation, and the Reverend, to gather. 

In 1767, the same year that he was made rector, the vestry decided to build a new Pohick Church of brick and stone (the old wooden church being well out of repair) at the corner of what is now Telegraph/Old Colchester Road and Route 1 in Lorton. The new church was completed in 1774 and is the current Historic Pohick Episcopal Church.

During the colonial period most marriages, baptisms and funerals were performed not in church but in private homes.  The Mason Family Bible records the “Revd. Mr. Lee Massey” baptizing the last 4 Mason children (Elizabeth, Thomas, Richard and James) at Gunston Hall from 1768 to 1773. 

The Rev. Lee Massey, along with George Mason, George Washington, John Carlyle, and 21 others, also signed the Fairfax Resolves on July 18, 1774. The Fairfax Resolves were a set of resolutions, written primarily by George Mason, that presented a concise summary of American constitutional concerns on such issues as taxation, representation, judicial power, and military issues against the British Parliament's claim of supreme authority over the colonies. 

The Revolutionary War brought financial hardship to the area as well as to most of the colonial Anglican churches.  Many of the country churches like Pohick began holding only occaisional services.  In 1777 Lee Massey stepped down as rector for public church duties, although he continued to serve the parish for private baptisms, weddings and burials.  His grandson later wrote: "The loss of his fore-teeth impairing his speech was the cause of his ceasing to preach.  He then studied medicine as a means of relieving the poor, and announced that he would practice without charge."  So it came to pass that Lee Massey followed successively what were then known as "the Three Learned Professions of Law, Divinity and Medicine."

Massey was married three times.  After the death of his first wife, Mary (around 1774) he married a Miss Burwell, who died nine months after their wedding. His last marriage (around 1778) was with Miss Elizabeth Bronaugh, by whom he had another daughter, Nancy. Elizabeth was a first-cousin of George Mason and the sister of Anne Bronaugh (Mrs. Martin Cockburn).

Lee Massey continued to live at Bradley, his plantation a few miles away from Gunston Hall, until his death in 1814 at the age of eighty-six. His last words were said to have been, “The great mystery will soon be solved and all made plain." His tombstone can be seen today under the pulpit in Pohick Church, where it was moved from Bradley in 1908. It reads:

Massey's tombstone at Pohick Church.
In Memory of the
who was born
September the 22d. 1732.
And departed this life
September 23d. 1814.

Below the original inscription, the following was added when the tombstone was moved to Pohick Church:
Second Rector of Truro
Parish. Ordained by the
Bishop of London on the
Recommendation of the
Vestry. 1766.

This dust removed from
Bradley. 1908.


Mason Family Bible, Entries of Marriages, Births, and Deaths. Transcription: Gunston Hall Library. <>. 
Meade, William, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia in Two Volumes. Philadelphia, PA:  J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1861.  
Minutes of the Vestry, Truro Parish, Virginia, 1732-1785. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1995. 
Slaughter, Philip, The History of Truro Parish in Virginia. Philadelphia, PA: George W. Jacobs & Company, 1907.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pirates and Renegadoes: George Mason and the Virginia Navy Part II

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator

On New Year’s Day, 1776, Lord Dunmore’s fleet of frigates, sloops, schooners and the flag ship Dunmore, formerly the Eilbeck, began firing their heavy guns on Norfolk. Their goal was to disperse Patriot militia and to give cover to landing parties who will search for supplies for the Loyalists onboard and burn the wharves to keep the Rebels from using them.

The Virginia militia used the opportunity to begin setting fire to Loyalist homes. In the shelling and confusion, both Tory and Patriot homes began burning. After a few days, more than 1300 buildings were in ashes.

If Norfolk could so easily be assaulted by water, nearly all of Tidewater Virginia was vulnerable. The James, the York, the Elizabeth, the Rappahannock, the Potomac—all needed to be defended. Virginia needed a navy. Squadrons were formed for the protection of these precious waterways. In January 1776, the Virginia Convention decided to organize a squadron for the Potomac. Members of the Committee of Safety George Mason of Gunston Hall and John Dalton, an Alexandria merchant, were charged with that task.

A model of a row-galley used in the Chesapeake area
 by both Virginia and Maryland navies, currently 
on display in the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD.
By March, they were well into the task, and they wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety for assistance in protecting their shared waterway.
GENTLEMEN.        Virginia, Fairfax County March 15th 1776.
Being employed by the Committee of Safety for this colony to fit out three armed cruisers, & two row gallies, for the protection of potomack River, we have, in consequence thereof, bought three sloops; the largest of which (called the American Congress) will mount 14 Carriage Guns, 6 & 4 pounders, & be man'ed with about ninety men. We are now raising the company of Marines, which will be compleated in a few days; she has most of her guns mounted, the shot are now casting, at a Furnace in the Neighbourhood, & if we had powder, she wou'd be very soon fit for action….As this equipment will be as beneficial to the inhabitants on the north side of potomack as to those on this side, we doubt not the disposition of your board to promote it, and under these circumstances, we take the liberty to apply to you for the loan of ten barrels of the powder lately imported for yr. province, in Capt. Conway's vessel now in the eastern Branch of potomack, which shall be replaced out of the first powder we receive from the northward, or else where: if ten bars. cant be spared, even five or six bars. wou'd be very serviceable, & might answer our purpose until the supply we expect from Philadelphia arrives. We beg the favour of an imediate answer, & hope that the urgency & importance of the Business will excuse the trouble we have taken the liberty to give you. We are with much Respect Gentn. your most obdt. Serts.
On March 19, the Maryland Council of Safety respond with 10 barrels of powder and a promise that they would “do everything in our Power to promote the general Welfare, and for that Purpose are now increasing our Marines.”

March 27, Lt. Thomas Boucher, of the Maryland schooner Defense, asked the Maryland Council of Safety for permission to resign his commission to assume command of the Potomac Fleet at the insistence of Col. Mason and Mr. Dalton “as it will be more beneficial to me.” His flagship would be the American Congress.

The 90-man crew of the Congress included
         John Boucher, commander
         Wm. Skinner, 1st Lt.
         John Thomas, 2nd Lt.
         Geo. Hunter, Doctor
         Rich. Richards, Gunner
         Robt. Cary, Boatswain
         John Allison, Capt. of Marines

A sloop, similar to the American Congress, the Scorpion
and the Liberty. The sloops of the Virginia Navy were 
probably converted merchant vessels.

Boucher’s Potomac Flotilla included 14 vessels of every description. Besides the American Congress, there were two other sloops Scorpion, and Liberty; row galleys; tenders; and an armed schooner also called Liberty. The schooner Liberty captured four British merchant-men in the Rappahannock, Oliver, Lark Susannah, and Speedwell. These were added to the Virginia Navy, armed and sent to the West Indies for supplies and powder.

In April, George Mason reported Virginia’s progress to his friend and neighbor General Washington in the field in command of the Continental Army.

April 2, 1776.
Dear Sir,
We have just received the welcome news of your having, with-so much address and success, dislodged the Ministerial Troops and taken possession of the town of Boston. I congratulate you most heartily upon this glorious and important event—an event which will render General Washington's name immortal in the annals of America, endear his memory to the latest posterity, and entitle him to those thanks which Heaven appointed as the reward of public virtue….

…Large ventures have been lately made for military stores; for which purpose we are now loading a ship for Europe, with tobacco at Alexandria. Her cargo is all on float, and I hope to have her under sailing in a few days. Notwithstanding the natural plenty of provisions in this colony, I am very apprehensive of a great scarcity of beef and pork among our troops this summer, occasioned by the people's not expecting a market until the slaughter season was past: I find it extremely difficult to lay in a stock for about three hundred men, in the Marine department of this river.

Ill health, and a certain listlessness inseparable from it, have prevented my writing to you so often as I would otherwise have done ; but I trust to your friendship to excuse it….I have, in conjunction with Mr. Dalton, the charge of providing and equipping armed vessels for the protection of this river. The thing is new to me, but I must endeavor to improve by experience. I am much obliged to the Board for joining Mr. Dalton with me. He is a steady, diligent man, and without such assistance I could not have undertaken it…..
 We have twenty barrels of powder, and about a ton of shot ready—more is making; swivels we have not yet been able to procure, but she may make a tolerable ship without, until they can be furnished. We have got some small-arms, and are taking every method to increase them, and hope to be fully supplied in about a week more. Her company of marines is raised and have been for some time exercised to the use of the great guns. Her complement of marines and seamen is to be ninety-six men.
We are exerting ourselves to the utmost and hope to have her on her station in less than a fortnight, and that the other vessels will quickly follow her, and be able to protect the inhabitants of this river from the piratical attempts of all the enemy's cutters, tenders, and small craft….
Dear Sir   Your affecte. & obdt. Servt.
G. Mason

In May, Capt. James Barron on the Liberty, not the sloop, not the schooner, but the brig, and his brother Capt. Richard Barron in the Patriot captured the transport ship Oxford, and its cargo of 217 Scotch Highlanders who were at the time trying to make their way to join Lord Dunmore’s troops.

Later that summer, Dunmore, his fleet, his troops, and his Loyalist followers had proceeded to Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake to use it as a base of operations as they continued to raid up the rivers of the Commonwealth.
The Virginia Gazette reported:
Williamsburg, August 2, 1776
Since our last, we have certain advice that Lord Dunmore, with his motley band of pirates and renegadoes, have burnt the elegant brick house of William Brent, Esq; at the mouth of Aquia creek, in Stafford county, as also two other houses lower down Potowmack river, the property of widow ladies, with several ferry boats; that on Tuesday se'nnight he relanded on St George's island, but was beat off by 1200 Marylanders; that he had burnt eight of his vessels, and was seen standing down the bay the Thursday after with all his fleet.

A week later, after smallpox and Patriot raids had decimated his combined forces, Dunmore and his fleet weighed anchor.

August 8
John Page reported to the North Carolina Council of Safety
Lord Dunmore with his Fleet in 2 divisions has just left our capes, one of which steered to the Southward and the other with a fair Wind to the Northward.

Lord Dunmore never returned to Virginia.

With Dunmore gone and seemingly no one else in the British command realizing the importance of Virginia’s rivers to the nascent United States, the Virginia Navy could turn to making a bit of profit for sailors and the war effort. Many vessels were given permission to leave off defense and search for ammunition by capturing British supply ships entering the Chesapeake.

They captured a cargo of pineapples; a cargo of limes; a cargo of gifts for British officers from their friends at home; a cargo of guns, swivel guns, rifles, and ammunition; a cargo of salt from Bermuda; and a cargo of ladies of the evening from Liverpool being shipped for the pleasure of Loyalist troops in New York.

During the American Revolution

         Eleven of the thirteen states had a state navy.
         Only New Jersey and Delaware had no navy.
         Virginia’s navy was the largest of the state navies.
         Massachusetts had the most blue-water vessels.
         New Hampshire had only one ship in its navy.
         Connecticut had the Turtle, the only submarine.

Coming soon to this blog space—the continued history of Virginia’s Navy and the British attack on Mount Vernon.