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.

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