Church History & Cemetery
“So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.” - Numbers 15:40
For 360 years people have gathered in Ware Parish for worship and friendship. When Gloucester County was opened for settlement in 1651 it was divided into four parishes: Ware, Kingston, Petsworth and Abingdon. Petsworth Parish no longer exists while the others are active Episcopal congregations. There isn’t an exact establishment date, but 1652 is generally accepted.
Why the name Ware Parish? There’s no clear answer other that that the Ware River is near by. The parish was formed after the execution of Charles I in England and before Charles II was crowned king. During this period the offices of the Bishop of London and The Book of Common Prayer were abolished. Yet the colony in Virginia remained loyal to the monarchy. In the parish’s earliest days they worshiped on Ware Neck near Glen Roy Plantation. All that’s left at that site are the soft brick foundations of two buildings and a single grave marker. Early Virginia churches were built of wood and many fell quickly into disrepair. Ware’s first known rector (1655-1672) was the Rev’d Alexander Moray (or Murray) who came to Virginia after an attempt failed to return Charles II to the throne.
Mordecai Cooke (1650-1718), a Vestryman of Ware Parish, gave an acre of ground near his home ‘Mordecai’s Mount’ now known as ‘Church Hill’ for the construction of a new church. During the tenure of the Rev’d James Clack, third rector of the Parish from 1679 to 1723, a petition was submitted to the Council and General Court in Williamsburg in April 1681 for another church. Tradition and research by the Rev’d William Byrd Lee, 12th rector of Ware, indicated that the church was completed circa 1690. Careful study of the brickwork and the mortar mixtures along with an examination of the roof structure indicate that the church was finished sometime after 1718. The lack of Ware’s seventeenth and eighteenth century vestry books and registers has obscured much of the church’s early history.
The first American-born rector was the Rev’d John Fox, rector from 1737-1758. Educated at the College of William and Mary, he sailed to England and was ordained deacon and priest by the Bishop of London in 1731. On September 11th of that year he was given a license “for performing the duty of Minister in the Colony of Virginia in America.” Ware is fortunate to have the original license.
After the American Revolution the population of Gloucester County fell into decline. New areas in western Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee opened and there was land for anyone wishing to settle there. Petsworth Parish ceased to exist and its third church, which had been described as one of the grandest in Virginia, fell into disrepair and was torn down in the late 1800’s.
Ware Church continued after the American Revolution and was recorded in 1785 as one of the founding parishes of the Diocese of Virginia. Unfortunately, Ware’s deputation did not attend the meeting.
Repairs are part of the church’s history with the first known one occurring in 1827. Later the Rev’d Charles Mann, rector from 1837 to 1878, was authorized to have chimneys placed in the church. Evidently they didn’t prove satisfactory and stovepipes again projected through the walls. In 1854 the church was again repaired, re-roofed, and this time altered. The floor of the chancel was extended over the tombs in the east end of the church. The flagstone aisles were removed along with the box pews and new flooring installed with modern pews. The church remains in this configuration.
Federal troops camped in the churchyard during the Civil War. The interior was badly damaged and repairs were finally made in 1878. Just inside the churchyard wall are the graves of two unknown confederate solders who died in 1862 at Burgh Westra which was used as a hospital. In the early twentieth century the church had the last wood shake roof removed and the present slate one installed.
During the rectorship of The Rev’d Robert A. Magill (1925-1932) more repairs were made to the church. Beginning in 1926 through 1927, extensive renovations were made to the interior with the church receiving electric lights and the present pulpit, dental molding, choir seating, communion rail, lectern, Altar and the framing of the reredos tablet with its Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Summary of the Law. The area under the gallery was enclosed to provide class rooms.
In 1952 a modern Parish House was completed in an architectural style compatible with the church providing five classrooms, a chapel, parlor, kitchen, large parish hall and, for the first time, indoor plumbing. It received an addition in 1979 of a library, church offices, sacristy and the Chapel of the Christ Child. In 1986 the memorial garden was opened providing a special place for those wishing cremation.
Two major additions were completed as Ware entered the 21st century. A seventeen rank Casavant Freres pipe organ was installed fulfilling the dream of the Rev’d Reginald W. Eastman, rector from 1942 to 1975. It was dedicated in his honor and to Judge John E. DeHardit, church organist for forty-seven years. The adjoining twenty acre parcel with its two bedroom house and other buildings was purchased for the future growth of the congregation. With this acquisition Ware’s grounds have grown to thirty-one acres protecting one of Virginia’s earliest churches.
First to be buried at Ware was the Rev’d James Clack who, at the beginning of his ministry had the vision of a new church for Ware Parish. He lived to see its completion and his grave is just east of the center of the east wall of the church. Ware is graced with a cemetery of more than 900 individuals. One can find markers honoring everyday folk, unknown Confederate solders, generals, children, veterans, doctors, the clergy, judges, attorneys and statesmen
In all of Ware’s years there have been eighteen rectors; many of whom served for more than thirty or forty years. Ware is an active congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia with three choirs, Christian education for all ages, emergency housing at Ware Cottage, groups for children and adults and a pre-school program. A host of community organizations meet in the Parish House. Parish life is a far cry from the days of the early nineteenth century when Dr. William Taliaferro, Sr. read Morning Prayer and old Mrs. Vanbibber sat in the box pews so there would be a congregation. Today you will find a congregation beginning its 21st century history. Come be a part of it!