Founded c. 1652, Ware Church was one of the four charter parishes of what is now modern-day Gloucester County, Virginia. A synopsis, by period, can be found below, along with a gallery of digial artifacts.
The first site of Ware Church was located on Ware Neck near Glen Roy Plantation. A soft brick foundation remains, along with a single grave marker. Worship at the original Church site followed the order of the 1604 Book of Common Prayer (also known as the Jacobean Prayer Book or the Hampton Court Book). King James I (r. 1603-1625) had led this revision of the 1559 Elizabethan Prayer Book in pursuing the via media that defines Anglican practice. James introduced a series of reforms that included the abolition of lay-performed baptisms and the rubric that required kneeling to receive the Eucharist. Charles I (r. 1625-1649) continued the trend that James began, preferencing Ceremonialist Anglicans – those who embraced ritual liturgy, priestly authority, and sacramentality.
Charles I would be executed in 1649 by the Puritans (led by Oliver Cromwell) in an attempt to force their restrictive views on England – the pendulum of religious practice began swinging back towards the Protestant side of the religious spectrum.
Ware’s first documented Rector was The Rev. Alexander Moray/Murray (1655-1672). Moray was an ardent supporter of Charles II (r. 1660-1685), fighting alongside him at the Battle of Worcester. Moray’s alignment with Charles during the Interregnum demonstrated his rejection of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanism and commitment to more Armenian and Ceremonialist principles of Anglican polity. Moray arrived in Virginia to lead Ware prior to Charles II’s restoration to the throne but would later receive Charles’ appointment to be the first Bishop in the colonies. Moray would die before he could be consecrated.
Little is known of the Second Rector, The Rev. James Wadding (Rector, 1672-1678?).
The Third Rector, The Rev. James Clack (Rector, 1679-1723), moved the site of the Church building to its current location just outside of Gloucester Court House. Mordecai Cooke (1650-1718), a Vestryman of Ware Parish, had given an acre of ground near his home ‘Mordecai’s Mount’ now known as ‘Church Hill’ for the construction of this new worship site. A temporary building was constructed c. 1690, and the current building was completed approximately thirty years later. Careful study of the brickwork and the mortar mixtures along with an examination of the roof structure indicate that the church was completed sometime around 1718. Rev. Clack was the first person buried at the present site. His grave is located just outside the East Wall of the Historic Church.
The first American-born Rector was The Rev. John Fox (Rector 1737-1758). After completing his education at the College of William and Mary, Fox 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 in its archives.
Ware’s “high church” style begun under Rev. Moray appear to have persisted at least through Rev. Fox. There is a paid advertisement in the May 15, 1752 issue of Virginia Gazette offering a reward for the return of a surplice and gown, pulpit cloth, and communion tablecloth which had been stolen. The fabrics were “crimson velvet, double-laced with gold.” By contrast, Abingdon’s records show that vestments and altar hangings were never used in worship.
We now know that it was during Rev. Fox’s tenure that Ware participated in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. This is evidenced in an extant record, an entry in the Journal of the Virginia House of Burgesses from March 31, 1756, which records a petition by “the Minister, Wardens, and Vestry of the Parishes of Abingdon and Ware” to be able to lease out deeded property, which included enslaved persons, that the church had acquired by Last Will and Testament from Henry Peasley in 1675. Peasley had gifted the land for the establishment of a Free School, but the location was not practical. So the two Churches decided to lease the bequeathed land and enslaved labor to establish schools closer to the respective parishes.
A second record of Ware actively purchasing enslaved Africans is found ten years later. Zachary Crips had deeded property to Ware Church for a new glebe. The Rev. James Maury Fontaine (Rector 1764-1795) preferred the parish’s current glebe and wished to sell the gifted property and use the “money arising from the sale in purchasing slaves.”
The minister’s compensation was primarily given through the parish’s provision of a glebe (and the affiliated agricultural land, which was then worked by enslaved persons). By selling this secondary piece of property, the Church (and by extension, Fontaine), purchased additional enslaved persons to increase glebe profits.
The Church of England, the Commissioners of the Anglican Colonies, and the colonial churches – including Ware Church – were active participants and beneficiaries of Trans-Atlantic Chattel Slavery – a particular type of enslavement where human beings and their future offspring were enslaved and then owned in perpetuity. These enslaved persons could then be bought, sold, and forced to work without wages, throughout the generations. Today we recognize, name, and lament the moral failure of the Church in not recognizing the image of God in every human being. We intentionally chose to pursue the ministry of reconciliation, that every person might know and feel their full dignity as a human being.
The Reverend Alexander Moray, M. A., D. D. The First Bishop-Designate of Virginia 1672-3. Mary Francis Goodwin. Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, MARCH, 1943, Vol. 12, No. 1 (MARCH, 1943), pp. 59-68. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42969196
 Virginia Gazette, May 15, 1752, p. 4
Journal of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Vol 8, p. 350 (379 in PDF)
Journal of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Vol. 11, p. 327 (371 in PDF)
Rev. Fontaine was the descendant of Huguenot immigrants and was educated at the College of William and Mary. He went to England in 1762 to be ordained and arrived at Ware in 1764. Fontaine continued serving at Ware through the revolution and disestablishment. In May of 1776, Virginia formally broke ties with Great Britain and held a convention to form “The Established Church of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” This required an oath a loyalty to the Virginia government, in contrast to the oath of loyalty previous required to the Crown.
After the American Revolution the population of Gloucester County fell into decline. The church of Petsworth Parish ceased to exist and its third church building, 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 was recorded in 1785 as one of the founding parishes of the Diocese of Virginia; however, Ware’s deputation did not attend the meeting. Ware’s seventeenth and eighteenth century vestry books and registers have been lost (most likely to fire) and obscured much of the church’s early history.
Following Rev. Fontaine’s death, Ware called Elkhanah Talley to serve as Rector (1795-1798). Little is known of Talley, but it is apparent that his tenure was intentionally short lived. Following the Disestablishment and the Commonwealth’s seizure of English property, who owned the patent (title) to the parish glebe was uncertain. Talley apparently had the glebe property surveyed and deeded in 1797 to himself.
Members of the Vestry accused Talley of trying to steal the glebe property; Talley claims in a surviving letter to Thomas Bayton (the presumed Senior Warden and one of the accusers) that he was doing this to ensure that no one else could lay claim to the property. In 1857, Bishop Meade of Virginia referenced Rev. Talley in rather unflattering terms (calling him “a Universalist and a drunkard”), but later wrote that he regretted this portrayal.
Rev. Armistead Smith (Rector, 1799-1816) and Rev. William Cairns (Rector, 1827-1829) followed Talley’s tenure. The roughly ten years between Smith and Cairns precipitated the Church falling into disarray. Bishop Channing Moore (1762-1841; Bishop of Virginia 1814-1841) stated in his 1825 Diocesan Convention address that he recognized the “long privation” of Ware not having a minster, while commending our resilience to repairing the building and glebe. It was in the same year that Ware, along with Abingdon, made their first documented contribution of $15.00 to the ministry of the Diocese of Virginia as a sign of their continued “attachment to our communion.”
After Rev. Cairn’s tenure, Rev. John Cole (Rector, 1829-1836) served the congregation faithfully. In the 1834 report to the Diocesan Convention, Cole accounted for both Ware and Abingdon, and included sacraments performs for enslaved persons (two baptisms and one marriage). Regrettably (but customary for the time), the names of these enslaved persons were not recorded in the surviving parish registers (beginning 1830) that Ware has in its archives.
At some point in the 1830s, another work project to update the Church was undertaken, this time under the leadership of The Rev. Charles Mann (Rector, 1837-1878). A brick chimney was added on the north side of the building to provide heating during the winter months. However, this was insufficient, and a series of stovepipes were installed throughout the building to bolster its efficiency. In 1854 the church was again repaired, re-roofed, and this time a portion of the interior altered. The current wooden floor of the chancel was installed and 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 original flagstones are now found at the main, West Entrance.
Meade, William. Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, Vol. 1 (p. 420); Vol. 2 (p. 35)
Hawks, Francis Lister. Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States, Vol 1. (p. 176)
Rev. Mann lead the people of Ware through the tumultuous period leading up to the Civil War, through the war, and into the initial phase of Reconstruction. Very little is mentioned of this in Rev. Mann’s diaries (part of the Ware archives), and there is passing mention in letters written by ___ Taliaferro, held by the College of William and Mary. As previously mentioned, Ware Church was not unique in its participation in chattel slavery – it was deeply entrenched in the life of Gloucester County (as well as the American South). The Slave Schedules of 1850 and 1860 both record that Rev. Mann enslaved multiple people (3 men, 2 women, 3 girls in 1850; 1 woman, 3 girls in 1860).
It is unclear if those recorded were his own, privately owned slaves, or if they were owned by the Church and simply recorded under his name. (The slave schedules were used as part of the census to determine how many additional votes the owner received, according to the Three-Fifths Compromise – Article I.2.iii of the United States Constitution).
When the War broke out, many men of the congregation enlisted to fight with the confederacy. Union troops camped in the churchyard, and the interior was badly damaged. A new Altar, baptismal font, and reredos were purchased in 1868, and final repairs were made in 1878. In the same year, Rev. Mann died; he is buried next to the Rev. James Clack (Ware’s third Rector) just outside the eastern wall of the Church.
Ware called Rev. William Byrd Lee to serve as its next minister (Rector, 1881-1921). Rev. Lee was a historian, and we owe much of what we know about the early colonial churches to his scholarship. He published an article about Ware and Abingdon in Colonial Churches: A Series of Sketches of Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia in 1907.
Rev. Robert Alexander McGill (1925-1932) oversaw the last major renovation to the Historic Church. Beginning in 1926 through 1927, extensive changes were made to the interior: the area under the gallery was enclosed to create two classrooms, electric lighting was installed, and the present pulpit, dentil molding, choir seating, communion rail, lectern, and Altar were all constructed. The reredos behind the Altar was reconfigured to remove two of the three plaques that had been installed following the Civil War. The two plaques displaying the Ten Commandments were kept in storage for almost hundred years. They were restored in 2023 and are displayed in the Atrium outside the Parish Offices. The remaining plaque containing the Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Summary of the Law was also restored in 2023 and remains in the Historic Church.
Under the leadership of The Rev. Reginald Eastman (Rector, 1942-1975), Ware blossomed into a thriving community. Rev. Eastman’s gift to Ware was his innovative spirit that saw potential to meet the needs of the wider Gloucester community. In 1952 a 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, in order to prioritize children’s education and fellowship within the congregation. Rev. Eastman was passionate about children and was known for visiting the local elementary schools to provide music enrichment classes. He also championed Ware’s Junior Choir.
Following Rev. Eastman’s retirement, the Rev. Michael Murray, PhD, was called as rector (1975-1982). Rev. Murray led Ware through the 1979 Book of Common Prayer revisions, which fundamentally changed The Episcopal Church. Prior to 1979, the Eucharist was celebrated occasionally; after 1979, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist was identified as “the primary act of Christian worship.” The Liturgy for Baptism was re-written and included five vows as part of the Baptismal Covenant that named behaviors of a faithful life. Private baptisms were no longer allowed (except under extraordinary circumstances), women’s ordination was endorsed, and contemporary language was to be used. Ware continues it use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer to this day. Further, Rev. Murray oversaw an addition to the Parish House, that included a library, church offices, sacristy, and the Chapel of the Christ Child.
There were three years between Rev. Murray and the Rev. Daniel “Peter” Worthington (Rector, 1985-2012). Rev. Worthington continued the work of instilling the theology of the revised prayer book in the congregation, slowly moving from monthly Eucharist services to becoming the principal celebrations each Sunday. In 1986, Ware dedicated a plot of land as a Memorial Garden, complimenting the cemetery surrounding the Church yard. Rev. Worthington led the capital installation of a seventeen rank Casavant Frères pipe organ, dedicated in honor of Rev. Eastman and Judge John E. DeHardit, the parish organist for forty-seven years. Rev. Worthington also was a visionary for the future and presided over the deliberations to purchase the adjoining twenty-acre parcel with its two bedroom house and other buildings.
Another three year interim followed Rev. Worthington’s retirement and the call of the Rev. Theodore “Grant” Ambrose (Rector, 2015-2019). The Rev. Scott Parnell, the current Rector, was then called in the summer of 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2021, the interior of the Historic Church was renovated to include wheel-chair ramp accessibility and create two pews that could be used either by families with small children, or by those needing more space for a wheelchair. At the same time, the Parish House was renovated to include an elevator, to ensure that all people are able to participate in the life of the parish. Ware Parish provides meeting space for community groups, such as the Ware River Circle of the King’s Daughters and the Garden Club of Gloucester and Mathews. Ware Church currently is home to four Scouts BSA Affiliates (Troop 111, Troop 1651, Crew 111, and Pack 175) that meet throughout the week, an AA group, fitness (yoga) classes, and church-sponsored Bible Studies and classes.
A scan of the original letter from the Bishop of London granting The Rev. John Fox authority to preach and minister at Ware Church.