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Missives from the Glebe Farm Notebook

A Study of the Historical Research and Archaeology


Compiled by J F Cross, and Larry Todd


                                                      Chapter Three 



 The Glebe as a working Plantation


            To prevent any confusion, Glebe and St. John’s Churches will be referred to by their original chronological identifications, before the Disestablishment of the Church of England which followed the Revolutionary War and after the founding of the new Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.  Therefore, based on the original East and West churches, the East Church became identified as the Bennett’s Creek Church after it was relocated to Jordan’s Mill Hill to a new brick church completed in 1738.  It remained the Bennett’s Creek Church until its ruins were repaired to the present appearance in 1856, at which time when it was renamed the Glebe Church.  The West Church, also known as the Chuckatuck Church prior to Disestablishment, was renamed St. John’s in 1828 after services had been resumed in 1826 following major repairs.  The present St. John’s Church is the third brick church built on the same property.  To add to the confusion, one 1759 Vestry Book recording refers to the the Chuckatuck Church as being in the Upper Parish and the Bennett’s Creek Church as the Lower Parish Church.  Normally Upper Parish is the name for the Downtown Suffolk area and extending to the North Carolina border.

Referencing the “Supplemental Archaeological Survey and Evaluation of Six Sites Within the Proposed Route 125-Kings Highway Bridge Realignment Corridor, City of Suffolk, Virginia” prepared by the William and Mary Center for  Archaeological Research, September 7, 2005, the Glebe Farm was  inhabited as early as the Archaic Period (circa 8,000 B.C.E.{ until the European Contact Period (circa 1607).  It is not known how extensive the Naturals of the Algonquian speaking people of the “Nansimum” complex of villages extended to the Glebe Farm.  However, due to the proximity of Dumpling Island and the main village some three miles South and by archaeology research, it is suggestive that much of the Southwest portion of Glebe Point was cleared for planting by the Naturals at the time Percivall Champion arrived and built the first parsonage in 1636/37.  Evidence strongly suggests that the Glebe Point property was used as a seasonal village for hunting, growing their corn, and oystering to supply the main village.










Figure 1.  Glebe Farm property, Google Earth.

  Since there is no evidence that the settlement of Richard Bennett of “Bennett’s Choyce” 1636/37 and those who settled by “Headrights” engaged the Naturals of the Nansimums in any hostility, it is suggestive that the Glebe Farm area had previously been abandoned by the Naturals’ movement further to the south for their necessities which made this location on the Nansemond River an extremely attractive location for the Glebe and future Parish.  Records strongly suggest that a Parsonage had been completed by 1637 and a Church, even though rudimentary in construction, was erected soon after and that farming had commenced.


     According to Nicholas M. Luccketti, M.A., R.P.A of JIRA, as the principal investigator and as a renowned archaeologist, the Glebe Farm of Percivall Champion would have closely resembled the Nansemond Forte shown in Figure 2, illustrating a similarity of the first parsonage, church complex.  The fields would have been cleared and planted.  It is known that other early colonial locations, such as “Bennett’s Welcome” established in 1621 and located at what is today called Day’s Point near Smithfield, construction and development of lands occurred very quickly in a matter of months with a large workforce of settlers and indentured servants.










Figure 2.  Unfortunately due to loss in fires, records of the physical structures of the early colonial settlements that were located on the wilderness edge of the Naturals (including the State House in James Towne) do not exist.  However, this illustration of Nansemond Forte which was discovered and excavated by the James River Institute for Archeology (JRIA) in the Harborview development and is dated in the same period of 1636/37 as the original Glebe Farm structures, renders some indication of the communal living structures of the time. 

     After arriving in the colony, Richard Bennett initially lived at and operated “Bennett’s Welcome” for his uncle, Edward Bennett, near the James River in today’s Isle of Wight.  But soon Richard became better known for the adoption of a new and much larger plan that evolved into his development of “Bennett’s Choyce” located at the mouth of Bennett’s creek on the Nansemond River.   The records are lost, but fortunately there are some elements of the records that do give some insight.  The Naturals attacked the settlements south of the James River in 1644, in much the same fashion as they did in 1622, and the Nansimum were involved, precipitating Governor Sir William Berkeley to order “Richard Bennett by land and Thomas Dew by sea” in early 1648 to move the Nansimum to reservations along the Chowan River to live near the Chowanoc and the Merrin. 

            The records of 1648 mention a wood frame Church as being on the Nansemond River pleasantly situated with a congregation of 118.  Records also show The Rev. Thomas Harrison, who was formerly chaplain to Governor Berkeley and the minister of Elizabeth River Parish from 1640 to 1645, chose to serve the East Parish Church in 1645 after having proclaimed himself a Puritan and after having been condemned for non-conformity to the doctrines of the Church of England.  Ironically, in 1648, Governor Berkeley ordered the arrest of Reverend Harrison and he fled with the assistance of Richard Bennett to the Grant of Maryland.  The Reverend William Durand, who then took over from Harrison as the minister of the East Church, became the subject  of another arrest warrant by Governor Berkeley for non-conformity and he also fled to Maryland, only a few months before the execution of King Charles 1.  In protest, Richard Bennett moved himself and the mostly Puritan East Parish population to Maryland, as the effects of the Bloody English Civil War were being felt in the colony of Virginia and the Grant of Maryland.  King Charles1 was executed by Parliament under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership.  A fleet was sent to demand the surrender of Virginia and Maryland.  Through Edward Bennett’s influence in England, Richard Bennett was sent back to Virginia to demand the surrender of Virginia on 12 March 1652, after having already accomplished the surrender of  Maryland.  Then, as fate would have it, Richard Bennett was elected the new Governor of Virginia by the House of Burgesses on 30 April 1652.

     It is not known what was occurring with the Glebe Farm during this period.  However, with Richard Bennett’s return, the Glebe Farm and Church would have been a priority and continued as such until his death in 1675.  Also at that time, any Puritan influence would have ceased.  Bennett had, in 1672, moved toward association with George Fox the founder of the Society of Friends in the Quaker movement.

     The first clear record of the East Parish can be found in the surviving Vestry Book of 1749-1784, with fragments to 1856.  In 1749, both the Bennett’s Creek Church and the Chuckatuck Church are having services, and the Glebe Farm is flourishing.  While slavery is a sensitive issue today, its history may not be ignored as a component of the time.  Upon Richard Bennett’s death in 1675, his will indicates he held 87 “servants” (as he referred to them in his Will), indicating he treated the indentured people of colour the same as the white Indentured, allowing for those who had completed their Indenture a bequest of 1,000 lbs. Tobacco each.  By 1749, slavery was a component of the labour force, along with the poor.

     The third quarter of the 18th century was a time of an upheaval in the Vestry of the Bennett’s Creek Church.  The Reverend John Mackenzie wrote a letter to the grandson of Richard Bennett, Richard Bennett III Esq of Wye River in Maryland. The Vestry Book goes on to record replies by Richard Bennett Esq., dated 19 June 1749 and his lawyer/executor Edward Lloyd dated 5 January 1750 having to do with malfeasance of certain Churchwardens and Vestry concerning the lease of the donations.  (This episode will be discussed in future articles and it is only mentioned here for context of the Vestry Book).

     The next chapter of this Glebe Farm history series will bring to light significant quoted recordings in the Vestry Book from 1749 to 1784, which will continue to help readers understand our church’s unique history.

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