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Glebe Church History Committee -

Report of research on the Reverend Jacob Keeling and his Burial Site


November 2021


            The reason you might have missed the availability of monthly articles on the history of Glebe Church is mostly related to the fact that we have shared the scope of history that has been uncovered by the committee’s research.  However, many of the articles that were published in the Glebe Gazette are available on the church website at  It is also our intention to edit the articles to make them more focused and readable for the website and to use them as a basis for a book on the 400 years of history of Glebe Church.   Future articles will be written as the history is uncovered.


            One new history finding is the strongly suspected burial site of the Reverend Jacob Keeling, the minister who successfully petitioned in court to save the Glebe Land for the Lower Parish from confiscation.  Despite serving St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Suffolk and other churches of the Nansemond region for decades when few or no other ministers were available, there is surprisingly no documentation regarding his burial site.


            Research has recently led us to the Keeling Family Plot in Cedar Hill Cemetery adjacent to the site where the St. Paul’s on the Hill Church was known to have existed.  Since he served at St. Paul’s on the Hill (an early 1800s forerunner to the present St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Suffolk) from 1828 to 1843, it has been traditionally believed he was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery.  Unfortunately, tradition has it that the Reverend Keeling never had a grave marker, despite his many years of clerical service to the area.  Cemetery officials have informed us that it wasn’t uncommon for notable and wealthy individuals to be buried without a headstone in the 19th century.


            Cedar Hill Cemetery, which was founded in 1802, is known to have pre-existed the Episcopal Church called St. Paul’s on the Hill.  However, parishioners were commonly buried in the Cedar Hill graveyard like it was a church graveyard.  Based on our findings reported below, it appears to be likely the Rev. Keeling’s family located the Keeling Family Plot to include his existing 1853 grave when his son John Webb Keeling and daughter-in-law Mary Whitfield Keeling were buried in 1858 and 1860, respectively.  That is, the Keeling Family Plot was created to include the existing Jacob Keeling grave.


            By probing the soil, our research recently determined that a grave site without a headstone in the Keeling Plot has a solid 3X7 foot plate covering the grave at a depth of 15 inches, a feature thought to be a ledger similar to the ledgers on the surface of John and Mary’s graves (see attached pictures).  In collaboration with St. Paul’s Church, the Glebe Church History Committee submitted a proposal for an archeological excavation down to the ledger to determine if the ledger is etched with Rev. Keeling’s.  The proposal was approved by the Cemetery Division of City of Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation.


            The exploration was performed on October 6th with John F. Cross III supervising and the Reverend Donna Hines, Larry Todd, Richard Todd, and Randy Regan assisting with the soil excavation and soil sifting.  The Superintendent of Cemeteries for the City of Suffolk, Franco Britt, was present throughout the excavation as was Amber Miller, Marketing Specialist and Emily Upton, Business Manager for the city.  Reverend Keith Emerson, Rector of St. Paul’s Church, David Durica of Glebe Church History Committee and Kermit Hobbs, City of Suffolk Historian, also were present.  Mr. Lee Hart, who serves as a volunteer to provide for physical management and maintenance of Cedar Hill, was also present throughout the excavation.


The Findings…

            A 3X4 foot area of soil to the depth of 15 inches was removed at the head of the grave where any etching of a name might be expected to be located.   To the surprise of everyone involved, the suspected ledger turned out to be an arched brick roof of a brick-lined vault that likely contains the coffin of the Reverend Keeling.  No name plate could be found in the area of the excavation, limiting a definitive conclusion that this is Jacob Keeling’s grave.  However, everyone in attendance who is aware of local historic figures and the Reverend Keeling’s biography, agreed that there is no other member of the Keeling family who possibly would have been buried at that site in the family plot.  Additionally, the cost of such a brick-lined vault would have been prohibitive for most individuals at the time and the Reverend Keeling was known to possess the wealth required to afford one.


            Another significant finding resulting from use of a metal detector prior to the excavation is that the entire 3X7 foot area over the suspected Keeling grave reveals the presence of metal.  After exposing the brick-lined vault, it was suspected that the presence of metal was due either to an iron support to the arched brick roof or the presence of a cast iron coffin.  Research led to the likelihood Keeling is buried in a hexagonal-shape cast iron coffin, a type of coffin that was prevalent during the period of 1850-1870 among individuals who had the economic means to afford the $200-300 cost for a cast iron coffin.  Examples of the common use of cast iron coffins include Dolly Madison and President Grant.  In fact, Mrs. Madison was so impressed with the concept of cast iron coffins that she had her husband, President Madison, disinterred  and reburied in a metallic burial case.


            The research connected to locating Keeling’s grave has also uncovered biographical information on Keeling and his life and times in Nansemond County.  Future reports will document these findings for the recording of Glebe Church’s history.


A Note of Thanks…… goes to the R. W. Baker Funeral Home for supplying and assembling a 20X20 foot canopy over the Keeling Plot which made the work much less difficult with protection from the sun and with rain in the forecast for the day.  Also, special thanks goes to the participants who played archeologist as mentioned in this report.


Larry and Helen Todd

Co-Chairs of the Glebe History Committee

Below are pictures from the discovery of Reverend Keeling's grave located in

Cedar Hill Cemetery Suffolk, Virginia

Keeling 1.jpg
Keeling 5.jpg
Keeling 4.jpg
Keeling 3.jpg
Keeling 6.jpg





Submitted by Larry and Helen Todd, Co-chairs of the Glebe History Committee



          December’s Glebe Gazette history article discussed the origin of Glebe Church which is located on land 3 miles west of the present church.  Five hundred acres of land was patented to Percival Champion in c.1636-7 with his intention to establish a glebe farm on which would be built a parsonage followed by a church.  The area he chose was truly a wilderness, remote from Jamestown, and heavily frequented by Native Americans for its hunting and fishing opportunities.  This chapter of Glebe Church’s history will uncover why the church was a Puritan Church for its first hundred years; albeit a Puritan church built on a glebe, that was disestablished by the colonial government for non-conformity to Anglicanism.  The history that makes Glebe Church unique among historic colonial churches will become evident and appreciated.



          To fully understand Glebe Church’s history, it is first necessary to look back to the Virginia colony’s beginnings and first few decades.  Many readers might be surprised that Puritans were among the early Jamestown settlers.

          History often forgets that the  Virginia Company, which was the responsible agency for managing the Jamestown Settlement from 1607 to 1624, was tolerant of including Puritans among the early emigrants (Early Puritanism…, p. 93).  Since the major objective of the Virginia Company  was to import as many English as possible to the new land to get the new colony established, discrimination wasn’t allowed to disturb that process at that point.  Evidence of  tolerance of the immigrant Puritans in the early Jamestown Settlement during the oversight of the Virginia Company is reflected in this prayer used during daily religious services in Jamestown which were among daily prayers mandated by the colonial governor…..

          “Lord blesse England our sweet native country save it from Popery, this land from Heathenism, &                    both from Athéisme.’’

          (Early Puritanism…,P.98)


          In the four words, “save it from popery,” this prayer reflects the underlying reason the Puritans’ dissented against the Church of England in England and the new colony.  Along with the distaste for the Roman Catholic Church and it centralized control over individuals’ lives, the Puritans loathed the monarchal control of the Church of England.  Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Puritans remained committed to "purify" the Church of England from its inherited "Catholic" practices.



In the most general of terms, Puritanism is the belief in the close personal relationship of man and God (Early Purtitanism…,P.75). And, associated with this concept was the fear of ritualism and ceremony as a barrier against a truly spiritual approach to the Creator (Early Purtitanism…,P.76).


          In 1624, the Virginia Company's charter was revoked by King James I.  And, as the  Virginia Colony was transferred to royal authority as a crown colony, clearcut requirement for conformity to the Anglican Church became the law of the colony.  This left the Puritans to be non-conforming and law-breaking if they gathered to worship under any other liturgical format other than the Anglican Prayerbook. 




          As has been previously discussed in the December article, the eastern Nansemond River region became heavily populated by Puritans who were escaping from England due to the distaste they had for a monarchy and especially one that limited religious preferences.  The previous century in England was characterized by a migration of Puritans from England to Holland to escape the discomforts of being a dissenting religious group living life under a suppressive monarchy.  Such migration  was true for the extended Bennett family from Wiveliscombe, Somerset located 150 miles southwest of England.


          Edward Bennett, a successful shipping merchant who had lived previously in Holland, was a Puritan settler who was granted a land patent on the south side of the James River in the Warrosquyoake area (now Isle of Wight).  Named Bennetts Welcome, Edward plantation became the location of the first church south of the James River, a Puritan Church, of course.  Edward’s success as an established English merchant made him a powerful figure in the colony, due to his, wealth and political power.


          In c.1627, Edward brought his 20 year old nephew, Richard Bennett, also a Puritan who had also lived in Holland part of his life, to the colony to help with managing his plantation.  Richard quickly showed great promise as a manager and leader who rose to power quickly and he soon became a large landowner in eastern Nansemond region. The Bennetts and a few other major landowners were responsible for bringing hundreds of indentured servants, many of whom were Puritan, to the Nansemond River area to assure their land was productive.  Consequently the eastern Nansemond region grew quickly into a Puritan community in the 1630s and 1640s. 

(Enclyclopedia Virginia)


          The Puritans fro Somerset had been known to be dissenting non-conformists in England and their dissenting nature continued in the Virginia Colony, especially the colony  after King James 1 declared Virginia a crown colony in 1624.  Settling in the East Nansemond wilderness remote from Jamestown’s oversight and easy reach was a natural location for them to live their lifestyle that revolved around religious freedom.  The dissenting and non-conforming nature of the Virginia Puritans is what distinguishes them from Puritan settlers in New England and other colonies.


          And, naturally a church was needed East of the Nansemond River for the growing Puritan population.  Enter, Pervical Champion, who gains a 500 acre land grant on what would become known as Glebe Point.  Many parishes at that time in the colony had not attained a glebe for the minister’s and church’s support and almost always the establishment of a glebe farm followed the establishment of the church.  Glebe Church is unique first because Percival attained the land grant to establish a glebe to be followed by a church.  And then the second feature of Glebe’s uniqueness involves it beginning as a parish of Puritans who were resistant to the Anglican form of worship.


          The 1642 church on Glebe Point was served by Puritan ministers, the most notable being Rev. Thomas Harrison who had previously served as chaplain for Governor Berkeley.  When Rev. Harrison failed to comply with colonial requirements that services be Anglican, he was exiled to the  Upper Norfolk Parish which included Glebe Point at the time.  No historical evidence can be found as to why Pervical Champion and his wife disappeared from view in 1644, but one would have to wonder if they were victims of Native Americans hitting back at their presence on land and water they had frequented for thousands of years.


          Governor Berkeley enforced the Act of Disestablishment in 1648 which gave cause for Puritans to go more underground with their religious worship.  Loss of records has left us with little documentation regarding the Glebe Church after that year.  Some Puritan settlers, including Richard Bennett, left the area for places like Maryland and Massachusetts. (

Anglican Virginia:…, P143



          Now that we understand the colonial history that led to Glebe Church’s origin, the next chapter will reveal how Glebe Church transitioned from a Puritan Church to the 1738 construction of an Anglican Church under the impetus of Richard Bennett Jr, nephew of the Governor Richard Bennett.  And as the pages of Glebe Church’s history unfold, its uniqueness among colonial churches becomes an even more evident.




Anglican Virginia: The Established Church of the Old Dominion 1607-1786

Arthur Pierce Middleton 1954


Early Puritanism in the Southern and Island Colonies.  Babette M. Levy.  Hunter College 1960




Submitted by Larry and Helen Todd, Co-chairs of the Glebe History Committee

          This chapter of Glebe Church’s history will uncover how the church evolved from a Puritan Church, albeit located on a glebe (an Anglican tradition), that was disestablished by the colonial government to an Anglican church built through the efforts of Governor Richard Bennett’s nephew.  The history that makes Glebe Church unique among historic colonial churches will become evident and appreciated.  (From….


         In the 1620s, Puritan leaders began to establish religious communities on the south side of the James River. Christopher Lawne, a leading Puritan who had settled in Holland for a time, emigrated to the Southside region with other dissenters in 1619; in November 1621, the Virginia Company granted land to Edward Bennett, a Puritan merchant from London, and other men "who undertook to settle 200 persons in the colony." Bennett established a large property called Bennett's Welcome near the former Indian village of Warraskoyack. His nephews, Philip and Richard Bennett, soon followed. By the end of the 1630s, the Bennetts held more than 10,000 acres in the colony. The Lawne and the Bennett families helped introduce several hundred Puritans to the southern reaches of Virginia. Another Puritan colonist, Daniel Gookin, transported nearly fifty people to the colony and, under the headright system, received a grant of 2,500 acres along the Nansemond River.

Unfortunately for Virginia's Puritan community, Governor Sir William Berkeley, who had arrived in Virginia in 1642, was not among the well-disposed. Berkeley was fiercely loyal to King Charles I, who sought to prevent in Virginia the type of religious and political unrest that had led to civil war in England. Berkeley had been ordered to oppose any religious nonconformity within Virginia. The colony's ministers were to swear an oath of allegiance to the Church of England; those who did not would be expelled. A short time after the New England ministers' arrival, according to their contemporary Edward Johnson, "the Governour and some other malignant spirits" ordered "all nonconformists" out of the colony. Before the year was out, the three men returned to New England, taking some Nansemond Puritans with them.

         About a year later, on April 18, 1644, some Virginia Indians under the leadership of Opechancanough launched a devastating attack on English settlements in Virginia. Several hundred Virginians were killed, but the Puritan community was spared. (Virginia's Puritan settlers were no strangers to Indian attack, however; twenty-two years earlier, nearly half of the planters at Bennett's Welcome had been killed in an assault that also had been ordered by Opechancanough.) Some Puritans interpreted the attack as divine vengeance for the government's treatment of the New England pastors. Others reasoned that the Indians attacked because, as Winthrop recorded in his journal, they "understood that they [the English] were at war in England, and began to go to war among themselves …"

Indeed, tension between the colony's Puritan and Anglican settlers was rising. The news of the civil war raging in England had widened the divide between the two religious groups; meanwhile, the Berkeley administration, perhaps hoping to decrease political opposition within the colony, passed increasingly aggressive conformity policies. Men who had tacitly endorsed Puritan pastors early in the 1640s ceased to do so, and certain vestry leaders began to crack down on Puritan religious leadership.

This conflict played out in miniature against the backdrop of Lower Norfolk County late in the 1640s. In April 1645 Thomas Harrison, the Puritan minister of the county's Elizabeth River vestry, was charged with criminal nonconformity "for not reading the booke of Common Prayer and for not administering the sacrament of Baptisme according to the Cannons and order p[re]scribed." Harrison was well liked by the parish, and had been unanimously approved by the vestry five years earlier, but certain influential members of the parish opposed his nonconformity. In fact, most Puritan ministers rejected the Book of Common Prayer, and Parliament had even abolished it on January 3, 1645. But Berkeley continued to enforce its use in Virginia.

Harrison left Elizabeth River by 1647 and began ministering in neighboring Nansemond County, which had been without religious guidance since the New England ministers were driven out in 1643. Durand, acting as a lay preacher, began ministering to the Puritans of Lower Norfolk in Harrison's stead. In November 1647 the General Assembly passed an act reinforcing the use of the Book of Common Prayer by allowing parishioners to withhold tithes from nonconforming ministers. With this law, Berkeley's government delegated the enforcement of religious uniformity to individual parishes. On May 28, 1648, Durand was arrested at church by the county sheriff. With Durand's arrest and trial, the lines between nonconformists and Anglicans became more clearly drawn: those who supported Durand were declared "Abettors to much sedition and Mutiny." Shortly after the arrest, Berkeley became involved and banished Durand and Harrison from the colony. From…. Puritans_in_Colonial_Virginia#start_entr

The Puritans were English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.[1] Puritanism played a significant role in English history, especially during The Protectorate.

The Puritans were in alliance with the growing commercial world, the parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative, and the Scottish Presbyterians in the late 1630s with whom they had much in common. Consequently, they became a major political force in England and came to power as a result of the First English Civil War (1642–1646). Almost all Puritan clergy left the Church of England after the Restoration of 1660 and the 1662 Uniformity Act. Many continued to practice their faith in nonconformist denominations, especially in Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches.[2] The nature of the movement in England changed radically, although it retained its character for a much longer period in New England.

Puritans by definition were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England's tolerance of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and, in that sense, were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents). They also took note of radical criticisms of Zwingli in Zürich and Calvin in Geneva. In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. These separatist and independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a Presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church.

Puritanism was never a formally defined religion

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