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Historical Tidbit
Taken from Michael Upchurch 1624-1681

Lawne's Creek Parish Church
by Mae Davenport Cox

Lawne’s Creek Parish Church
In 1628, a chapel of ease was built for folks living in the Lawne’s Creek area. This is the first known church ever built in Surry County making it older than the county or Lawnes Creek Parish... or any other parish!

The first church was a wood-frame building, measuring 40 by 20 feet and was in use for twelve years. In 1640 — some records say 1650 — a larger building (30x60), made of bricks, was built over-lapping the foundation of the first church. Referred to as the second church, it was on the same site and actually replaced the first church.

We can come close to pinpointing where these two churches were located (see map, page 50). Compelling evidence suggests the two churches were situated at or near Hog Island in the northern area of Lawne’s Creek Parish. The exact spot seems to be up in the air though as different reports give different directions.

Descriptions of the location have been given by several people, including this one, in 1945, by George Mason:

,,, the site of these two early churches of Lawne’s Creek Parish is on a high wooded point between two ravines leading down in to the James River, just west of the main road to Hog Island and half a mile southeast of the head of Hog Island Creek… an old road leads to that site from the Colonial highway to the island, which formerly led down the hill only a quarter of a mile from the church.1

Ethel Rowell gave a similar description and included this remark:

... Jamestown was in plain sight on the opposite shore of the river.2

Were there graves at the old church? According to what Mason reported, there were.

... Brick remains indicating the presence of several graves may be seen in front of the church site, and there are two old walls, with traces of the footings of a churchyard wall.3

In all likelihood those church members who died during the 1628 through 1684 period would have been entombed at their place of worship as was the custom in those days.

This is quite disturbing as our Michael would have been one of the burials in 1681. The worst part is that this site is now occupied by a power plant — more on that on next page.

Second Church is site of Historical Event
The second Lawne’s Creek Parish Church became quite noteworthy during its forty-four year stint. It seems that at this church, in 1673, there was a gathering of parishioners who met to discuss the current tax situation.

Their arrest (including Michael Upchurch) is well recorded in county records and has become known to us as the Lawne’s Creek Rebellion. A full accounting is given on the next pages.

First and Second Churches Should be Preserved as Historical Landmark
One would think that since this second church is well documented as the location of the first-known pre-revolutionary-war rebellion, it would have been declared a historical site by the state of Virginia. That has not come to pass!

One would also think that since the site is likely burial grounds for early colonists, including our own Michael Upchurch, the area would be considered sacred and preserved for that reason. Not so. Today the land thought to be that of where the first and second churches were erected is owned by a power plant. Their fencing prohibits anyone from reaching the old church site.

Thus far, the efforts of one Upchurch cousin to have this declared an historical landmark have been futile. Undaunted, he continues his efforts toward this goal as this book goes to press.4

A Third Church is Built

As Lawne’s Creek Parish became home to more and more colonists, this northern location was quite inconvenient for many worshipers. So 44 years after the second church was constructed, a third church was built about 1684 in a more central location (see map). Fortunately the state of Virginia has declared it a historical site.

The frame structure, located on a three-quarter acre tract, bordered land now known as historic Bacon’s Castle. By 1754, the third church was replaced with a larger brick building, and was renamed Southwark Church — this area was now Southwark County. According to the sign above, that church burned in 1868, but was then rebuilt.

Sign posted on wall of third church. Photo courtesy of Stuart Upchurch. For larger image, click photo.

Today the church is crumbled though parts of some walls still stand. The old cemetery is well-maintained, though stones are quite weathered. These photos give a glimpse of what you can see today. Photos courtesy of Stuart Upchurch.

Scratched on one of the old cemetery walls behind Lawnes Creek Parish Church, is:

In all my wanderings in this world of care
In all my griefs and God has given me my share
I still had hope

1 George Mason’s 1945 report as cited in The Surry County, Virginia, 1776 Bicentennial Committee Guide to the buildings of Surry and The American Revolution, by James D. Kornwolf, 2007; page 12.

Lawne’s Creek Church, Hog Island, by Ethel R. Rowell 1979, fifth page.

3 George Mason’s 1945 report as cited in The Surry County, Virginia, 1776 Bicentennial Committee Guide to the buildings of Surry and The American Revolution, by James D. Kornwolf, 2007

4 An Upchurch family member who wishes to remain anonymous, began a drive in 2007 to have the Lawne’s Creek Parish Church, (first and second churches) declared a historical site in Surry County, Virginia.

5 Stuart Upchurch emailed this poem he found etched into the wall of the Warren headstone plot. He dated it as 1800s matching headstones within the wall. March 23, 2007.


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