5 St. Georgians who made valuable contributions to the church:
Archibald McPherson was born in 1705 in the Northern part of England. He came to this country in early manhood and settled in Spotsylvania county. He was a gentleman of education, refinement and wealth, and a friend to the poor and needy. Mr. McPherson created a fund in 1795 for the benefit of the Episcopal Charity School of Fredericksburg. This fund was to be held in trust by the Mayor and Common Council of the town. Afterwards by an act of the Legislature six trustees were appointed annually. The school was kept in the building on the north side of Hanover street just below the Masonic Hall. This building is now used as a storage room in Fredericksburg.
Tradition has it that George Washington visited this school and talked to the children on one of his visits here. In the back of this quaint little building there is a tablet of marble let into the wall with the following inscription: “In memory of Mr. Archibald McPherson. He bequeathed his property to the trustees for the education of the poor.
There are two marble plaques inside the Church toward the front. One of the individuals is well-known – Rev. Edward McGuire who served the Church for 45 years from 1813-58. The other plaque on the right or south side of the Church honors a gentleman less well known – Reuben Thom. Together they dominated St. George’s in the 2nd Church 1815-1849 and through the first half of the 19th century. Unfortunately we know little about their working relationship.
Reuben Thom was on the Vestry for 52 years and is the longest serving Vestry member in our history. Remarkably he was senior warden for 40 of those 52 years. (Vestry rotation did not begin until 1946). Like McGuire he is buried in St. George’s Cemetery though not originally. His grave was moved there in 1932 and was one of the last burials.
Thom worked as a postman and lived on Caroline Street in an 1822 home between George and William Street. The post office was on the first floor and he resided on the second. The 1850’s were a boom year for business and he had to enlarge the numbers of boxes on more than one occasion. Thom did well. In 1860 when he was 78, he had real estate worth $24,000 (approximately $500,000 in today’s market) and estate $5,500 (just under $150,000) . He had 4 children and owned 6 slaves.
During the bombardment of Fredericksburg on December 11th one of the early rounds pierced his home. He fled to the basement and then to the garden with what valuables he could take. Later that evening he reached the safety of Lee’s lines on Marye’s Heights though without his valuables. After the battle he returned to town and lived off contributions from the fund established to aid Fredericksburg residences rendered homeless. He rebuilt in 1863 in another part of town
He is notable for the many positions he held in Fredericksburg. When he died he was one of the oldest merchants in Fredericksburg selling books as early as 1830, queensware, leather ,dry goods. He was a member of the Vestry in 1872 and also VP of the Fredericksburg Bible Society. He married Elizabeth Thom in 1836 after earlier wife died in 1835. He was also involved in the Mary Washington Monument Committee and served as a bank director in 1855 as well as member of an insurance company in the same year and superintendent of the Fredericksburg Aqueduct Company at the time of the Civil War.
During that war he was one of 19 arrested by the Federals in August and confined in Old Capital Prison until September. Included in that list was Thomas Knox, Thomas Barton, John F. Scott of St. George’s
He was a trustee in 1799 and served on Vestry 1799-1802 until his death. He was cited by the Vestry in 1788 as a trustee for helping to repair the church. He was a dry goods merchant and a postmaster of Fredericksburg. His obituary added that he was gentlemen much admired.
During the Revolution. He served Virginia.on the Committee for Articles of Confederation 1774. During the war he gave beef to the cause and use of a stable.
McGuire was our longest serving rector from 1813-1858. He was involved with all 3 St George’s churches including the current church of 1849. Edward McGuire is arguably the most important figure in St. George’s almost 300 year history.
What accounts for his success? He was a church builder first and foremost at St. George’s. At his death, the newspapers wrote many accolades and focused on the numbers he brought to the Church. The Fredericksburg News wrote on October 12, 1858 wrote “Under his faithful culture his congregation has greatly multiplied in numbers and flourished in all of its highest spiritual interests” The Weekly Advertiser at the same time noted he had baptized a whole generation in his communion and increased the church from a mere handful to hundreds. From a small number when he arrived the Church had grown to 259 communicants a year after his death.
He was an evangelical, spreading the “good news” through action and participation. The qualities noted in the plaque – amiable in character, prudent in action, sound judgment and consistent conduct united both his work as a builder and evangelical. McGuire came here as a lay reader since he was too young at age 20 to be ordained in 1813. He was ordained in 1814. He was never trained in a seminary but read with three ministers, including two future leaders in the Church, Rev. William Meade, rector of Christ Church in Alexandria and then with Rev William Wilmer, rector of St. Paul’s in the same city. He entered the church at a time of disarray. Carroll Quenzel in his history of St. George’s corroborates this point. When he came there were “less than a dozen” in the Church. He reports the congregation was in a “state of complete prostration” where those that remained were much “discouraged.”
He held frequent services (6 or 7 times a week) and performed baptisms often after morning services as well as preaching in Falmouth in the afternoon. By the late 1840’s Philip Slaughter in his history reported he had baptized 807 persons, including 50 adults and married 524. Just before his death in 1858 he had presented 88 people to Bishop Meade for confirmation, certainly a high point in his ministry. Joseph Packard, a professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, writes that “McGuire not only built up his own parish, but went through Spotsylvania, Stafford, Essex, Caroline, Culpeper and Organ counties preaching and visiting. “ McGuire was able to personalize religion based on his own religious struggle.
From a contemporary perspective one troublesome part of McGuire’s legacy in our time was his role as a slave owner. From 1818 to his death in 1858 he owned anywhere from 1 to 4 slaves though they were freed at his death. In 1837, when he owned 4 he was in top 20% of slave owners in Fredericksburg.
At the same time, owning at least one slave was a common practice – only 1 in 10 in 1818 did not own slaves. Slaves used in the home were common in Fredericksburg, much more so that the Free Blacks which numbered 420 in Fredericksburg in 1860 (compared to over 1100 slaves). While there was a feeling after the revolution that gradual emancipation was promising for the 20 years after the Revolution, sentiments had changed by McGuire’s time due to slave revolts. Besides African Americans were viewed as inferior and those that had been freed were felt to be dangerous to society.
A year after he bought his first slave he was became a manager in The American Colonization Society branch in Fredericksburg founded at St. George’s in 1819 which proposed setting up a colony that eventually became Liberia for free blacks. McGuire wrote in his diary that it was a “great and magnificent design”. McGuire saw it as transmitting religion to thousands in Africa who had not been exposed to religion as well and provided for gradual emancipation. Most religious groups believed that the assimilation of the two races in America was impossible and by forming a settlement in Africa as giving African Americans true equality. McGuire collected money at St. George’s for the society from 1819 to at least 1846. Moreover he journeyed to the local counties, such as Culpeper pushing the scheme. St. George’s in addition sent two missionaries to Africa during his time. McGuire also promoted African Americans at St. George’s.
In the 1834 Diocesan Council he mentioned the “spiritual improvement of coloured people.” He praised “recent endeavors to instruct them by preaching have been attended by the most encouraging indications of usefulness.” though he noted a year later that progress had been “interrupted.” Trends improved.
By 1846 he noted that 2 of 5 Sunday schools were composed of 80 “domestic servants.” and “often taught by the rector.” In Annual Convention, he noted 1 African American communicant.