The Tracy Family History
Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church
As soon as the settlers started arriving at Timber Ridge they built a church, maybe. It wasn’t much, as primitive as the first log cabins. They were called pole churches, built from unbarked poles with bark for the walls, dirt floors and crude split half-log benches with poles for legs. If they were lucky the walls would be of clapboard. It would have had rifle slits for windows, as it was the custom of the times to have the frontier Virginia churches double as forts for protection from the Indians.
The primitiveness did not matter as no one went to church anyway. For the first 10-15 years, few and sometimes nobody showed up on Sundays. It was the thought that counted.
Being on the frontier, wishing to serve God, and no membership that counted too much on any scale, the Presbyterians did what they always do. They split into two differing churches.
The church was not officially organized until 1746, with Reverend John Blair as the Pastor. This is the first documented proof that the building existed, as they were required by law to register with the Virginia (English) government. It is possible that there was no church building before 1746.
(Left) Sketch of the log Timber Grove Meetinghouse drawn by Dorothy Blackwell from descriptions of Timber Grover and other Presbyterian meetinghouses of that time. (Courtesy of "A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996")
(Right) Artist Dorothy Blackwell drew the picture of Timber Ridge Old Stone Church based upon written descriptions, historical accounts, other churches of the same period, and in-depth study of changes in the walls of the church. (Courtesy of "A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996)
Reverend Blair was related to Chief Justice Blair who purchased the plantation of Michael Woods at Mountain Plains, just across the Blue Ridge Mountains. There were Blair’s in Augusta Co., and in Albemarle Co., and in Richmond. They were all related.
Not having any trained pastors in the wilderness, the people used family worship and did the best they could, reading the Bible without professional guidance. Remember, our people were Scottish, which by definition meant they demanded highly educated professional church leaders. None being available on the frontier they had to make do the best they could. By splitting into different congregations it made it impossible for just one small congregation to afford to pay for a full-time pastor.
It was the custom for the frontier churches to be visited occasionally by qualified pastors. Enter again the famed Reverend James Anderson from our Donegal Church in Pennsylvania. He visits, preaches and helps out anyway he can. Because he is in the neighborhood, it is reasonable to assume he makes visits also to our Mountain Plains Church.
Again, I can not emphasize too greatly the respect our people had for Reverend Anderson. His name shows up continuously in our families' history. What is impressive about this man is that he accomplished so much and had such a lingering influence upon our people. And he did all this in a relatively short period of time, dying at a young age.
Because the Presbyterian Church in America, as well as in mother Scotland, was constantly beset by “schisms," one can only wonder at the tightrope walking the visiting pastors had to make when visiting the differing denominations on the frontier.
Not only is the Reverend James Anderson respected by our people; we are also intermarried. The first marriage: John Woods was the son of Michael Woods, Sr., of Blair Park and his wife Lady Mary Campbell. When the Woods first came to America they landed at New Castle, then passed through Pennsylvania to the frontier. While en route they stopped at the home of Reverend James Anderson.
“In 1758 (John Woods) served in the defense and protection of the frontier against the Indians. In 1745, as a messenger from Mountain Plains Church to the Presbytery of Donegal in Pennsylvania he delivered the call for the services of Rev. Hindman in the churches of Mountain Plains and Rockfish, to which churches his father-in-law, Rev. James Anderson often visited and preached to the congregations there gathered...His body was buried in the old family burying ground at what is now known as Blair Park...”
I may have told this story before but thought it worth retelling at this point. There are several things of importance to this story. It reaffirms my suspicion that the Reverend James Anderson of our Donegal Church made continuous trips to Mountain Plains to preach and help out. It shores up my contention that there was continuous travel and communication between our Virginia cousins and the Donegal, Pennsylvania branches of the family, which would last for generations. Somewhere along the line these relationships were lost. It also adds to my list of great beauties I find referred to in my research. What catches my attention about Susannah (chapter 28) is not only was she a great beauty, but a great beauty by the age of twelve!
In 1756, the first stone church was erected next door on land donated by the Houston family (Sam’s father). The church location was known by all and would be the most solidly built of structures, thick walls, thus a natural choice for the local fort.
Like our churches at Donegal and Mountain Plains, the church still exist today. This is the second stone church building and not the original. Today, it is simply called “The Old Stone Church.”
“Timber Ridge Church...The building dates from 1756, is of gray stone, pleasing to the artist’s eye, without and within, and a delightfully situated with the mountains in view.” – Blairs of Richmond (Photo 1974? Courtesy TRP Church.)
We are fortunate that we have an extensive reference source
for the history of our third church. The Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church
published a book on its history just recently, 1999. At 355 pages, it is very
well researched and well written. The author is Taylor Sanders, who has three
qualifications: His ancestry is of the area; he is a professor of history at the
local college; and he is a Presbyterian.
It is not a dull recitation of statistics and facts, but the story of our church is told in an interesting manner from its beginning through today. It tells not only of our church but also goes into considerable detail as to how the people lived and the customs of the times. For our cousins who might be interested in delving into the subject more deeply, then this book is a rare find. It is a private printing by the church with only 750 copies. There are not many copies left. It was intended for a limited audience; not realizing that there are tens of thousands of our cousins living today. I would suggest that you purchase a copy and with this family history pass it down through the generations as a family heirloom.
I purchased my copy through a book store in Lexington: The Bookery, 107 W. Nelson St., Lexington, VA 24450. Copies are also available through the church itself. (Mailing address:166 Timber Ridge Road, Lexington, VA 24450)
(Left) 1901 picture of the interior of the church. (Courtesy of A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996)
(Right) The communion table built by Samuel Lyle, an Elder at Timber Ridge, has been in continuous use since 1756. (Photograph courtesy of Royster Lyle. Courtesy of A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996)
These pieces of the early pewter communion set remain. For many years the set was used at Rising Zion Baptist Church, but was returned to Timber Ridge in the 1960s. (Courtesy of A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996)
To complicate the matters, it was common for
some members to go back and forth to the differing churches, attending one
church one year and the other church the next.
The splitting of the Presbyterians would be a nightmare for the lawyers who had to figure what church property belonged to whom.
It wasn’t just the Presbyterians who would split apart. This is the history of Christianity in America. I had a friend who told me that he knew a non-denominational church that split into two differing churches over the issue of doctrine.
Being a Presbyterian (What was it like?)
This is a combination of stories of our Mountain Plains Church as well as the Augusta County churches.
Dr. Waddell was brought up on church charges for having hot coffee on the Sabbath, as well as other days. (The members were scandalized at his indulging in such luxury.)
1750, a man was convicted of a breach of the peace for driving hogs over the Blue Ridge mountains on the Sabbath.
1751, another committed a breach of the Sabbath for traveling unnecessarily for 10 miles.
A young lady was expelled because she repeatedly indulged in dancing and showed no spirit of repentance. (May have told this story before. However, not all Presbyterian denominations held the same view. Another church allowed dancing.)
How did our Presbyterians ancestors handle the schisms that caused their true church to split and split and split again? They became Baptists.
Baptists Billy Woods
In 1780, William Woods, grandson of Michael Woods Sr., of Blair Park, becomes the pastor of the first Baptist Church to be founded in the Piedmont. He was handsome; a man who could get things done with a jovial personality; a wealthy plantation owner; an owner of slaves. Historians all say he was colorful, very popular and in great demand to officiate at weddings. His vices in the eyes of the religious community: He drank (too much?), and was an intimate friend of the liberal Thomas Jefferson.
Because of his enthusiasm to spread and share the gospel (Also, because there were a lot of his cousins by the same name.) he became known as Baptist Billy Woods.
Our Baptists were on the ascendancy and Presbyterians on a gradual decline. The day would come when our Presbyterians became “scarce.”
“We must remember that what we now know as Washington and Lee University had its beginning almost in sight of the homes of the ...Wallaces, Woodses and McDowells and, almost certainly, with their active assistance.” – Neander Woods
(Left) Sketch of probable likeness of Liberty Hall Academy by Dorothy Blackwell. (Courtesy of A Journey in Faith. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church 1746-1996)
(Right) Photo provided by Washington and Lee University. This
relic of the past is the ruin of the limestone Liberty Hall Academy, still on
the college campus. Built in 1793 and burned down in 1803.
The story of the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church is unique inasmuch as it is not only the story of our church, but also the story of our college. Both the church and college were started long ago and both still exist today.
The school started in 1749, at Mt. Pleasant, just a little west of the present village of Fairfield. It is described as a classical school, which means that not only did the students learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but also Greek, literature and all that fancy stuff. Remember, these people were Scots.
The school never got really big. 15 years later it could only count a little more than 20 students, all boys. Just before the Revolutionary War started in 1775, the school moved to our Church land and became part of our church organization. Two months before the war, in a fit of patriotic enthusiasm, the name of the school was changed to Liberty Hall Academy. The founders and instructors are Princeton men (a Presbyterian college), so they bring with them these credentials. They make the church school into a college patterned after Princeton. It was non-sectarian, open to all, including the Episcopalians.
After six years, the college moved into the newly established town of Lexington. For 100 years it would be considered our college, although the official relationship was severed with the move to Lexington. But, these were still our people.
Who donated money to fund our school on the frontier, still far away from civilization? 5 would sign the Declaration of Independence. One would head Virginia’s forces during the coming Revolutionary War. One was Robert E. Lee’s grandfather. More than 50 would command units in the war, both militia and Continental Line officers. These are just a few. There were many more equally distinguished donors.
The college always was desperate for funds, and in 1796, President George Washington endowed the college with $20,000. (This was in canal stock and not cash, and a lot of money for the times.) For obvious reasons the college changed its name to Washington Academy. This gift from more than 200 years ago still provides funding for the college today.
After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee took over as president of the college. For obvious reasons the name of the school was changed to Washington and Lee University. Lee has a short life, dying in 1870. He and most of his family are buried on the campus. To the delight of the children, Lee’s famous horse, Traveler, is also buried on our campus.
I would like to point out that these few sentences are a condensed version of our church and college history. The college has an illustrious history with a staggering list of alumni who would figure prominently in America history.
Keep in mind that the college always was, and still is a small college, with only a little over 2,100 students today.
As for the little frontier school that started it all in 1749, Professor Sanders tells this story of a group of boys playing in the school yard: 2 would serve on the countries highest courts; 4 would be state legislatures: 4 would sit in Congress; another established colleges and would become a famed classicist. This is just one small group of boys who happened to play together on just one day on our school grounds. Our people were not a part of American history. Our people were American history.
Today, Washington and Lee University is the 9th oldest institution of higher learning in our country.
Obituary, 6 Sept. 2004, Harvey Wheeler died at age 85. While a professor at Washington and Lee University he co-authored the book "Fail-Safe," which became a best seller and hit movie. (book,1962 - movie, 1964)
"Other top 10 party schools were Washington and Lee
University, Lexington, Va.;..."
--August 17, 2004, the Associated Press
Lexington, Tourist Mecca
The town of Lexington is really small, only 3,500 people. During the educational season its size doubles when you add the college students and the 1,000 cadets at the famed Virginia Military Institute (VMI). [I did not know that VMI was a state college, like any other state college. It is right next to the W&L U.]
Yet, it is a tourist's paradise unlike any place on earth. They have a 1-day-tour; and 2-day-tours, and 3-day-tours, and 5-day-tours; and so-on-and-so-forth tours. I was so dumbfounded that an area so small could have a 5-day-tour that I contacted the tourists center to make sure the information was correct.
I can not tell you all that is available to see. If you want to head out that way then contact the following: Lexington & Rockbridge Area Visitor Center, 106 E. Washington St., Lexington, VA 24450;
They will send you a big packet of
information for free. You can also download a travel guide. I think it will be a
vacation of your lifetime.
Remember when you vacation there that this is our heritage.
Today, as best I can reckon, the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church (The Old Stone Church) is physically located at 73 Sam Houston Way, about 6-7 miles north of Lexington, not too far from the village of Fairfield. Then there is the brick Presbyterian Church not too far, across the way. I think there is a third church. These three comprise our churches, for there are other Presbyterian churches in the area. These three all have a common origin. There is no reason to believe that our people, to a man, stayed with the original church when they divided, and divided again. Our people probably distributed themselves between the three.
The site of Magdelene’s grave is not known for sure, but Rev. Neander Woods believes it would be in the surrounding graveyard of the Old Stone Church. This is good logic, for he points out that she was a founding member of the church and an active member all of her life.
She would not be buried at the McDowell cemetery, for the grandchildren erected the beautiful monument to Captain John McDowell in 1855. If Magdelene was buried here, then they would have erected a monument to her at the same time.
Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, etc. by Jos Waddel, 1888, 492 pages.
Early history. Available in reprint through Higginson Book Company,148 Washington St., PO Box 778, Salem , Massachusetts 01970
Histories and Genealogies of the families of Miller, Woods, Harris, Wallace, Maupin, Oldham, Kavanaugh, and Brown, by William Harris Miller, 1907. 651 pages. Massive masterpiece of genealogy with good biographical sketches of many people. Available in reprint through Higginson.
Kegley’s Virginia Frontier, by F. B. Kegley. 1938, 786 pages. A good history source. Available in reprint through Higginson.
A Journey in Faith: The History of the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church, 1746-1996, by Taylor Sanders.
The following book I have not read but wish to let you know it exist in case anyone wants to look at it.
History of Rockbridge County, Virginia, by Oren F. Morton, 1920. Available in reprint through Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202
My family history web site has 79 chapters. If you would like to
know more about the other chapters then go to my
Home Page www.thetracyfamilyhistory.net