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St. John's Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA
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The American Revolution
Edgar Allan Poe
February 18, 2009 - 07:43 PM UTC
February 19, 2009 - 12:33 AM UTC
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2401 E Broad St, Richmond, VA 23223, USA (
St. John's Episcopal Church
This church in Richmond was built in 1741 on land donated by the city's founder, William Byrd II. The church is famous for being the site of two of the five Virginia Conventions, including the one at which Patrick Henry gave the speech he is most famous for (see The American Revolutionary War below). As such, the church is an important historical landmark of the American Revolutionary War. The churchyard also served as the first public burial ground in Richmond, Virginia. A few famous individuals are buried here.
The American Revolutionary War
St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia was the setting for the second and third of the Virginia Conventions. The Virginia Conventions were a series of meetings for representatives of the American Colonies to decide how they would handle relations with Britain following the events of the Boston Tea Party.
The second convention was held from March 20 to March 27, 1775. It was at this convention that Patrick Henry gave his famous speech on March 23. The speech was not transcribed and it wasn't until four decades later that future Attorney General William Wirt pieced the speech together the best he could from talking to witnesses of the event. What follows is Wirt's attempt at recreating the ending Henry's speech with its most famous quote.
"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
The third convention was held on July 17 of the same year. While the second convention had been about arming and rallying the colonial militias, the third convention was mainly about taking control of Virginia following the flight of the Colony's British Governor.
The conventions wouldn't be the only times that the church would come into play during the revolution. During the month of January 1781, General Benedict Arnold quartered his troops at the church. By this point the General had switched sides from fighting for the Americans to fighting for the British - a move that would cause his name to become synonymous with word
for most Americans.
Jaquelin and Rebecca Lewis Burwell Ambler
Former Virginia Treasurer Jaquelin Ambler and his wife Rebecca are buried at St. John's Churchyard. Their daughter, Mary Willis Ambler, married United States Chief Justice John Marshall. As a young woman, Rebecca had been the focus of a romantic crush by a young Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson apparently did a poor job of expressing his feelings for Rebecca, forgoing courtship and blurting out a marriage proposal, which she rejected much to his consternation. Jaquelin Ambler died on Janury 10, 1798. Rebecca followed him in death on August 5, 1806. They were both interred at St. John's.
James Thomson Callender
James Callender was born in Scotland at some point in 1758. Callender, a writer by trade, was known for his satirical and politically inflammatory pamphlets. He had to flee Scotland to avoid prosecution over the things he had written, eventually ending up in the United States. Settling into life in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Callender became a freelance congressional reporter who wrote anonymously. One of his pamphlets exposed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton as an adulterer and accused him of illegal financial dealings. William Cobbet, another pamphlet writer, exposed James Callender as the author of certain inflammatory pamphlets, causing him to once again flee, this time to Virginia.
Callender was unable to avoid trouble. His criticism of the U.S. Administration under President John Adams led to him being prosecuted under the Sedition Act (AKA: An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States). The act which allowed for punishment of journalists for writing items determined by the administration as being
"false, scandalous, and malicious"
in its portrayal of members of government. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase presided over the trial in which Callender was found guilty, fined and sentenced to imprisonment. Callender was imprisoned for nearly a year, being set free on the last day of the Adams Administration. Samuel Chase found himself impeached over his part in activities such as the trial of James Callender.
Once free, Callender turned his sites on Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had secretly funded some of Callender's political pamphlets that had criticized Jefferson's political foes. Callender felt that Jefferson owed him for the trouble the pamphlets had caused and asked to be named as Postmaster of Richmond, Virginia. When Jefferson refused, Callender revealed publicly that Jefferson had funded pamphlets Callender had written. Jefferson denied the accusation, to which Callender responded by printing letters sent to him by Jefferson as proof. This made him the target of Jefferson's supporters. They spread the story that James Callender had abandoned his children after their mother died of a venereal disease. In actuality, his wife had died from yellow fever and while he did leave his children behind in Virginia, the reasons he did may have stemmed from concerns over his career endangering them as well as Callender's frequent poverty. In retaliation, Callender printed articles revealing Thomas Jefferson's sexual relationship with slave Sally Hemings and the children that were said to have resulted from it. He also revealed Jefferson's attempts at seducing a married woman, though that incident had occurred decades prior.
Callender found himself in an increasingly dangerous position with fewer and fewer allies. On December 20, 1802, he was physically attacked by his own former defense attorney, George Hay. Hay, angered over articles Callender claimed he would write about him, beat Callender on the head with a walking stick. Hay's law firm also began legally attacking the newspaper at which Callender was serving as editor. Callender began drinking heavily apparently due to the strife his work had brought him.
On December 17, 1803 he was witnessed wandering about in an apparent drunken stupor. That night his dead body was discovered in the James River. He had drowned in only two or three feet of water. It was claimed that he had fallen out of his rowboat and drowned in that small amount of water due to his inebriated condition. He was buried in St. John's Churchyard. At the time of his death, Callender had been set to testify in the case The People vs Croswell. The trial was over libel charges brought against publisher Harry Croswell for his reprinting of accusations that Thomas Jefferson had paid Calender to author pamphlets that attacked former U.S. President George Washington. It is also interesting to note a few months before his death, Callendar had received a letter written by Merriweather Jones, a common friend of both Thomas Jefferson and Callender. The letter included lines that appeared somewhat suspicious after the fact, considering the manner in which Callendar later died. The lines are as follows:
"The James River you tell us, has suffered to cleanse your body; is there any menstrum capable of cleansing your mind... Oh! could a dose of James river, like Lethe, have blessed you with forgetfulness, for once you would have neglected your whiskey."
Born in 1726, life-long Virginian George Wythe has the distinction of being America's first college professor of law. He was also one of the men to sign the Declaration of Independence and one of the three men who devised the procedures for the Constitutional Convention (AKA: The Philadelphia Convention).
Near the end of George Wythe's life he became an abolitionist. He set free all the slaves he owned. He changed his will to leave money for his former slaves Lydia Broadnax and her son Michael Brown. George Wythe Sweeney, the grand-nephew of George Sweeney had originally been the sole heir. Upset at having to share the inheritance with former slaves, he decided to do away with the mother and son, attempting to poison them with arsenic in their coffee. Lydia Broadnax did not fall victim to the poison, but her son and George Wythe did. George Wythe lived long enough to write his nephew entirely out of the will. He died on June 8, 1806 and was interred at St. John's.
George Sweeney had an excellent legal defense team and the law was on his side, as blacks were prohibited by law from testifying against whites. So Lydia Broadnax was unable to testify that she had witnessed Sweeney adding something to the coffee pot. The arsenic found on Sweeney was deemed circumstantial and apparently the doctors who examined the bodies either purposely or accidentally bungled their examinations, failing to do tests for arsenic poisoning even knowing that it had been suspected in the case. George Sweeney was acquitted of the crime and was allowed to go free. George Wythe's house still stands in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Elizabeth Arnold Poe
Known as Eliza, she was born Elizabeth Arnold in London in 1787 to a pair of actors. Her father died only two years later, leaving her and her mother alone. The mother and daughter traveled to America, where Eliza followed in her parents footsteps, becoming an actor as well. She married at 15 years of age and was widowed by 18, marrying once again six months later. Her second husband was actor David Poe Jr. The pair had two sons together, William and Edgar. While critics praised the performances of Eliza, David Poe was savaged by critics over his acting abilities. David left both the stage and his family behind, disappearing into history. Eliza would later give birth to a daughter named Rosalie who may or may not have been David's offspring.
While performing in Richmond, Eliza began to show signs of illness, coughing up blood. Her health quickly deteriorated and she passed away on December 8, 1811 at the young age of 24. Her eldest son William was sent to live with family in Baltimore, Maryland. The remaining children were taken in, but never officially adopted, by two different wealthy Richmond families. The baby daughter was taken in by the MacKenzie family and became Rosalie MacKenzie Poe. Three year old Edgar was taken in by John and Frances Allan, who are buried nearby in Shockoe Hill Cemetery (see
Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, VA
) and had his name changed to Edgar Allan Poe.
Other People of Note buried in the Cemetery
The cemetery holds the bodies of veterans of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, including John Mercer, John Page and Edward Carrington, who went on to careers in politics following their times of service. It also is the final resting place of James McClurg, former mayor of Richmond and James Wood, former Governor of Virginia.
Visiting St. John's Episcopal Church
In addition to its historical significance, St. John's is still an operating church that holds regular services. The church holds a historical reenactment of the second Virginia Convention on the Sunday closest to March 23 every year. Reenactments are also staged every Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The reenactment is preceded by a musical program, featuring patriotic music performed on the church's Adam Stein organ. Guided tours of the church and its cemetery are available seven days a week, excepting certain holidays and church events such as weddings and funerals. Check the church's Web site below for times and details.
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Historic St. John's Church.org
Web site for the historical St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA.
Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum
Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, CA
Andersonville National Historic Site
See Also on TheCabinet.com
Blog: No Justice in the Death of George Wythe (06/08/09)
Available from Amazon.com
History of St. John's Church (Protestant Episcopal), Richmond, Va: Erected 1741
Fight for Freedom: The American Revolutionary War
A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic
I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation
Scandalmonger (Harvest Book)
With the Hammer of Truth: James Thomson Callender and America's Early National Heroes
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems
Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold (Unforgettable Americans)
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Closed to the Public
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