In anticipation of the 200th anniversary of Saint James’ Church in Warrenton (1816‐2016), the History Committee will delve into parish archives and other sources and bring to light choice bits of history to inform and perhaps entertain parishioners, starting now and continuing into our bicentennial year 2016.
Here is the fifth essay in the series:
A look back…Saint James’ Episcopal Church 1816-2016
The Reverend James Keith
First Rector of Hamilton Parish
It is useful to review briefly the origins of our parish, which take us back to 1730 when the parish was established and named for Lord George Hamilton, appointed Governor of Virginia by King William III Saint James’ is the third parish church of Hamilton Parish, preceded by the earlier churches at Elk Run and Turkey Run. Fauquier County, created in 1759 during the reign of George II, was named for Francis Fauquier, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. In 1730, Hamilton Parish covered a vast area; today, the parish encompasses about 140 square miles in central Fauquier County.
At Saint James’ Church, on the chancel’s east wall, the reader’s attention is invited to a memorial tablet which reads:
To The Glory of God
and in memory of
THE REV. JAMES KEITH
of Peterhead, Scotland
First minister of Hamilton Parish
This Tablet is Erected by
His Descendants on the 200th Anniversary
of the Formation of the Parish
Remembrances of a Parishioner Spanning over 300 Years
The late Jack Keith (John A. C. Keith 1907-1987), a descendant of the first minister, and a member of Saint James’ Church wrote, in his retirement, a series of essays on the history of the Keith family, recalling stories and memories passed down through the generations, and drawing on old family letters and diaries. An excerpt follows:
“My own memory does not begin with my birth in 1907, but goes back vicariously to the 1680s when Parson Keith was born in Aberdeenshire (Scotland). My father, who was born in 1870, was raised in the home of his grandmother. That lady, born in 1800 and living until 1887 lived through stirring times and was blessed with a reliable imagination and an excellent memory.
“She was intimate with her mother-in-law, and an aunt who, born in 1776, lived to be almost 100. This remarkable woman had lived in the house with her mother-in-law, Mary Isham-Randolph, who was born about 1700 and married Parson Keith. In the twilight evenings of long ago I listened while the old people talked.
“… after his (Keith’s) arrival in Virginia, it is not possible to get a chronological account of Parson Keith’s life. We know that he was rector of old St. John’s Church in what is now Richmond, the edifice made famous by (Patrick) Henry’s ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech.
“When Hamilton Parish was formed in 1730, he became its first rector (probably in 1733). He is also supposed to have served in Maryland and in Dettingen Parish in Prince William County, but no dates are given.
“He was in Hamilton Parish for nigh onto 20 years and at his death was buried under the altar of Elk Run Church, said to be a cruciform edifice, gone long since. Bishop Meade, in his ‘Old Churches and Families of Virginia’, published in 1860, calls the Parson a good man, while other later historians allege he was casual in carrying out his duties.
“He must, at least, have been well educated as his daughter was able to give good instruction to her son, the future Chief Justice John Marshall. Senator Beveridge, in his definitive life of John Marshall, credits the latter’s genius to the brilliance of his Randolph/Keith blood combined with the steadiness of the Yomen Marshalls. (Note: James Keith married Mary Isham Randolph, daughter of Thomas Randolph of Tuckahoe on the upper James River, the most important family in that part of Virginia.)
“A ghost story of which mother kept a longhand account in her Bible in which Mrs. DuPont-Lee tells in her ‘Virginia Ghosts’ may be recounted briefly here.
“As a student in Aberdeen, Parson Keith’s best friend was a youth named Fraser. They were very intimate and discussed all manner of things, including the reality of God and life hereafter.
“They had many doubts, and agreed that the first one who died, if he found there was an afterlife, would return to tell his friend. The story goes that Fraser went out to India to serve the Honorable Company and Keith came to Virginia.
“In his old age, Parson Keith employed a housekeeper, Mrs. MacCloud. One day she went to milk the cows and a man in elaborate military dress appeared before her, told her who he was, that there was a life hereafter and to tell her master that he would die soon.
“She was frightened and did not tell her master. A few days later the same officer appeared in an apparition telling her to give his message to her master as time was running out. This time she did so. Parson Keith recognized the description as his old friend. He put his affairs in order and died soon after.”
Members of the Keith family continue to live in Fauquier County and are communicants of Saint James’ Church. Additional material on Parson Keith is available in other sources, e.g., his birth date (not shown on the memorial tablet) is given as 1697.
File:The Reverend James Keith
Submitted: History Committee
File: BELL TOWER