History of Saint James’: Reconstruction and the African-American Community

Parishioners will recall that a vital part of our 19th century history came to light in July 2015.  It was revealed in a slim, inconspicuous notebook-style Parish Register containing essential information for the years 1859 through 1871, a period before, during, and after the Civil War.  Owing to the absence of Vestry Minutes for that tumultuous time, and an incomplete reference file, it was thought that no records existed within Saint James’ for those years.

Marriages 1866
A page of the recently-discovered parish register that records marriages at Saint James’ Church in 1866. Note the ages, on the righthand column, of those married. Marriages between slaves or former slaves had no legal recognition in Virginia until the passage of the Cohabitation Act of 1866 – many slaves had been married for decades without official standing, but were only officially sanctioned in 1866 and afterwards. Interracial marriage remained illegal in Virginia until 1967, however, when the US Supreme Court ruled these laws were unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia.

Now, we know that the Rev. Otto S. Barten, D.D., rector 1859-1865, kept detailed records privately, perhaps at home, of baptisms, marriages, and burials.  Entries appear to have been made all at once, perhaps at war’s end and at the close of his ministry, and then turned over to the church.  The same Register contains records kept by Dr. Barten’s successor, the Rev. James R. Hubard, D.D. (1866-1871).

Inasmuch as the Parish Register shows entries for “colored” persons who were baptized, married, and buried by Dr. Barten, a History Committee representative met in July 2016 with Karen White, head of the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County (AAHA), headquartered in The Plains.  As an outgrowth of that meeting, and with the rector’s consent, a copy of the complete Register was made for the AAHA.

Mrs. White and her associates were delighted to have valuable records that she said “contain a wealth of information,” previously unknown, about African-Americans resident in Fauquier County in that earlier difficult time.   She was familiar with many family names going back over 150 years.  The records are a gold mine of information for the AAHA’s genealogical research and for other purposes.  Mrs. White anticipates giving Saint James’ a full report on completion of AAHA’s analysis and study of this newly found resource.

Drafted: History Committee – Richard Gookin

August 2016: File: St.J. AAHA