St Peter's Parish was established in 1679 with the church being built in 1701 and officially being in use by 1703. Today, St. Peter’s is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Virginia and the third oldest in Virginia.
Martha Dandridge, later known as Martha Washington our nation’s first- first lady, was married by the rector of St Peter's Parish, the Rev. David Mossom. It is uncertain if they were married at this church or at her home nearby and you can see how these two historical signs become a bit hysterical placed right next to one another.
Constructed of brick laid in Flemish bond, St Peter's Parish Church is one of the few Jacobean structures in America. The 1740 stump tower is also rare. The graveyard includes colonial tombs as well as modern graves.
During the American Civil, Union troops stabled their horses in the pews and carved their names in the brick exterior. General Robert E. Lee, whose wife was Mary Ann Randolph Custis (Martha Washington's great-granddaughter ) wrote on October 23, 1869 that “St Peter's is the church where General Washington was married and attended in early life. It would be a shame to America if allowed to go to destruction.” Lee’s son, General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, supervised the work of restoring the church.
I went to St. Peter’s last Saturday. In many ways, it has become a memory of a memory. You see, in high school my best friend lived just a few houses down from this majestic place. St. Peter’s is on a back road to a back road. Without the elaborate signage that they have now for a new vineyard, most would have never guessed that this church and its graveyard were there. Yet, my best friend and I walked there, sat on the steps, took gothy pictures, and, well, I made out with my first love at St, Peter's. I shared these pictures and my stories with my fella just yesterday. He smiled at my walk down memory lane. I had been in New Kent county visiting my folks and getting my oil changed. It was a beautiful 70 degree day in November and before heading home where my fella wouldn’t be because he was tending to his mom, I decided to go a bit back woods literally.
Driving there wasn’t a problem. Aside from the new round-a-bout (insert eye roll), it is all muscle memory. If the roads weren’t so weavey, I could probably close my eyes and make it there. Pulling up, St. Peter’s looked just how I remembered it. After all these years… I don’t think I’ve seen this place in twenty years. This time I drove in, parked my car at the top of the hill, and slowly walked around remembering. “I sat there”; “(former love of my life) took off his shoes there”… how many important brain cells were taken up with that memory? Sigh. I remember the leaves; I remember the windows; I remember the stoop. In twenty years, the place still looks the same. I suppose we can thank General Lee for that.
What a weird thing to grow up around so much history and have it mix with one’s own. I didn’t appreciate any of it then but I do so appreciate it now. Some say that you can never go home again. On this day, I have to disagree. When I closed my eyes, I was 16 and my friends were there. When I closed my eyes, I could hear every last one of them.