|Parmenas Bowker Pritchett, Jr. (Vickie Neely)
During his long and productive lifetime, Parmenas Bowker Pritchett, Jr., served his community in a variety of roles. His most lasting legacy, however, was the part he played in establishing what has been a landmark in Spotsylvania County for 150 years--Goshen Baptist Church.
His story begins with that of his father, Parmenas, Sr., who was born in Caroline County on September 29, 1781. Parmenas, Sr., seems to have enjoyed a certain level of status and prosperity during his years in Virginia, acquiring several tracts of land. Among these was a 510-acre tract of land on the Spotsylvania-Caroline county border inherited by his wife, Sarah Goodloe, whom he married on January 30, 1813.
Parmenas, Sr., and Sarah had at least five children together, including two sons--Bird, born in 1814, and Parmenas, Jr., born about 1818. Things appeared to go well for the Pritchetts until 1824, when the name of Parmenas, Sr., first appeared on a list of Spotsylvania County insolvents. In October of that year, he was obliged to deed "all his interest in his home place" (presumably the Goodloe tract) to Sheriff Hamilton to pay a financial obligation. His fortunes do not seem to have improved over the next few years and in 1829 Parmenas, Sr., moved his family to Kentucky. The following year, the Pritchetts moved to Missouri, where they settled in Marion County.
Virtually nothing is known about the Pritchetts during their years in Missouri. When he died on August 17, 1835, Parmenas, Sr., left no will, and the court in Marion County appointed his son Bird as one of the administrators of his estate. What, if anything, the Pritchett children inherited from their father is not known. Bird Pritchett moved his family to Iowa in 1843, and he lived there for the rest of his life. A few years later, the younger Parmenas would get his own opportunity in Spotsylvania County.
|Virginia Herald, 28 October 1835
In 1846, James H. and Frances Hawkins deeded a farm in Spotsylvania County to young Parmenas's unmarried aunts, Henrietta and Lucy Pritchett. Known as "Orchard Hill," this property was located on Brock Road just east of its intersection with Gordon Road. The deed from the Hawkins couple (who for many years owned the farm adjacent to Wilderness Baptist Church) specified that Parmenas would gain title to the property after his aunts passed away.
The 1850 census in the Pritchett's neighborhood, taken on November 9, 1850, shows Parmenas as the the head of his household, which included Henrietta and Lucy. This is somewhat peculiar, because the marriage records of Orange County show that he had married 18-year-old Anne Elizabeth Downer on September 16, 1850. Anne appears on the 1850 census as a member of the household of her guardian, John D. Hawkins. John was a brother of James H. Hawkins, and they were both uncles of Anne Downer.
Anne Downer was born in Spotsylvania County in January 1832. She was a daughter of Larkin and Mary Foster Downer. Larkin was a blacksmith by trade and owned a shop on the Orange Turnpike just east of where Salem Church now stands.
|Virginia Herald, 18 February 1835
Anne's mother died in 1833, and Larkin Downer died in 1840. In his will, written five days before his death on December 27, Larkin left Anne a bed and some bedding, which was at R.W. Schooler's house in Caroline County. Larkin named his son Thomas as one of his executors. Thomas was married to Martha Hawkins, who was a sister of John D. and James H. Hawkins (who had deeded Orchard Hill to the Pritchetts).
Parmenas and Anne lived at Orchard Hill, where they raised ten children who survived infancy. One son, Van, died of pneumonia at age 18 in 1888.
The 1850 census also shows that Parmenas was a slave owner. He owned 14 people that year, the youngest being a one-year-old girl, the oldest a 70-year-old woman. As his household expanded, Parmenas found it necessary to advertise for additional help:
|Fredericksburg News, 1 May 1854
One of most salient aspects of Parmenas's life was his devotion to the Baptist Church. He took a strong stance against the use of alcohol and was for many years was an adherent of the Temperance movement. The earliest known mention of this occurred in 1852:
|Fredericksburg News, 9 April 1852
Parmenas's aunt Lucy died of pneumonia in 1853. She is believed to be buried in the Pritchett family cemetery at Orchard Hill.
On the eve of the Civil War, the 1860 census shows that there were seven whites living at Orchard Hill: Parmenas and Anne; children Booth, Lucy, William Robert and Annie; and overseer R.T. Minor. Mr. Minor had charge of 10 enslaved people, ranging in age from five to eighty. Their value accounted for much of the $10,825 personal estate of Parmenas Pritchett.
When Virginia seceded from the United States in April 1861, 43-year-old Parmenas did not join the Confederate army. He did, however, contribute to the Confederate cause by selling goods and services to various quartermaster officers, and to the St. Charles Hospital in Richmond:
Note that the payment for the 1,500 pounds of hay was made at the "Temperance Cottage." This suggests that there was a building at Orchard Hill where Parmenas hosted temperance meetings.
During January-March 1863, Parmenas leased his slave, Ben Hostler, to the Confederate government, presumably to work on the fortifications in Richmond:
In May 1864, the Civil War came literally to the front door step of the Pritchett home. During the titanic battles that occurred near Spotsylvania Courthouse, about 300 Confederate cavalry horses grazed on his land for three days. Ten acres of Parmenas's corn was trampled into the ground. The 1863 map detail below shows the location of the Pritchett farm (indicated as "Pritchard") in the lower center of the image:
Parmenas's property suffered other damages as well. Four hundred panels of fencing were taken down. An acre of timberland was cut down for "bivouacing road," and an additional seven acres of trees were cut down to build fortifications. Earthworks were constructed on Parmenas's land. After the fighting was over, Parmenas hauled 500 feet of planking to the Confederate hospital near the courthouse:
In addition to the economic losses he suffered during the war, Parmenas was further impoverished by the emancipation of his slaves.The value of his personal property, which stood at over $10,000 in 1860, had been reduced to just $400 by 1870.
After the war, former slave owners like Parmenas had to pay wages to the newly freed people who worked for them. The Freedmen's Bureau was created to oversee the dealings between white employers and their black workers. In an effort to protect the rights of these workers, those who hired them were obliged to enter into labor contracts with these largely illiterate ex-slaves. The official who headed the Freedmen's Bureau in the Fredericksburg area was Captain Hector Sears.
|Captain Hector Sears
Sears was born in Ulster County, New York in 1843. He enlisted in the 131st New York Volunteers in September 1862. At the Battle of Port Hudson in May 1863, Sears received a severe wound to his left shoulder, requiring the removal of a section of bone from his arm. He was mustered out of the regular service and transferred to the Veteran Volunteer Corps, where he did administrative work until he returned home in 1869. While head of the Freedmen's Bureau for the Fredericksburg area (his office was in Alexandria), Sears received the letter shown below. The letter was written to Sears by ex-slave Edward Stevens, who mentions that another ex-slave named George Barber, who was in the employ of P.B. Pritchett, would pay a debt as soon as he received his pay from Parmenas.
Parmenas's aunt Henrietta would not live to see much of the success he enjoyed in the postwar years. She died at Orchard Hill on April 22, 1868 and is presumed to be buried in the family cemetery there.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Parmenas became active in politics. He became a member of the Conservative Party, which was formed by ex-Confederates to resist the policies of the Republican administration. In October 1867, Parmenas was one of the delegates selected to represent Spotsylvania in the party's state convention:
|Virginia Herald, 10 October 1867
In 1870, Parmenas was elected to a two-year term as a magistrate in Spotsylvania County:
|Virginia Herald, 23 May 1870
For many years, Parmenas regularly won re-election as magistrate. One of his more interesting cases made the headlines in 1885:
|Alexandria Gazette, 29 August 1885
Goshen Baptist Church had its roots in the last Anglican church built in Spotsylvania County before the American Revolution, Built in 1772, this house of worship was named Burbridges Bridge Church. It stood on the south bank of the Ni River at the intersection of Catharpin and Piney Branch roads. On the 1820 map detail shown below, it can be seen in the middle of the image, noted as "Burbage's Church:"
When America achieved its independence from England, the authority of the Anglican church was swept away. In time, the Baptists, who had been outlawed during the colonial era, began to hold services at Burbridges Church under the leadership of Reverend John "Swearing Jack" Waller (a nickname he earned before his religious conversion). In due course, the "Old Yellow Church," as Burbridges came to be called, was pastored by Reverend Henry Goodloe, grandfather of Parmenas, Jr. Parson Goodloe conducted services there until his death in 1820 at age 90. By 1847, membership at the Old Yellow Church began to dwindle and the sanctuary succumbed to decay. Its members left for newly built churches, like Wilderness and Piney Branch. The original members of what would become Goshen Baptist Church was composed of congregants of Piney Branch (which later became a church for black worshipers), who strongly believed that a commitment to the Temperance movement should be a requirement for membership.
Those former members of Piney Branch Church met at private homes and later would gather at the blacksmith shop of Parmenas Pritchett. Presiding at these meetings was Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor.
|From "Footprints on the Sands of Time"
Although it was not yet officially constituted as such, this informal church referred to itself as Goshen Baptist years before its first building was erected. One of the first mentions of Goshen in the local press appeared in the September 22, 1870 edition of the Virginia Herald:
Parmenas Pritchett and Nathan Beale Talley, together with Reverend Chancellor, drew up a resolution that established Goshen: "At a monthly meeting of Goshen Church on April 27, 1872, Brother Chancellor was unanimously chosen as Pastor. The same day the church unanimously chose the name of Goshen by which it is to be called. Signed--A brief record. P.B. Pritchett."
In addition to the pivotal role they played in establishing Goshen Baptist Church, Parmenas and Nathan B. Talley also shared familial connections. Two of Parmenas's daughters married sons of Nathan B. Talley: Mollie became the wife of Nathan Beauregard Talley, and Lucy married Charles Newton Talley.
On July 25, 1873, Parmenas and Anne Pritchett deeded three fourths of an acre located at the intersection of Brock and Gordon roads, to the trustees of the church--James Petigrew Chartters, William F. Scott and William Laurance Jones.
|Goshen Baptist Church
The first sanctuary was likely built in 1874. The undated photograph above shows the original sanctuary, which stood until it was rebuilt in 1913. Shown below are the names of the earliest members of the church:
|From "Footprints on the Sands of Time"
Among the most eminent members of the church, of course, were the Pritchett family themselves, who posed for this portrait, taken perhaps in the early 1880s. Shown with Parmenas and Anne are their daughters Mollie (at far left) and Annie, and sons Robert, Lee and Booth:
|(Courtesy of Vickie Neely)
Parmenas suffered from ill health during his last months, and died at home on August 26, 1894. He lies in an unmarked grave at the family burying ground at Orchard Hill.
|The Free Lance, 28 August 1894
|Memorial and list of burials at Orchard Hill (Vickie Neely)
|The Pritchett graveyard at Orchard Hill (Vickie Neely)
After Parmenas's death, his widow Anne continued to live at Orchard Hill with her youngest son Larkin and daughters Alice and Maude. In 1902, Larkin built a new home for the family near the original house at Orchard Hill. That house still stands, although it has seen many changes in the last 120 years. When the Pritchett house was bought by the Stafford family in 1961, it still looked very much as it had when Larkin built it.
|Dianne Stafford at Orchard Hill, 1961 (Dianne Stafford)
|Keith Stafford at Orchard Hill, 1961 (Dianne Stafford)
Larkin Pritchett married Cora Kent in Washington, DC on January 22, 1907. They lived at Orchard Hill with her mother and Larkin's sister Alice. Anne Downer Pritchett died at home on April 10, 1908. She is buried in the family cemetery at Orchard Hill.
Larkin and Cora raised three children together, and lived at Orchard Hill for the rest of their lives. Larkin lived until 1954, and Cora died in 1968. They are buried at Goshen Baptist Church.
Shown below are two photographs of Orchard Hill from my family's collection. This one, taken about 1913, shows Larkin and Cora, at right, with their two oldest children Lee and Elizabeth. Larkin's sister Alice stands at center, and Cora's sister Fannie Kent is at far left:
This undated photograph shows Cora Pritchett and her sister Lottie Kent at Orchard Hill:
My thanks to Vickie Neely and Dianne Stafford for their assistance in preparing this article.
My source for the history of Goshen Church is an unpublished monograph "Footprints on the Sands of time written, it is supposed, by church member Evelyn Monroe.