Many old churches have become nothing more than museums. It is our intention at Lebanon to continue the work of Christ, and to propagate His gospel with the same conviction and fervor of our Christian forefathers.
Throughout the history of Presbyterianism, Presbyterians have time and time again shown a remarkable inclination to stand up for their beliefs and convictions, even if it meant going through great hardship. In this regard, the people of Lebanon and the Presbyterians in this region are no exception.
Presbyterians predate the county of Albemarle itself- having inhabited what is now Albemarle for nearly 290 years. Although 1747 is the year Lebanon has traditionally considered its beginning- it is necessary to go back a few years earlier for a better understanding of Lebanon’s roots. In 1734 a hardy group of Ulster Scots made their way through the wilderness of Virginia and up the sparsely settled Shenandoah Valley, crossing the formidable spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Wood’s Gap. This gap is better known today as Jarman Gap. This band of settlers was lead by the patriarch, Michael Woods, who was born in Northern Ireland in 1684. With him came the Wallaces, who were his sons-in-laws, as well as the Kinceads, Jamesons, McCords and Stocktons. It was also in 1734 that William Wallace, Michael Woods’ son-in-law, established “Piedmont”, his homestead here in Greenwood. Many of these families would become prominent figures in the history of Mt. Plains and Lebanon Churches, and Albemarle County itself.
Although it appears a few Anglicans had permanently settled in the eastern part of the county, the Woods clan was the first to settle in Western Albemarle. It is also believed they were the first Presbyterians to settle on the East foot of the Blue Ridge. Speaking of Presbyterians- the Presbyterians had along with other Calvinists the reputation for being uncompromising in their beliefs, a hardy lot with a desire to worship freely as their belief in God dictated. England took advantage of the situation and encouraged these dissenters as the English called them, to settle the wilderness areas of Virginia and the New World. Remember- at this time, the British were engaged with the enemy- not the Americans, not necessarily the Indians- but Catholic France. Americans commonly refer to this struggle as the French and Indian War. It had only been a short while since England had rid itself of Roman Catholicism and they had no intention of allowing it to regain prominence in Britain, even if it meant building relationships with more reformed groups such as the Presbyterians. The British generally tolerated what they considered dissenters- namely the Presbyterians- to serve as a buffer, providing protection from the French and their Indian allies to the west.
Soon after arrival in Western Albemarle, the Presbyterians built a crude log cabin to serve as their first meeting house. The house of worship was on the plantation established by Michael Woods at Mt. Plains, and was erected in the year of their arrival in 1734. Mt. Plains was the name of the first Presbyterian church in Albemarle and out of this Lebanon draws its existence. As we will see, the name Lebanon did not appear in any documents until 1824, but when it did, the names Mt. Plains and Lebanon were used together to refer to the same church for some years. For example, the documents in the display case refer to the church as Lebanon and Mountain Plains Church (singular).
Over the next few years, other settlers, and other Presbyterians began to spill into the area. In 1738 Rev. James Anderson preached to the Presbyterians in this area. As a result of the difficult and time consuming nature of travel in Eighteenth Century Virginia- it is probable there were several meeting places among the Presbyterian families who, in many cases, lived only a few miles apart. This no doubt hampered any effort to establish one large meeting house- but resulted in several small congregations that in many cases met in homes. It probably hampered any efforts to successfully call a full-time minister as well.
The 1740’s ushered in The Great Awakening, which had a tremendous impact on Colonial America. Although New England was affected first, Virginia soon became a part of this revival. The Established Church and the royal government feared many of the evangelical preachers and their strong criticism of the inequities of the day. Here, we also see how willing Presbyterians were to stand up for their convictions. Indeed, Puritan and Presbyterian Calvinists had long since established their presence in Britain. During the English Civil War, Calvinists took control of Parliament and eventually beheaded the resistant King Charles I in 1649. The result was 11 years without a monarch in Britain. Therefore, it is easy to see why the Established Church and the royal government were at times fearful, and at other times hostile towards the Presbyterians- especially during a time of spiritual revival, when perhaps the threat posed by the Presbyterians was at its height.
In a spirit of revival, Rev. William Robinson came to Virginia in 1742 and 1743. He began to lay the foundation for the Great Awakening in Virginia. He preached with great success to congregations throughout the colony, including those in Albemarle. During his stay, he was arrested and imprisoned for preaching without a license in Orange County, Virginia. In 1747, the year Presbyterians in Albemarle called their first permanent pastor, Rev. Samuel Davies also came to Virginia. While in Virginia, Davies successfully petitioned Gov. William Gooch for the right to hold religious worship outside the Anglican Church (Va Pilot). It is said Davies “drew crowds of several thousand when there weren’t even towns that big” in Virginia. Samuel Davies, an ardent Presbyterian “upset the status quo and helped pave the way for revolution”. Presbyterians were known to preach the value of self-government and used within its own structure a representative government, and believed with deep conviction that Jesus Christ was the head of the church- not the king.
With Davies, it began to become apparent that Presbyterians were having an impact on Anglicans. Gov. Gooch himself seemed to appreciate Davies’ message. On one occasion, when a member of the Anglican clergy came to Williamsburg and demanded of the governor to punish Davies for preaching without a license, the Governor responded, “I am surprised at you!- you profess to be a minister of Jesus Christ, - and for preaching the gospel! For shame, Sir! Go home, and mind your own duty. For such a piece of conduct, you deserve to have your gown stripped over your shoulders.” (Foote pg 166). On another occasion the story goes that one of those who heard Davies petition the Governor said, “There goes a good lawyer wasted.” (Pilot) Although unclear the exact impact Davies had on the Presbyterians in Albemarle, it is clear he was largely responsible for changing the world around them, and changing the perceptions that non-Presbyterians had of Presbyterians.
On March 29, 1747 (a mere two weeks before Davies petitioned the governor before the General Court in Williamsburg) the congregations of Mt. Plains, Ivy Creek, and Rockfish called Samuel Black as their pastor, and probably the first ordained Presbyterian minister to actually reside in Albemarle. The signers of the formal call agreed to pay Rev. Black 31 pounds and 11 shillings each year. A May 14, 1967 article in the News-Virginian said this amounted to $89 a year- not much money, even if one considers inflation. When Samuel Black came to Albemarle, it is believed there were only 3 other Presbyterian ministers residing in Virginia- namely Craig, Miller and Davies.
Not much documentary evidence exists for Lebanon or Mt. Pains during the time of the American Revolution. Perhaps due to the incredible turmoil that took place during this time. One thing is clear, Presbyterians played a huge role in the Revolution supporting every aspect of it- and the Presbyterians in Albemarle were of the same mold. Not many people realize that King George and England viewed the American Revolution as the “Presbyterian Rebellion”.
The following excerpt comes from “Our Presbyterian Heritage” by Paul Carlson:
"Horace Walpole rose from his seat in the British House of Commons to report on the “extraordinary proceedings” which had lately occurred in the far-off colonies of the New World. “There is no good crying about the matter, Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.” That “Presbyterian parson” was none other than John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence."
Presbyterians indeed played a huge role in our Nations quest for independence. It is important to note that colonists in Virginia prior to the Revolution (regardless of persuasion) were bound by law to support the Anglican Church. Their money was used to pay Anglican ministers and to build and maintain Anglican churches. As late as the 1740’s, you could be fined for not attending church. This set of conditions (among others) proved to be intolerable to Americans.
The colonial population of America, including Virginia, had become more and more distant from that of Britain. At the time of the Revolution, the estimated population of the American colonies was 3 million. Out of this number, nearly two thirds were Calvinists- Presbyterians being the largest of these Calvinist groups. The other groups were English Puritans of New England, the Dutch Reformed, French Huguenots, and various German reformed groups. Even in Virginia, the most Anglican of all the colonies, Anglicans had become the minority. It is easy to see why paying taxes to the Church of England had become a truly volatile issue- given the fact that so few were of the Anglican persuasion. In the Revolution there was no divide among Presbyterians like there was among the Anglicans. Presbyterians were united in their quest for independence. Thomas Smyth wrote, “When Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate retreat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial Army but one were Presbyterian elders…”
It is apparent the members of Mt. Plains were, like other Presbyterians, willing to risk hardship to stand up and fight for what they believed. Michael Wallace, son of William Wallace was Captain of a military company during the Revolution and was a ruling elder in Mountain Plains Church. We also know that in the Wallace family, Michael’s first cousins Adam and Andrew Wallace displayed great gallantry in the battle of Guilford C.H. in North Carolina.
Now I am going to jump all the way to 1824. It is on August 17 of this year that Mt. Plains was officially reorganized into “Lebanon and Mt. Plains”. Documents in our display case still refer to the church as “Lebanon and Mountain Plane Church” as late as 1840. Incidentally, also in 1840- the list of members included 85 people, 5 of whom were designated as “coloured” members.
Sometime in the 1820’s the congregation of Mountain Plains moved to its new location on the Dick Woods Road site. It is around this time that they also incorporated “Lebanon” into its name. On this site there is a tombstone marking the grave of Robert Henderson who died in 1826. In 1831, the bills for the brickwork and carpentry for “Lebanon and Mt. Plains Church” was paid off. In 1833, the old site of Mountain Plains Presbyterian Church was sold to the Baptists. Mountain Plains Baptist Church is still located on this site. In 1855 the building we are in now was built and Lebanon (as we are now known) stopped meeting at the Dick Woods Road location and began meeting here.
In 1856, shortly after Lebanon built our current building, William Dinwiddie founded Brookland School in Greenwood. William was a member of Lebanon and assured the students at Brookland received an education rooted in God’s word. During the Civil War Brookland School served as a hospital and housed refugees from Northern Virginia. Brookland eventually became Greenwood School.
In 1861, unable to reach any agreement with the Lincoln administration, Virginia was forced to secede from the Union and prepared to defend itself from invasion. As always, Presbyterians on both sides were quick to fight for their convictions. The Presbyterian Church in America (like almost every other major denomination) split north and south during the Civil War. Numerous men at Lebanon fought for Virginia and the Confederacy. Some of these men were Rev. William Dinwiddie, James Iverson Critzer, George Pilson Wallace, Martin Schultz, and John Thomas Wharton. The Reverend William Dinwiddie, who founded Brookland School previously mentioned, was Captain of the Albemarle County Home Guards. He was captured and taken prisoner toward the end of the war. He went on to serve as Lebanon’s pastor until 1870.
Concerning the Civil War, a great deal is said about the prisoner of war camp operated by the Confederates at Andersonville, Georgia. Perhaps conveniently, not much is said of the POW camps that were operated by the North. Lincoln’s own Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton noted that a higher percentage of Southern POWs died while in Northern camps than did Northern POWs held by the South. One of Lebanon’s own is a statistic in this regard. George Pilson Wallace died in captivity at Point Lookout, MD in 1864. A memorial on the wall in the narthex has preserved this often unspoken portion of American history.
Much can be said of the history of Lebanon since the Civil War but in the interest of time I will briefly cover some of the highlights. Members of Lebanon continued to serve their country in our various wars and conflicts. For example, men of Lebanon were present and fought with distinction at D-Day as well as the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1936, a basement was added to the original structure to serve as Sunday School rooms and in 1960 the church dedicated a 22 by 47 foot building joined in a T-shape to the rear of the original structure. In 1945, the Rev. Charles Wideman became the first pastor of Lebanon to occupy our manse.
During the middle and late 1970’s, the church experienced a great deal of growth. Lebanon’s weekly attendance reached approximately 200. After a lay renewal revival, Lebanon, this small rural church, reported more adult professions of faith than any church in the denomination- the only exception being Dr. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
In 1978, after refusing to accept new unbiblical ordination vows imposed by the denomination, and unwilling to compromise their convictions on several other issues; the pastor, all of the active elders and deacons of Lebanon, and the majority of its members left the denomination and this building to form Church of the Blue Ridge- a non-denominational church currently located on route 6.
In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian Denominations reunited to form the PCUSA. These two denominations were formed from the mainline American Presbyterian church that divided along sectional lines during the Civil War. In 1985, those that remained at Lebanon left the PCUSA and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination formed only a few years earlier in 1981.
Lebanon has indeed seen many changes in its nearly 290 year history. It has existed under 3 national governments, witnessed and participated in various wars to include the American Revolution and the Civil War; it has seen generations of members who have been willing to take a stand, regardless of the cost. It has been ministered to by nearly 40 pastors. Today, we are more excited than ever to be Christians living in a free country, and like many that have gone before us, are eager to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
- The Woods Family Crosses Woods (Jarman) Gap
- “Mountain Plains” and “Piedmont” established
- Presbyterian Church established at “Mountain Plains”
- Rev. James Anderson preaches throughout the area
1740’s The Great Awakening in Virginia and America
- Rev. William Robinson arrives in Virginia
- Albemarle County formed out of Goochland County Before
- Hannah Woods Wallace weaves communion linen
- Rev. Samuel Black called to pastor congregations of Mt. Plains, Ivy, and Rockfish
- Rev. Samuel Davies Petitions Governor in Williamsburg
1750’s Height of the French and Indian War
1775-1781 American Revolution- “Presbyterian Rebellion”
- Mt. Plains reorganized into “Lebanon and Mt. Plains Church”
1820’s Church moved from Mt. Plains location to Dick Woods Road
- Bills for new building at Dick Woods Road paid in full
- Old Mountain Plains location sold to the Baptists
- Current building built
- Brookland School established
- Virginia Secedes from the Union and joins Confederacy Presbyterian Church splits, North and South
- Basement added
- Manse occupied for the first time
- T-shaped addition
1970’s Revival and growth
- Formation of Church of the Blue Ridge
- Reunification of the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches (formation of PCUSA)
- Lebanon leaves the PCUSA and joins the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC)