Briery Church, Prince Edward County

Virginia Historical Highway Marker F75, Old Briery Church.

OLD BRIERY CHURCH

Just to the north stands Briery Church, organized in 1755 following the missionary work of Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies. The first church was built about 1760 and was replaced in 1824. The present gothic revival church was built about 1855 to designs of Robert Lewis Dabney.

Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, 1971

Briery Church (credit: Virginia Department of Historic Resources).

Briery Church is a one-story, board-and-batten-covered frame structure built on a T-shaped plan. Emphasizing the vertical lines of the church are the steep gable roof, with overhanging eaves, the three cross gables on the south front, and the simple finials on each gable end. All the openings are in the form of lancet arches, the windows having diamond panes and the four entrances on the west, south, and east fronts being sheltered by small gable canopy porches with barge boarding in the form of simple curving strips of wood. The building rests on a masonry foundation (probably brick) covered with stucco.

Briery Church, Keysville vic., Prince Edward County, Virginia, c. 1930-1939, Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952.
Briery Church, Keysville vic., Prince Edward County, Virginia, c. 1930-1939, Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952.
Briery Church, Keysville vic., Prince Edward County, Virginia, c. 1930-1939, Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952.
Briery Church, Keysville vic., Prince Edward County, Virginia, c. 1930-1939, Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952.
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
Briery Church (CC image, photographer David Hoffman, Flickr).
View of pulpit, Briery Church.

On the interior, plain pews on either side of a central aisle face the pulpit from each of the three wings of the ‘T.’ The long pine pulpit has lancet-arched recessed panels with a row of pendants hanging from the top. The pine ceiling begins at the eaves line and follows the interior pitch of the roof up for several feet before curving into a horizontal level which combines with the vertical pine uprights at the corners and the ‘ribs’ to create the effect of vaulting.

View of sanctuary, Briery Church.
View of nave, Briery Church.

Organized in 1755 following the missionary work of the ‘New Light’ evangelist Samuel Davies, the first church was erected about 1760, probably following the issuance of permission to worship by the Prince Edward County Court to the Briery congregation. The original meeting house was replaced in 1824, and the third and present Briery Church on the site was constructed circa 1855. This Gothic Revival church was designed by the noted theologian, Rev. Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898), a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, then a part of Hampden-Sydney College, and author of a biography of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson for whom Major Dabney had served as Chief of Staff in 1862. Dabney was also the architect for three other churches, Tinkling Spring Church in Augusta County, Farmville Presbyterian Church, and College Church at Hampden-Sydney, all of which are constructed of brick and are in the Greek Revival style, making Briery Church all the more unusual.

Briery Church remains today as a symbol of the perseverance of Presbyterianism in Virginia and houses a congregation formed over two hundred years ago. It is significant as an architectural composition utilizing the vertical lines of the board and batten walls with the picturesque exaggeration of the roofline. Placed in its forest setting of tall pines, this small white structure expresses the essence of mid-19th Century romanticism.

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Scarecrow of the Nations

Thus will be consummated that destiny to which so many gloomy prognostics point as the allotment of the North American continent: to be the accursed field for the final illustration of the harvest of perdition, grown from the seeding of the dragon’s teeth of infidel Radicalism. God gave the people of this land great and magnificent blessings, and opportunities and responsibilities. They might and should have made it the glory of all lands. But they have betrayed their trust: they have abused every gift: above all have they insulted him by flaunting in his face an impudent, atheistic, God-defying theory of pretended human rights and human perfectibility which attempts to deny man’s subordination, his dependence, his fall and native depravity, his need of divine grace. It invites mankind to adopt material civilization and sensual advantage as their divinity. It assumes to be able to perfect man’s condition by its political, literary, and mechanical skill, despising that Gospel of Christ which is man’s only adequate remedy. It crowns its impiety by laying its defiling hands upon the very forms of that Christianity, while with the mock affection of a Judas it attempts to make it a captive to the sordid ends of Mammon and sense. Must not God be avenged on such a nation as this? His vengeance will be to give them the fruit of their own hands, and let them be filled with their own devices. He will set apart this fair land by a sort of dread consecration to the purpose of giving a lesson concerning this godless philosophy, so impressive as to instruct and warn all future generations. As the dull and pestilential waves of the Dead Sea have been to every subsequent age the memento of the sin of Sodom, so the dreary tides of anarchy and barbarism which will overwhelm the boastful devices of infidel democracy will be the caution of all future legislators. And thus “women’s rights” will assist America “to fulfil her great mission,” that of being the “scarecrow” of the nations.

Robert Lewis Dabney, The Southern Magazine, 1871.

The Shadow of Radicalism

Robert Lewis Dabney.

It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights, will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it he salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious, for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always—when about to enter a protest—very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent rôle of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip. No doubt, after a few years, when women’s suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservatism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby suffrage; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to asses. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position.

Robert Lewis Dabney, The Southern Magazine, 1871.

Rowdies, Cut-throats, and Burglars

Federal troops drill on the grounds of the United States Capitol in 1861. (Library of Congress)
Federal troops drill on the grounds of the United States Capitol in 1861. (Library of Congress)

One of the most melancholy features of the horrible and bloody strife into which this country is about to be involved consists in the fact that the very best portion of the population of the South will be required to meet in mortal combat, in great part, the very worst population of the North. Whenever the South shall lose a soldier, it will lose a valuable citizen, whose loss will be sensibly felt, whereas the North would be benefitted if a large portion of its soldiers would never return from the battle-field. The flower of Southern honor and chivalry will cross swords with rowdies, cut-throats and burglars from the corrupt cesspools of Northern cities.–the South sends into the field honorable, honest, moral and virtuous soldiers, the North such desperadoes, and dangerous men as she is afraid to keep at home. As an illustration of the spirit of our people, and the kind of men who are volunteering their services to the State, we will mention the fact that a number of Minsters of the Gospel who are distinguished for talents, cultivation, eloquence and piety, have exchanged the “sacred desk” for the soldier’s tent.

The Rev. Dr. B. M. Smith and Rev. Dr. R. L. Dabney, Professors of the “Union Theological Seminary,” Rev. Dr. Moses Hoge, Pastor of the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Richmond city, and Rev. Dr. Pendleton, Rector of the Episcopal Church in Lexington, all of whom are well known in this county, have connected themselves with volunteer companies. Dr. Pendleton is now Captain of an Artillery Company in Lexington, being elected to supply the vacancy caused by the promotion of Capt. McCausland to the post of lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers. As Dr. Pendleton is a graduate of West Point, and has served several years in the army, he will no doubt make a good and efficient officer.–Though the conflict may be terrible, we do no doubt that, in time, the Northern “Apollyon” will succumb to the Southern “Christian,” and that our brave soldiery who go forth clad in the panoply of a just cause, will return with their banners–though “tattered and torn”–wreathed with the laurels of victory.

Staunton Spectator, 14 May 1861, p. 2, c. 3.

With the Resolution of Freemen

Robert Lewis Dabney.
Robert Lewis Dabney.

For the Vindicator: The Spectator and the Clergy

Mr. Editor: The Spectator publishes the concluding paragraphs of an address to the Clergy and Laity of the Christian Churches of the country, recently issued by the Revs. Wilson, Atkinson, Smith, Dabney and others of Virginia, “touching the duties appropriate to the people of God,” in the present distracted condition of public affairs.

In order that the people may not be misled by these extracts, as to the true position of the Reverend gentlemen, I must ask you to publish the following emphatic declaration from the same address:

“Do these causes then exist? We would distinctly say, to avoid creating a mischievous mistake, that if the Southern States of the Union are persistently refused their just rights in the Confederacy and its common territories, and the peculiar property, then, in our opinion, the Southern people must conclude that these causes do exist, and that the catastrophe, however lamentable, must be met, sorrowfully indeed, and yet with the resolution of Freemen.”

Thus you will see the Reverend gentlemen are far from being the tame submissionists the Spectator would make them by its isolated extracts. They are peace-loving and God-fearing men; but at the same time patriots. Common justice, therefore, requires that they should have the benefit of the foregoing declaration, made, as they distinctly say, “to avoid creating a mischievous mistake.”

FAIR PLAY

— Republican Vindicator (Staunton, Virginia), 15 February 1861.