Virginian Orthodoxy in the Early American Republic

Nicholas Chapman with Ludwell estate documents

Nicholas Chapman with Ludwell estate documents

For almost four years now I have been researching the story of Colonel Philip Ludwell III of Williamsburg, Virginia, since learning of his reception into the Orthodox Church in 1738. During the last few days of July just past I was able to spend some time travelling in the great state, (or should that be country), of Texas. I had reason to believe that I would find in archives and libraries there some documents that might shed more light on the story of Orthodoxy in colonial Virginia. To my great amazement I found much more than I could ever have imagined: Books, documents and other material evidence that together have led me to tentatively conclude that some form of Orthodox community existed in Williamsburg, Virginia from at least 1738 until at least the 1840’s, with some kind of continuation of it in Texas, including a tenuous link with what is now the Serbian Orthodox church of St’s Constantine & Helen in Galveston.

It is beyond the scope of this short article to detail everything that I found and much more work remains to be done. I plan to present the findings in detail in book form, but wanted to briefly summarize them here for the benefit of the readers of this site.

In a previous article on this site I shared highlights of correspondence between the priest Stephen Ivanovsky at the Russian church in London and the Holy Synod of that same Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, regarding Colonel Philip Ludwell III and his daughters. The Synod blessed Ivanovsky to receive the daughters into the Church and to provide the consecrated Bread to them for their spiritual nourishment on their return to Virginia. More specifically they instructed Ivanovsky as to

ways to preserve their Orthodox faith after their departure, what order of prayer to follow in their native land, and other matters related to Church mysteries, you, priest Ivanovsky, shall, having diligently obtained from them the knowledge of all circumstances and customs observed there, and having carefully considered these, advise them with suitable caution.

Some of the documents I found in Texas appear to be the outworking of this decision of the Synod and suggest that whilst these directives were never implemented during Ludwell’s lifetime, they did take effect following the return of his daughter Lucy to Virginia in 1805. The newly discovered documents include:

  1. A Complete text of the Presanctified Liturgy of St Gregory the Dialogist
  2. Morning and Evening Prayers that include some elements of Matins/Vespers/Compline in addition to the more typical prayers for these times of days. Perhaps more importantly they include prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist.
  3. The office of Confession, both public and private. These prayers allow for a form of self-administered confession, pending the subsequent availability of a priest.
  4. Some directives on fasting and exposition of  the meaning of the Eucharist.
  5. A freely composed prayer written by Lucy Ludwell.
  6. A rite for reception of Holy Communion, that includes many elements that are familiar, but many that are not.

One of the most interesting aspects of these documents, all of which are in cursive writing, is that they appear to have multiple authors, as the handwriting styles vary. The way in which the English is written also suggests a transition from 18th c to 19th c authorship. This conclusion is supported by some inscriptions in the papers that attribute the earliest materials to Ludwell himself and, as mentioned, a prayer written by his daughter Lucy. The rite for the administration of the Eucharist appears to be the most recent document and follows after some biographical information of another branch of the Ludwell family in Williamsburg. It must date from at least 1822 based on the information contained in the note. This is mostly likely the work of a James Lee, the brother-in-law of Philip Ignatius Barziza, Lucy Ludwell’s grandson, who came from Venice to Williamsburg in 1815. Other sources state that this Lee is of the Stratford Hall Lees, the descendants of Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell, one of the older sisters of Col. Philip Ludwell III. The name James Lee also features in previously unreferenced documents I found in another archive in Austin, Texas, that date from 1767 to 1805. These documents deal with the distribution of the estates of Col. Philip Ludwell following his repose in 1767 and seem to have been brought before the US Supreme court during the early case of Orr v Hodgson in 1819. The case concerned the ownership of the former Ludwell lands in Virginia following the War of Independence.  The James Lee found in these legal documents was clearly trusted by Ludwell as he is shown to be administering sums of money equivalent to as much as one hundred and twenty million dollars in today’s money.

It is not yet clear what, if any, relationship there is between the two James Lees, as the man found in Williamsburg is too young to be the same person as noted in all the legal documents. If they were connected they would most likely be grandfather and grandson.

During the 1840’s and 50’s Philip Ignatius Barziza, his wife Cecilia and most of their children, moved from Virginia to Texas. A visit to the Barziza family grave plot in Houston revealed the strength of their on going identification with Colonel Philip Ludwell III. The centerpiece of the collection of memorials is a standing cross, approximately 18 feet high. This includes a substantial one + ft. sq. two-dimensional relief of the Ludwell family heraldic crest, directly above the main inscription for Count Philip Ignatius Barziza. The version of the Ludwell crest depicted is that of Philip Ludwell III, as, in common with the book plate included in the original edition of Ludwell’s translation of Moghila’s catechism, recently found in Michigan, the eagles depicted are double headed in Byzantine fashion. Given that Count Philip Ignatius’s father’s family are Venetian nobility with their own heraldic crest, it is surely significant that it is the Ludwell crest that is preferred on their tomb.

Amongst the other Barziza graves found in this cemetery is that of D.U. Barziza, Philip Ignatius’s youngest son. If time permits I may write an article about him in more depth later. But for now let it be noted that he just happens to be on a committee of a hall in Galveston, Texas, that in the 1870’s becomes a meeting place of an Orthodox prayer house, formally incorporated as St’s Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church in 1895. The temple this parish built in 1895 is now the second oldest continuously open Orthodox place of worship in the lower 48.

Copyright – Nicholas Chapman – Herkimer, NY, August 10, 2013

Editor’s note: To view a collection of photos from Nicholas Chapman’s research trip, click here.

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