Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Parish History Notes 22: Dr. Carter Burwell Berkeley

This is a brief account of the life of Carter Burwell Berkeley, a devout and highly admired member of the Fork Church congregation during the early nineteenth century:

He was born at Airwell on February 20, 1768, and performed his early studies under the tutelage of a Mr. Bell, an Irish scholar, in a small log cabin near Offley Mill.  His higher education was completed in 1793 with the receipt of a degree in medicine from the University of Edinburgh.

Dr. Berkeley returned to Virginia and practiced medicine from his old home until his marriage to Catherine Spotswood Carter.  In the year of their wedding, 1796, they built Edgewood, which was to remain his residence and office well beyond her death.  Each Sunday neighbors were invited to dine at Edgewood after church services, and this event became a grand social and intellectual tradition along Ridge Road.

It was Dr. Berkeley’s philosophy to practice faith and medicine together. One patient described waking late one night during a serious illness to find Dr. Berkeley kneeling by her bed and praying for her recovery. According to Brief Biographies of Virginia Physician, by L. B. Anderson (1889), a patient was quoted as saying “We prefer Dr. Berkeley to anyone else, because what he failed to accomplish by his medical skill he would secure by his prayers.”

On Sunday morning, November 3, 1839, Dr. Berkeley was involved with his duties as chief warden when he was asked by two other doctors to visit a sick man as early as possible. “He was introduced into the room of the patient, and seating himself by the bed, gently grasped the wrist to feel the pulse. Not a word was uttered, not a movement was made, except to incline his head, as was his custom during profound thought.”  In time the other doctors found that life has passed from the good doctor.  “Thus, like the faithful sentinel, he fell with his armor on, and in the exercise of the noble functions of his high calling.”