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Parish History Notes 4: Where was Fork Church Built

This, unfortunately, is one of our many mysteries. Because the early St. Martin’s Parish records do not survive, we have no primary documentary sources related to the construction of Fork Church. We tend to assume a construction date of 1735. After all, the church was significantly renovated exactly a century later, when the vestry minutes and construction records were still intact. Also, the community was expanding rapidly by this date, and there was certainly the need for a parish church.

The brick masonry is compared to that of Hanover Courthouse, which many historians have dated 1735. Recent research by Carl Lounsbury, though, favors a date of 1740 for the courthouse. In his recent book, The Courthouses of Early Virginia, Dr. Lounsbury points out that construction of the courthouse was delayed at least two years by complaints and appeals from the inhabitants of northwestern Hanover. 

Construction disputes seem to have been common in early Hanover County. On June 9, 1736, the minister and a few of the vestry of St. Martin’s Parish signed a petition expressing dissatisfaction with the site chosen for a new church, so we know that construction of the church had not begun at that time. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette for June 22, 1739, mentions an existing church on a tract of land “10 miles above Hanover Court House on the second fork of the Pamunkey.” It is reasonable to assume that these two documents refer to our church, so they provide time brackets for its construction. Allowing time to settle the issues and two years to complete the work, my favorite date for occupancy of Fork Church is circa 1739.